Saturday, May 31, 2008

Cutbacks where?

This morning's AP article on the rising cost of gas for school buses had one line (somewhat unrelated to busing) that I found telling:

And in North Carolina, Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools teachers have scaled back the number of field trips this spring to save fuel, transportation director Binford Sloan said.
(emphasis added)

"scaled back"?? Am I the only parent whose child has not had a field trip, ever? Or if the class went on a field trip, it was parent-funded?

I don't in any way dismiss the difficulties schools across the country are having with rising fuel costs, whether to fuel the buses or to heat the buildings. But field trips around here have been few and far between for quite a number of years, whatever the fuel costs. They've become an unimaginable luxury to the city-funded budget. It just show exactly how deep the cuts have gone that we can't even conceive of cutting field trips. We've gone much deeper into essentials than that.

And then there's the Minnesota district that plans to run a four day week next year. (An option not available to us without civil disobedience, incidentally, as Massachusetts regulations cover days in school as well as hours in learning)

Friday, May 30, 2008

Update on the superintendent search

A message came out earlier this week to parents:
Any parents who wish to be part of a parents' focus group regarding the search for a new superintendent should respond to 508-799-3032. All parents are welcome at the meeting of this focus group on Tuesday, June 3 at 4pm in room 410 in the Durkin Building.
Meeting at the same time will be the students' focus group in the library at the Durkin Building.

All wishing to attend should respond to the above number, and should fill out the Leadership Profile Assessment on the WPS website. The assessments can be brought to the meeting or forwarded ahead of time to Helen Friel.

Anyone, parent or not, attending or not, is welcome to fill out a LPA.

From high up in the peanut gallery...

You may not have seen him, but Clive McFarlane (who until recently had the education beat) was at the education hearing on Tuesday; he weighs in today.

He's having fun, but he doesn't take issue with much that was said by the public.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

A few things to keep an eye on...

As we move through the rest of the budget (the last hearing is next Tuesday; should that all be approved, the City Council will vote on the entire budget on June 10), there's a few things that we should keep an eye on:
  1. That $250,000. It looks as though the votes are there to put it into education, but it isn't in the education budget yet. As it's been sent to finance committee, it will probably come up at some point next week, 'though that could be during the City Council meeting (they can adjourn to finance) or during the hearing, I suppose. The conversation around this could well be telling.
  2. Where that money goes. The lack of clarity in explaining the arrangement of class sizes, for example, was a bit much. We all know things change, averages are averages, and so forth. A number is helpful. How far will this get us? On the road to where? (in Who-cester's humble opinion, this would involve having Brian Allen handle more questions)
  3. Rhetoric that's only rhetoric. As nice as it is to hear someone finally admit that this isn't enough for the Worcester Public Schools, unless they go on to say, "So we need to give them more funds!" (perhaps even make the radical connection with the tax levy), it doesn't get us any further. Beware of letting the rhetoric sweep the connection with reality away.
  4. Where any future money goes. There was an exchange between Councilor Rushton and Deputy Superintendent Mills that really seemed to be taking us down the primrose path in terms of where any extra money that turns up goes. Programs with UMass and WPI are all well and good, but let's focus, shall we? We have crumbling buildings. We have traveling nurses at the elementary level. We have no full-time librarians in elementary schools. We are putting our middle school librarians on half time. We are years behind in buying books. Let's get the basics underway before we get fancy.

T&G opinion piece

Who-cester was going to comment on the lead opinion piece in today's paper, but it looks like Wormtown Taxi has beat me to pretty much everything I was going to say.

(If Jeff keeps this up, he's going to drive us straight out of business!)

The only thing I'd add is that the WPS are adding as many as 1000 students next year (the fall 2008 entering kindergarten is significantly larger than the spring 2008 graduating senior class). If you do the math there...well, that "per student" number gets even smaller.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The T&G doesn't get much splashier than this

Front page center, with photos...

Those of us who believe in the public process were troubled by the mayor's efforts to limit comment on the education budget. Initially, she was going to limit the public to two speakers. Eventually, she allowed seven, and Vice-Chair Rushton, on taking the chair, allowed a few more. There was further effort, mainly in response to Councilor Rosen's remarks, to hurry things along and get it done.

This is the largest portion of the city budget. It has direct bearing on the lives of one-seventh of the city residents. It determines the direction of our city, the location of businesses, the local tax levy, and untold other decisions made about our city, large and small. If anything should be discussed, fully and at length, in the City of Worcester, it is the funding of public education.

To do otherwise is entirely contrary to the mayor's oft-cited position of openness. She has been much better about this than previous administrations, but last night's efforts were, to say the least, a troubling return to the previous stifling.

Audio and video of finance hearing

For those who couldn't be there or who want to go back over it...

Going up sometime today!

a tip of the hat

To Jeff Barnard, for some nice analysis, with rough numbers this morning

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Item 9a

On that $250,000:
(a long pause here, as Councilor Rushton, who was the lead sponsor on this item, was out of the council chamber. And then he came in and went out again.)

"I think the majority of councilors have said where they'd like this money to lie."

Forwarded to Finance Committee.

(I'm not sure when this comes up again...I'll find out.)

Council's back

After a long dinner break (following hearing both the Law and the DPW&P), the City Council's back. Our batteries are running low, though, so we're going to limit our posting here to what's absolutely needed!

