Sunday, September 24, 2017

Secretary DeVos is coming to Cambridge

...as part of a school choice event at the Kennedy School of Government (which seems...odd?), and YES, there is a protest.
The lottery (yes, the fitness of this has been noted) for tickets for her speech can be entered here.
I can't go, but please go make some noise for me! 

Friday, September 22, 2017

Who are those guys? A bit about the Board and Department of Elementary and Secondary Education *

*title reference after the break, should you not know it
I was having dinner with a friend who is active in her school district earlier this week, and she said (here I'll paraphrase): I know there's a Commissioner, and I'm hearing a lot lately about this guy Sagan, but what are their jobs and who does what?

And so, a (very small) Board and Department explainer.

I could write at length about the history of Massachusetts education (and maybe at some point I will), but know that the Board of Education was established (by state law) in 1837, making it among the oldest Boards in the country. Initially, it didn't have power: it was intended to be a statewide study group, as there was a great deal of concern coming out of the American Revolution both that the quality of education had fallen (people were a little distracted) and then that private academies, established with the intent of getting boys into Harvard, were pulling resources away from the public grammar schools (much of which may sound oddly familiar). Both the Governor and Lieutenant Governor sat on the Board, which otherwise was appointed by the Governor and served for eight year terms. The first group was fairly geographically disbursed, though I will point out that two of the men were from Worcester:
BOARD OF EDUCATION: Established by an Act of the Legislature; April 20, 1837.
The Governor and Lieutenant Governor, ex oficiis; Hon. Thomas Kinnicutt, of Worcester; Emerson Davis, D.D., of Westfield; George B. Emerson, Alexander H. Vinton, D.D. of Boston; Hon. Stephen C. Phillips, of Salem; Mark Hopkins, D.D. of Williamstown; Rev. Edward Otheman, of Chelsea; Hon. Issac Davis, of Worcester; Barnas Sears, D.D., Secretary; Hon. Thomas Kinnicutt, Treasurer.
The Board had the power to appoint a Secretary, whose job was two-fold: he was to collect information about how public education was working in the Commonwealth, and he was to share, as we'd put it now, best practices. The man they appointed, Horace Mann, is generally recognized as among the most important figures in American education because of the work he did as Secretary.

As industrial, or what we'd call vocational, education grew up over the latter 1800's, a board overseeing those schools was likewise established. When the Legislature in 1909 abolished both that and the Board of Education overseeing the other schools, as well as the position of Secretary, creating instead a combined oversight, they also created the position of Commissioner. The Commissioner then, and still today, is the executive officer of K-12 education in the state. He--they thus far have all been men--oversees the day-to-day operations of the Department for Massachusetts.

The Department and the position of Commissioner are described in MGL Ch. 69, Sec. 1A. It specifically lays out the Commissioner's duties, with more in much of the rest of the chapter, with the implication that the Department as a whole will carry them out. It's a lengthy list, which has since been supplemented by the duties states are expected to carry out under every federal education law since.

The Board of Education, as reconstituted in 1909 and again since, is described in MGL Ch. 69, Sec. 1E, with their duties described in MGL Ch. 69, Sec. 1B. A great deal of the duties harken back to that original concern of standards of education. Thus the board sets curriculum standards, but also standards for things like teacher licensure. It is a nine member board, with one member nominated by the state labor council, one to represent industry, and one of the parents' group. They are appointed by the governor to five year terms, of which they may serve two; one member serves conterminously with the governor. They meet once a month (with exceptions) to do this work, and the Commissioner is appointed by the Board as I explained here.

The Secretary of Education, who oversees not only K-12, but also pre-K and higher education, is a cabinet official of the Governor. He is appointed by the Governor and serves at the pleasure of the Governor. As a part of that, he holds a voting seat on each of the three boards of education. While he oversees an executive office, most of the work at the state level on education happens within the three departments, not within the executive office.

To put names to the above: the prior Commissioner, who passed away in June, was Mitchell Chester. Currently serving as Acting Commissioner is Jeff Wulfson. The Secretary of Education is James Peyser.
Something which is largely not remembered, 'though it was mentioned upon his appointment as Secretary, is that Peyser previously served as Chair of the Board of Education, after being one of two finalists for Commissioner, a job that went to David Driscoll, Chester's predecessor, in a deal worked by the previous chair John Silber.


Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Board of Ed has their September meeting on Tuesday, September 26

You can find the Board of Ed agenda here. It should stream live here.
In light of the extensive coverage Chair Sagan's recently discovered $500,000 donation to Families for Excellent Schools, who were operating a pass-through for the Yes on 2 campaign, is getting, let me start by pointing out that he won't be at the meeting: he announced last month that he had to be away this month and would be participating remotely (yes, really: he announced it at the meeting in August). The meeting thus will be chaired by Vice-Chair James Morton.

After opening remarks, there will be an update on the Commissioner's search.
The Board will then hear the report on LBGTQ students and the Safe Schools that had originally been scheduled for June.

The Board is scheduled to hear an update on the state ESSA plan. As all plans not already submitted were due Monday (meaning the federal Department received more than thirty new plans), you'd think they'd be seeking to clear out the few remaining they've been reviewing (Massachusetts, Michigan, and Connecticut), but no word as yet. Perhaps why there is as yet no backup?

There are TWO updates on student assessment: an update on the MCAS (both that was given and coming up), which includes a glimpse of the new parent report (not uploaded; let me see what I can do), and an update on the high school test (backup currently not there).

There will be an update on pending bills (this may at least partly be in response to a request from several members that they at least get information on this, and may be lively in light of the bill Senator Jehlen is filing). They'll also be getting an update on the budget.
Among the other items being forwarded to the Board is a schedule for proposed charter schools coming before them; I will get that and share it.

Livetweeting/blogging on Tuesday!




Wednesday, September 20, 2017

It appears that Worcester CPPAC meets tonight

A Connect-Ed last night announced that the citywide parent group in Worcester, CPPAC, is meeting tonight at 7 pm at the Worcester Art Museum. Superintendent Binienda will be there, and there was mention of an update on the strategic plan.

I won't be there, as I have another event to be at tonight. CPPAC has for years met on the second Wednesday, so I (like, I imagine, others) had last week marked off. Twenty-four hours notice isn't enough. 

Monday, September 18, 2017

Clickbait

Last night around 10pm, I saw the following article post from the Boston Globe: "Two dozen Boston risk being declared underperforming." It opens as follows:
More than two dozen schools in Boston with low standardized test scores are at risk of being declared “underperforming” by the state, an action that can lead to the removal of principals and teachers, according to a School Department analysis.
The 26 schools are spread across nearly every neighborhood, from East Boston to West Roxbury. Officials are expected to learn the fate of each school when the state releases the latest round of MCAS data at the end of October.
It also says:
The analysis flagged 11 schools for being at the greatest risk of being declared underperforming because their MCAS scores rank very low in comparison to other schools statewide.
Now, if you pay close attention to what's been posted on here, you, too, are shaking your head at this article. The simple fact of the matter is the Board of Education voted that all schools taking the new MCAS would be held harmless with regard to test scores this year. This is a reset year; most schools simply are not going to get a new accountability level, because this is the first year of scores from the new MCAS. The only exceptions are schools that have low participation (by whole population or subgroup) which will go to Level 3 plus schools that already are Level 4 or 5.

