Monday, June 30, 2008

Readiness project misses

There have been a slew of letters to the Boston Globe regarding the Readiness Project. We'll see about getting some links up to those over the next day or so.

The O Jornal (not a mistype; it's not an English word) points out one hole to the report: English Language Learners.

State Representative Antonio F.D. Cabral (D-New Bedford) was not surprised by the lack of vision; however, he was disappointed.
"We cannot have a 10-year readiness project without including those students statewide that have suffered in terms of transition to English because of the present law," said Cabral. "Call it full immersion, bilingual, those students must be part of the debate. When legislation is submitted, certainly that issue will have to be discussed."

You'll remember that we have many of them in Worcester. As those children require resources (there was some discussion at last week's School Committee meeting regarding translators, for example), this is a topic that warrants attention. The percentage statewide of students who speak English as a second language is 15%. According to the DOE foundation calculations, in Worcester, 28% of Pre-K students are English language learners and 18.6% of K-12. That's a lot of kids. That matters to Worcester.
(thanks, Colleen, for finding the Worcester numbers!)

Commissioner's district report

You can find it online here

And, for those who missed the correction, the T&G list (below) failed to include the Roosevelt School.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Commissioner's District

The state has okayed Worcester's plan for its twelve underperforming schools.
The first thing that leaps out at me on this list? It includes all four of Worcester's middle schools.

According to today's article by Jacqueline Reis, the plans include more time for reading, meeting time for teachers to discuss test results, and training for principals.

Two important points made by the superintendent:
In the district’s analysis, however, Mr. Caradonio pointed out that the district cannot afford all the improvement efforts recommended. Although the district provides some daily after-school tutoring, for instance, it would cost $6.4 million more to provide it to everyone the state recommends have it. And while the district provides some coaching for teachers at Priority Schools, giving each such school two subject-area coaches would cost another $2.2 million
The plan focuses on academic and teacher quality issues and does not delve into other factors that might affect students’ ability to learn, such as poverty, Mr. Caradonio said.

Poking around online, I can't find the report itself. If I do, I'll post a link. Remember, incidentally, that these results are almost entirely based on MCAS scores.

Readiness project rollout

If you're looking for information on the Readiness Project, the governor's website has a number of things to look at.

And the Globe's coverage gives a rather different spin than the Telegram's.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

City Council evaluates the City Manager

As they run through their evaluations, we're interested in seeing how many city councilors mention schools.

Apropos of nothing, several councilors have recommended that the City Manager delegate more.

Councilor Toomey was glad to mention the increased amount of money the city was able to give to schools. She wants to see us doing more for our students.

Councilor Petty: "your leadership is why we got the money" (referring to the superintendent of schools) "first time we didn't have to cut in, what, seven or eight years over there?"

Councilor Clancy: "kept our services at the same level without raising our tax levy" (citing Section 18)"It's kept us solvent: it's kept teachers in our classrooms...we've been able to do that because of that reform"

Councilor Eddy: "ran on a platform of strong neighborhoods...strong schools...must prioritize citizens' quality of life in making decisions" (looking ahead)"coming up with a plan and a funding plan for the schools for our children"

Councilor Palmieri: activists for education have "our undivided attention as to HOW we are going to improve this educational system"

(the following councilors did not mention the schools, but said things that apply:)

Councilor Haller: "to break down the silos of departments...we're in this together and we need to solve this together" (she was speaking of the city-side ones, but it applies) "responded to the greatest diversity of need"

Councilor Rushton: "don't see an employee as more than a line on a spreadsheet" "knitting a community together" "building a better Worcester"

Councilor Rosen: "budget was responsive to what the city council" asked for..."strong in preserving city services"...

Mayor Lukes: "wait for more savings and more reforms...I will not support new taxes...maintained our twelve million dollar tax" levy..."a large city agenda and large city dreams within our grasp"

City Manager O'Brien: "countless accomplishments across the spectrum"
"continue to succeed on countless fronts"
"relentless in the pursuit of excellence"

The extra money and when it's free's a puzzler.

That $2.4 million has three priorities:
  1. Fuel
  2. Class size
  3. Supplies
According to the school administration, this money will not be released until the gas prices are locked in.

That will happen sometime between now and November. It's based on the NYMEX market rate.
School, of course, starts in August.

This would seem to mean that they can't spend the money until, possibly, after school starts. That would make applications to class size tricky.

