Why I am Voting for Matt Van Gieson and Erica Shields For Jeffco School Board

Matt Van Gieson and Erica Shields

I have followed the school board in Jeffco for a long time. I have had the pleasure to meet Jeffco School Board candidates, Erica Shields and Matt Van Gieson. They both strongly believe in effective education for all students, school choice, improving student achievement, fiscal responsibility, keeping small schools open and not spending millions on moving 6th graders to middle school. More importantly, they bring balanced voices to the school board that represent our diverse community, diverse thoughts and opinions that so are desperately needed.

About Matt Van Gieson

I hope you get a chance to meet Matt. He is one down-to-earth guy. He has four children ages ranging from three months to seven years old. This may sound funny when you first hear it, but he and his wife have a combined 50 years in the Jeffco public school system to look forward to, so he has a vested interest in the future and longevity of Jeffco. And he is a Jeffco native and both he and his wife went through Jeffco public schools. He will bring a rational approach to the school board and his background is process improvement. I like that he wants to look hard at Jeffco’s billion-dollar budget and ask what students are getting in return. I really like that he wants teachers to have more control over their classrooms and what and how they teach, to better meet the learning needs of their students. I can relate to this because I always felt my kids’ school spent too much time teaching to the test. We have so many great teachers in Jeffco, we need to let them do their jobs and provide the resources they need and not bog them down with administrative overhead. I also like that Matt volunteered at Pleasant View elementary, the school at the Jeffco board put on the chopping block in January of 2017 and decided to close on February 9th 2017. He speaks about how hard the transition has been and all of the resources that students may not receive in their new schools. And he has seen firsthand the hole that is left in the community when a school is closed.

About Erica Shields

Every time I hear Erica, I learn more about her. She is one amazing woman. Not only has she overcome many obstacles growing up, but she never let them stop her from achieving her goals. She was adopted twice, once as a baby and then again when she was 3.5 years old. Growing up in a military family, her family moved many times so she needed to learn to be resilient. Her parents taught her with hard work and a great education that she could rise above her circumstances. She certainly did, as she has a PhD in public health, has been a teacher, a college professor, a business owner and a mom of four amazing kids. I like that the students of Jeffco would have someone to look up to and learn from. She is a passionate about ensuring we provide effective education for ALL students and believes in not being a victim of your circumstances. “Rise above” she says, which is so very true. She has spent countless hours volunteering with underprivileged children and I love that she holds veterans near and dear to her heart, (my Dad was a proud veteran.) She was also selected to be a part of a recent military honor flight. On top of all of this, she is raising four children, all of whom have attended Jeffco public schools. She has a child in elementary and middle school, a third in college, and one that recently graduated from college. I was really impressed when she was asked about what she would do about the low student achievement in Jeffco. Her answer was three-fold, 1) empowering parents to take control of their children’s education and 2) getting school students more involved in their community, 3) set measurable achievement goals for the Superintendent. These are actionable and measurable, much better than her opponents answer, “we need more money.”

Why is a Balance in Voice Important on Local School Boards?

It is important to have engaging and thoughtful conversations that includes voices from the diverse community that makes up Jeffco. The current school board ran together with one voice, one opinion which leaves many voices unheard and disregarded. Additionally, this one-sided decision making comes with little motivation for discussion and no motivation to dig deeper into the real issues Jeffco schools, teachers and students are facing. The incumbents say, “it is not broken so why change it”. Well I believe while great things happen every day in Jeffco, there are many things in our school district are broken and it does need fixing.

Realities of Jeffco:

CMAS and ACT/SAT results were recently released and discussed at the school board meeting on September 7th with presenters giving the perception that Jeffco is on the pathway to greatness. Unfortunately, the realities of student performance were completely ignored. Here are the facts, and it isn’t glowing or pretty:

· More than 50% of ALL 3rd graders do NOT meet reading or math standards.

