Friday, May 31, 2013

You've got questions... (with fixed link)

...we've got answers.

The Worcester City Council asked a number of questions during part I of the Worcester Public Schools budget hearing (city allocation) last week. You can find the answers to their questions here. (That's a fixed Dropbox link, which I think you'll find easier to read than the city's Laserfiche.)
You'll note that in several cases, readers are referred to particular pages of the budget. As I told the sixth graders who asked me last week what I do with my budget book after it's passed: read it! Keep it close at hand! There's lots in there.
You can find the budget here.

And the City Council will do part II of the WPS budget hearing on Tuesday at 4. Please plan to attend.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Change at North High School

We have just received the following from Superintendent Boone:
I want to inform you that I have accepted the resignation of Matthew C. Morse as principal of North High School effective at the end of this school year. Matt has served the North High School Community for 20 years and feels that it is time for him to step aside in order to pursue other educational leadership opportunities within the Worcester Public Schools. I appreciate his dedication to the North community and look forward to continuing to work with him in the Worcester Public Schools.  He is notifying his faculty and staff this afternoon.

The principal vacancy at the school will be posted this weekend as a search for his replacement begins.

Spray park open for the heat wave

The City of Worcester has just announced that the Greenwood Street Spray Park will be open today through Sunday from noon to 7 pm.
The park is on, yes, Greenwood Street in Quinsig Village, 'though you can best access the spray park from Forsberg Street.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Video of last night's budget conversation

You can find the video of last night's budget conversation at City Council here. (That's under "Finance" in the "Standing Committee" section of the archived Chanel 12 video).
The schools start at about 55 minutes in and run for the rest of the video.

Kids need more gym class

Sorry for the late posting on this one.
You may have caught some mention late last week of a recommendation for more gym class for kids in schools. It's a report from the non-partisan Institute of Medicine of the National Academies (you can read it online at that link for free).
 In this light, the IOM was asked to examine the status of physical activity and physical education efforts in schools, how physical activity and fitness affect health outcomes, and what can be done to help schools get students to become more active.
The recommendations specifically on physical education are: 
 elementary students engage in 30 minutes of physical activity in gym class daily. High school and middle school students should have 45 minutes of physical education. At least half of these classes should consist of vigorous or moderate-intensity exercise, the IOM said. all cases, daily.
Students in the Worcester Public Schools, K-6, have gym class once a week. In grades 7-12, students have gym on a rotating basis; no student has gym for the full school year.

There's thus a MAJOR difference between our reality on the ground and this recommendation. Any increase here would absolutely require increased funding (and I would expect to hear a request for additional time in the day, too, though I'd rather see us to less of some of what we currently do).

The report further recommends:
children should get more exercise during recess, breaks and classroom exercises as well as in after-school sports, the report said. It advised against revoking recess privileges as a punishment for misbehavior at school.
Absolutely agreed!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Discussion on the update on MSBA projects

Councilor O'Brien: is there actually $21 million we're paying a year on debt service for school buildings, since most of our schools were 80/20 or 90/10?
CM O'Brien: total debt to be paid down...MSBA payments were received as revenues and paid out as revenues, not necessarily by paying down the debt
So we're getting money back from state that's paying most of that?
so it's actually only 10-20% being paid by the taxpayers?
Councilor O'Brien asks what schools we're still paying for (essentially): how many more years do we need to pay for (the schools we're still paying for)?
thus we could figure out how when we have space to fund additional schools: as a report
Mayor asks that Nelson Place be added as a projection
Rushton: capital budget as a whole...we can choose where we want to spend money across the board...wants the debt service for the whole capital budget
CM: have capped annual budget annually: only borrowing what we can afford to do over the long term
$3.3M* used out of $21M capacity for schools; $3M for "rolling stock"
CM runs through what's allowed what's not allowed in MSBA funding
Rushton need to improve infrastructure of the schools
"gotta know where we are financially"
going to the Education committee

*The City Manager was doing this off the top of his head. It's actually $3.5 million, of which $3 million is allocated for renovations (largely the 20% local contribution towards MSBA projects); $150,000 for technology (for FY14); $240,000 for school buses (4 small buses); and $110,000 for facilities vehicles. 

Council on a residency requirement

on items 10a and 10b:
Request City Manager provide City Council with an employment chart by department that reveals the city or town of residence for those employees at the time of being hired in Fiscal 2010, 2011 and 2012 as compared with those same employees' city or town of residence for the current fiscal year. (Petty, O'Brien)
Request City Manager recommend to City Council an expansion of the residency provisions in the existing city ordinances that prospectively enhances Worcester residency for future non-represented and represented City of Worcester employees noting in said report the various collective bargaining units with whom negotiations will be required before enactment. (Petty, O'Brien)

Reports requested

O'Brien: $92 million comes from local aid: 33% of school budget comes from city
new positions created by WPS, new positions created by city (including police and fire)
Lukes: retirements
report: how those state and federal grants are expended (READ THE BUDGET!)
how many private/parochial students transported by WPS?

Mayor Petty HOLDS the budget

Petty is holding further discussion of the Worcester Public Schools budget until next week.
More questions, more discussion, and we can but hope public testimony next Tuesday at....4? Probably?

Councilor Rivera: questions

ELL and educational gaps being filled
class sizes: "busting at the seams"
How are we looking to decrease class size as we move forward?
reduce the gap
Boone: "finished year with fewer than 500 seats across the district" and that continues to get smaller
two "very firm" enrollment projections: expect a gradual uptick for the next several years
reopening schools creates similar challenges to closing schools
will know better in October on enrollment

asks about University Park math and science upper level teachers

Councilor Eddy: questions

Eddy: are we achieving the goals that we want to?
"are we making progress?...moving forward, making progress"
Boone: "making progress primarily due to the way that we approach the budget"
"finding ourselves getting close to the end of being able to reprogram the same dollars"
Eddy: "continue to make progress"
Gates Lane School: "had come up here repeatedly"
parking impact on the neighborhood Note that we are paying $14,000 for 14 parking spaces across the street. 
Boone: schools built without parking areas; issues that we face in most of those schools
planning and design for other schools: too difficult to do it later
nearly impossible to address after the fact
"very large school on a very large footprint"
adequate parking was not planned
other schools: what are creative ways for parking? property around schools to create parking
work with neighborhoods for least disruption
don't have a solution
Eddy: will school budget include funding for Gates Lane parking in the fall
Boone: working to carry forward

