Sunday, November 29, 2015

“What a waste"

I highly recommend this Atlantic article, which is about young black men in New Orleans and the Louisiana prison system but has a poignant point about people not discovering their real potentials in education. Here's the warden of the Angola prison:
“You know what’s crazy? I got more than 400 people in vocational programs here, with the peer ministers providing teaching and moral support. I got people training as auto mechanics, in horticulture. This is a bigger vocational school than what we have on the outside. Why do we as a society wait until a guy ends up here before we give him a decent vocational education?”

Grade 3-8, 10 testing is going to stay in

I realize that no one is going to thank me for pointing this out, but I feel honor-bound to.

I continue to see calls via social media for some sort of hold on the NCLB renewal (ESSA is the new abbreviation, for "Every Student Succeeds Act"*) with a push to drop the grades 3-8 and 10 testing requirement.

That isn't going to happen.

The issue of grade level testing was raised in the deliberation in both the House and the Senate. In the Senate, nothing quite as far as dropping that requirement was proposed; an amendment that would just allow parental opt-out and notification failed, though. There also was considerable concern on the Democratic side if the rollback of federal oversight around testing would lead to civil rights abuses (Massachusetts, you may remember that this is why Senator Warren voted against the bill).
In the House, with its Republican majority, an amendment that would allow states to opt out of federal accountability entirely failed as "too conservative," though the parental opt-out passed.
The testing requirements are in the conference committee bill because that is what a majority of both the House and the Senate support; it's also pretty clear that it would be required to get the President's signature.

I'd just as soon this weren't the case; in my own testimony regarding this, I urged otherwise. It is clear, though, that the successor to NCLB is going to have grade-level testing in it.


*and enjoy the possibilities of "it's a"

Worcester School Committee meets Thursday at 7

The Worcester School Committee meets Thursday, December 3 at 7. You can find the agenda here.
The report of the superintendent this week--the first report Dr. Rodrigues is giving as interim--is his entry plan.

There are no subcommittee reports this week.
We have a response coming back from administration on the updated numbers on the state cherry sheet (worse than they were when we passed the budget in June) and what the final cost on gas will be, as that contract was still being negotiated when we passed the budget. And while it's lower than the projection, skim down to the utilities line in the first quarter update on where we're expected to be on building utilities for why we won't be hearing a recommendation to move funds. 

In the ongoing settling up of the student activities accounts, we're being asked to accept a donation of $6,261.81 to Doherty. 
We're being asked to accept $400 from Shaw's for Heard Street School.
We have several requests for recognitions.
Mr. Monfredo is asking that administration work to get more mentors for AVID.
Miss Biancheria is asking that the security audit be discussed at the December 17 meeting and also at the February 25 meeting.
She's also asking a number of questions around textbooks: how many are rebound, how many we have versus need, how many are on the computer, how many students don't have textbooks, and if there's a central inventory.

I'm clearing out old items (lest I linger on agendas!), so I have a list of items I'm pulling off of subcommittee agendas and out of administration (many of which have been answered, anyway).

We have the annual Head Start report
We have the collaborative's audit.
We're being asked to accept an alternative education grant for $20,000 (not clear on what it's for, exactly).
We're being asked to accept STARS Residency grants for Columbus Park and for Jacob Hiatt (for neat stuff, incidently: check out the backup!)
We're being asked to recognize the WPS Foundation for their constuction at the One City, One Library branches, and being asked to accept the donation of the materials and equipment there. 

Every six years, the state comes in and does a Coordinated Program Review (which, inevitably and much to my confusion, gets abbreviated 'CPR') to check on on how the district is doing with adhering to federal regulations. Ours has now come back and it includes:
Note that the reports came through a few months ago; I expect that we'll have a report on what has already been changed or improved in a number of these areas.


There is an executive session for a grievance.

Friday, November 27, 2015

We have an IB coordinator!

We've just received the following from Dr. Rodrigues:
It is my pleasure to announce the hiring of Grace Howard-Donlin, Director of the Advanced High School Academy. Ms. Howard-Donlin is joining the Worcester Public Schools after successfully launching the International Baccalaureate (IB) Program at Abby Kelley Foster Charter School (AKFCS). Ms. Howard-Donlin was the IB Coordinator at AKFCS for four years. She is extremely knowledgeable of IB practices, curriculum, and program development. Please join me in welcoming Grace Howard-Donlin to the Worcester Public Schools. 


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Friday, November 20, 2015

What isn't being mentioned about Tuesday's Board of Ed vote

First of all, here's the language the Board of Ed voted in on Tuesday:

Notes via reporter Amelia Pak-Harvey from Rhoda Schneider, DESE legal counsel. 
 What's gotten reported is that the amendment was voted in 7-4, while the whole item was adopted 8-3. That's true, but it misses something crucial that happened: only four members voted 'yes' on both: Vice-Chair James Morton, Margaret McKenna, Penny Noyce, and Roland Fryer.

On the amendment to hold schools harmless in 2016 and 2017 "for any negative changes in their school and district accountability levels based on test scores," proposed by Margaret McKenna, the votes opposed were Chair Sagan, Secretary Peyser, Katherine Craven, and Michael Moriarty.

On the full item on testing, as I mentioned, the votes against were Mary Ann Stewart, Donald Willyard, and Ed Doherty. As mentioned elsewhere, that's be parent rep, the student rep, and the labor rep (a former teacher).

Thus there was a huge swing in votes between those who supported the extension of the hold harmless provision, and those who supported the Commissioner's proposal (as amended).

RFP for space for the IB academy

The RPF for space for the IB school has been posted. It calls for:

Summary of Space Needs 
 This RFP provides bidders the options of proposing space to accommodate: 
  •  Classrooms 8-10 minimum 850sf each Total 8,500 sf 
  •  Science Labs 2 minimum 1440 sf each Total 2,880 sf 
  • Administrative Office* 5 minimum 300sf each Total 1,500 sf 
  •  Conference Room 1 minimum 450 sf each Total 450 sf 
  •  Cafeteria 1 minimum 2250 sf each Total 2,250 sf 
  • Kitchen 1 minimum 1300 sf each Total 1,300 sf 
  • Assembly Space 1 minimum 1700 sf each Total 1,700 sf 
  • Media Center/Library 1 minimum 1900 sf each Total 1,900 sf 
  • Approximately 5,000 indoor space for recreation Total 5,000 sf 
  •  Total Interior Square Footage: 25,480 
  •  Parking for 75 vehicles 
 * Two of the administrative office spaces must be contiguous in order to be allocated as school nurse exam room and office space.

It's preferred that it be within 2 miles of  299 Highland Street (Doherty's address) and it's for occupancy July 1, 2016

Thursday, November 19, 2015

rebid RFP search firm

Petty: second largest city, third largest school district in Massachusetts we should have more than two response
was unfortunate that City Manager search didn't have many
send back out to get more
O'Connell: support rebid
surprised we didn't get more, due to size of district
suggest contacting some of the firms
unanimously support for rebid (and reconsideration fails)
In other words, the request for proposals will go back out and do so immediately

Report on MASC

in lieu of notes, here's what I sent out when I got back:

school space: RFP for Chandler Elementary

Biancheria asks about space for other schools, too
Allen: only before the Committee because administration is looking to do up to five years (which requires SC approval; otherwise not needed)
think that would be more cost effective for us
Biancheria: only one site?
Allen: continuing renting external space as is already being done
Novick: where are we at with Facilities Master Plan?
Allen: recent discussions with city, bringing in outside agencies to talk about what master plan would look like

Update on State Assessments

Report of the Superintendent tonight is an update on state assessments (thus, PARCC results, as well as what we're doing next)
Rodrigues: last Tuesday, PARCC results were released statewide
23 of 39 schools in grades 3-8 gave PARCC
5 gave it on computers
those schools that gave PARCC are held harmless this year
Perda: a bit of a tough year for the district to report out
"tough to get a feel for how the district has been doing"
grade 10: 81% proficient or above on MCAS and so on down through grades
"that's about half of our kids taking the MCAS"
on PARCC there are five performance levels
"one of the first things you can see...is that it's a much harder bar...much more difficult than MCAS, and I think the results show that"
equipercentile linking: took an analysis
so there are some comparable measures across both measures
CPI is crosswalked across both tests, allowing us to make districts and school performance over time
for ELA "the results are very encouraging"
improvements across the board in every grade level
"more kids are moving towards proficiency over time"
for math grade 10 MCAS, 58% proficient or above
in math CPI negative one year changes in grades 3,4,6
otherwise positive changes
was no science PARCC: MCAS science
solid five year growth in science in CPI across the grades
5 schools had median SGP in ELA across the grades that were above target (60 or higher) while 10 did so in math (in MCAS)
6 schools that had median SGP in ELA across grades that were above target while 2 did in math
and what is up next?
Rodrigues: had a phone conference with DESE to confirm some of the details of how this will work for Worcester
Massachusetts will develop MCAS 2.0 for spring 2017: will have MCAS questions, PARCC questions, and additional questions
schools that did PARCC will stay with PARCC; schools that did MCAS can pick
schools that do PARCC in spring 2016 will be held harmless (except for Level 4 schools); statewide in 2017 with regards to test scores
will be using same method as before, talking to schools for their input to see if they want to switch to PARCC, deadline of December 18

Monfredo: will be considering keyboarding instruction?
Rodrigues: has been circulated around, especially grade 3, have discussed, don't yet have a plan
is the level of comfort of a lower grade student able to be successful
Monfredo: what is the cost to the school department?
Rodrigues: State provided test, training for teachers and personnel
have to pay attention to things like headphone costs
Foley: numbers may reflect improvement here, but different students over time
Perda: agrees
Foley: being judged on different groups of students over time
worried about familiarity of students with technology
will tests have a time limit?
Rodrigues: subcommittees will work on these issues, all will have minor or major change for next generation
logistics to be ready to be fully ready for technology moving forward
Foley: do MAP but much shorter time frame
worry that time constraint may hurt additional test scores in Worcester and across the state
O'Connell: interested in areas where we struggled a bit
while can't necessarily compare how students are doing from year to year
data, while generalized, not broken out by schools
look at school performance or broken out by questions; particular areas of instruction that we may need to pursue more agressively
Perda: happy to share at standing committee
Rodrigues: PARCC doesn't give us the same item analysis as MCAS
have information through consortium, but haven't been able to share with us
state is working on that
"math performance was very weak this year, but it was weak statewide"
looking at what the issues about grade 7 particularly that didn't make much movement this year
O'Connell do we have computer ability to be ready?
Rodrigues: have been analysing at this time
not just number of computers but the grouping of test taking
January have ACCESS test will be completely computer based
looking at logistics of taking ACCESS test; working with Bob Walton in IT
have to pay attention to the goal the department has set for 2019 of everything being computer-based
O'Connell: will we be switching kids twice if they're taking MCAS now, then PARCC, then MCAS 2.0
Rodrigues: but those who do MCAS this spring will be a change, too, due to PARCC questions being answered
either path you take, there are changes
"no matter which path you take" there will be changes
Novick: echo concern on keyboarding and technology, query on "except for Level 4" in 2015-16 with a few reflections on the Board of Ed meeting (like that "except Level 4" wasn't in what the Board passed)
Biancheria: additional supplies, after school programs, and summer programs tied into MCAS
this spring, how is the decision going to be made on which schools are doing PARCC or MCAS
Rodrigues: schools will have a large voice in this process
Biancheria: parents still opt out?
Rodrigues: state says there is no opt out, does break testing record of student, did have some of that happen last year
"if we have a parent's request, we will honor that"
Biancheria: five years on science?
at least
Biancheria: concerned that we have a couple of years here that we're going to be going back and forth
Ramirez: any Gateway district looking at the impact of all of the exams at the local level?
Rodrigues: continue to look at the subgroups, waiting to see what that looks like and see how those subgroups did
accountability groups released soon
"that will depict whether that was PARCC or MCAS"

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

And speaking of the Board of Ed

Here are Mary Ann Stewart's reflections on yesterday.

