Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Farewell, and thanks

This is my last opportunity for a Board report. It has been my privilege and pleasure to serve the citizens of Poudre School District for the last eight years. It has been a time of great change – new leaders at all levels of PSD, economic turmoil, No Child Left Behind, international events – but PSD has been a consistent center of excellence through it all, and for that, I thank everybody who was part of it.

When I first came on the Board in 1999, we were a collegial group. We got along fairly well. However, I do not think we were nearly as effective as we could have been. That has changed. Over the years, the Board has tackled a variety of issues which have helped define the Board’s proper role in governing the District and representing the interest of the citizens. We have not avoided hard or controversial problems. We have increased the effectiveness of our community outreach. We have enhanced the collective voice of the Board. Most significantly, we have reformed our jobs so that we can pay attention to those issues which most appropriately require Board oversight. Best of all, we have done this all without sacrificing our teamwork or mutual respect.

The Board’s reform is, of course, not complete. We have just begun looking at policy-level goals for PSD. This process will take several years to really get established, and it will be up to the new Board and its successors to finish the job. I have great confidence in your ability to do so, and I look forward to the process and ultimate results.

I would like to thank a few people. First, my fellow Board members and past Board members I have worked with – Gerri, David, Steve, John, Jim, ML, Tom, Jana, Larry, Garth, Nancy, Bill, Anne – we have been through a lot together, but I firmly believe that PSD is a better place because of our efforts. Next, the PSD community has been amazingly supportive of us over the years and deserves much of the credit for our success. Third, I’d like to thank our current Superintendent Dr. Wilson as well as former Superintendents Wright, Bamford, and Unger. Fourth, the staff on the front lines has given their hearts to the children of PSD, and your results speak volumes about your dedication and professionalism. Finally, and most importantly, I would like to thank my family, who has sacrificed more than I probably even know for me to be here over the years, but who has been unwaveringly supportive.

Thank you all.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Excerpts from the Declaration of Independence

Some Independence Day reading. Read the original, and weep.

...Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government...

The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

  • He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
  • He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
  • ...
  • He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
  • He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
  • He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
  • ...
  • For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
  • For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
  • ...
  • For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
  • ...
  • He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
Presented without further commentary

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Grade reconfiguration

As most people know, the Board is now discussing the results of the grade reconfiguration study. I have not yet decided how I will vote - I look forward to the continued debate - but I just reread what I wrote 15 months ago when the Board asked for this study, and it still rings true. Therefore, I thought I would point it out again:

Grade Configuration

This has been a very good dialogue. Regardless of what decision we make, I am glad we asked the question.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Open Thread on Policy Governance

Below, I have placed the soapbox the Board sent to the Coloradoan, which was published on Monday, March 5, 2007. It generated some interesting discussion on the Coloradoan's website; unfortunately, the posting is about to go into the archives. This posting is an open thread to provide an opportunity for people to continue the dialogue if they desire.

Policy Governance

As the pace of globalization increases, a significant amount of change will be required in our public schools. To provide the strategic leadership necessary for this, the Poudre School District Board of Education has adopted a new governance structure, called “Policy Governance.” With the basic adoption completed, we are continuing to talk with the community so that we can better define the District’s goals. Therefore, we would like to take this opportunity to inform the community about how Policy Governance works.

First, Policy Governance is a well-established framework that many different boards have used to structure their work. The framework, in its most basic form, states that there are four main areas of policy that a board should concern itself with. These are:
  • District Ends – goals the Board establishes for PSD
  • Executive Limitation – limits on the Superintendent’s authority
  • Governance Process – how the Board manages itself
  • Board-Superintendent Relationship – division of responsibilities
This framework is designed to allow non-specialists (the citizen Board of Education) to be effective as we supervise and delegate appropriate amounts of authority to a highly qualified specialist (the Superintendent) to accomplish the Board’s goals.

Policy Governance carefully separates the goals established for the organization (the “Ends”) from how the goals will be achieved (the “Means”). The Board establishes the Ends. Generally, the Superintendent is responsible for the Means, with some exceptions – there are “means” which the Board feels are unacceptable to the citizens of PSD, or which belong to the Board – and these are carefully documented in policy.

We are currently engaged in a community dialog as write the District Ends policies. These are the policies that will tell the District:
  • What to teach
  • How district effectiveness should be measured
  • How important each goal is relative to the others.
Until we complete this work, the District’s previous goals, both explicitly stated as well as implied, remain in effect.

