Monday, March 31, 2008

A Note on Teachers

Please note that the changes in the budget numbers mean that any announcements regarding teachers for next year will change over the next few weeks!
At this point, the forecast has gone from losing 95 to losing 40. That's a big difference.
There's a request in at next week's School Committee to have the budget recalculated using the new numbers. I imagine the Superintendent will be working with the principals regarding revisions.

Plus, the House budget doesn't come out until April 16th.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

How will we get $3.3 million?

To balance the budget, the Superintendent is projecting:

-cutting 40 teachers ($2.2 million)
-cutting grant-funded development and supplies ($600,000)
-increasing school lunch fees ($500,000)

Don't believe everything you read

"Most importantly, the budget savings generated through the reforms will enable the city to offset the projected $6 million deficit the School Department is facing next fiscal year--there's one major headache eliminated." (emphasis added: Nick Kotsopoulos, Sunday Telegram column, March 30, 2008)

Not quite eliminated, Mr. Kotsopoulos!

There is, however, good (or not-as-bad) news coming out of item 7.30 A on April 1st City Council agenda: the City Manager reports that the lower usage of City of Worcester health insurance means that the City has been given drastically lower increases in its health insurance premiums for next year ((3% for BCBS and 7% for Fallon). This means the double digit increases budgeted for FY09 are NOT GOING TO BE NEEDED.

This brings the projected Fiscal Year 2009 School Department deficit from $5.7 million dollars to $3.3 million dollars, as calculated by the Superintendent's office.

You'll note, however, that this is still a DEFICIT.


The numbers have changed!

$2.2 million dollars have been freed up THIS YEAR for (the suggestion of the City Manager) schools supplies!

NOTE: This is a ONE TIME savings!

Where did the money come from?
Basically, reduced health insurance usage. The City consequently is running a surplus in its Health Care Trust Fund. That money can ONLY be used for health care, so the City Manager is implimenting a three week premium holiday in June 2008. It will save the Worcester Public Schools $2.2 million dollars in health care premiums (not to mention it's employees an average of $125 a week).

This is a ONE TIME savings, and it also has nothing to do with next year.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Do classroom visitors get it?

If you haven't yet read Nikki Connery's column in this week's Worcester Magazine, do so right away. She does an excellent job of capturing the disconnect between the Department of Education and the reality on the ground in our city schools:

From my perspective, I see my students working together, engaged, learning. But I am certain that the men and women from the DOE are observing my classroom through a very different lens. They have their own opinion of teachers in "under-performing" city schools. They pay no attention to the lack of staff, of materials, of parental support for students or the neglected physical surroundings.

Thank you, Ms. Connery. You've added to the good you've done in your teaching by sharing this with us.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Here's what our neighbors to the east are doing

The problems we're facing in Worcester are of course being faced statewide. Boston officials yesterday presented what their city is doing to face their $30.7 million school budget shortfall:

Averting imminent school closings and deep classroom cuts, Boston will bail out the cash-strapped school system by giving it a one-time infusion of $10 million from city reserves, school and city officials said yesterday.

Read the rest of the Boston Globe report here.

You'll note that Boston is also facing declining enrollment, it's implied among the middle class, and the superintendent is ordering her spending in that direction. They've also made school closings a later measure to look at.

And of course, as the student representative rightly notes, $10 million isn't going to fend off cuts in Boston, either.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Worcester's Next Superintendent of Schools: Addressing the Challenges

(This doesn't strictly speaking fall under budgetary matters, but, as the superintendent determines the direction of the school system, it might well be of interest to readers.)

The Research Bureau will bring together a panel of experts on urban education to discuss some of the challenges facing the next superintendent of the Worcester Public Schools.

April 10, 2008
7:45 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.

Worcester State College
Ghosh Science Building Auditorium

The event is free and open to the public, but they ask that you RSVP by calling 508-799-7169 or
email to

The State is not riding to the rescue this year

Should anyone try to tell you, "Oh, it always looks bad, but the state or someone always come through to rescue us. We don't need to worry about it!" you might tell them to look at today's Boston Globe:

As the sputtering economy sends shocks from Wall Street to Main Street, the reverberations are being felt on Beacon Hill, where key officials acknowledged yesterday that the signs are bad and the future may be even worse.
Income tax revenues are expected to shrink as the recession takes hold, worsening an anticipated $1.3 billion budget deficit. Municipal officials, heavily dependent on state aid, say their budget problems have already risen to crisis proportions.

You'll remember that 65% of our net school spending comes from the state.

Fiscal year 2009 budget update

According to last night's City Council meeting, City Manager O'Brien now intends on presenting his FY09 budget at the City Council meeting on April 29.

Mark your calendar!

Quotable Quotes 5

Letters...they're getting lots and lots of letters...