Budget approved!

Education budget is unanimously approved!
(motion by Palmeri, seconded by Toomey)

And Who-cester is taking a dinner break before the City Council resumes at 7pm!

Questions from City Council: class sizes again

Mayor Lukes: difference between student/teacher ratio and adult/child ratio?

Putting a tutor in the classroom (or an aide) cuts the adult ratio without lowering the teacher ratio (as an aide or tutor is not a teacher).

What about the adult/child ratio for those classrooms that will still be over?

First try is to split the class. (And that solves the student/teacher problem) If you can't do that, you get a tutor for part of the time, cutting the adult/child ratio. "It depends where the 16 (large classes) are." If there's classroom space, you can split a class; no classroom, no split.

Questions from City Council: elementary education and school closings

Councilor Palmeri appreciates the superintendent meeting with him and answering his questions.

"All of the councilors are more than passionate about the Worcester Public School passionate as Councilor Rosen..we also have to find a way to get there...have a vision and a plan that will follow those monies...a real foundation to secure those funds...$5 million (lost) from the federal government..still no reform (on chapter 70) All of us would like to see the Worcester Public School system in a place it hasn't been in quite some time."

Urging everyone to meet with the legislators. He continues to think that the problems seem to lie with the state: "separate those that will from those that will not"

Ah! A question!

Elementary education. Palmeri thinks the teachers' pay should be doubled (you heard it here first!). Any sort of pilot program for K-8 configuration?
From Superintendent Caradonio:
ALL school has K-8 and pre-K -12.
7-12 at Burncoat
Sullivan and South share a campus.
"Some of the schools we closed in the past" are mentioned.
K-3 and 4-6 was "a very hard sell" in Rhode Island (East Greenwich) where he worked at one point. Palmeri takes issue with that; he seems to believe that times have changed.

Ouch. Pameri address the crowd: "you need to have accurate data...not just one person's feelings" He's lost three of his five schools in his district.
"$1.3 million for 38 students at Harlow Street School"
He wants a gifted program or school in Worcester.

Questions from City Council or not...

Councilor Clancy continues the valedictories for Superintendent Caradonio.
Filing a resolution under suspension honoring the superintendent for his work to be presented at June 17th City Council meeting.

Questions from City Council: enrollment

Councilor Petty: How many students have we lost and how is that related to the budget deficit?

We've lost 3000 students over the past six years. We've got just over 23,000 students.
About $10 million dollars of our cuts is enrollment based (we get less money from the state and fed when we have fewer students), replies Brian Allen.

"Start chipping away..have a plan. Is there a plan to get to the 3.6? at least get there. How do we get to the $3.6 million to get to the 2%?"

(This assumes, incidentally, that the 2% was some sort of "all we need number." It's not. 102% puts us way down at the bottom of the barrel on funding, should we even get there.)

Petty: "If you can come up with $3 million...get telecom passed...get to 102%. We all recognize that; I think this council does support that idea."

Questions from City Council: (or maybe not questions)

Councilor Rosen: "if you listened to this, you'd think that things were pretty good in the public schools...more good news...heard tonight that this is the best budget in the past six or seven years..a half dozen things that point to good news for the Worcester Public Schools. I want us all to remember...Worcester Public Schools are still not in good shape."(emphasis added)

Rosen is now listing his experience in the schools. "We are dealing with a needy population...we forget...people should volunteer in the classrooms...such needs. In some of our schools, 75% of students who start school in August will not be there at the end of the year...3000 students have left...where have those students gone?"

"Everything is not okay in the Worcester Public Schools. It has not been okay in a long time."

"The city council does not have the power to increase the budget...we can...lobby the City Manager to provide as much money to a department as possible."

Mayor: "Let me just caution the council...we have not got out of this budget yet....we have a deadline."

Zippy exchange between Rosen and Lukes about how much time he's taken on this; there have been a number of rounds of applause during his comments. Other administrators are waiting to be heard. I think she thinks he's grandstanding.

Questions from City Council: extracurriculars

Councilor Smith: what is the status of our extracurricular activities?

No cuts in after school.

Art, music, gym are contractual. All will be funded. (at current levels!)

Smith on percentages: "To me, it doesn't really matter so much...maximum dollars going into the 100% of Massport funds going to schools. New reoccurring revenue those monies to the schools."

Questions from City Council:

"One simple question" from Councilor Germaine

Ugh...back to the 103% again.

"Are we there? Are you satisfied with the budget?"

"First year we aren't cutting services; I'm happy...none of us are happy that we have the status quo...a lot of very hard work in funding inside the budget..$6.3 million dollars of purchasing power...satisfied and very pleased with school spending is calculated on your bottom line, not on your line item. Purchasing power is what you'd have if you had 103%. It's really about purchasing power...There should be much more weigh in net school spending."

Germaine "We're going to find $13,000 here...going to throw every nickel at this."

There was great frustration in the audience during this exchange. As we heard from one parent, speaking of Superintendent Caradonio, later, "What did he have to lose? He's leaving this year! The right answer was 'NO! I'm not satisfied!' What was up with that??"

A reminder from the mayor

"This city Council has the legal authority to reduce, reject, or approve the budget."

Questions from City Council: consultants

Councilor Rushton still has the floor: how much do we spend on consultants?