Secondary schools, remember, still have the 10th graders taking the old version of the MCAS for now, so they could have changes made, but that is the minority of schools here mentioned.

Puzzled, I sent out some tweets:
(there's a thread there if you follow the link)
I also added this commentary:
I tagged in the Boston Superintendent Tommy Chang, and that elicited this response:
In piecing it together, it appears that this originated with the Boston School Committee receiving a report on their Level 3 schools at last week's meeting. You can find the presentation they saw here. Rather than an article which focused on what was and was not working at those schools--which is kind of supposed to be the entire point of this whole discussion--we instead saw an alarmist vision of state takeovers for something like a fifth of Boston Schools.

As a side note: at some point we should talk about the state's capacity at this point. I've mentioned this in passing before, but DESE is down lots of staff, particularly since Race to the Top ended. Level 4 and 5 schools take lots of staff hours to coordinate with districts. Also, Level 4 schools come with School Turnaround Grants, which now have to come out of Title I funds (there isn't a separate line for them). I'm not going to say DESE can't or won't declare more schools, but we shouldn't discount what it takes on the other end for them to do so. 

I sent out a recap this morning, since that was competing with the Emmys:
You'll need to follow the thread there.
Later this morning, DESE sent out the following:


Thus as best as I can tell, what we have is a fairly straightforward School Committee report that turned into clickbait.

The problem, of course, is that this feeds into a whole bunch of other issues: there is MASSIVE parental mistrust of the planning of the Boston Public Schools, and every move is seen as leading to school closures or takovers. The state's having taken over three districts and a number of schools is seen as threatening by anyone with any school that isn't consistently Level 1. Lots of people find the accountability leveling confusing, and the past few years of switching tests and systems has only made that worse. And we don't have nearly enough press paying consistent attention to these sorts of issues, such that we can get clear, consistent reporting to people who care about these issues but don't do it full time.

Honestly, we deserve much better than this. There are lots of little pieces of blame to go around here, but I'm laying as much as I know at the Globe's door. The crux of what they printed today was untrue, alarmist, and actively harmful.

Worcester School Committee meets Thursday, September 18

And it's the opening of school report! That's not yet posted, but the agenda is here.

Before the meeting, there is an executive session on negotiations with nurses, custodians, computer technicians, and non-represented personnel, plus two issues in litigation.

This agenda has the lists of resignations, retirements, and moves within the system (there will be more than one round of this); note that the two administrators who have become superintendents elsewhere--Marco Rodrigues in Hudson and Dave Perda in the Worcester Roman Catholic Diocese--are listed.

There is a response on the celebration of Constitution Day (which was yesterday).

There are seven prior year payments:
  • in the amount of $1,470.38 for a student who attended the Waltham Public Schools from September 16, 2016 to June 17, 2017.
  • in the amount of $194.40 for mileage reimbursement for a parent to drive to and from the Thrive day school placement at 100 Hartwell Street, West Boylston, MA in May and June 2017.
  • in the amount of $6,290.00 made payable to May Institute, Inc.
  • in the amount of $8,827.50 for Education Inc. services for home tutoring.
  • in the amount of $2,250 for teacher professional development at Project Lead The Way which was held at WPI.
  • in the amount of $3,000 for Project Lead The Way’s participation fees.
  • in the amount of $1,600 for an employee.
Miss Biancheria wants to celebrate Manufacturing Day (October 6), to recognize Superintendent Binienda's Healthy Communities award, and to have a report on transportation. 

Mr. Monfredo wants an update on teaching CPR.

There is a request that the School Committee vote to accept a 21st Century Out of School Time Grant for Claremont Academy for $150,000, 'though there is no backup.

And apparently we're getting yet another limited admission "academy," this time at North High for Microsoft Image. The School Committee is being asked to approve the admissions requirement and letter. with no prior conversation...

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Quick note on the FY18 circuit breaker (with an update!)

From today's MASBO update from Jay Sullivan: the FY18 special education circuit breaker is expected to be 65%. The circuit breaker reimburses districts for out-of-district special education tuitions of a particularly high amount.

If that sounds low to you, here's why (charts are the work of MassBudget, which has great stuff on their Budget Browser:

That's $281M for FY18.



Yes, that is down (about $2M) from last year. And costs keep rising for districts, so there are more applications for less money.

If that's less than you were expecting, it was higher in earlier iterations of the budget:

Not good news. 


UPDATE: I got a question late last week about this, and I thought the answer might be of more general interest. A school committee member asked me, "How do I know what this means to my district?"
Great question!
To back up a step or two: every district budget is created based on projections of how much money is coming in the next year (and from where) and how much money will be spent next year (and to where). Thus, in every district that qualifies for circuit breaker, someone in the finance office sat down at some point and said, "Next year, I think out of district tuition will cost X, and I think we'll get Y back in circuit breaker reimbursement."
Now, I would also tell you that you should be able to find this written down somewhere:
If not, this is a perfectly legitimate question for a school committee member to ask during budget deliberations.
Since it now has changed, it is now a perfect legitimate series of questions to ask to discover: what percentage did we project circuit breaker as? And that was how much? And it now being 65% means it now is what?
And, as those are budgetary questions being asked, that should all be public information.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Worcester: preliminary election on Tuesday! A few thoughts on D5

Worcester districts 1 and 5 have a preliminary election on Tuesday; in both cases, the four names on the ballot will be narrowed to two for the November election. I live in D5, and I haven't been following D1 closely. I will say that I've worked with Ed Moynihan, and if I lived in D1, I'd vote for Ed. What follows are some thoughts on the D5 race, in part drawn from Nicole's liveblog of the forum earlier this week, in part drawn from what I've found in my mailbox. 
In full disclosure: of the three candidates running active campaigns, I've met Matt Wally twice, have lived down the street from Paul Franco for twelve years, and know Doug Arbetter pretty well.

From an education policy perspective, the City Council races are relevant for where they actually have a purview on school policy, From past experience, I can tell you that councilors often appear to have no idea where that is. The refreshing thing about this year's district race is that we at least don't appear to have candidates who are overstepping. It's not as clear that we have a solid group stepping up.
The main place Council purview falls on schools is the budget, of course, and as Worcester has yet to fight its way up to a full percent over foundation, and at a time when Worcester is owed on the order of $100M a year in foundation funding from the state, it might have been good if anyone (anyone?) had asked about that as an issue. It does not appear that they did; I have seen no mention in the forum or in interviews of Worcester's funding (as a measure of foundation) nor of state funding for schools.

