Wednesday, December 4, 2019

FY21 Consensus Revenue hearing

Every December, the Joint Committee on Ways and Means holds a hearing with the Secretary of Administration and Finance to determine, basically, how much money they agree the state will have next year to spend on the budget. That is then what the Governor and each of the Chambers is supposed to use in creating their FY21 budget. 
"supposed to" because generally each of the Chambers then comes out with budgets that are more than the Governor's...but that's just my observation. 
Also, note that we've had budget surpluses for several years running, which does not do local aid lines a lot of good. 

Sen. Michael Rodrigues opens, noting that tax revenue exceeded expectations by $1.1B, 6.8% over actual FY18 collections.
cites "historic funding increase for our public schools" in FY20
speaks of fiscal uncertanity ahead
Rep. Aaron Michlewitz: while we had a $1.1B surplus this year, "we must remain thoughtful as we plan for the future"
doing this in public, bipartisan way, taking testimony from nongoverment experts "means we're doing this the best way"
national and international changes may mean state needs to respond
tax revenue above benchmarks through October
unemployment below the national average
Secretary Michael Heffernan "this kicks of consensus revenue"
thanks those testifying, calling it "integral to what we will be doing down the road"

first panel: Commissioner Harding, Dr. Kazim Ozyurt, Kevin Brown, all from Mass Department of Revenue
Harding: recap of FY19
notable development has been strong revenue growth in FY18 and FY19
"were preceeded by two years of disappointing revenue growth"
FY18 was mostly from corporate and business taxes and non-withheld income taxes
FY19 similarly
stock market performance and capital gains, important to note now
Standards and Poors rose more than 28%
"highly likely that the changes in non-withheld taxes" related to this growth
tax reform in 2017 may have let itself to the corporate income and personal income tax
strong MA economy: strong and supportive of revenue growth
gains in stock market, tax changes that may have accelerated growth, strong local economy lent itself to FY18 and FY19
first two are episodic rather than trends, however
"may not be repeated in the future"
"financial market performance is also unpredictable"
now in longest growth in US history but all such growth much come to an end
not expecting recession in FY20 or FY21
but being "realistic and prudent in our estimates"
$30.099B benchmark in FY20
potential upside in FY20 $75M to $245M
"less than half over" most years 2/3 of revenue comes December through June
not recommending revision for FY20 at this time
collections reflect growth of 5.4%
FY21: DOR forecasts in range $30.623B to $30.899B
growth of 1.5% to 2%
midrange of 2.3% over FY20 benchmark
I'm skipping some parts of how they got here
assumes decrease in income tax; have passed 4 of 5 triggers
will reduce income tax
that then assumes a part year revenue loss of $62M
full year impact for FY22 could be $300M
main drivers are income tax 57.5%, sales tax 22.9%, corporate and business taxes 11%, and other taxes 0.4%
November numbers to be released later today
$148M up this month
year to date $278M over benchmark but $160M is the estate tax

Q on marijuana revenue and online revenue from Rodrigues
Michlewitz Q on benchmarks and on "newer tax initiatives"
"I'll characterize the last year as a lot of education and collaboration" around the AirB&B and such
Friedman asks if low unemployment will impact corporate growth
(yes, it seems, in sum, though it is noted that it is a single indicator)

Treasurer Deborah Goldberg, Michael Sweeney (lottery)
rainy day fund now $2.85B
MSBA saved $135M present value through a refunding deal
retirement fund has "consistently outperformed benchmarks and its peers"
Goldberg urges people to read
turned over more than $125M to general fund and more than $3.5M to the rainy day fund
becoming less over time as "we are consistently returning more and more money to the original owners"
Lottery has topped $5B in revenues for fifth year in a row
combined draw sales down in first 4 months of year
cashless sales
competitors investing heavily in technology
Alcoholic Beverage Controls Commission: $4.9M in revenue, most from new licenses and renewals
anticipates collecting $5M in FY20 and projects the same in FY21
budget increase lead to 5 additional inspector investigators and faster processing time
"they don't have to wait as long as they used to have to wait to get an inspector in to sign off"
"look forward to working with all of you in order to continue to enhance operations"
Rodrigues asks about meeting with rating agencies
Goldberg concern from them still, noting that "we had a statutory obligation to not spend down in good times"
concern that the message from DC and Fed's reaction (in interest rates) "is not a reflection of reality of how world economies are going"
"a lot of weakness...a lot of people have a lot of credit"

Mass Taxpayers, Eileen McAnneny speaking
increase of $615M or 2% to $31.06B
$240M or 15% decline over 2020 estimates
"every tightening labor market"
forecasts "virtually no [job] growth" in FY21
assumes income tax rate reduction to 5%, loss of $64M in 2021
without that and capital gains reduction, would have seen revenue increase of 3.5%
don't recommend revision to forecast for FY20
sales tax only growing modestly makes us more dependent on more volatile revenue streams

Michael Goodman, Dept of Public Policy at UMass Dartmouth
remarks on broader economic context
"slow but positive growth"
"significant levels of policy and geopolitical uncertainty all of which represent significant risks to the downside"
demographic conditions: aging and slow growing labor force plus immigration limits
"artificial restrictions" of "the most relaible source of new labor at every level of the occupational spectrum"
saying that he left New Bedford 2 1/2 hours before getting to Boston "this is basically my day"
"seizing the opportunity presented by the underutlized capacity of regionals like Western and Southeastern Massachusetts will require more than simply long-awaited communter rail access to Boston, even though improved transit options are sorely needed in most areas of the state"
likewise, impact of international students are a major source of growth in education
"while at this point the measureable economic impact of counterproductive federal trade and immigration policies is relatively modest, their negative effects accumulate over time"

Alan Clayton-Matthews, Northeastern
fluctations in tax revenues over past several years makes projections difficult and uncertain

William Burke, Beacon Hill Institute
healthy near term outlook of US economy
"currently labor market in the United State remains strong"
"agrees that the US economy will continue to see economic growth
MA economy "remains solid"
projecting a revenue increase of 1.9% in FY20 and 3.8% in FY21
Rodrigues notes "we're all over the place in capital gains"

increase political unrest internationally; disagreement among panelists on what kind of economic impact that may have

education reform spending will help boost the labor force as more students complete high school
growing skills and education

Goodman "our biggest threat that we can see to the future trajector of the state economy is our capacity to grow"
"A major step in the right direction was making investment in K-12 education, particularly urban K-12 education, where I think we have the most wasted talent in the talent pipeline in public education. So if those dollars get to where they need to go and we get better outcomes, it will be better all around."