· 75% of ALL Low Income 3rd graders do NOT meet reading or math standards

· 75% of ALL Hispanic 3rd graders do NOT meet reading or math standards

· 80% of 8th graders, not in an accelerated math program, do NOT meet math standards

· 50% of 3rd — 9th graders do NOT meet reading standards

· the percent of 3rd-8th graders NOT meeting math standards grows every year from 50% of 3rd graders not meeting standards up to 80% of 8th graders taking grade level math NOT meeting benchmarks

· % of children NOT meeting Science standards: 5th grade: 58%, 8th grade: 60%, 11th grade: 65%

· 7 out of 10 11th graders FAILED to meet all four career and college benchmarks on the 2016 ACT

· 6 out of 10 11th graders FAILED to meet all three career and college benchmarks on the 2017 SAT. While the ACT and SAT scores appears to have improved, the SAT does not include Science, one of Jeffco’s weakest performance categories.

As a school district, we are failing so many students who otherwise would have so much to contribute to our society. This cannot be the norm nor can this be acceptable. I don’t buy “we are better than state average”. We should be! The school district has a billion-dollar budget, lower percent of low-income students, the highest paid superintendent in the state, and over ninety percent of our teachers receive a rating of effective or above. It is time to address these startlingly low performance scores. It is time to ask the hard questions, put programs in place and measure the results and that is what both Matt and Erica are committed to doing. For more on student achievement please read: In Jeffco, Student Achievement Stinks

What has the Current School Board “Accomplished”

New Debt Load

Current board voted to burden taxpayers with an additional $78 million in COP’s payments without voter approval. $32 million was used to build the new Three Creeks school. North Arvada did need a new elementary school, but a K-8 school was built instead to hold 800 students. It was projected to open with 600 students. Late in school year last year, the school board voted to change boundaries without community engagement and the school opened with around 300 students. The boundary changes failed to address nearby overcrowding in elementary schools which are using temporary buildings to educate their students. So Jeffco opened a $32 million school under capacity. As a reminder, the school board has repeatedly said that any school with 300 or less students should be evaluated for closure because a school that size cannot run or use student based budgeting dollars efficiently or effectively. Let’s not forget, that Jeffco already has over 15,000 empty classroom seats, well now you can add another 500 to the count since Three Creeks is more than half empty.

Moving 6th Graders to Middle School

The current school board started moving 6th graders to middle school against the will of the community. Voters strongly disagreed with this during last November’s election when the bond failed to pass. Voters did not want to spend $50 million to move 6th graders to middle school. There are too many unanswered questions. Yet, the board is moving forward with spending $50 million to make this move without engaging communities, teachers or even parents of children effected by this move.

As noted above, Jeffco already suffers from lagging student achievement results, so why move 6th graders to middle school when they will receive less direct literacy hours? Past performance results have shown that 6th graders in Jeffco, perform better in K-6 or K-8 configurations vs. 6–8 models. There are NO plans to address the center programs in elementary schools that will not be offered in middle schools which negatively impacts many diverse learners in Jeffco, such as students with Autism and GT students. ALL diverse learners will lose a year of services desperately needed. Additionally, there are NO plans for Title One students. Our most impoverished students will lose a year of literacy and math tutors and social services when moved to middle school. So, the board is essentially saying that it is ok to ignore our most economically disadvantaged students. (See lack of student achievement numbers above.) It is not ok that our most impoverished students will lose math tutors, literacy coaches, and other social services. I am tired of this mediocre attitude from the current school board.

You can’t leave out teachers, as they will be impacted as well. Most 6th grader teachers are certified as elementary teachers. If they want to teach in a middle school, they need to be a “content specialist” meaning they must go back to school for additional training at their own expense. What happens to those elementary teachers who do not want to teach at the middle school level? Only so many teachers can be absorbed into other elementary schools in Jeffco. How many “highly effective” teachers will Jeffco lose because of this change? Overall, this move impacts 5000 students. How many parents of those students rely on after school care that is offered at the elementary schools and not offered at the middle schools? Another factor completely disregarded by the board.

