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When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it.
– Henry Ford  
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  Volume No. 17 Issue No. 5 May 2020  

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  December BOE meeting wrap-up
  By Lindsey Harrison

   All members of the El Paso County Colorado School District 49 Board of Education were present at the regular meeting in December. Rachel Washburn, a 12th grade student from Sand Creek High School, and Sam Nguyen a 12th grade student from Vista Ridge High School, attended as members of the student board of representatives.
   
   Before the regular meeting, the BOE held a “Fantastic 49” event and recognized the following: Malou Koster, data technician in learning services, for her customer service and the important part she plays with state assessments; Nick Salas, Falcon High School math department chair, for his teamworking abilities and leadership; and the 34 recipients of the Falcon Education Foundation mini grants.
   
   Board update
   Kevin Butcher, vice president, said he attended the groundbreaking ceremony at the Springs Studio for Academic Excellence, which will house the Pikes Peak Early College.
   
   Dave Cruson, treasurer, said he also attended the groundbreaking ceremony, as well as the Colorado Association of School Boards conference to represent the D 49 BOE as the new treasurer.
   
   Rick Van Wieren, secretary, thanked the D 49 community for the warm welcome and said he attended the pre-convention meeting at the CASB conference, which was offered to new board members. Van Wieren was sworn in as a new BOE member at a special meeting Dec. 2. The members voted on new officer positions at that time.
   
   Graham, president, said he attended the CASB conference and was looking forward to the new legislative session.
   
   Chief officers’ update
   Peter Hilts, chief education officer, said four members of the D 49 student board of representatives attended the student portion of the CASB conference, and Jordan Reynolds, a student from FHS, was chosen to participate on a panel of students for one of the morning keynote sessions.
   
   Hilts said he attended a national conference held by Learning Forward Co., a subsidiary of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, at which two members of the D 49 staff presented, in coordination with staff members from Douglas County School District. Amber Whetstine, executive director of learning services, and Kathy Pickering, Ph. D., coordinator of professional learning, presented on women in learning and leadership, Hilts said. Their presentation received a lot of good feedback and the team was invited to speak at other conferences in the future, he said.
   
   Brett Ridgway, chief business officer, said his team had a face-to-face meeting with representatives from Aspen View Homes for the first time since last spring to discuss a conflict about property in the Forest Meadows/Woodmen Heights subdivision. Ridgway said that, although the groups did not come to a resolution, the conversation was productive and he looks forward to additional discussions in January 2020.
   
   Pedro Almeida, chief operations officer, said the IT vendor transition to Sentinel Technologies is almost complete and the company will have full control of the network Jan. 1.
   
   Action items
   The BOE unanimously approved the following:
  • Revisions to the policy regarding personnel records and files
  • Certification of a mill levy to property owners within the district for 43.189 mills
  • Amendments to the attendance and substitute staffing specialist and human resources reporting specialist job descriptions
  • The technology service manager of infrastructure and technology service manager for end users job descriptions in relation to the IT vendor change from Colorado Computer Support to Sentinel Technologies
  • The new financial reporting and fund analyst and accounting process manager job descriptions
  • Revisions to the accountant II job description
  • A request by district administration to negotiate a sales agreement for the appraised value of $900,000 for property owned by D 49, located at 2120 Meadowbrook Parkway, that the proposed Mountain View Academy charter school would like to purchase

   Discussion items
   Almeida presented information on the status of the district’s 3B mill levy override projects in Ron Lee’s place, who retired. He said D 49 is working on hiring a new director of 3B MLO projects and staff is currently planning the Priority 2 projects for the summer of 2020. All Priority 3 and Priority 4 projects are complete and came in under budget, Almeida said.
   
   “We had a budget of $20.9 million and have spent $19.72 million of that,” Almeida said. “About six schools still have at least $75,000 remaining in their budgets and we have plans for how that will be spent.”
   
   David Rex, district accountability advisory committee chairman, provided the DAAC annual report and said the committee is doing well, with more participation from people in the community. Additionally, the committee has changed to a two-year term for each chairperson and has staggered those terms so there will not be all new people heading up the committee at once, he said.
   
   “This has become one of the strongest committees in the district and it adds so much value,” Butcher said.
   
   Andy Franko, iConnect Zone leader, updated the board on the status of the approved Automotive Institute of Science and Technology charter school. He said the school will be based out of Hilltop Baptist Church in Colorado Springs until the purchasing process for the permanent facility is complete. That facility, the former K-Mart building on Palmer Park Boulevard in Colorado Springs, is significantly larger than the temporary facility at Hilltop Baptist, he said.
   
   Franko said he needs to discuss with the school’s board of directors how the facility change might impact the already-approved educational programming and budget. “We want to ensure the school does not change too much from what was approved in the charter in 2018,” he said.
   
   Ron Sprinz, finance group manager, updated the board about student enrollment numbers and the amended budget for the 2019-2020 school year. He said D 49 has 134 students more than what it budgeted for, which is a positive thing for the district. Sprinz also said he has brought back budgeting scorecards to more accurately depict the state of the district’s finances.
   
   Jim Rohr, purchasing and contracts manager, provided an update on D 49’s external partners and vendors and identified vendors and how they are using the money. He said many of the current list of vendors are general contractors from MLO projects.
   
