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Rest of the Story: Superintendent Fagen Chooses Not to Sign Letter

Colorado school superintendents recently signed a letter directed to Governor Hickenlooper and state lawmakers regarding school funding.

Douglas County School District Superintendent Liz Fagen did not sign the letter. She explains why in her own letter:

February 18, 2015
Dear DCSD Families,

I am sending a quick note today to update you on a timely topic. As you may know, the Colorado General Assembly recently convened and is expected to take on some important topics related to education over the coming months. Our lobbyist and staff are working with school districts across the state to encourage our state representatives and senators to consider legislation that would improve funding to all public K-12 institutions, student data privacy and to reduce the testing madness caused by the state’s numerous standardized tests.

Recently, Colorado’s superintendents came together, for the second year in a row, to draft a position statement on school finance and funding in this legislative session. There are 178 superintendents in Colorado and 174 chose to sign this letter on behalf of their districts. I was not one of them.  

Again, I am very supportive of my colleagues and funding for Colorado’s children, but I did not believe that this particular letter was in the best interest of the Douglas County School District staff, students, and community. As you know, Colorado school finance is complex, and there were a few reasons why I did not feel that signing that particular letter was in the best interest of the students, staff, and community of the Douglas County School District.

I am very supportive of reducing the negative factor, to the extent possible, and will actively work toward this with my colleagues during the 2015 legislative session. As you may know, DCSD is currently "short" approximately $64 million on an annual and recurring basis, and remains one of the lowest funded districts in the state and on the Front Range. Our students, staff, and schools deserve for this to be remedied, and I believe that we should be working toward a five-year payback as a state.

I am also supportive of reconsidering the school finance act, as it is clear that it does not seem to be based on the actual costs of educating unique students. For example, special education students are not funded appropriately given current data in most, if not all, districts. There are likely other groups (ELL, at-risk, and gifted and talented to name a few), but there has been no statewide work to collect the data necessary to demonstrate the actual needs. As we sit, some unique students are weighted in the current school finance formula, and it seems some folks would like to "Band-Aid" the formula by advocating for pots of money outside of the formula for some groups of students and not others. I believe it is best for all students in our state to fix the core issue of the formula and properly fund all of Colorado's children while restoring the money that has been lost using the very formula that was employed to take it away.

In addition, I do not think we are collectively prepared to discuss the best long-term state financial strategy or approach for 178 districts across Colorado. I believe that we should have focused the letter on the current, 2015 legislative session and the restoration of the negative factor over five years with a simultaneous re-write of the school finance act based on actual costs to educate unique children.

Finally, you may know that the original letter being contemplated by the superintendents across the state somehow landed in the Governor’s office and beyond before it was finished or signed by many superintendents. I understand that the Governor had the original letter and actually used that information in good faith to build his budget for this legislative session. After the Governor's budget arrived, and exceeded the original request, it was decided to change the letter and raise the amount requested. I am uncomfortable with this decision, as it does not represent the way DCSD prefers to work with others on behalf of children in Douglas County.

As a result of these items described above, again, I did not believe it was in the best interest of the Douglas County School District to sign the letter.

Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns.

 

Thanks,

Liz Fagen
Superintendent

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