Readiness project rollout

The final report won't be out until after the November election, but the Patrick administration began its rollout of the Readiness Project report yesterday. On the school funding front:
  • the committee agreed that the state funding formula--the foundation budget--needs to be revamped.
"On average, school districts spent 18 percent more than the foundation budgets set by a state formula, Patrick said in a press conference at the Boys and Girls Club of Dorchester yesterday."(from the Boston Globe report)

And Worcester? 0.4%

  • a move towards funding universal pre-kindergarten and "high need district" full-day kindergarten (it's unclear if this would help Worcester; it looks as though the funding would be for those high need districts that don't yet have full-day kindergarten)

  • state assistance in lowering class size in "high need districts" (this would seem to help Worcester)
  • consolidation of districts
  • a recommendation for a state-wide teachers' contract. According to the Berkshire Eagle, the Massachusetts Teachers' Association hasn't had a chance to look at the details of this proposal. The Worcester Telegram and Gazette is already against it.
You've probably already seen the reports that funding all of this is not planned for at this point.

And the MCAS? No change. This was work, incidentally, as the entire committee had to ignore the assessment subcommittee report. And so we will be continuing to pour millions of dollars into that particular assessment system which leads to many of the problems cited elsewhere in the report.

Voting and school funding

In light of the Election Commission's recommendation that Worcester's polling places be moved out of schools, the study demonstrating a link between where you vote and how you vote may have repercussions beyond those anticipated. The election officials' concerns are valid ones of child safety, accessibility, and traffic. Moving half of Worcester's polling places out of schools, however, may make it a little bit harder to get people to vote for funding for them.
The study looked not only at the effect of voting on school funding in schools, but of voting on stem cells in churches. The difference made, while small, was statistically significant. News reports (on NPR and ABC) differ on if it could make enough of a difference to sway an election. It's called "contextual priming," where environmental cues influence behavior.

As Worcester voters rarely themselves face a vote directly on school funding (only in a 2 1/2 override), this may not make as much of a difference here. It does make one think, however, that it would be well to hold education hearings and budget votes in schools.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Depressing day in the T&G

Not a happy way to start one's Sunday morning...
It might perhaps have been helpful if the articles on school nurses and on the MIAA had run sometime prior to the funding of the Worcester school budget. Then perhaps interested parties could have had a chance before the budget was finalized to contact the School Committee regarding funding these two accounts.
As it is, the school nurses will see no change for next year. The following schools were without a full-time nurse this year (this list was in the printed paper, but it is not online):
  • Chandler Elementary with 312 students
  • Creamer Alternative School with 193
  • Grafton St. Elementary with 349
  • Heard St. Elementary with 272
  • Lake View Elementary with 268
  • Lincoln St. Elementary with 235
  • May St. Elementary with 279
  • McGrath Elementary with 180
  • Thorndyke Rd Elementary with 369
  • Worcester Alternative School with 58
  • Union Hill Elementary with 280
  • University Park Campus with 270
That's an awful lot (3065) of kids to have without a nurse in the building. Taking into account the number of kids with poor primary health care, the asphalt playgrounds, the huge number of health issues (from asthma to diabetes to allergies to ADHD), this is just a dangerous situation. A disaster waiting to happen.

As for the MIAA, Mayor Lukes did ask at the budget hearing what exactly we got for our MIAA dues. She was told that we got our membership, and that the dues are determined by population. In other words, as the mayor said, if we were a smaller town, we'd get the same services for less money. I have a feeling that a great deal more would have been said on this subject were the breakdown given on the front page today public earlier this week.

Turning farther along the paper, Bob Nemeth continues convinced that charter schools are the answer to what ails us (based largely, it seems, on John Rowe), and the T&G editorial board continues its hysterical support of the MCAS exam. Those two together, however, show some local concern around the Governor Patrick's awaited Readiness Project report, coming out in the next week or so.

(and here everyone wondered what would happen to Who-cester once the budget passed!)

Thursday, June 19, 2008

and the whole dang BUDGET!

Unanimously approved!


Voted to approve without comment

Teachers account again

O'Connell is referring the memo put together by Mills to curriculum (as that money has already been allocated tonight). Motion, instead, to file.

