Teacher contract, test results prompt budget changes

Extra $9.5 million will fund salaries, planning for standardized tests

Posted 9/11/19

Student standardized test results came back just in time for the first regular school board meeting on Sept. 5, at which board members pressed for answers on how the district would improve for 2020. …

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Teacher contract, test results prompt budget changes

Extra $9.5 million will fund salaries, planning for standardized tests

Posted

Student standardized test results came back just in time for the first regular school board meeting on Sept. 5, at which board members pressed for answers on how the district would improve for 2020.

Although Jefferson County scores in the CMAS, PSAT and SAT were slightly higher than state averages, overall student improvement from 2018 to 2019 fell short as compared to previous years, said Chief Academic Officer Matt Flores. The district does not take the figures lightly, as boosting improvement rates has always been a major goal, he said.

That priority was reflected when district representatives brought a budget update to the board. Though the board already adopted the 2019-2020 budget in June, district executives have recommended the board approve several changes to that budget that would increase the budget by about $9.5 million.

Additionally, the new budget recommends reallocating $3.5 million back to unassigned reserves and utilizing new funding from retirement turnover in its place.

Planning time

One change came with an estimated $500,000 price tag and would implement a district-wide increase in teacher planning time, which district leaders expect will have a positive impact on test results. With the change, schools would build at least 45 minutes of collaborative planning time into the student contact day for every teacher.

Currently, some teachers already have 45 minutes or more, while some have less. The policy would standardize the minimum across the board.

Teachers need more planning time to better understand how to “transform the task,” or offer alternative forms of learning and testing, Flores said.

While the majority of Jeffco teachers believe the strategy will help students improve, according to data collected by the district, many feel unequipped to effectively employ the new methods, Director of Assessment and Research Heather MacGillivary said.

The district proposed increased planning time as one method to solve the problem. Because the planning time would occur during the school day, schools would need to hire additional staff to engage with students while their primary teachers are planning, which will cost an estimated $500,000, said Chief Financial Officer Kathleen Askelson.

Askelson recommended the district redirect $132,000 currently earmarked for educator pathway programming, and use $368,000 of unassigned reserves to cover the planning costs. The $368,000 reduction would leave reserves “around 13%, which is around the safety net,” Askelson said.

But board member Susan Harmon questioned whether assigning the $500,000 to planning time would be more worthwhile than spending that money on items the district had assumed it could not afford during the previous budget discussion.

“I don’t know if there’s a $50,000 item there that rises above this,” she said.

Even so, Superintendent Jason Glass highlighted the importance of the district’s efforts to improve test scores.

Board members had all agreed that the district spent the 2018-2019 year putting much of its effort toward other initiatives, such as getting ballot measures 5A and 5B passed to increase district funds. They therefore had less time to give to test score improvement, prompting the increased attention this year.

CMAS strategies

This year, Jeffco students will also have more opportunities built into each in-class exam to practice what are known as constructed response questions. The questions make up about 40% of the CMAS exam and require students to provide a written response that pulls evidence from several documents or artifacts, Flores said.

The district hopes to better prepare students for such questions by asking teachers to build more reflection time, in which students can speak one-on-one with each other, into the curriculum.

For schools that already implement such time, including charter school Doral Academy of Colorado, the reflection time has been a great help, said activities director Emily Hoch.

As opposed to the district, constructed response questions represented one of the strongest areas overall for Doral students, she said.

Doral students “share with their peers, and students can give feedback to one another,” she said. She added that, because the school is an arts integration school — meaning content for subjects like English and math is taught partially through the arts — students experience more of the alternate types of testing and learning encouraged by the district.

“Kids who might not normally feel very successful might feel very successful doing something like that,” she said. “Now that the data is coming back, we’re realizing this is working.”

As the district works in its new strategies, executives are currently brainstorming a way to monitor their success, said Kristopher Schuh, chief of secondary schools.

Teacher compensation

Alongside the $500,000 for test scores, Askelson’s team built an additional $9 million for teacher compensation. In August, the district met with teacher union Jefferson County Education Association (JCEA) to adjust teacher salaries for 2019-2020, with the expectation that the district would need to revise its budget after the bargaining session.

The new budget will reflect a 2.5% cost of living adjustment to staff member salaries and $3 million in longevity pay to be distributed among thousands of educators who took a pay freeze in 2010. These terms, included in the educator’s contract, were approved by the board in August.

Askelson and budget director Nicole Stewart balanced the budget by assuming an additional $8 million in Specific Ownership Tax and $1 million in interest, which, though somewhat high-risk, are assumptions the team can monitor closely, Askelson said.

The board will decide whether to approve these changes at its Oct. 10 meeting.

“They (community members) really need to see us making progress and making changes” in test improvement, board member Brad Rupert said. “We need to demonstrate we’re getting the ship back on course.”

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