Thursday, October 30, 2014

"...of more importance to the public than all the property of all the rich men in the country"

It's the birthday of Worcester schoolmaster John Adams today. In his honor, here's a passage regarding public education from A Dissertation on Canon and Feudal Law, which Adams wrote in 1765, in response to the Stamp Acts:
It is true, there has been among us a party for some years, consisting chiefly not of the descendants of the first settlers of this country, but of high churchmen and high statesmen imported since, who affect to censure this provision for the education of our youth as a needless expense, and an imposition upon the rich in favor of the poor, and as an institution productive of idleness and vain speculation among the people, whose time and attention, it is said, ought to be devoted to labor, and not to public affairs, or to examination into the conduct of their superiors. And certain officers of the crown, and certain other missionaries of ignorance, foppery, servility, and slavery, have been most inclined to countenance and increase the same party. Be it remembered, however, that liberty must at all hazards be supported. We have a right to it, derived from our Maker. But if we had not, our fathers have earned and bought it for us, at the expense of their ease, their estates, their pleasure, and their blood. And liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people, who have a right, from the frame of their nature, to knowledge, as their great Creator, who does nothing in vain, has given them understandings, and a desire to know; but besides this, they have a right, an indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible, divine right to that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge, I mean, of the characters and conduct of their rulers. Rulers are no more than attorneys, agents, and trustees for the people; and if the cause, the interest and trust, is insidiously betrayed, or wantonly trifled away, the people have a right to revoke the authority that they themselves have deputed, and to constitute abler and better agents, attorneys, and trustees. And the preservation of the means of knowledge among the lowest ranks, is of more importance to the public than all the property of all the rich men in the country.
(Adams of course also wrote the passage at the bottom of the blog, which is from the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.)

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

And speaking of changes to Mass teacher licensure

Curmudgucation has a post.
I would point out to the people pushing this that it's a great way to chase people away from teaching in Massachusetts ever. I would point out that young people interested in starting a teaching career might favor a state where that career can't be snuffed out because of random fake data that's beyond their control. I would point out that this is one more policy that will almost certainly make it even harder than it already is to recruit teachers for high-poverty low-achievement schools. I mean, most states are settling for evaluation systems that punish inner-city teachers with just losing that particular job; it takes big brass ones for Massachusetts to say, "Come teach in a poor struggling under-funded low-resource school. Take a chance on the job that could end your entire teaching career before you're even thirty." Who on God's green earth thinks this is a way to put a great teacher in every classroom?

Also, go read Janice Harvey.

Does it matter if no one shows up for a primary?

And what does it cost?
Third, it must be remembered that many the costs of election administration tend to fall on the state’s municipal governments, many of which have been forced to cut back on a variety of services over the past decade.  Here in Worcester, it is easy to draw a connection between the cost of administering an election where no one votes and the loss of a teaching position in the public schools.  This may be an unfair linkage – after all, cities have many responsibilities that they must juggle – but citizens do make these connections, and this translates into resentment of the primary process in general.
 from this guest post by Clark University Professor Robert Boatright over on the MassPoliticsProf blog (which I highly recommend in general).

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

FY15 first quarter

projected deficit of $192,459
added two classroom teachers due to class size and 21 secondary sections
surplus in IA account as some services have been migrated back into district (hasn't happened yet; balances out with contracted services, not happening yet)
added six literacy tutors to provide some assistance to address class size
custodial has a balance overset by overtime
deficit in nurses; change in essential health grant reimbursement
transportation showing "significant savings" ($175,000) use of appropriately sized vehicles
health insurance showing a $176,000 balance as the off cycle retiring plan actual effect
workers comp showing deficit fo $198,000 (better than some years!)
trade-off mentioned above in personnel services
unemployment comp: will change as we get better enrollment numbers (greater than what is budgeted, which is always an estimate, and offset in health insurance)
utilities showing a $300,000 deficit; demand surcharge on natural gas
excluding charter school change, we'd have a balance
due to charter school change, instead a $200,000 deficit

so far only 11% of the FY15 budget has been spent

Foundation budget calculations

Special education based on actual enrollment figures
priorities on state's reconsideration of foundation formula
Allen: state underfunded special education from the beginning
ten years in, circuit breaker for particularly expensive students
special education is the only category that uses an assumed enrollment rather than actual enrollment (as is done with others)
what would the funding model look like if the state were funding special education appropriately?
calculated the full-time equivalent of the students who receive special ed
using those numbers alone is a combined gap of $29M that the foundation budget is underfunding the number of students that are being served
BUT
the per student value of the foundation budget is also underfunded
WPS spent more than 50% more on special education together for the past several years
of that $29M is the underestimation of the number of students
plus the rate is not adequate