Caradonio says that the $445,000 has forwarded to the teachers' account. "Some of those items are not teacher salary council accepted some and rejected some...trying to remain faithful to what we told the city council we would do with the extra funds"

Bogigian "isn't it the perogative of the School Committee to decide how this money is spent?"
Lukes confirms that it is "last time I checked"

Teachers account approved.


Approved, Mullaney voting no

Back to the Doherty quadrant music teacher

Mullaney is asking again why the music teacher is going to a different subcommittee.
O'Connell is explaining that it might go to business.
Foley says he thinks it could go to full committee, but he'll take it.

Motion to forwarding to business

Caradonio recommended it be funded.

Money is cut AND the item is sent to business subcommittee

On the new money!

$5000 to crossing guard

$445,000 to teachers

Passes, Mullaney and Foley voting against

Crossing guards funding

Still need $5000
(We're up to $10,000; we need $15,000)
O'Connell suggests some money be taken from $450,000.
The rest to go into the teachers' account.

suggestion of a cut

O'Connell suggesting cutting an art (music?) teacher allocated to the Bridge program, which will be up for discussion later on. It'd be $62,000
He's asking that we keep the funds in the teacher account.

Mullaney defends Bridge, which is apparently her program. "Extensive conversation...(moving money out of her committee to O'Connell's) take as a personal affront" Rehearsing the discussion she had with middle school music teachers...someone preparing students for Doherty's music program. They'd be someone who'd be half middle and half high school, preparing students for transitioning to high school level music. "just because it doesn't go to the curriculum committee doesn't mean it hasn't received a full airing..extend to me the same courtesy that I have researched..the respect that I gave to you"

Lukes warns that she doesn't want it to be test of personalities.

O'Connell says "if it were a test of personalities, I suspect I'd lose...a test of priorities"
"Is it a nice to have program, or is it a program we truly need?"

Foley adds "discussed fully in program committee...reflects to some degree comments I've heard over the past several years" From the Doherty quadrant, hear concerns around AP, arts...parents upset that Doherty has fewer arts teachers than other quadrants. Mills adds that Doherty has fewer music teachers than other quadrants. Leaving Doherty quadrant for Wachusett, adds it's "a response to market forces."

Lukes concerned we're adding new slots. Inclined not to create new positions. Not calculated what our increase in costs are going to be for energy. "If I'm going to be creating new slots, it's going to be dealing with class size."

Mullaney, verging on tears (?), pleads again for this teacher. "We're defending a quadrant of this city..there's a gross inequity..asking for half a person...something that is honorable and worthy and for itself in the long run in keeping people here."

on librarians

O'Connell supports recommendation to add back two middle school librarians (this would mean that all middle schools would have full time librarians)

"By the time students reach middle school, we face a great challenge" to get students reading. "Watershed time...development of lifetime habits of appreciation of literature..." more on the role of librarians getting students reading, reading more broadly, making it a habit. "mastery of knowledge"

"Dollars well invested"

"bring libraries and librarians back over the course of time"
$250,000 be divided: two and two

Query to the administration

Mullaney asks for input from admin: what would they like?

Caradonio says they sent a memo..split of two and two (teachers and librarians). They spoke to middle school principals and looked at job description. "Flexibility in job position to do more than is teacher, working with classroom teachers..information specialist and network consultant" (he's reading here from the Mass state description of library media specialist) Feels they are "quite provisioned" for class size reduction"

Mullaney says that was what she thought. Refers here to the woman who has "fifteen in a class and thirty in a class"..."what can we tell them about class size in the fall? Will it be better?"

Brian Allen speaks: "need to go back a few months to health insurance savings..immediately saved" positions. "22 to1..that's the average..many classes that have 27 or more students" Would need "26 additional teachers" to cut out those. Ratio of 21.1 to 1 (adult ration of 18.3 to 1, due to uses of tutors) when all is said and done. Recommendation to carry funds from health insurance forward. "increase at K, 1, and 2 levels..prefunding" money we will receive from the state due to increasing enrollments. Not really one time money, as we'll be getting money back from the state (the dollars are based on our number of students)

Mullaney asks have we ever had two full-time teachers in the classroom. Are there circumstances that we do that?

Back to Brian Allen: No classes in 1-6 above 30.Largest sizes look to be in kindergarten. Teachers "deployed in best way"

Teachers account is UP!

here we go (it's 9:05, incidentally!)

