Wednesday, March 22, 2017


One thing I want to pass along from last night's school funding presentation* in Ashburnham (tweet thread here) that I want to pass along: while any implementation is a matter of taking years, and full implementation will require additional revenue, there are discussions happening around what can be done for FY18. That's next year's budget, being discussed now.
Call your reps! And don't take "we aren't discussing it" for an answer!

*which I didn't liveblog, because I thought another round of notes on how Ch.70 works might be repetitive

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Let's talk about Worcester Public Schools' facilities

First, let's look at where we are (this is from page 146 of the FY17 WPS budget):

The $3 million "allocated for building renovation projects" is the Worcester-side match on MSBA projects. You'll remember that long list of accelerated repair--window, roof, boiler--projects that the city is doing with state assistance? That city-side comes out of the $3.5 million allocated to the schools.
Once that's happened, and once there's been technology upgrades, and the buses have been replaced, we're left looking at $65,000 for 50 buildings. $1300 per building isn't going to get you far.

That isn't, of course, the only money that's spent on buildings. Capital spending is the big projects: if the HVAC system breaks, that's capital; if a radiator breaks, that comes out of Facilities ordinary maintenance. But here's what facilities OM has looked like (again FY17, this is page 22):

"But it's gone up by one percent!" you note. Yes: it's gone up by one percent for trash hauling. As the EAW noted earlier this week, with four million square feet to cover, that's 33 cents a square foot.

Now, City Manager Augustus raised some hope that he's understanding some of this with his message on school capital funding, though it appears that what he's doing is creating stabilization funds for the projects at South and at Doherty. That isn't a bad idea--it was shortsighted of the Council to cut North High's last year--but all that does it keep those projects moving forward. Important, but it doesn't fix anything else.

And we have some things to fix.
It was of course the Co2--note that is carbon dioxide, like what you breathe out--that got the headline from Burncoat High last week. That's straightforwardly an air circulation issue: people breathing out creates CO2, and it has to go somewhere, and you want it to be circulating out of the building.
Water testing statewide has yielded some results on lead and copper in Worcester schools (that's the report at tonight's school committee). Most of those are the sort that no longer show up once the water has been running.
We've also been hearing a lot about PCBs (there are so many links that I'm struggling to choose one), which have had...varied contacts with reality (check out the EPA here). What I haven't seen get much attention--in fact, I'd missed it myself until Molly McCullough tweeted it out last week--is the history of what Worcester has done over the past seven years (which is when this issue came to anyone's attention). The link is to a January report to School Committee, which I frankly don't remember getting much of any attention at the time.
So what does it say?
The first thing is that Worcester's been talking to the EPA on this pretty much constantly since 2010, and it's the EPA's guidance that's been followed.
The second thing is that, given that PCBs were used during a period of major school construction, this is whole lot of Worcester's schools: 
Oh, but wait: 

Here's where this gets interesting: after the district removes all the light ballast--which is what's widely seen as the biggest health risk--and seals the cauking, works on the air circulation, and creates a regular round of the sort of cleaning that is needed for this, the district reworks the long-term capital plans of the district. And if you compare what schools have had new windows--and it's window caulk that's the main concern at this point--you're going to see something that looks a lot like the above list.

So where does that leave us now? Well, the EAW wants to decide who should do testing to see if there's PCBs. The district has been acting for the past seven years as if there may well be PCBs and pushing those projects through as quickly as possible. We're still only getting $65,000 in capital to spend on building repairs beyond MSBA and $1.3 million to spend on ordinary maintenance.

I'd like to suggest that it's the final sentence that's the most important one. There's a lot more to fix here, and only small parts of it are about chemicals. But we can't do any of it fast or well enough with the funding we have now.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Worcester schools meetings this week

The Worcester School Committee meets on Thursday, March 16; you can find the agenda here.

The report of the superintendent this week is on drinking water quality (as an aside: that's been uploaded as the actual PDF, which I haven't seen happen on a school committee backup). The EAW is rallying ahead of Thursday's meeting for healthy schools, something which began with the PCB issue and has now expanded to air and water quality. Note that the report on Thursday is Worcester's part of the larger statewide testing in schools of water for lead and copper, as this is well beyond being a Worcester issue.
(I've been intending to do a larger facilities post at some point; I hope to get to that this week.)
There are a number of recognitions.
There are subcommittee reports from TLSS and from Governance. Note that TLSS apparently discussed the Burncoat academy (TM), in the only place I've been able to find that actually describes admission requirements--at least an advanced/proficient on 5th grade testing--and its "enriched" course of study. It is procedurally fascinating/problematic that this meeting took place after both the announcement and the first parent meeting; both parent meetings are taking place prior to any action by the full school committee. Also, the request to approve those courses appeared on the school committee agenda without detail prior to any discussion as to where they were going. 
In Governance, after a several years abeyance, it appears as though the subcommittee is doing a policy review!
The Administration is responding to a request for an update on dual enrollment.
They are also responding to a request regarding a Main South soccer team (no backup to link to).
There is a request that the committee accept a STARS residency grant for Elm Park ($4400 for Asian myths and storytelling).
There is a request that the committee accept a$37,292 Mass Commended Schools grant, which is going to the former Level 4 schools to share best practices during summer professional development.
There is a request that the committee accept a donation to Tatnuck Magnet.
There is a request that the committee accept a donation to Lakeview.
Miss Biancheria is requesting an update on the career and technical education grant; an update on summer school; and the enrollment report which the committee received at their January 19 meeting.

