Colorado Latino Forum endorsement

I am honored to have received the endorsement of the Colorado Latino Forum today.  I thought I would share my answers to their comprehensive questionnaire, because these topics are not usually discussed in the general discourse around public education.

clf.pngWhat metrics or criteria will you use assess the district’s leadership in the attainment of key goals? How will you know when a program or decision has been successful? How do you feel the about the performance of the current superintendent and district leadership?

Data is important, but so is tracking that data against anecdotal information from stakeholders. My campaign is focused on maintaining a long-term conversation with our most vulnerable communities, win or lose, which is not something my opponents have considered in their previous campaigns. I am building a movement of self-determination for our working class communities of all stripes across this city.

Some important metrics include:

  • How many Denver-based black and latino teachers are in our classrooms?
  • What is the speed at which English learners move to full academic fluency, and who is doing it better?
  • How many students are taking advantage of fully-funded restorative justice programs, and where are the suspensions and expulsions being reduced?
  • Which high school is curbing student attrition via push-outs, reduced assignments to “alternative” programs and dropouts?
  • What is the aggregate growth of each school program?

With regard to the superintendent, it’s high time that he be replaced with someone less blindly dedicated to free-market principles and more focused on helping each student find their own path to personal success. Superintendent Boasberg’s data track record is weaker than your average classroom teacher’s, and if they have to go, so does he. Either we value data, or we don’t.

What percentage of district contracts go to minority-owned businesses? Do you think this percentage is acceptable? How would you improve the contracting process?

Right now, DPS is claiming 31% MWBE prime and sub contractors. However, this doesn’t jibe with the facts of the Roybal Corporation vs. DPS case, and CCAF’s numbers from 2008, of only about 2 percent. It’s difficult to understand how the district could jump from 2% to 31% in just a few years without a significant plan. The first thing I would do would be to institute a total revamping of policy and recrafting it with the full participation of CCAF.

I will also state, however, that I’m interested in “minority” involvement from owners to rank-and-file employees. It does little good for our DPS families, some 70% of whom are low income, to support a business with a Latino owner but who employees a mostly white and suburban staff. The nearly 80% of our DPS families that are “minorities” need to get first crack at these jobs, since they are the ones paying to keep the lights on.

When you are given a detailed 400-page budget for the district, what will be your to process to determine if it is a good budget? How will you solicit input and engage constituents (including students and parents) in your decision making process concerning the budget?

I have a degree in economics, as well as professional experience in the financial services industry. While a member of the DCTA board, I was responsible for examining the financial statements of the district, including the CAFR and other financial documents.

To the best of my ability, I will commit to breaking apart the budget and sitting down with families to help them understand what is being spent where. It’s also time to ensure that CSCs have fully democratic elections so that parents are well represented with people who will scrutinize the budget and raise red flags. Also, curtailing school autonomy when it comes to the budget, or at least, requiring transparent practices must be considered because this autonomy is robbing our students of comprehensive curriculums like full-funded restorative justice programs.

One detail often overlooked or kept out of the public’s eye is that of the district’s liabilities as a result of not serving our students in special education according to the law. Subsequently, expenditures related to these and other losses, such as those associated with the calamitous interest-rate swaps from 2008, must be disclosed.

Finally, the district must demonstrate the relationship between the public’s desired outcomes and its work toward reaching those objectives. The BOE and the district’s CFO and financial team must divulge their assumptions and methodologies for medium and long-term projections such that the public and stakeholders can see the big picture and undeniably recognize the integrity of such information. The campaign to garner votes for the 2016 Bond and Mill Levy demonstrated the district’s resources and talents to provide fiscal objectives for these monies, surely it can apply these efforts to yearly budgets.


What is the current per-pupil spending rate in the district? Do you feel this is an equitable way to evaluate spending? How does district teacher salary averaging play into this rate?


When you take into account the state and local proportional changes to the Gallagher Amendment since the early 1980’s, Amendment 23, the School Finance Act, the Tax Payer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR), Tax Increment Financing (TIF), and the Negative Factor (series of formulas that account for at-risk factors of student populations, as determined at the state level) there is no wonder why our state ranks near the bottom of the U.S. in putting students first.

