Stop right there — thank you very much

Judge puts part of Jeffco pay plan on hold

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Lawyers for the Jefferson County Education Association Kris Gomez, left, and Michael Belo talk outside the Jefferson County courthouse in Golden. Belo argued the county's school board overreached when it established a new pay system for teachers.

A Jefferson County District Court judge put a temporary hold Tuesday on portions of a compensation plan that would pay some educators new to Jeffco Public Schools more than some district veterans.

Judge Christopher Zenisek’s order prohibits Jeffco Public Schools from paying any new teachers hired after May 1 under a plan that was approved by the school board earlier this spring. However, the roughly 60 teachers hired between the time the plan was approved in March and May 1, the day Zenisek heard the case, may be paid what was offered.

The judge ruled that a trial be set within a year.

It’s unclear at this point how the district will determine how much to pay experienced teachers with advanced degrees hired after that May 1 cutoff date.

“We have not had an opportunity to exam the ruling in full with our attorney and after we do we’ll be prepared to comment,” said Lisa Pinto, spokeswoman for Jeffco.

The salary schedule that was put on hold was created as part of the new system approved by the board majority last fall. The salary system would pay some new hires who have master degrees and multiple years of classroom experience more than current Jeffco teachers with similar credentials. It also includes an additional stipend for teachers who work in schools that serve the county’s most at-risk students.

District officials developed the plan for new hires as part of the larger system the board majority approved in the fall. The new system did away with the traditional salary schedule the district used to determine what teachers would be paid. So, district staff created the plan to do that. When pitching the new system to board this spring, district staff said the increase in salary was needed to make Jeffco competitive with neighboring school districts.

The gap between new hires and Jeffco veterans is caused in part by salary reductions and freezes the teachers union and suburban school district agreed to during the Great Recession.

Lawyers for the Jefferson County Education Association, which asked for the injunction, argued earlier this month that the school board overstepped when it created a new plan to pay teachers based on evaluations, not years of service and level of education. The lawyers also asserted that the district unilaterally changed contract language without the union’s input.

The union did not ask for the entire system to be thrown out, only the portion approved this spring.

But a lawyer representing the school district said the board was well within its rights creating a new compensation system after negotiations failed to produce a compromise. Updating contract language and introducing a new system for paying experienced teachers new to the school district was procedural and not malicious, the district’s lawyer said.

The union and district are currently negotiating a new master contract.

JCEA president John Ford celebrated the decision.

“Today is a victory for hard working Jeffco teachers who have sacrificed our own pay through pay freezes and reductions to help the school district weather the recession,” he said in a statement. “To offer thousands of dollars more to new teachers while neglecting to honor your promises to your current teaching staff is inexcusable.”

Zenisek’s order

Idea pitch

Despite concerns, Jeffco school board agrees to spend $1 million to start funding school innovations

Students at Lumberg Elementary School in Jeffco Public Schools work on their assigned iPads during a class project. (Photo by Nicholas Garcia, Chalkbeat)

Jeffco school employees can apply for a piece of a $1 million fund that will pay for an innovative idea for improving education in the district.

The school board for Jeffco Public Schools on Thursday approved shifting $1 million from the district’s rainy day fund to an innovation pool that will be used to provide grants to launch the new ideas.

The district will be open for applications as soon as Friday.

The board had reservations about the plan, which was proposed by the new schools superintendent, Jason Glass, in November, as part of a discussion about ways to encourage innovation and choice in the district. The board was concerned about how quickly the process was set to start, whether there was better use of the money, and how they might play a role in the process.

Glass conceded that the idea was an experiment and that pushing ahead so quickly might create some initial problems.

“This effort is going to be imperfect because it’s the first time that we’ve done it and we don’t really know how it’s going to turn out,” Glass said. “There are going to be problems and there are going to be things we learn from this. It’s sort of a micro experiment. We’re going to learn a lot about how to do this.”

During the November discussion, Glass had suggested one use for the innovation money: a new arts school to open in the fall to attract students to the district. He said that the money could also be used to help start up other choice schools. School board members balked, saying they were concerned that a new arts school would compete with existing arts programs in Jeffco schools. The board, which is supported by the teachers union, has been reluctant to open additional choice schools in the district, instead throwing most of their support behind the district-run schools.

Board members also expressed concerns about what they said was a rushed process for starting the fund.

The plan calls for teachers, school leaders and other district employees to apply for the money by pitching their idea and explaining its benefit to education in the district. A committee will then consider the proposals and recommend those that should be funded out of the $1 million.

Board members said they felt it was too soon to start the application process on Friday. They also questioned why the money could not also help existing district programs.

“I think a great deal of innovation is happening,” said board member Amanda Stevens.

Some board members also suggested that one of them should serve on the committee, at least to monitor the process. But Glass was adamant.

“Do you want me to run the district and be the superintendent or not?” Glass asked the board. “I can set this up and execute it, but what you’re talking about is really stepping over into management, so I caution you about that.”

Glass later said he might be open to finding another way for board members to be involved as observers, but the board president, Ron Mitchell, said he would rather have the superintendent provide thorough reports about the process. The discussion is expected to resume at a later time.

Stevens said many of the board’s questions about details and the kind of ideas that will come forth will, presumably, be answered as the process unfolds.

“Trying is the only way we get any of that information,” Stevens said.

year in review

A new superintendent and a new vision for Jeffco schools in 2017

PHOTO: Denver Post file

Jeffco Public Schools started the year making big news when its board of education decided to open a search for a new superintendent. Former Superintendent Dan McMinimee left the role in March before a new leader had been hired.

Just before he left, McMinimee proposed to the Jeffco school board a plan to close five schools as a way to save money so the district could raise staff salaries as the board had directed.

The schools recommended for closure served a disproportionate number of low-income students and housed several centers for students with special needs. They also included a high-performing school. Officials said they did not consider academic achievement in selecting the schools.

In addition to closing five schools, the proposal suggested cuts to other programs, including one for helping students develop social and emotional skills and one that helped students struggling with reading.

But in a last-minute move, the superintendent altered the proposal during a school board meeting just before the board was set to vote. In the end, the board voted to close one elementary school and spare four others as well as the programs.

A few months later, the school board selected Jason Glass as the district’s new superintendent. Glass, who was a superintendent in Eagle County at the time, had a history as a reformer helping create pay-for-performance systems. But he changed his support of some reforms after learning about education systems around the world.

One of the first changes Glass announced in Jeffco was a timeout on any school closure recommendations while district officials review and create a new process for deciding if school closures are necessary and if so, which schools to close.

Glass also published his vision for Jeffco, which will have the district take a closer look at inequities and outside factors that affect students, such as poverty. At least one school was already experimenting with that work by moving to a community school model. And the district was already considering outside factors as they were rolling out restorative practices, which change how school leaders respond to student discipline issues.

More recently, Glass asked the board, which will remain the same after the November election, to consider an expansion of school choice in Jeffco with proposals to create new options schools such as an arts school to help attract new students to the district. District officials may release more information about that plan and other changes, like a study on high school start times, in the coming months.