Wednesday, September 18, 2019

"It's in the report."

As you may have noted, I spend a good bit of my time at public meetings: I go to school committee meetings, I go to Board of Ed meetings, I go to City Council meetings...

In all of those meetings, there is one particular seemingly innocuous phrase that chills me:

"It's in the report."

That's the tip off that someone who was supposed to read something didn't. 
That's the teacher noting that you didn't do your homework. 
That's the public official demonstrating to those paying attention that they have not done their jobs.

Now, those who work on the administrative end of these are generally very good at being politick about this, so you may not hear those words particularly. But listen carefully during deliberations, and you can often tell who has done their homework and who hasn't.

We have had a great deal of demonstration of this during this week in Worcester.

The report, again, is here. And, as Tim Murray, speaking for the Chamber of Commercesaid yesterday, "Candidly, it's a no-brainer."
I have yet to see a question raised that isn't already answered by the report.

If some of us seem somewhat frustrated by this, I would say that's for two reasons:
  1. This is a hypothetical issue for every single member of the Committee. Beyond emails, this in no way impacts the daily life of any member. The 13,000 or so Worcester students and their families that depend on Worcester Public Schools transportation do not have that luxury.
  2. This has been discussed since 2010. If this is new or seems sudden to you as a member of the public, that's understandable, as most of us don't follow every angle. But if you're a member of this committee suddenly this week calling for more time or greater information? You haven't been doing your job.
I will also say that I have yet to hear anything from any member of this committee about the Nelson Place students, some of whom are non-verbal, who were on Durham buses for hours last Friday, as their parents grew increasingly frantic, getting no response from Durham and eventually calling the police to find their children. If you read the responses--and note that Durham called in their national crisis manager for this--there's a quick exchange of blame between the bus company and the superintendent. We have seen no apology, no explaination, and no assurances that this won't happen again. A promise of a plan by Friday doesn't fix this.
Never mind the next contract: how is it that no one is investigating the appropriateness of continuing the current one? 

The problem those parents had and that Nick D'Andrea speaks of this evening on Worcester News Tonight are not, ultimately, those of "district communication," as I have seen cited. Yes, it will be nice to know precisely where the bus is when it is late; we were supposed to have the app two contracts ago, so no one gets a cookie for finally getting that done. Currently, the WPS Transportation office can't tell us where the bus is, because frequently, Durham hasn't told them that, nor, frequently, has Durham told the schools.
You can take that from someone who has, multiple times, called Transportation, called Durham, called the schools, and called Transportation back again. Guess which places hadn't heard from the third?
Thus it will be difficult to take seriously administrative and school committee concerns around chronic absenteeism or tardiness, when one of the chief culprits is rehired to continue and at a greater rate. 

While I've been experiencing new levels of sealioning in my own comment threads, my sense is that there are some who are legitimately thrown by the idea of having to figure out how much busing is going to cost over several years. Running budgetary projections (luckily) isn't everyone's job. It's not easy (we were trained in it through MASBO). It is, though, a regular part of business--you'll note, for example, that the Chamber isn't thrown off by this--and moreover, it is a regular part of what the school district already has to do: that's what every single year's budget is. If you as a member don't believe these projections, what were you voting this past year's budget based on?
Yes, that budget includes commodities--we heat buildings and run vehicles including buses already--and maintenance and changes in enrollment and all of the things that can also be concerns of busing.
...which makes sense, because the district is running buses already.

This isn't the district "getting into the busing business" any more than the district is in the "restaurant busines" because thousands of children are fed (yes, in house) each day, or getting into the "custodial business" because the buildings get cleaned (yes, by district employees) each day, or getting into the "facilities management business" because the buildings are maintained (yes, by district employees) each day. It is a basic responsbility of the district to transport children to school so they can learn, just as it is a basic responsibility to feed them, to keep the buildings they are in clean and maintained. They can hire employees to do it or companies to do it. Hiring companies to do it, incidentally, is called "privatizing services." It is the district's responsibility just the same.
And right now, it is not happening. 

I thus find it extraordinarily difficult to believe the professed concern of those who have come out with public statements of their positions (in whatever fashion). Posting of your outrage in a comment thread to parents, telling families that they are "heard," and otherwise sending out sentiments means nothing when you're going to vote to continue the same conditions for another two years.