   William Yerger, health science teacher at Horizon Middle School, presented three course proposals for SCHS as follows: pre-medical 100, pre-medical 200 and pre-medical 300. He said he wants to promote careers that many kids do not know about, and explained what type of experience each course would provide for the students, including the opportunity for certificate-and-degree-focused learning.
   
   Washburn said many kids at SCHS want courses like these but was concerned that one semester for each course was too short of a timeframe.
   
   The BOE unanimously agreed to move the course proposals forward for action at the January 2020 regular meeting.
   
   Whetstine updated the board on the district’s accreditation designation through the Colorado Department of Education, which the state agree to upgrade from “improvement” to “fully accredited.”
   
   Ridgway presented information about upcoming legislation he is helping to create regarding school finance and a “uniform mill levy.” He said there is a disparity in property taxes assessed in districts throughout the state and the uniform mill levy possibly would lead to a more equitable taxpayer obligation.
   
   “This is a way to make school finance across Colorado beneficial for all students,” Cruson said.
   
   The next regular meeting of the BOE is Jan. 9 at 6:30 p.m. in the board room at the D 49 Education Services Center.
  
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  Charter schools defined –- waivers
  By Lindsey Harrison

   In November, “The New Falcon Herald” began a multi-part series defining charter schools and describing how they differ from traditional schools. According to the Colorado Department of Education’s website, there are 264 charter schools –- public schools that operate via contract or charter with an authorizer –- operating in Colorado during the 2019-2020 school year.
   
   This month, the NFH is focusing on waivers that charter schools can request from the CDE. Bill Kottenstette, executive director for the schools of choice unit at the CDE, said, “When a school receives a waiver, it essentially implies that that provision of law does not apply to that school.”
   
   Title 22 in the Colorado Revised Statutes provides information on education law and under the Charter School Act, which was passed in 1993, charter schools can request waivers from some of those provisions, he said. The state board of education has the authority to grant or deny those waivers, Kottenstette said.
   
   The CDE’s website states: “This flexibility is intended to provide charters with the autonomy to fully implement the educational plan outlined in the school’s contract with the authorizing district.”
   
   Kottenstette said waivers are part of the application process for charter schools. Some waivers are automatic, meaning the CDE automatically waives that provision of the law for the charter, while others are non-automatic, he said.
   
   Andy Franko, iConnect Zone leader for El Paso County Colorado School District 49, said the automatic waivers granted to charter schools are those provisions in direct conflict with the nature of the charter contract. The CDE’s website lists automatic waivers that include the following: “Local board duties concerning selection of staff and pay; determine educational program and prescribe textbooks; School Year-National Holidays; and Compulsory school attendance-Attendance policies and excused absences.”
   
   The charter application approval process begins with the authorizing entity, either a school district or the Colorado Charter School Institute, Kottenstette said. “In Colorado, districts authorize about 85 percent of charter schools and the rest are through the Charter School Institute,” he said.
   
   Because the authorizer is the first to evaluate a charter application, it has some decision-making capacity about what is contained in each specific waiver, Kottenstette said. That means one district can require something that another district does not, he said. However, no non-automatic waiver can be granted without a rationale and replacement plan, Kottenstette said.
   
   “While charter schools have the ability to waive out of a specific statute, they have to replace it and provide a rationale about why they want to replace it,” Franko said. “When we (a charter authorizer) evaluate a waiver request, we are looking for whether or not the replacement plan is sufficient to meet the spirit of the law it is replacing. We are not evaluating whether we think it is a good idea or if we like it.”
   
   Once an application –- and any included waivers –- has been approved by the authorizer, the Colorado Board of Education then evaluates the application, Kottenstette said. However, the state board does not have the authority to grant or deny a charter; they can only grant or deny waivers; and, if they choose to deny a waiver, they need to provide a reason for that denial, he said.
   
   “Part of the legislative declaration for charter schools is based on the theory that it provides the school with autonomy; and, in exchange for autonomy, we hold them (charter schools) accountable for their performance,” Kottenstette said. “There are a lot of provisions in the public school law that still apply to charter schools so they have some autonomy but they still largely operate within the educational context of a public school.”
   
   Waivers cannot be granted for a federal law and waivers cannot be granted for any law outside of Title 22, he said. The CDE website lists areas of statute that charter schools cannot waive, including — but not limited to — the following: the Public School Finance Act; state assessments; notification to parents of alleged criminal conduct by school employees; and the Children’s Internet Protection Act.
   
   D 49 is an exclusive chartering authorizer, meaning district administration is the first entity to review the application, including the list of requested waivers, Franko said. The administration then takes their recommendations for approval or denial to the board of education, he said.
   
   “Sometimes a charter application gets sent back to the applicants to be reworded; sometimes the replacement plan does not make sense,” Franko said. “In general, the waivers are almost always identical.”
   
   Waivers are not actually exclusive to charter schools, he said. If a traditional school has received innovation status through the CDE, that school can apply for waivers, Franko said. D 49 as a district has innovation status because it includes 11 individual schools of innovation, he said.
   
   Once a waiver has been granted, it is typically in place for five years at which time the charter renewal process begins, Franko said. At that time, schools can apply for additional waivers or subtract waivers they have before, he said.
   
   Charter schools are required by law to post their waivers on their websites along with their replacement and rationale plans, Franko said.
   
   “It is important to understand that charters are not exempt from state law,” he said. “The waivers are a better way to meet the obligation of the Charter Schools Act and meet the needs of the charter schools without conflicting with the laws. They still have to follow the law and replace a waived statute with an appropriate plan.”
  
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