I have on my table the mailers of the three candidates: the only one who mentioned school funding at all was Doug Arbetter.
from Doug Arbetter's mailer

Yes, yes, you're thinking, Tracy continually goes on and on about foundation and that's your thing. Well, if the district is owed another $100M on the school budget, I'd expect any candidate who professes to care about education to know and care about that.

This is not, however, the only place that schools are mentioned on the mailers, though, to be fair: both Franco and Wally talk about South and Doherty, which Arbetter does not:

from Paul Franco's mailer

from Matt Wally's mailer


 Yes, South High is in District 5, as much as that may be a surprise: D5 is, as Cyrus Moulton points out in his coverage, truly the west side of Worcester. That isn't necessary what Worcester thinks of as the "West Side" of Worcester (roughly, north of Park Avenue). Note the difference in focus: Wally (as he echoed in Nicole's forum coverage) is concerned about paying for the schools; he said that he disagreed with the decision the Council made not to add to the North High stabilization fund. Franco's "will stand the test of time" language appears to be remarking on the age of the buildings we're replacing, that is 40 and 50 years old respectively. MSBA's standards are for buildings to last fifty years. Wally's point is something that arguably is within the Council's purview (as they vote the capital budget); unless Franco is appointed to a building committee, I'm less certain his is.

That's it for specific mentions on schools by the candidates, which in itself is disappointing. There's a few other things of note on the mailers, though:
Doug Arbetter mailer
 Arbetter's is the only one that mentions political party; Worcester's elections are (at least nominally) non-partisan. Interestingly, if you get the city Republican party's updates on Facebook, you'd know that Franco's a Republican, though he doesn't mention it on his mailers.
Paul Franco mailer (with edits)
The big push that Franco talks about on the right of his mailer, around property that isn't developed, largely has to do with the owners not wanting to move forward with projects. As you might gather from Nicole's blog, Franco's experience on the Conservation Commission largely (in his case) was around his working "with" developers to develop property, rather than to preserve open space. This sets up an interesting conundrum: does he privilege the rights of the property owners, or is he advocating for the city to take these properties by eminent domain?
Matt Wally mailer
Wally, as the other two do, hits public safety in his mailer, but he also links to his current seat on the Parks and Rec Commission by mentioning parks improvements.

It's pretty clear from Nicole's blog that Wally is hoping to position himself as the "centerist" candidate in contrast to Franco the conservative and Arbetter the progressive. Both Franco and Wally hit the policing theme hard in their T&G interview, something Arbetter, who appears to be focusing on taxation, does not. I'm not sure what "today's approach to policing" is, as mentioned by Franco. There has been no discussion of police in the schools, nor of the nearly million dollars a year that is now costing the district. In the forum, Arbetter captured the question of pedestrian safety--key, in a city in which half the schoolchildren walk--best, though all spoke of sidewalks.

When it comes to my vote on Tuesday, I'll echo what I've heard lots of people say since January (or even last November): resistance starts locally. I want, and I think my city needs, a city councilor who of course is going to keep all our people safe and use best practices to do so; a city councilor who of course is going to protect the rights of LBGTQ people; a city councilor who of course sees women as equals, not as pawns; a city councilor who of course supports the right of all to worship (or not) as they choose in safety; a city councilor who of course doesn't resort to fearmongering for political ends.
We also need a candidate who will clearly disavow those who do otherwise.
Earlier this week, only Doug Arbetter did.
I'll be voting for him on Tuesday.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Worcester's free cash is in

The T&G is reporting that, with FY17 closed, the city has nine million dollars it expects to be certified as free cash.
Note that on Tuesday night's Council agenda, Mayor Petty encouraged the City Manager to use some for the Worcester Public Schools.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Worcester School Committee meets Thursday, September 7

There's a meeting of the Worcester School Committee on Thursday, September 7. You can find the agenda here. Looks like a light agenda!
The report of the superintendent is on collaborative learning.
Mr. O'Connell wants to review the latest accountability data; he also wants to know how schools are observing Constitution Day.
Miss Biancheria wants a report on Ch. 74 programs and on the Worcester East Middle science program.
The Committee is being asked to receive a toxic use reduction grant and a number of donations.
The Committee also is scheduled for an executive session for negotiations with nurses, custodians, computer techs, and IAs, and contract negotiations with non-represented employees.

Joint Committee hearing on start times, recess, innovation zones

The agenda is here, 'though I don't, as yet, know in what order they'll be taking testimony.
The hearing starts at 10. Posting as we go. 
It appears they'll be taking the "zone" bills first. They are H.304 and S.279
Senator Chang-Diaz is calling the joint committee hearing to order. More on the House than the Senate side represented.
"We have a full house today; we anticipate going very long today."

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Teaching after Charlottesville

I was going to do a post, as I sent my own kids back to school this week, on the implication of teaching a majority children-of-color student population after Charlottesville. I had hoped that I would have something to share from local leadership.
Thus far, here in Worcester, both at the district level and at the school level, it has been business as usual. With what I can only hope are exceptions at the classroom level, the notion that we are experiencing anything out of the ordinary has not been communicated to pupils.
And yet the reality is that our students are, and it is a luxury of those who hold power to pretend it can be ignored. That is not the reality of most of our pupils.
As it says above this notion that we must "keep politics out of the classroom" ignores both what politics are and what education is. Should teacher be indoctrinating students? No, but that tends not to be the problem. The problem instead is pretending that what surrounds classrooms doesn't impact them.
I'm reading Jack Schneider's new book Beyond Test Scores, and I was struck by this passage I read yesterday:
For low-income families and families of color, this kind of segregation poses a far more serious problem. Often lacking the resources to send their children elsewhere, these families are dependent on schools that bear outward signs of abandonment. Students at such schools are well aware of the fact that the privileged are educating their children elsewhere. They feel all too acutely the stings of segregation and resource scarcity.
 That relates to Melinda Anderson's piece in the Atlantic last month on how the myth of meritocracy hurts children of color:
The findings build upon a body of literature on “system justification”—a social-psychology theory that believes humans tend to defend, bolster, or rationalize the status quo and see overarching social, economic, and political systems as good, fair, and legitimate. System justification is a distinctively American notion, Godfrey said, built on myths used to justify inequities, like “If you just work hard enough you can pull yourself up by your bootstraps … it’s just a matter of motivation and talent and grit.” Yet, as she and her colleagues discovered, these beliefs can be a liability for disadvantaged adolescents once their identity as a member of a marginalized group begins to gel—and once they become keenly aware of how institutional discrimination disadvantages them and their group.
We do a serious disservice to children and to their education when we ignore what surrounds them. This is true not only of racism, but of the increased marginalization, discrimination, violence, and fear that other groups of people have faced since January: immigrant groups, people in the LGBTQ community, women, the disabled, and so on. Those challenges must be faced as well.