Moving 6th graders to middle school is no small matter and is a very expensive undertaking that will result in even lower student achievement results and thousands more empty classroom seats. Honestly, I do not buy the sales pitch from the current board “they have access to more sports and extracurricular activities”. Kids go to school to learn, it is the job of the school district to teach kids, ensure they are receiving a high-quality education and get them ready for the demands of high school. Many elementary schools offer extracurricular activities. Honestly, if that is the main selling point, it would be cheaper to invest in after school programs than spend $50 million to create space in middle schools for 6th graders that are already being accommodated at their elementary school.

Current board members are also saying that this move will free up capacity at elementary schools. If capacity is needed in elementary schools, wouldn’t it be more prudent to build two $25 million elementary schools? Instead, they are adding capacity onto middle schools and leaving elementary schools with less than ideal student counts. Currently in Jeffco, there are 10 schools with 300 or less students, after forcing 6th graders out of elementary schools, there will be 24 schools with 300 or less students. As mentioned, the current board uses 300 as a school closure criteria. How many small neighborhood schools will be on the chopping block? This board’s sales pitch does not make any sense.

Closed Pleasant View Elementary

This board voted 5–0 to close Pleasant View Elementary, a Title One School in Golden serving some of our most economically disadvantaged students. The rationale, to free up funds to give teachers a $25Million raise. A Title One School in Golden was shattered to help fund that. I am not saying that our teachers shouldn’t be compensated competitively, I just do not agree with the trade-off made and with so little regard for the impact on the community. What was sad about this decision is that this was more than a school, it was a community hub. The school not only served elementary students, it was home to a preschool and a special education center program. This school had a food bank, a backpack program that sent students’ home with backpacks filled with food on Friday’s. It had a program where senior citizens would come and work with one-on-one with students. At the board meeting when a vote was to take place, the current board had no idea that this school served Pre-K kids or special needs children. They voted to close it anyway, with the comment, “we will figure it out”. I wonder how those parents felt to be disregarded in such a fashion and to have their kids thrown to the curb. No compassion what-so-ever for the students, families, teachers or community members impacted by this decision. I was disappointed with the lack of plans of where the Title One students would go. Some would be transferred to another Title One school in Golden, others would not. It is not ok that so many K-6 students lost the services they were received at Pleasant View. And all of this to save a minimal amount of money. Realistically, how much money is really when the school sits empty and the district still has to provide maintenance? Pleasant View now joins Martensen, Sobesky and Zerger as schools that have closed but have not been sold so Jeffco is still paying for maintenance.

In all the funding cut discussions, not once was there a proposal to cut the top-heavy administration which has grown over 13% in the last 5 years. That increase alone equates to over $10 Million in funds. Jeffco’s cabinet is 33% larger than Denver Public Schools and serves less students. When did paper pushers become more important than community schools and the students they serve?

I am also baffled by the incumbent’s response to questions to the Chalkbeat article, We Asked the 2017 Jeffco School Board Candidates Seven Questions, Here are Their Responses. When asked about their plans for Jeffco, the incumbents stated, “we need money to serve our low-income students.” How can they pretend to care about low income families when they voted to close Pleasant View? As the saying goes, actions speak loader than words.

Cut Funding of GT Program at Wheat Ridge High School

Another proposal the board considered to free up money for teacher raises was to cut the Gifted & Talented Program at Wheat Ridge High School, the only program of its kind in Jeffco serving students with Advanced Learning Plans and those who are twice exceptional. Isn’t the Jeffco Vision 2020 about meeting the learning needs of ALL students? It appears that is just on paper. This program, costs $150,000 but supports over 100 GT high school students. Jeffco can’t look at its own admin for trimming since it has grown 13% over the last 5 years. Instead, this board attacked programs that contribute to the learning of students. After listening to two hours of students sharing the importance of the program, the board decided to fund the program for one more year, telling staff to find a sustainable funding plan for school years 2018 and beyond. When the central staff refused to develop a sustainable plan the principal of Wheat Ridge and two of the Vice Principals resigned in protest. The actions approved by this board were just wrong and the result is a negative impact on exceptional students they swore an oath to educate.