Caradonio is talking about the grants that we get (he's referencing the American history grant that was written up in the T&G a bit ago) that involve our hiring consultants who come in to, for example, teach workshops to our teachers. All grants need evaluators to be sure we've used the grant correctly. Some require that.

$104,000 from the general fund for arts teachers and a doctor
All others are grant based.

Rushton is now repeating what he said last year: that he'll continue to look for additional funds throughout the budget process.

Questions from City Council: $250,000 for where?

Councilor Rushton is referencing an order he's cosponsoring at tonight's City Council meeting:


Request the City Manager include the $250,000 realized as a result of new negotiations with MassPort in the Fiscal Year 2009 budget of the Worcester Public Schools for the purpose of reducing class size or increasing funding for instructional materials or for implementing new technologies. (Rushton, Toomey, Germain, Rosen, Smith, Eddy)

Where would they put it? the councilor wants to know.

Deputy Superintendent Mills goes back to Councilor Eddy's question about class size in referencing the continued emphasis on class size (in asking the question, Councilor Rushton said his wife sent in 27 cupcakes to kindergarten this morning for his son's birthday). What else would they consider funding? A health science program in association with UMass, that was once funded by a grant. STEM courses (Science, Technology, nope, missed it) in conjunction with WPI. These programs exist, but they are a shadow of what they were; he'd like to bring them back.

(One wonders, incidentally, how much of this is a chance Rushton is giving for Mills to put on a show, as Rushton has said previously he thinks we should just hire Mills to replace Caradonio.)

Questions from City Council: administrative costs

Worcester is 11 of 12 urban school districts in administrative funding.

In other words, we are in the bottom two of all state urban school districts in how much of our money goes to administration. We're $7 per student away from Holyoke, which is the bottom of the list, and $50 under the top of the list.

Questions from City Council:Medicaid

Ah, Medicaid...

Councilor Rushton has brought up the Medicaid issue. Money that is spent by the School Department to provide services to students is reimbursed to the city...and never goes back to the schools.

$5.3 million this year.

Questions from City Council: reductions

Councilor Rushton: five areas of reducing?

(You've seen the report.)

What about transportation, as Councilor Germaine suggested?
We're renegotiating our contracts soon. We maximize use of WRTA when we legally can, but are more looking at transportation cost for out-of-district.

Are we looking at cutting bus routes for those close to school?

No, says the superintendent, as that would cut our attendance in middle and high schools. Levying fees wouldn't be workable as we have so many of our kids are on free and reduced lunch.

The traffic that would result would result in daily gridlock.

The real problem, he continues, is in state reimbursement. State relief for regional systems and special education is needed.

Questions from City Council: class sizes

Councilor Eddy: average class size in elementary school?

Brian Allen answers: 22 to 1

Next year?

again, on average 22 to 1, but 29 classes with 27 or more students.

More than this year?

Not an increase...fairly consistent

Do we have a goal on class size?

22 to 1 is the foundation budget number

Are we meeting our goal?

Yes, Brian Allen says, because it's a priority of the school committee. We'd like to have NO classrooms with over 22.

What would it cost?

Require 13 to 19 more teachers: $750,000 to $1 million dollars. Some of that money is in the budget (13 of them) due to the money allocated by the city manager in this year's budget. We still have 16 classrooms that'll be over 27 students.

(Eddy's not following this.)

"If we aren't going to get to where the advocates want us to be, and we aren't at where the administration would like us to be, do we have a plan to get us up there from year to year?"

Questions from City Council: declining enrollment

Councilor Haller: declining enrollment?

A statewide issue, says the superintendent.

Any evidence people are leaving the public schools for elsewhere?

198 school districts had declining enrollment in the state this year. Ebb and flow of enrollment, he says, but in a state losing population each year.

A note on the hearing

Councilor Clancy moved to approve the budget as is at the start of the meeting. This was mostly a pro-forma comment, as there were plenty of people who wanted to speak. It does say, however, that there is no feeling on the council that the budget should be cut.

Questions from City Council: EQA audit

Councilor Toomey to the administration: grants next year?
No increases, or minimal increases, or huge decreases next year

1.8% (without inflation)
5% with inflation

Most perplexing is Title 1; it's going down every year. They increase the demands, and they decrease the money.

Councilor Toomey: "We need to totally look at how we fund education at all levels."
"Several areas I saw in the (EQA) this budget we're going to be approving adequently address the areas of need in this audit?"
The superintendent says yes.

Sara Lang

Business owner and parent

"really frustrated"

"...why Merrill Lynch left Worcester"

"I need highly educated employees"

"Not a single working printer in all of 6th grade in Flagg Street School" Her son's 504 is not being followed. They have to fight every year.

"Next year we're giving Forest Grove a try. I'm not convinced we'll be staying in public schools."

Tony Cashman

"outraged that we have to beg for increased funding for education."

Midland...100 years old..playground crumbling, old boys bathroom
3rd grade science books are 13 years old

"City putting almost no new money in the school system"
"Not a time for misinformation"

"Worcester's already operating at lean levels"

"We have noticed the...raises..."

"now is the time for the 2%; anything less will be a disgrace."