We shirk our core reason for having public education if we just go on with vocab words, multiplication facts, and geography quizzes.
for the preservation of their rights and liberties

Monday, August 28, 2017

Not out of the woods yet on a bus drivers' strike in Worcester UPDATED

While we were all (most?) relieved to see the buses hit the road today in Worcester, please note carefully the words of Mayor Petty on this:
It is my understanding that the Durham Bus Company ended negotiations today. I asked Shannon George of Teamsters Local 170 not to implement any job action for at least three days and he has agreed to do so. Shannon George has also agreed to return to the bargaining table in good faith...I have offered to work with both sides to find a fair and equitable solution to this ongoing contract dispute. Schools will be opening Monday morning as scheduled and Local 170 members will be there to transport our students.
Reading the coverage, it sounds as though the two sides are pretty far apart. I'm making contingency plans for Thursday.

UPDATE: Well, shows what I know! Keep your eyes on the Wednesday ratification vote.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Worcester, we have an open meeting law problem

No, it's not with the City Council's weekly items "under suspension" that aren't time sensitive and should be put on an agenda, 'though that is absolutely a problem.

It's with this strategic plan that was announced with little information at the end of last school year. Other than the single public input session in July, there has been not a peep, not a posting, about it. The scuttlebutt is, however, that they've been meeting.

And that's not only procedurally a problem: it's legally a problem.

The Open Meeting Law requires posted public meetings not only of public bodies (like the school committee) but also of committees appointed to advise those public bodies. Thus the strategic planning committee should be meeting in public, posted sessions, and, as evidenced by the clerk's postings, they are not.

"But there's an exception!" someone will object: a individual officer may have an advisory committee that does not meet in public session, so long as the body is advising on something under that officer's purview; the AG's FAQ gives as an example a superintendent's advisory committee on the appointment of a principal. Appointing a principal falls entirely under the purview of the superintendent; a committee can meet privately to advise a superintendent on that.

The strategic plan is quite explicitly not under the purview of the superintendent, however. School committees in Massachusetts:
... shall establish educational goals and policies for the schools in the district
That setting of direction is what the strategic plan does.
This is an advisory committee to the school committee. They have no business meeting privately.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

How ESSA's requirement on school level finance reporting may miss the point

I just read a new paper out from Bruce Baker and Mark Weber entitled "State School Finance Inequities and the Limits of Pursuing Teacher Equity through Departmental Regulation" and if you're a funding wonk type, I'd recommend it.
The upshot--and I'm oversimplying here--is that the requirement that ESSA has that school by school level finance reporting be done misses the real problem of funding inequity, which continues to be one of district by district. The district by district funding inequities are the issue we see driving the Foundation Budget Reform Commission in Massachusetts, the hangup over the state budget in Connecticut and in Illinois, insecurity as the new school year begins in Wisconsin...and I could continue. As Baker and Weber point out in the paper, equity in funding lies with the states, not the fed, and until district by district inequities are dealt with, we're missing the crux of the problem.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Chat with Nat on education video is up

Last night's "Chat with Nat" presentation from Rep. Natalie Higgins of Leominster was live-streamed over Facebook. You can now watch anytime. It's well worth watching all of it: Natalia Berthet Garcia regarding her own experience in the Leominster Public Schools, as well as her work on the No on 2 campaign is compelling, and Barbara Madeloni is, of course, encouraging us to ask some different questions about what we think of and ask of our schools. There was also a really solid Q & A with the audience for the last half hour.

If you want a  speed version of"how does the foundation budget work" primer, skip to about 4 minutes in and listen to me for ten minutes. You can find my PowerPoint here.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Worcester School Committee this week

A quick post as there are two posted Worcester School Committee meetings this week:
  • There's a posted executive session for this evening in the Mayor's office to discuss collective bargaining for teachers. One assumes that this is to update the committee on the tentative agreement that was announced yesterday; the teachers vote on it on Thursday. It appears the outline is 7% over the next three years, plus 1% for last year, with the health insurance changes that other units cityside have taken.
  • There's also a regular meeting of the school committee on Thursday night. The executive session is for teachers (possibly to ratify the contract, I'd assume), custodians, nurses, and computer techs, plus a grievance. They're honoring Dave Perda, who was recently appointed the superintendent of the Roman Catholic diocesan schools. They're hearing the reports from Governance and TLSS earlier this month.The first item looks like an effort towards a consent agenda, though that falls apart over the course of the rest of the agenda.There are a series of donations and prior year payments, including one "in the amount of $2,082.59 for the Secretary to the School Committee," and I don't know who that is (the School Committee has a secretary?!). Mr. Monfredo suggests updating the staff cell phone policy in light of changes in school safety procedure; he also wants the City Manager to discuss bus passes for students involved in activities with the WRTA. Mr. O'Connell is requesting energy audits for non-WPS-owned buildings (so...St. Casimir and the YMCA?), would like a list of Know Your School nights and site council meetings. Miss Biancheria is looking for another round of advertising, plus possibly lights at Belmont Street School (that's the one that has the pedestrian bridge). Miss McCullough is requesting consideration of the use of work at home during snow cancellations; you can read more about such efforts here.  

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Hey, central Mass! Want to talk about education and funding?

Rep. Natalie Higgins of Leominster is hosting a "Let's Talk" session at the Leominster Public Library at 7 pm on Tuesday, August 22. It looks like a good program, and I don't say that just because I am among the speakers!
UPDATE: you can see the full list of programs here.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Board of Ed in sum

crossposted at MASC
On August 17, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education held a previously unscheduled summer meeting, due to the untimely death of Commissioner Chester the morning of the June meeting. The meeting was called largely to discuss the process for hiring a new Commissioner.


In opening the meeting, Acting Commissioner Wulfson acknowledged the significant support he is receiving from all of DESE staff, most particularly the senior staff. All recognized the passing of Kathy Kelley, former president of AFT-MA (information regarding services can be found here).

Taking advantage of the Board being together, the Department gave an update on the state's ESSA plan (notes here). Matt Pakos reminded the Board of the process to date; Rob Curtin then reviewed the feedback received on the plan and the Department's planned response. The Board also received the proposed accountability indicators to date, with the repeatedly emphasized caveat that these will change once results from this spring's assessments are available. At this point, the major difference between the US DoE and the state is the measure on assessments for the academic achievement indicator: US DoE has insisted on grade level proficiency (that is, the percentage of students getting a score above the proficient cut off on testing), while the state has proposed the use of the average scaled score (averaging the scores of all students against a proficiency standard, which relates to where schools are starting at and increases over time). The state does not plan to change this in their submission later this week. Late yesterday, Connecticut received approval for their state plan that used a similar measure, which may indicate that a more positive direction for Massachusetts is possible.