Some states are using elementary school reading scores to project future prison bed needs...As urged by the School Committee the city manager and City Council should validate education’s high-level priority and allocate funding for the school department that moves toward a minimum of the state average 118 percent of foundation budget. This is a necessary first step in a multi-year plan to restore soundness to education, one of city government’s most important functions. Charles T. Gruszka, Letter to the Editor, Worcester Telegram and Gazette

Remember keep them to under 250 words; include your name, address, and phone number; and send them to, subject "Letter to the Editor." And don't forget
Worcester Magazine and In City Times.

“We will find steps necessary to address these fiscal challenges,” Mr. O’Brien said in an interview after the meeting. “The report will not only identify areas of the budget where we have challenges and gaps, but also come out with solutions. I understand the importance of the city’s fund balance (reserve funds) and it is not my intention to draw on the fund balance.” Worcester Telegram and Gazette, March 26, 2008

That report is at next week's City Council meeting. Worth attending!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Give us a number

How much, we've wondered, would the average Worcester property tax bill go up if the City Council can't find $5 million elsewhere and needs to add this to the tax levy?

$82 per year

As taxes are assessed quarterly, that would be $20.50 every three months.

(The requisite fine print: the Department of Revenue determines the "average" Worcester house value to be $248, 150. Worcester levied $190,500,000 in taxes for the current fiscal year, for a residential tax rate of $12.54, and the additional $5m will produce a tax levy of $195.5m, for a residential rate of $12.87. The commercial rate will increase on this account from $26.20 per thousand to $26.89 per thousand. The residential tax would go up by 33¢ per thousand of assessed value.)

Quotable Quotes 4

The letters keep rolling in!

I almost fell off my chair when I read that the Worcester City Council felt that it was irresponsible for the Worcester School Committee to request an additional $5 million for our underfunded, underperforming school system. It would have been irresponsible not to ask...It’s irresponsible and shortsighted to think our city will ever thrive if we continue to deplete our most valuable service to the community, our public schools. Jennifer Moiles, Letter to the Editor, Worcester Telegram and Gazette

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The beginning of a voting bloc

At least one councilor is willing to vote for a tax increase for schools.
(Told this at last night's city council meeting)

That's a start! Let's keep those letters coming!

To say "We can't afford to raise taxes" is the easy answer.

To say "We can't afford to cut more from our schools; that means we have to raise taxes" takes real political courage. The Council needs to hear that we voters will back them on this. They also need to hear that we will remember their positions on this when the next election rolls around. Some of the councilors (particularly a few district councilors) believe that they will not continue in office if they vote for a tax increase.

Let's tell them that just the reverse is true: a vote against our schools, against our kids, will put them out of office.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Less than a month!

I've just heard from my district councilor that the City Manager expects to present his budget on April 15!

What do I do first?

A number of people have said, "This is awful! I want to do something about it! Where do I start?" Don't feel overwhelmed; do one thing at a time.

1. Write to the City Manager. The budget is put together by City Manager O'Brien and his office. It is then presented to the City Council for adoption. As I've said here before, once the budget is put together, no money can be added. The City Council can rearrange the money, and it can cut the money. It cannot add more. Only the City Manager can put money in the budget. As this $5 million request is for additional funds, it can only come from him.

2. Then (and only then) write to your district councilor. Your district councilor is responsible for and to your district only, and so each of them is most responsive to requests within his or her own district. They're always the place to start.

3. Next, write to the Education Sub-Committee. This is Councilors Eddy, Smith, and Toomey (depending on where you live, you may have already covered one of them with #2). They are having a joint meeting with the Business Sub-Committee of the School Committee about funding at some yet-to-be determined date. They also are the ones who are assigned directly to work on education.

4. Then, write to the rest of the City Council. They as a body make the determinations regarding the budget. For too long, they've heard nothing other than "don't ever raise my taxes!" It's time they heard from people concerned about school funding, people who are even willing to pay for it!

A tip, by the way: a letter on actual paper is always going to be taken more seriously than an email. Emails are easier, yes, and so letters have more weight. Barring that, call them.

A cautionary tale

It seems a little unclear what exactly has gone wrong in Randolph, but reading about it should give us all pause.

Let's make sure that doesn't happen here!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Quotable Quotes 3

"I do believe it’s fair for my children to receive the best education possible. Top-notch schools will not only improve the quality of life for our children, but it will enhance all aspects of living in Worcester." Nancy Saal, Letter to the Editor, Worcester Telegram and Gazette

"What programs are more important than our children’s education?" Stephen A. Bissell, Letter to the Editor, Worcester Telegram and Gazette

(A cheer went up from breakfast tables across the city this morning!)

