Budget cuts for the gifted and talented program, social and emotional learning specialists, literacy interventionist and custodial and transportation services have been temporarily lifted, following a revisit of reduction recommendations for the Jefferson County Board of Education.
At their regular meeting on, Feb. 9, the board heard over three hours of public comment, then discussed key issues on the reallocations list.
Limited funding and changing student enrollment has led the Jeffco Board of Education to consider $20 million in proposed budget reallocations next year. In November, Jeffco voters rejected two measures that would have increased school funding, and state K-12 funding has been below levels dictated by Amendment 23 since 2009. The legislative tool used to calculate how much less money goes to education is known as the negative factor.
The Board set budget priorities for competitive compensation for employees, maintaining school funding levels through student-based budgeting, and keeping school buildings warm, safe and dry.
“Jeffco is a big and complex system, and making the type of adjustments we are talking about involves a serious focus and commitment to the only thing that should matter — having excellent opportunities for our students to achieve Jeffco 2020,” Superintendent Dan McMinimee said during the Feb. 9 Board of Education meeting.
During his prepared statement, McMinimee relayed new recommendations to the board, including keeping literacy interventionists, the social emotional supports and the gifted and talented resources, thus keeping reallocations as far away from students as possible.
Adjusted recommendations also included not speeding up the move of sixth graders and returning to the plan as the board originally discussed last spring to work with communities a transition in the fall of 2018.
The proposed closure of five elementary schools was also included in the original general fund reduction recommendations. The board voted Feb. 9 to move forward with closing Pleasant View Elementary in Golden for a savings of $662,742 each year. The other four schools — Peck Elementary in Arvada, Pennington Elementary in Wheat Ridge, Stober Elementary in Lakewood, and Swanson Elementary in Arvada — will all stay open.
“We have heard that Jeffco continues to want to keep the cuts away from our students,” McMinimee said. “We have heard that early literacy remains a priority for both the board and the community and that we need a deeper understanding of the successes that have come from those investments before we eliminate that program. We have heard our social and emotional supports are making great differences for students and we should protect those if we are able to do so.”
Over 50 gifted and talented students addressed the board Feb. 9, with the support of their parents and several community members. A petition with approximately 2,000 signatures was also presented to the board advising them to maintain district support of the Gifted and Talented Center at Wheat Ridge High School. The center is the only one in Colorado and one of only five in the nation.
“Gifted individuals, these kids don't even know there is a box unless you put them into one,” Kristi Hunter, of Arvada said in her address to the board. “If you close the GT center, these children have no where else to go. If you shut down this program, you risk their lives and our future.”
The Jeffco Gifted and Talented Center at Wheat Ridge High School has been serving GT learners since 2008. The center supports the social and emotional needs of students, enabling them to succeed academically and is the only high school GT Center in the county, currently supporting over 120 students from all over the district. Next school year, the center is projected to triple its enrollment since its inception with more than 150 students expected to enroll in the program.
On Jan 26, Jeffco's district staff presented the Board of Education with a list of proposed cuts. Included in this proposal was a line item that cut all district funding for two GT teachers at Wheat Ridge High School. District staff suggested that the program would possibly continue to be funded by the school's student-based budgeting.
Since that time, there has been a massive amount of pushback from the community.
“I am not only a student n the GT program, but I'm a GT activist because I've seen the affect this program has on the people in it,” student Ian Miller told the board. “GT kids need specific assistance to grow and thrive in a society during their adolescence. From an emotion stance, the gifted and talented program has saved lives. If we allow this program to be cut, we are inadvertently holding the razor.”
Miller's comment were not unlike his classmates. Student after student stood at the podium and told their stories of being bullied, being abused, battling mental illness and not fitting in until they found a place where they could be themselves and thrive in the GT program.
“While these may be some of our wittiest and smartest and creative kids, they are also some our most vulnerable,” said Deborah Huntley, of Golden.
With a suggestion from McMinimee and his cabinet, the initial proposal to eliminate GT teachers at Wheat Ridge High School was deferred, meaning it will only be revisited if state funding is below expected levels.
The board directed staff to find funding for the center this year and to work with the school to make the program self-sustaining for future years.
Also on the deferment list was custodial services reductions, option and Outdoor Lab school busing, Mastery Connect program and MAP testing K-2 portion, Literacy Interventionists and Social Emotional Learning Specialists.
“These positions fill a void,” said Laura Ruyle, a social and emotion learning specialist in the Arvada West articulation area.
The specialists serve 28,212 students throughout the district daily.
“We recognize we can't meet everyone's expectations, but we do believe we can minimize the impact to programs, social/emotional supports and what happens in the classroom through thoughtful reallocation of resources,” McMinimee said.
The Board of Education originally wanted to fine $25 million in reallocations to provide increased compensation for underpaid teachers throughout the district.
“I believe you have adjusted your expectation of reallocating $25 million towards compensation as the shock it would create in the system has been identified, discussed and debated,” McMinimee said to the board.
McMinimee continued telling staff they could provide approximately $20 million now to add to the compensation discussion. That is approximately $11 million in reductions from central staff and services, reclassifying spending as well as reducing budget items to match recent spending levels and an additional $9 million in retirement savings.
That $11 million in reductions does not include anything on the deferment list.
Amy Weber, the district's chief human resources officer, said $20 million should be sufficient to address pay for paraprofessionals and step raise for teachers, but fall short of the competitiveness the district had hoped for.
“These suggested adjustments allow us to protect our programming and keep the cuts as far away from our students as possible,” McMinimee said. “I believe that is the priority of each and every one of you — it is the priority of my Cabinet, it is the priority of our staff members and our association partners and we have heard again that it is the priority of our community.”