Worcester School Committee meets Thursday

Our second meeting for November is Thursday at seven. You can find the agenda here.
We have a couple of honors, including our Commended National Merit Scholars!
The report of the Superintendent is on assessment, which I assume will involve some additional discussion of what happened at the Board of Ed on Tuesday.
F&O is reporting out.
Mr. Monfredo wants to honor Maureen Binienda.
I'm reporting out on the MASC conference.
We're being asked to approve a prior year payment of $51.18 for mileage and of $9120 for special education transportation.
We're being asked to accept a donation in memory of Shelia Johnson.
We're being asked to authorize the solicitation of proposals for space for Chandler Elementary (our rental agreement with the Y is up).
We're being asked to authorize the Interim Superintendent to act for us with Workforce Development.
Miss Biancheria is asking about transportation safety equipment.
And Mayor Petty is asking that we send back out the superintendent search firm RFP, due to lack of responses.

We do have several litigation, bargaining, and collective bargaining items in executive session at 6.


ESEA Conference committee announced

So who are these guys?
EdWeek yesterday tweeted out some details about the makeup of the conference committee on the ESEA bill, which met for the first time today:















Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Thanksgiving week means football

Per Athletic Director David Shea, games next week at Foley Stadium:

Wednesday 11:00 a.m. North vs South
Thursday 10:00 a.m. Doherty vs Burncoat

DESE's FY17 budget priorities

The Board of Ed Budget subcommittee established the following priorities for their FY17 budget:
  • curriculum & instruction/ early literacy
  • educational time & after school programs (to which, on a suggestions from Margaret McKenna, they added 'summer' as well)
  • student well-being: nutrition programs, safety, social-emotional well-being
  • civics education
  • school-to-career connection activities
  • educator development
  • student assessment
  • targeted assistance for schools and district turnaround work
Note that Secretary Peyser recused himself, as these requests then go to his office for discussion before being submitted to Governor Baker in his creation of House 1.

Heads up, Southbridge!

In the giant wave of discussion on testing, I don't want you to miss this, from the Commissioner's update (my understanding is the Board had written backup, as well):
"very concerned about the status of Southbridge"
have conducted an on site district review; has made limited progress since identification as low performing
"You will be hearing more from me as the year progresses"


Be ready. 

Door #3 with two years hold harmless with an important asterisk

Thus the Board of Ed just adopted:

  • the Commissioner's recommendation ("door #3" for 2017)
  • with an amendment to the hold harmless provision extending it to 2017 
  • *with regards to test scores


*This is important because a) the amendement "with regards to test scores" applies to both 2016 & 2017, and b) this means that the Commissioner CAN STILL DECLARE DISTRICTS AND SCHOOLS LEVEL FOUR AND FIVE. Those were never solely determined by test scores (Level 3 is the bottom 20% of schools on MCAS scores; Level 4 and 5 are declared from those schools and districts at the discretion of the Commissioner.)

UPDATE: DESE's press release has "with regards to test scores" applying only to the second year. We'll see if they stay with that.


The recommendation was adopted 8-3; the amendment was adopted 7-4. And as noted by Alain Jehlen, the three no votes on the adoption of MCAS 2.0 were the student rep, the parent rep, amd the teacher rep.

Here we go: Board of Ed considers testing options

updating as we go...Note that they will do opening remarks, then the PARCC results, then the vote. I'm going to stick it all in one post, though.
The room is full, but only just (I've seen it much more so). What is full is the DESE staff section (to overflowing), and they don't all have to be here for the items on the agenda. Just getting a quorum now; Chair Paul Sagan just came in. He announced that they're still missing a few people "and one is stuck on a bridge" so they're going to wait a few minutes.

Posting from the Board of Ed

...where they will be voting on what test the Commonwealth of Massachusetts will be using going forward. They took more than three hours of public testimony last night, so there won't be any today: just intro from the Commissioner and Secretary, the discussion of PARCC results, then the discussion and vote on testing going forward.
The agenda is here, and there isn't too much else on it.
Interesting...it is not a full house.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Slides you missed tonight on the Foundation Budget Review Commission:F&O (updated with pretty slides)

UPDATED with slides from the finance office. I've skipped the slides that explain what the FBRC findings are, as we've done that. Note that these are Worcester Public Schools numbers. As always, if you click, they'll get bigger. UPDATE: here's the full presentation

Update on health insurance gap 

Update on sped gap


What does that leave us for gaps (with our pulling money from elsewhere to fund special ed and health insurance)?

Note that the above doesn't mean we're overstaffed in sped; we're undercalculated. The gap is very visible in non-special ed teachers; as I noted, that's 660 teaching positions that the foundation budget calls for that we don't have. 



Nine million (all WPS side) gap in administration spending (remember that the next time someone tries to sell our being overstaffed), eleven million short in O&M (imagine the difference that would make in facilities!), more than three million short in teacher PD, and another nine million short in instructional materials and technology. 
Think about what that district would look like. 

I posted Mr. Allen's assumptions in my notes on this section; given 80% of our current Community Eligibility number of 45.5% at $2000 per pupil, we get this on low income:
For a final slide (including ELL and inflation) that looks like this:



A quick note on this: one of the first things that comes up on these calculations is "where is the money going to come from?"

Here's the thing: the money is already coming from somewhere. On health insurance and special education, it's coming out of maintenance. It's coming out of classroom teachers, librarians, guidance counselors, and other teaching staff. It's coming out of supplies and technology budgets. We are taking money that is badly needed to fund these two categories.
And, as you see above, that's the bulk of the money.
So, if we're okay with taking the money out of crumbling buildings and large class sizes and copy paper that we run out of, then I guess we can afford to ignore this.
Otherwise, we've got to move on it.