New State Education Secretary

Governor Patrick on Wednesday named a new Education Secretary, Worcester's own Paul Reville. Much has been written about Reville (who, according to the Telegram and Gazette has two children in Worcester Public Schools), but I thought this comment (from the Boston Globe's coverage) most hopeful:

"If we want to give them a world-class education, the kind of education that we'd want to give our own children, then we're going to have to spend more money over time."

One wonders how long "over time" is. Children are in school now, and we want that education for them now!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Monfredo's call for assistance

In Friday's In City Times, School Committee member John Monfredo uses his column to make the case for additional school funding:

"The general feeling of the School Committee is that we cannot enter our seventh year in a row with another deficit budget and still maintain a quality school system. Unlike businesses, we can’t make up the lost year in a child’s life. Remember our children have already gone through six years of multi-million dollar budget deficits and we just cannot go through another deficit budget and try to be an effective school system."

You can grab an ICT on Friday, or (as it doesn't appear online) read the rest of the column here.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Calling all teachers, principals, parents!

We've all seen the citywide statistics in the paper.

We've all seen the individual cuts at our own schools.

There's a discussion opened with a place for individual schools to share their losses over the past several years. Please add any information you have regarding your own school. Sometimes the individual stories hit home a bit more.

(You'll have to join the group as a member in order to post, but you won't get any email from it unless you want to.)

Monday, March 10, 2008

Mandated Minimum

According to the "Report on Revenue and Expenditure Projections for Fiscal Years 2007-2011" put together by the Worcester Public Schools,

the "city contribution is expected to increase by approximately 3%,
an increase mandated as the minimum local contribution"
(emphasis in the original!)

There's that minimum again.

Here's the rest on percent changes.

Quotable Quotes, Part 2

"The collective resolve of the entire community is needed to maintain the quality of education that the students of Worcester have received and deserve." Report on Revenue and Expenditure Projections for Fiscal Years 2007-2011, Worcester Public Schools (this is not available online, but one can get a copy by request through the School Committee)

"In any situation of limited revenue, from family to business/industry to government, leadership must prioritize all of its responsibilities and insure that those of highest priority are provided the support and resources necessary to produce maximum quality.
..How can we hope to maintain and expand our taxbase and attract new business and industry to our city when employees would have to consider paying private school tuitions above their property taxes or live in a suburban community outside of the city in order to feel secure that their children were not at 'educational risk'?!...Education is of highest priority to a community! I urge you to take our city out of the category of "bottom feeder" with regard to funding of our schools, recognize and validate the importance of education among all the functions of city government, and establish a level of funding in the budget that you present to the City Council for approval that moves Worcester in the direction of funding education at a level which is minimally at the state average of 18% above foundation level." Charles T. Gruszka, city resident and retired educator, in his March 9, 2008 letter to the City Manager and the City Council

One reason you should write to the T&G

"Frankly, I cannot think of a better cause than taking an independent look at how teacher contracts are hammered out in Worcester." Robert Z. Nemeth, taking issue with the School Committee's reluctance to raise $60,000 to fund a study by Education Partnership on teacher negotiations.

Really? None?

Should you write a letter to the Telegram and Gazette, remember to keep it to 250 words or less. Include your name, address, and phone number, and know that they'll only accept a letter from each writer once every 60 days. You can send it to, subject line "Letters to the Editor."

Friday, March 7, 2008

City Council Schedule

You can find the City Council schedule here.

If you're not enthused about pdf's, the rundown is:

March 4, 11, 18, 25
April 1, 8, 15, 29 (none during school vacation)
May 6, 13, 20, 27
June 3, 10, 17, 24

The agenda is determined one week by the City Manager, the next by the Council. March 11 is the Council's turn.

As for the School Committee, find their schedule (including sub-committee meetings as they are scheduled) here.

The State Budget

As the Legislature is currently in the midst of budget hearings itself, eyes are turned to Boston to discover where the money will be going this year. You'll remember the 65% of Worcester's foundation budget comes from the state, so of course this concerns us deeply.

You'll find links here at Superintendent Caradonio's page to get in touch with the various parts of the Legislature.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Write to the City Manager!

OR: Moynihan Hears a Who

Today's Kenneth Moynihan column in the T&G is well worth a read and does a nice job of framing the issue at hand. Here's the history that explains why it can be so frustrating from the school side:

"Before the passage of Proposition 2 1/2, the School Committee had fiscal autonomy. The members could decide what would be a reasonable budget for the upcoming year and forward the bill to the city manager. The manager could not reduce that cost; he had to start with it on his pad and try to pencil in the remaining costs of government. The City Council also could not touch the school budget."

And here's the part that should send us to our keyboards (or pen and paper, if you're so inclined):

"Actually, the council can cut the manager's budget, but it cannot increase it."
(emphasis added)

If the money doesn't get in the budget BEFORE the budget goes to the City Council, it never will get in.

