Tuesday, March 31, 2009

FY10 Budget hearing schedule

Here's the schedule (thank you, Councilor Toomey, for the loan!):


April 7:
Legislative Offices (City Council, Mayor, Clerk, Elections, auditing, retirement)

April 14:
Law
Econ Dev
DPW & P


April 28:
Public Safety
Inspectional Services

May 5:

Health and Human Services
City Manager's office
Human Resources
Admin and Finance
Worcester Public Schools
Capital Campaign Accounts

Liveblogging City Council: schedule of hearings: EDITED

April 7
April 14
April 28
May 5: WPS budget hearing


sorry, I can't type that fast...

Clancy asks if we can assume the final vote of the budget will take place on May 12...is it in the charter or state law? But we have 45 days to pass a budget. Clancy points out that we're leaving the schools until last, and having more than one department scheduled for that night; will we have time?
Budget hearings are at 6:30 (City Council is happening at 4:30 for the next several weeks).

Liveblogging City Council: Rushton

starts with "there is no joy in Mudville"--ah, a great night for literature!

speaks of remembering his mom, a teacher, being laid off twenty years ago, more than once (that would be in the layoffs of the 1970's, post the passing of Prop. 2 1/2)

"we don't know where this is going to end"
"encourage the public to engage"
"time for the public to either reaffirm this budget or re-engage and maybe make some changes"

Liveblogging City Council: Palmieri

lamenting the loss of people in "the bottom 250"
"storms they have to take on, the floods they have to take on...reach out to them each and every day"
"don't talk about that enough"
"most of those that left us today are at the bottom end"

Liveblogging City Council: Smith

...opens by quoting, not for the first time, the opening of A Tale of Two Cities.
"there is pain felt"
"as vacancies come up"

For the first time in five years "we're not going to lay any teachers off"
(sorry, Councilor, but you didn't lay any teachers off last year. Granted, that was the first time in a number of years...)


Liveblogging City Council: Petty

"an excellent job"
A question about impact statements: will we get them or do we have them?
Departments are getting them together, potentially as early as tomorrow.

Liveblogging City Council: Clancy

"a shame to see the trend of city services being reduced by some 500 positions over the past decade"
"reflects a great deal of uncertainty"
"what our parks will look like, what our youth will be doing in the summer..."

"to date, the City Manager has done a tremendous job with what he has at hand"

Liveblogging City Council:Rosen

"preserve as many services as possible"
"cannot have too little money, too little revenue, and have the same services"

Liveblogging City Council: Toomey

"moving target"
"working closely with our colleagues on the School Committee to provide the best that we can for the citizens of City of Worcester"
"hope is something that we're all going to have to hang onto"
"a very sad day for Worcester"

Liveblogging City Council: Haller

Councilor Haller is asking about the affect this will have on the five year plan, and on bond ratings.
"pleased to feel that the city's commitment to public safety remains firm"

Liveblogging City Council: but it ain't over

State revenues are going down, still.
Local aid could go down more.
Then what?
Emergency reserves, deeper cuts, and trash bag fees

Our best bet, the Manager says, are more reforms (that'd be negotiations with the unions).
We could save, the Manager says, 88 jobs, if the unions were willing to take the 75/25 split, a one week furlough, and a "wage proposal" that isn't here specified.

Liveblogging City Council: schools

City reduction :
  • foundation formula cut $1.8 million (the state's aid's gone down, so the city's requirement has gone down)
  • cutting $1.2 million over foundation ALSO

reducing a total of $3 million from last year's (of course, costs have gone up, so it'll be worth more of a cut than that!)

The health insurance changes, the Manager points out, have saved the schools $4.3 million for the coming year.

Liveblogging City Council: grants and finance

cutting 10 positions in finance
increasing the city's cut of grants to 3% will stabilize core functions of treasury, purchasing, budget, assessing, technical services

Also stabilizing law and human resources with grant cut increase
cutting on attorney, on clerk and two in HR

Liveblogging City Council: libraries

Keeping main and branches open but not Sundays and Mondays
Layoff 8 librarians and 2 other staff
Danger of losing state cert if we don't get more hours, but "stay tuned" the Manager says...we've got help coming.

Liveblogging City Council: DPW&P

Streetlights being acquired.
4 beaches open this summer
"honest conversation on pools"...so no, they aren't opening them.
Parks down to 25 people, which is a 40% reduction over the past 4 years.
Cutting a bunch of DPW programs, like painting crosswalks.

Liveblogging City Council: fire

No layoffs to active fire department members

Liveblogging City Council

dang, I didn't get what those numbers were on 99 layoffs. I'll post here when I do.

Liveblogging City Council: where does it go?

80% of operational budget goes to police, fire, and DPW

Can I just mention here that capitalizing every significant word is giving an odd, 18th century quality to the Manager's PowerPoint presentation?

308 positions lost:
208 layoff or vacant
80 positions eliminated through early retirement
20 additional positions frozen

99 layoffs effective today

24 WPD layoffs AVERTED through the Byrne grant/COPS grant
54 vacancies frozen and eliminated
80 early retirements
20 future vacancies

Liveblogging City Council: Manager presents the FY10 budget

The City Manager cautions that no one is going to come to our rescue...
"reflects our communities priorities for education, public works, public safety..."
realities are "very stark"


He's subtitled the budget "adapting to a brave new world"
He begins that we're starting in better shape than many, due to the changes that have been made over the past few years: everything from the health insurance changes, to debt management, to budgeting changes.

It's an 18-month budget (beginning Jan '08).
Deficit of $31 million as we begin:
  • that's the cut in the state aid,
  • the snow removal deficit,
  • the pension losses,
  • plus the loss we've already projected for FY10.
That's about 24% of the normal budget.
The good news:
  • $6 million in pension carryover,
  • $2.5 million in snow removal (one time money),
  • one time health care trust money of $1.5 million for stabilization,
  • 70 frozen positions worth $2.5 million,
  • non-union employees wage and benefit freeze and change worth $50,000;
  • $1 million increase in administration fees for grants,
  • $20,000 in 911 grant funding,
  • $500,000 in free increases,
  • $1 million in street light acquisition,
  • reducing capital borrowing cap nets $300,000
+ $17 million.
which brings us down to a deficit of $14 million

cut wage increases of 2%= $2 million. He's doing this instead of raising trash bag fees.
So that brings us down to $12 million in deficit

He's mentioned a number of times at this point that the Council were the ones who didn't want the trash bag fee raised, which then means that they're the ones to blame for not getting raises.

He thinks we're also going to lose more money on state aid.

Liveblogging City Council: unpreceded cooperation

In apologizing for starting tonight's meeting late, the Mayor commented that the Council was meeting with the School Committee, and that in these times we're seeing "an unpreceded level of cooperation."

Fill Those Seats!

Nice title, Natalie!

TONIGHT:
The City Manager will present the Fiscal Year 2010 budget, including the school budget
7pm
City Hall

TOMORROW (4/1):
The School Committee will have their first hearing on the FY10 school budget. A hearing means public comment! Go comment!
7pm
Worcester Technical High School

THURSDAY (4/2):
The School Committee holds its regularly scheduled meeting.
(and, yes, there are items on salaries, waivers, and other appointment related items!)
7pm
City Hall

NEXT MONDAY (4/6):
The School Committee's Standing Committee on Business meets with the City Council's Subcommittee on Education.
(I don't see an agenda up for this one, but I'm also not sure who gets to write the agenda for a joint meeting.)
4:30pm
City Hall

Watching the money...

