Dear Cherry Creek School District Stakeholder,
During the Cherry Creek Schools 64-year history, it has been the support of our community that is the cornerstone for our students' success. This partnership has made the Cherry Creek School District one of the highest achieving school districts in the nation, with low dropout rates, and higher than average graduation rates and overall academic growth. It is the heart of our mission "to inspire every student to think, to learn, to achieve, to care."
At no time in our district's history has this partnership been more critical to preserving the tradition of excellence for which the district is so rightfully known. Never before have we seen so many out-of-state interests and money, as well as top-down mandates from Washington, D.C. and our own representatives at the state capitol. Gradually, our local school boards are being stripped of their right of local control of our neighborhood schools.
Over the past few years, legislators have passed a number of one-size-fits-all unfunded mandates in the name of "reform," which have created serious distractions disrupting the work of the dedicated and committed professionals who work in our schools.
During those same years, between 2008 and 2012, CCSD had to reduce its budget by about 9 percent, or $39.7 million. This resulted in program cuts, deferral of maintenance, and the loss of about 340 full-time positions. Had local voters not passed the $25 million mill levy override in November of 2012, CCSD would have had to cut an additional $21 million or more for school year 2013-2014. (Instead, this state cut fell on the backs of CCSD taxpayers.) It's important to remember that none of these cuts have been restored.
CCSD continues to lose $61.4 million in state aid every year due to what's called the "negative factor," the loss of funds intended to provide school districts with extra support for things like infrastructure costs for small districts or high levels of at-risk students, in the Colorado School Finance Act. The state also is negligent in its funding for special education. The district currently receives $19.8 million annually for special education costs, but spends $61 million annually to provide special education services. This funding gap puts tremendous pressure on the rest of the school system.
|"During the several years of funding reductions, the legislature did not offer solutions for how the cuts should be made, but continued to pass additional unfunded mandates further straining already decimated budgets." |
To put it another way, the money lost to the negative factor is the equivalent of funding for 9,334 students equal to the average enrollment of 14 elementary schools.
Currently, the legislature has access to more than $1 billion in the state's Education Fund. Superintendents from around the state have joined together to ask the legislature to allocate $275 million of recurring funds to public schools, in addition to the governor's proposed increase. The entire balance of funds lost to public education due to the negative factor should be restored in future years.
A significant portion of the $275 million will be used to reduce the negative factor. The negative factor was the mechanism used to reduce funding allocated to public schools, so it is the mechanism that should be used to restore funding. A portion of the $275 million allocation should be directed to students with significant risks of not making adequate educational progress (for example, English Language Learners, students living in poverty, and students with special needs). The total amount of money directed to students at risk and the specific allocation process should be determined through a welcomed dialog between parents, superintendents, lawmakers and others.
The Cherry Creek School District strongly opposes any spending designations for the restored funding. During the several years of funding reductions, the legislature did not offer solutions for how the cuts should be made, but continued to pass additional unfunded mandates further straining already decimated budgets. Now is the time to honor the Colorado Constitution's stated commitment to local control.
We ask that you call your state legislators and tell them that your neighborhood schools belong to you. Let them know that we, and they, have a moral obligation to provide adequate resources so that each child has access to the best possible educational opportunities we can provide. Tell them:
• To restore the negative factor and let local school districts use the funds to restore those things they lost during the Great Recession. Tell them to support the superintendents' request to begin with $275 million for the upcoming school year.
• No more unfunded mandates. We can't continue to stretch our already thin budget to pay for ideologically driven policies from out-of-state groups under the label of vague and, in Cherry Creek, unneeded reforms.
• Your children cannot be used for experiments for untested, non-peer reviewed education policies that are not backed with scientific evidence.
• Locally elected school boards and their chosen leaders are the best experts of what is best for students, not political special interest groups.
Among the new education policies being considered this session is increased financial reporting to the state in the interests of financial "transparency" for schools. As of now, the annual budget for Cherry Creek (more than 550 pages) for all our schools and departments is available online. In addition, school districts are already required to provide a searchable database of all expenditures for all schools, departments and funds. Further burdening schools with more reporting requirements will not lead to higher achievement, but will instead divert existing resources away from the classroom to pay for extra work required. In other words, another unfunded mandate.
Some lawmakers also want to change the official count to determine funding from Oct. 1 to every day of the school year, claiming that this will improve attendance or achievement, despite the lack of any evidence this is true. Educators in Cherry Creek work just as hard in May as they do in October as shown by the district's consistently high level of achievement. Students still come to school all year as evidenced by the district's low dropout rate, higher than average graduation rates and overall academic growth rate.
Remember to always be respectful when addressing lawmakers. Good people can disagree and still have a thoughtful and meaningful conversation to find common ground. All of us want what is best for our children and all the children of Colorado.
Remind legislators that we all have a moral imperative to ensure that every child receives an education that provides access to all the opportunities our great nation offers. We do not inherit the world from our parents; we borrow it from our children.
Call or visit your representatives today, members of the House and Senate Education Committees and the governor's office. Share this information with your friends and neighbors and encourage them to do the same. We are Cherry Creek. Let's stand together to keep our neighborhood schools strong. Great neighborhood schools build great neighborhoods.
Harry C. Bull, Jr., Ed.D.