Russell Johnston, serving as interim receiver of Southbridge, gave an update on work in the district (notes here). After reviewing the work that had been done on curricular alignment and work with technology and ELL students, he spent more time discussing the work on budgeting. In particular, he spoke of the centralization of purchasing, as too much authority had devolved to the schools on purchasing; the district was not, he said, "following best practices." The Department directly supported finishing the FY17 budget, such that the close of year balanced. Currently, the Department is in negotiations with a contractor for business management services; due to the previous high rate of turnover in the business office, Johnston felt that hiring an individual would not be best. The search for a new receiver will take place after local input on the characteristics needed in a new receiver. Johnston said the emphasis would be in "quality over speed." He will be reinstating the curriculum and budget subcommittees of the school committee in an advisory capacity. The district currently is orientating new teachers; this year, 70 teachers are new in a district of about 175 teachers. As part of their orientation, new teachers are touring the town on buses, meeting with parents, business owners, and other community members to be introduced to the strengths of the district.
The Board received an FY18 budget update, as the Governor signed the budget after their June meeting. From the Department's perspective, beyond flat staffing, the main concern is the conference committee's decision to budget the assessment line at $4 million less than the Governor's budget. DESE does not, at this point, plan to cut their spending; they are "moving forward assuming we will have that (higher) level." The federal budget picture remains, of course, unclear.
Chair Sagan then took up the search for a new Commissioner.  The Board is required to operate under the Open Meeting Law in their search; as such, final interviews, deliberation, and voting will take place in public session. An initial round of interviews will take place with an appointed subcommittee of the Board in executive session. The Department will be sending out an RFP with the intention of hiring a search firm to assist them in the search.  In response to a question from student representative Trimarchi regarding public input, Sagan proposed a small advisory committee, as well as encouragement of public input through their regular meetings.
Finally, the Board voted a 10% raise for Acting Commissioner Wulfson for the duration of his service as acting commissioner. Wulfson does not intend to apply for the permanant position.

The Board next meets on September 26.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

August Board of Ed: Acting Commissioner

Sagan: wanted to give Wulfson a raise while he is in this role
raise by 10% (to $184,827.50)
"my only cavaet is I wish I could pay you twice for two jobs"
retroactive to when he started

Passes unanimously.

August Board of Ed: Commissioner Search

There's no backup on this one.
Sagan: "maybe the most important work the Board does"
Chief state officer turnover "at crisis level"
"covered almost half of the reform effort in the state"
"so much of that work is left to be done"
"challenge to find somebody equally great"
"really energized by this task before us"
entire process is subject to Open Meeting Law
final candidates will be interviewed in public
has heard that there are two main problems to confront: ability to apply anonymously, which they will provide for; question of current acting
Wulfson has no intent to apply, so clears second

Getting some third part help from a search firm
"that's pretty much an administration function, so I'll handle that with staff"
discussions on what Board sees as position qualification
sharing former description with Board

Subcommittee of Board to cull down to finalists; keeping confidentially in preliminary round
Commissioner recommendation requires 8 of 11 votes
Sagan hopes will be unanimously choice
candidate recommended to Secretary, who makes actual appointment
hopes that if Peyser votes yes to recommendation will also approve candidate
"getting decision made by end of (school) year seems reasonable"

McKenna: think choice of search firm is quite important
candidate you choose is not someone who presented themselves but someone the search firm sought out
concerned about firms that only go to Roledex; ability to go beyond that; bringing forth diverse candidates
"there are a lot of firms that cannot answer in the affirmative"
"there are firms that do superintendent searches where you're only going to get someone who was a superintendent"
Sagan: "we don't know where this person will come from; I'm very open to in state, out of state; I just want a good person."
Morton: "would go back to something Russell said earlier: 'quality versus speed.'"
Sagan: have a competent person in the role, hope we're making another ten year selection
Trimarchi: how input from community at large will be gathered?
Sagan: can have informal advisors, could put into advisory board, ten years ago there was a 25 person advisory board
think if there are areas where we want ongoing input
possible public comment in the fall
"small advisory board"
are some examples, and can pick and choose from recent history

From here and September, posting of RFP with hiring of search firm
hope is to have person in place for start of new (2018) year

August Board of Ed: budget

Wulfson: budget signed by Governor
update is here
Bill Bell: "in the process of actively implementing"
conference committee did not fully fund testing fund; continuing to pursue that funding
$4.1M
"doing our plan assuming we're going to have that level"
Sagan: not going to weaken our assessment program
Bell: staffing staying the same moving forward:
Wulfon: even looking carefully at backfill "there are some areas that just might not be staffed"
Bell: keeping an eye on federal funding

August Board of Ed: Southbridge

Russell Johnston on Southbridge
Wulfson: he'll be giving the same update at school committee and town council
and we have a PP here, too that isn't online...
"if I'm a new third grade teacher in this district, would I know what to teach?"

  • a lot of work on curriculum
  • a lot more access to technology
  • a need for more leadership and support for ELL students
  • ELA curriculum units done this summer
  • school improvement plans worked on this summer; "principals own it at the school level"
  • budget improvements make this summer

FY17: Southbridge is 61% state funded; 22% locally funded; 10% grant funded

practice had been a lot of decentralized purchasing; "not following best practices"
DESE support on reconciling FY17 budgeting; training to improve business practices
"high rate of turnover of the business officer"
put out a bid for a contractor to manage the business and finance functions
finalizing contract now with an outside contractor

Receiver search: community input on qualities and characteristics needed on new receiver
emphasis on quality over speed
Chiefs for Change is funding a project manager to oversee recruitment of new receiver
have created a structure where current model can continue as long as necessary; additional personnel in central office

looking for greater involvement of school committee; looking to re-instate curriculum and budget advisory committees
similarly want union to be in cooperation
anticipate ratification vote later this month with teachers
teacher career ladder in place for the first time; "a lot of interest and a lot of appeal"

new teacher orientation week: will include time on buses to spend time with community
parents, business leaders "the strengths of our community"
teachers start on the 22nd; "real emphasis on school-level change"
starts on August 28

about 70 teachers who are new (in response to Q from Stewart); district is 175 teachers
Morton: town reaction?
Johnston: concern. parents have asked that particular initiatives would continue
relief for stabilization


August Board of Ed: ESSA update

The backup is here; there's also a PowerPoint, which I'll see if I can get my hands on.