It looks like the money is going where it was intended--to save teachers--in Massachusetts, but that is not the case nationwide:

  • Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle wants to fill a budget gap.
  • Idaho Gov. Butch Otter wants to hold the money in reserve.
  • South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford wants to pay down debt; he's been turned down by the White House budget office and is threatening to refuse some of the money, as is Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
What exactly the federal government can do about this depends on which part of the money we're talking about:

Of the $100 billion for education in the stimulus bill, $40 billion comes as part of a fund to stabilize state and local budgets that has fewer strings attached. As the bill made its way through Congress, lawmakers decided not to prohibit states from using the stabilization money to replace precious state aid for schools. That means instead of getting extra help to weather tough times, school districts could wind up with no additional state aid even as local tax revenues plummet.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Outdoor learning

Great article in the Washington Post on all that can be accomplished, learning outdoors.

Students measure worms in math classes and plant peanuts when learning about Virginia history. Reading time happens in an outdoor courtyard where the walls are painted like library shelves. Cinnamon basil plants are growing hydroponically in the science lab from seeds that astronauts flew into space. The children are growing seedlings to sell on Earth Day, an early lesson in entrepreneurship.

With so many schools in and next to parks in Worcester, wouldn't it be great if we did more of this?

Loggerheads

The file photo smiling faces of the current (interim) and past superintendent were in sharp contrast to their words in yesterday's Telegram and Gazette cover story. And kudos to the local daily for seeing that the story didn't die with the firing of Donna Byrnes.

First things first: it is absolutely true, as former Superintendent Caradonio says, "he had received consistently high reviews from the School Committee." It's also unfortunately true that requests for information from the administration sometimes bore a depressing resemblance to something written by Beckett. Witness, for example, last spring's request for what would happen if Question 1 passed: the answer came back four days before Election day, months after the request was filed. That's the sort of priorities that are set by the person at the top of the ladder. The relationship between that lack of respect for the School Committee and the high marks received by the former Superintendent is something that I don't understand.

The current Superintendent's way of moving forward are also a bit unclear to me: "I’d like to clear up and clean up the perception that this is happening in human resources and to come up with some steps so that this doesn’t happen again in the future," she says. Clean up the perception? It isn't a perception, though: it happened. It not only happened: it happened at her urging. As the entire thing happened because she didn't want to fire the office manager and because the human resources director had no problem with putting an entirely unqualified person into a classroom, I don't think a few steps are what we need. We need a complete and utter overhaul of the perception of those running the district.

Their own perception, that is, rather than how they are themselves perceived. I think we're doing pretty well on that.

Friday, March 27, 2009

On pointing fingers and assessing responsibility

There's been quite a bit of talk about "pointing fingers" and such in the recent kerfuffle at the Worcester Public Schools. Now that everyone (two T&G lead editorials, two columnists, an article nearly every day this week, plus coverage from WoMag) has weighed in, here's a few things I'd add:
  • It isn't over, and it shouldn't be. Budget hearings start next week. We all recognize that this is an election year--all of the School Committee seats are up this fall--and it will be a topic then, too. This has to do with use of both money and power, and both are up for discussion and debate over the next few months.
  • It seems clear from the coverage that both Worcester Magazine and the Telegram have given this that Superintendent Loughlin eliminated the office manager position, and then asked that her office manager be found a job elsewhere in the system. The interm superintendent had said that she would save the school department $500,000, and she started, rightly, by looking within her own office. The problem is that she wanted it both ways: she wanted to be tough and cut money, but she didn't want to fire someone. As head of the school system, though, that's part of the job. Why the Worcester Public Schools owe someone a job will truly be a mystery to any teacher who has been laid off within the past few years.
  • When asked to find her a job, Human Resources went for a classroom position. How it is possible that we have a Human Resources department in the school system that has a total disregard for the requirements of teaching is beyond me. NOT EVERYONE CAN TEACH. Not everyone should. And even those who want to must meet certain requirements. This was not the basic operating principle of the department, and that's appalling.
  • It's also clear that every effort was made to make this position pay as well as possible: credit for time in the office, long day pay. How on earth is this fiscally responsible?
We have then a superintendent who doesn't want to make the cut herself, and an HR department that doesn't regard teachers as more than a slot to fill and has an utter disregard for fiscal responsiblility.

There's a difference between so-called "finger-pointing" and assessing who's responsible. We still have some responsible parties who haven't been held accountable.

Number crunching

As has been mentioned here before, some of the stimulus money is going to be directed to better tracking individual students. The Boston Globe report on Massachusetts' implementation makes it clear that, well, let's say there's a lot of distance between both the Globe and the Education Commissioner and the local school districts:

State education leaders plan to inject a reality check this fall into the "good class vs bad class" debate by tracking the performance of individual students as they advance from one grade to the next. The new measurement could shed light on who is falling short -- teacher or pupil -- and lead to fundamental changes in the way students are taught.

Mitchell D. Chester, the state commissioner of elementary and secondary education, said yesterday that the new analysis will make it harder for local school leaders to be dismissive of poor test scores.

"It takes away a lot of the excuse-making," Chester said at yesterday's meeting of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education where the new system was unveiled.

Or it might demonstrate that those who are in closest contact with the students actually know what they're talking about. It's been known to happen.

President's online town hall

President Barack Obama had an online town meeting yesterday, and the L.A. Times has posted the full text. A few questions and answers of interest from here:


The very first question was about education: Our first question comes from Boston, Massachusetts, on the topic of education: "The Founding Fathers believe that there is no difference between a free society and an educated society. Our educational system, however, is woefully inadequate. How do you plan to restore education as a right and core cultural value in America?"

His answer?
I'm here only because of the education I received. I wasn't born into wealth, I wasn't born into fame, but I had parents who cared about education and grandparents who cared about education, and I was lucky enough, through scholarships and sacrifice on the part of my family, to get the best education that America has to offer.

Too many of our children aren't getting that kind of education. It's not because their parents don't believe in the value of education; it's not because these young people are less talented. It's because of two reasons: One, in many cases, our schools are under-resourced.

There aren't enough teachers; the teachers aren't getting enough of the training they need for the classroom; there's a shortage of supplies. Some of the schools that I visited during the course of traveling around the country just shock the conscience. There are schools that I've seen that were built in the 1850s that are still being used but haven't been upgraded the way they need to.

That sounds familiar! But he isn't done yet:

Now, there's a second problem, though, and it's one that money alone cannot solve, and that is that we have a school system that was designed for the agricultural era -- there's a reason why we've got three months off during the summer. That's supposed to be when everybody is working on -- out on the farm and bringing in harvest. Okay, I've got to interrupt here. Could we PLEASE GET RID OF THIS IDEA! It isn't true! What are farmer doing in July and August? Maybe a bit of weeding. Worrying about rain. Tending to animals. THEY AREN'T HARVESTING. In fact, (any Laura Ingalls Wilder readers out there?) in farming communities they would run school during two times of the year: the winter and the summer, because that's when the kids were NOT needed on the farm. I would be really happy if I never heard this fallacy again.

Back to the president:

And it's not just the amount of time our kids are spending, it's how our classrooms are designed, how curriculums are structured, how things like teacher promotion and training happen.

So a lot of times in Washington we get an argument about money versus reform. And the key thing to understand about our education system is we need more resources and we need reform. If we just put more money into a system that's designed for the 19th century and we're in the 21st, we're not going to get the educational outcomes we need. On the other hand, if we talk a lot about reform but we're not willing to put more resources in, that's not going to work.