Councilor Toomey: questions

waiting for state budget
Allen: intent of foundation budget was to increase state funding for schools, and so we've seen
"as goes the state budget, so goes our budget"
our budget won't be final until the state budget passes in July
Yes, but the state tends to actually fund MOST of their requirements fully
How many students at Spirit of Knowledge?
156 students...we would welcome them back if the school closed
Allen: we've been seeing enrollment increases larger than that the past several years, so it closing would not be an issue
Toomey: technology ...are we working with colleges for support on technology
Boone cites Blue Ribbon Panel
a capacity issue
systems vulnerable due to loss of support for Windows XP
working to make it most efficient
Allen: state used to capture numbers of computers; leasing computers starting next year
funding at a half year implementation...would cost $1.2M for a full year
class sizes at 22.1 on average: no classes that are greater than 30, so long as Chandler Elementary finds rental space
Boone runs through the class sizes
do charter schools have access to Medicaid funds?  if charter schools provide services, they could collect reimbursement, AND THEY COULD KEEP IT
Toomey wants a report
34 net increase of positions
Allen: sequestration eliminating 32 tutors
Boone: well rounded education: realignment..." having a school system that is not just bare bones...but is attractive to choose"
Toomey wants to know if other schools could be open later, as Worcester Tech was for robotics (most of the secondary schools are open into the afternoon...)
Toomey wants to expand after schools programs

Councilor Economou: questions

question about Flagg Street losing positions for next year
enrollment by class: Flagg is one of a handful that has lost enrollment over the past several years
Boone: warranted reduction of positions
large increase in enrollment across the city
"know that it is challenging as we become attached to the people in our schools"
Allen: about the same number of elementary teachers next year systemwide
reallocation of positions within the system
"that's where we'll be come September, absent new funding sources" (in terms of where teachers are)
Boone: elimination of federal grants
"conscious decision not to cut classroom teachers"
Economou asks to have position at Flagg reconsidered
SAIL at Nelson Place: this is a program that serves those with autism
what is happening there?
students "aging up" within the program: students staying at the same school through elementary school
Economou: how many more kids coming in?
"school is already bursting at the seams..."
Boone: will provide information, ongoing training and professional development
"building capacity to serve our own needs"
Economou: "appreciate the savings, but not at the cost of the safety" of the children and the staff

Councilor Lukes: questions

"as money has become tighter...relationship loaded with more friction...some real problem with some of the demands being put on the city"
"money is limited"
Lukes: how many new positions added?
Boone: net is 30 new position
Lukes: how many new positions on the cityside? Zidelis say that it's less than 20
Query as to if that's counting new WFD and WPD classes
Lukes is not counting new safety classes: WHICH ARE NEW HIRES IN WFD AND WPD!!
Lukes: total amount received in federal grants?
$30 M in federal grants, $5 M in state grants
Lukes: asks how much counts towards net school spending
grants don't count towards net school spending because net school spending is a measure of how much a community spends on its own school system
"we have costs that aren't included in the formula"
speaks of eyes glazing over from people at home on talk of foundation budget
administrative costs and medicaid not counting
transportation doesn't count towards net school spending: Lukes asks that DelSignore walk us through his report again
DelSignore: "getting there and schools themselves don't count towards net school spending"
Lukes asks if we could save any money by vendoring out the transportation...DelSignore says that there are experts in that (and he isn't one)
cites Grafton which charges a fee to students beyond grade 6 who are not low income
one should perhaps point out that we are 73% low income
says she does not believe that students won't come if they don't have transportation
"if we have a real problem with kids (not coming without transportation)..."not being motivated
Boone: "we never blame our children for our underperforming"
"not required to provide transportation for our 7-12" but once we have the buses for K-6, the rest of the day is taken care of already
increase in requests from charter and private schools
"biting off our nose despite our face.." to cut transportation
putting a fee on those not on free and reduced lunch "middle class tax"
Lukes motion for legal inquiry into fees fails, 1-8

Councilor Ruston

question regrading graphs: where has increase in administration occurred and why?
and does this include federal grants?
Zidelis: as their budget increases as a percentage of the city budget, the proportional share of the department
plus increase in technical services ('though not to schools; we're not getting more services)
Boone: grants do not count towards net school spending
Rushton asks for all spending, whether general fund or other sources
incidentally, we're pulled people off of grants, so if there were a change, you'd see it. There isn't one. No one is hiding administrators in federal grants. And don't take my word for it

OPEB: wants to know what would happen if we had to pull $30 million of the school system
Boone: "would decimate the school system"
Rushton "troubling to me" that there's no OPEB funding on the school or city side
"a real thing"
asks if OPEB could be included in net school spending: asks DESE, have not received a formal response at this time
have heard unofficially that it will not count towards net school spending
Rushton concerned about cuts on the order of Prop 2 1/2
Boone: would have enlarged net school spending gap
city could apply Medicaid reimbursement generated by Worcester Public Schools, goes into city general fund, could be used for OPEB
The city general fund gets $3 million each year for services provided by the Worcester Public Schools. The schools are no longer receiving any money from the city for providing this service.

Rushton: "I'm not asking you to reduce your budget; reallocation"
"with it comes the dollars that are spent as a result of that decision"
"just ignoring the problem and shifting the blame"
Boone: schools followed city's benefits structure on recent contracts

Rushton: "mystified on the premise that...two wrongs make a right"
"to do nothing is a failure"
Commend everything being done by administration

Three areas in which you would see future cuts?
Allen: "In anticipation of your annual question" the answer is on page 14 of the WPS budget
special education, school printing, energy savings

Okay, one editorial comment: there comes a time at which there is no place else to cut. I'd say we passed that several years ago.