We believe the remaining areas of policy are complete as of the time of adoption.

Executive Limitation policies are designed to allow the Superintendent the maximum possible freedom to achieve the District Ends – without sacrificing the Board’s legal and moral obligation to be the citizens’ overseer of the District. These policies include, but are not limited to, policies concerning:
  • The rights of parents, students, staff, and PSD citizens.
  • Financial responsibility
  • Required public input before substantial change
According to Policy Governance, whatever is not prohibited is allowed. It is therefore very important that the Executive Limitation policies accurately reflect the values of PSD as a whole.

The Governance Process policies define the Board’s organization and how we perform our work. The Board-Superintendent Relationship policies specify how we divide our responsibilities, and how the Superintendent is directed and evaluated.

Finally, Policy Governance requires the Board, on a regular basis, to monitor compliance with its policies. This will give us a much better picture of District performance. It will also provide the community with assurances that our policies are being followed.

Policy Governance gives the PSD Board of Education a new set of tools that we can use to better serve the citizens of PSD. It does not remove any of the power that the Board formerly had; instead, it allows us to concentrate much more on our most important task: educating the children of PSD. It is important to note that these policies are not “cast in stone” – if you have concerns about specific policies, or the lack thereof, please feel free to share them with the Board.

Link to PSD’s Policy Governance policies:

Link to PSD’s Policy Governance page:

Friday, November 10, 2006

Post-Election 2006

I spent Election Day contending with the nastiest gastrointestinal bug I've had in years. I blamed it on election ad toxicity, but the election results had several bright spots for education which helped me recover.

First, both Amendment 39 and Referendum I failed by a wide margin. I am very pleased that Colorado voters value the local control of their elected School Boards. I opposed these initiatives not only because of the negative impact they would have had on PSD, but also the implication that education issues should be generally settled at the state level. I always thought the best commercial against 39 would have been this:

A small child stands in the dark at a cold, snowy bus stop. Her mother approaches and says, "I'm sorry honey - the District has had to cut bus service due to Amendment 39, and the car won't start. You'll have to walk." Vote "No" on Amendment 39 - it's bad for kids.

It really would have come down to things like increasing the "walk distance" (the distance children are required to walk before qualifying for bus service), reducing groundskeeping and maintainence, and other things which would have directly impacted the safety and education of our children. It's ludicrous to think that a statewide bureaucracy would know more about what you value in your children's education than your neighbors serving on the elected Board of Education would.

Second, locally, the Library District passed, again by a wide margin. Although I am somewhat disappointed that they did not have a good option to provide for elected oversight, I do think that a Library District is very much in the tradition of local community members banding together to improve the lives of their citizens. This will benefit not only the education of K-12 students in PSD, but also the preschool and post-secondary educations of Library District residents. I've been a long-time user of the Library, and could afford a fee for its services if it had been needed, but there are many more citizens who use it who could NOT afford a fee. Continuous education improves the economic prospects of those who engage in it, and the Library District will maintain and widen the access of citizens to information.

Finally, good news for all government in Colorado, Amendment 38 failed (again by a wide margin!). This was a blatant attempt to subvert representative democracy. It would have allowed small groups of disgruntled people to disrupt the fiscally conservative practices of locally elected governments, by allowing them to place construction projects on hold while construction costs rise. It would have prevented timely decisions from elected officials by holding them hostage to the threat of a referendum. Colorado already has reasonably liberal recall provisions - if you disagree with your elected officials, throw the bums out! - and this amendment was not only unnecessary, but also harmful. Again, Colorado Voters showed their wisdom by rejecting this turkey.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Patriot Day 2006

By joint resolution approved December 18, 2001, Congress designated September 11 of each year as "Patriot Day." Today is, therefore, Patriot Day, 2006.

