Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Tonight was the first of two public hearings on the new superintendent of schools. The ad-hoc committee is looking for public input on what we need in a superintendent. In her introduction, Mayor Lukes spoke of having "a vision to excel in the education sector."
The first speaker was Richard Kennedy, president of the Worcester Chamber of Commerce. He said that the first question asked by any company they are attempting to get to relocate to Worcester is "Tell us about your school system." They want to know what the opportunities for their children are. He closed by saying that the Chamber is "very, very supportive of an exceptional school system."
This sounds like the opening of a conversation with the business community regarding school funding!
(or, "Why it pays to stay to the bloody end of the City Council meeting." Further subtitled, "You're never going to find this in the T&G coverage.")
Councilor Germaine asked Mayor Lukes to forward a suggestion to the School Committee: in order to save money, we could cut out or down on busing students. He cited his own family driving to the bus stop to suggest that people could drive their children to school.
The wisdom of that suggestion can be taken up separately. What happened next is what gets interesting...
Mayor Lukes said that, due to the "aggressive demands" for increased funds from the School Committee, it raised the question of what the relationship between the two elected bodies is going to be going forward. The "intensive lobbying effort" from the School Committee members, followed by the joint subcommittee meeting held Monday, is, she said, "indicative of the direction we are going." It is "inevitable" that there will be a "blurring" of roles.
We can trace this confusion about responsibility back, again, to the passage of Proposition 2 1/2. Recall that prior to 1982, the School Committee made their own budget, forwarded it the City Manager, and he took it from there. The City Council has only been in the middle of this since 1982. As Ed Reform (passed in 1993) funded schools to a more appropriate level, it's only in the past six years that the ax that the City Council can wield on the school budget has become clear.
That's a real problem. The School Committee members are the directly elected officials responsible for our schools. They no longer, however, have the power necessary to execute their responsibility. They don't hold their own purse strings, so they have to, as the Mayor puts it, "intensively lobby."
Tuesday night's City Council meeting brought two more speakers on the school budget: Nancy M. Pare, who brought her grandson Justin, and David LeBoeuf, the senior class president at South High.
Ms. Pare referenced Justin, who enters kindergarten in August, as she spoke. Her central question: "Teachers, administrators, and staff are doing their utmost for Justin's education. Are you doing all you can to make his education equal to those in other communities?...Where do the priorities of the city and the council lie?"
Mr. LeBoeuf gave a great demonstration of his Worcester public schools education, referencing the Renaissance, Brown v. the Board of Education, and Johnson's Great Society program. (Way to go!) He left them with the charge to reconsider the budget, reconsider funding, and pointed out that education is "not an issue to be playing politics with."
Who's up for next week?
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
2) At-Large Councilor Rick Rushton. His request that the School Department find five new places to cut spending make one wonder if he's been anywhere near a school budget over the past six years. One suspects not. He's standing in front of a skeleton, trying to cut more fat. It isn't there.
You'll find their contact information, as always, to the right.
Monday, April 28, 2008
"We need to look to ourselves to solve our own problems. " City Manager Michael V. O'Brien, who also spoke of the three R's of budgeting: reform, redirect, and new revenues
The issue here isn't city prioritization...it's simple revenue." District 5 City Councilor Bill Eddy, who added that he is "very sympathetic to the need for more revenue."
"Where do we want to be moving forward from here?" School Committee member Jack Foley, discussing the "proper level of funding" for City of Worcester schools.
"...myth-busting going on...not coffee shop talk " City Councilor-at-Large Rick Rushton, who asked for a number of reports, including one listing five areas where the city schools could reduce costs.
"You have only one shot at your kid's education. You can't sacrifice your children on the altar of being an an urban pioneer...You are going to lose the quality of life in this city if you don't take care of these schools." School Committee member Mary Mullaney, to a warm round of applause from parents in the gallery
"I'm a political historian...I know...if you raise taxes, it's political suicide. If you don't, it's civic and social suicide." Stephanie Yuhl, parent and Holy Cross history professor
It isn't 102%.
There's a reason that foundation is figured the way that it is, and, while the money that was before going to supply health insurance for teachers (itself a worthy thing) is now going directly to the classroom, there isn't NEW money coming into the budget. That's why it doesn't count.
