Who Is In Charge

GOP heartburn over union chief nomination

There are few things more routine in the state Senate than nominations to state college trustee boards, but there’s a controversy every now and then.

Tony Salazar, with UNC President Kay Norton at left
Tony Salazar, with UNC President Kay Norton at left

One of those popped up Thursday in the Senate Education Committee when it considered the nomination of Tony Salazar to the University of Northern Colorado trustees.

Salazar is executive director of the Colorado Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union and an organization that’s not popular among GOP lawmakers. The CEA’s various political arms are longtime and substantial contributors to Democratic legislative and statewide candidates. Salazar is a familiar figure in the Capitol because of prior service as a union lobbyist.

There were no fireworks or harsh accusations during the 20-minute discussion, but two GOP senators politely made it clear they weren’t comfortable with Salazar.

Sen. Scott Renfroe, who represents a Greeley-area district, pointed out that Salazar doesn’t have any northern Colorado ties and wondered if Salazar’s job wasn’t a conflict of interest. Noting that K-12 and higher education often compete for scarce state support, Renfroe asked, “How can you represent the teachers … and not do that at the expense of higher education? … I see a real conflict.”

“I don’t know if there’s anything I can do to reassure you,” Salazar said, adding, “I’m wearing a different hat when I’m a trustee.”

Sen. Mark Scheffel, R-Parker, picked up the theme, saying separating the two roles “would seem to be difficult. … I usually give great deference to the governor’s picks, but this one quite legitimately concerns me. This is troubling.”

Salazar, flanked by UNC President Kay Norton, said he considers his background “actually a value add to the board.” UNC is one of the state’s largest teacher training institutions but also offers a wide variety of other majors and degrees.

Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, came to Salazar’s defense, saying, “We’re all asked to balance our day jobs against our board service.”

Johnston also praised the rest of the UNC board for doing that.

“I feel like your expertise and background and skill will make you a great fit.”

Colorado Rockies owner Dick Monfort is chair of the UNC trustees. President Norton is married to Greeley Mayor Tom Norton, a Republican former state Senate president. (See the full list of trustees here.)

The committee’s five Democrats outvoted four Republicans to send the Salazar nomination to the full Senate.

Parent involvement bill moves on

Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster - File photo
Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster – File photo

Senate Education had a long warm-up to the Salazar discussion with a nearly two-hour hearing on Senate Bill 13-193, a measure designed to strengthen the roles of school and district parent accountability committees and of the State Advisory Council for Parent Involvement in Education, known by the acronym “SACPIE.”

Among other things, the bill proposes to give school committees a role in creation of school improvement plans under the state’s accountability and rating system. The measure also proposes funding for a parent involvement staff person at the Colorado Department of Education.

A long list of witnesses, including SACPIE members, supported the bill and the value of parent involvement in schools. But others, primarily those with school district ties, suggested the bill be tweaked so as not to impose too many duties on volunteer panels filled by busy parents.

Some committee members wondered why the bill is needed.

“Is there anything preventing them from implementing any of these changes without the bill?” asked Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs.

The often-voluble Hudak launched into a lengthy defense of the bill, and the measure finally was passed 5-3, along with three amendments to soften it up a bit.

Johnston, who as vice chair ran the meeting while Hudak presented her bill, couldn’t help poking a little fun at her. At one point he humorously warned Hill about asking Hudak yet another question. And at another point he joked, “A SACPIE is not something you’ve stepped in.”

Learn more about the bill in this legislative staff summary. Next stop for the measure is the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Raise your voice

Memphis, what do you want in your next school superintendent?

PHOTO: Kyle Kurlick for Chalkbeat

Tennessee’s largest school district needs a permanent leader. What kind of superintendent do you think Shelby County Schools should be looking for?

Now is the chance to raise your voice. The school board is in the thick of finalizing a national search and is taking bids from search firms. Board members say they want a leader to replace former superintendent Dorsey Hopson in place within 18 months. They have also said they want community input in the process, though board members haven’t specified what that will look like. In the interim, career Memphis educator Joris Ray is at the helm.

Let us know what you think is most important in the next superintendent.  Select responses will be published.

Asking the candidates

How to win over Northwest Side voters: Chicago aldermen candidates hone in on high school plans

PHOTO: Cassie Walker Burke / Chalkbeat Chicago
An audience member holds up a green sign showing support at a forum for Northwest side aldermanic candidates. The forum was sponsored by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association.

The residents filing into the auditorium of Sharon Christa McAuliffe Elementary School Friday wanted to know a few key things from the eager aldermanic candidates who were trying to win their vote.

People wanted to know which candidates would build up their shrinking open-enrollment high schools and attract more students to them.

They also wanted specifics on how the aldermen, if elected, would coax developers to build affordable housing units big enough for families, since in neighborhoods such as Logan Square and Hermosa, single young adults have moved in, rents have gone up, and some families have been pushed out.

As a result, some school enrollments have dropped.

Organized by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Friday’s event brought together candidates from six of the city’s most competitive aldermanic races. Thirteen candidates filled the stage, including some incumbents, such as Aldermen Proco “Joe” Moreno (1st  Ward), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th Ward), and Milly Santiago (31st Ward).

They faced tough questions — drafted by community members and drawn at random from a hat — about bolstering high school enrollment, recruiting more small businesses, and paving the way for more affordable housing.

When the audience members agreed with their positions, they waved green cards, with pictures of meaty tacos. When they heard something they didn’t like, they held up red cards, with pictures of fake tacos.

Red cards weren’t raised much. But the green cards filled the air when candidates shared ideas for increasing the pull of area open-enrollment high schools by expanding dual-language programs and the rigorous International Baccalaureate curriculum.

Related: Can a program designed for British diplomats fix Chicago schools? 

“We want our schools to be dual language so people of color can keep their roots alive and keep their connections with their families,” said Rossana Rodriguez, a mother of a Chicago Public Schools’ preschooler and one of challengers to incumbent Deb Mell in the city’s 33rd Ward.  

Mell didn’t appear at the forum, but another candidate vying for that seat did: Katie Sieracki, who helps run a small business. Sieracki said she’d improve schools by building a stronger feeder system between the area’s elementary schools, which are mostly K-8, and the high schools.

“We need to build bridges between our local elementary schools and our high schools, getting buy-in from new parents in kindergarten to third grade, when parents are most engaged in their children’s education,” she said.

Sieracki said she’d also work to design an apprenticeship program that connects area high schools with small businesses.

Green cards also filled the air when candidates pledged to reroute tax dollars that are typically used for developer incentives for school improvement instead.

At the end of the forum, organizers asked the 13 candidates to pledge to vote against new tax increment financing plans unless that money went to schools. All 13 candidates verbally agreed.

Aldermen have limited authority over schools, but each of Chicago’s 50 ward representatives receives a $1.32 million annual slush fund that be used for ward improvements, such as playgrounds, and also can be directed to education needs. And “aldermanic privilege,” a longtime concept in Chicago, lets representatives give the thumbs up or down to developments like new charters or affordable housing units, which can affect school enrollment.

Related: 7 questions to ask your aldermanic candidates about schools

Aldermen can use their position to forge partnerships with organizations and companies that can provide extra support and investment to local schools.

A January poll showed that education was among the top three concerns of voters in Chicago’s municipal election. Several candidates for mayor have recently tried to position themselves as the best candidate for schools in TV ads.