William Moloney has a penchant for making sweeping statements that get under lots of people’s skins, and that’s what he did over a long Friday afternoon at the Lobato v. State school finance trial.
Moloney, Colorado education commissioner for a decade until 2007, was a key witness for lawyers from the attorney general’s office, who are in the middle of presenting their defense against the plaintiffs’ claim that the state’s school finance system is unconstitutional.
Now affiliated with a conservative think tank at Colorado Christian University, Moloney is known for his views on class size (bigger is better and cheaper), standard teacher salary schedules (a very bad thing) and models for reforming public schools (make them more like parochial and charter schools).
Much of Moloney’s testimony paralleled arguments he made in an essay published late last year, “Much Better Schools on Much Lower Budgets.”
The first hour of Moloney’s testimony was taken up with a leisurely, reminiscence-filled review of his career from being a substitute teacher in Massachusetts to a private school in London and to administrator and superintendent jobs in eastern states before moving to Colorado. The recitation included the names of famous politicians he’s known and was studded with clichés (“fools rush in,” “the rest is history,” “job one,” “rocket science,” “sands of time” and the like).
Here’s a sampling of what Moloney said on education issues:
Education spending: “The biggest entitlement in America is public education. … Its costs are unsustainable.”
Relationship between spending and achievement: “Extremely tenuous. … We have a terrible track record. We indiscriminately shovel money without any quality control.”
Why he’s consulting with the state: “I knew if this lawsuit succeeded there would be great damage to our neediest children.”
Thorough and uniform: “It’s a very low bar, as is the case in other states. … Folks would like to make much more of it” but can do so only by using “tortured language.”
Value of a high school diploma: “It has declined steadily for half a century. … If everyone has one it doesn’t mean so much. … Social promotion has had a devastating effect” on the value of a diploma.
Teacher salary schedules: “This is simply insane. … We should replace it with a system that would reward excellence.”
Asked about his accomplishments in Colorado, Moloney said, “They’re kind of mixed.” He said he was proud of helping get the 1998 accountability law passed and helping get Teach for America into the Denver Public Schools.
He maintained that by 2007 “the political environment had changed … reform had become very partisan … reform was becoming defensive.”
He added, “Playing defense was not for me. It was time” to go.
Asked what should be done to improve Colorado schools, he said, “We should reconstitute schools along the model of our most successful schools” – parochial schools and schools like KIPP.
On cross-examination, the phrases didn’t flow as freely as plaintiffs’ lawyers David Hinojosa and Kenzo Kawanabe did most of the talking. They weren’t picking on him alone; they’ve been doing that with state witnesses all week. But Hinojosa’s cross-exam was particularly tough.
The two hammered Moloney repeatedly about the data – or lack thereof – behind his policy essay. There was lots of “Just answer yes or no” and “Objection your honor, non-responsive.”
Moloney displayed an occasionally defiant demeanor, saying at one point, “You mischaracterized my opinion,” and “I would be happy to opine if you would give me a chance.”
After the two lawyers had finished, Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Fero tried to tidy up a bit with some friendlier questions.
“Did you possess these opinions before you were contacted by the attorney general’s office” to testify and consult? he asked.
“Yes, long, long before,” Moloney said. “These were very carefully considered opinions and very deeply held. … I fully understand my use of data presents a threat to the plaintiffs’ case.”
Things calmer in the morning
The state’s first witness of the day was State Board of Education member Angelika Schroeder, D-2nd District. But Assistant Attorney General Erica Weston questioned Schroeder for only a few minutes and, on cross-examination, plaintiffs’ lawyers got Schroeder to acknowledge more than once that she’s concerned about school budget cuts.
The second witness, Nina Lopez of the Colorado Legacy Foundation, was on the stand for a longer period of time, but the testimony was fairly low-key. Lopez is co-chair of the State Council for Educator Effectiveness and until recently was a key Department of Education official working on implementation of the educator effectiveness law, Senate Bill 10-191.
Plaintiffs’ lawyers used cross-examination to raise questions and estimates about the cost of implementing SB 10-191. A major argument of the plaintiffs is the state’s failure to provide funding for educator effectiveness and other recent reform mandates.
Highlights of the day
TONE: The day moved from routine in the morning to grouchy as the afternoon ended – much like the week as a whole.
QUOTE: Moloney gave this view of the relationship between states and school districts: “The general deal is we at the state pretend to monitor, and they in the districts pretend to comply.”
MANEUVERING: During direct examination, Fero asked Moloney what he thought of Augenblick, Palaich and Associates, the Denver consulting and research firm that did a major education cost study for the plaintiffs. APA also has done lots of studies in the past for state’s and school districts.
Moloney started to say, “They’re very successful … they deliver to their clients what their clients want…” before he was interrupted by plaintiffs’ lawyers objecting because the subject wasn’t part of Moloney’s area of expertise.
Denver District Judge Sheila Rappaport quickly sustained the objection, and Fero moved on to something else.
DOCUMENTS: Read Moloney’s Dec. 1, 2010 essay, “Much Better Schools on Much Lower Budgets,” on the website of the Centennial Institute.
SEEN: Anthony and Denise Lobato, the Center couple who are the first plaintiffs listed on the lawsuit, spent the day watching in the courtroom.
UPCOMING: More CDE officials and SBE members are expected to take the stand for the state next week, along with Harrison Superintendent Mike Miles.