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Worcester School Committee meets Thursday

The agenda is here.
The report of the superintendent is on the Barr Foundation grant on "reimagining high school." The grant is a second round of a grant received last year--this one for $300K, last year's for $150K--of which little has been said until now. In fact, the first round of the grant, when it was listed in an article on disciplinary disparities, was billed as:
A $150,000 grant – and possibly more – from the Barr Foundation to implement a ninth-grade transition program aimed at reducing suspensions.
The School Committee did not receive a report on the work of that grant, nor did it receive a grant report that specified how the funding had been (or even was planned to be) expended. A ninth grade transition program for reducing suspensions is not the same as work on what Worcester imagines its graduates from high school to be, as this second grant reportedly is being used for, even if, as this report says, this one focus on "9th grade success," along with "rigor and relevance, college planning, and equity."
I say "reportedly" because the request that the Committee vote acceptance on the grant has not a shred of information on how the grant is being expended. This is problematic for two reasons:
  •  it means the Committee can't fulfill its function of keeping spending aligned with the goals of the district (rather than chasing what is shiny)
  •  it means the Committee (and thus the district) isn't fulfilling its fiduciary responsibility in allocating funds. No one is voting where the money is going. 
As the presentation itself also lacks specificity--the strategic plan is mentioned, but not how this aligns with it, with nothing on how this lines up with other work the district is doing--it's impossible to tell from this what exactly is being done, by whom, where, what it is going to cost, and how. The section on work so far and work ahead is the same: stakeholders that are being met with can mean a lot or a little; a "representative sample" of site councils, given how much work there is to be done on site councils in Worcester, is, frankly, not representative. One of course likewise wonders which students have been met with. If it's the usual suspects (as I call them; the kids who get picked for everything), the "portrait of a graduate" is only going to mean a very particular thing.
Also, that diagram on community is from Battelle for Kids out of Ohio and...why are their diagrams being used?
None of this, incidentally, is to find fault with the idea of looking at what Worcester thinks a high school graduate should be. It isn't clear to me that this is necessarily going to do it, nor how the grant funding is being spent to get there.

Teaching, Learning, and Student Supports subcommittee met largely to file things, it seems, as the term comes to a close. Looking through the minutes, it appears that there are a number of requests for information coming back.

There are some resignations and appointments.

The enrollment by course report that is coming back to Miss Biancheria's request isn't the full list of courses; I believe it's the new courses that had been approved.

There are donations and recognitions and congratulations.

The ongoing rash (pun intended) of prior fiscal year payments continue, with $1284,86 to a certified nursing assistant, and with $1721.02 (!) going to Struck Catering. I would think they are probably more prompt in their billing than this, which would mean the district not only is not following proper procedures on this, but it's also holding up paying a local business.

Mr. Monfredo has an item to "increase math scores as delineated in the strategic plan." That's this works.
Miss Biancheria is asking again this year for a list of snow-clearing equipment by school "including the process for clearing snow at each site and the evaluation of equipment." Setting aside for the moment just how far into management this is (the answer is WAY into management!), it's hard to think of responses for "the process for clearing snow" that aren't, er, sarcastic.

Mr. Comparetto closes the agenda with a series of items in response, I believe, to an email from a Worcester principal that was pinballing across social media, which asked students to dress as Pilgrims and Wampanoag on the day school got out for Thanksgiving.

They read:
  • Request that the Administration provide an update on the alleged culturally inappropriate programming at Goddard School of Science and Technology. 
  • Request that the Administration consider incorporating a day of mourning at Thanksgiving time into school programming. 
  • Request that the Administration consider incorporating real American history into the curriculum. 
  • Request that the Administration review recommendations made by the organization Teaching Tolerance for culturally appropriate Thanksgiving programming
The implementation of the history and social studies standards still has, it seems, work to be done. The state standards did extensive work on historically disenfranchised voices, and the standards created and the resources used lead towards a richer understanding, one hopes. If you're struggling to see the issue here, start "A Culture, not a Costume" from the Washington Post; Googling that will give further resources.

There is an executive session, with one item arbitration with the EAW, one item on litigation, and two on collective bargaining.
And yes, I am planning to attend. 

Friday, November 29, 2019

Don't leave out the business office

Just in time for the largest investment in Massachusetts public education since the early 90's comes this report from Educational Resource Strategies, "The Strategic CFO."

Let's start by talking about all the reasons you might dislike this one:
  1. You hate using the term "CFO" for the school business office, as it smacks of "making education run more like a business" and plenty of the baggage that comes along with that line. That's fair, 'though I also think that it tends to reflect our own personal experiences with those roles. There are "School Business Managers" that don't get how schools aren't businesses and CFOs who do, so...if it helps, ignore the title. 
  2. It's sponsored by the Broad Institute. Yes, always look at funders, but read the report, anyway. I would hope we all read with a critical eye, in any case?
  3. ERS has a lot (a LOT!) of Bain alums among their employees. Much like Broad, that speaks to this "we're going to come in and tell you all how to do education better (you poor benighted folks)" coming from heavily corporate industry. Thus again, read with a critical eye.
Let's talk about this. 
Traditionally, school district and corporate leaders regarded chief financial officers, or CFOs, as chief accountants. They were tasked with ensuring financial compliance, settling the books, creating reports, and cutting costs. The CFO was risk averse and internally focused; she was there to backstop the ambitious plans of others. 
Those accountability functions are no less important now than they were in the past — but today’s CFO is part of a district leadership team that is on the hook for so much more. A higher bar for student learning and great student needs require new ways of organizing resources, even as unsustainable cost structures and flat or decreasing revenue make it more challenging to invest in improvement.
The first part is certainly true, and I would argue it still is in many places. I'd dispute the idea we're necessarily seeing district leadership "on the hook for so much more," so much as we may be aware of that responsibility. Likewise, the organizing of resources to this end isn't new, so much as it is as much true as it ever was; always beware of thinking you've discovered a problem, when perhaps it is only new to you.

The three "mindsets" the report offers are:
  • Look Forward: As chief problem-solver in the district, it’s important for the CFO to not just solve problems that are “smacking you in the face,” but also dig below the surface to root causes. This may happen through thoughtful inquiry into isolated issues raised by a colleague, or by stepping back to uncover patterns over time that may be indicative of a more systemic challenge 
Yes, for sure! And also: consider what kind of resources of time this takes, to have the space to consider and dig for systemic problems, and then work on patterns and fixing them.
I had considered earlier this week when the "state your unpopular opinion" was circulating online contributing that my "unpopular opinion on school finance" is that central offices are frequently understaffed. This is particularly true (again, in my view) of school business offices. Consider, then, that the reports and budgeting and accounting all need to still take place; if you also think that this visionary and problem solving perspective should be happening, we need to staff for it.
  • Reach Outward: The CFO should foster trust among colleagues and the public by being transparent about the district’s financial picture, actively educating others about the “why” behind the numbers and maintaining a public persona as a competent financial manager  
Note that this requires that everyone trusts the business manager to do this, to do it well, and then...for the business manager to do this well.
  • Focus on “How Well”: It is important to frame financial decisions within an overarching narrative about district strategy that the community can digest and connect with.
This is your most important policy document being your budget. This does mean, though, that budgets should be starting with goals, with the budget created to support them, not doing what has always been done or adding things that seem neat, and then backtracking to make the budgeting fit the strategic or goal-setting narrative. As is noted elsewhere in the report, this puts those in this position at the table earlier than might be true in some places.
This is also, of course, a core function of the school committee. If your budget starts with how much rather than where you're trying to go, it's backwards.