If you review the report, you will find: 
  • an "apples to apples" comparison with the Durham contract (p. 2). As noted in the F&O meeting Monday, the district has chosen to move away from diesel, for a cost savings, while Durham is continuing with diesel, which costs more.
  • the vehicles being leased to own, including the process and cycle (p. 7, including a link, if you copy the PDF, to a comparative Durham methodology); note that cost is included in the projections and there is still the savings
  • where the vehicles would be housed (the School Committee has already voted on this)
  • collective bargaining issues (see page 7 and 11)
  • the pipeline to driver development (also page 2)
If at this point, you as a member of this Committee are claiming that you don't have enough information or have a need to wait? It isn't due to lack of information, and you had your waiting time. The bid came in in June. 

It's in the report. 

Back to school essentials from Sandy Hook Promise

This has come up time and again when parents talk about back to school.

Video is after the page break because (as Sandy Hook Promise notes): **Please note that this PSA contains graphic content related to school shootings that may be upsetting to some viewers. If you feel that this subject matter may be too difficult for you, you may choose not to watch this video.**

Baker vs. Promise

kind of an interesting concept, isn't it...
Governor Baker wrote an editorial in the Boston Globe in one of those pieces that sends one wondering about how much of such pieces is a performance more than an argument. I sorted through it last night in a Twitter thread that starts here (and if you enjoy gifs, you'll want to click over there), but to briefly outline what's going on with this piece:

He's writing of the same bill proposed in January--the expectation is that something will come out of the Education Committee sometime soon--so everything from this post in January stands.

The bits that are new (from him) are the local financial picture. I really need to put it into a blog post, but the analysis that some districts would receive less state funding under the Promise Act (the much larger bill) than under the Governor's bill puzzled some back in July, which is when I posted this Twitter thread on it. The upshot is this:
 Because some districts have capped out in required local funding already, more isn't required, but some hit new levels under Promise that they wouldn't under the Governor's bill (check the thread for more). So, yes, there are districts--not many, but some--that would receive less state aid under Promise than under the Governor's bill.

Now, to me, this gets into what we're doing here, in any case. We have school districts--largely, but not entirely, urban, and overwhelmingly serving most of our students of color and students who are second language learners--that have been massively underfunded. If our intent is to redress that, than we should do that.
That would mean passing the Promise Act.

Baker's next point, that some districts might actually have to increase their local education funding is, of course, intended to be shocking, but it's really an interesting insight into how the Governor and his staff view state education funding: they don't think it's a partnership, as laid out in McDuffy: they think it's a giveaway.
The increase, of course, is due to this:
...and is just as what happens every year.
What the Governor DOESN'T say and is much more important is that because most districts are WELL OVER their required local funding of schools, in many cases, an increase of local funding won't be required. In essence, you're already doing that.
It appears intentionally deceptive to leave that bit out, doesn't it?

As for the Governor's next topic:
Yup, going to be using that gif all the time
The Governor and those who keep pushing this "increased accountability measures" stuff...aren't making any proposals that are in fact increased accountability. The Governor's bill just expands that power of the Commissioner to take over school districts, including--please don't forget this--to TAKE AWAY PART OF THEIR BUDGET if he likes.
That isn't increased accountability. That doesn't actually hold anyone accountable for their actual actions.
Nor does expanding charter charter schools or "zones" or whatever other sorts of "maybe we could just have less public accountability" options. That would be the reverse of accountability, folks.

In any case: this is brief but he isn't necessarily doing anything new here. It's just framed in what is, I think, intentionally fearmongering (around the funding) and to give another push to giving more power to the Commissioner. 

Monday, September 16, 2019

Worcester Public Schools Finance and Operation subcommittee on transportation

My phone blew up with messages about Sullivan buses being late as I was driving here. The report, of course, is here

Present is only Foley and McCullough

Foley: to review the bids and the options of transportation services
received recommendation from the Superintendent, review of the bid process, review of self-operation, note on field trips, comparison of pros and cons
signed MOUs limiting non-service credits to Durham
"the School Committee has the legal and fiduciary to make the best interest of our students, our families, and our community"
three areas:
  • pricing and financial impact
  • service history
  • capacity of district to self-operate
Binienda: recommendation is to award the bid to Durham
have been meeting often
results of that meeting are the MOU attached
"have really worked on becoming great partners; we have the same goal in mind: to provide great service for the Worcester Public Schools"
were charging credits a year after it occured
would be advantageous to not have to go back to a long time ago
says MOU is "a great document...allows us to be a great partner to Durham and them to us"
final amount is $100K
"I find that Durham this year, from my point of view this year has been better"
"last year, my phone was ringing two weeks straight"
"know that Durham has had challenges this year with drivers coming in"
challenges covering routes; WPS is "helping out"
need four more buses; two are coming from Durham and two are WPS
district in process of looking for place for buses
"why not" self transportation?
"still building the school side"
bus driver shortage for the country "that would be a challenge for us"
"I think our readiness for that right now--we're not ready, and I think that's a progression of something we would talk about after the Durham contract ends"