Rob Curtin and Matt Pakos
review of process to date

Pakos: peer review and department staff reviewed submitted plan
in July, DoE provided feedback; revisions requested; plan is to resubmit later this week
requested revisions around accountability and assistance system plan; additional details on some specific ESSA programs

Curtin: majority on proposed accountability plan      
main unresolved issue: MA wants to use the average scaled score; fed wants a measure of grade level proficiency
Wulfson points out that MA isn't alone in taking this position
Curtin: taking the full scale score shows full range of all students; "I think it's really easy to not focus on all students" if only use grade level proficiency
Wulfson: not clear they are taking this position as a matter of policy
"a little bit of a legalistic position that they're taking"
Peyser: depending on the measures being used "it doesn't matter how non-proficient you are"
"to the extent that students are getting, or bouncing around below the proficient level, it's not clear that they are prepared for college success"
"I think the emphasis is well meant"
Sagan: "I don't think they're trying to do the wrong thing, though there's sometimes plenty of evidence to worry"
incentives cause behavior
McKenna: averages always mask: "all you would need is a group of high performers to mask...an average number of students who have not reached proficiency"
Sagan: if what we want is a balance of both, why isn't the answer both?
Curtin: that's what we want to do, actually: have schools advance the average over time
"we just haven't made that convincing argument as of yet"
McKenna: consistent concern from DoE on gap closing
Curtin: haven't had any conversation with them so far on closing gaps

Curtin: had had a conversation at March meeting about an indicator of successful completion of broad and challenging coursework
a bit about weighting: we told you that we weren't submitting any weights with our plan
"in order for us to be reviewed, we had to submit weights"
weights are in accordance with our present system, "but they are not final" and will be revised under new testing/accountability system
how to deal with schools without a minimum n size and with untested grades
still working on it

additional detail on schools that are in need of additional support (nothing new)

Charlottesville

For those seeking resources on Charlottesville:
  • First, do read Jose Vilson on it not just being enough to change curriculum and resources. "A curriculum is only as good as the accompanying approaches and the conscientiousness of the adults in charge of its intent."
  • Xian Franzinger Barrett has "Seven Ways Educators Can Respond to the Evil of Charlottesville, Starting Now":"As teachers, our job is not solely to pour mathematics, science, language arts or any other knowledge into the heads of our students. It is our duty to our profession, to our society and to the students to lovingly teach them to learn and grow as complete humans." 
  • You might check out what NPR and the Chalkbeat have posted.
  • And the UVA Graduate Student Coalition for Liberation has put together this Charlottesville Syllabus. 
  • And more is being added all the time via Twitter at #CharlottesvilleCurriculum.
I'll add more as I see it. 

August meeting of the Board of Ed: opening remarks

The Board of Ed begins meeting at 9 am; you can find the agenda here. This is not a regular meeting; there will not be opening public comment, though the Acting Commissioner, Secretary, and Chair may address the Board. No live video today, we're told, but they'll post video later.
updating as we go
It looks as though we have a member taking advantage of remote participation this morning: Hannah Trimarchi, the new student representative.

Sagan: special meeting of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education; main item that we're going to talk about is the search process that we have to undergo to find a new permanent Commissioner. Acknowledges passing of former AFT president Kathy Kelley (details on services here)
Also Tim Nicolette, new head of the Mass Charter School Association is here
Present: McKenna, Peyser, Sagan, Morton, Noyce, Moriarty, Stewart (Craven on her way)

Wulfson: "want to publicly acknowledge the support and help I'm getting from everybody here at the Department; everybody has been pitching in to keep things going at what is obviously a difficult time"
Condolences to Kathy Kelley's family and her larger teacher family

Peyser adds his condolences on Kathy Kelley's passing

Sagan: will resume public comment in September



Monday, August 14, 2017

Worcester School Committee: Governance this week

There's a Governance subcommittee this Tuesday at 4, with a largely policy agenda.
They're reviewing a series of recently updated policies, largely required by changes in regulation or law.
They're doing sections C (administration),  D (financial), and E (student supports) of the district policy review. Oddly, there appears to be a significant drop in legal references (not sure why)...For anyone out there still wondering what happened with Worcester and warrants, there's an implicit answer in section DGA, which mentions the superintendent, the city manager, the city auditor, the city treasurer...and not the school committee; likewise, section DJA specifically references no other authority being necessary. All of the references are to the municipal charter.
In response to the question about ESSA, there's a section of the student handbook (?), which hasn't been substantially redrafted under the new law. As there have been a number of presentations on what ESSA means for school districts, I'm not sure why this is the answer.
In response to the questions about safety and a principals' meeting, there's ALICE:
Changes in school safety are in response to the new ALICE Training and related protocols: 
1. Over 3,500 employees will take e-learning training on ALICE. 
2. In addition to lockdown and medical drills there will also be ALICE drills. 
3. Teachers will have their phones in their possession and on vibrate when school is in session to receive system safety notifications when necessary. 
4. School Resource Officers (SRO) and school administrators will receive training on school law. 
5. The WPS continues to work to enhance security systems in the schools.
It's disturbing to see "e-learning" with ALICE, as one thing that is emphasized over and over on emergency training is muscle memory. Unless you're training someone on typing, you're not getting muscle memory on a computer.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The applications for new charter schools and for new charter seats are in.

The full DESE press release is here. The applications are:
The applications for new charters are
Lynn, Equity Charter, 640 seats, grades 5-12
Haverhill, Wildflower Montessori, 270 seats, grades K-8
New Bedford, Cheironeum, 1008 seats, grades 6-12

Phoenix Charter is applying to open a third school with students from Lawrence, Haverhill, and Methuen, with 250 seats in grades 9-12.

The following schools are seeking to add seats:
Holyoke Community, seeking to add high school with 439 seats
KIPP Lynn, seeking to add 1014 seats
Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion, seeking to add 452 seats
Veritas (Springfield), seeking to add 108 seats
Full applications are due November 1; any recommended new charters or expansions will go before the Board in the spring.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Worcester, let's talk about principals for a minute

Yes, "-pals," not "ples."

Way back in May, we had an announcement of vacancies and replacements at several Worcester schools:
At Forest Grove, where current principal Mark Williams is retiring, the school department has hired Kareem Tatum, who was most recently the assistant principal at North High School and previously worked at Union Hill School, where he was involved in that school’s turnaround efforts. 
Maureen Power, the assistant principal at Jacob Hiatt School, will take over at Lake View for the retiring Margaret Bondar. 
Fjdor Dokor, the lone outside hire announced Friday, who comes from the Boston Public Schools, will replace Patricia McCullough at Clark Street. 
Finally, Ellen Moynihan, who has been acting principal at West Tatnuck since the retirement of Steven Soldi in February, will stay on as the school’s permanent principal. 
In addition to filling those principal openings, the school administration on Friday also announced it is reassigning a couple of current principals to new schools. Ellen Kelley, currently principal at Roosevelt School, will take over at Elm Park School, the district’s lone level 4 school. Elm Park’s principal, meanwhile, Joany Santa, will become principal at Vernon Hill School next year.
Let's be clear that for a district the size of Worcester, this isn't an unusual number of principals in a year; the district does have 44 schools.
Let's also note that we're now two and a half weeks out from school starting, and we have yet to have an announcement on a new principal at Roosevelt (and yes, I know this because I'm a parent there).