(remember: librarians come under the teacher account)

Monfredo: glad we're reinstating two librarians positions. "Once we cut services here, we don't bring them libraries are primarily classrooms, where information skills are taught." We live in "an information age...common denominator...print and electronic format.." (reference to the librarian who spoke "six hours ago")

Foley "gets to the heart of the do you deal with diminishing funds...highest priority..erosion of the elementary school librarians...really a shame..two middle school librarians versus elementary class size especially in grades three through six. That's really raising an alarm with parents." Spoke with principals..they'd prefer a teacher to a librarian. The city council has added six new positions. Moves to add two elementary positions (rather than librarians)

Money shuffles

Monfredo motion to take $10,000 (I think) out of special ed legal to go to Worcester Future Teachers.
Foley motion to take $20,000 from unemployment (saved by keeping cafeteria workers) to arts consultants (specifically mentioning the Burncoat Quadrant)

Both motions passed


Passed as-is with little discussion


They aren't doing anything on it, but there's continuing talk around that Medicare money.
The School Committee wants it back!

in brief

So far the School Committee has:
  • voted for a 50/50 split with parochial schools on crossing guards (adding $15,000 to the budget)
  • Cut $10,000 from Miscellaneous Salaries
  • cut $2000 from advertising (in education operations)
  • Cut $5000 from workers' comp
  • cut $3000 from printing
  • cut $150,000 from administration, with the administration to determine where it comes from

This was to fund the crossing guard split. The rest of the allocation (including new funds) have not been dealt with as yet.

sorry about the gap

Who-cester lost power there. I've got extensive notes, which I'll post as I have a chance. We're back now, in budget session, looking at the administration clerical account.

Patricia Schuclits

(sorry if the spelling is wrong there)

"rather grateful" she sent her child to OLA
son was a preemie...not going to lose him again because of a crossing guard

"don't have a child hit by a car because someone was going to blow by a bus on the way to work"
Have a moral issue at stake
"kids in Worcester are safe"
"last plea to the council and the school committee"

Richard Schmidt

"continuing a conversation we've had about Junior ROTC for awhile"

"suppose..did you every talk to students about their math classes? If they said, we don't like them, would you cancel them?"

want them to learn things that are important...manual of arms? close ordered drill?

"Let's teach kids something they really need."
teaches at Worcester State..lots of time teaching how to write a three page paper.
"One way you learn how to write is by reading"
"never been to a wonder they can't write!"

Scott Schaeffer-Duffy

parent of four Worcester public school students
"when I was a child we had art three times a week, we had gym three times a week, we had field trips, we never had a class over 24.."

"Now we go begging every year"
"a very strange reality to me"

"Our standard of living for our kids has gone down"
War in Iraq cost a billion dollars..."we can't find that money for the kids"

"I say that the $200,000 for a bad use of money..double that (new) money"
Sullivan Middle School principal is pestered every week by JROTC trying to recruit kids who are 13.

"one out of three people we shelter are veterans"
"money should be used for the good things we need it for"

Gordon Davis

speaking against ROTC

"waste of city's money"
"a recruitment program...depends on uniforms and guns"
weapons violate the zero tolerance policy (of weapons in school)

should learn about the Constitution, human rights

Pentagon pays for half of it...costs the city $200,000, possibly more
"don't go into combat without coming out damaged"
"we should protect our kids against this program"
"life and death decision...being influenced...falsely influenced by the military"
UN Protical on child soldiers: no child under 16 can be recruited. ROTC now wants to go into middle schools.

More on librarians

Am I the only one who thinks it's pathetic that we are fighting to keep our four middle school libraries open? Shouldn't this be a given?

Mike Kozlowski, parent

"I guess it would be a perfect world if the schools received the money they needed and the Department of Public Works had to hold a bake sale to pave a sidewalk."

class sizes too big
"grossly falling behind the state average in every age group" for MCAS
"we've got a long way to go"

"I would ask that class size be at a minimum for all students."

Stephanie Yuhl, parent

"small pie and a lot of people who need a piece of it"
quick pitch for next year

"come up with a formula" for maximum class size
average is not the same as a maximum

what would the number look like? Activists can organize around a number.
a ceiling

Dolores Lombardi, librarian

"have been in decline for the past 20 years"
funding "has virtually disappeared"

clear link between libraries and student achievement

"how to blend the technology skills they learn in computer labs" with books
"both physical and intellectual access to technology"
"reading and literacy in its broadest sense"

We'd lose our CW-MARS membership if we cut our librarians to two in middle schools.
separate research strand in skills
(we're going to need them to meet goals at state and federal level)

"Worcester continues on the wrong path" by eliminating librarians.