The report then lists five core functions:
1. Long-Term Financial Planning: assessing the forecast, defining root causes, aligning timeliness (amazing how often the budget operates in its own sphere), engaging other stakeholders, boosting public visibility (note how these two make it everyone's budget), and pursuing additional revenue
2. Strategic Planning: tuning into academics (note the de-isolation of the business office here), linking goals and measures, setting explicit resource-use goals
3. Annual District Budgeting: planning around the priorities (I would say FROM the priorities), integrating all funds (yes, you have to pass the grants for a reason!)), facilitating community decision making, proactively balancing the budget, periodically checking in (quarterly reports, yes, but your reports on goals should have allocation updates, too), monitoring impact metrics (which just means you're doing more than "we spent this much and we have this much left")
4. Annual School Budgeting: strengthening school support (we don't require budget training of principals; we should), clarifying flexibilities (what level of discretion does the school actually have on spending?), integrate decision-making inputs, coordinate timelines
5. Collective Bargaining: understanding student and teacher impact (what does the district need the contract to do?), expanding analytics, supporting stakeholder communication

This again all argues that this position--in fact, the entire office--is much more about the district direction than about spreadsheets and end of year reports. I'm not sure we can emphasize this enough as we work on the upcoming funding.
And? We may well not have enough people to do it.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Giving thanks

For those in positions of public trust, that they would serve with integrity and uphold the dignity of all.”
-from today’s intercessions at St. Paul’s Cathedral
In a week in which we both traditionally give thanks and we saw the "landmark" "monumental" insert-other-awe-inspiring-descriptor-here school funding bill signed, it is important to me to take a second to say thank you.

This year has seen what at least in my memory is an unprecedented level of new appreciation for what we might have dismissed as career bureaucrats at the federal level.
They have their parallels at the state and local level, too.
I got some credit this week for the work I've done explaining school funding in Massachusetts. I appreciate that.
I also know that I can only do that as well as I do because there are a still-surprising to me number of people in Boston and in Malden and closer to home who answer my emails and phone calls and such. I came to the realization this year that the number of people who can answer a question I run into on Massachusetts school finance is small. I'm glad they answer me, still.
I won't name names--there are too many places where, far too much like the national atmosphere, that would only harm--though I will note that this week also saw an unprecedented amount of tweeting from the Deputy Commissioner.
Perhaps, though, we can be a little less quick to use "bureaucrat" and "administration" dismissively, and recall that some who "serve at the pleasure of" serve us.
And some do it well.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

For the preservation of their rights and liberties

Governor Baker signing the Student Opportunity Act
I was there.
He really signed it.

We no longer have a 26 year old education funding formula in Massachusetts. We have one that has been updated, and updated progressively.
It actually gives more money to kids who have more needs.

Do read Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz's epic Twitter thread of thanks from yesterday:
While this was not the theme of those speaking, yesterday, to me, spoke to there being some things on which we cannot compromise. We have unjust systems, including an unjust educational system. We cannot, we must not, concede on that. Nationally, too often we hear calls for civility and compromise which come at the cost of some people's humanity. Locally, too often we hear calls for equity and justice characterized as personal attacks. We cannot indulge in that or concede to that.
It was the absolute unflinching refusal to allow a half measure that got us yesterday.
MASBO's sponsorship of MassBudget's Cutting Class back in 2011 illustrated the problem was widespread, but the injustice was particular where we have a lot of kids who are poor. The collaboration across district lines--the understanding that while it is a struggle for many, it is very much worse some places--is what built a coalition that succeeded.
We recognized an injustice and we worked to right it.
Our state constitution describes an educational system that prepares "the different orders of the people"in "the various parts of the country" with "wisdom, knowledge, as well as virtue" to continue and further our democratic (small d) governance.
Education is necessary to preserve our rights and liberties.
Yesterday, we made another step in that preservation.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Worcester gets an article after all: building a bigger table

...but before we talk about that, let's note this nice piece from Sentate President (and former Ashland School Committee member and yes, I am always going to remind us of that) Karen Spilka:
This week, the Massachusetts Legislature passed the Student Opportunity Act unanimously. This historic vote demonstrates our commonwealth’s continuing commitment to ensure a quality public education for all our children.
It also represents a deeply personal achievement for me and MetroWest, as I first ran for the Legislature 18 years ago to address what I saw as inequities in school funding in my hometown. With my two young children in public school, I first ran for school committee, and then convened the Chapter 70 Roundtable.
A statewide coalition of parents, teachers, administrators, school officials, advocates and stakeholders, we sought to advocate for equity, adequacy and predictability in educational funding. the passage of the Student Opportunity Act, I am proud to say that we are finally seeing the culmination of that advocacy two decades later.
Very true, and we should note that the leadership of Senate President-emerita and former Worcester School Committee member Harriette Chandler, as well, and that list is considerably longer. 

Earlier this week, I was lamenting the losses among the local press and what that meant for coverage of this school funding bill's impact locally; I am more than pleased to have been proven wrong this morning:
Front page of the Sunday Telegram has a headline that reads "Filling the blanks" over an image of a teacher leaning over a little girl with headphones looking a laptop screen

I would say there are three things happening in this article:

1. Is this really over?

This is the crux of the question over if the potential lawsuit involving Worcester will be dropped, for starters. We should note that Worcester, involved in the potential Mass Association of School Superintendents lawsuit, has not been among those represented in a currently filed lawsuit. The lawsuit that aleady exists through the Council for Fair School Finance (of which, yes, MASC is a member), is Mussotte v. Peyserwas filed in June, and involves children from Chelsea, Chicopee, Fall River, Haverhill, Lowell, Orange, and Springfield. That lawsuit has not been dropped, and I don't know anything of that decision, but the note coming from Worcester's administration that this becomes about implementation is, I think, the key.
I think we also need to remember that "they're trying" was more or less the state's (successful) defense in the Hancock case, so the hopes of a lawsuit being successful under those terms is much less certain.
Which brings us to Brian Allen's answer to "how much?":
As Worcester’s chief financial and operations officer Brian Allen pointed out, while the SOA establishes the goal-funding rates, left unsettled is at what number those rates will be phased in each year.
“It appears to fully cover the gap in the foundation budget we’ve been talking about,” he said, referring to district estimates that Worcester has been underfunded by around $100 million under the current formula. But a host of variables, including the performance of the economy, means that money isn’t technically guaranteed as of the passage of the bill, he added. “Our individual yearly budget will still be subject to what the rates are phased in at (in any given year) ... there’s still going to be a level of uncertainty.”
 This isn't a money bill.
My slide from my 70 on 70 presentation; this is what this becomes about.

