One-size-fits-all amendment opposed by school districts | AspenTimes.com

One-size-fits-all amendment opposed by school districts

John Colson

The superintendents of the valley’s two school districts both are opposing a statewide constitutional amendment that would force school districts to spend 65 percent of their budgets directly on “instructional activities.”The proposal, Amendment 39, requires that school districts spend at least 65 percent of their budgets on “classroom instruction,” which is defined in the amendment as anything “directly related to classroom instruction, including but not limited to instructional staff and instructional materials.”Also included in the definitions are “activities dealing directly with interaction between students and teachers, or other classroom and instructional personnel, special education instruction, tutors, books, classroom computers, general instruction supplies, instructional aides, libraries and librarians, and class activities such as field trips, athletics, arts, music and multi-disciplinary learning.”The initiative is backed by two national groups. The Committee for Quality Education and another, called First Class Education, both have headquarters in Washington, D.C., and are pressing for passage of similar initiatives or legislation in states around the U.S.According to one organization’s website, http://www.firstclasseducation.org, its “active” campaigns are in Colorado, Missouri and Oklahoma.The Committee for Quality Education has linked its efforts with President George Bush’s controversial “No Child Left Behind” education reform act.According to Roaring Fork School District Superintendent Judy Haptonstall, Amendment 39 is “one of those issues that on the surface sounds like a great idea. It is essential to spend as much money as possible on our students’ classrooms and no one disagrees with that.”That said, she added, passage of Amendment 39 “would be devastating to most school districts across the state” because it would lock the districts into a strict financial formula. And, Haptonstall wrote in a recent letter to The Valley Journal in Carbondale, “expenses such as transportation and food services, nursing and counseling, bus drivers, custodians and maintenance personnel, teacher training, and administration are not considered classroom expenditures. Purchasing of new buses, maintaining facilities, and supporting the computer systems in our schools are also ineligible to be included in the 65 percent.”She said her district spends roughly 63 percent of its budget, or about $24.5 million, on what the amendment would consider “instructional activities.” To satisfy the amendment’s requirements, she said, her district would be “reallocating almost one million dollars,” which she said “would not be a painless task. Do we decrease the number of bus routes, or cut back on the school lunch program? Should we put off … adding more computers to our school? What happens if fuel costs suddenly rise?”Aspen School District Superintendent Diana Sirko agreed that the amendment is a bad idea, saying “it’s too restrictive and does not take into account the individual needs of school districts and their instructional programs.”She said the Aspen district spends roughly “68 percent,” or about $10.2 million of its annual $15 million budget on “instructional activities,” in part because it is smaller geographically, and, thus, has lower transportation costs than neighboring districts.”There’s no way they can provide transportation services and still meet those guidelines,” she said of the larger districts. And, she maintained, there is no guarantee that devoting 65 percent of a district’s budget to a list of allowable expenditures will result in a better education.Of the 178 school districts in Colorado, she said, more than 100 have fewer than 300 students in the district, and, as often as not, they are large districts with disproportionate transportation budgets.”Some small districts would have to eliminate their transportation service because of this,” Sirko predicted.She added that the measure is being opposed by the state’s association of school boards, the state’s teachers union and the Colorado Education Association, as a “one-size-fits-all solution that eliminates the necessary flexibility that school districts need.”John Colson’s e-mail address is jcolson@aspentimes.com