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After a four-year hiatus, the Douglas County School Board is considering rejoining the Colorado Association of School Boards.
Not all the board members are sold on the idea, discussed during the Oct. 21 meeting.
Those who are say CASB's support could be helpful in the next legislative year during debate surrounding school funding equity and other issues. They also believe CASB's recent actions indicate more support for local control, an issue about which the DCSD board feels strongly.
“I think there is threat in the 2015 legislative session,” board member Doug Benevento said. “I think the threat is significant enough that my skepticism — I found CASB to be as useful as the union — needs to be set aside to join the common goal of trying to protect local control … against a Legislature that has shown itself to want to try to step in when times are good and tell us how to run a school district.”
At least two board members worry CASB's courting Douglas County for its five-figure membership fee, which will help fill a gap in the organization's budget. They also question the benefits of rejoining.
“CASB is wanting us to join in part because they have a shortfall and our $24,000 would go a significant way to cover that specific shortfall,” Judi Reynolds said. “Are we duplicating services …that are already provided for us in-house? I could be open to the possibility if I could have a better understanding of what they could provide to us.”
The board hasn't taken any action on the idea. It is waiting until at least its Nov. 18 meeting, when a CASB representative is expected to address the board about the benefits of membership.
CASB did not returns calls to Colorado Community Media requesting comment about the board's discussion.
Minutes included in an October 2014 CASB board of directors' document show staff proposed addressing a 2014-15 budget shortfall with funds from a promised grant, “the dues of Douglas County rejoining CASB,” and food service network royalties, as well as cutting expenses.
“They've outlined it in black and white to say this is how we're going to make up our budget shortfall,” board member Meghann Silverthorn said. “It is as if it is a foregone conclusion. I kind of resent that."
She believes DCSD already has competent legal counsel and lobbyists, which are among the services the association provides to its members.
“I can see why they would look to our membership and our money as sort of a coup for them,” Silverthorn said. “Frankly, what I would prefer to pursue is a limited partnership that doesn't involve us forking over a large amount of cash. I'm a bit of a skeptic still.
“I would prefer, if nothing else, the folks at CASB come and tell us why we should join.”
In August, CASB filed a brief supporting DCSD in its voucher case. The legal challenge to the 2011 choice scholarship pilot program, which allows public school funds to be used toward tuition at private schools, is set for oral arguments Dec. 10 in the Colorado Supreme Court.
In its brief, the association said it supports local control for boards of education.
“The Colorado Constitution entrusts to local school boards undeniable authority to devise educational programs that meet the needs of their local communities,” including, “control over the character of the educational programming offered by the school district.”
That local control means the plaintiffs have no standing to challenge the board, according to the brief.
CASB takes no stand on the voucher program itself, according to the brief, saying it is a determination for the board and local voters.
Douglas County board members initially agreed not to renew their membership in 2010, citing the savings of what then was a $23,000 annual membership fee.
The Douglas County School Board is one of one a handful of districts statewide — and the only sizable one — that is not a member of the Colorado Association of School Boards.
Established in 1940, the state association describes itself as an advocate for boards of education that provides services and training to support school board members as they govern their districts. It also lobbies the state legislature to ensure state lawmakers are aware of issues important to school boards.
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