Foundation Budget Review Commission: (how it impacts WPS)

Foley: recognition statewide that the current formula is no longer adequate
is underfunding us
Allen: actual report in backup
important to show impact to Worcester
our findings were those of the FBRC: special ed and health insurance two major findings
in each of the recommendations, recognitions, and possible impacts for Worcester
and we have a PowerPoint which I'll ask for...

  • health insurance $29.1M gap (foundation budget is $30M; spending $59.1M) NOTE: WPS already has changed plans, has already changed contribution rates, has already changed copays and deductables
  • special ed: $29.8M gap (foundation budget $27.1M; spending $56.9M) NOTE: WPS has already restructured 3rd party services; have low out of district; high use of collaborative (lower costs)
due to these gaps
WPS currently has 660 FEWER TEACHERS than the foundation budget calls for
current formula calls for $13M on administration: we spend (WPS side) $3.9M
current formula calls for $31M for O&M; we spend $20M
instructional materials (and technology) calls for $13.7M; we spend $4.5M

for ELL students, differential of $2361 applied to all levels is $5M

on low income, the FBRC has left it largely undefined thus this is based on assumptions, as it has to be at this point
WPS Community Eligilbility is 45.5%; if 80% of CEP enrollment is used, and $2000 per student is used, that's $20M additional 


total: $92.9M underfunded by foundation budget (based on above findings and assumptions)

Foley: refer to Joint Committee
we're not pitting special education or ELL against others: "We must educate all of our students"
funding programs that we are mandated to fund, trying to survive on all sides
"the numbers work"
challenge is where the state is going to find the funds
Ramirez: any way to present domino affect of ELL and ELL with special needs

First quarter budget update: Finance and Operations

post as we go
Allen: state reduction of nearly $600K less than WPS budgeted
school committee recommended budget based on House 1 budget
only funding charter reimbursement at about 69%
generally would have to find that in our budget
within that reduction, there's an offset of $102,014 on chapter 70, which could reduce city contribution, but is not
still have a $500K reduction as part of the city setting its tax rate
there will need to be an item on the full agenda to reduce the budget by that amount (but can see where those will come from in full budget backup)
Final grant awards came through, increase in low income students
"largest increase in low income students across the state last year"
(also largest increase in chapter 70 across the state)
increase in federal grants of $1.8M
had projected a level funded grant stream
increase in each of the grants then has to be directed to that grant's requirements (and can only supplement, not supplant)
restoring PreK and IAs which were previously funded out of that grant
"trying to look at this from a whole budget" perspective
"because of some other things we were seeing in the full budget"
over a $700K deficit in personal services, largely due to special education costs (as specialized services are restructured)
plus new Recovery High School, "I believe there are four students attending"
increase in legal (which is never funded adequately) and translation
in many cases typical: custodial overtime, workers comp, nurses' subs
transportation, as some of our buses had to be taken off the road; services now being provided by Durham
have made assumptions through this time and past history
"even with charter school reduction...projecting $55,924 negative balance at this time"
usually don't do transfers in first quarter, but due to things that are jumping out, transfers recommended
Foley: wider variance that we'd usually see first quarter
freeze on instructional materials?
Allen: yes, and in last two years have had to use to address budget deficit
Foley: have we considered swing custodians?
Martin: looking at all our overtime costs to reduce
Foley: workers comp underfunded
unemployment?
Allen: even in good years, are layoffs
much greater numbers qualifying than projected
Ramirez: nine custodians collecting workers comp: typical?
Allen: has been roughly the number in previous years
Novick: loss of $500K: good time to raise issue of foundation underfunding of previous year's carryover
Allen: $2.4M cummulatively
"that the city will continue to carry forward
motion to discuss with city
transportation issue due to replacement cycle not on cycle
(we bought one bus this year; we usually buy three. That also isn't a fast enough replacement cycle.)
motion to refer to Joint Committee with City Council


School calendars: Finance and Operations

Meade-Montague: proposed calendars were forwarded to principals to discuss with parents and teachers
comments from the schools here
majority in favor of starting school on a Monday rather than on a Wednesday (followed by Labor Day weekend)
on the calendar committee, proposal led by a student
Foley: discussion about going to one vacation week in March
different sides of dialogue, getting rid of viruses
not endorsed by majority of schools?
Meade-Montague: that wasn't the proposal before them
had been discussion before the calendar committee, how many days would we actually gain by that
last few days, snowstorms during those weeks
more in favor of starting school earlier when we're more assured of good weather
discussion around having a full week to begin the school day
Foley: keeping conversation going on one week in March
Ramirez: having a different conversation on impact on seniors getting out earlier
Meade-Montague: we need in our calendars to address time seniors get out v. official last day
no more than twelve day gap
Foley: should keep that dialogue going (on vacation weeks)
These calendars pass

Finance and Operations subcommittee: advertising on buses

backup is here
Foley: conversation we need to have if we believe in the concept of putting advertising on our buses or not
item before us nine or ten years ago and elected not to
some have put on and since taken off
Allen: primarily for economic reasons
chance for WEDF to work with us on revenue sources, work to find alternative ways of revenue generation would be perhaps a better alternative
"school bus are large and yellow and black intentionally" for safety
"any distraction to the purpose of loading students safely on school buses...whatever the revenue isn't worth the price"
Hennessey: serious concerns about compromising safety with advertising
most dangerous area is in immediate area around the school bus
advertising by its nature is designed to call your attention to something
impossible to pay attention to both the advertising and the school bus
"all it takes is a moment's distraction"
Foley: general impression that districts weren't generating very many dollars
"increased commercialization factor"
Ramirez: if the goal is to raise more dollars for teachers and students, that's a discussion I'd like to hear, rather than this
agree that they shouldn't be commercialized
Novick: agree on commericialization, more distracting than dialing a cell phone
Foley: don't own the buses
Allen: just approved the five year contract with Durham, wasn't in contract
Foley: just takes one mistake, hate to see our advertising cause that
motion to work with WEDF for alternative options and report back to F&O
roll call on ads on buses: roll call three opposed
roll call on alternative: roll call three in favor