There is no actual funding being passed by this bill. It lays out a plan SUBJECT TO APPROPRIATION of what will be done, and, as Mr. Allen notes, there isn't an actual schedule in the bill, either. There are also, as I noted back when the Governor leaked DESE spreadsheets, a lot of pieces that are still WAY up in the air: how are we changing the low income count? are we changing the municipal finance side? what are the inflation rateS (there are two now, remember)? and yes, does the economy slide or worse?
That is in ADDITION to the pieces that change year to year, anyway, with the biggest being enrollment, district by district (WHICH DESE DID NOT HAVE UNTIL OCTOBER), and what the municipal economies look like.
We don't know a lot of that. And even the part that we DO know for next year (as we'll be using the FY16 low income counts, for example) is something we know for one year.
AND we still don't know what state implementation will look like.
Thus Superintendent Jokela is right in not getting ahead of things. We need to plan, but we also need to wait.
I've now said this to school business officials, and to school committee members, and to superintendents: the most accurate numbers right now are going to be LOCALLY GENERATED.
And they're still only going to be for one year.
This is one of two areas our advocacy needs to shift to: we need year by year commitment by the Legislature and the Governor to implementation.

2. But are we going to get anything at all?
Let me note up front that this is not a Worcester question; the answer for Worcester is yes, but HEY WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT MUNICIPAL CONTRIBUTION YESTERDAY.

For many other districts, it's the question of if the state is going to be contributing more than the minimum per pupil increase, along with the fear that their local contributions are going to be increasing a great deal. On the first, there's a reason the Education Committee included charter reimbursement and the (massive) addition of out-of-district transportation to the circuit breaker (which is getting frozen at the FY20 level, plus inflation). ASK HOW MUCH THAT IS FOR YOUR DISTRICT.
On the second, let me direct you back here . This is one that you CAN with a little work mostly figure out; you just have to know how much your actual municipal contribution was for last year, versus how much was required. Rolling forward, what's the division on foundation of the target? Most of you are going to find that your local municipality(ies) are already well over minimum required.
...which brings me to what IS my main concern here: If you are a district that lives in the 5%/7% or so over, and it's a struggle every year to get there, my concern is those that would prefer to spend no more on schools are going to say "we've given you what is required; you should be fine," when perhaps you are not.
If this is your reality, the time to start having those discussions is now.

3. What do we do now? 

Even given Mr. Allen (et al)'s conservative (small c) caution on implementation, we're going to see the largest increase in school funding in Massachusetts since the 1993 Education Reform Act. What are we going to do with it?
If you read this blog with regularity, you can perhaps tell that Scott caught me mid-blog post in my comments in the article. Thinking back to Ben Forman's work on how representative school committees in cities in Massachusetts are (not), we have a responsibility to be very blunt in our assessment of who is at the table and who is not, and work strenuously to counter that.
Long term, this means electoral work; for this coming budget, it means we make this as big a table in as many contexts as possible. Jack Foley, to his credit, has been absolutely unrelenting in making this point over the past several months in Worcester; if you're reading this from elsewhere, is anyone making that point in your district? If not, make it you.
That is our other round of organizing work: when the Governor's budget drops in January and we start that countdown to July 1, we need to be gathering around tables across districts to get everyone's voices heard. That isn't always going to be about the district doing it--though I would argue that the school committees have an absolute responsibility to make this their job--but about any group of any kind that cares about kids and the future to get people together to have these discussions.
And for those who are in Worcester, please consider this my open invitation; I want to hear about these! 
As we have those discussions, I also think we have--and here I mean as people we have--a responsibility not to get distracted by the bright and shiny. We have bedrock needs that are not being met in our districts:
Many underfunded districts have become accustomed to going without the kinds of essential, often ordinary things, like up-to-date novels or working drinking fountains, that wealthier schools “basically take for granted,” Novick said.
“There’s almost an attitude shift that has to happen, to acknowledge the level of need, that this is how big the gap is,” she said.
I mean it when I say that I think that we don't even know what we don't have. We have gaps that are chasms in basic things like teaching and student supports, in building maintenance, in supplies. That's not about new programs, before meeting current needs; it's not about new buildings, before fixing the ones we have; it's not about shiny new curriculum or technology, before getting updates to what is crucial.

The work isn't over; the advocacy and organizing isn't over. Let's start NOW to shift gears towards implementation at the state and local levels.
And let's build a bigger table as we do so.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Doherty building meetings

There was one round of scheduling and then a second round of scheduling, but they seem to have settled on the following:
  • Monday, December 9 for a presentation on the feasibility study and options
  • Wednesday, December 18 for a presentation on the preferred location followed by a vote
In both cases, the building committee then the public will be able to ask questions.
Both meetings are at 6:30 at the school.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Learning to dream again


What happens to a dream deferred?

      Does it dry up
      like a raisin in the sun?
      Or fester like a sore—
      And then run?
      Does it stink like rotten meat?
      Or crust and sugar over—
      like a syrupy sweet?

      Maybe it just sags
      like a heavy load.

      Or does it explode?
One thing that I do periodically is I type "Worcester, MA" over at Donors Choose and I read through the requests. As I am typing this, that search yields requests like:
  • a class set of novels
  • a classroom carpet
  • board games for indoor recess
  • organzational supplies (like folders)
  • tuba stands
  • printer ink 
The most expensive items on there are class sets of Chromebooks, a document camera, a spotlight, and a physics instrument for measuring speed...nothing that's really an "extra" there.
When earlier this week I found several requests from Worcester come through my social media--for a tent for sports, for lighting--I checked to see if they'd been made as budget requests. Those that had were quickly told that there was no budget for these standard items.
And so, teachers and parents do what they have often done: they went to raise money elsewhere. 

In many, many cases, teachers and parents and even principals simply do not ask anymore. In recent years, the budget in Worcester relays a total amount of unfulfilled requests from principals; this year (it's on page 16 of the FY20 budget), that line totals $15.1M on a budget which totals $420M.

That $15.M, though, includes only 63 additional teachers, 18 support positions, and 15 school support positions, for a system of over 25,000 students.
It only includes $1M in urgent building repairs for a system of 50 buildings, the oldest of which date back before the Civil War, which has been funding facilities needs at 60% of foundation.
It has no increase in basic supplies, only $300,000 of furniture (for fifty buildings?!), and the $1.3M for technology includes the student information system (which I assume eats most of that).
A quick look around the system argues that the needs are ENORMOUSLY more significant than that. 

But those needs are not even being conveyed, not even in the meetings which ostensibly exist for exactly the reason of asking that question.

The answer has been 'no' so long that we don't even ask anymore.

I was thinking of this again last evening during the public testimony at last night's School Committee (which gets a glancing reference in Scott O'Connell's article here). While the testimony wasn't all on the same topic--some was on student discipline and some on district school committee representation--it had in common the explicit framing that far too many people have gone unheard in Worcester, particularly around the Worcester Public Schools, for far too long.
Is it, then, any wonder, as Hughes wrote in 1951, that those dreams explode?

We are, if all goes well, about to see an increase in funding for the Worcester Public Schools at a rate not seen since the early 1990's. It is the chance of a generation to make a real difference for our students.
But we have to ask.

The problem, which is of course much much bigger than the funding, is that people have gone unheard for a very long time. In many cases, they still are.

So why should they come and tell us what is needed?

We don't just have a funding gap. We have a trust gap.
The funding gap, we should see progress on this coming year.
To handle it effectively, though, we have to recognize and mend the gap in trust that leaves needs not only unmet but unspoken and unacknowledged. 

