I am a strong proponent of parental choice. Douglas County schools have achieved their level of excellence with the help of involved and engaged parents. Parents are in the best position to determine their children's educational path and should be enabled to do so to the maximum extent. Alternatives such as charter schools, homeschooling and choosing between schools using open enrollment are already available to Douglas County parents. The Douglas County school system encourages parents to participate in current and future solutions for our children's education.
Pay for Performance
I believe teachers should be paid like professionals. Our school district was one of the first innovators of pay for performance in 1993. In 2010, the district collaborated with teachers to modernize the system. In 2012, the Continuous Improvement of Teacher Effectiveness (CITE) program was implemented. While the prior system was based on a group incentive, was more of a bonus for performing extra work, and was optional, the current system has no basis in the step-and-lane paradigm of the past. The district has the flexibility to reward our best teachers and to focus professional development where individual teachers need it. I am proud of the teachers in our district and am excited to promote teacher quality in the classroom.
Strong Financial Management
The district finances are in the best shape they have been in years. The Great Recession caused a significant decrease in available money from the state education allocation. I have worked toward ensuring that our budget is sustainable and responsible. In 2009, the district was funding its TABOR reserve, 3% of its fiscal year spending by law, not with cash but with a letter of credit that cost taxpayers $160,000 per year. In the last four years, the district has been able to transition to funding its TABOR reserve in cash, and also to build a rainy day fund of 4% (about $18M). This number represents about one month's salary and benefits for district staff. This number is a prudent hedge against unexpected events that would otherwise cause the district to take dollars out of the classroom to meet other needs.
I am focused on student achievement and ensuring that our students are prepared for whatever endeavors they might choose after they graduate from high school. Whether it is college, workforce, the military, or another pursuit, our students need the skills and abilities to be successful. Important markers of academic achievement indicate that the district is improving and growing in these areas. More students are taking Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes and tests. More students are proficient in TCAP state standardized testing. ACT scores are up. While standardized test scores are not a complete picture of how our students are doing, they provide an indicator. DCSD students consistently achieve at high levels. Hundreds of DCSD teachers contributed to the district's curriculum updates and revisions. Students will benefit from such localized expertise.
Transparency and Accountability
The district has instituted complete financial transparency during my tenure. I pursued the idea of having the district's financial records searchable and available to every citizen, and it has become a reality. Most school districts in Colorado do not have this level of visibility and, in fact, measures to mandate this at the state level have been unsuccessful. DCSD is a leader in this area.
I oppose Amendment 66, a ballot initiative that changes the way schools are funded and would levy a statewide tax increase beginning next year. This measure would raise state income taxes from 4.63% to 5% for incomes under $75,000 and 5.9% for incomes over $75,000. It would raise approximately $90M - $100M in additional taxes from Douglas County, but would only return $45M - $50M in funding. The funding that would then go to DCSD would come with strings attached, as the district would need to address several mandates such as full-day kindergarten, for which the district currently has neither the facilities nor the staffing available. This would also make raising any local dollars difficult due to the heavy burden on taxpayers. I believe that the state funding mechanism for schools must be reformed, but Amendment 66 is the wrong approach.
The district has expressed its opposition to the Common Core standards. I believe that individual districts are best suited to determine what their academic standards should be. While some districts may be interested in adopting Common Core, I do not think it is an appropriate set of standards for Douglas County. I voted, along with the rest of the Board, to reject the adoption of Common Core in DCSD. State law provides for this as long as we demonstrate that our kids are subject to standards that comparable or better to Common Core. Our teachers collaborated with district staff to create a guaranteed and viable curriculum that is tailored to our students' needs. An overarching set of national standards is not in DCSD's best interests.