If we set aside his lamentable lack of knowledge about the school calendar, I'm still a bit unclear on how our schools are running in a way that's appropriate for the 1800's. Any ideas?

He goes on to call for more early childhood ed, more about science, and then goes on to teachers:
...let's focus on the most important ingredient in the school, and that's the teacher. Let's pay our teachers more money. Let's give them more support. Let's give them more training. Let's make sure that schools of education that are training our teachers are up to date with the best methods to teach our kids. And let's work with teachers so that we are providing them measures of whether they're effective or not, and let's hold them accountable for being effective.

Now that doesn't mean just a single high-stakes standardized test. It also means that we're working with teachers to determine, what's the best way to discipline -- maintain discipline in a classroom? What's the best way to get kids excited about science? Giving them the time and the resources to improve, but also having high standards of expectation in terms of their performance.

And then he talks again about charters and performance pay. Unfortunately, while he seems to be beginning to grasp the notion that one cannot measure teachers based on how that year's class does on a standardized test (something which I worry his Secretary of Ed is not as clear on), he does seem to want to beat away at the notion that there some way of "measuring outcomes" with teachers, as if they had a certain number of whoozits they had to assemble in an hour.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

FY10 Budget unveiled

This is mentioned in passing below; highlighted here to MARK YOUR CALENDAR!

The City Manager told the City Council last night that he plans to be giving them the budget sometime on Tuesday, with a formal presentation to them (and the public) at next Tuesday night's meeting.

March 31
7 pm
in the Levi Lincoln chamber

I've heard the budget will also be posted online, 'though I don't know how fast the turnaround will be on that. That night or early the next day?

What was up with that?

This is a bit outside our purview, but it made such a difference at last night's City Council meeting, that I mention it:

If you're wondering just what was going on with the piling on Kate Toomey last night, here's a hint.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Executive session next week

The Council and the School Committee will be meeting next Tuesday at 6:30 in executive session...contract?

Liveblogging City Council: tax rate

Councilor Toomey is asking (under suspension) that we have an investigation (done by colleges, perhaps?) into moving to a single residential tax rate.
Councilor Clancy says "the last group" he wants looking at a single tax rate "is a college." Yes, that would be this evening's implicit mention of PILOT.
Councilor Toomey (to much muttering on the other side of the room) points out that WPI does, as a matter of course, studies (for the city among other groups)...that it's an intellectual exercise.
Councilor Petty asks that the information go to the working group put together by the Manager.
Councilor Palmieri also objects to the colleges having anything to do with it...and yet, they are the ones who DON'T have a dog in this fight, as we aren't asking about PILOT!
Clancy objects again...loudly this time.
Referring to committee voted down (that would be the committee that has yet to be appointed)
Sending it to a college is voted down

Liveblogging City Council: executive session next week?

Council and School Committee are meeting on the 31st at 6 pm in executive session...teacher contracts?

Liveblogging City Council: what was that?

All of which means that we'll need to watch careful to figure out who is meeting when about what!

Liveblogging City Council: FY10 budget goes on the road?

And we're off on budget hearings and transparency...

9a.Request the City Council, in conjunction with the City Administration, consider establishing a series of three public hearings across the City relating to the Fiscal Year 2010 budget to provide maximum budget-related data to the general public and to receive maximum public input all modeled after the successful protocols implemented in the City of Portland, Oregon. Also, request that there be a comment section created on the City’s web site to allow immediate remote commentary as a result of these community hearings.

Councilor Toomey has proposed the motion, in the name of transparency.

Councilor Clancy says Council "unlike School Committee through the years" has met a number of times in an open, televised process..."I really think we do have an open transparent process." He comments that he likes the process as it is.

Clancy asks if we have a schedule for the budget hearings. The Manager answers that the budget is still waiting for final information on the application of federal stimulus money; he intended to have it ready this Friday...but now it's looking like it's going to be Tuesday instead. It will be presented with a budget summary this year, rather than a budget message as per usual.

Toomey says she's not asking to change the budget process, but to add meetings, hearings..."it doesn't have to be our budget session" She insists that the public be recognized, as not everyone can make the regular Council sessions.

Councilor Rosen notes that it's a suggestion.

Councilor Rushton calls the budget process "stale and unengaging...it may be tough at this point" He says we can engage the public...notes the governor goes online to engage the public..."it's here..." He speaks of the smart phones offered to the Councilors: "We've had a largely unengaged citizenry while the budget hearings are happening"

Councilor Eddy rises to "amend" after a reminder from the mayor that they may only rise for a limited number of reasons...he doesn't think the budget process is stale. He would like the subcommittees go out to hear public commentary on the budget.

Councilor Clancy suggests flip-flopping the budget hearings and the regular Council meeting: the meetings at 4, the hearings at 7.

Toomey says that it's a "hearing about the budget" not "a budget hearing," "away from City Hall." The various items pass for at least consideration.

Liveblogging City Council: technology and the budget

conversation on the FY10 budget...should there be real-time online commentary? Should there be public hearings elsewhere?

No confidence

The final line of today's lead editorial in the T&G about sums it up:

The School Committee’s reversal of the action is welcome, but the incident has done nothing to promote public confidence in hiring practices within the Worcester Public Schools.

The first budget hearing is next Wednesday, April 1, at 7 pm, at Worcester Technical High School.

And there's more...

It looks like Ms. Byrnes has been terminated altogether:
School officials yesterday moved to fire the former School Department office manager who landed a $75,000-a-year job as an elementary school special education teacher despite her lack of required training, teaching experience or state certification.

That "moved to fire" part is a bit undecided...I also wonder who is teaching that class of kids this morning, and what happens to the mentor?

The question Paulie asked yesterday is answered here:
While it was no secret that a former administrative employee well known to School Committee members was working as a teacher, Mrs. Lukes maintained that the board wasn’t aware of the troubling details reported in the article.

“We didn’t know the level of compensation or the process that was used to fill the spot. Second, we didn’t know she didn’t have any teaching experience,” Mrs. Lukes said.

“We rely on people to do their jobs and to keep us informed. Unfortunately, I have to say that was not the case here,” she added
.

I would add only that it certainly appears that the trust they had is misplaced. It also seems that some of them may already have known that:
As far back as 2004, School Committee member Brian A. O’Connell said, he has raised the issue with Ms. Luster of hiring unlicensed teachers without first complying with state law requiring a “good-faith effort to hire licensed or certified personnel.”

“I’m very concerned that we need to comply fully with the state waiver and license requirements,” Mr. O’Connell said, later adding, “I’m going to put an item on the agenda about transparency in the hiring process.”


We will be looking for that item. If this level of mismanagement is going on, it would also behoove the School Committee to ask, on each new hire or transfer, if the spot has been properly posted, and what the qualifications are of any suggested hire for that post. Micro-management, you say? Yet the School Committee ultimately is the sign-off on hires. That responsibility, particularly when it is a person who's going to be spending six or seven hours a day with a group of children, should be taken incredibly seriously, and not signed off on as a matter of course. Right now it is. Items regarding personnel are regularly passed without discussion or requests for further information, while items regarding curriculum (decisions that have a rightful place closer to the classroom) take up much time.

The job that Ms. Byrnes had is the sort of job that gets a new teacher in the classroom. Fresh out of grad school, I was a long-term sub for a mid-year vacancy. It gave me experience, it gave the administration a chance to look at me, and I was under strict oversight as a result of being a sub. We lost a chance to get a new special ed teacher into the system here, too, and that's a loss Worcester can ill-afford.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Your emails at work!

