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Hittin' home runs for DPS kids!

We had a great school board meeting last night, and there was much fruit to be borne from the tree of collaboration.  Ok, ok, that was waxing a bit rhapsodic, but I’m proud of the leadership that was shown by my two colleagues, Arturo Jimenez (NW Denver) and Mary Seawell (At Large).  The two knuckled down and worked hard to craft resolutions that were passed unanimously so that we do right by the kids and families.  They forged a path of leadership that, in my opinion, changes how this game has heretofore been played.

Resolution for Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health (declaration of intent and provisions)

(1) That, through adopting this resolution, we recognize the need to continue and expand efforts to ensure that all young people have access to science-based, comprehensive, medically-accurate, culturally relevant, and age-appropriate sexuality education, information and resources to make informed decisions about their health and relationships; and

(2) That Denver Public Schools and eligible organizations shall pursue funding and other federal support to implement programs pursuant with the goals outlined in this resolution; and

(3) That we recognize that the provision of sexual and reproductive health education that incorporates comprehensive, science-based, and age-appropriate standards can result in youth delaying sexual activity until they are ready, avoiding unwanted consequences of sexual behavior, learning medically accurate information about their health, and promoting positive messages concerning growth, development, body image, gender roles, and all aspects related to healthy relationships and sexual behavior; and

(4) That we respect and affirm the right of parents to make health decisions for their children; and

(5) That broad-based community partnerships are essential when developing policies and implementing programs that affect the sexual and reproductive health of Denver’s youth.

As I said last night, Southwest Denver has the highest incidences of teen pregnancies of the entire Denver Public Schools, and we have to be committed to eliminating high-school dropouts wherever we can.  The scary part is that the age of young women getting pregnant is dropping lower and lower, per the testimony that we heard from Dr. Eliza Buyers, OB-GYN.  Her statistics included:

  • In Colorado, 50 to 100 girls ages 12 to 14 give birth every year.
  • In Denver, nearly 1,100 school-aged girls gave birth in 2009 – more than the number of students enrolled at North High School.
  • In DPS, more than 1 in 4 ninth-graders report they have engaged in sexual intercourse and more than 60 percent of 11th-graders say they have done so.

Therefore, I’m proud of the stand we made with our young women.  We need them to stay in school, and having the right reproductive information helps them do that.

I need to mention for the record that this was a trail that was blazed by my predecessor, Michelle Moss.  During 2008 and 2009, she fought hard to have this very type of curriculum made standard in DPS, but due to political pressure at the time, she did not prevail.  Nevertheless, she should be recognized for her courage when it was not popular.

The next big win was with the resolution for an abeyance of new school seats in NW Denver and the formation of a community-led organization to map out the right strategies for feeder patterns.  In short, this resolution compels the district to participate in an open and transparent process to evaluate with community stakeholders and determine the best ways to reinforce the programs in NW Denver.  There is considerable clamor being raised for honors-track courses at North High School, as well as a need for attractive and proven programs like at Wheat Ridge and Jeffco high schools, and in order to do that, we have to map out how middle and elementary schools play into that plan.  Community overall has felt that there wasn’t a strategic plan for schools, and this resolution puts things on the right track.  Score!

The third big win was that the Board minority managed to put on the budget on hold, pending further information.  As I write this post, the Colorado PERA board is meeting on the results of their comprehensive annual financial report (CAFR), which will tell us whether we’ve been funding our pensions adequately.  Of course, my Board minority colleagues and I believe we have not, though the Superintendent vehemently believes the opposite.  His position is that we’re paying in what the state legislature told us to when our DPS retirement system was merged with the Colorado state employees’ retirement system (PERA).  As I told him last night, the levels that we were mandated to pay in were based on debt the district told the state legislature that we were holding because of the servicing of our pension bonds and the associated interest-rate swaps.  He thinks everything will even out in 30 years, which is the life cycle of the pension bonds.  As I stated last night, we’re taking money out of classrooms today to pay for the swaps, nor are we adequately meeting our pension obligations today.  It will come back to haunt us down the pike when we have to “true up” what we haven’t been paying, and until we can fix TABOR, this is a bad position in which to be.  We should be “socking away” money to meet the true up, and it’s the Board’s decision whether to feel comfortable with waiting for 30 years for everything to come out in the wash.  I don’t believe in kicking the fiscal can down the road.  It’s not fair to today’s kids, nor is fair to tomorrow’s retired teachers and elderly taxpayers that have to pay full property taxes to keep the schoolhouse lights on.

All in all, a good day’s work.