Colorado in the 80’s, had both the state and local governments split their school funding obligations by almost half (45% through residential taxes and 55% by business taxes) as dictated by the Gallagher Amendment. However, during the following two decades, healthy school financing was suddenly stifled due to economic downslopes, which resulted in the passing TABOR at the beginning of the 21st century. This bill of rights, prevented an assessment of property appreciation and thus, the possibility for more revenue for school funding. These conditions tightened funding streams even more locally and led to more reliance on state school funding. More dependence at the state level meant frugal financing practices to insure that both sprawling urban school districts and small towns received just enough per student money to get through the school year.

In 2000, Amendment 23 was approved in our state constitution to push-up funding for each student by the rate of inflation with an additional 1% and to counter the effects TABOR. Through Amendment 23, districts would eventually receive monies to appropriately serve our most vulnerable which include at-risk students, English Learners and student with disabilities, as opposed to just getting by. Despite the intention of Amendment 23, the state constitution and legislature have created barriers to ever increasing per child spending. To add insult to injury, the legislature's interprets the School Finance Act to mean that it is only mandated to provide a per pupil base. Consequently, the per-pupil spending rate, after the Negative Factor, is $7,829 for the 2017-18 school year. Thus, while inflation and the cost to serve our at-risk students increases, the amount of funding from the state will saunter below what is actually required to serve our Colorado students. The Negative Factor means that DPS loses about $1,000/per student because the “factors” needed to serve our at risk students costs more than the state provides per pupil funding.

Given the significant disparity in what is needed to serve students and that which the state deems as “enough” suggests that the district will also do as little to give the required and equitable resources to both our students and teachers. Under the current state funding model, inflation is not truly accounted for and the shortfall is seen in the staggering teacher salaries.

The district’s efforts to empower principal’s through its push toward school budget autonomy suggests that the central office wants less responsibility on how much funding goes toward our at-risk populations - implying that the district will wash its hands for shortfalls to programs that support English learners, SPED and schools with high FRLs.

In summary, this system of funding evaluation lacks sustainability, integrity and responsibility to students and teachers. As a side note, the taxpayer approval of bond and mill levies makes holding the district accountable for financial transparency evermore important.


How do you feel about charter schools, innovation schools, and other educational alternatives? Should the district aim for more school choice options? What has been the impact of charter schools on segregation in the district?


If charters could be something more than repeated franchises of the same model, and instead represent a program that a community actually wants, I could be more flexible. As such, however, with the repeated approvals of DSSTs and STRIVEs and others, we’ve really just reduced schooling to McCharters. Innovation schools do little more than strip away teachers’ collective bargaining rights, and there isn’t much innovation in the programs approved. Therefore, my position is the same: a moratorium on new charter approvals, and this would include innovation schools too.

However, the Montbello Children’s Network at Amesse deserves a little closer scrutiny, specifically because they appear to be the first innovation school that does not pretend that a significant number of English learners (mostly Latinos) aren’t a large component of the student body. It’s time to shape school programs according to the students actually in the building.

What is your view on bilingual/multilingual education? Do you feel the current district programs for English Language Learners are successful? How would you improve bilingual/multilingual education in the district?

I spent 15+ years in the classroom as an ELA-S certified teacher. A cornerstone of my campaign platform is to respect the civil rights of our English learners via 100 percent, full fidelity to the consent decree, because the district has been extremely careless in its implementation.

I experienced this carelessness (I’ll be generous in categorizing it as such) first hand, in my last teaching year at Centennial. Laura Munro, the principal, thought that by placing the students with teachers with an ELA-S designation was sufficient compliance. When reviewing paperwork for students, I often found students identified incorrectly as ELLs or Non-ELLs when they actually required that support to access the curriculum. Furthermore, parents/families/guardians were not informed correctly by the enrollment secretary about their choices under the TNLI model. Several middle school aged ELL students, who expressed that on several occasions the AP would hear students speak in Spanish and inform them that they were not allowed to speak Spanish in school. They expressed a sense of inferiority and exclusion as a result.

