Owens discusses growth and education

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— Gov. Bill Owens, in town Saturday for the Lincoln Day dinner, talked with Steamboat Today reporter Avi Salzman about a variety of topics. Owens' responses to questions on education and growth are printed below.

Avi Salzman: I know education is one of your biggest priorities. How do you feel the CSAP program is going? I know it's caused some controversy here and in Denver.

Gov. Bill Owens: I think it's going very well. I think that any time you try to start to bring standards and accountability to anything, be it a newspaper or education, there are going to be people who are concerned about change. Gov. Romer started the CSAP program in 1993. We put in place state standards in five subjects: reading and writing, math, science, and geography. And then he put in place a way to test against those standards, so that we're sure that no matter where you are in Colorado, whether you're in Cherry Creek or in Yuma, that we know that a fifth-grader is going to accomplish this in mathematics, should know this in geography, should be able to read at this level. It's been my honor to be governor when the test results came out, because in some cases when the results haven't been as good as we hoped for what we've tended to do is blame the test. Parents can't believe that Johnny can't actually read very well and we all know that our schools are doing the best they can. My own three children, incidentally, go to public school. And so what typically happens is we start to blame the test. We start to call this a high-stakes test. Well, I would suggest that this test is actually not high-stakes; that there isn't a child that has to go to summer school based on it, that there isn't a child in the state that won't be promoted from grade to grade based on it, that there isn't a child in the state that won't graduate from high school based on it. There isn't a teacher in the state that will lose his or her job based on it. Unlike other states, we don 't have a system where if the school doesn't do well, the kids get vouchers that's in Florida. We don't have a system where if the district doesn't do well, the governor takes it over. That's the way they do it in New Jersey. In the city of Chicago if schools don't get well, the mayor takes them over. Well, I'm opposed to all of those, though I think vouchers are a good idea .

Having said that, all we do in the state of Colorado based on the CSAP test is that out of 1,700 schools, six or eight or 10 or 12 principals may get reassigned. Period. So I think that it is a misnomer to call this a high-stakes test and I think that we're doing our children a disservice by getting them overly concerned for others' benefits or to make political points. Children should not be going into class all nervous about the CSAP. If they've been teaching to the standards and the children have been taught to those standards, they'll do fine on the CSAP.

AS: Growth is another big issue out here, as it is on the Front Range. What is the state's role in growth control and is it going to be different for different parts of the state?

Owens: It is. I think that it's important when you look at growth, that the growth that Routt County is experiencing, that we're seeing in the Denver metropolitan area, is something that is unknown to large parts of our state. The Eastern Plains, county after county, are losing population. The San Luis Valley has some of the poorest counties in the entire country. So growth management means something different in one county compared to another. What I think the state's role is is to provide local governments the tools which they can use to better manage growth if that's what they choose to do. We have towns in Colorado that don't have a problem managing growth. They're challenged with how to manage decline, because they're losing population, they're losing jobs. But what I'd like to do is see a system put in place where our local governments, our cities and counties, have better ability to work with local planning, where we have for the larger communities that are growing zoning laws and planning documents that have the force of law; so that if you have a county commission make a plan one day that that plan actually means something rather than just being able to change it overnight. I'd like to see more arbitration because particularly in our urban areas, we'll have cities and counties right up against one another. And what one city does has a huge impact on what the other does. So I'd like to give local governments more tools to use to better plan their own destiny. One size doesn't fit all and that's why I was opposed to Amendment 24 which the voters rejected 70 to 30, because it was attempting to impose a one-size-fits-all program on the state of Colorado.

AS: So you think, in a way, you'll be able to somehow enable local governments. I mean, how exactly would you do it?

Owens: Exactly how we do it is we give them the authority to use more discretion. Right now we don't have a provision in state law that requires arbitration, when one city's land use plan violates the integrity of one county's land use plan, where the city only has to think of its own needs rather than the county's. Where I'd like to see some moderation is in our flagpole annexation procedure. What that means is that a city in Colorado today basically it can use a road to establish contiguity for purposes of annexation. What that means is it leads to more sprawl instead of having a city grow (logically), it will grow out to here to create a new area because that's where the intersection is that it gets its sales tax revenue from. I'd like to see cities grow in a more orderly fashion, and we've actually reached agreement with the Colorado Municipal League on a bill which does that.

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