Councilor O'Brien

"there's good news: we've made real progress"
"work collaborative with the schools"
"for cities to grow and prosper: safety, services, and schools"
runs through investments in public safety, in public services
progress in schools: reduce the deficit in net school spending number
"I'm hoping to budget... infrastructure in our schools"
challenges in our operational budget
"not quite there yet in meeting our minimal obligation in net school spending"
surrounding communities spending 14% more on average; losing families
"make a case that we need to make a little bit more investment"
"Hope we can find opportunities to get to" that minimum
make necessary investment to stay competitive

Questions: administrative spending compared to internal administrative spending: comparison across the Gateway cities: is there some understanding of why there is such a big differential?
Zidelis: can speak to which cityside services go into the calculation?
Zidelis says they can research the difference and come back with a report

O'Brien asks about the percentage of the school budget as compared with Gateway cities
Boone: costs directly incurred by the school district, then city costs charged to the schools
if you look at WPS, we have maintained that line over last several years.Dropping an administration this year
administration is 1.5% of total WPS budget

O'Brien: offset in increase within increase charter school tuition
loss of state and local grants, as well
Boone: $1.68 million we are being underfunded in charter reimbursement
Allen: chapter 70 funds are allocated to charter schools as well; 9% of allocation in education goes to charter schools
O'Brien: increase in chapter 70, plus state and federal grant drops: report?

Worcester Schools budget before the Council

CFO Zidelis points out the change in how this is presented to the Council
(it now is divided between net school spending and non-net school spending).
"Reduction in the estimated FY13 Net School Spending deficiency" to $427,000
Boone comments that this is her fourth budget before the Council
"very busy and productive year as it relates to the Worcester Public Schools budget"
speaks of joint committee with Education
"addressed a number of longstanding questions about the budget and how the budget works"
"a difference place...we're really talking about where we're going forward"
"working to close that gap"
Economic development as a reason for education
increasing enrollment driving increased state funding; space issues
city's efforts to support the capital work
100th birthday of Rice Square School Celebrated today! Happy birthday, Rice Square!
We have "schools going into their third century of operations"
grateful for city's support
working going forward with MSBA on Nelson Place and on the accelerated repairs
sequestration and declining federal revenues in various grants
strike a balance between moving some of grant work into operational budget, and some having to be cut
"difficult decisions from that end"
"builds on our goal to maintain reasonable class sizes across the district"
looking to expand high school teachers for fall 2013 (shift to MassCore)
adding three nurses
refreshing computers, not only in classrooms, but in offices
Blue Ribbon Panel on technology
two Level 4 schools potentially coming out of Level 4 in fall
transportation: growing district, growing number of students with disabilities
state underfunding particular areas
"Let me very clear: the numbers that we submitted to the City Manager and the City CFO were the numbers from the formula" They aren't a request; they are a state requirement.
reintroduction of athletics at middle school
"address all of the various our educational system"

Tonight Council hears the budget

DPW starts at 4; the schools are second.

Councilor O'Brien has just posted on his Facebook page his intent to make a motion to fully fund the Worcester Public Schools at 100% of net school spending. 
He will need backup, though, so please be there if you can!

Friday, May 24, 2013

A message from CPPAC

Good Afternoon,

It is once again that time of year to engage in the budget conversation for the Worcester Public Schools.  As in past years we are calling on all Parents to attend the City Council’s hearing on the School Budget for next year. It will be on May 28 at 4pm in Council chamber.

 We all know how important our local school system is to our children and our community. I would like to think it is possible to someday call the Worcester Public School District the best urban school district in the state. It seems that each year we need to remind our local elected officials of where we place education among our priorities for Worcester. As CPPAC stated in our online petition last year;


“…1996 was the last year that Worcester played a leading role in urban district funding levels. In 1996, the City Council recognized the value of public education and contributed 5.7 percent above the state-mandated minimum to the Worcester Public Schools. Since 1998, the city has consistently contributed less than one percent above minimum (with one exception: 2009, 1.5%) and last year (2012) allocated less than the minimum. In contrast, communities across the state continue to support public school education at an average level of more than 14 percent above minimum, with our peer communities (other urban districts) averaging more than 3 percent above minimum…”


Recently the City Manager has published his budget recommendations for the 2014 school year. Once again we will fall short of the state-mandated minimum. For 2014 the City Manager has proposed a budget that falls more than $400,000 short of the state mandate.(99.9% of the Foundation Budget) For the last three years we have failed to meet the state mandate.


We need to let the City Council and the City Manager know that it is not acceptable that Worcester’s Net School Spending is in the bottom 2% of the state as percentage of foundation budget.

We need to let the City Council and the City Manager know that it is not acceptable that there will be more Elementary classrooms of >27 in FY14 then there was in FY12 or FY13. It is unacceptable that the Student Teacher ratios in the Elementary schools are increasing specifically after all the rhetoric form the City last year that Class size is an important measure of our student opportunity for success.

We need to let the City Council and the City Manager know that it is not acceptable that the City charges the Worcester Public Schools more for administrative services (1.6% of the foundation budget and a 19.5% increase since FY08) then the Worcester Public Schools actual administratively spends on running the schools. The actual Administrative cost on the school side of the budget has only increased by 2.4% since FY08 despite an increase of 5.1% in student population.  

Inline image 1

We need to let the City Council and the City Manager know that it is not acceptable that the City takes as revenue into the general fund the $3.2 million dollars (1% of the foundation budget) in Medicaid reimbursements that are generated by the services provided by the Worcester Public Schools and is not returned to the Worcester Public Schools.

Please if it is at all possible try to attend the Budget Hearing on Tuesday, May 28th at 4pm at City Hall and directly contact members of the City Council before Tuesday’s meeting to let them know your opinion.


City Council Members can be reached at:

(508) 799-1049    (same phone number for all)

Joseph Petty - Mayor                                      

Michael Germain - At-Large                  

Konstantina Lukes - At-Large

Joseph O’Brien - At-Large   

Frederick Rushton - At-Large                  

Kathleen Toomey - At-Large

Anthony Economou - District 1

Philip Palmieri - District 2    

George Russell - District 3  

Sarai Rivera - District 4        

William Eddy - District 5       

Thursday, May 23, 2013

And because I know that you still haven't had enough school finance...'s a chart that I suspect we'd rather not be quite this far down on:
(Source: US Census)
Sorry, I realize that Arkansas is being cut off a bit on the right margin. Click the chart to see it all.
That's from today's WBUR report "Census Data Suggests Mass Punching Below its Weight on Education Spending." Per $1000 of personal income, Massachusetts ranks 32 out of the 50 states in spending on education; essentially, this is a measure of what the state is spending versus what it (presumably) can afford.
One does have to be careful with this sort of comparison--what $1000 gets you in different parts of the country is very different, for example, and Massachusetts largely supports education from state and local funds (not federal ones)--but it is an interesting way of thinking of education spending.