Curtis Moiles

current Flagg Street student (remember, incidentally, that Flagg is often cited as being one of the best and best-supplied schools in the city)

Citing the books that are old, the need for supplies, the lack of gym time, the grades that don't have art and music...He also tells, troublingly, of a time he needed his asthma inhaler and the nurse was not there...

Nice job!

Charles Gruszka

You've seen him before and he's back, citing again that some are using the school levels to predict future prison bed needs.

At least, $5million to run the schools 180 days next year.

If you improve schools, some students might someday serve on the council. He'd feel "more positive about paying for their council salaries than prison beds."

"what the previous generation provided to you...our future decision makers, our future caregivers"

Local business owner

People reluctant to move to Worcester because of its image

What if we had "great museums, excellent restaurants, excellent school system?"

Deb Steigman

School department "effects property tax revenue"
"if you invest in education the dropout rate will go down...create an educated population. We have so much potential as a city...a large middle class population for an urban population. Keep the middle class...great potential. Affordable housing not affordable if you have to choose private schools...afforded the same opportunity as we were. It's obvious, schools are still under-funded."

Now presenting a petition with 1300 signatures asking that the education funding be raised 2%.

Elisa Lopez-Doboski

Latino Institute at Worcester State College

"Latinos continue to lag behind in achievement..."

Woodlawn Academy: "Only two teachers to serve over 200 English Language learners. Not enough teachers to provide services..."

"Every dollar counts and every dollar does make a difference in the lives of our children and families."

Secretary of CCPAC

Currently at the microphone, the secretary of the citywide parents' group. She speaks of 21st century results.

Charter school assessment has doubled:"People are leaving the Worcester public schools for better options."

"Undervaluing our children and our teachers will not add up to better options..."


Due only to pressure from the public, the mayor has changed her mind and is allowing seven people to address the council. When we got here, she was speaking of limiting the public to two speakers.

Liveblogging this afternoon and tonight

The technology is upgraded.
Provided there are no bugs in the system, Who-cester plans to liveblog this afternoon's education hearing and this evening's City Council meeting.

City Council Chamber

From the mailbag...

Not one but TWO letters in the Telegram and Gazette this morning! Unfortunately, the T&G site doesn't have them up online yet...we'll link when they do.

Something is wrong when you realize that city funding for public education has dwindled annually for the Worcester Public Schools for years now, but many of our city leaders don't seem alarmed or even interested in changing that...It's plain to see that as they consider the budget for fiscal 2009, the Worcester City Council needs to take the call of experts, taxpayers, voters and parents alike much more seriously so that the children of our community get the high quality education they deserve.
(Letter to the Editor, Gretchen J. Switzer, 5/27/08)

In 2007, the legislative and executive costs increased by 15.9 percent. In 2008, recreation and culture spending increased by 18.2 percent. On average, funding for public education increased an average of 3.4 percent each year. The largest average yearly increase was received by the health and human services (25.1 percent), followed by general government (10.4 percent)...If we don't increase funding for public education, we will see the cost of human services continue to rise as more of our kids graduate unprepared for the future and become dependent on social services. Is that what we really want?
(Letter to the Editor, Kevin B. Austin, 5/27/08)

Saturday, May 24, 2008

What are you doing Tuesday afternoon?

Bring your sign and your comments and head downtown!

Tuesday, May 27
4-6 pm
City Council Chamber

The Finance Committee will be hearing testimony regarding the education portion of the FY09 city budget. Here's your chance to tell them what you think!
Don't miss it!

(Who-cester is trying to upgrade technology over the weekend so as to be able to liveblog it.)

Friday, May 23, 2008

The mood out there

I spent an hour or so outside our local school, collecting signatures on the petition before the Memorial Day concert. The response to a request for a signature was almost universal:

"For schools? Of course!"

And then, under the breathe:

"They could take it out of their raises!"

We got close to a hundred signatures out there this afternoon. All signatures from across the city will be presented to the City Council at the Education budget hearing at 4pm on Tuesday afternoon in the City Council chamber.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Are we grateful?

Column in Worcester Magazine this week.

The gloss from Wormtown Taxi is most telling, I think:

I read this letter today, and realized that it had could just as easily have been written by a mother in some far-off, third world country...

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

and the report

And item 7.38A was sent to Education Committee, without comment.

On that money from the airport...

Not so fast, says Councilor Palmeri!

"Not to diminish the idea of sending the money to the School Department," Palmeri said tonight, "but how many days could the library open?"

To which Mayor Lukes added ('though not in the friendly amendment she originally proposed), "What impact would it have on water and sewer rates? on streets and sidewalks?"

on the raises

The raise issue came up at the hearing this afternoon. While I wasn't there, you can find an update of what was said at Daily Worcesteria.

"(I)n contingency" means "on hold," so don't go spending that money just yet. I'm guessing that the money gets passed, gets held, the City Manager makes the case over the summer, and (with a quibble here and there), the Council passes it.

(but, hey! That's just my guess!)

Reporting back on saving money

The attachment to item 7.38A on the current City Council agenda makes for some interesting reading. This is the report back to Councilor Rushton's request for five areas of cost savings in the School Department.
Their five areas?
  1. Health insurance. Just like the city, the School Department is saving money on health insurance, partially due to Section 18, partially due to renegotiations. (Incidentally, am I the only one surprised that the School Department negotiates with 13 separate collective bargaining units?)
  2. School closings. This would be the eight schools closed over the past six years.
  3. Restructuring School Nutrition programs. This appears largely to be making full-time positions part-time.
  4. Utilities. The School Department is part of a natural gas purchasing collaborative, has worked on its electricity purchases, replaced inefficient lighting, and (here's a big one!) is working to convert South High from electric heat to natural gas.
  5. Recycling. Saving almost $100,000 a year.
  6. Transportation. This appears to involve the hiring of bus monitors.
  7. Postage. WPS is still paying $0.37 a piece!

