This is from SPEAK for DCSD post –
It is is an annotated version of Dr. Fagen’s email to parents last week. (Annotations are in red)
“Dear DCSD Families:
I hope you are enjoying summer break. I am writing to you today to make you aware of a recent decision by the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) and departing Commissioner Robert Hammond. Despite our accurate appeal based on irrefutable data and solid facts, they have decided to unreasonably demand $4.2 million from Douglas County School District (DCSD) students and staff. Before I go into the details, I want you to know that we will vigorously defend our high schools and students by using all available remedies.
As you may know, DCSD is one of the lowest-funded school districts in Colorado. As you also may know, during the 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 school years, the state underfunded DCSD by millions of dollars (was this ever resolved?) and as a result we faced significant budget reductions. During that same period, our high school class sizes increased to unacceptable levels.
Even though we were faced with millions in budget reductions and growing state shortfalls, we were committed to resolving this matter for our students. As a result, the then high school leadership team (is there such a thing or should “DCSB” be inserted here?) decided that the only way to meet all of our goals and requirements was to ask (was this a request or a directive?) our high school teachers to teach six sections instead of five each semester. This added over 100 sections per semester to our high schools. It allowed us to reduce class sizes to 30 students, to maintain our elective offerings, and to reduce millions from our budget without decimating our elementary and middle schools.
As schools transitioned to new schedules to accommodate this, many worked to keep their advisement opportunities for students, as we all understand the value of this. In February 2014, nearly two years into these new schedules, CDE arrived to audit our student “minutes,” and we were surprised to learn (why were they surprised? Don’t they know what their own data reflect?) that they were dissatisfied with the documents (documents or documentation/data? Sounds more like data.) at our high schools for that year and the previous year regarding advisement. Had the high schools known the year prior, (How could they not have know something as important as this? And weren’t they warned by parents and other groups? The CDE letter said they were aware of the problem but didn’t fix it until the 2014-2015 school year.) they would have made adjustments to avoid this for a second year in a row, but the tardiness of CDE (they don’t audit every school annually so how were they tardy?) made that impossible. Upon learning this, our high schools immediately worked with CDE to fix the documentation issue (what documentation failure had to be fixed?).
In addition, our high school principals and district staff worked hard to provide the records CDE wanted to prove that the students were there for those audit years. The identified students were full-time students, and this was simply a bookkeeping issue (if just bookkeeping, it should have been resolved in DCSD’s favor once the bookkeeping error was fixed. It was not.) They had either graduated the previous year or were graduating that spring with above average credits, and had attended, on average, over 97% of the time.
For example, one of these students graduated with a 4.14 GPA, 26.5 credits and was accepted at the Colorado School of Mines. Another student graduated with a 4.25 GPA and 25.5 credits, and was accepted to Brigham Young and Emory University. (This is great, but does it have any bearing on whether they were in class enough to be considered full time by the CBE by standards that that every Board of Education knew or should have known?) Both of these students were declared part-time in the CDE audit, thus reducing their funding by half, even though they were clearly full-time students. As a side note, in no way does the CDE “minutes” audit affect the diplomas of the students involved.
In my view, this is a ridiculous application of the law (Just because we don’t agree with the law doesn’t mean we don’t have to comply.), as these students attended high school full-time (Saying it again doesn’t make it any more compliant with the CDE definition, which is the one that controls.) their senior year, graduated on-time at a higher percentage than the district graduation rate (one of the best in Colorado), and earned more credits than is required by the state, with their full-time student funding dollars used to support their full-time classroom teachers and their schools. Approximately 92% of the DCSD general fund revenues (The more relevant and perhaps more revealing question is the percentage of DCSD total funds that support students in the classroom.) go directly to supporting students in the classroom. Therefore, we appropriately appealed CDE’s decision to pull $4.2 million from future DCSD students, staff and schools by clearly outlining the facts associated with this situation.
It is well within Commissioner Hammond’s discretion to alter the amount “owed” or waive it altogether, and we were sure that a logical review of these data and facts would end in a dramatic reduction or complete elimination of the findings. He has done this in the past for other school districts. (Specifics and facts, please.)
Unfortunately, he let us know this week that he is making virtually no adjustments (not entirely true; it was reduced by $379,632.85 or about 8%.), to our amount “owed,” and even though the students were full-time (again, repeating it doesn’t make it accurate), and even though this was simply a documentation issue (clearly not true; it’s a compliance issue. ) for advisement, and even though the money was used (as intended by law) to fund these students’ teachers, and even though our high schools were working very hard in the best interest of their students to do the right thing during the worst recession of our lifetimes, he had no interest in making a logical change to the CDE audit finding of $4.2 million.
As I mentioned previously, we find this decision unacceptable. These students were full-time students (again, repeating doesn’t make it any more accurate) and their teachers were appropriately supported and funded with these dollars. It is not in the best interest of DCSD high school students to remove $4.2 million over a documentation issue (no, it’s a compliance issue) , even if the payback is spread out over ten or more years. This money was used for students and their teachers as is intended by the law, and this application of “minutes” is illogical at best. (So you change the rules or the law; not call them stupid once you’re caught in violation.) We will use every legal pathway to ensure that these dollars stay in our high schools. (Please don’t spend millions in the process.)
Thank you for taking the time to review this matter. It is important to us that you have factual information (oh, please). We value our partnership (oh, oh, please) and will continue to do what is in the best interest of our students (we wouldn’t be in this predicament if this were true.)