Public hearing FY14 budget presentation

I've gotten a couple of requests for the presentation from last night. Because it was not a PowerPoint, there aren't handouts loaded somewhere online (yet. maybe.). What I've done below is posted the video of (just) the presentation that Mr. Allen did last night. It lasts a little over a half an hour.
 If you're interested in seeing the entire meeting of May 22, including public testimony, you can find it on the Channel 11 page, under "Archived Programs."

And since he's now sitting up there on the page, let me take this chance to congratulation Mr. Allen on his election last week to the presidency of the Mass School Business Officials. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Meanwhile in Chicago

...the Chicago Board of ed (mayorally appointed) voted to close 49 elementary schools and a high school.
That's about 10% of their district.
More on this tomorrow.Check out #CPSclosings on Twitter for more. 

Largest elementary enrollment changes for next year

Schools with biggest enrollment increases for next year:
Union Hill: 15.6%
Chandler Elementary: 14.9%
Wawecus: 12.3%
Belmont Street: 11%
Columbus Park: 7.5%
Quinsigamond: 7.1%
Worcester Arts Magnet: 5.9%

Schools with biggest enrollment decrease:
Burncoat Prep: 12.1%
Flagg Street: 8.5%
Chandler Mag: 7..7%
Gates Lane: 6.7%
Clark Street: 5.9%
Rice Square: 4.7%
Jacob Hiatt: 4.2%

Public testimony (updating as we go)

updating as we go
testimony from Flagg parent: which is projected to lose three teachers, which would be moved elsewhere

Allen presentation (Updating as we go)

"tonight's presentation is intended to focus on the budget document"
nuts and bolts have been discussed numerous times before tonight
"some of the budget drivers that we've faced in preparing the FY14 budget" will be presented tonight
Posting as we go

Foley introduces

Foley: "we really had a budget discussion all year long...several budget presentations over the past year"
budget book has been published "great document"
"not all of the numbers are in yet...discussing beginning on June 6"
Senate numbers are out, still time to influence at the State House level
City Council still not final, "could go up and could go down" (they hear it next Tuesday)
meeting all year with the City Council, "where is the city relative to our peers" in funding
"if you have a pitch tonight, please make that as well"
Foley: "we don't set the revenue goals for the school department; that's done elsewhere"

WPS FY14 public budget hearing starts now

starts  at 7 pm and is live on Channel 11 or at
The presentation is not online as of yet, but it's always good to check the CFO's FY14 folder for updates.

Are we being heard?

...a bit? Possibly?
In addition to the list of reasons Commissioner Chester cited in recommending that Spirit of Knowledge be put on probation--something which the Board of Education passed yesterday--the state had some harsh words for the degree of transparency down at Mystic Valley charter, which was seeking an expansion:

But Jeff Wulfson, deputy education commissioner, said the state is simply representing the public in this case. “Public schools have elected boards, so there is a level of accountability,” he said. “There is nothing like that in charter school boards, so we have to act on the public’s behalf.”
Wulfson said complaints from parents and teachers about the school “have clearly gone beyond what we’ve seen at other charter schools.”
Those complaints, many from anonymous sources who say they fear retribution from the board, range from a lack of adherence to the state’s Open Meeting Law to a failure of the board to address concerns about transportation, admissions, and other issues.
“The board’s role is not only to be academically successful, but to act as a public body, with transparency and a responsibility to the public,” Wulfson said. “We feel they have fallen short on this too often.”
This is the first time I have EVER heard the state speak of the responsibility that the Board of Ed has to the public to be sure charter schools are publicly accountable and operate that way.  That is very important.

Budget hearing TONIGHT

There is a hearing on the FY14 Worcester Public Schools budget tonight, 7 pm, Durkin Administration Building. 
This is when WE listen to YOU. Please come!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Free Fun Fridays!

The Highland Foundation's annual Free Fun Fridays for summer are now posted online! You can print the list here. On every Friday this summer, there will be museums and cultural venues that are FREE for everyone!


  • June 28: Worcester Art Museum
  • July 12: Museum of Russian Icons
  • July 26: Higgins Armory Museum
  • August 30: Ecotarium

Parental note: I've done these in the past, and the museums tend to handle the extra crowds very well. Definitely worth planning your weeks around!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

You're not entitled to your own facts, Mr. Nemeth

It's been some time since I hit a nerve with Mr. Nemeth over at the Sunday Telegram, so I suppose I was overdue. 

For those wondering just what he's referencing, the letter to the editor was in the Boston Globe, not the T&G, so you may well not have seen it. It was in reference to their (not surprisingly for the Globe) one-sided coverage of the charter school hearing at the State House last week. And the Globe has a strict 180 word limit on letters to the editor (mine clocked in at 178 before it was edited further by them), thus it was rather short. 

With all due respect to Mr. Nemeth, I was at the hearing last week at the State House. It's not that big of a room, so I know that he was not. Thus I not only heard the testimony of the pro-charter forces; I heard the testimony of the gentleman from Stanford, flown in specially by the Boston Foundation to present his findings. Representative Denise Garlick of Needham, the House Vice-Chair of the Joint Committee on Education, directly asked him if he had controlled for the affect of parents on educational attainment when comparing charter schools and regular public schools.
Not only did he concede that they had not; he said that any such study would be unable to do so, as parents had "opted into school of choice."
That's not dishonest, Mr. Nemeth; that's what he said. 

As for whether charter schools exclude particular students, the numbers speak for themselves. Here, for example, are Spirit of Knowledge's 2012 numbers as compared to the Worcester Public Schools:
  • Spirit of Knowledge serves 31.2% low income students; WPS serves 70.1%
  • SoKA serves 11.9% special education students; WPS 20.9%
  • SoKA serves 15.6% ELL; WPS 24.3%
Here, in case you're interested, are SOKA's 2011 numbers. I haven't asked for 2013, because frankly it's rather depressing to keep asking the same question and getting the same answer. Perhaps now that SOKA is on the Board of Education's agenda for Tuesday, I will. Of SOKA, Commissioner Chester says:

 In nearly three years of operation, SOKCS has employed four executive directors, has not maintained a sound or stable financial condition, has failed to maintain adequate membership on its board of trustees, has not provided the academic model proposed in its charter, has not shown promising academic results, has a significantly decreased enrollment from what it projected in its application, and will face financial challenges as a result of its drop in enrollment.
And that's just one of Worcester's charter schools. While Worcester's other two charter schools are (thankfully for their students) not so benighted, the comparisons of population would reveal similar trends.
So the makeup of Worcester's charter schools is not that of the general WPS population, Mr. Nemeth. That's the truth.

