Monday, November 27, 2017

Worcester schools to get $1.1M from free cash (and some advanced placement finance stuff)

The T&G reports today that part of the Worcester City Council's consideration of free cash tomorrow night is a proposed allocation of $1.1 million to the Worcester Public Schools. This follows up on the report from mid-November's Finance and Operations that FY18 thus far has a $1.6 million gap in the first quarter report.
Having now listened to the meeting, it seems that maybe the most relevant comment on this didn't make the article; at about 15 minutes in, you can hear Mr. Allen say the following:

"We have been having ongoing discussions with the City Manager and the City CFO, and we hope and expect some discussions through either the free cash process or through some supplemental appropriation to assist us in that regard so we can balance the FY18 budget."

Thus this comment:

“We continue to work with the city manager on his recommendation to the City Council” to provide supplemental funding or some other solution to the district’s deficit, Mr. Allen said at Monday’s meeting of the School Committee’s Finance and Operations Standing Committee. 
 Should the city not be able to fill the gap, he said, “we’ll figure it out, one way or another.” less prophetic than it appeared in print, perhaps. 
The allocation (which, despite the tone of the City Manager's report, will have to be done by the School Committee) is proposed to be directed to additional staffing and special education tuition. Note that while $1.6 million is a lot of money, adjustment of such size are not completely unknown. Thus the City Manager's comment today:

“Without this additional appropriation, the Worcester public schools will need to make mid-year budget cuts of $2.2 million in order to close the current gap with only half of the fiscal year remaining,” he added. 

...looks a little like overkill.

Also, h/t to Donna Colorio for bringing up the still-waiting-on-the-state question of funding for the students who have come from Puerto Rico. 

For Net School Spending watchers, that's getting us close to 1% over, by the back of my envelope.

Unfortunately, the Finance and Operations subcommittee section of the website is down, meaning we can't reference the quarterly report. In listening to the meeting, however, I'm still puzzling over what Worcester's doing on AP tests. The most recent T&G article lauding Worcester's expansion says this:
Despite Worcester promoting the AP program, it ran into a hitch last school year when a federal subsidy that helped pay the cost of poorer students’ tests ended suddenly.
The school system ended up paying for affected students’ exams – about $80,000 worth of fees, school officials said in the spring – with the expectation that some form of government assistance would become available to cover the bill from the College Board, which administers the AP. According to a recent memo from the finance department to the School Committee’s Finance and Operations Standing Committee, the district did end up receiving nearly $300,000 in Title IV federal aid that it had not budgeted and that will go toward AP exam fees. 

 “We were able to pay our bill,” Ms. Binienda said, as well as put some money toward next year’s test fees.

At about minute 16, Mr. Allen references the article, but that's it. 
Here's the thing: as Worcester expanded advanced placement exams, Worcester also added a policy saying that if students took the class, they also were required to take the exam. This was less of an issue when we had a state-administered grant that covered the fees for all kids who got free and reduced lunch AND we knew who got free and reduced lunch.

Now, however, we've had a vast expansion in advanced placement across the district; kids are pushed (frankly, to the determent of their greater interests) to pack as many AP's into their schedules as possible. Parents and students are NOT, at the time of sign-ups, told or reminded of the policy requiring the test. AND the state grant is gone AND students no longer sign up for free and reduced lunch.
So what happens? If you have a kid in an AP class, in mid-November--long past time when kids could drop or add classes--a form came home that said this:
"Please be aware that AP courses are equivalent to courses taught at colleges. If you are enrolled in an AP course, you are REQUIRED to take the AP Exam and pay the due fees. In order to qualify for a fee reduction for the AP exam cost, parent/guardian must first submit The Fee Reduction Worksheet in order to verify household income. If you qualify for Free/Reduced lunch you will received a reduction of the total fees."
At the bottom of the form, it was note that full price exams are $95; the reduced fee is $59. 
No student in Worcester qualifies for free or reduced lunch anymore, nor have they in years, as the entire district is covered under Community Eligibility. Thus few in Worcester would know the standards.
At no point are parents told how to access this worksheet.
Even if your family qualifies, it's still $59 per test per student. 
And families are told this in NOVEMBER.

Yes, I know all this because I have kids in AP classes, but, no, the waiver was never going to apply to my family. What concerns me is the injustice of the situation the Worcester Public Schools are creating. We're a district in which the vast majority of the kids live in poverty; those same kids are being pushed into these classes, and they are only being told AFTER they've been in class for most of the first quarter that there's, in essence, a charge for participation.
That's not right.
And it doesn't appear as if Title IV is going to fix that, either. 

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