Charter reimbursement FY16

The alarming figure on the charter school reimbursement is the one under "revenue" here:


That's $546,247 less than we budgeted for FY16 for reimbursement. Note, though, that the FY16 budget as passed in June still did not budget for full reimbursement (based, as it was, off of House 1). This the final total is about 69% of what state reimbursement should be. 
Note this from the "tuition assessment" lines:



That $47,361 is an increase in funding going to the local charter schools. It should be reflected in the above "Revenue" line. 
But, instead of the revenue line increasing, as the reimbursement calculation calls for, it instead falls by over half a million dollars. 


Sunday, November 15, 2015

Finance and Operations meets Monday at 5

You can find the agenda here.
It's time for the first quarter budget update. First, note that once the city does the tax recap, the School Committee will have to reduce the budget by half a million dollars. 
And why?
Charter school reimbursement is underfunded. It was underfunded in the budget we passed, but it got worse, rather than better. I ranted about this briefly yesterday on Twitter, but to recap: A district that serves 25,000 students is going to have to cut their budget by half a million dollars in November/December, because the state can't get its act together enough to fulfill their basic LEGAL responsibilities on school funding. Don't talk to me about "stealing possible" when this is your funding pattern.
In other quarter one news:

  • personal services is up quite a bit, as we continue to bring more special ed services back in house, as the Recovery High School tuition is up (good for other reasons, but tough here), and as translation services continue to rise. This is also the line item where the superintendent search is budgeted.
  • workers' comp is already projected at a deficit. Again. We'll take Mr. O'Connell's item on a workers' comp update with the quarterly report, but the answer, again, is that we aren't budgeting enough here. 
  • nurses are also projected at a deficit, because we need subs when they're sick.
  • and in a possible (I'll ask) "chickens coming home to roost," you might remember that we didn't replace school buses on the same schedule this year, because our city capital funding remains SO tight. Guess what's up? Contractual transportation services. If we don't pay for the capital expense, we'll pay for it in operational expenses.
Note also the that the Title I grant being up means that some IAs and preK teachers could be moved back to grant funding, which will assist with some of the above. 
The full rundown on where accounts are currently projected is here
In other "clearning the decks" items, we have the South High pool item, which is recommended to referral to the South High building committee (do we have a South High building committee?).
We have the request to see the bid on Lake View's asphalt repairs; the proposal is we get it in a Friday letter.
The ads on buses item is on with a recommendation that it be filed. It turns out that looking at an external object, like an ad, is more distracting than putting on makeup or dialing a phone when you're driving, which is dangerous enough. So putting a known danger on buses to make relatively little money...
We also have the conversation we started during budget on how much of security spending comes out of the facilities budget (which is funded at 61% of foundation).
The proposed 2016-17 and 2017-18 calendars are on here, along with comments from schools. Two notes: both years would start with a full five day week for students over the week that goes from August to September (with teachers coming in for two days the week before), followed by Labor Day (and thus a four day week); there is no change to vacations, though considerable interest expressed in a March break. 
Finally, the Foundation Budget Review Commission's final report is on the agenda. More, I suspect, to come on that. 

5 o'clock, 4th floor of the administration building or livestreamed on the web!

It's official

The School Committee received this in our Friday packet: 

Thus Dr. Rodrigues will be "acting" until the end of November and "interim" thereafter. 

Friday, November 13, 2015

ESEA compromise bill coming out

EdWeek has the full rundown ('though the language isn't out yet). For those paywalled out, major points:
  • testing grades 3-8 and once in high school, but what it counts for is up to states. Bottom 5% of schools, as well as those not closing achievement gap, need intervention, but how is up to states. Likewise, while 95% participation in testing is still required, what happens if it isn't met is up to states.
  • while there's some block granting on the federal education grants, it doesn't look as major as it could have been (watch that one); something on the innovation bit, something on the wraparound bit as well.
  • no Title I portability (money doesn't move with kids), though there's some sort of a pilot program (watch this one, too)
  • also no changes to Title I calculations, though some changes to Title II calculations (Title II is teachers)
The projection is that this will be in conference next week, with a vote by Thanksgiving. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Let's talk about the Foundation Budget Review Commission

You didn't think I was just going to leave you with a summary, did you?

When we last left you, the Foundation Budget Review Commission report  (that's a link to the state's PDF) had been released, we'd looked at a summary and a charge, and then we had an election and a state conference, and time got away from me...

A couple of thoughts:
  1. WE DON'T KNOW YET HOW MUCH THIS WILL COST. No, really: I know your local paper had some sort of estimate, which ranged from the $400 millions to over $1 billion, but really: WE DON'T KNOW YET. And we don't know yet because...
  2. There are no numbers attached to the low income recommendation. We don't know if the state will use the new Economically Disadvantaged percentages. If they do, we don't know what they'll use for a low income increment. You can certainly run some numbers here with some assumptions, but they're based on assumptions, NOT on FBRC recommendations. This matters a lot because...
  3. This is a topic the Legislature MUST take up for FY17. We're less than two months away from Governor Baker releasing House 1; as we are no longer collecting free and reduced lunch data for the state, the Legislature has to amend Chapter 70. Free and reduced lunch data is what's in MGL Chapter 70; something new has to be put there instead.
  4. This isn't all going to be state aid. It is mentioned in the chart that talks about special education estimates, but an important point throughout: just as the rest of how education is funded in Massachusetts, the community wealth calculation will determine how much of the new foundation is funded by the local community and how much is funded by the state. And the community wealth formula was NOT under the FBRC's purview and thus is NOT part of the report. 
  5. Inflation is urgent. For the communities (like Worcester) that fund at foundation, inflation is as urgent as the low income discussion. We've had two quarters of negative inflation; unless the state does something, the state's foundation formula will be recognizing NO growth from inflation. That's a sure forecast of budgetary disaster.
  6. This is now in the Legislature's (and Governor's) court. The Commission is done and is dissolved. It's up to the Legislature, along with the Governor, to take up the report and put real funding behind it. And it's up to the rest of us to be sure they know it. And if not?
  7. You're looking at Exhibit 1 on McDuffy redux. (not my words, but a common sentiment)

