Tuesday, February 24, 2015

My testimony today before the Board of Ed

...is here. 

My name is Tracy O’Connell Novick, and I am here today on behalf of my colleagues on the Worcester School Committee. At our February 5 meeting, we passed an item calling on the state to collaborate with districts rather than to impose measures on them. I am here today to speak to that.

At the time of our meeting, my colleagues and I viewed with grave concern the proposals then before DESE to put Commonwealth charter schools in Fitchburg and Brockton. Many states in the country leave chartering of such schools to districts; Massachusetts imposes them from the state level. Every additional charter school directly leads to underfunding the reimbursement to all districts, as the funding level does not increase commensurate with the increase in schools.

We thus appreciate the Department’s action in recommending no action be taken on these charters. Moreover, I particularly appreciate Commissioner Chester’s rejection of the assertion that students were thus “left with no choices other than failing district schools.” Brockton and Fitchburg have indeed made “considerable strides,” and all of us who work in cities appreciate that recognition.

This leaves us concerned about districts like Holyoke and schools like the Dearborn. In fact, it leaves us--all of us in districts like mine across Massachusetts--concerned for our own schools.

And this is not the healthy concern that any of us feel for the public schools under our care; this is more akin to the concern with which the democratically elected Ukrainian government viewed Russia eyeing the Crimea.

Needless to say, this is hardly the mutually supportive relationship envisioned by the Constitution of the Commonwealth. It’s also not the best way to improve schools or to enrich the lives of students.

There are positive examples of the state collaborating with districts. The funding of an innovation model in Worcester, for example, has allowed not only Chandler Magnet, but the district, to study closely and implement a growing and effective dual language program. We know this to be one of the greatest benefits we can give our children. Our program began with us; the state’s support and encouragement has allowed it to grow and to grow well.

One of the greatest strengths of the Department lies in its collection of finance and other information and making such information easily accessible. It is one I greatly appreciate. It also points up that Lawrence, which now is cited as an example to follow, had as one of its biggest changes under state receivership that it swung from $8 million under net school spending to $2 million over in a single year. That is a substantial difference, and one that the state can create without taking over a district.

I must say, Madame Chair, that as a lifelong resident of Massachusetts, I find it deeply problematic that the state would consider such measures. This state was founded on the ideal that those who considered themselves our betters did not know better than we what to believe--a state that lead the way in refusing to pay taxes to those not elected by those paying the taxes--for that state to overthrow properly elected democratic governing bodies, as school committees are, is to refute our own history.

I hope that we are better and wiser than that.

No comments: