Carroll: Truthiness and Aspen’s board of education

The Aspen Times: Last week, the Aspen School District sent out a news release touting the first teacher pay raise of note in a dozen years. The announcement on the “historic new salary structure” was made by one of the two contract publicists hired by the ASD in 2015 at a cost of $60 to $75 per hour, which has amounted to $19,527 so far in Fiscal Year 2017-18.

In addition to their work writing releases and running the ASD’s Twitter feed, the publicists spent more than $10,000 producing a glossy brochure praising the schools that was mailed out in October at around the same time as ballots for November’s Board of Education election in which three incumbents ran to retain their seats. Shortly thereafter, less than a week before the election, members of the BOE parked themselves inside each school during parent-teacher conferences to discuss what they characterized as the district’s “priorities” as part of its newly established “communications plan.” (No announcement has been made about a BOE presence during next week’s parent-teacher conferences.)

Noticeably absent from the ASD’s good-news campaign, though, has been other, less-good news. The Colorado Department of Education issued its Final 2017 School Performance Framework in November, revealing Aspen High School had been placed on an “improvement” plan. According to the CDE report, AHS meets most and exceeds some academic standards, but fell short on its test accountability participation rates: Students opting out of state exams have, in large part, failed to do so in a way that doesn’t penalize the school’s standing. Never mind that educating parents about the proper way to withdraw kids from standardized tests is an easy fix; the BOE has an apparent allergy to news that may reflect poorly on them.

Spinning bad news into silence is a trick the BOE has mastered, especially with some of their more eyebrow-raising policies passed through consent agendas or discussed in executive session, including a “code of conduct” for members of the state-mandated, all-volunteer District Accountability Committee. Policy GP-7A, adopted by the BOE in a 3-2 vote nine days before the election, instructs DAC members “to build trust among committee members and to ensure an environment conducive to effective governance” by “criticiz(ing) privately, prais(ing) publicly,” “focus(ing) on issues rather than personalities,” and “publicly support(ing) final actions of the committee and the board,” among other directives.

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