Just up on the Telegram and Gazette website:

By Thomas Caywood TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF





WORCESTER —
School officials today moved to terminate the contract of the former school department office manager who landed a $75,000-a-year job as an elementary school special education teacher — even though she has no teaching experience, has not passed the state teacher licensing test and does not have required special education training.

Donna C. Byrnes, 58, moved from the superintendent’s office to the classroom after former School Superintendent James A. Caradonio stepped down last September.
Ms. Byrnes will be allowed to stay on in the classroom in a lower-paying substitute teacher position until the job can be posted in May, said Mayor Konstantina B. Lukes, who is chairman of the School Committee.

Mrs. Lukes and several School Committee members met with interim Superintendent Deirdre Loughlin this morning amid a growing outcry ignited by a Sunday Telegram & Gazette story that detailed Ms. Byrnes’ salary and lack of qualifications.

Mrs. Lukes deferred to the interim superintendent on the timing of the contract termination and Mrs. Byrnes’ demotion to substitute teacher. Ms. Loughlin wasn’t immediately available for comment.

Printed here in its entirety as it will disappear overnight!
But the comments are right here again: this is indicative of a larger problem. This hasn't solved it (most notably, for the children in that class, for whom nothing has changed at all!). We have an endemic problem in Worcester of hiring practices being guided by who knows whom. It does our children no good at all, and it needs to end.

Some other numbers

Tying up some loose ends from last week:

  • The City Manager at last week's Council meeting suggested that he will be asking that the City Council to change the amount the City takes from grants received for administrative costs. This is a bit confusing, as the schools administer their own grants, but the City does take a bit--right now it's 1% or about $400,000 a year--for things the City does around the grants: issue purchase orders, send out a request for proposals, etc. The Manager suggested that the City will be raising its take from 1% to 3%, or up to $1.2 million. This would have to be approved by the City Council. There's some question as to whether the schools are indeed getting $1.2 million in services from the city around grants. I've also been asked--and I don't know the answer to this--if the schools could simply tell the city that it will be entirely administering its own grants (as does every little non-profit that gets grants). I don't know if the city allows this.
  • You may have seen floating around a list from the Boston Herald of 2006 City of Worcester salaries. Some were alarmed at the presences of Instructional Assistants on high on the list, seemingly making over $100,000 a year. It isn't so. The third column gives the actual amount those people made; the final column is some numbers arrived at by the Herald which bear no resemblance to reality. IA's are paid a barely livable salary; many are working multiple jobs to support families, and their salary schedules do not go anywhere near that high.
  • The budget office is bustling...the Manager has promised a city budget to the Council for Friday. Word has it that it will also appear online when it's complete!

Who gets the money?

Everybody!

Note, therefore, that the additional $4 million that was announced for Worcester over the weekend, does NOT just get thrown into the general WPS pot, but MUST be used for IDEA, that is, special ed.

Let's hope that we can devote it to that purpose appropriately!

Educating the whole child

Are you concerned that there's too many bubbles and not enough else going on in school?
Want to be sure that the entire child is cared for?

  • Each student enters school healthy and learns about and practices a healthy lifestyle.
  • Each student learns in an intellectually challenging environment that is physically and emotionally safe for students and adults.
  • Each student is actively engaged in learning and is connected to the school and broader community.
  • Each student has access to personalized learning and is supported by qualified, caring adults.
  • Each graduate is challenged by a well-balanced curriculum and is prepared for success in college or further study and for employment in a global environment.


Sign the "Whole Child" petition!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Yes, that is outrageous

As there's now 109 comments on the Telegram website as I write this, my weigh-in seems a bit redundant. UPDATE MONDAY: now down to 87?!?
Today's front page article on the hiring of Donna Byrnes as a special ed teacher at the cost of $75, 962 for 2008 is just as outrageous as it sounds.
In addition to parents of children with special needs, special ed teachers, and anyone who think that one ought to earn a job, I think every teacher ought to find the following horrifying:

Mrs. Byrnes was hired at the salary equivalent of an eighth-step teaching veteran with a master’s degree plus 30 additional credits because she was given about eight years of credit for her 15 years as an office manager, which is considered related educational experience.

She earned eight years teaching experience by doing office work? How, just how, pray tell, is doing office work at the administration building with the superintendent anything at all like spending time in a classroom with students? The two are completely unrelated!

I know that there is an attitude abroad that anyone can walk into a classroom and teach. It's wrong, as any substitute teacher would be the first to tell you. But it's pretty clear that there are those in our very own administration that think that anyone can teach (and teach special ed, which is even tougher!). That's horrifying. It's just absolutely horrifying.

This is also evidence of the oft-levelled charge that you have to know the right people to get a job at the WPS. This is the sort of corruption that the hiring of the new superintendent was leveled at. Here's hoping she's bringing a big broom up from Virginia. She's going to need it.

If you haven't already done so, complain to someone WHO CAN DO SOMETHING! You'll find emails at the right!

Putting pressure on the littlest ones

A couple of different reports coming in this week on the undue pressure and demands that we're putting on kindergartners, which are in direct opposition not only to all rules of logic, but also to what we know about how children that age learn:

First, from Massachusetts, a complaint from educators in Waltham on the inappropriate ELL test that they are being required to use on their kindergartners:

"My concern is for what were telling families and children that are 5 years old what's important about their education," [elementary school principal] Colannino said. "Are we giving them a test that's developmentally appropriate? And is it going to give us assessment information we can use to better instruct their English language development? Right now, I don't have the answers to the those questions."

And a study from the Alliance for Childhood, which shows that kindergartners are spending much larger quantities of time in direct English and math instruction than in free and imaginative play. This doesn't, contrary to what proponents argue, yield long term results, and in many cases backfires. It just isn't developmentally appropriate.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

That's a wrap

School Committee adjourned by eight

Middle and high school math

Best practices report
The Mayor approves of this as a "good item...and needed!"

Should we use a variety of materials? More than one program?
Looking at math MCAS scores "change may be one of the answers"
Status report by November of 2009 to School Committee
referred to Curriculum development

New courses

  • -Advanced Topics in Mathematics with Trigonometry
  • -Topics in Algebra and Geometry
  • -AP Human Geography
  • -AP Government and Politics
  • -AP Psychology
  • -AP Economics (Microeconomics and Macroeconomics)
Mayor moves for a vote...Mr. O'Connell wants a reference to subcommittee first. Question of how time sensitive it is.
The top two need to go onto the course selection for next year; the remainder are already being piloted in schools now. O'Connell wants to pass two courses, then send AP's to subcommittee.
Approved

SAT or ACT

Mrs. Mullaney suggesting that students be given the opportunity to take the PLAN test (prep for ACT test), as they are now given the chance to take the PSAT.
Gather data on how kids do on one or the other; similarity of ACT to MCAS mentioned.

referred to Admin

Mayor expresses concern about costs that might need to be absorbed by School Department.
The Superintendent rises to address that (sort of...) ...mention of parents paying for it

Mayor concerned that "we are doing a lot of testing in our system...if we eliminated some of that, maybe we'd have more time to teach"

Mullaney: not going to be imposed on anyone

On Athletics

"a sponsorship and advertisement arrangement for the athletic programs in the Worcester Public Schools"

referred to Community and Employee Issues

Report on Community and Employee Issues

Mr. Monfredo:
  • review policy on ban of backpacks and bags...change to allow those made of mesh and transparent material...forwarded to site council
  • recruiting teachers...estimate that 50% of teachers will retire in next decade. Nice to hire teachers in April.
  • Community projects fair coming back...forward awards to local press: May 2
  • progress on "Future Teachers Academy"...recruiting Worcester students as teachers
  • Recommend FY10 community schools program: looking for information from admin on costs, etc. (heads up, Community Schools advocates!)