This experience is par for the course, and in this case, the principal is actually a neighbor of Tom Boasberg’s. This demonstrates the lack of seriousness of the district toward the rights of English learners, and when elected, I will:

  • Conduct a full review of TNLI implementation, including a survey of students, a review of ACCESS data, and the corresponding performance of the schools.
  • Retool the School Performance Framework so that English learners no longer appear to “drag down” the ratings of schools and thereby become targets for institutional racism.

Denver Public Schools Candidates Only-- What is your position on the consent decree for bilingual education in DPS? Do you feel that DPS is complying with the court order?

As I state on my website, I will end discriminatory policy via absolute fidelity to the English learner federal court order, to which DPS is subject, no ifs, ands or buts. I do not feel that DPS complies, and please see the previous answer for more information.

What is the importance of having African American and Latino teachers teaching in the district? How do you feel the district is doing at recruiting and retaining African American and Latino teachers? What can the district do to improve in this area?

Our students deserve to have people teaching them that not only look like them but who also have the common life experience they do, from both a race and an economic perspective. The district has benefitted from the placement of itinerant teachers of color from TFA and other programs, but it’s simply window dressing. The district needs to be serious about collaborations with Metro State and other state colleges/universities in Colorado, and they should form a career track program with students currently in early colleges and career residency programs. This is the way to ensure that our students are guided by people who not only look like them, but who also grew up like them.

Should the district's college and career pathways program encourage each student to “follow their passion”, or try to guide students into likely career paths using other criteria? What criteria would you suggest?

As a Montessorian, I feel strongly about encouraging our students to ‘follow their passion’ all under the guidance of a teacher that will hold them accountable for producing a portfolio and presentation of their academic work. A teacher can still use rubrics to evaluate the content, quality and relevancy of the student’s work to determine the his/her/their commitment to the subject while engaging in self-reflection and increasing his/her/their capacity on the subject .

Not all students will embark on the traditional journey toward a college or university. We know that in the next few years, around 40% of all available jobs in Colorado will be “medium skill jobs,” such as paramedics, paralegals, etc. Moreover, by embracing the different modalities of learning (visual, kinesthetic, auditory or tactile), educators can reach students with affinities to learning subjects through their unique interests. Thus, making school a place that actually appeals to more students instead of one that judges success via standardized testing.

Public schools and our district especially, must recognize the assets that our students bring and encourage and; therefore, welcome non-traditional methods of learning, be that through art, music, and/or independent study. Such that our schools, especially high schools, are fully funded and comprehensive in what they offer.

 

If elected, what is your plan to engage and involve Latino and Spanish-speaking members of your community on school issues? What have you already done to engage the Latino and Spanish-speaking community?

Nuestra comunidad habla-hispana valora cuando el personal de la escuela respeta, convive y toma en cuenta las tradiciones y necesidades de los estudiantes y sus familias.

Como experiencia personal sé que la comunidad tiene confianza en los maestros y el liderazgo de su escuela y por eso es muy importante siempre mantener integridad en la manera que tratemos a nuestras familias y como presentamos la programación de aprendizaje para los que están en clases de adquisición del idioma inglés.

Finalmente, es importante que tengamos personal en la dirección que hablen español y sean disponible de ayudar con las necesidades que se presenten a nuestros padres y tener boletines en su idioma natal.

Translation:  Our Spanish-speaking community values when school personnel respects, experiences and takes into account the traditions and needs of students and their families.

From personal experience, I know that the community puts trust in teachers and school leadership, and that's why it's very important to always maintain integrity in the way that we treat families and how we present learning programs for those who are English learners.

Finally, it's important that we have personnel who speak Spanish and who are available to help with needs that confront parents and to have communications in their native language.

Why are you interested in receiving the CLF Endorsement? CLF does our best to keep our members informed and active on civic issues. If you receive our endorsement, will you be willing to attend and present to at least one of our monthly member meetings?

I am interested in CLF’s endorsement because not only do I value their mission but the work aligns with my own beliefs. Knowledge is power, but without engagement and involvement, that power remains stagnant. I believe in building capacity in my community; during my teaching career it was natural for me to keep my parents, mainly monolingual Spanish-speakers, informed and empowered through collaboration and frequent communication. I would like to elevate this work through a larger civic platform.

I welcome an opportunity to attend a monthly member meeting and I look forward to learning about the work I can do to continue collaboration.

 

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