And of course that doesn't include that the foundation budget doesn't include all it should nor that 102% is ridiculously low. Lower than Boston. Lower than Fall River. Lower than New Bedford.
2) There was some discussion of a seven page (!) memo regarding class sizes that has been put together by the school administration. Deputy Superintendent Mills, in addition to speaking to number shuffling that takes place at central administration, raised an important number:
Worcester has a 40% mobility rate.
With that, it's no exaggeration to say that the numbers you report today are going to be entirely different a week from now. It also boggles the mind, if you think of how that complicates anything else the schools do: teaching kids basic skills coming first to mind.
3) According to Deputy Superintendent Mills, we are dangerously close to supplanting our local funds with state and federal funds that are supposed to be supplementing our budget. If we do that, they'll take those funds away.
4) According to a number of different people who have recently spoken to state legislators, we are having more and more trouble making a case for more state funds for Worcester, as we are $12 million under our tax levy (that's the amount we could raise taxes without a 2 1/2 override).
An order from Chair Kate Toomey asking for a legal opinion regarding income restrictions on the tax levy (that'd be what's known as a "circuit breaker" when those below a certain income do not have to pay a tax increase).
On a council that rarely brings up raising taxes and then only to rail against the very idea, THIS IS PROGRESS!
That means it will be out for public presentation at next week's City Council meeting, May 6.
That's a whole extra week to write more letters and make more calls!
Sunday, April 27, 2008
(seems we may need to wait another week to find out, as there's no sign of it turning up on Tuesday's agenda.)
Rumor is rumor, but that does beat the cuts we've had for six years now.
Let's keep the pressure on! We're going for 102%!
Next up is the joint meeting between the City Council and School Committee; it's the CC subcommittee on Education (Councilors Toomey, Smith, and Eddy) and the SC subcommittee on Business (Mr. Foley, Mr. Bogigian, Mr. O'Connell).
Monday afternoon at 3:30 pm, in the City Council chamber.
(remember, if you're there on city business, you can park in the garage underneath the plaza behind City Hall)
See you there!
Friday, April 25, 2008
Thursday, April 24, 2008
We are talking about a school budget that has had $58 million dollars cut from it over the past six years.
- There are (after this year) no librarians below the high school level.
- Nurses travel between elementary schools
- The technology budget is virtually non-existent
- The supplies budget is ridiculously low
- On every side--teachers, support staff, janitors--the schools are badly understaffed.
If, somehow, with all these cuts, the School Committee is still somehow managing to "waste" money, then wouldn't it have been a good issue to raise during last fall's elections?
If, with all this, the Superintendent is "wasting" public funds, then perhaps that should have been raised during his last annual review?
This is a smoke screen, designed to throw those who have been advocating for increased school funding off at the very last minute.
Don't fall for it.
You'll find a link to the right for contacting the City Manager. Get in touch with him BEFORE TUESDAY and ask:
Where is the waste?
And tell him that we're asking for 102%.
(Maybe next year we can manage 104%, like, say Fall River and New Bedford, with their slower rates of economic growth)
Monday April 28 at 3:30 pm, the Business Subcommittee (of the School Committee) and the Education Subcommittee (of the City Council) are holding a joint meeting to discuss the budget.
It's in the City Council Chamber at City Hall.
Having this one packed with parents, teachers, and students would send a clear message to the City Council about the level of community concern around the budget.
Sunday, April 20, 2008
(with apologies to Bananarama)
There's a rumor being forwarded by a particular district councilor that the schools are being mismanaged. Heaven help us, this councilor implies, there are classes in some parts of the city with 18 and 19 students in them!
Umm, yes...just as there are classes in this city with 30.
Worcester runs on a system of neighborhood schools, with the addition of parental choice and magnet schools (which originally were implemented to eliminate segregated schools). That, plus the high mobility rate in Worcester, is always going to mean a variety of classes sizes. A variety not only from school to school, but also within one school, from year to year. They are, through some hard work at the central administration building, kept within particular levels.
If this councilor would like, singlehandedly, to tackle the even distribution of students throughout the system, while adhering to Worcester's fine tradition of neighborhood schools, meeting federal, state, and local requirements regarding distribution of students, while keeping parental choice intact...well, of course this councilor wouldn't.