Post Doc study at WEMS on PBIS

Used as a Harvard University case study on PBIS

Fun slide showing gears with PBIS as the oil...
Now to School Committee members on PBIS:

Mr. Monfredo is pleased to see them using it with academic work, too...importance of involving entire staff...question on anti-bullying program.

Mr. O'Connell: using common sense approach...focus directly on academics...very effective and inspired direction before the program...other element is in the schools...buy into the program..."enthusiasm you expect from middle school students but in a well-ordered way"

PBIS presentation by Worc East Middle

Postive
Behavior
Interventions
Support

"a systematic school-wide behavioral management support system" says the backup, given to the members of the School Committee, 'though there's also a PowerPoint presentation going on now.

Some of you who were at CPPAC a few months back may remember a discussion of this system, implemented in a number of city schools.

Students are rewarded for behavioral responsibilities (showing respect, taking responsiblity, etc.), MAP testing, MCAS, summer reading, Library...with "Star bucks" which they can redeem for rewards.

Among correct behaviors are using the correct stairway (which are color coded).
The PBIS motto is recited each morning during announcements: "As a WEM student, I will show respect to all, take responsibility for my actions, act appropriately at all times, and come to school ready to learn."

Infractions down from 415 to 269 over the past four years.
MCAS scores improving in English and math.


New bus monitor contract

The School Committee has just approved a new contract for bus monitors, the discussion having taken place during their executive session.

Oregon teachers agree to cut back days

Teachers in Eugene, OR have agreed to a loss of seven days from next year's contract. Only one of the days will be a student loss; the reminder are in-service or other teacher-only days.

Up to foundation

A plan to be released by Governor Patrick today will indeed be using some of the federal stimulus money to bring the state's Chapter 70 aid up to its obligations under the foundation formula (thus heading off a possible lawsuit, 'though that doesn't seem to be making the news reports!). In total, the state is sending $168 million to schools this year under the plan:

Patrick's budget planned to level-fund local school districts, which likely would have led to schools cutting teachers and staff. Over 150 districts would not have received foundation-level state aid, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

(This is all from the State House News Service which is only open to subscribers, so no link. Right now, it's all on an anonymous official; I'm assuming we'll have broader coverage once Patrick announces this himself.)

UPDATE: It looks like Boston.com has it, including a handy chart for how much each district will get. If you scroll down to the end, you'll see Worcester's expected $14 million ($14,363,614 to be exact).

The School Committee agenda online

now with supporting documents!

Yes, indeed, now you not only can find this week's School Committee agenda online, you also can get those items "in the back-up" that are often referred to during the meeting! Thank you, Dr. Friel!

Liveblog tonight!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Literally selling out

So far we've managed to fend these sorts of ideas off locally, but it looks like some in other parts of the country haven't managed that: they're literally selling out education:


On Battlefield High School's Web site, students can find homework assignments, check sports schedules and even track their finances via a link on the home page -- if they have an account with BB&T. The bank's click-through logo is part of an Internet advertising deal, considered a first for Washington area public schools, that is helping Prince William County educators find private sources of revenue when public money is tight.

There's a conversation going on over at Mother Talkers about the propriety of this, and it's raised what I think is the real issue here: going beyond the impropriety of using your captive audience of students as a marketing group, this is about public education and public values.

Public education is in the best interest of us all, as it is in all of our best interest to have a thoughtful, reading, well-educated citizenry. A republic demands that. If we want that, then we have to pay for it. If we don't do it, and resort to raffles, bake sales, and ad revenues, then we've also lost public investment. Public investment goes beyond dollars. Is public education valued? Is it invested in? Does everyone care about it? Any time someone says, "Well, I don't have kids in school," we've had a breakdown in the process.

You can't auction off the social contract.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

More response to Obama on education

And today's New York Times editorial page has erupted with responses to President Obama's education address. It may be the English teacher bias in me, but I particularly like Mr. Stephen Davenport's letter, dealing with David Brooks' column of last week:

To the Editor:

Re “ ‘No Picnic for Me Either,’ ” by David Brooks (column, March 13):

Mr. Brooks is exactly right: great teachers build strong relationships with students on whom they impose high standards.

Mr. Brooks is also correct in saying that we need to know who these teachers are, and which schools develop high achievement in their students and which do not. Yes, we need data. We need to know, not to guess or hope.

However, Mr. Brooks’s faith in the standardized tests by which we gather data strikes me as na├»ve. I taught English for years and have been an educator since 1957 and have yet to discover a better method of assessing my students’ progress in learning how to write than reading their compositions closely, with a red pencil, usually at least twice. If I could have substituted a standardized test for that process, I could have gone to bed a lot earlier each night.

Could it be that our faith in standardized testing is based on the fact that it costs much less than assessing real work?

One reading of Mr. Brooks’s column tells me more about his excellence as a writer than a thousand standardized tests.

Stephen Davenport
Oakland, Calif., March 13, 2009

Monday, March 16, 2009

Another reply to President Obama

I wasn't the only one concerned about the President's remarks on Massachusetts and education last week. I recently received the following press release from Citizens for Public Schools:

MCAS PLAYS MINOR ROLE IN MA SCHOOL SUCCESS.

BEFORE MODELING NATIONAL SCHOOL POLICY ON MASS., CHECK FACTS ON RACE-BASED ACHIEVEMENT GAPS, DROPOUTS, CHARTER SCHOOLS.

President Barack Obama is right to praise the work of Massachusetts teachers, students and families in supporting high-quality public education, but too much credit is given to the high-stakes MCAS for our school success, according to Citizens for Public Schools, a broad coalition of organizations and individuals committed to public education. What's more, there are serious negative consequences of our high-stakes testing regime, such as high minority dropout rates and stagnant or growing race-based achievement gaps, CPS said.

"We are proud to be recognized by our president for our state's commitment to public schools," said Ruth Rodriguez, co-president of CPS. The organization advocates for closing achievement gaps, adequate public school funding, keeping resources for public schools under public control, and using multiple forms of assessment to evaluate and improve student learning and school quality.

"There's a lot of mythology masquerading as fact in state and national discussions of Massachusetts school policy," Rodriguez said. "It's crucial to sort facts from fiction and listen to students, teachers and parents here before national education policy is modeled on Massachusetts. Real educational problems cannot be solved without considering the real circumstances for our schools and children. More charters and tougher tests do not make sound educational policy."

CPS noted four myths that contribute to major misunderstandings about Massachusetts:

Myth #1: Massachusetts schools were mediocre before the high-stakes MCAS and top-notch after.

Reality: Massachusetts students ranked at or near the top on measures like the National Assessment of Educational Policy (NAEP) long before MCAS. For example, in 1992, no states scored significantly higher than Massachusetts in 4th and 8th grade reading, according to NAEP.

Myth #2: The MCAS is working to expose and close race-based achievement gaps.

Reality: On independent measures like NAEP, achievement gaps between whites and minorities are growing. From 2000 to 2007, the state's black-white gap on 8th grade math grew 14 points, from 26 to 40, making Massachusetts the worst ranked state in the nation.

Myth #3: A new study proves charter schools outperform public schools across the board and are laboratories of innovation.

Reality: Media reports focused on one part of a Boston Foundation-funded study, which was based on just 26% of charter schools. This skewed sample included only the most popular and high-performing charter schools. The fact is, successful innovation is happening in all kinds of schools: regular public, charters and pilots.