Doreen Albert, parent

speaking on crossing guards.
Our Lady of the Angels parent
Crossing guard at Main and Young Street..."absolute necessity for the safety of our students"
"do pay taxes in the city of Worcester"
"does not cost the the school system any money for the students who attend OLA"
"not a funding issue...a safety issue"
"accident waiting to happen"

Liveblogging the school committee budget hearing

Looks like a live one!
We have librarians, cafeteria workers, teachers, people speaking on ROTC...

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Tomorrow's your LAST CHANCE

FINAL school committee budget hearing is tomorrow!
It starts at 3 and goes 'til they're done!

City Council chambers
It could be lively; there's some talk out there about where this money should be going!

(And yes, we'll be there and liveblogging, at least until our battery runs out!)

An open letter to the School Committee

To the Members of the School Committee:

The city budget passed last week with extra money for education.

Unfortunately, the administrative proposal for this funding is nothing less than mismanagement.

The memo from the deputy superintendent outlining the proposed use of these funds is horrifying in how out of touch it is.

I've spent the spring at meetings at which parents, teachers, students, and community members have talked about schools. They've spoken of class sizes. They've talked about buildings in disrepair. The lack of nurses, the closed libraries, the old books, the significant lack of technology, the meager supplies...all of these have come up over and over again. These are very basic needs that Worcester needs to fill. These lacks and critical needs are so clear and so stark that it never occurred to school supporters that the Administration, when faced with additional resources, would fail to address any of them.

So why is it that the school administration wants to spend the money we fought so hard for on programs that have been mentioned by no one? Programs, further, that will make a positive impression on an extremely limited number of students?

This proposal does nothing less than betray those who have fought so long and so hard. This furthers the argument of those who feel that the school administration squanders funds.

I have no doubt that the programs on health and engineering are good ones. Advanced Placement classes are a worthy thing. Programs on increasing college attendance are a wonderful idea. They are also, no less clearly, extras. We are not in the position to afford extras at this point. We have buildings that are literally crumbling around children. Thousands of children spent most of the day in schools without a nurse. All elementary school libraries are run by volunteers, if they are open at all. We are years behind on books and decades behind on technology.

So why is it, one wonders, that the money is being recommended for these extra programs? Would revitalizing these be someone's resume fodder? Are these someone's pet projects?

I did not spend the spring writing letters and blog entries, going to meetings, and losing sleep for pet projects and shiny resume entries. I spent my time this way so that the children of this city would be safer, better supplied, and better educated.

Not just my children.

Not just the children in fancy programs.

All the children in the Worcester Public Schools

You have not been elected to move forward the agenda of the Worcester City Council, the deputy superintendent, the superintendent, or anyone else. You've been elected to set the priorities for the Worcester Public Schools. I would hope that your agenda is a quality education in a safe environment for all children.

We aren't there yet.

The money that the City Council approved last week can be a step in that direction, or it can be frittered away without forwarding that larger goal. It can be spent to do something that needs to be done, or spent doing something that would look awfully good in the paper. You can honor those who have seen the needs and fought alongside you for funding, or you can ignore them and jeopardize their future support.

My hope is that you'll remember all of the 24,000 students that depend on you. They won't all be at Thursday's meeting. But I, and plenty of others who spent our spring fighting for increased funding, will. We'll be watching carefully to see how you spend that money.

Don't disappoint us.

Pressure's on!

It sounds as though the administration is starting to push the school committee to pass the additional funds for their programs, as mentioned below.

Let's put on some counter-pressure!

Email, call, write a letter ('though you'll want to drop it off), show up tomorrow, but let them know what you fought for!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Where the money ought to go

There have been lots of meetings this spring...
Meetings of parents. Hearings. Meetings with city councilors. Meetings with school committee members.
I've been to plenty of them. I've heard lots of people talk about education funding.

Not once has anyone said, "you know, we really need a pre-engineering program fully funded."
Or "Gosh, let's fight hard for more AP classes."
Or "Hey, don't the special ed teachers need more in-service?"

I don't think anyone would dispute that those are great and worthy things.
I'm also sure that the time to decorate the windowboxes is not while the house is falling down.