(You'll note that they've listed more than five areas. They ask for five, you give them seven!)

The memo goes on to list the areas of increased revenue: Chapter 70 aid from the state, charter school funding formula change, Medicaid reimbursement from the federal government (which right now goes back into the City's general fund; the schools want it back!), E-rate funding, Microsoft settlement (tech funding!), and grant awards.

The summary?
Reforms made to date have resulted in $11.3 million in cost savings and avoidance, as well as $14.2 million in revenue generated to the budget of the WPS or the City of Worcester. In addition, the WPS have received $10.2 million in grant funding in FY09. This amount equals $38.7 million in annual cost savings or revenue increases.
(the bold is in the original)

We'll see if anyone has anything to say on this tonight!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Quotable Quotes 9

After a long hiatus on letters, the editorial department over at the T&G must have worked through the backlog:

However, let’s face facts: Across Massachusetts, the average local contribution to public schools by municipalities, above the minimum required, is 14 percent. Yet, the city manager’s plan calls for Worcester to contribute only 0.5 percent above the minimum. Our schools have learned to do more with less, but that strategy has limits. How can we enhance and maintain a good public school system when it has been subjected to $58 million in cuts over the past six years? Other Massachusetts cities, like Fall River, Brockton and Lynn, are contributing well over the minimum to their public schools, and we should follow their lead.
(Kristin Keeven, Letter to the Editor, 5/19/08)

Keeping an eye on the raises

There's been ongoing talk over the weekend about the raises proposed by the City Manager (Dianne Williamson weighed in yesterday). One piece worth keeping an eye on is the question (again!) of school-side versus city-side:

In addition to rolling back the salary regradings, the councilors believe it is equally important to do a compensation study. They said they want to know how the city’s top managers are paid in comparison to those in other cities, and those in the School Department as well.
They point out, for instance, that the School Department’s director of human resources and chief financial officer are paid considerably more than their counterparts on the city side.

One assumes that this compensation study will include information about education, experience, length of service, and success in the job, rather than a simple one-to-one numbers comparision. Otherwise, this smacks of yet another attempt to pit the city against the schools and take money out of the school budget.

Airport money

As has been rumored for a number of weeks now, there's more money coming from Massport for the airport, and the City Council is moving to reallocate the city funds for education. It looks like it's about $250,000.

(thanks for the tip, Joe!)

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Fiscal 2008 Budget Hearings

(each is followed by the section of the budget regarding that department)
May 20
Public Safety IX
Inspectional Services X

May 27
Education XII

June 3
Health and Human Services XI
Economic and Neighborhood Development VII
Administration and Finance XIV
Capital Campaign XV
Line Item Budget XVI

(thanks for forwarding this to me, Councilor Eddy!)

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Pay raises

While I'm not going to comment on them, I will point out that the Worcester blogsphere lit up about this issue today. In addition to the comments at the end of the Telegram & Gazette article, both Wormtown Taxi and FlyORH are weighing in.

(And to connect it to the post below, it's what happened at Tuesday's budget hearing. That's what they voted for.)

How does this budget thing work, anyway?

  • So the City Manager talks to the department heads. What do they need? He talks to the state and fed. What are we getting from them? He talks to the City Council. What are they pushing for and against?
  • He presents his budget to the City Council.
  • The City Council schedules a series of budget hearings. They meet as the finance subcommittee (the only city subcommittee that includes the entire Council), and they go through the budget, department by department.
  • If you want to talk to them about parks, show up for that hearing. Schools, public works, the airport, the pools...They will hear (3 minutes at a time) anyone who wishes to address that part of the budget.
  • After everyone who wishes to speak to that section has been heard, they will vote on that section. They can, as with anything they vote on, approve it as is. Or they can rearrange funding. Or they can ask the City Manager for changes. They may also make speeches regarding that section. Or they might (as they did on Tuesday) quietly pass a section without comment.
  • HOWEVER, they have only approved that section, AND done so in finance committee.
  • It isn't over until they have all the hearings, vote all the sections, and vote AS THE COUNCIL to approve the ENTIRE budget.

Go, petition, go!

At my last check that petition to increase school funding was up over 400.

As there are also plenty of hard copies out there circulating, those numbers are climbing!

If you'd like a copy to circulate in person, zip me a line.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A thought on what goes in versus what goes out

We might, as a city that gets 2/3 of its education funding from the state and qualifies for a bunch of money from the federal government, want to be very careful about talking about how much we are sending out versus how much we are getting back.

Just a thought.

And that'll do it for the City Council meeting tonight!

and the lottery ticket

Smith is up for his lottery ticket idea.

"This has gotten the conversation started..what I had hoped"
"think outside the box"
"may even benefit the entire lottery system...overall boost for the entire system"

Additional order: work with state delegation reflect lottery funds generated here come back here.