Myth #4: There's no link between the MCAS and rising minority dropout rates.

Reality: Students who fail the MCAS are 11 times more likely to drop out of high school.

Since the MCAS began [in 2003], the dropout rate for English Language Learners in Massachusetts has soared, from 7.4% to 9.1% in 2007.

MCAS costs, Part II

We're in the two week countdown to MCAS here in Massachusetts, and those cardboard boxes will be rolling in any day. Just how much are we spending on them?

Massachusetts, it seems, does not send our big checks off to Texas. No, we keep ours closer to home in Dover, NH, home of Measured Progress. Don't let that ".org" confuse you; in 2005, Measured Progress began a five year, $118 million contract with the Commonwealth. That's a lot of teachers, or new books, or school nurses that we could have had instead.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Commissioner encourages stalling

I had heard that the Commissioner of education had encouraged districts to stall on their budgets as much as possible, but I hadn't found where until now.

Here it is:

Much needs to be done before we can make commitments to your districts for a specific amount of funds under any of these programs. But I expect that we will be answering most of these questions over the next week or two. I know that many of you have budget timetables that are mandated either by town bylaws, city charters, or regional agreements. To the degree that you have the flexibility to delay your final budget decisions until we can get you this information, you may wish to do so. Otherwise, you should be discussing with your town and city officials contingency plans for revisiting your budget later this spring, after final allocations of the federal funds have been released.

(emphasis added)

The piece that the Commissioner doesn't have to care about it the relationship rift this causes--or deepens--between the schools and their districts. While cities and towns around the state are slashing budgets, laying people off, canceling programs; while the state forecast seems to get worse every week; while the first time the Dow goes up is a cause for parties to break out; the Worcester Public Schools appear to be riding above it, immune.

They aren't, of course, and even if Worcester gets the highest amount forecasted, we're still going to have a shortfall for next year. When the federal stimulus money runs out in FY12, we will be in even worse shape, unless something significant changes. The lack of motion on the budget here in Worcester, though, is leading to a growing discontent among taxpayers. I keep hearing, "Don't they care? Aren't they going to do anything?"

Could we at least broach the topic?

Here comes that money

...and they'll want the receipts.

The New York Times reported earlier this week that the Secretary of Education sent out a memo to state commissioners and local superintendents regarding the federal stimulus money.

Reportedly, $44 billion is coming by the end of the month to avert teachers loss for next year. The other priorities:
  • create and keep jobs
  • improve school achievement through school improvement and reform

The memo also pointed out the limits of the money: it's for two years. This is what we heard Jack Foley talk a lot about during last year's budget: there's a difference between money that's every year, and money that's good for only one or two years. If you hire someone on one year money, you'll have to fire them next year.

And that's where this memo ends up being self-contradictory. The Fed wants jobs saved, but they don't want the schools dropping off a cliff in two years, either. How are we to create and save jobs with two year money but not do so in a way that depends on the funds?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

President Obama tackles education

President Obama's speech before the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce this morning was on "A Complete and Competitive Education".

The beginning of his remarks relate education to economics. The meat of his argument, however, comes here, discussing the root of the troubles with American education:
it's because politics and ideology have too often trumped our progress that we're in the situation that we're in...
Really? It's "partisan bickering" alone that cause our problems?

He goes on to propose increased funding of early childhood education--no big argument there, particularly for kids who don't get the background they need for later education at home. However, I (and I'm sure many early childhood educators) would be interested in how he proposes evaluating them. If this is going to mean that nonsense of giving kids who are three standardized tests, then let's not go there.

And then those words we've all heard so much: standards and assessments:
Now, this is an area where we are being outpaced by other nations. It's not that their kids are any smarter than ours -- it's that they are being smarter about how to educate their children. They're spending less time teaching things that don't matter, and more time teaching things that do. They're preparing their students not only for high school or college, but for a career. We are not. Our curriculum for 8th graders is two full years behind top performing countries. That's a prescription for economic decline. And I refuse to accept that America's children cannot rise to this challenge. They can, and they must, and they will meet higher standards in our time.
Is it the teacher in me that thinks that public speakers should have to cite their sources? I'd love to know where this piece about two full years behind comes from. Also, are we comparing apples to apples? America, striving for meritocracy that we are, educates all children equally; we don't channel our kids into tracks until, at the earliest, high school. This is not the case in other countries. If we're comparing Sweden and Japan's highest performers to everybody in America, we can be as patriotic as we want, but it isn't a fair comparison.

Shout out to Massachusetts in here:
Standards like those in Massachusetts, where 8th graders are -- (applause) -- we have a Massachusetts contingent here. (Laughter.) In Massachusetts, 8th graders are now tying for first -- first in the whole world in science.
(any MA science teachers have a theory on that?)

Here's an encouraging point, hinting that maybe he gets it a bit:
And I'm calling on our nation's governors and state education chiefs to develop standards and assessments that don't simply measure whether students can fill in a bubble on a test, but whether they possess 21st century skills like problem-solving and critical thinking and entrepreneurship and creativity.
These are, after all, the skills that the rest of the world has traditionally trailed America on, and why other countries have often sent their kids here for college. If you drill on bubble tests, you lose this, and the importance of these skills can't be overestimated.

And what about teachers? Well, he's making sure that we have enough money that we don't have to fire a bunch of them this year. A start. And a call for new teachers:
And so today, I'm calling on a new generation of Americans to step forward and serve our country in our classrooms. If you want to make a difference in the life of our nation, if you want to make the most of your talents and dedication, if you want to make your mark with a legacy that will endure -- then join the teaching profession. America needs you. We need you in our suburbs. We need you in our small towns. We especially need you in our inner cities. We need you in classrooms all across our country.
But I don't think the rest of what he has to say is going to make current teachers very happy: more pay for science and math teachers (I am holding my fire as an former English teacher here; I'll let someone else tell you about essay correcting), merit pay for teachers (that's not going to get teachers in inner cities, where the scores are lower), and expanded day and year programs (more time is not what this is about). And while he has some strong words on drop-outs, he doesn't do much more than blame the schools for high rates of them and scold the kids who are thinking of dropping out.

Interestingly, I think it's his final few paragraphs, which are a lovely ode to the work his mother did to get him a good education, that show why he doesn't get it. For all that he doesn't come from money, President Obama is the child of two college educated parents. There was no question that, no matter where he was, no matter what his parents did, he was going to get a good education to the extent that it was in the power of his parents. What he doesn't recognize is how few children in America have that advantage. Those kids aren't the kids we need to worry about: they have parents for that. It's the parents who aren't fighting tooth-and-nail to get them the very best education around who need the rest of us to support their kids. Those kids have parents who might be getting up at 4:30, like his mom did, but it isn't to squeeze an extra lesson in before school: it's to catch the first of several buses to get to work on time to just keep food on the table and a roof over their kids' heads. And some of them aren't managing that, in this economy, as cited elsewhere on homelessness.

Kids in charter schools are self-selected; they have supportive parents. Kids who are high achieving on standardized tests generally come from supported households. These aren't the kids we should be worrying about. It's the kids he speaks least about--those dropping out, those failing the tests, those who are too busy wondering where they'll sleep tonight--that most need help.

They're going to have trouble finding much of it here.

So then WHY does my kindergartener have homework, again?

Fascinating article on MSN on homework (warning to parents: this is NOT going to help you in your after-school discussion of why it must be finished!):

100 years of research have failed to prove conclusively that homework administered prior to middle school increases academic performance, improves skill sets, or leads to higher levels of achievement.