But the very forwarding of this rumor shows just how out of touch some (not all!) of our city councilors are when it comes to the schools system. To point to a single school and say, "Yes, but they have..." shows that they really haven't been paying attention all that well for all that long.
That's pretty sad.
It also, of course, is an attempt to turn the conversation from the real issue:
Worcester is not sufficiently funding its schools.
Worcester itself needs to spend more money on its schools.
We are 301 out of 318 in the state in local funding. That's just sad.
So, should you hear this rumor, you might point out how out of touch the purveyors of such a line are. And tell them that you don't want your city to be 301 out of 318 in school funding.
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Boston 111% (you'll remember that Boston has also committed to a better than 50/50 split)
West Boylston 122%
Clinton 108% (Clinton just passed a 2 1/2 override)
Not even in the ballpark.
- Currently, the city has one tech trainer for all of the Worcester public schools (that for 25,000 kids). Next year? None.
- There are no elementary school librarians in the city. Next year? No middle school librarians.
Just those two examples show how ridiculous this all is. How on earth are we expecting our kids to be trained for the next century if we spent no money on technology or on the people to support it? And in an economy that is less and less about knowing information and more and more about knowing where to find information, what are we doing firing librarians, the masters of finding thing out?
(You need to) take bold steps...to do what you say you believe...always excited about plans for the Blackstone and for City Square...never enthusiastic and excited about schools. Twenty percent of our population is in school...may not be voters, but they are our future...(spending on schools) is not an expense--it's an investment.
First, expectation are up, but spending is not.
Second, 18% more than the foundation budget is the state average
Third, Chapter 70 spending is not keeping up with inflation BUT many districts are keeping up by increasing local funding.
I want to applaud Cheryl for really calling the City Council on always talking a good game but never putting real money behind it!
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Jack Foley: We want to work with the City Council and the City Manager on a real solution...not us against them...this is under the jurisdiction of all of us.
We now have two issues: one, the deficit for fiscal year '09; two, what is an adequate level of funding for schools? Right now, we are barely above the floor: 100.3%.
We cannot authorize funding; we work with those who can.
The school system is in crisis...we have to raise this issue.
We still have a $3.1 million deficit. If we do get to zero, there is no need for rejoicing. We are still in a horrible budget.
John Monfredo: Nothing is more important in our economy than our public schools. (He then asked if we had any commitment from the city regarding a 50/50 split of new revenue. The answer was "no.") Boston has more than a 50/50 split with its schools. Providence is giving all of the new revenue to schools.
Brian O'Connell: "We" and "they" often emerges...we are all part of the same essential package. The City Manager makes the crucial decision. The Council can reduce the bottom line, but can only recommend additions. The City Manager sets the bottom line.
The state pays $180 million. The city pays $92 million. Two-thirds of our budget comes from the state, one-third from the city. We are asking for a very modest increase to 102%. Even this is a bottom level...our school system is on life support, not on the road to recovery.
We should look at 2001-2002, adjusted for inflation, as a reasonable level of funding...a long-term fiscal plan for quality education.
Ed Reform (with its requirements for foundation budget funding) passed in 1993, so that's the baseline year when it comes to city countribution being discussed this way. As you'll see from the above graph (thanks, Colleen!), the city's contribution has varied over time, but it has not made it above 1% in some time, and it hasn't been near the statewide average since the late 90's.
Monday, April 14, 2008
TOMORROW NIGHT is it! April 15 is the last meeting before the budget!
If you haven't been to one yet, come to this one! Bring a sign!
We are failing the majority of our students and our taxpayers...you cannot run a school on these resources. By my calculations, it would take 122% of the foundation budget to make up for these lacks. I feel as though I've been forced to buy a ticket to California with only enough fuel to get to Chicago...It would be better if we had fully staffed and resourced schools for 150 days rather than inadequate ones for 180 days...There's too much of a sense that things are going to be okay...enough is enough!
Saturday, April 12, 2008
Maybe congratulations aren't in order just yet
...Because every City Councilor is quick to declare their support for Worcester's public schools, it is time for them to make good on those promises and turn the tide. At the very minimum, the new city budget should allocate 2 percent above the minimum required by law to the public school budget...Spending more than required isn't just the province of weathly communities like Cambridge or Weston. Similar cities to Worcester like Fall River, Lynn, New Bedford, and Brockton all spend a greater percentage above minimum than we do: an average 3.9 percent over the minimum, compared to Worcester's 0.3 percent.