We have schools in this city that are literally crumbling over children's heads. We've got kids getting their parent's science books. We have kids that haven't been near a computer all year. We have every elementary school library in the city closed (unless staffed by volunteers). We've got kids across the city in schools that have a only short visit by a nurse each day. And yes, we still have kids in overcrowded classrooms.

I'm not precisely sure how these glaring lack of basic necessities escaped the attention of some in the school administration. Apparently it has, though, because when asked what the administration would recommend spending additional funds on, their list mentioned not one of these basics.

Not one. Not even a start on one.

Is the rarefied air in the administration building getting to people? Is there such a disconnect between the people in the schools and the people in administration? Does someone have a particular reason for forwarding this list?

I don't really know. I do know that if you have any objection to the money that you fought for being allocated this way, you should let the school committee know before their hearing on Thursday.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Public education and the livable community

Showing the connection between public education and, well, everything else...

My husband and I chose to buy a home in Worcester 10 years ago because of the overall livability the city offers. We know our neighbors. We walk to school, shops, parks and other destinations. The traffic is tolerable. There is more green space than many people realize. I believe in reuse, including old industrial cities, and I am proud our housing has not contributed to the sprawl that eats up acres of open space in Massachusetts each year.
Livable community principles focus on land use and transportation. Strong public education is an important underpinning of a livable community, however, to achieve the mix of families, young professionals and retirees of varying economic levels that make a vibrant, thriving place to call home. A strong public education system does not benefit only the families directly in the school system, it benefits the entire community: it is a common good.

(Karin Valentine Goins, Worcester Magazine, 6/12/08)

(Worcester Magazine comes out each week on Thursday. If you want to get it in for a week's publication, get it by Monday, or, better yet, the previous weekend. They've got a great turnaround time if you hit the window right.)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Crossing guards

Councilor Rushton, under suspension, is saying he's gotten a number of phone calls from parents of Our Lady of the Angels students who are concerned that their crossing guards are being cut. The mayor comments that the money hasn't been fully committed on the school side.

Councilor Clancy is very concerned as well..."I think all of us..we would hope that they would fund this" Makes a motion to restore all crossing guards to school budget.


unanimously in favor

Looking ahead

Okay, the city side is done (for now!). So what happens next?

Next Thursday, June 19, the School Committee meets as the Finance Committee to continue their hearings on the budget. It starts at the City Council chamber at 3pm.

I've heard that the clerk of the School Committee is going to make the list of account numbers, what they are, and the order they go in, available to the public at the meeting, so people will be able to follow it. You also can ask to speak to a particular item ('though it's best to ask ahead of time).

If you think that money, especially that new money, should be going anywhere else, speak up!!

Item 11f

on consultants...
Request City Auditor report to City Council concerning the requirements of both the Massachusetts Teachers Retirement Board and the Massachusetts Public Employee Retirement Administration on all Massachusetts public employee retirees who resume employment as consultants or independent contractors - even if hired or placed by a third party - on the subject of earning limitations, and further, request that he also provide the City Council with the procedures that are currently in place as to determining when such retirees exceed allowable limitations. (Clancy)

Item 11b

Coming out of North Adams..."Judge Botsford decision has not changed...funding inadequent"

Request City Manager, Superintendent of Schools and the City Solicitor consider briefing the City Council in an Executive Session discussion regarding the proposed lawsuit being brought by municipalities against the Commonwealth concerning the net cuts in state funding for public schools resulting in the state not living up to its constitutional responsibility to fund public education. (Toomey)

Mayor wonders if we need executive session for this.
refer to administration


accepting the report of the Finance Committee

Adopting an order adopting the budget

both pass unanimously

5 minute recess

The finance committee passed to a round of applause
5 minute recess

Percent over foundation budget

Our math wizard says it's 100.7%

Moving money around

The City Manager recognizes the help from state on the airport money
"listen quite intently to the will of the Council"...on the contingency funds being moved

gives account numbers (we need shorter ones)

voice vote on recommendations of City Manager (remember, he moves the money)

Passed budget in finance

Rushton's order

The various cuts were just filed
aka tossed

Frank Raffa takes the podium

(president of the firefighters' union)

applaud the council for the money for schools and library
that money (in contingency) was for the unsettled contracts


two very important items

SforC "one of the most effective groups I've seen"

"keep a conservative mode to some degree"
"based on estimates made in February and March"

speaks of what the differences will be
heating school buildings, fire department, city vehicles..he's estimating 33% increase in costs (fuel mostly)


"this was a difficult budget season"
"we know where this is going...eleven people supporting"

"credit to good parents, good teachers, the members on the school side"

"thank you for your advocacy for children, your children, the children of the city..a lot more than you were gonna get without your efforts"
money under a rock

"looking to forward that money onto the public schools side"

Additional funding goes where?