Hired one of the Least Experienced but Most Expensive Superintendents in the State of Colorado

Continually we hear from current board members that a BILLION-DOLLAR budget is not enough to educate the 86,000 students in Jeffco. Yet, they all approved the hiring of Jason Glass, and awarded him a three-year contract worth over ONE MILLION DOLLARS. IF ONE MILLION DOLLARS isn’t enough Glass also required a “personal advisor” costing tax payers another $100,000 a year, directly taking money away from student programs to pay for this “advisor”. If Glass was so “qualified” and “competent”, why does he need a “personal advisor” and why was this hire not publicly discussed at a board meeting? Once again, students lose. It gets worse, our new million-dollar superintendent has ZERO achievement goals in his contract. The board justified his huge salary because his role can be compared to a CEO of a large corporation. I do not know of any large corporations where the CEO does not have any accountability or growth goals in their contract because that would be completely irresponsible to shareholders. (read more: New Jeffco Superintendent fringe benefits send salary near $400,000 per year)

What was our Million-dollar man awarded from current school board:

· Huge salary increase over prior superintendent, a reminder that McMinemee’s 7% salary increase over Dr. Stevenson’s was a “recall” issue. Well Glass is receiving 20% more than his McMinemee.

· Receives $750/month car allowance or an additional $9000 a year

· Receives $795K life insurance policy

· Tax payers will pay up to 6 months living expenses and all moving expenses

· Receives 25 ADDITIONAL vacation days (above the usual district vacation days)

· Receives 35% of his salary in annual retirement benefits. Tax payers already pay 20.15% of his salary into his PERA retirement account, and taxpayers are picking up the 8% contribution to his retirement that he is supposed to pay, and another 7% will be deposited into a separate annuity

· His annual raise is tied to consumer price index (teachers do not receive that), so he is guaranteed a raise no matter how student achievement improves or declines and regardless if teachers receive a raise

· He gets to blog as much as he wants

· His responsibilities cannot be taken away or reassigned. If he fails at his job description, we are stuck on a path of failure. Students lose.

Student Achievement

The current school board have not set any goals or targets for student achievement these last two years. They have not addressed the hard issue of schools not meeting growth or achievement objectives. I do appreciate the accolades they have given to the hand-full of schools that are accomplishing wonderful things, but there are 157 schools in Jeffco, how many are failing over half of their students? And let’s be honest, Rupert and Harmon both say the solution to student achievement is more money via increased taxes. Jeffco has a billion-dollar budget. Administration has increased 13% in the last 5 years, Jeffco’s cabinet is 33% larger than DPS, and number of teachers has decreased by 2%. Maybe it is time to take a harder look at the growth in admin, because those are dollars not going into classrooms. While on this topic — why isn’t anyone in our top-heavy admin looking to replicate the high performing/high demand schools such as D’Evelyn, IB program at Lakewood and STEM program at Wheat Ridge? Why is the current board not addressing growth opportunities at Warren Tech? Why is the board not addressing adding charter schools as viable options? Many charter schools attract home-schooled students, private and out-of-district students. All those new students equate to additional revenue for the district it otherwise would not receive.

