Sunday, January 20, 2019

Cutting the New Bedford baby in half

Hey, remember this post about how the New Bedford/Alma del Mar Charter expansion wasn't one in which everyone was dealing as equal partners? Sometime between my last look at the Board's agenda on Friday afternoon and the Sunday morning of this holiday weekend, the memo to the Board giving more information on Alma del Mar posted.
And there's a plan B.
Way down at the end of that very long memo on charter schools, the Commissioner says this:
I am recommending two votes in this unique circumstance. In the first motion, the award of 450 seats is conditioned as described above. If the conditions are not met or necessary legislation has not been enacted, this increase in enrollment of 450 would become null and void. I recommend that we establish a second pathway forward for an enrollment increase if this happens. Therefore, I am asking the Board to also vote on an expansion plan that would take place only if the conditions for the collaboration between AdM and New Bedford Public Schools are not met.
Because, it is claimed, the Department lacks space to share the full back-ups (fix this one, people; as a matter of public record, we shouldn't have to ask and wait for this sort of thing), the full backup language isn't posted, but the motion reads as follows (I'm including a screenshot, putting the language in, as well):
Moved: enrollment increase to Alma del Mar Charter School (from 450 to 1044) in New Bedford "if the Commissioner determines that either good-faith negotiations on the memorandum of understanding between the school and New Bedford Public Schools have irretrievably broken down or the necessaary legislation has not been enacted in sufficient time for planning and implementation of the model proposed in the letter of intent among the parties."

This piece from Chris McCarthy at WSBM effectively captures where this leaves New Bedford (and all of us):
The state has weaponized the expansion process.
Mayor Mitchell and City Councilor Hugh Dunn have warned that adding the maximum number of charter seats to Alma del Mar would result in financial devastation to the City's finances. Tax increases and layoffs of police, fire, and teachers will be the result if the state grants the full expansion to the charter school. The vote on Tuesday will place the financial future of the City of New Bedford in the hands of Commissioner Riley.
I'd go further and say that it is already there. In creating a process where Alma del Mar gets the seats either way, he now has tied New Bedford--and every city's--hands when it comes to charter expansion.

MassBudget weighs in...

Today's op-ed in Commonwealth Magazine gives numbers to support the need for action on the foundation budget:
These funding problems affect all districts but are most acute in lower-income communities that rarely have the resources to make up for shortfalls the way wealthier communities can. When state aid and local contributions do not cover actual costs, districts are not able to hire the number of teachers called for in the formula or provide adequate resources for their students’ needs.
As a result, the Commonwealth’s lowest-wealth districts spend 32 percent less on regular classroom teachers than dictated in the foundation budget, the state’s definition of adequate spending. Springfield, one of our lowest-income districts, was only able to spend $12,800 per pupil in 2017, despite having significant student needs. This translates to larger class sizes and fewer specialties like advanced coursework and the arts.
Meanwhile, the highest-income districts can make up for the flaws in the state formula by spending 48 percent more than their foundation budgets using local sources. In FY 2017, Brookline, among the wealthiest communities, spent 82 percent above its foundation budget, at nearly $17,500 per student.

Friday, January 18, 2019

The Board of Ed meets Tuesday for its regular January meeting

And the agenda is here.
The meeting, as usual, opens with comments from the Chair, the Commissioner, and the Secretary, followed by public comment.
There's a focus this month on charter schools, although the recommendation or not on the two remaining new ones won't come until next month. Among the items on the agenda is an initial discussion of those two. The first item is the agreement (as announced earlier this week) among the Department, New Bedford, and Alma del Mar Charter School; note that this is not being greeted with universal enthusiasm.
There is also an update on the Paulo Freire Charter in Springfield, of which the upshot appears to be that they aren't fowarding the information they're supposed to be to DESE, and DESE consequently doesn't have enough information to make a decision on their probation.
The Helen Y. Davis Charter in Boston doesn't seem to be meeting what it was supposed to, either, and thus the Commissioner is recommending it continue on probation.

There will also be a discussion of the plan on the shift in assessment in high school (new MCAS, you'll recall).
And there is a discussion on the Board's annual report.

Yes, there will be liveblogging! 

The Governor's budget comes out Wednesday, January 23

...but expect to see some previews when he address the Mass Municipal Conference this weekend.

Also, I am writing this here to remind myself: THIS YEAR, I AM MAKING A SPREADSHEET.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Worcester School Committee meets Thursday, January 17

and this is a late posting on this...apologies...
The agenda for this meeting is here.
The T&G has already highlighted a few of the big things at this meeting: the report of the superintendent is on the health curriculum, in which it appears the administration has bowed to those on the committee who want a less comprehensive, less researched-based curriculum, contrary to what the Board of Health and many others have endorsed; the October 1 enrollment report is back with the news that enrollment is up, which will bump the foundation budget up, of course, but--important note--not enough to cover costs, and at some point, where we're going to put these kids is going to need to be dealt with; and the Committee is being asked to submit Burncoat High as its number one priority for major renovation/rebuild to the Mass School Building Authority (the T&G hasn't had that one, but do note it). Also note the various facilities-related items below.