The cavet is that of neural pathways (that which you practice, you do better at) which are developed as teenagers (thus leaving anyone younger than that out of this equation). However:

"There's a disconnect between cause and correlation," says Kalman M. Heller, Ph.D., a retired family and child psychologist* who practiced for more than 40 years in Massachusetts. "Students who do their homework and get better grades are generally more organized and may be very eager to succeed. It fits their 'student personality.' They do their homework and get better grades because it's natural for them to do so."

As many adults have been relieved to discover after leaving school, not all of life works like a typical classroom, and you don't have to have been good at typical classroom work in order to succeed. So what should be happening during those homework hours instead?

Some of the hours now spent hogtied to a chair, trying to solve for x and y, would be better spent thinking outside of the box…or even simply outside of the house.

MCAS cost: first in a series

The recent comment by Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester that the suspension of the history portion of the MCAS would save the state $2.5 million dollars has a lot of people asking, "Just how much does the MCAS cost, anyway?"

It's a complicated question, as it isn't just the test itself that costs money; there's the sample tests, the student assistance, the new curriculums, the substitutes needed on testing days...but we're going to give it a shot.


Farther on in the same Lowell Sun article is a telling piece about Governor Patrick:

(Patrick) has proposed reducing the line item in next year's budget that funds MCAS testing along with support programs for students who struggle to pass those exams from $42 million to $36.6 million.


That's just the state declared portion of what the MCAS costs. More to come...

Monday, March 9, 2009

Here's an interesting one

Coming up on tomorrow night's City Council agenda:

8f. Request City Manager report to City Council what services City departments provide for the School Department. (Lukes)


More on the ongoing battle over who runs what and who pays for what...is anyone going to ask the reverse question? It might be time to bring up Medicare reimbursement again!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Council retreats

While I did not attend the City Council retreat today, Daily Worcesteria did and gives us a few notes worthy of comment from this angle (and we're choosing, following the Mayor's own example from earlier this week "to refrain from comment" on her thoughts on blogging):

The four times (I've been told) rescheduled joint meeting of the School Committee's Standing Committee on Business and the City Council's Subcommittee on Education was cited by Councilor Toomey in the conversation about the Council not being pitted against the School Committee. That meeting is now scheduled for Monday, April 6 at 4:30 pm.

The tension over who funds the schools versus who decides where the money goes came back out again in Councilor Eddy's comments regarding accountability. The "can't question without coming across as antagonistic" stems from his comments (regarding the expense of school administration) two weeks ago and the subsequent outfall. I'd say it is possible, but it is difficult. In a system that has been cut so deeply and so often, a defensive posture is a way of life.

Eyes are turning to Franklin now, as the meeting's facilitator cited his hometown as one in which the city took over management of the school buildings. Franklin is a town of 30,000 with a single high school, two middle schools, and seven elementary schools. Their latest enrollment figure shows a student population of 6232.




Friday, March 6, 2009

The $14 million gap

While the article regarding the school funding deficit in Wednesday's Telegram and Gazette did not specifically reference Worcester, the chart appending the article did, and it had a big number:

$14 million


First, a word on what this means: the foundation budget, you will remember from last year, is basically a bargain that the state has with the cities: we give you so much for education (through Chapter 70 funding) and you, the city, put in so much more on top of it. It's based on things like the municipal growth index (a lot of things, and oft debated ones). Net school spending takes the Chapter 70 funding and adds how much the city has to give under the foundation formula (or how much the city does give, if it's more than foundation).

Here's where this gets squirrelly: the foundation budget formula is legally binding. I know I've harped on this before and I will try not to harp on it now, but the entirety of Ed Reform, including the foundation formula, was in response to a settlement of a lawsuit over insufficient funding of education by the state. The cities have to give education that amount and so does the state.

But this year, as it is level-funding Chapter 70, the state ISN'T giving enough, in some cases. In Worcester, we're underfunded by $14 million dollars, which in dollar terms is the highest gap in the state.

So what happens?

If the federal money comes through (are we hearing that a lot lately?), and the state uses it to make up the gap, everything could be okay on this gap.

If not...we know what happens when one reneges on a settlement, right?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

No, you didn't miss it

There really was no mention of the school budget tonight.
Nothing.
No questions, no answers, no comments...

The School Committee next meets in on March 19.

well, that's a short one!

And that does it for tonight's meeting.

Duncan on "On Point"

Education Secretary Arne Duncan was on WBUR's "On Point" program today.
And the comment section has been busy!

Reminder: April 1 meeting

We're getting a reminder that the first budget hearing of the Worcester School Committee will be taking place on April 1
7 pm
Worcester Technical High School

The Mayor asks if the meetings are going to be broadcast live...it's not clear that anyone knows.

Hey, Nelson Place Parents!

You've got your own item tonight: "consider formulating...a plan and design for replacement of Nelson Place School, on an expedited timetable, through municipal bonding and through such support as can be obtained from the Massachusetts Building Authority"

Backups online

Item 9-35.1 considering that backups be put up online, as well as the agenda
Committee on Employee issues...ooops, nope, to Business
(O'Connell speaks of "high-speed scanning capabilities" necessary for this)

Live streaming meetings and ceremonies

Item 9-34.1 is a suggestion that meetings and ceremonies be live streamed
Referred to the standing committee on Business

Dr. Boone up for a visit

Dr. Boone is up for a visit again this week. The Mayor just recognized her, commenting that she had started her day by hearing Dr. Boone being interviewed on the radio.

City Council notes: apologies for the hold-up

I did not liveblog the Tuesday (3/3) City Council meeting, but I did take some notes on the budget. Tuesday's talk around the budget was largely a reaction to the presentation, just preceding the meeting, by the Massachusetts Taxpayers' Foundation, which then was repeated for the public at 7pm at South Community High.

The big news this week from the City Manager was the 75/25 split being taken by non-union employees. The Manager is determined on this one, and the numbers are stark:
  • on the City side, a 75/25 split would save the City $2.35 million
  • on the School side, the same split would save the City $3.4 million
On average, an employee would pay around $12 more a week with that change.

This is one where public opinion could really make a difference. There was a line tossed in last week's Clive McFarlane column by Dr. Mills referencing the teachers' union--"they eat their young." Speaking as a former MTA member, that isn't always true. But the numbers this year are going to come down, in many cases, to everyone paying $12 more a week for health insurance or laying off the newest of every profession. We already saw that happen with the police. Teachers are certainly going to have this happen next if the health insurance becomes a deal breaker.

The stark news from the presentation by the Taxpayers Association was that the Governor's budget appears to have been too rosy. According to the Manager, it looks like the Governor's budget has $1 billion that doesn't exist anymore. Thus his cuts in local aid don't go deep enough.

The Manager has intentionally not included the Emergency Relief bill in his calculations of the FY10 city budget, as we can't count on that money, as the bill hasn't passed yet. This led to Councilor Clancy asking for the Council to send a letter (per our delegation's request) to the Legislature, asking for them to pass the bill. The Mayor asked that the three portions of Emergeny Relief be dealt with separately (she doesn't support a meals tax). Councilor Eddy then held the item under privilege. That one won't move until next week. If you're wonder what the ER bill would do, it has three parts:
  • "closing the telecom loophole" which would charge telephone companies taxes (in essence). For Worcester, this would mean an estimated $361,969
  • a 1 cent meals tax, for Worcester would mean an estimated $2,780,336
  • a 1 cent hotel/motel tax, for Worcester would mean an estimated $233,579
Councilor Petty gently urged the School Department to get moving on giving the city some numbers: "the more we know the better." He pointed out that the Council has been getting reports from the Manager "in depth." The only number anyone seems to have from the schools is the $18 million deficit given at last week's School Committee meeting.