Here's what I find interesting: under MGL Ch. 71, sec. 41, superintendents hold the hiring authority for principals. They don't, under that section, have to consult with anyone about the hiring of principals. It's pretty clear, given the way that the retirements and appointments were announced in some cases together, that this is what is happening under Superintendent Binienda: she's simply appointing principals without a public process or consultation.
That is absolutely her right.
But take a look back at how often principals came up in Worcester School Committee meetings under the previous administration. I don't know that there was a single round of hiring that didn't have at least one, and sometimes more, round of School Committee items asking what the public process was for hiring. In most cases, there was one: there was a screening committee of teachers, parents, community members, and (in some cases) students who did the initial evaluation, sending finalists on for superintendent selection. Had there not been--and even when there was!--there would have been an outcry from members of the School Committee.

Now? No public process.
And not a peep.
Do we have less of a commitment to public process? Or did something else change?

Possible federal tax code changes and the impact on schools

While we can't (particularly with this administration) know what direction a revised federal tax code would take with regard to education, EdWeek gives five areas to watch as that comes up for discussion (possibly). The state and location deduction, particularly given that it's been modeled, is the one that would have the biggest financial impact.

An (unusual) August Board of Ed meeting

Given the circumstances of the previous Board of Ed meeting, it's not that surprising that, contrary to usual practice, they are choosing to meet in August. The meeting is next Tuesday, August 15 at 9 am; the agenda is posted here.
So far, the only backup is one that says, in essence, Russell Johnston will update on Southbridge, so no great details yet.
There's also an update on ESSA (remember, Massachusetts got some feedback, plus there's been lots of discussion online, some of which was poorly informed; I'll be interested to see if that comes up!)
There's also a budget update (for one, DESE didn't get all the funding for testing they were looking for).
There's a first public discussion on a new Commissioner.
And they have to pay Jeff Wulfson as Acting Commissioner.

I'll be there and blogging! 

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Speaking of segregation...

A good read from Vox today:
... data shows that as minorities move into suburbs, white families are making small and personal decisions that add velocity to the momentum of discrimination. They are increasingly choosing to self-segregate into racially isolated communities — "hunkering down," as Lichter likes to call it — and preserving a specific kind of dream.


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Massachusetts education funding history

As part of their FY18 Budget Browser, MassBudget has released program by program spending histories, adjusted for inflation. Here is the education chart:


You can find the full education report (including the chart) here. 

Monday, July 10, 2017

Public input session on Worcester Public Schools' strategic plan

I think I've made it clear that I'm rather dubious about the strategic plan process that the Worcester Public Schools are going through right now, however, there is going to be a public input session and it would be good for people to go.
It appears to exist only as a Facebook event?

Monday, July 17
6 pm
Fuller Conference Room, MCPHS University
25 Foster Street, 9th Floor, Worcester, MA
Offered in English with simultaneous Spanish translation

Questions? strategicplanworcester@gmail.com

I'll be on vacation, so don't look for a liveblog 

Saturday, July 8, 2017

So what did the Legislature pass?

Yesterday, the House and Senate both passed a budget agreed to by conference committee. It was filed that morning, meaning, as noted by State House News reporter Katie Lannan:
Not, let's say, a triumph for public process. Among other issues, this got us a IIA report, which puts the numbers and account numbers in a spreadsheet, which included only the House numbers, not the conference committee numbers (causing some of  us not a small degree of angst!).

The budget now goes to the Governor, who has ten days to consider it and, if he wishes, to issue vetoes, which, in its turn, the Legislature can override. In other words: we're closer, but we're not done yet.

So what's in it for public education?

Chapter 70 came back at $4.746B, which is right between the House and the Senate numbers. As best as I can tell--I have yet to find the actual Chapter 70 language on this--they did this by keeping the $30/pupil minimum increase, keeping--and possibly adding to?--the insurance increase in the foundation budget, but not taking on the Senate's special education implementation of the Foundation Budget Review Committee's recommendation. Let me emphasize that on my part that is SPECULATION, again, because I haven't seen either an explanation or actual language (which should have been part of H3800). That means that most foundation budgets will be higher than both House 1 and the passed House budget, but not as high as they would have been with the Senate budget. As for state aid, the majority of districts were seeing their increase through the $30/pupil, so that doesn't change ('though do recall that the Governor's budget had set that at $20/pupil, so our foundation budget charts are not yet updated). And if anyone finds or has the actual language, please let me know; I'd be interested.

This means, of course, that two years on from the Foundation Budget Review Commission, with districts across the state repeating that we need finance reform, the only change we saw was the fragmentary one in health insurance. This isn't how one truly values public education.

Oh, and Senator Chang-Diaz was one of two votes against it.

The Department's budget is just over $14M, and continues to contain a boatload of earmarks, which I won't go into here, 'though at some point I have a whole rant on that.

METCO is $20.5M, splitting the difference between House and Senate.

Regional transportation reimbursement is $61.5M (which had been as high as $62M, so it also splits the difference).

The circuit breaker, something specified by Senator Karen Spilka as a "painful" cut, passed at $281,231,181, lower than BOTH House and Senate. Note, however, that it is $50,000 lower than what the Senate passed, which, in a budget of this size (and an account of this size) makes that more of a symbolic cut than anything.

Likewise, McKinney-Vento reimbursement was cut from both houses, being passed at just over $80M; this is an account which has never been fully funded.

Note that all of these previous three are reimbursements, meaning the district fronts the money and gets the money back from the state afterwards. There is here, then, less of a hit on the starting end, but we'll see budgets straining on by midyear.

Targeted intervention in underperforming schools passed at $7.2M, which is lower than either house had passed.

The MCAS line passed at $26.9M, also lower than either budget previously passed.

Extended learning time passed at $13.9M, lower than either.

Innovation schools split the different with a budget of $165,000; that's $150,000 with $15,000 earmarked for Pentucket Regional.

There had been no difference in the amount set aside for charter school reimbursement--an acknowledged-as-underfunded $80.5M--so that passed as previous.

Those are most of the major lines. As always, if you have questions, please let me know.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Oh, and about the July Worcester School Committee meeting

...The only agenda posted is one for executive session at 4:30 pm (for collective bargaining with the teachers).

What's a consent agenda and why you should care if you're in Worcester

As I mentioned in my preview of the final Worcester School regular meeting of the school year, Mr. Foley raised the issue of a consent agenda, something which is covered in today's T&G, as the item was held for the July meeting. The item as filed reads:
To ask the Mayor and the Superintendent to develop a new approach to the School Committee agenda that will make the meetings more effective, productive, and deliberative. Suggestions would include the establishment of a consent agenda for items such as routine approvals of donations and recognitions, the development of criteria for recognitions, designated meetings for honoring recipients of recognitions, and the presence on the agenda at each meeting or every other meeting an important educational policy issue facing Worcester Public Schools that school committee members would learn about (through materials distributed prior to the meeting) and discuss with administrators at the meeting.
So, what's a consent agenda, and why is this being discussed?

