Year in Review: Summit County’s top education stories include Amendment 66, Breck child care initiative
While Colorado politicians and education advocates battled this year over the $950 million tax increase in Amendment 66 to support public education — which did not pass in November — there were plenty of local education stories circulating Summit County in 2013 as well. Here’s a look back at just a few narratives that frequented the school scene this year.
Breckenridge Child Care Scholarship Fund
In 2007, the town of Breckenridge began a program to help address growing child care needs. The town provided a teacher-salary supplement, funded a new child care center build and the scholarship fund, while requiring centers to raise tuition.
Breckenridge Mayor John Warner said earlier in 2013, “This is the ‘Year of the Child’ in Summit County.”
For this year, the town was spending $590,000 to provide scholarships to 180 children. The existing funding source will end in 2014. In the spring, the town proposed adding a tax to the November ballot to generate at least $800,000 annually to keep the program going.
“The program has been proven, and now we are asking for a permanent fund to take care of the need,” said Councilwoman Jennifer McAtamney about the ballot proposal.
A survey of 400 people showed widespread support for the town child care funding. But the child care measure was rejected, with 53 percent voting against it. The measure was defeated by only 75 votes — 596 to 521. However, the Breckenridge Town Council agreed to keep more than $800,000 in the 2014 budget to fund the existing child care scholarship program for the next year.
The ballot question 2B would have replaced the older mill levy — the assessed property tax rate used by local governments and other jurisdictions to raise revenue in order to cover annual expenses — that ends next year at a slightly lower rate.
In December, town council expressed interest in continuing to form a temporary committee to provide guidance regarding the child care programs. Interviews for interested applicants are tentatively scheduled for Jan. 14, 2014, at the next council meeting.
CMC presidential search
In January this year, former Colorado Mountain College President Stan Jensen was awarded a $500,000 severance payment, approximately three times what he would normally have been given. He served as president of the 11-campus college since March 2008. He resigned Dec. 27, 2012, during a telephone conference call with the college’s Board of Trustees.
In June, the college hired a search consultant to begin reviewing applications for the open presidential position. A screening committee recommended semifinalists to the board, who conducted interviews via video conference and narrowed down the list to five finalists.
By September, the finalists were interviewed by the board, employees, students and community members at public meetings, as well as touring campuses. Then, the board decided to bring back two candidates for further interviews: Carrie Hauser, who was currently serving as a senior fellow of Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, and Alan Walker, whose most recent administrative post was as the president of Upper Iowa University in Fayette, Iowa. The position was offered to Hauser in early October.
“We had two very strong candidates,” said Glenn Davis, CMC board president, in a prepared statement. “Dr. Hauser’s experience within Colorado and Colorado higher education was a significant differentiator.”
A contract was offered to Hauser for the president position and was officially approved Nov. 1.
Summit Cove Elementary Solar Panels
In November 2012, the Summit School Board voted to partner with Syndicated Solar and the Summit County-based Innovative Energy to build solar panel arrays in several locations across the district.
In March this year, the board addressed a potential need to change the location for solar panels at Summit Middle School due to the weight of the panels on the roof.
Then, in July, the solar array project near Summit Cove Elementary broke ground. The community, concerned over a lack of communication, attended school board meetings in August to protest. School district officials looked into a settlement that would allow them to acquire the stadium array at Summit High School and the roof arrays at Summit Cove Elementary through a capital purchase agreement,
By September, the board had voted to remove the panels at Summit Cove, paying to downsize the project — removing the south array at Summit Cove Elementary, while the planned north array will not be installed. The district used operating reserves to pay a one-time cost of $245,738, said Mark Rydberg, director of business services for Summit School District.
“This is not money we would spend on normal operations,” he said. “It’s for one-time costs, and so it’s not affecting any education spending this year.”
However, school board member Alison Casias questioned if the high dollar amount was worth the removal.
“$245,000 out of reserves is a lot of money, especially for non-education spending,” she said.
The engineering, procurement and construction contract, as well as all warranties for the solar projects, now belong to the school district and not Syndicated Solar. In buying the contract, the district now has control of the projects.
Summit School District Attendance
In a letter sent to parents, Superintendent Heidi Pace said as of Nov. 15 there were nearly 10,000 absences recorded at the nine schools since the beginning of the school year in August.
Those 9,994 absences include illnesses, but do not include times students were tardy to school or left early, said district spokeswoman Julie McCluskie. As part of an effort to reduce the number of absences, the district has proposed amending its policy on student absences and excuses to no longer include vacations as excused absences. However, in 2012 over the same period of time — the first 60 days of school — there were 9,576 recorded absences, and 10,346 in 2011.
Pace sent out a second letter Wednesday, Dec. 4, explaining she wanted “to emphasize that it is always our practice to first partner with students and their families to try and reduce chronic tardiness and/or absenteeism before pursuing a solution through the courts.”
A survey conducted by Summit School District shows 25 percent of respondents were specifically concerned with proposed language eliminating vacations as a possible excused absence.
In the survey, 164 of 651 total commenters specifically stated they were opposed to the proposed change in the policy to remove vacations from absences that may be considered excused at the discretion of the principal. Thirty-six people specifically commented they were in favor of the change.
The Summit School District Board of Education unanimously voted Tuesday, Dec. 10, to repeal policy JH-R, the old student absences and excuses document, and to approve updates and language cleanup to the truancy policy JHB and compulsory attendance ages policy JEA. The school board did not conduct a final vote on policy JH, student absences and excuses, which contains the controversial elimination of family vacation time as an excused absence.
“It’s not our job to judge when and under what circumstances people can take their kids out of school; we’re not here to decide what is a good or bad reason,” board president Margaret Carlson said. “There are educational opportunities outside the classroom, as well as unavoidable absences. It’s the frequency we’re concerned with.”
The school board will conduct its next meeting at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 14, at the central administration office. The board must eventually vote on policy JH, though a date has not been determined.
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