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Worcester Strategic Plan update

You can now find it online here.
If you remember, the framework for the strategic plan is:

  • culture of innovation
  • academic excellence
  • welcoming schools
  • investing in education
  • technology and innovation
Note, first, that most of this presentation isn't new: it's the July presentation with a few "new" items that are sprinkled in. I'd argue that if you are truly going to give quarterly updates on the strategic plan, you need to gauge what has happened over the quarter, not simply continue to add to the same presentation and make it longer.

If you scroll through the presentation, though, the examples don't actually match the goals.
They're lists. They're stuff. But they're helter-skelter, not linked to the benchmarks or the themes. There isn't a report of actual progress towards the culture of innovation (read through and tell me what is innovative!), academic excellence (EXCELLENCE), welcoming schools (the creation of "welcoming books" as the foundational item on what should be a presentation of school climate), investing in education (the Student Opportunity Act didn't make the presentation, though it was mentioned; someone please be sure the superintendent knows that the Governor didn't sign it as yet), and technology (that is accessible and used?) and innovation. 

And the benchmarks aren't connected to any report: there are percentages, but there is no data backing it up. It isn't attached to anything (50% of site councils are operating and representative? based on what? 8% of new hires are "diverse"? How?). 
And the presentation on lack of disciplinary data is simply incorrect: the superintendent stated that they were waiting for data from the state but the STATE GETS THE INFORMATION FROM THE DISTRICT!
And it's this: 

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

So what's in the bill? (round...?)

Yesterday, the conference committee came back with a version of the Student Opportunity Act that is currently speeding its way through both chambers of the State House; by 2, it had passed the Senate, and it was expected to make it through the House by the end of the day UPDATE: by 3:30, it had.
You can find coverage from State House News (via the T&G), WBUR,  The Boston Globe, MassLive, and Commonwealth Magazine, plus a nice tribute to the work of Senator Sonia Chang-Diáz from Adrian Walker.
Images throughout are from my "70 on 70" presentation from the MASC-MASS Conference.

As for what happens next, here's the sequence:

S. 2412 of course does all that was agreed upon by both chambers.
It implements all five recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission: special education, health insurance, English learners:
 And low income:
Please note my recanting of "duo-decile"
And the data commission.

It holds districts harmless and includes a $30/pupil minimum increase.

It includes a "minimum aid adjustment" to ensure that no district will lose aid as a result of the statewide expansion of funding.

It also includes the inclusion of out-of-district transportation into the circuit breaker (phased in over time: 25% in FY21; 50% in FY22; 75% in FY23; 100% in FY24)) with a freezing of the amount at which the circuit breaker kicks in, subject to inflation only.

It includes the phasing in of full funding for charter school reimbursement over three years.

It includes the boost of the Mass School Building Authority to $800M.

It includes the following reports:
  • Report (and determination) of how to calculate low income student enrollment
  • Report on municipal contributions (from DESE and the Department of Revenue)
  • Report on rural schools (from a Legislative commission)
  • Report on funding issues related to recovery high schools
  • Annual report from the Secretary on student preparedness and high school post-graduate success

So what's new? 
  • The Secretary has to report on college COMPLETION along with the rest of what else he is reporting on; the House version of the bill did not include that.
  • A study of Proposition 2 1/2 is included in the study of municipal finance by the Departments of Revenue and Elementary and Secondary Education with this additional note: "provided, however, that the division and the department shall solicit public comment.” That's new.
  • There's a study on the cost of recovery high schools.
  • There's a review of expenses and reimbursements on the actual cost of building school buildings (in summary) involving the Mass School Building Authority.
  • In what may well be the most important point of this of all, the amendment the Senate passed (proposed, not incidentally, by Senator Chang-Diáz) directing the Comptroller, should there be a budgetary surplus, to transfer sufficient funds to ensure implementation of the charter school reimbursement was on schedule before certifying the amount of the surplus, is included. In other words, there's no "extra" money until this bill is paid each year. (Note: I wasn't specific about it being charter reimbursement in the post originally; h/t for the catch.)
  • And: 
    In short? They finessed it (and those who simply looked for the word "amend" and never went any further are misleading you about what happened).
    Sec 1S beginning with part of b:
    Each district’s plan shall be developed by the superintendent in consultation with the school committee and shall consider input and recommendations from parents and other relevant community stakeholders, including but not limited to, special education and English learner parent advisory councils, school improvement councils and educators in the school district.
    That's a lot of people that must be consulted!
    The report has to include how the funds will be used, and then gives a list of “evidence-based programs, supports and interventions” which is the part of this that I find most irksome, because it doesn't include things like "having enough teachers" or "having a school in good repair"  and which closes:
    provided, however, that if a district elects not to implement the evidence-based programs described in clauses (A) to (I), inclusive, the district plan shall specify the reasons for electing not to implement said programs including a description of why said programs would not effectively address persistent disparities in achievement among student subgroups
    To me, that last reads as a bit argumentative, but there is a "do something else" allowance here.
    The plan is to be submitted every three years, and then this is the provision for the Commissioner:
    Upon receipt of a district plan, the commissioner shall review the plan to ensure that it sets forth clear and achievable goals and measurable standards for student improvement that comply with the requirements of this section; provided, however, that the district shall amend any plan deemed not to conform with the requirements of this section
    Note how careful they were to make the district the subject rather than the object of that sentence. 
    So, can the Commissioner make the district amend the plan? It would appear so, though the law doesn't explicitly say so. It would, I would say, implicitly say so.

    But they also substantially bumped up the requirement around who is consulted. One wonders if they'll ask for evidence. If they do, it will be the first time, as far as I know, that the state has actually checked to see if school site councils are being actively used.
    The Department can combine this reporting requirement with other reporting requirements, which I am certain came from them and is probably being greeted with relief by every superintendent in the state.
The bill now heads for the Governor's desk. He, as above, has only three choices:
  • he can sign it
  • he can veto it
  • he can amend it
If he signs it, we're done: it's a law.
If he vetoes it, the two chambers can simply pass it again (both have now, as of 3:30 pm, passed it unanimously), and we're done: it's a law.
If he amends it, the chambers will have to decide what to do with his amendments. 

Good work, all! Keep your eyes on the Governor! 