According to the memo from Dr. Mills...
  1. Health Centers Pipeline and Pre-engineering program $135,000
  2. AVID $25,000
  3. AP programs $50,000
  4. Content instruction for SPED and ELL teachers $40,000
Now, that money is somewhat wrong, because that's based on $250,00. They got $200,000.

Got a thought on that? Come next Thursday at 3pm for the School Committee hearing!


"when will we get a number on free cash?"

September, the City Manager says.

And if it doesn't develop?

"watching closely...should be in a position to replenish this account"

Haller would have rather talked about this in September


"quite important that the superintendent of schools has recognized this area"
(that'd be AP)
"better education for those of the middle class"
"how passionate the superintendent is about issues like this...issue that struck"
(addresses Mills as he speaks of the "future superintendent")

"without the activists, this council would not have listened at all...lit the is lit!"
"fundamental and basic issues in government and that is education"

"Keep us honest"
"Keep our feet to the fire"
(speaks her of the Fire Department union president Frank Raffa as one who does this)
"this is a drop in the bucket...but it's a positive"
"will work far more closely with the School Committee than we have in the past"
thanks the advocates


Entire counsel has the same agenda
"shows exactly where the priorities of this counsel are"
"work with the schools, parents, teachers...continue in future years to come...additional money instead of less money"
"much better than could have been expected"
"retain people who want to send their kids to the Worcester Public Schools"
"really satisfied our being a top priority"


"I wish we could be Santa Claus..don't think we can be all of those things."
"make sure the base level of education has been provided for"

Hubert Humphrey quote(?)
"Our colleagues have said we know we need to do more."

bringing new business into the community


"we all realize how important these causes are"
"almost half a million dollars for the Worcester Public Schools"
"I look at the report from the superintendent"
"there's $50,000 for Advanced Placement programs"
"So, so important...we have to offer these courses year after year"

"starts to turn the corner slightly...still a long way to go...six years of cuts...providing the means for our teachers to teach...fixing up the inside of our buildings..I hope people won't say, okay we did again, we have half a million dollars...they need our help...they've been asking for months now, asking for improvements in the Worcester Public Schools...hope we're there for the schools in the future."


"city of neighborhoods"
"not the be all, fix all"
"may not be all that advocates asked"

"a positive step to doing well for families in our community"


"make sure the city is financially secure"
"unless we get some additional revenue's going to be a tighter budget next year."

Rushton speaks to the motion

"the pendulum is starting to swing the other way for the Worcester Public Schools"

A report sent from the school administration outlined where the money would be spent.

"Increase and bolster" the health centers pipeline and the engineering program

"get students ready" for jobs in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics
"models for success"
"they can do it"
"when seniors see like minded people within their same age group achieving, they know they can do it"


Clancy rises to speak to a co-sponsored (by all) motion...
"that we take $400,000 from contingency fund and the City Manager appropriate $200,00 of that for the Worcester Public Schools and $200,000 for the library. "

That's in addition to the $250,000 from the airport for WPS!!

They are asking that the money be returned should (and when) there be money from free cash made available.

They're taking the airport money at the same time.

Water and Sewer

just passed unanimously.

Wow, those kids can sing

The All-Saints Episcopal church choir just did a rousing rendition of the National Anthem. If you catch nothing else about this meeting, catch that!
They are heading to Worcester, England.

liveblogging the city council

...and it's a full docket.

In addition to the budget, there's a choir here, we're doing CitySquare again, water and sewer rates on first on the agenda, and we seem to have an awful lot of school representation here...

Monday, June 9, 2008

It's not just here...

and it's not just us...