I'm more than happy to argue the relative merits of charter schools with Mr. Nemeth or with anyone. 
I do take issue with being called a liar in print on the Sunday editorial page.
I get my facts straight before I write or speak. I would suggest that Mr. Nemeth do the same.

You're entitled to your own opinion, Mr. Nemeth; you're not entitled to your own facts. 

Friday, May 17, 2013

City Council hears the WPS budget on May 28

The Worcester City Council begins reviewing the FY14 budget this Tuesday, May 21 at 4 pm. I would urge you to attend for ANY department in which you have interest. The Worcester Public Schools will be heard on May 28.

They will review the departments and budget categories in the following order, in every case at 4 pm:

May 21
Emergency Communications
Emergency Management
Inspectional Services
Building and Zoning
Housing and Health
Law Department
Property & Casualty Insurance
Court Judgments

May 28
DPW & Parks
Off-Street Parking
Central Garage
Parks, Recreation, Cemetery
Snow removal
Worcester Public Schools 
Public Health
Legislative Offices
City Council
City Clerk
Elections Commission
City Auditor
City Manager's Office
CM's office
Human Services

June 4
City Manager's Office
Public Library
Elder Affairs
Human Resources
Worker's Comp & Public Safety IOD
Unemployement Compensation
Health Insurance
Economic Development
Worcester Redevelopment Authority/Union Station
Workforce Investment Board
Workforce Central Career Center
Cable Services
License Commission
Administration & Finance
Finance: Admin, Budget, Treasurer & Collector, Purchasing
Technical Services
City Energy and Asset Management
Debt Service Principal and Interest
Pension Obligation Bonds
Five Point Plan Funds
Line Item Budget


Graduation season starts next week! Here are the list of dates, places, and speakers. Unless otherwise noted, all high schools graduate at 6 pm at the DCU Center and Mayor Petty attends all of them.
May 23, 10 am, Creamer Center graduation at Worcester Technical High School, Tracy Novick
May 24, 11 am, St. Casmir's at St. Casmir's Church
May 30, 6 pm, UPCS, Atwood Hall (Clark), Jack Foley
June 3, 6 pm, Burncoat High, John Mondredo
June 4, 6 pm, North High, Dianna Biancheria
June 5, 6 pm, Doherty, Donna Colorio
June 7, 6 pm, South High, Brian O'Connell
June 10, 6 pm, Worcester Tech, Tracy Novick
June 11, 6 pm, Claremont Academy at Atwood Hall (Clark), Brian O'Connell
June 12, 6 pm, Adult Learning Center at Forest Grove, John Monfredo

All eighth grade graduations take place on the last day of school--June 25 this year--at the school unless otherwise noted.

Claremont Academy, 11 am, Donna Colorio
Burncoat Middle, 1 pm, Donna Colorio
Sullivan Middle at Worcester State, 10 am, Dianna Biancheria
Suillivan Middle at Worcester State, 1 pm, Dianna Biancheria
Forest Grove Middle, 10 am, Jack Foley
Forest Grove Middle, 1 pm, Jack Foley
Caradonio New Citizens Center, 1 pm, Tracy Novick
UPCS at Jefferson 320 (Clark), 1 pm, John Monfredo
Worcester East Middle, 11 am, Brian O'Connell

What's going on with the policy handbook?

And happy anniversary to Brown v. the Board of Education, decided this day in 1954.

Last night, the opening section of the policy handbook, which deals with school deisolation, was put back into the handbook for another year. Superintendent Boone said that she would formally request that the Commissioner weigh in on our deisolation policy (for those having trouble reading that, it's "DE-isolation," aka, making sure particular populations aren't isolated. Elsewhere, it'd be called desegregation) ahead of potentially making changes next year.
And I should perhaps point out here that the second half of what I said was "and we have schools that are majority children of color..." It can't always all make it into the paper. And if we'd tried to send the handbook back to subcommittee before last night, we would have been told that there wasn't time due to the need for translation.

The rest of the policy handbook was held for our June 6 meeting. Mayor Petty would like the administration's opinion on changes suggested by members of the committee. Those changes are:


  • to leave in the language on demerits and on tardiness in the section dealing with school discipline. The administration is proposing that they be taken out; demerits, because we don't do demerits, and tardiness, because it's silly to suspend someone for tardiness (miss more school as a punishment for missing school). The section of rules, however, doesn't actually say that those rules require suspension for breaking them; they are listed as disciplinary infractions. 
  • O'Connell also is concerned about adding "gender identity" to our non-discrimination policy; there's some disagreement as to where we are with DESE requiring this. 
  • Finally, while administration is proposing that "prior grades" be dropped as a consideration from admission to Advanced Placement classes, O'Connell would like to keep it.

Colorio: to make more explicit that parents can opt out of Body Mass Index measurement, by putting the impetus on the school to send something home for parents to sign if they'd like to opt out.

Novick: (I've actually put mine by page, so you can look them up if you like)
 p. 3: Eliminate new proposed line “Permission to attend a magnet school may be rescinded whenever the Quadrant Manager or designee determines that the district school would more likely better support student outcomes than the magnet school.”

Likewise, eliminate the proposed new line:
“Permission to attend a school outside of district lines (School Transfer) may be rescinded whenever the Quadrant Manager or designee determines that the district school would more likely better support student outcomes than the out-of-district  school.”
On both of these, I am concerned that the Quadrant office can determine that a student should be returned to a home school, over parent decision, for "better student outcomes." That's an overreach on the part of administration. School placement should be a parental decision.

p. 18 Add  to the end of paragraph one: “Students whose parents opt them out of state or district standardized assessments will not be academically penalized or face disciplinary action except as prohibited by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.”
There's a growing movement of parents objecting (for very good reason) to the amount and type of standardized testing to which their children are subjected. I've been repeatedly asked what our policy is on this; we don't have language now, and this would add it.