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

November Board of Ed: vocational education regulation proposed change

that would be information here
the proposal is to vote to solicit public comment
Chuang: stakeholder engagement has been "robust"
piloting of new vocational technical programs
regulatory changes on scope, on the exploratory practice
also on streamlining of vocational licensure

Stewart: impact on separation into two phases
Chuang: it is unusual to do it in two rounds
discussion around admission requirements "is probably an order of magnitude higher" than other sections
looking closely at data from particular schools' data
"have been engaged in back and forth with the field for some time, but it remains a very hot topic"
Stewart: if we support phase one in February, what happens next?
Chuang: ability to process licenses with less barriers

targeted change to address a unique circumstance: if you move after such date, you can't apply if you didn't know you were going to be a non-resident
general right conferred by our state law to each of the vocational programs, but it depends on if your town is a member

vote to solicit public comment passes

November Board of Ed: FY21 budget

And the members are referencing a memo that is not available online...
Hills: priorities are those of the Commissioner
Bell: no funding as yet for Kaleidiscope initiative
Student Opportunity Act
three areas that are being watched:
increased responsibility for the Department to oversee district plans around improved performance
discussion around assessment, particularly around civics and social studies
literacy work for early grade readers

arts framework
upcoming health frameworks
both will need professional development funding

West: no funding for Kaleidscope
looking for state, looking for philanthropy
some could be through targeted support

Morton: when do we expect something on the Student Opportunity Act?
Peyser: "I was checking my phone to see if there was any news"
"it probably needs to be reported out of conference committee today" so they can pass it in formal session

November Board of Ed: Kaleidoscope collective

Komal Bhasin and Tera Carr presenting on Kaleidoscope Collective
Bhasin tells a story of her own experience in third grade in not understanding what skipping was and her teacher teaching her how to skip
"my teacher gave me a school assignment and I was so motivated to complete try to acquire mastery"
"what if kids in the Commonwealth were that excited not just about PE but about math?"
thus the reason for the Kaleidoscope
1 1/2 year fellowship for schools and districts
"looking to find where it is working in diverse setting"
"work with them to leverage the power of the department" to overcome obstacles
professional development days "to create deeper learning experiences for all students"
"this is fundamentally a ground-up approach"
by definition it is not, as it is a DESE program
"to study what is working in the field and make that part of our model"
standards taught in a way that "build 21st century skills" in aligned curriculum
authentic experiences
"we need to pair clarity about what a task is" with trainings
"capture best practices"
"what's the magic happening in room 202 and how do we capture it"
"as an agency, we'll work with passion and precision"
build tools and build trainings so teachers have access to this
"to create equitable outcomes for all learners"
"we're thinking long term about a light touch involvement" on those outside the Collective "and a social media strategy"
making recommendation to the Commissioner about which districts next week
districts in January
convenenings in March
"taking deeper learning from a buzzword to reality"

West: do you have a sense of what flexibilities districts will want?
Bhasin: time, scheduling
around assessment
Hills: say something about the range of districts
Bhasin: rural and suburban, higher and lower performing end
have far more applications than we can take
Rouhanifard: how do you think about the small fraction of districts that are already using quality curriculum?
and what about resources?
Carr: sometimes quality is the "extra" activities
or too sparse or too far between or "not aligned to power standards"
Bhasin: how do we train teachers to use them well?
"how do schools get to the place where we can implement this and how do we scale to get other schools there quickly?"
Fernández: your story got me thinking of the number of students we have across the Commonwealth
"that are you" role of diverse teaching and how that comes to this?
Bhasin: having a diverse teaching corps is crucial
"want to spotlight and highlight the work of our rockstar educators and we know that includes many teachers of color"

November Board of Education: opening comments

The agenda is here; the livestream is here.

coming in partway through a public comment on gifted education...
differentiation between and among different groups of students, particularly by race
"the barriers to success start much earlier"
data has "shown that the achievement gap is really an opportunity gap...which has created an excellence gap"
"it is perverse, but I do not accept that it is persistent"
the next gap is the "belief gap" of which children can achieve

Commissioner Riley: NAEP results were released
for the 8th consectutive time, Massachusetts 4th and 8th graders scored first or statistically first
also not all students
work with Secretary on philanthropy for work on
Rennie Center event on curriculum this week
argues that Mississippi is doing better on NAEP due to aligned curriculum
Boston review is ongoing
conference committee reconciling finance bill
still waiting on supplemental budget
Department reenstating Gifted and Talented Advisory Council

Monday, November 18, 2019

Worcester Finance and Operations subcommittee: environmental management

that's on this report
Foley: look at risk and mitigation
the difference I see here: legacy issues versus operational issues
"not only tells people what we're doing but provides a way forward as well"
Allen: has had this for almost ten years
report outlines that "it's not one person, not one department, not one division that works on environmental issues in our schools"
accepted as our operating procedures around the system

Foley: for those who don't understand how important it is, importance of handing cleaning chemicals
Allen: outdated cleaning and educational chemicals from classrooms and custodial scores
McCullough: quantitative and qualitative information
recommends it be posted separately on the website
Foley: making it as public as we can
motion to file

Worcester Finance and Operations subcommittee: FY19 close and FY20 first quarter

and the report is here
Allen: tracks closely with the second and third quarter report
$2312 at close
salary account balances are vacancy or when positions were filled
some of the accounts were corrected in the FY20 budget
were used to influence budget planning
Foley: investments repairs, technology, curriculum
no question or answer on Misc Ed OM
motion to pass

FY20: Foley: facilities ordinary maintenance, having to contract out
offset by saving in the salaries line
Allen: correlation between vacancy factor and contractual costs
final FY20 state budget isn't appropriated until the city sets the municipal tax rate
assumption in the budget is that they're applied as recommended
because they came in fairly late
knew there'd be vacancy savings in the first quarter due to how late the budget came through
some vacancy in administrative salaries
transporation have added four bus routes since the beginning of year
WPS buses started several weeks ago; Durham buses starting next week
Foley: under personal services: targeted professional development at turnaround schools?
Allen: yes
McCullough: elementary materials and textbooks important
Foley: motion to approve transfers

Worcester Finance and Operations subcommittee: Flagg Street pathway

As previewed here; agenda is here
Foley and McCullough; no Comparetto
Flagg Street item being taken up first
Allen: administration was requested to explore the feasibility of designing the path to Flagg Street School from St. Paul Drive
300 feet long by 5 feet wide; cost between $25K and $30K
recommendation to use existing building renovation funds
additional approvals needed due to how close it is to existing waterways
bollards to prevent driving
construction in 2020 summer

speaker: concern for flooding on Saxon Road, has happened since 1999
concern is that the opening on St. Paul Drive is Beaver Brook, which floods
flooding occurs on a pretty regular basis
none of those on Saxon Road were asked to sign the petition for this pathway
several along there have been victims of consistent flooding
city engineers have come to neighborhood meetings
"building that area raises a concern for us" that the flooding will be worse
"certainly not opposed to the children of Flagg Street School"
"we don't believe that the School Department is aware of this problem"
the city's proposed solution would involve digging up part of the schoolyard, as the piping in that area cannot accommodate the drainage in that area
is identified as a wetland; property farther along is a pond owed by three residents, one of whom could not build on part of his property due to it being a wetland
"this is a highly travelled area, more than people do know"
have seen cars drive through playyard during the day
"an area that is easily flooded"
Foley: can appreciate the issue, as someone who has flooding in my own backyard
"I think what I heard from Mr. Allen...I think our intent here is with the other reviews from the city is not to make it any worse"
the bollard would make it harder to drive through the schoolyard
neighbor: according to the city maps, this is a protected wetland, have put calls into ConCom on that
Allen: we know that ConCom approval is required; we understand that it could be "a limited scope" for this path
neighbor notes that DPW engineering has laid out may recommendations and only one has been put into practice
a grandparent: don't understand how a path of this length would impact the field of this size for drainage
"when we had to walk Flagg Street, I'd to walk my grandchildren in the street"
safety feature; would be a great safety feature
parent who started petition: whole goal of this was to make our community more walkable
gravel was put there when city construction equipment was there
"we live in that community; that is our home school"
should be able to get to school "without wet shoes or...muddy knees"
"an emergency, where are those children going to run to?...that should be a safety point"
"so far the flooding tends to happen near the swing sets"..a lot further away
we have a lot of amateur engineering happening here
Foley: will ask administration to move forward with planning but work with DPW on drainage to be sure
want to make sure whatever we've done here doesn't negatively impact drainage going on here

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Students know the difference

The current issue of School Business Affairs, which is the ASBO (that's the national/international school finance people organization) magazine has this article:
"Should Your School District Join a School Finance Lawsuit?" by Al Ramirez
I'd link to it--it's here--but it's paywalled, so that doesn't do you much good.