Write to City Manager O'Brien and urge him to put this money in.

The Three Million Dollar Question

While last night's City Council meeting did not raise any issues particular to city schools, it did provide what is going to be the quick answer for councilors who get your letters:

"But we already are $3 million in the hole for snow-plowing!"

This shouldn't put us off. Snow-plowing is, in Worcester as in many Massachusetts communities, underfunded in every budgetary cycle, and while the city manager has been working to raise the budgeted amount, during any snowy winter, we spend more than we have to keep the streets clear.
We just spend the money, because we need clear streets.

Now here's the part that I don't get: how is it that we just spend, without ever questioning it, snow-plowing money, but when it comes to the money that's used to educate the next generation, we have full drawn battles to get a minimum?

Shouldn't we just spend the money, because we need educated kids?

Monday, March 3, 2008

Technology budget

You'll find a link to a helpful chart over to the right, but this one is too insane to put there without comment.

Since fiscal year 2003, the instructional technology budget (that would be technology they're using with students, not the computers in the offices) has been $0.2 million.

That's $200,000.

That's for a district with 47 schools and over 25,000 students.

That's $8 a student!

Remember: we're preparing our students for the 21st century!

Where the $5 million goes

The $5 million dollars (which sounds like a lot until you put it in the context of the entire budget) will come close to eliminating the $5.6 million deficit that the School Department foresees for fiscal year '09.

This won't reinstate anything. It would prevent more cuts.

Estimated fiscal year 2009:
Revenue $318,028,997
Expenditures $323,690,175

So we'd be preventing a deeper hole. It would take more than that to dig us out of the past six years of cuts, which total $58.1 million.

Quotable Quotes, Part 1

(this will be a continuing feature, as I am sure this is only the beginning of the entertaining things people will say!)

"This is not acceptable. It’s absolutely, positively not acceptable. In fact, it’s irresponsible for them to even ask that of us.” District 3 Councilor Paul Clancy, responding to a proposed request by the Worcester School Committee for a 1.8% increase in funding. City Council Meeting, February 26, 2008

“We would be irresponsible if we didn’t ask for additional revenue.” School Committee Member John Monfredo, responding to Councilor Clancy's earlier remarks. School Committee Meeting, February 28, 2008

“When we moved to Worcester, I certainly didn’t ask any questions about the sidewalks. In my house, we have deferred a lot of maintenance … because we are intent on raising our children.” School Committee Member Mary Mullaney. School Committee Meeting, February 28, 2008

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Should anyone check your numbers

The total amount budgeted by us this year in the specific areas which can be counted toward our total "net school spending" obligation is $255,180,349. Of that 65% comes from the state.

Our total FY08 revenues from all sources (including grants and charter school reimbursement) is $308,235,202.
(You'll note that's a bit higher than the number below. Don't let it confuse you if you hear the higher figure.)

Because of the grants from the federal government and elsewhere adding to this higher total, Worcester's contribution to its own school budget (which is correct below) is 29%.

Not a third.

Not even thirty percent.

Anybody out there think we can maybe ante up more than 29% for our own school budget?

Saturday, March 1, 2008

What's up next

As Tuesday night's City Council forwarded this discussion to the Education Subcommittee, and they, at Thursday afternoon's meeting, decided to jointly chair a meeting with the School Committee's business sub-committee about the budget (did you follow all of that?), they are the first people to speak with on this. The Education Subcommittee are Councilors Toomey (chair), Smith, and Eddy.
It's a bit unclear what happens with the request that the School Committee passed on Thursday night. As the City Council had jumped the gun and already sent the request to the subcommittee before the School Committee had passed that request, it's unlikely that they will take it up again. Under Chairman's Orders, however, they are able to comment on such subjects as the budget even if they don't make the agenda. It's worth keeping an eye on.

UPDATE: The Council agenda for March 4 is up and there's no mention of this.

Changes over the past six years

In the past six years, the school department of the City of Worcester:

  • has cut $58.1 million
  • has lost 18% of its staff
  • has closed 8 schools and one program
  • has had the supply budget per child cut from $130 to $35
If you have numbers to add to this (or, indeed, anything!), send them along and I'll add them.

Foundation budget numbers

The foundation budget formula established by state law requires that each district spend a certain minimum amount on schools. For Worcester, that number is:


The Worcester school budget for the current year (fiscal year 2008) is:


The difference is $614, 324. That is 0.2% over the minimum amount we are required to spend by state law. Most school systems spend much more than that; the Massachusetts Teachers' Association believes the state average is 118%.
That spending puts us at 269 out of the 283 school systems that have submitted numbers. That's the bottom 5%.