Foley: initial bid represented 15% increase; now revised to 8.3%
but "net to public schools is actually a $1.1M increase given the credits going back and the price increase"
"do you think the only reason they reduced the bid was the self-operating option?"
Binienda: no "Durham really wants to continue to work with the Worcester Public Schools; in my opinion, it didn't really have an effect on that"
Foley: report covers costs completely?
Binienda: "We have great faith in Brian Allen's skill in doing this, so I do think those costs are accurate, but there are things that could happen"
"if we're going to talk about something that might happen three years from now, we should revisit it then"
Foley: what could happen?
Binienda: "there are things that could go wrong with buses...the economy...there are things that could wrong in three years"
Foley: would save $2.1M with self-operation?
Allen: correct
Foley: and we agree that the numbers here are accurate; "if anything, these are pretty conservative" extrapolting out from current service, "would be closer to $3M" a year
Foley: how many teachers is $2.1M?
Allen: "that's about 30 teachers...close to 100 IAs"
Foley: could save 44% to 83% on field trips
"being able to save our schools and our PTOs significant money on field trips"
you mentioned free buses to DCU and Hanover: is that included in the bid?
Binienda: "that wasn't part of the conversation"
"that has nothing to do with the bid"
Foley: do you bring it before the school committee as donation?
Binienda: "Nope, we don't bring it before the school committee"
that would be illegal
Foley; what are the credits?
Allen: is a more extensive list of credits that could be taken
Foley: why are we crediting those back to Durham when they were late?
Binienda: "we said they were late and either we couldn't prove it...some of that, we presented a bill in June, and there wasn't enough time for them to address it, even as we were meeting weekly with us, and so this is some of the money"
Foley: "how are we turning around and giving those dollars back" for late buses at Roosevelt?
Binienda: "that's been the process in the past, too...we knew that some of them were going to be brought back by earlier research"
Foley: seems that it would have an impact on the bid
Binienda: "I don't agree with you"
Foley: "probably won't be the first time tonight we disagree"
Foley: history of credit back
Allen: closer to $250,000 a year
Foley: service is a critical component: "if there were exemplary service in place, I could see spending additional dollars" but there aren't
why is there no information on current service of Durham?
Binienda: "I don't think today is really what today is about...I think we've been working through service with Durham. They come to a meeting every week."
"one of the reason I like working with Durham, they see the problem and they work to correct it...they want to come to the table and talk about it"
Foley: my concern are systemic issues over several years
Foley: having been looking at self-operation over nine years due to lack of competition in bidding process
notes years of service of WPS transportation staff
"we've been moving towards this point for the past several years"
how many buses do we run?
Allen: currently running 36 midsized buses, 13 big buses
Durham 84 big buses going 86; 21 wheelchair buses
Foley: do we do maintenance of the buses?
Allen: yes
Foley: projected budget talks about using dollars involved to hire the staff necessary to support staff necessary
run our own food services, picked up our own autism services, members of a special education collaborative
"when you're looking at contracted vendors versus internal running it, there are pros and cons. But we have already done this very effectively"

have to discuss potential cost savings
"there is a concern at this time at taking away from" educational focus expressed by superintendent
but "we really do have to ask these questions"
comments received from parents and families
"it's never been a reflection of the drivers" but it's a customer service complaints
"hard for us to ignore current service concerns"
pleased to hear the calls are "slightly fewer this year"
"is there a reason to believe that drivers calling out was an unusual situtation?"
Durham: increased standby drivers and "battle the callouts"
"if you look at callouts this week and last week, it's a drastic improvement"
"have a new class starting tomorrow"
RJ Constagno (sp?)
McCullough: given the current nationwide issue with bus drivers, monitor to driver program
anything we can do to work with union and other organizations to get more interested in a career option?
Allen: those are excellent suggestions: central Mass workforce, running NightLife
more avenues are something we would look into a pursue
McCullough: offer jobs to current drivers?
Allen: within civil service regs, yes
McCullough: was supposed to be an app
Allen: anticipate having that operational this school year
McCullough: if we were to move at self-op, what would be the timeline?
Binienda: agree that there is not time
Foley: you're saying that the time between now and June is not sufficient
would it have been sufficient between August and June?
It takes more than a year to do the prep?
Binienda: yes