While it is not a report of the superintendent, Superintendent Binienda is also sharing her (draft until approved by the committee) goals (which are...vague?). Paraphrased:
  • professional practice goal: to complete the first year of superintendent training
  • student learning goal: by September, to provide intervention for 3rd, 6th, and 10th graders at high risk and not meeting test scores
  • 1 on instructional leadership: to create and sustain excellent instruction through 1) continually evaluating data; 2) adding AP capstone and continuing SAT, PSAT, and college application day; 3) enhancing current literary initiatives
  • 2 on management and operations: a supportive, safe, orderly learning environment through 1) a chronic absenteeism plan; 2) all teachers on the state evaluation system; 3) "implement and monitor strategies to ensure a safe, welcoming learning environment"
  • 3 on family and community engagement: "engage responsively with families and higher education, business and community partners" through: 1) attending community events; 2) "deepen community support for 'Compact for Public Education in Worcester' by partnering with community businesses, agencies, and higher education" to quote; 3) opportunities for family engagement
  • 4 on professional culture: "enhance professional collaborative culture that promote strong ethical leadership and scholarship" through: 1) providing high quality professional development; 2) providing targeted intervention including central admin support for lowest performing schools by monitoring turnaround schools; 3) assist schools in using data

The committee is also being asked to review and approve changes to the Collaborative's agreement; this appears to be a name change throughout (from "Central Massachusettts Special Education Collaborative" to "Central Massachusetts Collaborative"); there are no substantive changes.
And there is a request that the committee approve the AP Capstone Program; there is no backup on this, so I would assume it is going to subcommittee...? 
The Committee is also scheduled for an executive session at 6 on negotiations with the teachers' union and with custodians; and a grievance for an HVAC technician.

There also is a Legislative breakfast on Friday morning at 9 am at Worcester Tech; on the agenda is the FY18 budget and a visit to the new Nelson Place. It also appears they want to have another legislative meeting on March 30 to discuss the new academy, AP test funding, MSBA projects, and the Adopt-a-School program.
no liveblog at the meeting; I'll see about the Legislative breakfast. Maybe. 

Friday, March 10, 2017

Credit where due

In skimming the district budget updates, I came across this:
Chapter 70 for fiscal year 2018 increased by $1.9 million to $7.7 million. After years of advocacy from the town and state representatives, as well as collaboration between the School Committee and Board of Selectmen, Westborough saw the largest increase anywhere in the state.
With Wednesday's presentation fresh in my mind, I knew that a $1.9M increase wasn't the largest increase in the state; Worcester increased $9M over last year. As the Commonwealth (God bless her!) shares everyone's numbers online, I checked and Springfield, with a $12M increase over last year, gains the most.
(If you're wondering: download the FY18 workbook, and if pick the spreadsheet "comparison to FY17," you can sort by the Ch.70 increase column. As always, if what I say here makes no sense to you, please let me know.)

It's the beginning of the second sentence that caught me, though, because we hear it a lot this time of year, and I want to parse where we're at with that one. As I heard a legislator say last night, Chapter 70 is "a sacred cow." When cuts come, it--and usually local aid--are the two that are not touched. So let's, legitimately, give credit for that.

When increases do come, though, let's recognize why.

If you're a district that would not see an increase in foundation aid--if you haven't had a gain in enrollment, if your enrollment hasn't shifted to higher need over last year, and if the inflation rate is flatish--then, yes, any increase you see is due probably to the advocacy around a minimum per pupil increase. That isn't part of the foundation budget. That's done at the decision of the Legislature.
And it tends to be regressive in who it helps, but set that aside for now. 

But $1.9 million on a district the size of Westborough's (enrollment 3849) didn't make any sense. I don't want to underplay anyone's advocacy, but the state isn't handing out nearly $500 per pupil increases!

It had to be Westborough's foundation budget.
So if you pull up Westborough's FY17 sheet, and compare it to FY18, here's what you find (I just put the enrollment numbers together on one sheet):

The district enrollment went up by 286 students over FY17's count. That bumps up the special education calculations (since they're based on a flat percentage of enrollment). Also, look where those increases of students came in: the district has 40 more K-12 ELL students than last year; while they have 25 fewer half-day ELL students, the jump on full day makes a bigger difference. There's growth in every category on down, with a really big jump in kindergarten, both full and half day. All together, these are the big pieces of a jump of Westborough's foundation budget by $3M (I'm not adding those spreadsheets here, lest it get too busy).