Fiscal Irresponsibility

Jeffco has a nearly a billion-dollar budget, funding from all cash inflows is $978,915,960. The current board likes to say that their budget dollars are decreasing. In the 2011/12 school year, the General Fund was nearly $593M, 2017/18 General Fund is budgeted at $698M, a 17% increase, with relatively flat enrollment. And the board likes to pretend that there is not an additional $280 million in additional cash flow that comes into the district. With this billion-dollar budget, what returns are we getting from the money invested in the education of Jeffco’s students. Where are the checks & balances? In 2015, construction projects had over $6 Million in overages. Where did the money go? Why the overages? What did the district learn from these overages so mistakes are not duplicated? Before any of these can be answered, overages must be acknowledged. Where is the accountability for tax payer’s money? Now some people may say that $6 million is not a lot in regard to a billion-dollar budget. Well, the money could fund the GT program. That money could fund ASD centers in Middle schools and in High Schools that are desperately needed, especially if 6th graders are losing a year of services. That money could be allocated to classroom materials or for more teachers or more teacher supports and the list goes on. So, yes that is a lot of money when so many other programs are not being funded due to “lack of money”. Let’s not forget the dismal failure of the school boards billion-dollar tax ask last November selling it as “repairing schools” when in fact, less than half of the tax ask was actually going towards fixing/updating aging schools and 22% was part of a “slush fund”. It was a completely irresponsible request such a large tax increase.

Lastly, we need more fiscal transparency so we know how much money is spent on each program and what the results are so we know how effective our investments are in educating students. For example: How much did the district spend on teacher professional development last year? And what metrics did the district used to measure the effectiveness of the professional development? When asking teachers, many say professional development is not a good use of their time and/or they are not learning useful things to help them be better teachers. Shouldn’t teacher development be just that? Why is the district not soliciting their feedback and if they are, why are they not making changes?

The fact of the matter is, Jeffco spends close to $1 Billion per year on education, that’s $11k per student. WHAT are the results of that? What can we measure? What is the feedback we’re getting? Is less than 50% of 3rd through 8th graders meeting grade level requirements for math and reading good enough for you? Is that acceptable? Do you want to see us dig deeper into this budget and figure out how to get a BETTER return on that investment for students in Jeffco?

Time for Change: Vote for Matt Van Gieson and Erica Shields

In 2015 We Were all Deceived: Two years ago, we, i.e. community members, parents, teachers and students, were all misled during the recall to believe that is was a “grassroots” effort. After the election, Jeffco United for Action was ordered to disclose its donors and 99.9% of donations, nearly $300,000 was from unions and only $3,114 from community members. Even more disheartening, the information on the ballot — yes, the ballot that we, as voters use to make our decisions, was also full of false information. And there is more, the union is now leading national training seminars on their “comprehensive two-year plan to recall the school board” based off their success in Jeffco. We were duped not once, but twice. I do not want this dishonesty in our schools. I teach my children to be honest, I expect the adults influencing 86,000 students, parents and community members to be honest. I want to be able to trust the board members I vote for and in this case, you can’t trust the incumbents. All current board members were voted in under false pretenses. I want board members that will be honest and put STUDENTS AHEAD OF POLITICS.

2 years ago, this entire board came in a slate with one idea, one voice. How does anyone think they represent the many diverse voices of our community members?

I support Matt Van Gieson and Erica Shields for Jeffco School Board. They are committed to listening to the community. The community is telling them that they disagree with closing schools, want to slow down the process of moving 6th graders to middle school, and that they think the Billion-Dollar budget can be used more efficiently. Matt Van Gieson and Erica Shields will bring these messages to the board table.

The school board members are stewards of the billion-dollar school budget, yet as a school district, it is failing 7 out of 10 high school students and 50% of all students in 8th grade and below. Status quo is not good enough. Matt and Erica are committed to improving student achievement, engaging and listening to community members and teachers, and expecting measurable results for the districts billion-dollar budget. It is time for change on the Jeffco School Board.

I believe there is hope to turn around the low student achievement results in Jeffco, but it hasn’t happened under this current school board. If we want results to improve we must support change and that starts with voting for Matt Van Gieson and Erica Shields when your ballot arrives in your mail box mid-October. If you don’t get a ballot, go to the polls and vote on November 7th. Matt Van Gieson and Erica Shields will be the 2nd name on the ballot in each of their district. Every resident of Jefferson County, can vote for all open school board seats. Please join me in voting for Matt Van Gieson and Erica Shields.