After sorting out what a district should consider before deciding on joining such a lawsuit, the article closes with the following:
Adults--all community members, whether or not they have children in schools--accept a moral duty to determine that the current school funding sysetm is fair in its treament of their students, and is adequately funded to meet the educational aspirations the state holds for its children.
One of the more poignant moments an adult can experience is to travel with a school team from a school district that is inadquately funded by the state mechanism to a school district that is treated well by the state formula.
When the team arrives at their rival's campus, the students immediately recognize the disparities. They don't need legal precedents and statistical analysis to understand what is going on. They know immediately, loud and clear, how they are valued by the system.
Jaust look into the students' eyes. You will know everything you need to know about your state school funding approach.

"They know immediately, loud and clear, how they are valued by the system."

Friday, November 15, 2019

Worcester School Committee meets Thursday

And the agenda is here, as a PDF with hyperlinks? I think this is new.
Finance and Operations will be reporting out from their Monday meeting.
The report of the Superintendent is an update on the strategic plan (no backup as yet).

There is a response on interactions with homeschooling families (the link doesn't work; it's page 28): of 158 plans in 98 families, the adminstration reports that 96 were approved within the first week, 26 within the second week, 19 before 20 days, and 17 required more than that. The report states that the 17 were all incomplete upon submission, missing "evidence of progress." They state that only 2 plans are missing. The report says a "recent court ruling supported the WPS standards for evidence" though the case is not cited by name nor is it included.

There is a list of Chapter 74 programs and the number of students enrolled, as well as the after school and evening programs and enrollment.

Mr. Monfredo and Miss Biancheria are proposing support for the Baker-Polito effort to reduce domestic and sexual violence among young people.

Mr. Foley and others note Mr. Hennessey's award of 2019 Administrator of the Year from School Bus Fleet.

There is a proposal to update policies - JB – Equal Educational Opportunities; ‑ JFABD - Homeless Students: Enrollment Rights And Services; ‑ JFABE - Educational Opportunities For Military Children; ‑ JFABF - Educational Opportunities For Children In Foster Care (it's language tweaking).

There are eleven pages of outstanding administrative items that the administration is suggesting be filed as the term comes to a close.

There is a request that the following donations be accepted:
  • $400.00 from a donor to Claremont Academy to be used as a scholarship for Latino female of Latina who plans to attend college.
  • $84.60 from Box Tops for Education to Canterbury Street Magnet Computer-Based School
  • $225.00 from the Digital Federal Credit Union to McGrath Elementary School
  • $500.00 from the District Attorney's Community Reinvestment and Crime Prevention Program to Forest Grove Middle School to assist with their bullying campaign

There is a request for information about the new vocational tracks at Doherty (which the Committee has already voted in favor of).

There is a request (without backup) to approve a prior fiscal year payment for $308.79 to Airgas ("industrial, medical, and specialty gases").

Then there are a slew of items from Mr. Comparetto:
  • Request that the Mayor consider alternative methods to electing and appointing School Committee members that includes, but is not limited to, district School Committee seats. 
  • Request that the Mayor and School Committee establish Worcester Public Schools’ Safe Zones.
  • Request that the Superintendent present an annual report on the status of education for Latino students.
  • Request that the Administration incorporate best practices for creating a diverse workforce.
  • Request that the Administration provide an update on current restorative justice practices.
  • Request a moratorium on suspending K-2 students for non-violent offenses.
  • Request an "equity audit" of the Worcester Public Schools in accordance to best practices.
  • Request that the Administration provide an update on the efforts of the Administration to create ethnic studies programming

Miss Biancheria wants an update on the South High building project (shouldn't this be a standing item in a subcommittee somewhere?) and an update on recess (which I think Ms. McCullough has an outstanding item on already).

And there is another prior fiscal year payment in the amount of $1,484.10 to Johnson Controls Fire Protection LP for services performed at Burncoat High School (fire supression?).

And there is an executive session: for arbitration with the Mass Nurses Association; for litigation with the Estate of Suzanne F. Miville; and for collective bargaining with the computer technicians.

Yes, I am planning on being there and blogging.

Finance and Operations meets Monday

It's the first quarter report! and more!
The agenda is here.

The first item on the agenda is the report closing FY19. First, note that on a $345M general fund budget, the district was left with a balance of $2312 at the year's close (that goes back to the city). That's a margin that is, well, stunning. Districts that are much much smaller don't manage their projections and budget lines that tightly.
The second thing of note (to me, anyway) is that over the course of the year, over $4M was transfered from salary lines to non-salary lines, with $1.6M going to Misc Educational OM, which I don't of May, $370K had been transfered into that line, so what happened since?

The second item is a response to the request for a walking path from St. Paul Street to Flagg Street School; the report notes that a pathway of 300 feet would cost between $25,000 to $30,000; there is a layout as the second page.
There is no report, because one was not requested, on if this is the greatest facility need of this level of cost, if there are other schools that likewise might need such access, and if this is the most equitable way of spending such funds.

The first quarter report of this fiscal year is on this agenda: the year thus far by cost center is here; the report with narrative is here. As always, I'd urge you to read it, but a few notes:
  • part of the FY20 budget increase via the Senate was an increase in instructional assistants, focusing on kindergarten. That line is running higher that budgeted...and I don't understand why from this description, to be honest. Ah, okay: if you read to the end of the report, this gets picked back up: Title I came in $158K lower than was budgeted, so instructional assistants are being shifted off of Title I to the general fund. 
  • facilities ordinary maintenance is running higher than budgeted, because contracted services are having to pick up for unfilled positions.
  • personnel services is running over almost entirely due to $184K in outside contractor professional development 
  • transporation over three lines is running nearly $500K, with almost half of that coming from the giveback negotiated by the superintendent and agreed to by the Committee in connection with their renewed contract with Durham. Some of the other lines are likewise Durham-related, though they are WPS spending: the overtime "to address vacant positions" is, I'd venture, at least in part due to the times WPS is having to pick up Durham routes when Durham doesn't have drivers. The district in total has added four routes--two WPS, two Durham, despite the issues there--and that's the increase in the salary line.
  • I keep saying this:  ...and it appears that part of the reason for the workers' comp line is that 10 of THOSE are for the prior fiscal year; what the heck is going on??
  • the salary line funding is all vacancies: maybe we should be asking why all of these positions are not managing to be filled?
The recommendation is to add five adjustment counselors--three in elementary, two in high school--and a guidance counselor to managing the early college programs (is this the greatest need on the guidance end??) and half a million dollars in literacy materials "and related professional development."
There's also a report on how the grants came back (some lower, some higher) and what might be shifted there. And the proportionate share requirement--funding special education services at private schools--is included in the description. 

