Tuesday, March 27, 2012

MASC Day on the Hill

Alas, even my portable wifi hotspot was not enough to get through the bunker-like conditions of the Gardner Auditorium at the State House. Notes from this morning's Mass Association of School Committee's Day on the Hill:

In addition to MASC leadership, we'll be hearing today from State Auditor Bump, Michael Widmer (from Mass Taxpayers Foundation), and several senators and representatives, including from Ways and Means and Education
Penny Blackwell, MASC President, on new educator evaluation: "If you're not confused, you're not paying attention."
proposed House budget on April 11; senate a few weeks later
"When profits are the motive, it's never good for children." Mary-Jo Rossetti, speaking on the push to privatize public education.

Senator Kathleen Clark (former School Committee member from Melrose): ran for Senate in part because "somebody has to understand how it affects the local community"
January revenues were very disappointing; the February revenues were very heartening
"not going to be, again, an easy year"
Even with steady Chapter 70 funding, schools are "where all our cuts to social service programs also come home to roost"
for communities that have not made the "target aid level" really working to make 17.5%
(for those wondering "what 17.5%, this is the argument that wealthier districts made that it wasn't fair that poorer districts got more aid and they got [in some cases] none)
circuit breaker, keeping funding in mind for municipal health insurance
increases in Chapter 70 keep getting eaten up by health care costs
"continue to pursue an adequacy study"
"where are we now? what do we need to be doing to really do what we need to do for 21st century students"
awaiting DESE's report on foundation formula: "decades overdue"
"in a down economy is when we want to do this work, so as the economy comes back, we are ready
potential ballot question around teacher evaluation:
current model preserves local decision making
"having one-size fits all" appealing ballot question for the public; will need to do some education on the local level, if it comes forward
"would like to see that [current] process play out" rather than muddy the waters with ballot initiative
early intervention services

Auditor Suzanne Bump
integrity and public confidence: when you decide to spend public money on anything, implicit promise that it will be wisely spent; how were they spent, were they well spent and how could we do it better
audits on collaboratives: did spending benefit special need students?
published not only report, but also recommendations
now higher reporting standards
local mandates: state's embrace of McKinney-Vento requires local districts to incur costs that they otherwise would not: practical solution?
collectively spending $11.3 million for homeless kids out of district transportation
auditor advocating to include in state budget

Michael Widmer, Mass Taxpayers Foundation
"things are improving"
"finally coming out of this long, horrible global recession"
"anemic recovery at this point, but moving in a positive direction"
on par with the rest of the country
FY13: have about a billion dollar in tax growth built into the budget
tied to growth in tax revenue, particularly income tax (sales tax growth has been anemic)
Governor's budget includes ch.70 increases as required by foundation budget and elsewhere; only about 1/3 get an increase; level-funding most else
Governor helped balance his budget with new taxes (cigarettes, soda, new bottle bill), but House has said they won't do that. Thus they need $200m from somewhere
Governor also counts on $400m from rainy day fund; "really pushes the envelope on that; House and Senate were hoping to do less, but I don't think they will"
That will leave less than $1b in rainy day
closely mirror Governor's budget when it comes to cities and towns
"What does it look like over the next several years?"
"even with an economic recovery...state governments are not going to be in a capacity, by and large...to restore the spending cuts that took place during this recession"
won't make up the increases in local aid as we have in past recessions
federal government is retreating from its obligations to the states over the past century
states are going to be more on their own
may be cuts in medicaid: no reimbursements on medicaid, cut in local aid
"how rapidly will employment grow?"
will recovery generate the job growth of previous recoveries
(job growth=personal income tax growth)
"I don't think we will trail the nation in this economic recovery, but I don't think we will be in front of the nation, either"
"Need to think about increases to Chapter 70 around the pace of inflation"
increases above that are unrealistic
employee benefits: "couldn't give more and more money to benefits and preserve teachers in the classroom"
"savings community by community are striking"
"one can make changes and save a lot of money and still preserve a generous package of benefits"
"act sooner rather than later...still preserve good retiree benefits"
"Massachusetts is doing much, much better than almost every other state"
"only two states have had a ratings upgrade in the last six months: Massachusetts and Alaska. That's remarkable."
"very important in terms of the long term economy of Massachusetts"
"have acquitted ourselves well in this recession"

Rep Peisch (her introduction notes that 30 current legislators have been school committee members)
co-chair, Joint Committee on Education
"how interested I was in hearing from all of you"
"very aware of how the actions we take up here impact those of you in the field"
increasing mandates: "looking to see if there are places that we can bring relief to you"
education collaborative legislation

Sen. Chang-Diaz
co-chair, Joint Committee on Education
"really trying to keep your concerns and your frustrations at the front of what we do here"
efforts on the budget: heavy on your mind
Chapter 70 "my number one budget priority"
dropout prevention "an issue that's near and dear to my heart"
more intensive concern for urban districts

Question: why was the adequacy study sent back to committee?
what about the Chapter 70 formula?
Peisch: sent for further study, as they await the report from DESE
last stage of being developed, covers much of the same ground
once we get it, we'll decide if we have what we need, or if we need to go further
"circuit breaker provides for additional funding, for example"
Chang-Diaz: "I hear a lot of concern in this building...split vote on the committee"
really valid questions to be asked here
"not so much a disagreement about whether the questions need to be asked, but what is the best way to answer them?"
question on suburban districts not getting as much funding: reference to economic downturn
Peisch: cuts in health and human services are "unbelievably bad"
"we can't give you something from nothing"
function of the economy
Question: cost of third grade reading bill? dropout bill?
it's in Ways and Means; we don't know...most of that is a panel, unclear what if any additional expenses would be incured
dropout bill: so many of the end numbers depend on the regulations, only done some "back of the envelope" numbers
graduation coach program is not expected to be funded out of local funds
Question: regional transportation aid: (question from Wachusett)
"state has never lived up to its obligations"
Peisch agrees that the state has never lived up to the number in the law
"we don't have the money"
"when I was on the School Committee, the state reimbursed everybody for transportation"

Rep. Waltz: (now on Ways and Means) virtual schools
process for more  virtual schools in a more regular way
does not limit district options
districts can open virtual schools; this sets up a process for students attending virtual schools across district lines

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