Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Not-at-all liveblog: WPS budget before Council

Taken from my longhand notes, thus quite possibly less detail than usual; the Finance and Operations subcommittee (that's Foley, Ramirez, and me) joined Superintendent Boone and Mr. Allen at the table for questions this year

Gaffney: busing plan to save some money?
Augustus (clarifying): audit of transportation
Allen: analysis of routing; "essential conclusion" found no obvious areas of savings ahead of transportation rebid

Jack Foley, chair of Finance and Operations subcommittee:
notes School Committee has not reviwed and passed budget: to be done June 4 and 22
public hearing tomorrow night at 7 pm
WPS budget is $300,000 over for minimum funding for FY16
remains $2.3M under cummulatively
note grant fee change brings $165,000 back to schools; credit to City Manager for that
funding for schools lags by a year; FY16 budget based on kids in classrooms now
ELL boost reflects Worcester's long history of immigrants
State currently reviewing foundation budget formula
Superintendent Boone: reviews change and additions in positions
this budget "does not allow reduction of study halls at secondary levels" or further lowering of class sizes in elementary

Rosen: budget book has come a long way, great improvement
concerns about safety: does budget have adequate funding to keep sutdents "healthy, safe, and secure"?
Boone: yes, plus
RFP being put together for a security audit
four WPD liaisons are paid through WPS funding; 5th added for this spring; all will be reviewed before fall
goal is audit by opening of school, will be a report of to the School Committee
hearing about chronic absenteeism in schools; issue for WPS?
Boone: Yes, was recent report at subcommittee
Rosen: once had truant officers; would like to see those back
Boone: if we had the funding, would rather see school adjustment counselors, as getting kids to school is only the first step

Gaffney: so no savings on transportation?
Allen: no recommendation reflecting savings
Gaffney: what about cutting grades 7-12 busing? (referencing an article written by John Monfredo(?))
Allen: buses are used multiple times a day, consultant noted using buses "above industry standards"
Also see more on that question of cutting secondary buses here.

Economou who chairs Education subcommittee importance of working together

Rivera: talking about security, important to talk about the things that work
Ivy Child's work on mindfulness
how much are we really looking to invest (in what works in security)
apprenticeship programs?
Boone: appreciate note of "evidence-based programs"
adding 3 adjustment counselors
Rivera: importance of financial aid, knowing how to apply, to going on to further education
increased classes, dual enrollment
Boone: part of strategic investment; continue to expand "colleges are great partners"

Rushton: misson statement of WPS sums up how city feels about education
confidence was lost at some point this year; saw gap in leadership
most councilors have children in the schools, or did have children in the schools
not going to be rhetoric that brings back confidence: look at mindfulness and other programs; "good people who know how to lead"
has been a significant step in restoring trust
as a parent, nothing but positive things to say about schools: 20 minutes of reading at Tatnuck Magnet, "extraordinary education for my son this year alone" at Forest Grove
do what we need cityside "to provide necessary resources" if that's personnel or input
yes, did not mention funding...

Lukes: echo colleague on Council's commitment to education
cites chart in Council budget of city funding declining 30% while WPS funding went up 30%
"have reduced our services to deal with school department"
how much more transparent budget is now
wants to count "perception that the Council has not provided enough money"
please see previous post
Boone: increase driven by enrollment increases (per state calculation)
joint committee to clarify
cannot speak to chart, but 2/3rds of WPS budget funded by state (not city)
Allen: re: Net School Spending, state divided between essential and non-essential educational services
not his division, not the school's division, the state's
most of non-NSS is transportation for WPS: also includes rentals, crossing guards
Lukes: is it city funds that are going to non-NSS areas?
bit of a back and forth here to clarify question
Allen: city funds go first to non-NSS, as it has to, then to city portion of school budget
(it has to because the state doesn't recognize those areas; we cannot spend chapter 70 funding on them. Also note that as a municipal district we do not get state reimbursement for transportation, as regional districts do.)
Lukes: projections of enrollment
Boone: (directs her to page 20 of budget book, projecting enrollment for next several years)
Lukes: could WPS do a multi-year budget?
Boone: we have them, but as an internal planning document only
Foley: note that funidng lags enrollment by a year
also formula "is archaic"
Allen: foundation formula being reviewed at this time
Lukes: appears that there are areas outside of the classroom that need increased aid
Boone agrees
Lukes: significant numbers of refugees?
Boone: yes, tied into ELL numbers
Lukes: not going to talk about increase funding, but clear there are unmet needs in WPS
"all talking about safety" but there are other unmet needs, too

Toomey: where are we in terms of (computer) hardware?
Allen: five year rental of new computers
"up to date for another year"
Toomey: plans going forward?
continue to rent
Toomey: protocol booklet on safety on teachers' desks?
Yes, and will be an app shortly
Toomey: see importance of supporting after school athletics, also robotics, concerned about missing teams
(does anyone know what teams she's referencing?)

Palmieri: welcome superintendent, "always struck by administration that informs us to such a degree"
"congratulate you on the job you're doing...second only to city manager" in how hard it is
"often the school department does not get credit for all the work that it does"
"pleased that we as a city family are continuing to move forward"
there was a safety task force many years ago; Mayor Petty "in your infinite wisdom" has started it again
applaud "gifted school program...extraordinarily healthy for school system"
remembers remarkable work at St. Casimir
never enough funding but "at least we're able to have the kinds of communication" having now
appreciate comments on "antiquated system"
feels strongly about public schools
there was more...I couldn't write it all

Russell: visited schools in District 3 when elected
has since been put on site councils
"if you spend some time in the schools, you'd be really impressed"
how many employees? Boone: nearly 4000 (3902 per our budget...that'll go up!)
how many cell phones? Allen: about 200. All school based administrators, district administrators
Russell: are we duplicating services? phone on desk and phone in pocket? not asking just schools
it appears he thinks we should cut the landlines?
Augustus: modern expectation of being able to reach people 24/7

Gaffney: pressure on transportation audit
increase of $14M, where is it going? can't vote without more information
Foley: upon secondary review (as noted here), no such savings available
once bus leaves the yard, it's paid for
minimal savings from cutting services to few students within 2 miles bused (for safety reasons)
grades 7-12 do not legally need to be bused, yes, but not doing so devastating to attendence, graduation, programs
Full audit, BTW, posted here; WPS analysis here; both were Joint Committee backups; pretty clear that Gaffney has read neither, as his arguments are entirely addressed
city is funding schools at minimum
with due respect to Council "realistically the majority of the funding is coming from the state"

Petty: note that administration costs among lowest in state (chart on page 373)
"sometimes to the detriment of the school department"
schools are safe, continue to be so
appreciate joint work

Augustus: thank superintendent and team
working together on record snowfall and issues around that
"not what we have to do but what we can do"
creative use of community block grant for UPCS
working together
had filed for foundation budget review twice when in Senate; long overdue
"more transparent, more clear"
put money into the Worcester Public Schools

Council votes 10-1, Gaffney opposed, to approve WPS line

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