Add to the second paragraph: “Student data, with or without student identification, will not be posted in any school hallway, classroom, office, or other facility.”
The data charts, in which student identity is always known ("whose rocket ship is that?" will always get an answer)  are a violation of student privacy and are an outrageous use of student data. This should stop.

p. 21 Change first sentence to read “ For concerns related to testing procedures and security or for information on your child’s performance or participation in testing....”
The paragraph which tells you who to contact with questions on your student's performance was originally put in so parents knew who to contact with concerns around testing security; this makes that clear.

p. 34 Eliminate cell phone paragraph
We were to be considering cell phone use this year, but received no proposals from administration.

The administration will be weighing in by Friday letter on these, and the handbook will be voted on June 6.

Two further things to note:

  1. These are the policies that direct the Worcester Public Schools. If you have an opinion, PLEASE GET IN TOUCH!
  2. The Worcester School Committee--not the administration--is the policy setting body for the Worcester Public Schools. Debate and discussion of policies is part of our job. To limit that, or to limit that only to subcommittee, would be not to do our jobs.
Again, please get in touch.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Diplomas for veterans

O'Connell suggests that we award diplomas to veterans whose military service was cut short by enlistment at times of active combat

Isaiah Thomas's star!

O'Connell: conversation with Mo Bergman
gold star was placed on the steps outside of City Hall marking the place where Isaiah Thomas first read the Declaration of Independence in the city of Worcester (in fact, in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, as Thomas waylaid the rider heading to Boston from Philadelphia)
appropriate time for the restoration of that star
refer to Council

School lunch increase coming!

It'll have to go through F&O first, but expect lunch to cost a nickel (we think?) more next year.
For the record, that'll bring school lunch to $1.65. 

Worcester: The City that Reads

the week is June 9-15
books that have been donated--Mr. Monfredo reports that they've received 25,000 books!--will be distributed to schools and to students during that week

Policy handbook

Mr. Monfredo reporting out

letter to the Senators

...regarding the Senate Ways and Means budget:

  1. commending them for fulling funding the special education circuit breaker
  2. commending them for funding of the McKinney-Vento transportation costs
  3. expressing concerns about the 2007 "reform" of funding that continues the non-progressive funding of Chapter 70 aid at the same time as--
  4. --the charter school reimbursement is underfunded (this year at 68.1%)

Report of the Superintendent: Student Advisory Council

You can find the names of the students who have been on the council this year here.
Students are selected by their principals, who also select the advisers.
Boone: leadership development
comments from students regarding their experiences in the council

Recognizing the Boston Globe award winners

Art and Writing Awards from Burncoat Middle, Burncoat High, and Doherty Memorial High.
Contest began in 1923.
judged on technical skill and the "emergence of a voice"
about 900,000 submissions

Burncoat Middle School
   Teacher: Victoria Caezza
Anika Nyman                Gold Key
Burncoat High School
   Teacher: Margaret Grasso
Derek Beeso                 Gold Key
Wylesha Rodriguez         Gold Key
Sthefany Lamoureux       Gold Key and Honorable Mention
Maxwell Amoah              Silver Key
Teahna Naples               Silver Key
Nia Holley                      Honorable Mention
Holli Carlson                   Honorable Mention
Doherty Memorial High School
   Teacher: Laurie Atchue
Chelsea Fairweather        Gold Key
Sabrina Nguyen              Silver Key
Athena Parella                2 Silver Keys
Carrie Bliss                     Silver Key
Irvi Stefo                       Silver Key
Dylan Brisbon                  Honorable Mention
Samantha Shannon          Honorable Mention

Worcester Public Schools FY14 budget hearing NEXT WEDNESDAY!

Please spread the word:
The public hearing of the FY14 WPS budget will be next Wednesday, May 22 at 7 pm at the Durkin Administration Building.
This is scheduled as a meeting of the Standing Committee on Finance and Operations. There will be a presentation on the budget, followed by a chance for public testimony.

This is when we hear from you! Please come!

In praise of public schools

From Bangor, Maine, today:
I believe passionately in this grandiose undertaking that is so wildly American: the U.S. public school system. We were the first country to say, “Yes! We will educate everybody.” Implementation is imperfect, of course, and there is always work to do, but don’t you love the optimism of this giant, generous experiment? Americans have a history of aiming for impossibly high goals. Do we always reach them? Of course not. But isn’t it wonderful that we try?

Worcester School Committee meeting tonight!

Sorry for the late agenda review here...
The Worcester School Committee meets tonight at 7 pm at City Hall. You can find the agenda here.
In addition to the substantive issues coming out of subcommittee regarding the policy manual, we are also:

  • recognizing the Boston Globe Scholastic Art and Writing award winners
  • getting a short presentation on the Superintendent's Student Advisory Council
  • voting (one assumes) to open negotiations with the EAW (for tutors, assistants, IAs, and parent liaisons) and with the MNA (for nurses)
  • getting (in addition to Governance) reports out from Accountability and from Finance and Operations.  
  • hearing back from Columbus Park on naming their auditorium
  • setting dates for a number of recognitions
  • accepting a donation from St. John's church for iPads at Union Hill 
  • accepting a grant from Johnson & Johnson 
  • sending the (now annual) school lunch increase off to F&O
  • asking for a report on summer programs
  • asking for a report on pedestrian issues (crosswalks, signage) around schools
  • considering awarding diplomas to veterans whose military service interrupted their completion of school
  • requesting training for our principals for the new regs on suspension
  • And (love this one) asking that the City Manager put back the star in front of City Hall where Isaiah Thomas read the Declaration of Independence! (before it was read in Boston...just saying!)
7 pm, City Hall!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Policy handbook is being considered on Thursday

Among the items on Thursday's agenda is the Worcester Public Schools Student handbook, which is the policy manual for students. The proposed changes can be found in the Governance and Employees Issues agenda from last week. I'd look at those changes along with the edited handbook

First of all, if you have any thoughts on what is or isn't in the policy handbook, now is the time to let us know. We do a review of this once a year in the spring for the following year, so if you have a thought on what should be in or out, please get in touch.

