Monday, December 20, 2010

The Sustainability of Level 4's

As of last week, the district received a response* back from the state (DESE) on the Level 4 school Turnaround Plans for Chandler Elementary and Union Hill Schools. Commissioner Chester is "submitting one proposed modification" to the plans. To quote:
1.The Redesign Grant is a competitive process and there is no guarantee that Worcester will be successful in securing Grant funding. To better understand how Worcester is planning to sustain the Turnaround Plan if STG funding is not secured, please describe:
a. The expectation, strategies, and outcomes that the district will hold the school accountable for implementing and attaining if Redesign Grant funds are not secured.
b. The supports and resources that each school can expect to receive from the district if Redesign Grant funds are not secured.
Further, as part of the suggestions for redesign planning, the state asks that the district "identify the features of the plans that will need to be continued beyond the three year grant period to enable sustained improvement and how those features will be funded."

In other words: you may not get this money (amazing how often the state has been saying that of late; that's a bit different than the message we'd gotten a bit earlier that the state was going to work with districts to get them where they needed to be in their applications). What are you going to do then? And further, as has been pointed out from the very beginning (including back when the vote was taken in April), the money goes away in three years; what are you going to do then?

Do we, by state statute, have to do something with Union Hill and Chandler Elementary, regardless of the federal funding? Yes.
Do we have to meet the stringent requirements under the STG application if we don't have the money? Well, no. The four federal choices, the list of what you had to hit under the turnaround plan (including extra learning time), much of that goes by the boards without the funds. And much of that is based on questionable (if exeunt) research, in any case.
My concern here is that the district is being boxed into saying, "yes, we're somehow going to magically come up with the funds for all of these (required by the state) additions" at the same time that we're also trying to figure out how we're going to close an $8.2 million budget gap after a large number of years in which budget gaps have already been closed by cutting services and positions.
Or, if we get the funds, how we're going to continue extra services after the funds go away in three years.
No one doubts that these two schools are needy. In Worcester, though, we have lots of schools that are needy, and I'm cautious taking the state's decision that these were our greatest need schools, and being forced to make it what our budget lives and dies by.

*sorry, no link. The School Committee got a hard copy of the letter and back-up.

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