We have a recommendation UPDATED

on Massachusetts state testing...well, sorta:  Door #3 and split down the middle. You can find Commissioner Chester's full recommendation to the Board of Ed here. Briefly:

  • the state is looking to develop MCAS 2.0 for spring 2017. As the current MCAS contract is expiring, they'll be bidding it out, and "In order to expedite the development process and minimize costs, we will maximize the use of existing PARCC development, as well as MCAS test items, as appropriate." UPDATE: on the press call, Chester said that the test would contain more PARCC items than MCAS items. 
  • as we aren't going to have any such test ready for this spring, districts can pick (again). Mostly. If you did PARCC, you'll do PARCC again. If you did MCAS, you can switch to PARCC.
  • BUT if you stay with MCAS, you'll have some PARCC items
  • AND if you're a first timer on PARCC, your accountability level will be held harmless
  • All districts will be expected to be online for 2019.
There are some further recommendations about item reviewing and test questions.

A further note: as our NCLB waiver included a wrist slap for our "you pick" year, and DESE was sternly told that they had to pick this year, I'd say the waiver is back in play. UPDATE: And (h/t to Scott O'Connell for asking!) the Commissioner did not know how it would affect the waiver.

Good time for a moratorium! And to rewrite the waiver for authentic assessment!


Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Well, this doesn't look good

Is DESE giving out the testing information piecemeal?

(Note @MASchoolsK12 is DESE's Twitter handle.) 
The email is coming from Jim McManus at Slowey/McManus "Strategic Public Relations" in response to an email from Linda Noonan, Executive Director at Mass Business Alliance for Education. Also cc'ed in are Lindsay Sobel, Executive Director of TeachPlus, Marty Walz of Democrats for Education Reform, Dave McGeney of the Peabody School Committee (Odd, since he's been hugely anti-PARCC), Tricia Lederer also of MBAE, Heidi Guarino of Education First, and Jason Williams of our old friends Stand for Children.

Monday, November 9, 2015

There's more than one Strider Wolf

If you haven't had a chance, do read the front page Boston Globe story from yesterday:

Strider’s face flattened in panic. Caseworkers had explained it would be like this with him. He’d lost so much, any whiff of rejection set off bells of alarm. His traumas were as much a part of him as the trees he climbed or the magic brooms he fashioned from sticks. Researchers now understood that trauma could alter the chemistry of developing brains and disrupt the systems that help a person handle stress, propelling a perpetual state of high alert. The consequences could be lifelong. As an adult, he’d be more likely to suffer anxiety and depression and heart disease and stroke. His ability to hold a job, manage money, and make good decisions could be compromised. And there was evidence, controversial but mounting, that he could pass on these traits to his children.

It's a tough read, but it is many, many of our children.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

"Telling Your Story: Multigenerational Community Engagement and Social Media"

Session was borne out of a conversation I was evesdropping on (says Jim Hardy, MASC Field Director)
getting ready to go through an override vote: "How do we get the information out to everybody? Only 17% of our population has school-aged children. How do those who don't have kids get information?"

All-State School Committee

Representing leadership and governance in public schools with the highest standards
The award recognizes school committee members who have demonstrated a strong commitment to the education and welfare of children and who have shown a clear understanding of their role as school committee members.


Friday, November 6, 2015

And speaking of PARCC updates

Here's today's message from Commissioner Chester:
Assessment Recommendation and PARCC Results:
The Department expects that on Tuesday, Commissioner Chester will announce his recommendation to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education about what form statewide assessments should take in the future. District leaders will receive a copy of the recommendation in an On the Desktop message.
Also early next week, ESE will release school and district PARCC scores to the public. Districts already have access to their own results, and ESE will send an On the Desktop message to superintendents with the information that the press will receive.
On November 16, the Board will hold its sixth and final public comment session on PARCC at 4 p.m. at Malden High School, 77 Salem St., Malden.
On November 17, the Board will vote on the commissioner's recommendation. That meeting will start at 8:30 a.m. and will be at ESE's offices at 75 Pleasant St., Malden.  At 3 p.m. November 17, the commissioner will have a conference call with superintendents to discuss the Board's decision. Closer to that date, ESE will send out directions for registering to the call.

Less Testing, More Learning at MASC

and I'm among the presenters, so the blogging maybe uneven

Alain Jehlen: clearing up an misconception about the moratorium proposal
"we are not proposing stopping the test for three years, because you would probably lose all your Title I money"
proposal is to stop the penalties that would go with low scores
(both for schools and for students)
last for three years, so the state can put together a better way to evaluate the system

And I spoke here about the trickle down effect of state testing on district testing and the intimidation of state takeovers of Lawrence and Holyoke

Yong Zhao, Keynote MASC

his website is here; he comments that most of his slides are on it
great to follow the state auditor
school boards "are a unique American thing"
around the world people don't understand what it is
China "saves the money and bypasses the election process" (yes, that's a joke. There will be many)
something "that America has done very well"
"you are here to work with the people...most places, they're branches of the government"
but you've lost most of the power of the last twenty years
"I'm not a member of the Tea Party; I'm fron China, and we do have tea..."
"have lost most of the most precious control"
"in your hands is the future of Massachusetts, the future of this nation"
"not how hard you work; it's what you're working on"

