Friday, June 2, 2017

A couple of observations from the WPS budget before Council

I didn't liveblog the consideration of the Worcester Public Schools' budget before City Council on Tuesday, though I did livetweet it (you'll need to scroll back to May 30). There were a few things I wanted to post on here, though, before it all vanishes into the Twitter backlog. I'm not, incidentally, going to waste either my time or my space on issues that we've long since dealt with
  • You may have seen this article on some Worcester schools adding washers and dryers next year. This discussion coming up led to what was probably Superintendent Binienda's best moment of the deliberation:
  • Rare praise from Councilor Lukes: 
  • There were a couple of back and forths about charter reimbursement and the foundation budget review commission that made it clear that, while Council does understand what we're missing on charter reimbursement, many don't understand what we're missing on the lack of the review of the foundation budget. Not okay for a city missing as much as Worcester is...somewhere around $100M a year.
  • There was, though, one sequence that really worried me: Councilor Rosen asked a solid question on the impact of the proposed federal budget on the Worcester Public Schools: 
  • far so good.
    Superintendent Binienda then went on an extended discussion of her longstanding concern over funding of AP tests and the state's proposal that Title IV could be used for that. The Worcester Public Schools, however, don't get Title IV money (and haven't gotten Title IV money for as long as I've been paying attention).
    She then added school nutrition, but school nutrition funds aren't threatened by the proposed budget. School-based health centers, she added, which possibly could see some impact if there's a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, but there's no change in their funding under the proposed federal budget.
    Finally, she added Title III. Worcester does get Title III, which is funding for ELL students; it's used to fund seven instructional coaches and some summer programs. But Title III also isn't seeing an impact in the proposed federal budget.
    (if you're interested in my sources, I read this from EdWeek  and this from the Washington Post when the budget came out, and just double checked that against CNN,)
    So what should the answer have been?
    The two clearest impacts are to two programs which are cut entirely under the proposed budget: Title IIA is teacher preparation, which in Worcester funds 14 instructional coaches and a Manager of Curriculum (that's $1.8M a year); the 21st Century grant is Community Learning Centers which run after school at Burncoat Middle and at Sullivan Middle (that's $181,000 a year).
    It's also worth keeping an eye on Title I. While that's expected to be level-funded, there's no provision in the federal budget for the ESSA language that now funds school turnaround grants out of the Title I line. That could effectively work out to a 7% cut, depending on how states handle it. Worcester gets $11.6M a year in Title I funds, and that covers most of an administrative position, 14 preschool teachers, 12 other teachers, 34 coaches, 7 wraparound positions, 34 IAs, and nearly 15 grant and support positions. That's a big one.

    Yes, it's finance, and yes, that's a big thing I follow. But this is a question that any superintendent in the country should have expected to get this year, but most especially one that gets $29M a year in federal grants. And ours didn't expect to get it, wasn't prepared, and didn't answer the question correctly.

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