Beyond that, there are some specific changes that might be of interest:
  • First of all, the entire opening piece on page 3 regarding majority and minority students is proposed, by the administration, to be deleted. That would mean that the Worcester Public Schools would no longer have a desegration/deisolation policy. I see from the minutes of the subcommittee meeting that my colleague Brian O'Connell has raised concerns about this, which I share. If you do, too, I'd suggest getting in touch with us and/or being there on Thursday. 
  • Second, the school transfer for both magnet and out of district students could now be rescinded "whenever the Quadrant Manager determines that the district school would more likely better support student outcomes than the magnet/out of district school." (that's in the proposed changes). That was not previously the policy.
  • It is proposed, in line with DESE policy, that "gender identity" be added to the nondiscrimination statements throughout.
  • There are some changes in the languages around testing (I'm planning to propose some changes from the floor on this as well).
  • It is proposed that we delete the entire section on excessive tardies and demerits leading to suspensions. 
  • We're adding a section on head injuries, per state law.
  • We're changing the course graduation requirements to bring us into line with MassCore (four years of math and two of the same foreign language are the changes).
  • There's also a change in the calculation of class rank.
Again, this will be decided on THURSDAY. Please get in touch with concerns or thoughts!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Public hearing?

I was asked today if the Finance and Operations committee plans to have a public hearing (as usual) on the budget.
Excellent question!
As yet, there is not one scheduled, but look for one later this month.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

FY14 Budget first read through

I did my first read through of the FY14 budget last night; here are a preliminary summary:

  • Much of the gap that sequestration left us is being made up by the special education department. The Collaborative is, for the second year in a row, granting us a $1 million tuition freeze. Plus by adding five teachers and 16 IA's, we can bring many more students with autism back to the district, saving the district nearly $2 million (not to mention serving them in their home district).
  • There's a substantial increase in the teacher account on special education, over and above that move, making a total addition of 17 teachers.
  • There's also a substantial increase in special ed IA's, of 26 positions.
  • There's two adds in the IT department, both to help teachers use technology more effectively but also to keep it all online and running. This budget also begins, mid-year, a five year lease program for computers. 
  • As projected, there is an additional of three nursing positions
  • The only change in elementary is moving one sixth grade teacher from the elementary line item to the secondary line item, as Worcester East Middle is adding sixth grade next year. There are, however, changes school-by-school in elementary, so look at the building-by-building budgets on those (the order is high schools, middle schools, elementary schools, other buildings, in the somewhat-but-not-quite alphabetical order of their state numbers). As always, the number of positions reflects the projected enrollment. 
  • Secondary is adding nine positions, largely in the foreign languages at the high schools. There is also some substantial shifting of positions, school by school, so do look at the building budgets.
  • There's also a number of shifts in funding as grants have been cut: moving 23 IA positions and the Staffing and Mentoring Coordinator to the general fund. We've also lost quite a bit due to sequestration (as feared): 32 tutor positions, a substantial loss in Head Start (which will mean we serve fewer kids), the 21st Century grant being zeroed out (which will hit us in after school and summer school programs), and cuts in other grants. 
  • There's some central admin cuts: the Student Intervention Support Coordinator, the Facilities Project Coordinator (which was a temporary position for the city-funded capital projects, now completed), and the Race to the Top Design Project Leader (RTTT funded), and the Extended Learning Time Facilitators (of which there are two).
  • There's also money set aside, as promised, for space rental for Chandler Elementary, to avoid having 6 classes of 30.
  • It also adds back in the Out-of-State travel account (which has been set at zero for years) and the Personnel Office travel account (same page).
  • There's a substantial jump in the AVID program. 
  • And this will possibly interest no one other than me, but I am cheered at the news that our #2 fuel oil line item is down by 59%, as only three of our buildings (one of which we don't own) are still using it. In the same vein, we're saving $75,000 this year because just about everyone is getting their direct deposit slips via email, rather than through the mail. 
More to come! Take a look and get in touch!

Friday, May 10, 2013


You can now find the FY14 WPS budget online here.
And now you know what I'm doing this weekend!


It's Worcester Public Schools budget day!
The printed budget will be in the hands of the Worcester School Committee around 5 pm today, which means that it will be up on the Worcester Public Schools website at about the same time.
If it doesn't turn up on that front page, I'd check the FY14 folder on the Finance and Operations page.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

We lost a student last week

...and his family could use our help. Passing along the following from ACE:

As many of you are aware we lost a young member of the Worcester community and the ACE family last week. David Ndayishimye, who was the younger brother of two of our students, drowned on Friday in Bell Pond. He was only 10 year's old. David's funeral will be held tomorrow May 9th at 10AM at St. Peter's Church. 
This is an unimaginable for any family and they need our support now more than ever. Members of the community have established a fund to help David's family with monetary support to help pay for the cost of the funeral. We ask that you please share this information with your networks. 

All checks can be made out to:David's Trust Fund -8762c/o TD Bank370 Main Street, #200Worcester, MA 01608
We will also be accepting checks and other forms of donations at the ACE office located on 24 Chatham Street (basement of the Fanning Building) The family could also use gifts of food especially rice, chicken, vegetables, fruit, milk, juice, and other similar items. 

Apples to apples

When you're comparing data points, it's important to make sure the categories are actually parallel. Thus I was troubled yesterday at the forum on out-of-school suspension by a chart comparing Worcester's out-of-school suspension rate with other districts.
The Worcester Public Schools do not expel students. We haven't for years. The most harsh punishment we met out is a long term out-of-school suspension (for, say, a year or half a year) with alternative placement (meaning that the student is placed in one of the alternative programs).
Thus our out-of-school suspension rate is equivalent to expulsions PLUS out-of-school suspensions for the districts that do expel students, like Boston.
That comparison wasn't made yesterday, nor in today's headline.
None of which is to say, incidentally, that we don't have problem. The percentage of students that are out-of-school suspended is skewed off from the makeup of the student body; Latino boys are most often suspended, entirely out of proportion to their percentage of the student body. The number of students in the younger grades--that we even have students being suspended in the younger grades!--is definitely a problem.
There have been conversations in the past about this. They haven't gone anywhere. You'll be hearing more.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Concerned about inBloom? Here's something you can do

Concerned about the use of confidential student information to market products? Worried about data security in the cloud?
The Campaign for a Commercial-free Childhood has put up a quick way to send a letter off to the Board of Ed with these concerns. You can also sign up there if you're looking for other ways to be involved.
And please, pass it along!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

No wifi=no liveblog

I will catch up on notes after the Joint Hearing. It's been something. 

