Decreased graduation requirements at issue

Budget-induced cut among changes at issue in election

The Douglas County School District decision to extend school vouchers to some students is facing challenges from four national and local organizations. Photo by Courtney Kuhlen | ckuhlen@ccnewspapers.com
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Changes to the district’s high school graduation requirements have prompted finger-pointing among candidates for the Douglas County School Board — part of a broader discussion about recent policy changes and their impact on local teens.

Citing budgetary constraints, the school board decreased graduation requirements by 1.5 credits in early 2009. Board president John Carson and board member Justin Williams were the only two current members who voted on that decision, which cut a credit of social studies and one-half credit of speech from the requirements.

“The recession was really kicking in then,” Carson said. “Nobody wants to make cuts like that, but we took a big reduction in per-pupil funding in those years.”

Despite the reduction from 25.5 to 24 credits, DCSD’s graduation requirements remain among the highest in the metro area.

The decrease took effect with the 2012-13 academic year, at the same time as the controversial block schedule.

Neither of the incumbent candidates — Meghann Silverthorn and Doug Benevento — were on the board when it voted to lower graduation requirements.

Challenger candidates cite the change as an area of concern.

Candidate Bill Hodges, who was the district’s assistant superintendent of human resources in 2009, said during an Oct. 9 debate at Mountain Vista High School that the current board lowered graduation requirements. Hodges said he later learned the decision came under the previous board.

“I did not know that; I misspoke,” he said. “But they haven’t made any proposal to change it since they’ve been on the board the last four years.”

Benevento said Hodges is trying to mislead the public.

“He said this board did it, and in fact it happened when he was in senior leadership of the school district,” he said. “If he’s so concerned about this, why in fact can he not enunciate any steps he took (to object to the reduction)”?

Hodges said he was not consulted and had no influence on the board’s decision, but would like to see the requirements stepped back up.

“I think we have to put our high school students on a level playing field in terms of course options they can take and rigor, because they’re at a disadvantage now,” said Hodges, who is challenging Benevento for his seat.

Benevento said increased graduation rates, ninth- and 10th-grade state test scores, and record numbers of high school students in Advanced Placement classes show the students are doing well.

Hodges said the increase in graduation rates is no surprise given the reduction in required credits, adding, “It’s more than just cutting grad requirements, it’s cutting this whole schedule.”

The change to the block schedule cut about 10 hours of instruction time from each class. That adds up to 240 hours — the equivalent of six work weeks — throughout students’ high school years.

Outgoing board president John Carson said he’s never before heard objection to the reduction in credits.

“What I find particularly interesting is in the four years since they were lowered, the issue has never come up — until it became a political issue in this campaign,” he said. “If people in the community want to start a movement to raise them back up, the board of education would look at that.”

Graduation requirements in other school districts

Cherry Creek: 22 credits

Denver: 24 credits

Boulder Valley: 22 credits

Adams 12: 23 credits

Lewis-Palmer: 25 credits

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