THE BLOG
06/30/2010 03:21 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

There is a Clear Choice on Education in the CO Senate Primary

The 2010 Colorado Democratic Senate Primary signifies two different directions in education in our country -- between a business person's view of education vs. an educator's view of education.

Our choices include Michael Bennet and challenger Andrew Romanoff. Michael Bennet is the incumbent appointed Senator who was also appointed to be Superintendent of Denver Public Schools. Bennet was appointed to Superintendent because of his financial experience in business as a corporate manager for billionaire Phillip Anschutz.

Andrew Romanoff is the former Speaker of the House. He also worked as an educator in the State of Colorado as well as teaching in rural schools in Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

Speaker Romanoff's website mentions that he formed a coalition to pass the Building Excellent Schools Today, or BEST Act, which provided the largest investment in Schools in Colorado history, while Michael Bennet states he gave Denver teachers the largest pay raise in Colorado history. Let's have a closer look at each candidate's claims and philosophy on education.

First, about Speaker Romanoff's accomplishments from the Colorado House Democrats weblog:

B.E.S.T. Plan Provides up to $1 Billion for School Construction.(DENVER) State Treasurer Cary Kennedy, Speaker of the House Andrew Romanoff, Senate President-elect Peter Groff, and State Senator Gail Schwartz announced an ambitious plan today to provide up to one billion dollars towards fixing and replacing K-12 schools across Colorado.

"Every child deserves a safe, healthy place to go to school," said Romanoff. He said that the inequalities he saw while touring were striking. "It's tough to learn when the roof is caving in or your desk is falling through the floor. The quality of your education shouldn't depend on your zip code.

Now for Mr. Bennet's statement that he provided Denver teachers with the largest pay increase in State history:

Bennet says ProComp fails to provide teachers with enough money early in their careers, incentives are too small, compensation is back-ended in favor of veteran teachers and too much tax money is being banked every year in the ProComp trust. The ProComp V2 plan offers richer bonuses to more teachers, resulting in "the largest pay increase in the history of Denver Public Schools," Bennet said. Starting-teacher salaries in the plan would rise from $35,500 to an average of $42,413 for a person with a bachelor's degree. The DPS figure includes incentives, each of which would grow to $2,900 from $1,067 a year.

Was this true? Ask the Teachers:

Me: As Superintendent, Michael Bennet stated on camera that Denver Teachers had just received a pay raise -- was it a raise?

Ms. Underwood-Verdeal: Technically that is one way to talk about compensation, but that is certainly not the way we live, because I won't be able to use my retirement to go the grocery store now. It was not a raise teachers realized on their paychecks."

So it was not true?

"No, it was not true, in the practical sense."

Bennet was hired as Superintendent for his financial expertise. It has now been revealed that Superintendent Bennet convinced the Denver Public School Board to invest their retirement funds into a Derivative Swap with JP Morgan -- the same type of swap that are now coming under scrutiny by the Senate and House banking bill.

A call for transparency on a financial deal done by then Denver Public School Superintendent Michael Bennet has roiled political waters. School Board members, including Cherry Creek-area school board member Jeannie Kaplan, have asked for an accounting of a deal centered upon a "synthetic" interest rate swap, which has cost DPS millions. The deal, which involved mortgaging schools for an yet unrealized interest savings, has given Wall Street banks and shadowy Belgian firm Dexia (NASDAQ:DEXB) millions in taxpayer dollars. Dexia, a player in the Madoff scandal, was insolvent last year, and had to be bailed out, partially by American taxpayers...
DPS appears to already have been in a position to lose money. In fact, in its very first month, taxpayers lost $1.5 million alone, excluding fees. The deal, which is keyed to the interest rate banks charge one another, is pegged far outside of the long-term rate average, almost guaranteeing that DPS would lose money. DEAN (Denver Education Advocacy Network) has estimated the deal has lost $51 million to date, although no actual accounting has been provided to the public or school board members. Recent testimony at the statehouse on the state pension fund concluded that the deal was $78 million underwater, and created risk for the state.

This was one of many teachers I spoke to who was willing to speak about the changes she saw in the way school was administered under Superintendent Michael.

Patty Corsentino: When he (Arne Duncan ) came to town with Michael Bennet, he called us "dead wood" -- he said that they needed to "clean house." They don't want career teachers... and it is not just about a Union issue --

Me: They are trying to save money?

"That's just it, I don't make that much money, I really don't"

Patty Corsentino was a biology Teacher for 26 years who was forced out -- step by step as part of clearing the "dead wood"

This is driving out career educators -- leaving short term and younger teachers in their place. From my experience, it was the older veteran teachers who had learned the best methods for education and taught me the most.

Andrew Romanoff speaks to this new kind of business model approach to education.

Schools are not factories and students are not widgets. The silver bullet approach -- the suggestion that we should transform education by charter-izing or voucher-izing or privatizing it -- that approach is doomed to fail. The real work is hard and tedious and often expensive. But it is worth it. What keeps most teachers up at night spending their spare time and spare change is the challenge of reaching a student who might otherwise be lost. The joy of awakening a mind to a new idea that what drove these talented men and women to teach in the first place. But we will continue to lose effective teachers if we demonize and demoralize them -- if we saddle them with the blame for society's shortcomings and strip them of the resources they need to succeed."

For voters interested in education there are two choices: On the one hand you have a business man -- Michael Bennet -- whose philosophy on education comes from being a business person and whose investment strategies are now costing the Denver Teacher's retirement pension millions of dollars. And on the other hand you have an educator -- Andrew Romanoff -- whose philosophy on education comes from being an educator and whose leadership in the State House was demonstrated in his procurement of 1 billion dollars in investments in schools in Colorado.

For voters of Colorado on education, it is a clear choice. More importantly, for our Education policy, having an actual educator in the Senate is just plain common sense.
Support Andrew Romanoff.