Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Lewis Palmer D-38 joins the ranks of districts fed up with state mandates

By Carol McGraw Updated: February 22, 2014 at 6:17 am

The Lewis-Palmer School District 38 board has joined the angry chorus of educators statewide who are concerned about erosion of local school control, unfunded mandates from the state and endless rounds of state academic testing.

The board unanimously passed a resolution Thursday expressing its displeasure over a flurry of state "one-size-fits-all" regulations they say put a substantial burden on districts and students.

"We aren't happy at all," President Mark Pfoff said. The resolution will be sent to state officials.

In the last few days, 168 of 178 superintendents, including D-38 interim leader Ted Bauman, sent a letter to the governor and Legislature expressing similar concerns.

In no-nonsense language, the resolution said D-38 "does not support changing its curriculum or standards to align with the new Common Core standards.

"It also supports delaying or reconsidering implementation of certain new assessment tests aligned to Common Core and scheduled to start in 2015."

Lewis-Palmer 38, which covers the Monument area and has about 6,300 students, has consistently been one of the top districts in the state in assessment test scores and other academics. More than 87 percent of the students go on to higher education.

The big issue for D-38 and other districts is local control.

"These intrusions by the state and federal agencies both disenfranchise our voters and infringe on authorities granted by the Colorado Constitution," Pfoff said. The state constitution says local school boards will have control of instruction in public schools of their respective districts.

"Every time the state or federal government sends a mandate to school districts, it erodes a bit more of the community's local control," Pfoff said in a letter sent to D-38 parents Friday.

Administrators statewide have raised the possibility of suing the state. D-38 is planning to invite district officials to a meeting in June to see what can be done.

At a conference of the Colorado Association of School Boards this week, there was loud applause to a song with the lyrics "Come on, put that billion back, do it with no strings attached," according to chalkbeat.org, a nonprofit news source that covers education.

Districts say they have lost more than $1 billion statewide in the past four years.

Some legislators have a draft version of the Student Success Act, which would restore some funding. But critics say it does not go far enough. It mainly targets early literacy, English language learners and charter schools.

The Elizabeth School District school board last week passed a resolution with a long title that underlines the frustrations of many administrators around the state:

"Concerning the Growing and Alarming Pace of State Acquiescence to Federal Intrusion into State Educational Priorities and Operations and Instruction into Local Control of Education Specifically But Not Limited to the Use of Common Core Standards."

Several other districts around the state have issued similar resolutions, including Douglas County RE-1, the third-largest district in Colorado with more than 60.000 students.

Other superintendents, like Harry Bull Jr. of Cherry Creek School District 5, are urging their parents to write and contact their legislators to support their concerns. The district, like D-38, has consistently been tops in academics.

The D-38 resolution expresses concern about new testing requirements "that must be taken online in a particular manner, which take so much time they will deprive students of substantial amounts of instructional time."

Districts have also complained that they have had to buy computers and other technology at a time when their state funding has been drastically cut. In the past, tests were taken inexpensively with paper and pencil and did not entail so many days because of computer shortages.

Pfoff said district leaders do not support changing their successful curriculum to align with new state standards or Common Core, which he says are not as rigorous as their own.

Common Core standards are a way for students to demonstrate critical thinking. They originated in the national Governor's Association for Best Practices, and many of the 45 states that signed on did so because substantial federal Race to the Top education grants required adopting the standards.

U.S. Department of Education officials have defended the new mandates, saying they will help set the bar high.

The Colorado Department of Education also supports them and notes that while change is hard, the standards will help students to think critically and develop skills more relevant to college and career.

The D-38 resolution also expressed concern about the Senate Bill 10-191 mandate, which has changed the way principals and teachers are evaluated.

"It sounds like a good idea in theory, but CDE (Colorado Department of Education) requirements have made it very burdensome in the implementation."

Several legislators recently told The Gazette they are amiable to listen to concerns of educators.

"We should really listen," said Sen. Scott Renfroe, the ranking Republican on the education committee.

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