...as a city, a reckoning is due. For too long, we have allowed fiscal choices to be made over the past six years that have damaged our public education system.
...public school quality matters for us all.
There's more great stuff...again, I'll link up to it when it's online.
Friday, April 11, 2008
Generally, if someone wishes to speak, others may also (though it's a good idea to mention it to a Councilor beforehand). Another one worth attending!
This is still projected, and so not on the slide, but the final number should be:
You don't have to have a Ph.D in statistics to picture that slide in your head!
As that money would, in total, save 42 teachers, that's going to look pretty tempting. The caution offered by Mr. Allen, which we would do well to remember, is that this money is one time money. If the School Committee applies that money to next year, and it saves teachers' jobs, those jobs are saved for one year--then it's gone.
We'd do better to save those jobs with real money, and spend one time money on one time costs, like supplies that last for more than one year.
A caution, though: it's going to be VERY TEMPTING for the City Councilors to push for the School Committee to simply apply those funds to next year, and then do a dance that the deficit is down to $1 million. Don't buy it.
Current projected budget deficit for next year:
$3.1 million (this is a change of $2.6 million)
Next year the City is projected to contribute $92 million to the School Department budget of $255 million for FY09. This an increase of 2.1%.
It is $421,000 above the foundation budget floor.
This would bring our foundation budget next year to:
100.3% over the minimum
(You'll note that this is still not the 102% the School Committee has requested.)
the Education Sub-committee of the City Council
will hold their joint meeting to discuss the budget
on April 28 at 3:30 pm in the City Council chamber.
As Mr. O'Connell said last night, "That would be a good one to attend!"
Thursday, April 10, 2008
Wednesday, April 9, 2008
gb #8-94 -
To consider establishing an educationally sound budget for the 2009 fiscal year and then operating the school system for as long as the budget permits, and thus to terminate operations for the year at the conclusion of that time, which would be approximately 150 days rather than 183 days.
Mr. O'Connell also proposed this last year (it passed 5-2, Lukes and Mullaney against), but as far as I know, the law department never got back to them. In a city in which not long ago the City Council was loudly vowing civil disobedience to continue to pollute the water, proposing civil disobedience to raise sufficient funds to run the schools would seem worthy of consideration.
If you wish to speak on this item, the School Committee meets tomorrow night (Thursday) at 7pm in the City Council chamber at City Hall.
Tuesday, April 8, 2008
The Boston Globe article on Sunday covering the deep cuts around the state has plenty of horror stories (removing light bulbs at City Hall, anyone?) What I found most interesting in this article was the number of towns that are moving for overrides, some of which have already passed:
Last year, 76 towns sought overrides to balance operating budgets, less than half of which passed. About 50 are expected this season...
As you'll see the article, some of these have failed. What I find heartening is the number of communities that are trying, even in the oft-mentioned "tough economic times," to keep their schools in good shape. And remember, Worcester isn't moving for an override. Getting an additional $5 million to prevent cuts this year wouldn't require one, as it wouldn't even come close to raising taxes that 2 1/2 %.
Sunday, April 6, 2008
It isn’t as if anyone at City Hall is bad-mouthing the School Department. As a matter of fact, city councilors are still publicly saying all the right things, about how education is a top priority and how they want to work with school officials to make sure Worcester’s schools are adequately funded.
But there have been some subtleties that make you think otherwise. For example, when councilors talk about the School Department, it’s not unusual to hear some members refer to the public schools as “they” or “them” and the city-side as “we” or “us.”
Now, that’s not a good sign, when they’re all supposedly on the same “team.” Though it’s not quite as bad as the Hatfields and McCoys, it’s certainly not a sign of one big happy family, either.
(You'll remember that those councilors were corrected at Tuesday's meeting.)
Mr. Kotsopoulos then goes on to give us a bit of history and why some of us are encouraged this year in a way we haven't been in the past:
Previous school committees, for whatever the reason, were fairly passive in their relationship with the City Council and seldom challenged it on funding issues. This was the first time in recent memory that School Committee members actually stood up and asked for more money, and that did not sit well with some at City Hall.