Because of Westborough's community finances, they're really close to the maximum of 82.5% that the state requires a community to pay towards their foundation budget (of course, Westborough contributes more). A jump of $3M in the foundation budget over a single year thus gets picked up not by the community, but largely by the state.
And that--not the advocacy of anyone save McDuffy--is why Westborough is getting more state aid next year.

Let me add here that I don't say this to pick on Westborough (I have a soft spot for Westborough; I did my student teaching there). Some of what gets said at school committee and other public meetings is political, and I recognize that. We do our best advocacy, though, if we are accurate in ascribing changes to what caused them.
We can only fix the foundation budget if we know what it does.

Someone asked me for an NSS update for Worcester

So I plugged it into a chart (note that the state didn't have FY16 for Worcester at the time; I believe it's either at or a smidge above).
Remember, though: 20% over net school spending isn't the $93M the state has outstanding on the foundation budget just for Worcester. 

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

FY18 Worcester Schools budget at CPPAC

FY18 is being discussed at CPPAC tonight.
Posting as we go. 
Looks like the presentation is this one.

Brian Allen: first look at budget from Governor's budget; school budget (and city budget) come from House budget
school side "not anticipating many changes" from Governor's budget
enrollment changes--"up significantly from last year"--and low inflation factor
certain costs continue to exceed normal inflation (what's normal inflation?)
school resource needs are "significant and urgent but exceed available revenue"
"our challenge for the next six weeks is to essentially prioritize"

"we're a foundation aid community" one of only 92 districts
(growing demographics is rare in the state)
continued low inflation rate
Governor's budget acknowledges health insurance gap (per FBRC) by $66M ('though $16M is state funding)
$935,000 underfunding for Worcester alone in charter school reimbursement and special education circuit breaker projected for this coming year

have same number of students as we had in 2003, but eight fewer schools to put them in

To a Q about per pupil spending, "Newton is spending that much...because that's what it takes" pointing to the need for overhaul in the foundation budget

ELL students went down in 729 because the state's guidelines changed (and now have changed, somewhat, back)
economically disadvantaged students is up 543
employee benefits up by $1.7M; "but our gap is almost $30M"
inflation factor is only up 1.1%

city's contribution is only going up by $227,515
in total WPS budget revenue going up by $9M...which is almost identical to how much the WPS Ch.70 is increasing by
level service budget goes up by $10.6M or 3.3%

Q as to what the appetite is for increasing taxes at city "so we're funding locally the way that other communities are"
Rosen..."not much appetite for raising taxes" on City Council
Q on city at a dollar value has gone up over the past years
"for the last six years, we were below the foundation level...this is the first year we're above the required level"
most of that is carryover, "so next year, we'll be above for the first time in years

House budget comes out April 12
FY18 WPS budget comes out May 12

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

A bit more information and plenty of open questions on the Hanover Academy (TM)

The letters of invitation to apply to the new academy at Burncoat came out yesterday (I'll note here that I don't have a child this applies to, but I have seen the letter of invitation). Those with at least one advanced and one proficient score on the fifth grade MCAS/PARCC have received an invitation to the two meetings at 6 pm on Thursday, March 9 or Tuesday, March 14 at Burncoat Middle School, though admission will be "tiered."
The letter says that applications are available on the school's website--as yet they are not--as well as at Burncoat Middle and at elementary schools.

Here's some questions I and others have at this point:

  • when and where is the public process around this academy going to be? When is the community going to get a chance to weigh in on if this is what they want to commit district resources--because district resources are involved--to?
  • what is the WPS policy around naming of schools and academies? How much money does it take to achieve the same status of what lifelong educators who have buildings named after them gave to this district? 
  • what precisely is the agreement with Hanover? How much influence does this company have over what will be happening in this academy? Where is that written? Who has seen it and who has signed it?
  • what does this academy do to the rest of Burncoat Middle? to Burncoat High School? What are the impacts on enrollment, class sizes, course selections, other programs? Do the students in this academy have priority within the school?
  • what interaction, if any, has this proposed academy had with the multi-year self-study conducted by the K-12 arts magnet? How will this impact their enrollment, course availability, recruitment, retention, transportation? 
  • what impacts and what mitigations are intended for what this will do to other schools, given that students with high test scores are now being invited to two Worcester middle schools?
  • how does the school committee and administration resolve an admission process based solely on test scores with the continued rhetoric around valuing more than that? How does this align with the purported importance of "parent choice" around state tests, when those who opt not to take state tests are not invited to these programs?

More as I have it.