"Every city and town would get back the revenues generated by its own city and town..would bring in significant additional revenues that then could go back to the Worcester Public Schools."

He also wants a report comparing how much money Worcester has sent into the lottery system to how much money we've gotten back from the lottery system. "We shouldn't be subsidizing others..."

"Glad it's gotten attention..."

"Work to change funding formula..."

Much discussion on the stage left councilors while he's speaking; should it go to legislative affairs or should it go right to the Manager? This leads to the mayor in essence rebuking them for not paying attention when they ask for a repeat of the other orders.

Palmeri: "Not realistic...can't vote for it"

The orders are referred to Legislative Affairs committee on a vote unanimous except for Palmeri.

(here's Worcesteria's take on this one)

Ugh...all that money

The Chronicle of High Education is reporting today that states with high school exit exams (like the MCAS) do not have a higher level of academic achievement.


That's pretty condemning.

You can read the entire article here.

back on 9m!

wow...back to the tax rate question: vote for reconsideration!

Clancy wants to know if that's asking for a dual rate tax system. "What's the intent?"
"The way I read it, it's a dual tax rate."
"That's illegal." The mayor comments that she knew that, and so had no problem voting for it (asking for a report, that is).

Toomey: "Asking for a circuit breaker...asking for information."
Clancy: "To raise taxes?"
Toomey: "What would happen if?"
Clancy: "Raising taxes?"
Toomey: "Circuit breaker."

The council voted to include the words "circuit breaker" in the request, and it passed unanimously.

Administration bugaboo

There's always a question in any school system: how much money is being spent on administration?

FROM THE COMMITTEE ON EDUCATION - Request the School Department Administration provide the City Council with a breakdown, on or before the May budget hearings, as to where the city stands compared to the other 12 cities in Massachusetts both percentage-wise, but also dollar-wise, per student, in spending for administrative costs.

I'd be interested in reading the breakdown for everything, not just on administration.

No comment?

It looks as though all of the various education subcommittee requests and reports are going to be adopted without comment.
In fact, the mayor has bundled those reports with the various health and human services and municipal operations reports (Items 9a to 9ee), and all are moving forward together (with the exception of the "Operation Yellow Box" needle exchange program, which Councilor Haller has asked be taken separately and is commenting on at some length).

real estate tax request

Among the reports requested by the Education subcommittee is the following:

FROM THE COMMITTEE ON EDUCATION - Request City Manager request the City Solicitor report to the City Council whether there are or are not any guidelines the City might employ to limit who would be impacted by the real estate tax increase and whether or not the City might put in place an income level cutoff or other caveat if the City were to raise taxes; what, if any, legal tools that the City might employ to exempt those people who are impoverished and are unable to pay additional real estate taxes, but enable others who are able to do so.

This is asking for a legal opinion on the so-called "circuit breaker" on tax increases.

Liveblogging the City Council

The report from the Education Subcommittee are coming back tonight...we'll see if anyone takes the chance to weigh in on the various items reporting back in. It's an open question: will they take the chance to go another round on school funding, or will they decide that they should just let this one lie, as implied by the postponement of the hearing on education until the end of May?

Official hearing date postponed

The City Council is postponing the education hearing on the budget until the end of the month!
(It isn't quite the last minute, but getting there!)

May 27th
in the City Council chambers

Also, the Education sub-committee is coming back with their reports from their joint meeting with the School Committee. Should be an interesting night tonight at the City Council. We're going to try live-blogging it!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Education hearing POSTPONED!

Tomorrow afternoon's budget hearing will NOT include education.
The Mayor and City Manager have postponed that until later in the month.
I'll post here when I get a solid date.

Online petition to increase funding

There's a petition circulating to call for increased funding for Worcester Public Schools. It reads, in part:

We, the undersigned, call on the Worcester City Council to increase the city’s contribution to the Worcester Public Schools’ budget. We ask the City Council to invest in public education by contributing at least 2% above the minimum required by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Communities across the Commonwealth have been routinely increasing their investment in public schools yearly since 1993. Sadly, 1996 was the last year that Worcester played a leading role in this trend. In 1996, the City Council recognized the value of public education and contributed 5.7 percent above the state-mandated minimum to the Worcester Public Schools. Since 1998, the city has consistently contributed less than one percent above minimum.

I've just linked to the online version.

(I'm posting a link to the right, as well.)


It seems the Massachusetts Office of Educational Quality and Accountability agree with advocates for increased school funding!
According to the front page story in today's Telegram and Gazette:

“The (state Educational Management Audit) Council is concerned that although the community meets its net school spending requirement, this does not provide enough resources for the school district,” EQA interim Executive Director John J. Aherne wrote...The council “encourages the City of Worcester to address the insufficiency of resources to meet its educational obligations"

You can find the full report from the EQA here.
(that's a double underscore in the address before the "1" if you're trying to type it in from the T&G)

Friday, May 9, 2008

"thinking outside the box"

And from Councilor Smith today...

"City Only Lottery Tix Could Boost Scratch"

(my compliments to the headline editor!)