Councilor Toomey asked the Manager what the given deficit is for the city if the city is level-funded, citing a school deparment number of $10 million on the school side. The Manager was clearly not thrilled about this question, saying that he thought the schools' number "may be oversimplified" but eventually gave a figure of between $9 and 11 million. This is what I cited below: given the same amount of income and no new budget items, there's automatically a deficit due to the increased cost of doing business from one year to the next.

Councilor Rosen repeated the line from the Taxpayers' Association: we should expect "thousands of teachers in Massachusetts to be laid off in the next few years."

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Breathe easier

Here's some good news about air quality around public schools: the EPA is on it.

Children are particularly susceptible to toxic chemicals; they breathe more air in proportion to their weight than do adults, and their bodies are still developing. Exposure to some chemicals can trigger ailments such as asthma or lead to cancer years or even decades later.

The newspaper's investigation, published in December, used a government computer simulationOhio EPA found levels of carcinogens 50 times what the state considered acceptable. USA TODAY subsequently teamed with Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland to take "snapshot" air samples near 95 schools in 30 states. At 64 of those locations, the newspaper found elevated levels of chemicals. that showed at least 435 schools where the air outside appeared to be more toxic than the air at an Ohio elementary school closed in 2005. There, the

The homelessness epidemic

The numbers are only coming in (and, as you'll see, they're often untrustworthy), but it's clear that there's a rising tide of homelessness in the country. Who is on the front lines in dealing with it? The local public school:

Under federal law, schools are charged with keeping homeless students like Daniel from falling behind their peers academically. This can mean providing a wide range of services, including transportation, free lunches, immunizations and referrals to family services.

But with insufficient federal funding and budgets that are severely strained, many schools are struggling to meet the rising need.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Snow day...UPDATED

Two things this means for Worcester this spring:
  1. Two more weeks of days extended by 45 minutes (March 9-12,16-19, and now 23-26, and 30-4/2) provided the School Committee votes to approve it. That was the solution proposed when they approved the previous extended days; this may come up at Thursday's meeting. UPDATE: Turns out there's no new vote needed: the long days carry on until April!
  2. The city's snow removal budget just went one more storm in the hole, up to $3.7 million. You can count on seeing that number again. Remember, snow removal is the one area in which Massachusetts cities and towns are allowed to carry a deficit from one year to the next; otherwise they have to balance the budget within the year.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Updated Budget presentation (DATE CORRECTED)

The City Manager will be giving his updated projections on FY09 and FY10 budgets at the March 10 City Council meeting (7 pm in the Esther Harlowe Chamber of City Hall).

(Recall that he wants to deal with both at once; it doesn't look like the State is going to have numbers that the City can count on in time for the City to do it all at once, so now the Manager is planning on two rounds.)

Updating the numbers (DATE CORRECTED)

The City Manager's March 3 budget update to the City Council doesn't give any numbers you haven't seen here before (I think), but I'll pull out the salient paragraphs on education here with added emphasis and comments (because I realize that most of you are not going to read all five pages!). As always, the Arial font is quoted; the serifs are mine:

Our preliminary analysis of the proposed FY2010 State Budget reveals a net reduction of the State's Local Aid and other revenue support to the City (all non-Worcester Public Schools) of $17.4 million. This total is comprised of a Local Aid reduction of $14.8 million as well as significant reductions in the State's line-items for Quinn Bill reimbursements, community policing and veteran's and elderly exemption payments that would have obvious detrimental effects on our revenues...

The manager has mentioned in previous memos that the City is also experiencing declining city revenues and there's ongoing concern about grant funding.

It is important to note that there is a similar FY2009 City budget effect when the State's education formula is recalculated due to the mid-year cuts in Local Aid to the City of $5 million. The result would be $500,000 net less for the WPS through June 30, 2009. Much like the Governor's recommendations, it is clear this City Council will want to mitigate any mid-year disruptions to our classrooms and therefore will stand firm in maintaining our "pre 9-C" levels of funding to the WPS through June 30, 2009. I concur, without question, and I will proceed accordingly with all projections and recommended actions to balance the FY2009 Budget...

In straight language, this is "yes, we could cut our funding for education this year, as our responsibilities under the foundation funding formula go down when state aid go down, BUT we aren't going to do that, even though it means we have to cut an additional $500,000 from the rest of this year's budget to do so." And if you haven't written a note to thank the Manager and the Council for this one, you should! We are all better not facing mid-year teacher layoffs. What a nightmare.

I await the projections from the Worcester Public Schools for FY2010. The Governor's FY2010 Budget Recommendation holds the State's Chapter 70 Local Aid for Education "harmless," in essence level funding WPS at the State's FY2009 funding levels. I believe it was universally received as a generous proposal to level fund the State's Chapter 70 Education Aid in these trying fiscal times. However, it is safe to say that the State's level funding of almost 75% of the WPS annual budget (Chapter 70 Local Aid for Education) in the face of increasing fixed costs for salaries and employee health care, as well as required additional pension deposits, adjustments due to City-side State Aid cuts (ts effect on City contributions to WPS due to the State's formula, etc.) will likely have a negative impact on WPS's FY2010 outlook. However, it is also important to note that President Barack Obama, Capitol Hill leadership, and the Governor have referenced additional operating funding for public education as part of the Federal Stimulus Legislation....I will seek to secure more detailed information for the City Council regarding WPS's FY2010 projections in week ahead.

Beyond the referencing to federal funding, there are three important points here:
  1. Level-funding education (heck, level-funding just about anything) doesn't mean that it comes out even. Contracts have automatic increases. Health insurance costs rise. Fuel costs go up. Even a ream of paper is going to run you more this year than last. Just because we get the same amount from Boston doesn't mean we are free and clear.
  2. Just like in FY09, when state aid goes down, the City's responsibilities under the foundation funding formula go down. The Manager has put it in a parenthetical here, but this is one to watch. The City doesn't have to give the schools as much money this year, because the State isn't giving the City as much money.
  3. The Manager opens and closes with it intentionally, I am sure: he wants numbers from the school administration. They're trying to wait for April...he's going to be bugging them for it NOW.

Combining admin

It's pretty clear from the continued references at the past few City Council meetings that the Council, at least, is interested in combining the School and City Administrations (this is mostly being discussed as the city taking over the school-side's independent functions). The one caution has been the question of the legality of this. You can find the answer in Mass General Laws (Title IX, Ch. 71, Sec. 37M):


Section 37M. (a) Notwithstanding the provisions of chapter forty-one or chapter seventy-one or any other special or general law to the contrary, any city or town which accepts the provisions of this section may consolidate administrative functions, including but not limited to financial, personnel, and maintenance functions, of the school committee with those of the city or town; provided, however, that such consolidation may occur only upon a majority vote of both the school committee and in a city, the city council, with approval of the mayor required by law or in a town, the annual town meeting or in a town with no town meeting, the town council.
(b) Notwithstanding any general or special law to the contrary, a decision to consolidate functions pursuant to paragraph (a) of this section may be revoked by a majority vote of either the school committee of the city or town, or the city or town, or both as such vote is described in said paragraph (a)

(all emphasis added)

Yes, it can happen, and one needs a majority vote by both parties to do so. So far as I can decipher, it doesn't look as though an community of Worcester's size has tried it.