Monfredo: supports contract with Durham
Biancheria: question about insurance, argues we need to stay with diesel because (she says) it is safer, says turnaround on bus stop changes were too quick
what are we focusing on with education?
Binienda: was getting used to having more routes last year, "was difficult"
"that's one of the reasons I know the reason why we're not ready now"
Allen notes that WPS ran all trips every day year
In marked contrast with the Durham
Biancheria would like to see a report from an outside company rather than one internal wifi went and then I had to get to another meeting...note that this article from WCVB about the terrible time of students from Nelson Place getting home from school Friday broke during the meeting, and here's T&G coverage from Steve Foskett

Saturday, September 14, 2019

'Round and 'round: on district transportation

Back when I was an English teacher, I taught my students the five paragraph essay (yes, I can hear the gasps now; you can find my defending this practice if done appropriately in the January 2001 edition of English Journal, if you like). When my students were still getting the hang of how the essay worked, one of my most frequent comments on essays was:
evidence doesn't support your thesis
And so it is that we consider the report of the Worcester Public Schools transportation options for next year and going forward.

As this hasn't been discussed in Committee since March (on a subcommittee report which oddly did not make the minutes of the meeting), you might have lost track of where we're at. It's taken this long, incidentally, because they've postponed the subcommittee meeting twice.
The direction of the Worcester School Committee, on a 4-3 vote, was not not only send out for bids, but also to require administration to prepare a district-run option for comparison.
It thus is odd that Monday's agenda instead says:
To review bid specifications for student transportation services and award contract to lowest responsive and responsible bidder for a contract term to begin in June 2020.
...which was not the committee's directive back in March.

Nonetheless, the report they are receiving (which only posted Friday morning) does still do both. The conclusion the report reaches is:
Therefore, the Superintendent recommends the award of this contract with status quo arrangement for the next two years. Upon the end of the next contract in June 2022, the Superintendent recommends that the School Committee review all information provided by internal and external groups and made the appropriate recommendation.
 The bold is in the original. Never has status quo seemed more apt. Note, of course, the School Committee would not make a "recommendation,"  but an actual decision.

What then leads us to this conclusion?

It certainly isn't the service we've been receiving, as witnessed again in my own family Wednesday, but countless families across the district daily. Hundreds of families were again impacted on Friday afternoon when buses were late, something shared by school administrations but quickly deleted when it became clear that it was getting attention. Presumably it went down the memory hole.

In fact, the reconciliation of credits document accompanying the report itself makes the argument: the district has claimed nearly half a million dollars in lack of service credits from Durham over just last year! A review of the claims show not only traffic (it is a city) but basic Durham issues like not having the required GPS (or so they said) or forwarding things as needed. Note as well that some of those credits are in buses providing services required under special education plans. That the district now is going to give back over $100K in those credits in order to settle the contract is outrageous; a glance through the parent groups I'm on argues that this is probably well under documented.

Clearly then, it is not about service.

It isn't, despite what some have argued, about the bus drivers. The issues with the busing largely have been ones out of the drivers control. And drivers, whoever is running the system, need hardly fear they'll lack work, as there is a very well-documented national bus driver shortage. This is set up as one (of two) arguments against district-run transportation, but it is no less true of Durham; the district just doesn't have the capacity to do anything about it when it is the contractor.
The report also clearly lays out that Durham drivers, as allowed by contractual and other requirements, would not only be sought after as Worcester Public School drivers, but would have contract and benefits that are the same or better than what they have now (see page 11 of the report). Because they would be driving for Worcester, they also wouldn't be sent elsewhere to drive, as Durham drivers are and have been. It is also important to note the explicit commitment to diversifying the transportation office, not only drivers but also managment; that is the first such commitment I've seen in the Worcester Public Schools, and it certainly isn't something we're hearing from Durham.

Thus it isn't about bus drivers.