I would say, as always, that if any of the above--like the health curriculum?--concerns you, you should get in touch with the School Committee ahead of the meeting.
Also, the School Committee will be voting in a new Vice-Chair.
Beyond the usual array of recognitions, appointments, resignations, and retirements, the following is also on the agenda:
  • a response on how principals are chosen; having had new principals at multiple schools in this administration, it is news to me that parents have been involved. Let's say that isn't being...shared.
  • responses around participation in reading programs
  • a response on participation in Recreation Worcester
  • an update on the use of the facilities master plan, and it doesn't appear that anyone is talking to the city about the woeful underfunding of capital for the Worcester Public Schools...the report had a $72M backlog that were considered "urgent," remember.
  • an update on the 2018 accelerated repair projects, which is the Harlow Street windows, roof, and boiler
  • an response on the use of SchoolDude, giving the dismaying statistics of WPS facilities funded at 50 cents a square foot, or 60% of the foundation budget; in FY17, the district spent $20.8M and the foundation budget was $35.9M
  • a response on family emails
  • the IRS has updated mileage rates, and so the School Committee is being asked to do likewise
  • a reminder that the Worcester Historical Museum's annual Valentine contest is coming up
  • several committee members are looking for a report on any “any case of tort including assaults on teachers and principals, in connection with their employment,” pursuant to the teachers' contract 
  • there is a request to consider raising substitute pay
  • there is a request for a report on Advanced Placement to "include student/parent feedback, guidelines and costs for the exams" and thank you, because some of us have THOUGHTS
  • the audits are coming back! No backup, but they'll be there for the subcommittee
  • there is a request to approve the Parent/Child Home grant for $25,000 through HeadStart
  • there is a request to approve the targeted assistance grant from the Barr Foundation for $150,000, and while it's going to the middle schools, it doesn't say what it's going to be spent on, so maybe someone should ask that
  • there is a request to approve the ArtREACH grant for $3920 for a visiting artist to work in art classes which sounds cool
  • there is a request to receive $2500 to create a scholarship for North High students by the family of Elizabeth Reidy
  • there are requests to approve prior year payments $5,489.78 to Zonar Systems for student transportation GPS service charges; $1,682.00 to be made payable to the CollegeBoard; $430.50 to CliftonLarsonAllen LLP for the 2016 Student Activity Account Agreed Upon Procedures Review; $11,167.82 to be made payable to SEEM Collaborative for services rendered 
  • there are requests to receive donations: $3,086 from Worcester Technical High School’s Tech Pride Club to the ALS Association MA Chapter in honor of teacher James Scanlon; $500 from the Forest Grove Middle School’s National Junior Honor Society to the Ava Roy Fund; $1,000 from Harvard Pilgrim Health Care to Chandler Magnet School to replenish non-perishable items for the food pantry; $1,000 from the Special Olympics (The Yawkey Sports Training Center) to the Unified Sports Program at Worcester Technical High School; $15,000 from the Journey Community Church to Belmont Street Community School for Chromebooks; $4,700 from WEDF/CSX Grant to Grafton Street School; $1,495.27 from Mixed Bag Designs to Lake View School; $500 from WEDF for Opera Meets Lake View School; $4,250 from various donors at UMASS to Lake View School 
There is also a completely non-specific posting of an executive session, which is still not okay. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

When the Commissioner goes "Let's Make a Deal" on charter expansion

At the beginning of yesterday's Board of Ed meeting, Commissioner Riley announced a deal that the mayor of New Bedford and the leadership of Alma del Mar Charter School had agreed to around Alma's charter expansion. The school had applied for over 1000 seats in expansion, something naturally opposed by the city. Instead, Riley announced, the school would get over 400 seats, a building that the New Bedford Public Schools have closed, and be assigned an enrollment zone, much as the New Bedford schools have.
I tweeted this out earlier, but I want to be sure it's up and out there: the deal was hailed as Solomonic, but Solomon didn't actually cut the baby in half. As Chair Sagan pointed out last night, the option remains with the Commissioner to move forward with recommending the full more than 1000 seats. He also has a markedly pro-charter board who one assumes would support such a move. It is thus crucial to note that this "deal" wasn't made with everyone at the table having the same agency; the city and school district have this implicit threat hanging over them. It need not be made explicit, as everyone knows how this works.
The charter school gets half the seats they asked for, for now--nothing prevents them from later expansion--a building, and the support of at least some of New Bedford's leadership. The district gets...a pat on the back? And a charter school having assigned pupils, who may or may not wish to attend; I know I would be dubious as a parent, having no local recourse if I had issues with my child's school.
Obviously, I can't and don't speak for New Bedford, but I am also (as one who also lives in an urban district) dubious about mayors cutting deals on behalf of the school system (chair or not). Superintendents and school committees should be those at the table.
The Commissioner also floated the availability of targeted assistance grants for this work: that isn't how those are supposed to work. Any district seeking those should question how those decisions are now being made, if they're instead being handed out in advance.
Let's also recognize that this entirely ignores the underlying issues: of local democratic governance, of local spending decisions (which New Bedford loses, incidentally), of true public education.

And in sum?

Here's the Novick Reports from last night's Board of Ed.