adding up to $35M of special education costs that are not funded

"this is not particularly unique to Worcester"
Foley: reflects the problem the state is facing
begin to pit one set of students against other sets, which is never good
Allen: particularly true in the lowest quintile districts, which are spending right AT foundation

reconsideration of the foundation formula:
Allen: timely, as the committee has just met for the first time
"important...to suggest that there really needs to be a fundamental change in the foundation budget"
doesn't mean much to communities spending 117 or 120%
others aren't looking at this level of detail
all of the urban districts need to coalese around this issue
"this is not a discussion about how much the state funds the foundation budget...this is a fundamental reconsideration of the foundation budget"
change to assumption of the formula which is urban districts

  1. full time preschool funding (is not currently counted in foundation budget)
  2. health insurance assumption: estimate that WPS is underfunded by $25 million (note that this is after reforms that have been made that state has pressed)
  3. special education not based on assumption
  4. use actual inflation; need to better capture actual cost increases: state ignored inflation factor in 1994 and 2010 (that one year put every district back; cost WPS $4M); rate used is prior year spending state and local government; catch 22
  5. adjust low income increment (extended day or extended year): 
  6. assumed teacher salary: assumed at $65,482; actual $71,620; with assumed growth $74,513
  7. assumed class size average: particularly for preK-3; assumes 22 students to 1; should be lower, particularly at primary grade 
FINAL REPORT DUE JUNE 30 from the state

Foley: easier to see in concrete terms
$60M difference in special education and health insurance alone
"to see what's happening because of 21 years of underfunding the budget"
are you presenting this to the committee? 
Allen: if there is a hearing, certainly can be shared 

Ramirez: how close are we to other districts in these gaps?
Allen: most other urban districts are in that lower quintile
very similar numbers for their comparable size
urban school business managers: number one agenda item

Novick: should make delegation aware of other changes that will be suggested and impact on Worcestser

renumber items 2,3,4,1,5a,5b,5c
send to delegation (and meet with them) and send to commission
host commission meeting

Closing out FY14

Foley: giving back 48 cents this year
cannot overspend the budget,, but don't want to leave money behind
Allen: final report is in a different format to provide you with the adopted budget from last year, compared to final expenditures
memo is here
"really what happened from June when the School Committee approved the budget to when the fiscal year closed"
closure of Spirit of Knowledge balanced out by increase of autism services
spent more on transportation (via on McKinney-Vento), thus increasing the city's NSS gap
put that in context with the answer from the previous meeting
Novick: bring some realism to the notion that we're saving money on utilities due to ESCo, as we are not
Foley: ESCo quality of life repairs
Allen: chillers, leaking roofs; avoided having to use MSBA for those repairs
actual savings: still working with the city on how those can be quantified
can we attribute a reduction of what we would be paying otherwise?

Finance and Operations: bus contract

Allen: not complete, hope to complete in mid-December for bid in January
provided what we're working on at this time
(also current bus specs: both large and special ed)
SBC looking at different bus scheduling; also consolidation of routes; not done yet
also will offer as a single contract (due to market conditions), rather than split of special ed and regular buses
thinking about changing in the technology that have occurred: real time GPS and real time video
looking at drop-down tire chains, given weather conditions
(WPS buses have drop-down tire chains now)
also block heaters to be sure buses will start
updating fuel adjustment clause: still monitoring what price will be over next five years
adding language around fingerprinting
use of buses during school day for athletic transportation
change specification of what a special education bus is
requesting today that School Committee authorize the bid for five years (needs both School Committee and City Council approval)

Foley: "you may be able to save money as a district, but it may not be advisable"
"at what price?"
there are implications to some of the cost savings measures

Ramirez: do you take into consideration population trends?
Allen: under current structure, it isn't necessary due scheduling, to look at shifts in enrollment
but if we changed how we scheduled buses, we'd need to
once you've entered a fiscal year, if you use the per trip rate, you'd be stuck, essentially

Novick:survey of parents would be great, could we do that?
where are we at with WRTA? still talking. Suggestion of if we need to send someone into Boston to buy CharlieCards from the MBTA

Foley: real time GPS tracking would be great
starting buses in colder weather