We'll leave aside for the moment that this is not the steady revenue stream that advocates have requested and schools need, and that it ignores the ongoing reality of falling state revenues from the Lottery. The end of the article goes back to the volleying of earlier in the week:

Stand for Children, an advocacy group for quality public education, contends Mr. O’Brien’s budget for the schools is insufficient and far below what it has asked for and what was also requested by the School Committee.
The group has called on the City Council to find new revenue sources for the public schools and not to rule out the option of raising more in taxes if necessary.
The city could provide more funding for the public schools by tapping into some of its tax-levy reserve.
The city is $12 million under the tax-levy cap established under state law.
City councilors and the city manager have expressed no interest in raising property taxes in excess of the allowable 2.5 percent annual increase.
“I firmly believe that Worcester’s taxpayers, with all of the pressures facing homeowners today, do not have the appetite for new taxes or additional service cuts,” Mr. O’Brien said.

City Manager O'Brien's quotation is taken from his budget message.
(and, as before, the comment section over there has been busy. Sometimes even with messages that are somewhat civil. It also looks as though WCRN AM 830 is tackling this issue this afternoon between 4 and 5. You can comment by calling 866-927-6830.)

Proposition 2 1/2 Primer

May...when a communities thoughts turn to

Proposition 2 1/2!

Since many of us either were living elsewhere or were too young to pay much attention when Prop 2 1/2 was passed, here's something to help us clear up what it is and isn't.

(I've put a permanent link in over to the right.)

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Budget hearings

The Standing Committee on Finance (which is the full City Council) is holding the first of its budgetary hearings this coming Tuesday, May 13. The hearings will start at 4pm and go to 6pm (and be broadcast live on Channel 12).
They plan to meet each Tuesday for two hours until they get through all parts of the budget.

There's supposed to be an agenda posted on the City website.
I haven't found it yet, or maybe they didn't get it up yet, but I know they are starting on Tuesday with the Legislative offices (which is the City Manager, Human Resources, and basically a lot of those offices in City Hall), Workers' Comp, and Health Insurance, then schools. It's anybody's guess whether they'll actually get to schools on Tuesday or have to put it off until the following week.

Not only, as posted below, is the budget online, but the budget message (that the City Council was given) is also online.

Unity Rally for Children Left Behind

Teen Empowerment (Boston) and a long list of other organizations (ranging from FairTest to Citizens for Public Schools to the Mass Teachers' Association) are sponsoring a rally at the State House.

Wednesday, May 21
at 3pm
at the State House Grand Staircase

Advocating for increased funding

An article in today's Telegram and Gazette gives extensive coverage to Stephanie Yuhl's speech on Tuesday night, regarding the advocacy Stand for Children and the School Committee are doing to increase funding to 102% of foundation.

And the comment section is flying, fast and furious over there!

Comments on NCLB?

Should you have any thoughts on NCLB, particularly the proposed changes to the law, there will be a public hearing:

Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Hilton Boston Back Bay Hotel
40 Dalton Street
Boston, Mass. 02115
Time: 9 a.m. - noon and 2 - 5 p.m. EDT
Meeting Room: Fenway Room

(and what, you ask, does this have to do with education funding. Can you say, post Bush administration cuts, "unfunded mandate"?)

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Budget procedure

Now that the City Manager has presented his budget to the City Council, there are two things that come into play:

  1. The City Council cannot increase the budget as proposed. However, they can request a different recommendation from the City Manager, and then pass that instead.
  2. The City Council needs only a simple majority to pass a tax increase. (That's six councilors.)

Who's counting?

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

"It's a start"

...the City Manager's exact words on describing the increase in school funding for FY09 at tonight's City Council meeting

Following the speech by Stephanie Yuhl, speaking for Stand for Children, City Manager O'Brien was not nearly as effusive in his description of the increase in funding for schools next year as he had been in his budget message given to City Councilors over the weekend.

While a slide showed the line "103% over foundation," he did not read it, instead saying that there is an "increase in funding of $7.85 million."

In many other ways, incidentally, the news for kids in the city of Worcester is good. This budget opens the city's pools and beaches and opens the downtown branch of the library for 19 Sundays.

The City Manager was followed by Councilor Rushton who echoed the "good start." He said that the City Council had many " of them is education."

FY09 Budget is online

For those of you who might like to peruse it, the City of Worcester budget is online. The Table of Contents is a good place to start, as it's all PDF's.

You'll note that the city schools are just a line item. The breakout of the schools budget is done by the School Committee after the City Council tells them how much money they have.

There's gonna be...


in the City Council chamber!

The City Manager will present his budget to the City Council and the public.

Bring your signs, your buttons, your kids, your parents, your teachers, your neighbors!

Visibility is all in this game; if you're not there, they think you don't care.
If you're there, they know you DO care!

The City Manager owns up

It didn't, of course, make it in the paper, but deep in the City Manager's budget message, he does give the right numbers:

With the overlay appropriation, it is possible to provide for an additional $1.15 million above the minimum required school funding...

(emphasis added)
And then the spin:
This effective increase to the WPS to provide services in the classroom is more than 103% over the state-mandated minimum. While the State formula does not recognize redirected health insurance costs as increased net school spending, we know that dollars are better spent in the classroom than on health care costs. The chart on the next page shows that of the $7.85 million in funds now available for classroom spending at the Worcester Public Schools, only $1.15 million is included in the state calculation of increased Net School Spending

(and you'll remember that the state calculation is so woefully short that several members of the Worcester delegation are working to increase it!)

It's a very pretty chart. It also doesn't change the facts.