Finally, there is  a 73 page report on environmental management. That sounds like a lot (it is!), but it's also actually readable:
An EMS requires an organization to “Say what you do, Do what you say, and Prove it” as a way to ensure compliance and overall improvements.
and uses parallel structure...
It reports out that environmental management has not only included specific departments, but has impacts districtwide, runnng to 600 staff having been involved. There's a focus on preventing issues, rather than fixing them after they occur. There are sections on legacy building issues (including lead in water, for those interested; I found it very reassuring, as the issues found have been dealt with and are undergoing retesting); usage (including indoor environmental quality! including:
The Facilities Department, the WPS EH&S Consultant, the WPS Nursing Department and the Worcester Department of Housing have worked together with a city-wide initiative, the Prevention Wellness Trust Fund (one of nine projects funded by DPH to reduce chronic disease, including pediatric asthma) to pilot EPA’s Tools for Schools program. It included classroom IEQ training and “walk-through” assessments. The goal of this component of this project was to identify conditions that could cause or trigger asthma.
and toxic use reduction...and apparently we need a boiler somewhere?...working on Breakfast in the Classroom, types of waste disposal); a department by department review, with an interesting note coming from the art department:
The Art Department identified heavy reliance on donations that were not all certified for use in schools
(another reason to fund the budget!), the end of the use of bleach by custodial staff, and a new term to use something in cleaning WPS buses:
Protexus Electrostatic Sprayer! (There are YouTube Videos!)
I feel as though someone should mention in here somewhere that this is, of course, just the WPS run buses, not Durham buses.
There are sections on preparing for emergency managment..
There are also some impressive references to operating protocols and training.
If this is of interest, I'd recommend it! 

My plan is to be there for this, but I do have a meeting later that night, so I don't know that I'll make it all. 

Reading round-up

Some things I've read recently of interest:

  • it shouldn't be news but it never hurts to reiterate that PTA fundraising exacerbates inequities. The move towards at least making outside funding transparent would be a first good step (can't we run these all through school committees as donations? shouldn't we, anyway?). 
  • there's been lots of pushback (thankfully) on the rewarding "grit" notion (which was somewhat being misinterpreted, anyway), and this Boston Globe piece puts that together well
  • morning reminder (via tweet) post-Santa Clarita that what we're teaching students in schools is not only harmful, it also is of limited utility
  • if the Supreme Court decides to end DACA, we're going to lose a lot of teachers
  • I'm not sure that our having gender neutral restrooms available in the new Worcester high schools should even be news, but the pushback to those criticizing it in the comment section on Facebook is heartwarming. Also, this Time article is a solid read.
  • and perhaps it isn't surprising that Worcester Public Schools Transporation Director John Hennessey can make sense of the spaghetti that is the routing system; it seems he was practically born in a bus yard! Nice one from School Bus Fleet, which is the national school transportation magazine, on Mr. Hennessey's recent recognition as 2019 Administrator of the Year. And yes, it does talk about bringing WPS transportation fully in-house. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Meanwhile in Roanoke City...

In the ongoing saga of a district that also has Durham busing and associated issues, but the school board cares...
The headline on today's article really says most of it:

"Roanoke City School Board threatens termination for embroiled bus provider: Durham School Services took over school bus operations over the summer"
The article continues:
For the first time, after nearly three months of issues with Durham School Services, the school board mentioned possibly firing the company. Durham apologized once again for the issues, but the board made it clear it was not satisfied with the apology and demanded an action plan be delivered by Wednesday afternoon. Board members said firing the company would not be good for anyone, but they are running out of patience.

Remember: Roanoke City Schools have had Durham only since August...
After quoting Board member Laura Rottenborn, who, we know from previous articles, is herself a parent, the article continues: Tuesday’s meeting, the school board, which at first was tolerant of Durham’s performance, sounded more like the parents that have been speaking at the podium during the school board’s meetings each month.
Echoing parental concerns...
And their bottom line?
The board said the bottom line is that it can’t take chances with kids.
For the record, I don't--and it isn't clear to me that Roanoke City knows--if "firing" a contractor is possible, and if so, how. 
Accountability starts at the top. 

No CPPAC in Worcester tonight

...and it's not clear what happened with the State of the Schools...

Yes, this notification went out this afternoon. Not a great deal of care for families' time there. 

The website description now has this of what is happening next week:
The CPPAC will meet with representatives of the Worcester Public Schools about the Portrait of a Graduate Project that the district has undertaken. This is a year-long collaborative effort to determine the skills, aptitudes and attitudes that will be vital for all WPS graduates to be successful throughout their lives. This work will involve educators researching the rapidly changing economy and world and will also ask a wide-variety of stakeholders for their perspectives. This meeting will give us an opportunity to hear directly from parents what they feel is most important for their children now and in the future. 
No liveblog from me on that; I already have a meeting scheduled. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

The Board of Ed meets next Tuesday

And the agenda is already up, so why not post about it?
After the usual round of comments, the Commissioner is presenting on the Kaleidoscope Collective. The deadline for applications is Friday; the memo says 77 have been received so far. DESE has brought on two staffers for this program, per the memo:

  • Komal Bhasin joined the Department on November 4 as the senior associate commissioner leading Kaleidoscope. Komal was principal of UP Academy Leonard Middle School, part of the Lawrence Public Schools, for six years and prior to that was principal of Excel Academy in East Boston. Her previous experience also includes serving as an assistant principal in a district turnaround setting in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Before entering school leadership, she was a science teacher and an English teacher in Laplace, Louisiana.
  • Tera Carr joined the Department on October 15 as the associate commissioner for the Kaleidoscope Collective for Learning. Tera recently served students as the director of teacher development and pathways for the Tulsa, Oklahoma Public Schools. Prior to that, she was principal of Hamilton Elementary School in Tulsa, and she has also been an assistant principal, a high school math teacher, a special education teacher, a pre-K teacher, and, in Harbin, China, an English language teacher for first-year students.
The Board's Budget subcommittee will be presenting their proposal.

There is also Phase I of what is intended as a two part revision to the vocational schools regulations. The memo explains the proposed changes, which are designed to allow for additions (a bit more) and expand access (in some specific areas), strengthen the regs on program quality, and make some shifts on educator licensure.
Phase II--they're holding off for a reason--looks at access, via this section of the regs.
The proposal is to send the Phase I section out for public comment.

There is also an update on grants.

And...that's it? Next Tuesday in Malden