Although the reasons why September 11 were chosen are obvious, we should always ask ourselves the questions, "Why should we be patriotic? What makes the United States special?" We can find the answers in the documents the Founding Fathers left for us. From the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

And, from the Constitution:

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posteridy, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

These are the reasons why we should be patriotic. The United States is a worthy nation because it supports these principles. As we remembers the heroes and victims of September 11, 2001, we should also be thankful for the wisdom and foresight of the founders of our nation.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Open thread: recent topics

It has been a while since I last posted, and several significant things have happened that I have not commented on:

1. The Board approved the proposed southeast boundaries on a 6-1 vote
2. The Board approved the location of the new southeast elementary to be south of Timnath
3. The Board raised its requested development fees to more accurately reflect the actual cost of land purchases
4. The Board has moved forward with Wellington toward getting a fair intergovernmental agreement that allows us to assess development fees on new developments there
5. A new calendar has been proposed which adds two additional student contact (teaching) days to the middle of the year, replacing previous school holidays.
6. The Board has approved a lawsuit appealing the denial of our exclusive chartering application (see below)

The thread is open for questions or comments on these or other topics.

Thoughts on Exclusive Chartering Appeal

In the immediately preceding post, below, I gave the history and details of PSD's Exclusive Chartering appeal. My personal thoughts are as follows.

First, I strongly feel that government works better the closer it is to those who are governed. In other words, for school issues, it is better to have a local Board of Education make decisions on how to spend local taxpayers' money, because it gives the local taxpayers a much stronger voice in the makeup of that Board. In my mind, the Charter Institute goes against this principle. As it grows and authorizes charters across the state, it will become a centralized bureaucracy, directly accountable to no elected board (the Institute Board is made up of political appointees).

Second, the Colorado Constitution seems to give the Legislature little power to actually create something like the Charter Institute

Third, it seems clear to me that our previous "limit" was not a "moratorium" as defined by State statute.

Finally, in my mind, the State Board acted arbitrarily in approving other Districts' requests while denying PSDs.

This lawsuit will not be free. It will require time and energy from District staff. However, in my mind, the local control issues are important enough to spend the estimated $10,000 to $15,000 that the lawsuit will cost. Additionally, the per-pupil-revenue that the District stands to lose to Institute schools is much greater than that amount.

This is not the only avenue we should pursue. I feel we should continue to lobby our State Board representatives. I will update this post later with contact information for others who wish to lobby our State Board.

PSD Board Approves Appeal on Exclusive Chartering Authority

The PSD Board of Education met this morning in a special session to discuss whether we should appeal the recent State Board of Education decision which denied PSD exclusive chartering authority. On a 4-2 vote, the Board decided to file suit challenging the decision. Directors Johnson, Tellez, myself, and President Ley were in favor; Directors Neal and Yeldell were opposed.

For those who may not know the issues involved, here is a summary. In 2004, the Colorado State Legislature passed legislation creating the Charter Institute. This is a state-level organization which has the authority to approve charter school contracts anywhere in the state. By default, the Charter Institute has shared chartering authority with local Districts; that is, a charter school may decide to apply either to the local Board of Education, or to the Charter Institute. The legislation also authorized local Boards to apply for exclusive chartering authority in their District (which had been the status quo before this legislation). However, the State Board was allowed to deny exclusive chartering authority if the applying District had had a "moratorium" on charter schools in the past four years. Additionally, the Legislature made it illegal for Districts to have a limit on the number of charter schools located within their boundaries (previously, this had been expressly allowed).

Poudre School District had a "soft" limit, authorized in 2001 (if I recall correctly); in the authorizing resolution, the Board at that time also said it would consider any "innovative" charter applications that came forward (it's that willingness that makes this a "soft" limit and not a moratorium as defined in the law). After the law was passed making limits illegal, the Board of Education repealed PSD's limit (at the first opportunity, I might add).

PSD then applied for exclusive chartering authority, arguing, among other things, that our "limit" was not a "moratorium". The State Board voted 4-4 to deny our application; this left us in a bit of a grey area, as the motion to deny failed. Our belief is that, consequently, we had exclusive authority during this time, but the Colorado Department of Education does not agree. We applied again, and, on May 11, the State Board voted 4-3 to deny our application (I was there to witness; Shaffer made the motion to deny; Shaffer, Suckla, Littleton, and Polis voted to deny; Hudak, Middleton, and Munn voted not to deny; and DeHoff recused himself).

This brings us to the present. On May 22, the Board approved a motion which requested that the District's legal council investigate the grounds and possible costs for appealing the decision in court. This week, our attorney got us the information, and President Ley scheduled a special meeting for this morning at 7:00. The Board decided to proceed, as outlined in the opening paragraph.

This post is plenty long, so I'm going to put my personal perspectives in a separate post.