Testimony before the Joint Committee on Education:Charter schools

Madame Chairs, Members of the Committee,

My name is Tracy O’Connell Novick and I live in Worcester, where I serve on the Worcester School Committee.
There continues to be a great gap between the realities on the ground about charter schools and a few of the bills that are before you today, to say nothing of what I can only term propaganda of those proposing to entirely lift the cap on charters.
The facts on the ground are these: charter schools do not, and never have, served all students. The Act Relative to the Achievement Gap, which was to force charters to reflect their sending districts, has not been enforced. We continue to see charter schools, including the three in Worcester, that serve fewer children in poverty, fewer children learning English, fewer children with special education needs (and no children with significant special education needs), and fewer of our neediest children. We continue to see children with involved parents (as they have to be; there is no other way to get in) be taken, while those who do not have parents who can spare the time are not in charters. We continue, in short, to see a concentration of the highest need students in our public schools.
It is thus a lie--a bold faced lie--to propose charters as somehow a system that will “close” the achievement gap. We don’t, in fact, have an achievement gap: the research clearly shows that we have an opportunity gap. Much of the difference between and among children is established long before they reach the doors of the schools, and in many cases, the difference is made by choices of involved parents, parents who make all the difference in the educational outcomes of their children.
I thus urge you to reject out of hand Senate Bill 235 and House Bill 425, which is simply a continuation of the effort to further privatize the public resource of education, to undercut our teaching staff, and to further divide communities. We in Massachusetts are smarter than this, and this is not the way to improve public education.

As one who has frequently addressed your committee before, I am pleased to see on many other fronts that the concerns of myself and others have been recognized and would be addressed by several of the bills before you today. I would urge you to recommend these bills for adoption by the larger body.
Just last week, in his budget memo to our superintendent, Worcester City Manager O’Brien cited among the “host of changes that are beyond the control of my administration” charter school reimbursement. Because charter schools can put forward a number of pupils they think they may have, charter reimbursement changes once the real numbers are reported in the fall. Thus in November, either the school system or the city must revise its budget. It has happened year after year in Worcester, and the charter schools are not held to account for the numbers they make up. It is our community that pays the price. I would therefore recommend adoption of Senate Bill 240, which requires reporting of actual numbers in April of the previous year, and Senate Bill 222, which pegs charter schools the same way the rest of the districts are counted: by the previous year. Make it standard.
Further, to require, as Senate Bills 212, 258, and House Bill 491, that any new charters be approved by the school committee or funded by the state keeps the approval of new programs and the responsibility of funding them together. If the community wants a charter school, the funding moves forward as for any school. If the state approves a charter, so be it; the state must fund it.
It is this breakdown between approval and funding that is causing the most harm currently to Worcester and to other districts. Again this year, the Board of Education has approved additional charter schools. Again this year, the Legislature has level-funded the charter account. The pie is the same size; it must be divided into even more pieces. Charter reimbursement, as required under the Act Relative to the Achievement Gap, is therefore this year being funded at just 68.5%. For the Worcester Public Schools, this is $1.68 million that we are legally required to be reimbursed by the state, that we know we will not see. Frankly, I find this outrageous.
The circumstances were the same in New Hampshire last year. Reasonably, the brakes were put on further expansion of charter schools unless and until the funding was worked out. I beg you, therefore, before we go another year on this: pass Senate Bill 257 and House Bill 372. Put a moratorium in place on further expansion. As a state, we cannot pay for the charter schools we have; how dare anyone claim we should add more? It is fiscally irresponsible to expand programs that we already are not funding. End the sapping of funds away from our classrooms that serve all students, Let’s be responsible about this.
Thank you.

Monday, May 6, 2013

In case I didn't mention it:

It's Teacher Appreciation Week!

I'd never discourage you from getting your teacher something nice, but one of the very nicest thing you can do for a teacher is write him or her a note about what you've learned. This goes for past as well as current teachers (which means you're not off the hook if you're an adult!).

However, the other most appreciative thing you can do for a teacher is not only appreciate teachers one week a year. Chime in on the teachers you know when you hear someone run down teachers. Support adequate school funding and good working conditions (including at town meetings and at the ballot box). And do that all 52 weeks of the year.

No one goes into teaching to get rich, to get famous, or to have an easy life. Backing our appreciation up with actions is the best appreciation we can give, year 'round. 

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Governance and Employee Issues meets Tuesday

Tuesday afternoon at 3:30, the standing committee on Governance and Employee Issues meets in room 410 of the administration building. You can find the agenda here.
There are three items on the agenda:

  • an update on the plantings around the parking lot on corner of Irving and Chatham Streets, which has been a topic of concern to the Crown Hill Neighborhood Association. The short version: we've put in for a grant which we should hear about the end of May, and we're also getting assistance from the Worcester Tree Initiative.
  • we're updating how we get student reps in line with Mass General Law. They're supposed to be elected by their peers. 
  • the policy handbook is up for renewal. Suggested changes here
As always, you are most welcome to attend!

Let's bring this to Boston

Regarding the Nick Kotsopoulos article on the FY14 city contribution to the WPS budget, I will add only this: I'm going into Boston on Tuesday to testify before the Joint Committee on Education on these charter bills. Among them are several addressing the ways in which charter schools mess up the financing of public education.
If anyone from the city wants to come along, I'd welcome the company.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

School Lunch Superhero Day at Gates Lane

Yesterday, author/illustrator Jarrett J. Krosoczka was at Gates Lane School for the celebration of School Lunch Superhero Day. The T&G covered it, and Krosoczka has some photos up on his Twitter feed.

And he'd want me to tell you that the books he gave  away were through First Book, which heavily discounts books for Title I schools. If you're part of such a school, be sure you're signed up!

Friday, May 3, 2013

City Council on Tuesday

...has a few education related items:

  • Item 9.28 E is a request for a transfer of $225,000 for the five accelerated repair schools. We had an update on this Wednesday; it looks as though they're getting ready for summer work.
  • Item 9.32 A is an update on Nelson Place being invited to feasibility.
  • Coming out of the committee on education, item 10D is a request to come up with a plan to close the net school spending gap.
  • Likewise 10E is a request that the superintendent and administration present a plan on how additional revenue would be spent. I suspect this last should include "subject to School Committee allocation."