A consent agenda takes all of the items that don't need deliberation, items that are simply going to be passed, bundles them together, and has the committee vote a single time to pass all of them.  No one, for example, votes against donations; rarely is there any discussion beyond a request that thanks be sent to the donor. There is no need for individual votes for (to look at that same meeting) donations:

  • of $19.10 for classroom books 
  • of $1000 for SAT for seniors
  • of $1000 for a scholarship (due to Mr. Allen's award)
  • of $676 for special education transitions
  • of $250 for the alternative program (from an award they won!)
  • of $660 from Intel
  • of $13,000 from the Quinsigamond Village Improvement Council for equipment
Should they be on the agenda? Yes, and they're legally required to be, as the committee must vote acceptance of donations. But do they need to be taken separately? No, not at all.
And if someone thought one of them warranted discussion, they could make a motion to take the item off the consent agenda; if that motion passed, the item would be taken up during the meeting as a regular business item. 
Another example, and one raised by Mr. Monfredo in the article, is recognitions. You may have noted that I no longer spell those out in my agenda summary. Frankly, recognitions have exploded over the past year and a half. In that same June 15 alone, for example, there were nine different recognitions, some of several people, several of which were recognitions of individuals who have been recognized more than once this year already! And while recognitions may well be popular--and I doubt highly they'll ever go away--they are not, by any means, a core function of the School Committee, which, under the Mass General Laws, are: 
...to select and to terminate the superintendent, shall review and approve budgets for public education in the district, and shall establish educational goals and policies for the schools in the district consistent with the requirements of law and statewide goals and standards established by the board of education.
More to the point, for each of those recognitions, there is an item filed at an initial meeting, at which at least the filer of the item speaks to the item, and then the item is brought back for the recognition, at which someone else, at least, speaks to the item. And NONE of that is actual school committee business!
If the committee wants to bring people in to recognize them, those who wish to do so need not take up two rounds of committee time in order to do so. Put the initial filing on the consent agenda, and have the recognition at a subsequent meeting.

There's an additional thing going on here, which is mentioned in the article:
In its recent comprehensive review of the district, for example, the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education opined the committee was filing too many requests for information from the school administration – requests that often had little to do with the school system’s most pressing priority of improving teaching and learning, the report said.
This is a touchy subject: after all, DESE overreach and the tug-of-war over who manages what is something of a going concern in Massachusetts education and of this blog in particular. However, a quick glance back at some recent agendas speaks to the point:
  • a request for a list of STEM events during a particular month
  • a request for a report from a particular presentation at which the committee member was present
  • a request for a list of summer events
  • a request for a report on specific minor repairs undertaken to a specific school (out of 50 buildings)
  • a request that brush be cleared at particular schools
Can a school committee member make these requests? Absolutely. But as section BCA of the Worcester Public Schools policy handbook says about the responsibilities of school committee members, members will: 
Refer all complaints to the administrative staff for solution and only discuss them at Committee meetings if such solutions fail
In other words: Can it be done with a phone call? Can it be done with an email? Then it should be.
Otherwise, you're just putting it on the agenda to put your name on the agenda.
This will be taken up at Thursday night's meeting. EDIT: no, no regular meeting this week! Check in August! 

Monday, July 3, 2017

Why you maybe should still be worried about Chapter 70

You've no doubt heard the quotes: "Chapter 70 is the third rail;" "Chapter 70 is sacrosanct;" "The Legislature would never touch Chapter 70."
And if you've spent any time around this blog, you know that the state has a constitutional obligation around the funding of public education, thus protecting K-12 school funding.
That's protection only goes so far, however, and when now-Acting Commissioner Wulfson warns us not once, not twice, but three times that we should keep a wary eye on Chapter 70 funding, I believe him.

So this holiday week as we're still awaiting an FY18 budget (with the fiscal year having ended at midnight on Friday), here's how we could still see cuts in Chapter 70 school aid.

On the spreadsheet issued by DESE, I'm looking at the tab marked "summary" which is here:
(See the note up on top that says "Preliminary"? DESE issues this twice each year: once for the Governor's budget, and once for the final, signed-sealed-and-delivered state budget. We don't have the latter, so these numbers are still from the former.)

We could use lots of communities for this example, but for this round, let's look at Leominster, which has been in the news in central Mass lately. Leominster has a student enrollment of just over 6100 students in PreK through 12. They have a foundation budget of $69.4M for FY18. Leominster generally hovers just over required spending (and much of this year's debate has been over the mayor's assertion that he would fund the schools at, not over, net school spending for FY18). 

The summary page for Leominster looks like this: 

(as always, if you click on images, they'll get larger.)
A quick glance in the upper right hand corner of that sheet may give you a hint where this is going: like many districts in Massachusetts, Leominster Public Schools' enrollment is declining (down 99 students from the previous year). As the foundation budget is a student-driven formula, that means the foundation budget is also declining (down $81K from the previous year).

What does that mean for state aid? Take a look at the left column of the sheet:

From the calculation of the municipal wealth formula, Leominster is charged in FY18 with carrying $27.8M of its foundation budget, leaving $41.6M for the state to pick up. 
However:

For FY17, Leominster received $43.8M in Ch. 70 aid.

You can imagine the outcry if Leominster--and many other districts--heard that they were going to get over $2M LESS in state aid than they did the year before. 
Thus two principles--neither of them constitutionally mandated--kick in: hold harmless and minimum aid.

"Hold harmless" straightforwardly is that your aid is "held harmless" or not hurt by the change in the calculation. In practice, that means that the district does not see an aid cut, even if one is warranted by the calculation.

"Minimum aid" comes to us courtesy of the elected branches: 
Remember, we're still working here on the Governor's budget; the Legislative houses both set this at $30/pupil.
Minimum aid means that for every student in your system, you will get an increase of at least that dollar amount. The Governor's budget (which this spreadsheet is based from) set this at $20/pupil; the Legislative branches both set it at $30/pupil.

If you're a district with increasing enrollment and a correspondingly increasing foundation budget, you're seeing more than that per pupil increase already (as the per pupil increases in foundation are significantly more than that) in your constitutionally-mandated state aid.

However, neither hold harmless or minimum aid are constitutionally mandated. 

Last year, about $450M of the full Chapter 70 budget was hold harmless and minimum aid. This year, the Governor's $20 per pupil increase alone is $11M.

Am I saying that the conference committee is definitely going to hit this section of the budget? No. I don't have any sources on that.
But they can. And if Jeff Wulfson is worried, I'm worried.