Let's make sure we aren't leaving the School Committee standing alone! There are, as far as anyone knows, three weeks left before the City Manager presents his budget to the City Council (April 29th is the date I'm hearing, but there's been no formal annoucement). If you haven't written to the City Manager, the City Council, to the Editor, NOW is the time to do it!
There is only a bit more time to get that extra 1.8% into the budget; after that we have to battle over allocation. Let's do this right! Write, call, or email, but let them know that the School Committee stands for US, the citizens, as well as for the 25,000 students in the Worcester Public Schools!
Friday, April 4, 2008
I'll post a date as soon as I hear of it.
Wednesday, April 2, 2008
The perception that there is a funding disparity may in fact be a result of the Darwinian system the city has set up for the schools with lack of adequate funding. When cuts are made in things schools need, be that people to staff the library, paper for writing, or a copy machine, in the schools where the parents' income and time allow them to do so, parents (and parents' groups) have stepped in to fill the gaps where they can. And so we have ink cartridges brought from home, a copy machine leased by the parent-teacher organization, a library staffed by parents. The problem is that not all schools have parents that can do this. Most city schools don't. And so those schools go without, and have to meet the daily needs of their students with only the funds the city provides.
We are setting up a two-tiered system in which the schools with parents with a lower income level and less time bear the brunt of the funding cuts in a way that the schools with parents with higher income and more time don't. And that's, of course, completely contrary to the great leveller of obstacles that publicly funded education is supposed to be.
Councilor Palmeri takes that metaphor and runs with it: "We are out of the jungle, but we are still in the woods...working together we may be able to get out of the woods...tonight gives us a chance to exhale...be prudent in out decision making." As Councilors Palmeri and Clancy were those who were most incensed at the School Committee's request for an additional 1.8% in the fiscal year 2009 budget, the change in tone this evening is remarkable. However, Palmeri continues his colleague's attempt to pit areas of the city against each other: "Public students are leaving the East side...a very serious issue...we need a budget that is fair to everyone." A budget that cuts teachers for the sixth year in a row is not fair to any student in the city.
Councilor Toomey urges us to focus "our efforts on reforming the Chapter 70 (funding) formula" at the state level. She also reminds her colleagues that "education is the primary focus of our future...all great societies in history put education as a top priority."
And that was it on the funding, except for a parent who got up at the end of the meeting to remind the councilors that even if the budget is balanced, we are still nearly $60 million dollars in the hole from the past six years of cuts.
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
Tonight's City Council discussion of the money saved from health care was, as foreseen, worth seeing. There was, as expected, an initial move to call the problem solved, with a question from Councilor Clancy that asked the city manager if perhaps the School Department might save even more money from the health insurance reforms (in addition to the money saved by the lower fee increase). Alas, no.
There was, from Councilor Clancy, much talk of what "we" are doing versus what "they" are doing, demonstrating once again semantic choice with real meaning. The School Department is a City department; while the School Committee is directly elected by the public and oversees the schools, the funding of the School Department is in the hands of the City Council. There is no "they" in this. It was so pronounced that finally several members of the public corrected Councilor Clancy to "US!" on one of his references. This choice of words demonstrates the intellectual denial of the realities of who makes the funding decisions for schools: the City Council.
Councilor Clancy also made a request of "a breakdown per individual school on per pupil spending," playing politics in the good old fashioned Worcester way of pitting the East side against the West side. After much discussion of students abandoning East side schools for Holy Name and St. Peter-Marian after public elementary and middle school, Councilor Clancy appears to believe that this has to do with some disparity in spending between the high schools. I imagine that both the School Department and some high school teachers would be happy to clear up this issue for the Councilor.
Councilor Petty, who has children in Worcester public schools: "I know that supplies are rare...at least it brings the deficit down." Councilor Petty asked for a report on what assumptions are made in creating the budget. He also said, "We are getting the message from the schools." Keep those letters coming!
Councilor Smith hoped that "we can get this down to zero...solve the problem." We need to point out to Councilor Smith that closing this year's budget gap is preventing a worsening problem, not solving a problem. Let's please not forget the $58.1 million cut over the last six years. We are not getting out of a hole; we are just not making it bigger, or as much bigger. Councilor Smith also wanted to know what the deficit would have been if we had not passed Section 18 (presumable for use in future campaign literature). He closed with "education will be and is a priority."
more to come, post thunderstorm...