One might think, given how much concern has been manifested by the superintendent and others, that it's about a working relationship with Durham management. That would seem to ignore--perhaps it isn't known?--about national concerns that have been raised about the company. Another lawsuit was filed in federal court just last week around the Chatanooga crash; Hamilton County of course sent their contract elsewhere when it was up. To look across the country is to see districts considering other options due to families raising concerns, which has been true for years. Roanoke is among the more recent examples. And I could give lots more links!
Contrast that of course--see page 9 of the report--with district employees who are local, many of whom have worked for the district for years.
One hopes, therefore, that it isn't about management relationships.

Thus, it's got to be money, right?

Nope. It isn't money, either. The remarkable thing about the district-run proposal--which, it is important to note, is something the district has been working on for nine years--is that it would cost less next year than we pay Durham this year. 

And it would cost $2.1M less than it would cost if we hired Durham to run next year.

And it would save us $30M over the next ten years.

For those who pay attention to such things, one might further note that transportation is among the only cost centers that do not count towards net school spending. As the city moves closer and closer back to zero--

tossing another $2M of local funds on top of what is already going to transportation would not appear to be in the city's best interest, let alone the district's. It also means that the argument, as made on page 12 that pursuing the foundation budget lawsuit is somehow a drawback, makes no sense: now is when we most need those resources saved to be used in the system!

Durham, by the way, is a U.S. subsidary of the U.K. company National Express, which has been doing just fine in terms of profits.

The choices before the Worcester School Committee next week thus are:
  • continue to have the same bad service we have had for the past several years, covering up the lacks of that service and misleading the public and families about it, moving drivers around New England, for $1M more than this year and 3% increases after that
  • expand district service to include all students, ensuring that when a family calls the Worcester Public Schools about a transportation concern, they get someone who can fix it, keeping our drivers and our funding local, and saving $2.1M next year and $30M long term
Choose this day who you will serve, Worcester School Committee.

Finance and Operations meets Monday at 5 pm at the Durkin Adminstration Building.
The full Committee meets Thursday at 7 pm at City Hall.
Both meetings are public meetings and testimony is generally taken during both.
And you can always email
Also, if you want to hear me talk about this for three minutes (campaign alert!), I've posted a video about this here

Thursday, September 12, 2019

New Board of Ed member: Paymon Rouhanifard

State House News is reporting that Governor Baker is appointing Paymon Rouhanifard to the Massachusetts Board of K-12 Education. He will replace Margaret McKenna (whose terms are up, and who I will MISS!).
As for Rouhandifard, who moved to Massachusetts this year from New Jersey (when his wife Sara Rouhandifard, assistant professor of bioengineering at Northeastern, began working there), his best-known and most recent connection with education was as the receiver of the Camden Public Schools, appointed by Governor Chris Christie. You can read his reflection on that experience here, which opens with this:
Only New Orleans, which was re-created as a nearly all-charter district after Hurricane Katrina, has a higher proportion of students in charters.
The best piece looking at him and his work is from Eliza Shapiro in Politico; she would tell you herself to ignore the headline. Note his close relationship with the Democratic party chair, the state's adoption of the "Renaissance" model for charters, and consider the recent New Bedford parallel. He also did say to Shapiro: “We don’t know how much right now it costs to educate a student in poverty living in Camden,” which potentially could bear out in terms of the Board's position (or lack thereof) on the foundation budget reconsideration.
His two years of teaching in New York City were with Teach for America and he did go through Broad Center. His position with Propel Inc is as a result of a partnership with John White, the state superintendent of the Louisiana school system.
His speech last year at MIT in which he said:
If life outcomes are indeed what we are about, we should welcome state test scores going down. I think the piece that is perhaps most interesting, which he knew:
As he sipped a green tea at a Starbucks outside of Boston, where he recently moved with his family, Rouhanifard flashes a quick grin when asked about his comment. “That may have been the most provocative thing I said that day,” he says. “It was intentional.”
If you're interested, read the whole thing, but a final piece of interest:
The basic rule, what we would want for our own children, should apply to all kids.
That's a pretty good perspective for a Board member to be using.

Worcester and EEE

We're not in the critical zone of other districts, but I am wondering about this: per the T&G yesterday:
...public school officials have agreed that there will be no organized outdoor activities after 4:30 p.m., Dr. Michael P. Hirsh, medical director of the Worcester Division of Public Health, said Tuesday.
But there has been no notice to parents and students, nothing on the district website or social media, and, as far as I can tell, nothing that has gone to staff or faculty.
Are we calling things at 4:30 or not, Worcester?