Over the past week or two, I've heard a few more myths about the FY15 budget that we should put to rest:
MYTH: The schools are going to unilaterally change the employees' health insurance.This from this article last week on the city's proposing changes to employee health care.
This one is pretty straightforward: we can't unilaterally change our unionized employees' health insurance contributions. While there is a re-opener clause in our settled contracts (which at this point is most of our contracts) regarding health insurance, all it says is changes on city side mean talking on ours. The city is in the beginning stages of negotiations with the municipal unions at this point.
The City Manager can unilaterally make changes in contributions for all non-represented employees, city and schools. That is the minority on both sides, however.
MYTH: We could save money by not implementing the Common Core.
There's two misunderstandings at once in this one: first, that all curriculum changes stem from the adoption of the Common Core--not true; second, that we haven't implemented the Common Core already--also not true.
Worcester was already looking at our math and English curriculum prior to the Board of Education's adoption of the Common Core standards two years ago. On the math side, you might, if your child is now in middle or high school, remember Everyday Math? Possibly fine curriculum, entirely unsuited to Worcester. We were already well engaged in re-evaluating that prior to the state level changes.
Once the Board voted to move the state standards--standards to which we are tied--we were well into making changes, already, so it was an easier shift for us than perhaps it otherwise might have been.
What all of this hasn't done is given us new materials. Math right now is in a pilot at the elementary level to figure out what we can replace Everyday Math with. We do need a solid math curriculum for elementary (where the teachers, bless them, have been pulling together their own resources for several years as we adjust; we can't continue this way). That's the need for new textbooks at the elementary level.
We were due to review the curriculum regardless; implementing the Common Core already has happened; and we need new textbooks for math, regardless.
Some of this also gets into questions around PARCC and technology spending. While PARCC does add urgency to our technological upgrades, particularly around bandwidth, it's really something that we need to do anyway. Can we do without technology if we have to? Sure. Should we? No.
MYTH: Administration is adding positions.
As far as I can tell, this one is not based on anything other than mistrust in some quarters.
The Worcester School Committee does not get the budget until the first full week of May. However, we've now been told--twice--that administration is among the accounts being reorganized and reduced in this budget.
MYTH: The dual language merger is being done to save money.
I'm relieved that parents have gotten that this is a tough budget year, but every year there is a complete evaluation of programs, as well. For dual language, the handoff from Sergio Paez to Bertha-Elena Rojas this past year gave a clear opportunity for fresh eyes to look at issues that had come up for several years. Most notably, having students continue past third grade in a full 50/50 split has been difficult if not impossible, both in terms of staffing (finding and retaining teachers who can do 4th, 5th, 6th grade curriculum in both English and Spanish is very tough) and in terms of school program. If we don't do that, though, we aren't running a dual language program, and the students aren't going to reap the benefits of a fully bilingual environment.
Thus, merging the kids to Chandler Magnet (where it's their innovation plan) and Roosevelt (where the program started) allows concentration of effort, energy, and staffing.
What it doesn't do is necessarily save the district money. The 72 students currently in Norrback's dual language program can be going to any of several schools. Where they go determines where we need staff. It is possible that we will lose a position or two through this, but not necessarily.
And the transportation, for those curious, is being done with current resources.
And remember: WPS FY15 budget hearing the Monday after vacation! April 28 at 7 pm!