Colorado School District
El Paso County Colorado District 49

D 49 Board of Education wrap-up

By Deb Risden

The El Paso County School District 49 Board of Education held its monthly meeting Aug. 10. Amy Matisek, internal communications manager, started the Fantastic 49 celebration highlighting staff and students who won state and national awards over the summer.

  • The Vista Ridge High School yearbook team earned the school’s second national award in six years. Team members are Xiao Jonas, Kayanah Duran, Jake Amaya, Yunessa Rodriguez, Madison Billingsley, Shelby Cronce, Ayla Wise, Autumn Ehlers, Sydney Parker and Lily LeVake.
  • Evans Elementary School was named Josten’s Renaissance School of Distinction-Gold Level for focusing on relationships and academics. The award is the first in the country for an elementary school. Program leaders are Gracee Liggett, third-grade teacher; Cindy Webb, reading interventionist; Jennifer Braitman, math coach; Becky Lentner, second-grade teacher, Erin Cox, behavior interventionist; and Marcia Case, principal.
  • Horizon Middle School was named National Renaissance Leader-Platinum Level for the third year in a row. Program leaders are Whitney Apodaca, Courtney Hutchinson, Jackie Ornelas, Mary Wikoff, James Sweeney, Toni Lunden, Jamie Candelaria and Elizabeth Dalzell.
  • Transportation team members competed with transportation professionals across the state at the Colorado State Road-E-O contest, where they showcased their skills and knowledge. Pam Page, driver, and Kayla Herniak, paraeducator, took first place in special education team and best rookie team; Adrian Ionita, certified bus technician, won second place overall and first place in the inspection station category.
  • Brandy Larson, staffing specialist, for going above and beyond in helping licensed substitute teachers feel part of the D 49 team

Superintendent’s update

Peter Hilts, superintendent, said the district had a strong hiring season over the summer; however, there are key positions unfilled. He said the district received more than a dozen bus driver applications after the bus test drive event. Hilts said that newly elected Colorado Springs mayor, Yemi Mobolade, kicked off his listening tour of each city council district with a visit to Sand Creek High School on Aug. 4. SCHS students filled one of about 10 tables of citizens that generated questions and ideas to discuss with the Mobolade. Hilts said the Student Board of Representatives anticipates hosting a BOE candidate forum some time in September for the November election. 

Board update

John Graham, president, asked drivers in the community to slow down and follow laws that require stopping when a school bus is stopped. He said, “Kids are on the roads. Some of them are new drivers, new bicyclists, especially in and near the school zones. Every year we have some person in a rush that endangers kids and others.” 

Jamilynn D’Avola, treasurer, said the district’s focus on becoming Accredited With Distinction will take a lot of work on everyone’s part. “I am confident we can accomplish this with great teachers and staff working to make this achievable,” she said. D’Avola said there is progress being made in developing superintendent evaluation metrics with a draft anticipated by the next BOE working session. 

Ivy Liu, director, said she is concerned about legislation coming out of Denver regarding mental health of children and parental rights. She said the increase in transgender kids is happening to girls age 12 through early 20s, and she referred to it as a social contagion.

Lori Thompson, secretary, said she has been interacting with board members of other districts in El Paso and Teller counties. She said there are three vacancies on the D 49 BOE with newly revised districts. 

Rick Van Wieren, vice president, said we should be limiting kids’ exposure to social media. He said that although we compete with other districts for resources, districts have much in common. “Districts working together is going to make the Pikes Peak Region have better schools for everybody,” he said.

Action items

The BOE unanimously approved the following:

  • The appointment of Graham as the D 49 delegate and D’Avola as alternate to the Colorado Association of School Boards
  • Resolution to authorize execution of an intergovernmental agreement for the Nov. 7 election
  • James Irwin Charter Elementary School at Canada Drive charter application
  • D 49 proposed operated and chartered budget
  • Matters relating to administrative and licensed personnel as recommended by administration

Discussion items

Nancy Lemmond, executive director of individualized education, presented a job description for a Medicaid compliance assistant. The position is fully funded by Medicaid and helps ensure the district is in compliance with the Medicaid in Education Program. “The program provides funding for students who are receiving Medicaid and can be used to support health, wellness and safety of those students,” Lemmond said. “It does not impact the general funds budget.” She said funds are used for salaries and benefits for school nurses, health assistants, occupational and physical and speech therapies, to name a few. There was BOE consensus to move the job description forward for a vote at the next board meeting.

Paul Andersen, executive director for people and culture, presented a job description for senior executive assistant to align with the level of duties being performed by two current executive assistants. There was BOE consensus to move the job description forward for a vote at the next board meeting.

Monica Dienes-Henderson, director of nutrition services, presented proposed policy changes, some of which are required by law.

Dienes-Henderson provided an annual nutrition services operations update. She said nutrition services operates as an enterprise, “We are a business inside of the school district,” she said. The department has 11 open positions. She has seen an increase in meals served daily. The department will transfer $100,000 to the district’s general fund, representing an excess in revenue over expenses in the prior school year. She encourages parents and grandparents to volunteer for nutrition services.

Christina Tiernan, coordinator of math performance, provided a Star 360 end-of-year report. There is a positive trend in growth rates from 2022 to 2023. She said there is a dip in achievement around fifth grade. “It is more than likely that we have academic achievement needed or what students need to acquire in fifth grade is increasing once they reach that level.” Tiernan said the district recently was awarded a High Impact Tutoring Grant. Starting Sept. 5, they will be able to target students in grades four to seven for tutoring in small groups. “It’s going to target students that are approaching expectations,” she said. Bennett Ranch Elementary School is an anchor school for Zearn Math, a program funded by the Colorado Department of Education to accelerate math learning. Tiernan said as an anchor school, BRES will receive professional development and weekly coaching at no cost. 

Bruce Brown, facilities project manager, gave an operations performance update. He said several projects were completed over the summer. Bennett Ranch Elementary school addition is complete and anticipates the project to be completed at 8.5% to 10% under budget. Construction has begun on the Vista Ridge High School addition. The transportation center is under construction. Challenges for construction projects have been weather, long lead times, existing building conditions and supply chain issues.

Hilts presented potential Mill Levy Override ballot language. He said the work completed by Magellan Strategies found the majority of the community has a favorable opinion of D 49 and its teachers. The MLO would fund pay raises for teachers for the next seven years, allowing the district to compete for high-quality teachers with neighboring districts that have higher levels of funding. Hilts said, “Compensation does lift teacher quality, lifts school performance, lifts perception of community and home values.” He said that upcoming property tax increases will not provide additional funding for the district based on the state funding formula. He said MLO funding stays local. The Magellan survey states that the average cost to the homeowner will be about $49 per $100,000 in value. A home valued at $450,000, for example, would see an increase of $225 per year in taxes. The MLO ballot language was moved forward for a vote at the next meeting.

Graham presented three resolutions for the Colorado Association of School Boards fall delegate assembly. The BOE agreed to move all three forward to CASB.

  • Individuals with Disabilities Act — requesting support for full funding
  • Capture of traffic violators — a proposal to use bus video to capture/penalize traffic violators of “stop” arms on buses
  • Amend Public School Finance Act of 1994 to allow school districts to implement impact fees to fund, construct, maintain or manage capital construction projects

Lynette DePaul, executive assistant to the BOE, presented several polices and procedures for review. Updates are based on new laws and CASB recommendations. 

The next regular meeting of the BOE is Sept. 14  at 6:30 p.m. in the Peakview Hall at the Creekside Success Center in Colorado Springs.

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