State legislative update at MASC

in a standing (and sitting-on-the-floor) room only session
Rep. Alice Peisch, Rep. Steve Ultrino and Senator Pat Jehlen here

Long day for the laptop

...and so I lost power there for the end of the meeting. I'll put up some notes when I get a chance.
Meanwhile, Worcester Magazine caught the discussion we had around cell phones, 'though they missed my favorite quote which was "it's feeling kind of prison-y" (with the restrictions). It was a good night to have student reps!
Back to MASC conference postings tomorrow!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

sending lease of space out to bid for IB school

O'Connell: space for program at Doherty
"effort not to spend dollars on buildings and grounds unless there are truly other options"
look at other options: suggests facilties we own
this would take a) more space and b) lab space that doesn't exist
"if we can save money here, let's save money here"
Petty: we had a report several months ago that went through all of this
Boone: came back a year ago in the site survey
in advance of the School Committee taking a vote, that Doherty could not house it and we did not have a facility
"I do believe Mr. O'Connell will remember this"
believe this is another attempt to create the high school academy by raising issues of costs
have recieved the support of the city
St. Spiridon has four classrooms: would not accommodate program
"have truly done our due diligence"
"don't think we should look to derail the high school academy"
O'Connell: real issue is with the program
differences of opinion about models; strong support for a gifted program
if administration has looked at the sites, then we send out the RFP

Petty: once we get the RFP, we'll have that discussion

Biancheria: is there a copy of the RFP
Allen: it is not in the backup; if authority is given to proceed, we can provide it in a Friday letter

RFP motion passes on a roll call unanimously

Report of the superintendent: alternative education

the report is here as held from the previous meeting

Boone: not just say we're doing things, but evaluate how they're put in place
last month presented information on the arts magnet pathway in the city
have done the same thing with alternative education
"should not be substandard education"
Rodrigues: received an alternative education grant for this evaluation
Education Development Center looked at Creamer Center, Challenge Academy, Reach Academy, Safety center, transition center, Woodward Day (under the collaborative)
effective alternative education programs:
  • small in size
  • flexible schedules and structures
  • faculty adjusts approaches to meet their students needs
since this report was provided to us, already able to put recommendations into action
evaluator really saw a lot of strengths in our program

Dr. Boone

posting as we go
(and incidently, the T&G coverage is here)
Petty: would like to wish you well
judge a person with how you leave a position and how you make the schools better for the students
believe students are better off
graduation rates up , drop off rates down
building new Nelson Place
real changes in Claremont
improvement of Level 4 schools
most innovation schools in the state
known for the fairness of the allocation of resources in the city of Worcester
make sure every school got fair resources
presenting key to the City and a chair

Public comment: IAs in Kindergarten

Zalauskas, EAW president: speaking on behalf of parents at City View schools
recently experienced loss of IAs in kindergarten
what is the formula for assignment of IAs?
60 parents signed a petition about it
I should note that we have a chart on the number students in kindergarten classes, which is how IAs are assigned: larger classes get them first. City View's kindergarten are 20, 21,21; they have 1 assigned to the building. Borrowing Steve Foskett's photo:



parent: they do a great job there, but they only have one IA who goes from class to class each day
would be a very big help
parent: when we first enrolled her, we enrolled her in first grade and she had to roll back to kindergarten. IA was a huge help to assure her that she wasn't a baby and hadn't done something wrong. Why were they taken out of City View and put in a school...it's something I would like to see back.
Petty: we go through this every year; if we had our way, we'd put an IA in every kindergarten. Importance of early years
our state delegation put Kindergarten grant back in; 20 IAs
63 IAs; 90 kindergarten classes
Boone: "over time...grant has diminished"
state cut Quality K grant in March; do we lay off IAs to balance the books or do we take from elsewhere? Took from elsewhere
share concern
district would need an additional $750,000 to have an IA in every classroom (as well as keep Quality K grant)
challenge when we don't have an IA in every classroom, and try to maintain reasonable class sizes
currently five schools in same predicament with one shared IA
overall enrollment, class size, need of class
Petty offers to go over numbers with parents


Worcester School Committee meets at seven

Apologies for not doing a summary ahead of time this week.
The agenda is here; the report of the superintendent is on alternative schools.
And we should note that this is Superintendent Boone's last meeting with us.

Meeting the needs of students in poverty (MASC conference)

Margaret McKenna, who introduces herself as the daughter of two Central Falls (RI) schoolteachers.
"the first thing we should do is say the word 'poverty'"
"you don't hear it much said now...it should be the number one topic"

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

MASC delegates assembly

A quick summary of the actions at the MASC Delegates Assembly today (you can download our manual, which has the full text of all proposed resolutions, here)

  • Resolution 1, to work for a comprehensive study on high school start times, passed.
  • Resolution 2, to prioritize an agenda for support and services for children in poverty, passed.
  • Resolution 3, to determine where a child's test score counts by where they are on October 1, passed.
  • A "sense of the assembly" supporting a moratorium on high-stakes testing, passed 66 to 42.
  • Resolution 4, to support an equitable and sustainable placement program for homeless students, passed.
  • Resolution 5, to support a tax reform ballot initiative (not cited by name), failed on a counted vote.
  • Resolution 6, to call for a school committee seat on the Board of Ed, passed, as did a call for an end to the MGL that bars school committee members or district employees from serving.
  • Resolution 7, to call for an end of the use of TS Gold student assessment, passed.
The amendments to the bylaws passed unanimously.
Patrick Murphy of Barnstable was elected President-elect.
Beverly Hugo of Framingham was elected Vice President
Devin Sheehan of Holyoke was elected Secretary-Treasurer
...and Jake Oliveira of Ludlow becomes President in January by virtue of his election to President-elect last November.

