PERA issues bemoaned at Gilpin School Board’s audit presentation

Gilpin Elementary once again “Accredited with Distinction”

by Patty Unruh

The Gilpin County RE-1 Board of Education held its regular meeting on Tuesday, November 13, at 7 p.m. Craig Holmes, Brook Ramsey, Sarah Swanson, Kersten Armstrong, and Steve Boulter were present. Superintendent David MacKenzie and Secretary to the Board Joni Schmidt were also present.

Young Artists

Alyssa Ruhl was chosen as October artist of the month. The third grader’s project was a painting entitled, “Alyssa Dancing in Motion” and included the elements of proportion and body movement, with a color scheme of red, yellow, and orange. Art students had worked with teacher Kellie Bayne to produce a sentence written in cursive bordering the painting.

Ninth-grader Kennedy Perez, November artist, displayed a black-and-white pencil drawing of a giraffe, shown from a distorted “fish-eye” angle. She explained that she started with a photo of a giraffe, folded it into squares to produce a grid, and then copied the photo in her drawing, blowing it up to produce the distorted proportions.

Veterans Day Celebration

MacKenzie expressed that the Veterans Day program at the school on November 8 was well presented and well received. He said it gave the students an opportunity to understand who veterans are and why we celebrate.

Defeat of Amendment 73

This reporter asked Board members for comments on the defeat of ballot Amendment 73 in last week’s election. The Gilpin Board had supported the amendment and expressed disappointment that it had not passed. Member Swanson added, “A lot of rural schools would have benefited.” She acknowledged that there were many initiatives on the ballot.

Meeting Rescheduled

The Board approved the cancellation of its December 4 and December 18 meetings and set one meeting in December for the 11th at 7:00 p.m. Members hope to have the mill levy numbers by Monday, December 10; they must certify the mill levy by December 15.

Audit Report

Tim Mayberry of Holscher, Mayberry & Company, LLC, the District’s auditors, presented a draft of the 2017-18 budget audit.

Mayberry expressed that, in general, the District is in good shape financially, and there are no real concerns. A final report will be presented in December.

He noted that the District started with $1.1 million in capital reserves and spent $1.7 million. The difference was transferred from the general fund.

The main concern was PERA (Public Employees Retirement Association) benefits. Mayberry pointed out that there is a large pension liability on the District’s books. The District’s share for the past year, based on its contributions compared to overall state contributions, was .06 percent, or $20 million.

PERA manages the retirement benefits of hundreds of thousands of Coloradans, including teachers at public schools. The group discussed PERA’s financial mistakes in overpromising and underfunding benefits over the past years and whether PERA is in danger of going out of business. PERA has admitted that it is out of money and must borrow. Taxpayers, employees, and retirees may all have to share the burden.

Holmes recalled that PERA’s original projections of interest earned were 8 percent; the reality was 3.5 percent. He said, “It’s the first year since 2014 that PERA has generated more than expected.”

“PERA has a huge board, with 21 members. They invested in real estate and stocks,” Boulter remarked. The organization has had no investment earnings for some time and gets revenue through employee contributions. At one point, PERA had employees contribute 3.5 percent, which they matched, and the stock market dropped at that time, Boulter said.

The Colorado legislature this year introduced a proposal to reform the state’s pension-benefits system for public employees to resolve a $32 billion unfunded liability. Retired members of the PERA General Plan will receive a 1.4 percent increase in their PERA retirement benefits, effective January 1, 2019, according to The 1.4 percent increase reflects 2018 legislative changes to PERA’s retirement plans. The PERA Board of Trustees voted unanimously October 11 to adopt recommendations to make the Phased Retirement Option (PRO) a permanent option. PERA will bring the Board’s recommended changes to the 2019 legislative session to be enacted into law.

Policies and CASB Policy Update

The Board held a first reading of policies on safe schools, staff conduct and responsibilities, drug and alcohol involvement by students, administering medications to students, administration of medical marijuana to qualified students, and parent notification of employee criminal charges.

The Colorado Association of School Boards (CASB) had issued a special policy update dated September 11. The main changes to policies, MacKenzie reported, were mostly updates in the language on medical marijuana and wording added to policies on notification of students’ parents when a school employee is charged with certain criminal offenses.

CASB Delegate Assembly Report

Swanson had attended the October 20 CASB Delegate Assembly in Colorado Springs. There were 80 delegates in attendance. Much of the discussion centered on Amendment 73. The assembly had taken place before the election, so Swanson said the discussions were no longer relevant, but the delegates had talked of how their districts would spend the money if the amendment passed. Swanson said Gilpin’s district is in good shape, but there are other rural districts that “could have moved out of survival mode.”

Superintendent MacKenzie and the Board members noted that Gilpin County voters had voted the amendment down but that the margin was narrow, with the “yes” vote tallied at 46 percent. The state’s “yes” vote was also 46 percent.

“Maybe as a Board we could have worked earlier to get the word out,” Swanson said. “A lot of districts told their taxpayers what they would have done with the money.”

MacKenzie explained that 55 percent had been needed to pass the amendment. On the positive side, he said, 46 percent agreed that education needs more funding.

“A lot of stuff doesn’t pass the first few times,” he encouraged. “We are in a good place due to the sales tax in Black Hawk, but we have lost a half a million dollars per year due to the negative factor. For us to be down that much in our operating budget is a lot. We’ve been underfunded for the last ten years by almost $5 million.”

He said part of the District’s strategic plan could be for the Board to tell taxpayers what they would use an increase in tax funding for.

“It would certainly go for increased salaries for teachers.”

Superintendent’s Report

At the Board’s October 16 meeting, MacKenzie had shared the CDE’s Preliminary 2018 School Performance Framework report showing that the elementary school was just “Approaching” expectations in its academic growth rating. He said, “The District fell short of being “Accredited with Distinction” by two-tenths of a point.”

He submitted a request to reconsider to the CDE, for which he pulled together additional data to support the school’s original data. He noted that there was good growth and achievement in the kindergarten through second grade and asked the CDE to use that to accredit Gilpin with distinction.

MacKenzie reported that the CDE had agreed to that request and that the elementary is now “Accredited with Distinction” for the second year in a row.

He reported on a November 2 professional development day for the teachers. Technical enrichment in the classroom was a main topic, including digitizing classrooms through Chromebooks and utilizing the GoGuardian program, which locks computers to just what the teachers want the class to be doing and prevents the students from exploring where they shouldn’t. A behavioral specialist had also given a presentation.

As to site improvement, MacKenzie had been trying to contact the structural engineer to produce a Request for Proposal. He had contacted Jim Noble to see if he would be interested in working on the stairway project from the upper parking lot to the atrium. He was also waiting on the engineer for recommendations on wastewater improvements.

Coming Up

–November 29, 2 p.m. – Tommyknockers children’s celebration at the Teller House.

–December 6, 6:30 p.m. – Lower Elementary Concert.

–December 12, 7 p.m. – Middle School/ High School Concert.

–December 13, 6:30 p.m. – Upper Elementary Concert.

Next Meeting

The next meeting of the Board will be on Tuesday, December 11, at 7 p.m.

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