The reductions

Even though the City Manager is presenting a balanced budget tonight, because the budget is being balanced through the use of one-time (health insurance) money, there are still cuts that the School Department will have to make. At this time, the Superintendent is recommending:

  • Grant-funded staff development and instructional supplies (to make up for the loss of state and federal grants to fund the actual positions) be cut
  • 9 teachers (mainly secondary, as a result of enrollment shifts and changes) be cut
  • 40 school nutrition positions be cut, and a cut of work hours for 45 employees
  • 2 middle school librarians not be replaced (meaning that two middle school librarians would be running two libraries each)
  • 1 administrative position be cut
  • 2 custodians be cut
  • Community schools funding be cut
  • JV field hockey be eliminated, golf teams consolidated, 1 assistant coach per football team be cut.
  • 5 crossing guards at private, parochial, and charter schools be cut.

All of which is subject, of course, to the School Committee's determination, which will not be made until the final budget is presented to them (after whatever changes are made in the city budget by the City Council) on May 30, 2008.

WPS plans on the budget: FY08 health insurance savings

Because $2.4 million of the money in the FY09 budget is one-time use money (it's the savings from the health insurance tax holiday), the School Administration will not use it to save positions.

However, class sizes continue to be a priority for the administration. To that end, they are saving $900,000 of those funds to address class size in September of 2008. Should class sizes be high (currently, the forecast is 29 classrooms in gr. 1-6 of 27 to 29 students), they will assign literacy tutors to assist in the classroom and bring down ratios. This also means that those are not full time positions, avaliable to be cut in 2010.

The administration plans to use the remainder of the $2.4 million to fund long-overdue textbook purchases.

FY 2009 Budget Message

A few quotes from the City Manager's FY09 Budget Message:

Through all of this work, I have maintained that we are in a competition for our lives and we must stay competitive as we seek to attract residents, businesses and visitors.

And what do you think the first thing is that businesses and new residents ask about? The schools!

(on state aid being down this year) This stark reality only reinforces that we must look inward to address our financial challenges. We must continue to chart our own path if we are to stay on a path of progress.

All of which means IT'S UP TO US!

The State isn't going to rescue us.

The Fed isn't going to rescue us.

Worcester has to do it for itself!

If we are going to fund our schools, we have to do it ourselves!

Saying it doesn't make it so...

Let's check our math here, folks...

"Combined, these contributions and avoided costs generate over $7.8 million in resources that otherwise would have been unavailable or consumed by skyrocketing benefit cost," Mr. O'Brien wrote in his budget message. "This effective increase to the Worcester Public Schools to provide services in the classroom is more than 103 percent over the state-mandated minimum." Worcester Telegram and Gazette, 5/6/08, pA12

The key word there is "EFFECTIVE." It isn't an increase of $7.8 million. The various health care savings, while great, were ALREADY in the budget. They've now been redirected to the classroom. They haven't suddenly appeared in the school budget; they've been moved from one column of it to another.

The foundation budget is a very specific list of things put together by the state. It isn't what the City Manager wants it to be to suit his fancy.

The real percentage is 100.5%.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Budget hearing scheduled

The City Council hearing on the Education portion of the budget will be held

Tuesday, May 13
at 4pm

In the City Council chamber

Sunday, May 4, 2008

And now for the numbers...

We have an early number, folks!

$1.3 million OVER FOUNDATION.

Here's what that isn't:

  • It isn't the 2% over foundation the School Committee has asked for.
  • It isn't going to get us much out of the basement in terms of contribution compared to other communities.

Here's what it also isn't:

  • It isn't a cut. That's the first time in 6 years.
  • It also is better than level funded.

(We've got this from an anonymous source, so we'll be keeping an eye on how the numbers add up once the entire budget is out on Tuesday.)

Mr. K, we stand corrected

Earlier this week, I subtitled one entry "You'll Never Read This in the T&G."

hereby officially stands corrected. Nick Kotsopoulos pulls together quotes from several different places in today's column. It gives a good overview of the discussion this week on the role of the City Council and the School Committee.

The only two places he missed were a brief exchange at the ad-hoc committee (regarding the new superintendent) on Wednesday and Jordan Levy's riff on the subject on Thursday evening.

We might start to consider how much of this is healthy, how much of it is necessary, and if it means that budget setting should be done a different way.

Hats off, Mr. K!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Too Many Left Behind

While Ed Reform isn't really the focus of this blog, I'm assuming that those who follow ed funding are also interested in what is happening in education in general, and so I pass along the following:

Too Many Left Behind: New Choices and Challenges for Massachusetts School Reform
A Boston College Citizen Seminar
June 18, 2008
InterContinental Hotel
Boston, MA
7:30 a.m. to 10:00 a.m.

MassINC and the Chief Executives' Club of Boston are pleased to sponsor the Boston College Citizen Seminar, Too Many Left Behind: New Choices and Challenges for Massachusetts School Reform. The forum will feature a keynote address by S. Paul Reville, secretary of education designate. A panel discussion moderated by Nick Donohue of the Nellie Mae Education Foundation will include panelists Earl Martin Phalen, BELL; Dr. Elizabeth Reilinger, Boston School Committee; Anne Wass, Massachusetts Teachers Association; Mayor Lisa Wong, City of Fitchburg and chair, Fitchburg School Committee.