...catching the end of the presentation of the update on Chapter 70 (Mass Association of School Committees)

looks like they've just run through the findings
Francomano: Commission is "officially done"
"we no longer exist as an entity" (this in response to a question on advocacy)
Q: did you only talk about inflationary rate of health insurance or did you talk about proportion of what district pays v individual pays?
"you're talking about issues involving collective bargaining"
Schuster: sets cost assumption at average employer rate of insurance across the state
Verdolino: easier to get to a number with the split already baked in
Tobin: you're in charge of negotiating the split at the community level

Allen: (examples from Worcester)
spending $60M more on special education and health insurance than called for in the foundation budget, thus $60M less on other areas
72% of non-special education case: 660 fewer teachers
42% less on staff development
67% supplies and technology

recommendations in foundation budget report for Worcester would mean:
low income: $20M
ELL: $4.4M
inflation additional $10M

Tobin: some aspects have been kicked down the road to the Legislature
Where do we go from here?

Francomano: wraparound services, essential services that children need that we can't provide
sit down the legislators and bring your story
two main questions: how do we fund this? may hurt/help districts variously
"essential for you to compile the data" in your district

Verdolino: data advisory committee "sleeper in the report"
"could end up being my organization's (MASBO) biggest nightmare" but useful to state/districts

Tobin: each district should crunch the numbers of how the proposed changes would impact the budget of your individual district, and how much of it is local contribution versus state budget

impact on sped and health insurance: DESE ran the spreadsheet on every district
spreadsheet in report IS NOT EVERYTHING IN THE REPORT in terms of costs; those don't exist yet

Figure out your numbers and go talk to your legislators!

Questions to ask your school business officer (Mass Association of School Committees conference)

posting (as I can) as we go...I'm on this one! For those asking, the Worcester Public Schools FY16 budget is online here.

How does the budget work?
Himmelberger: school budgets serve key purposes: let everyone know where money is being allocated, to manage the spending through the year to keep track of where we have room to move
"so many things that impact the school budget throughout the year"
factors that increase or decrease the budget over the year
"at least take that 'must be stealing' line off the table"
Allen: your budget isn't an administrative playbook
"a community sharing of information about your school budget"
it's MORE than printout of MUNIS and a PowerPoint presentation
explains enrollment, explains trends, explains how resources are tied into the decisions that are being made
more narrative than numbers
intent is to inform the school committee of the decisions they need to make

Novick: pie chart of where the money comes from and where the money goes
how is the money spent
And then how are money changes made over the course of the year?

Q: are there leading questions we can use to create the narrative?
ASBO: Meritorious Budget...does provide what information should be included in a budget document?
Q: highest per capita tax rates on a regional school committee: don't believe we have any kind of a book whatsoever...budget in an Excel spreadsheet online...trying to create something like a budget book? Go to MASBO?
Yes
what sort of time does it take?
Years...adding over time, does seem some progress
School Committee lays out what they're looking for, administration then pulls together within those parameters

Start with executive summary, changes from last year, projections of what will change, what that looks like moving ahead
how the foundation budget works (if that impacts your district), or whatever other calculations feed into your budget, particularly if any are outstanding when your budget is voted

what level of budgetary control goes to school committee?
budgetary categories, transfer between and among categories
grants spelled out clearly

when do school committees join in planning? happening during quarterly reports

most districts have a subcommittee for budget or finance

 projections: can you plug these into software? what are assumptions? much that's complicated
should be included in budget, changes over time

what's the advantage of a budget book?
budget book really needs to be the record for the school district of the budget recommendations that are being evaluated for the school district
(PowerPoint is a tool, but not enough)

structure of finance office? how to work with municipal side?
takes a lot of cooperation and planning: handling workers comp and health insurance
still have interaction with town office
"depending upon the municipality it can work"
...but would question motivation, and make sure that everyone is actually on board

when does school committee come in on budgeting?
setting priorities as part of the early process
does school committee meet with each individual section? not in Worcester...available for questions or presentations, meetings internally in admin

should you have combinations of school business officials and other things?
"$53M is no small chunk of chain...hiring the custodian of those funds"

heard a lot about zero based budgeting?
start from zero and build that budget back up from ground floor (not starting with this year)
teacher assignment based on elementary enrollment guidelines and secondary course selections

revolving accounts? School Committees statutorially approve all grants
"we're showing all funding sources within the budget document...and then how those dollars are being spent"
different revolving funds have different legal processes: DESE puts out a revolving fund chart (which I'll see if I can find)

learn from other communities (and what might be going wrong)
auditors: are you seeing the audits, are you seeing the auditor?
you should be!

School choice: should be space available, cost neutral
some communities supplementing additional staff: how does school committee figure that out?
"if you were to lose all your school choice students, what would the impact be?"
cost dropping and how much is this really affecting us?

advocacy: school committees due to sheer number are successful in advocacy at state level
Worcester cited by name in foundation budget report because we provided numbers
"don't underestimate the value of having a number when you're proposing something"


Liveblogging MASC/MASS conference

Notes from the MASC/MASS joint conference coming up!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

My thanks

There will over the next few weeks be time enough for summings up and such, but tonight, I just want to say thank you for the past six years. I've immensely enjoyed serving on the Worcester School Committee. I've learned an enormous amount; I've gotten to work with great people, and we have a better school system than we did six years ago.
I was asked tonight if I'd change anything about it: no, I wouldn't. At the end of the day, the final person I have to live with is me. My comments, my votes, my speeches, have all been what I truly think and know and have researched. As Vice-President Biden said earlier this year:
What always confuses me about some folks I’ve worked with is why in God’s name would you want the job if you couldn’t say what you believed? I’m not—there’s nothing noble about this, but ask yourselves the question: Would you want a job that, in fact, every day you had to get up and you had to modulate what you said and believed?
Thank you, Worcester. It's been a great run, and I'm so very proud to have had this chance.

Note, incidently, that the Mass Association of School Committees meets this week; the blogging will pick up there tomorrow.