You may have heard something of the big protest in LA last week over education funding. I thought this post from a mom out there was right to the point:

We have baked and fund-raised, sold magazines and clocked in endless unpaid hours at our children's schools trying make up for previous budget cuts that have left us without teacher's aides, arts programs, working computers, you name it. We have labored beside these teachers collating handout pages and collecting money for field trips, serving snacks and writing grants and they have become our friends and collaborators. These are the people (not Brewer, nor Schwartzenegger) who are helping us to rear our children into informed, responsible citizens. Citizens who hopefully will have learned by our example that sometimes you have to stand up for what you believe in and do what is right, no matter what the cost or inconvenience.

Preach it!

What happens tomorrow?

  1. The City Council meets at 7 pm (they are done with budget hearings).
  2. First item on their agenda is the water and sewer rates.
  3. After making a decision on that, the City Council will then adjourn to Finance Committee
  4. They will discuss a number of pieces of the budget that have yet to be passed, including water and sewer, the airport, and the City Clerk.
  5. They also have a number of motions left to deal with, including Councilor Clancy's regarding funding of the airport, and Councilor Rushton's proposed cuts.
  6. Plus, there are some reports that they've requested that have come back from the City Manager.
  7. Once they've done all of that, they will adjourn back to the full Council. They then can pass the full budget.

We'll be there and liveblogging!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

The long budget cycle finally gets to Nick Kotsopoulos

As one who's been putting in some time myself following all the ins and outs of the budget, I sympathize, Mr. Kotsopoulos, I really do.
But in the haze of who had done what this week, you called this one wrong.

In his Sunday column, Mr. Kotsopoulos writes:

Well, on the same night it unanimously approved a line item in the public school budget that will fund a 52 percent pay raise for board members as of July 1, some members said they want to see the School Department get 50 percent of future new revenues received by the city.

What left people scratching their heads, though, is the fact that the City Council is considering giving 100 percent of “new revenues” ($250,000) the city will be realizing because the Massachusetts Port Authority is picking up a bigger share of Worcester Regional Airport’s operating deficit.

Oh, by the way, those school board members want 100 percent of those “new revenues” and 50 percent of future new city revenues.

Mr.Kotsopoulos was not at this meeting (readers might recall this happened during Thursday's budget hearing); he may of course have watched it broadcast on cable. His colleague Jacqueline Reis was there and filed an article, leading with the pay raise, in Friday's paper.

A motion was made by Mr. Monfredo for a 50/50 split. Such a split has been done, just for one example, in Boston, as well as other communities concerned about how schools are falling behind in funding. It's not exactly a radical notion.

As it happens, this motion was voted down, Mr. Monfredo himself being the only vote in favor. I was told after the meeting that the concern was exactly that which is mention above: as the School Committee is hoping that the City Council will forwarded the excess airport funding to the education budget, they feel this isn't the time to ask for the 50/50 split.

Even beyond this breakdown in facts (okay, he didn't say that this motion passed, but basing his entire article around it certainly implies something of the kind, does it not?), the tone of this column is just dismaying:
the members of that elected body put the arm on the City Council to jack up the city’s contribution to the public school budget
No, Mr. Kotsopoulos, they requested additional funds.They didn't stick up the City Council in an alley; they passed a motion, way back in the spring. As, regrettably, the School Committee has no authority to raise funds on its own, they have no choice but to ask the City Council for the funds.
On the 102%:
Instead, some continue to bicker about the city’s contribution rate. They contend that when all is said and done, the manager’s budgetary action only provides for 100.5 percent of the foundation budget, not 103 percent, as suggested by the city manager or the 102 percent they had pushed for.
Now, surely, Mr. Kotsopoulos has been at any number of meetings in which this was clearly explained (I know I have been!): this isn't some number that Brian Allen over in the school finance office gets to make up. The state, that is, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts' Department of Education takes our numbers (how much do we spend on teachers' salaries? utilities? school supplies? etc.) and they determine how much of the foundation budget we are funding. There is a widely circulated list which shows what community gives what percent to education. How does it look when Worcester contributes far less than Fall River, New Bedford, Boston? We are among the very lowest in the state on this. The state average is 114%; we will be at 100.5% next year. That doesn't look good for those of us who live here, and it certainly doesn't encourage people to move here. We want this number to be higher. We can only make it higher by giving more city money to schools.

Where Mr. Kotsopoulos' sudden frustration with the School Committee and retirees has come from, I don't know. Neither group is new in making requests of the City Council, 'though in both cases, the voices have been louder and more organized this year. And surely this is precisely what citizens are to do during budget hearings: express their priorities. Perhaps they aren't shared by Mr. Kotsopoulos. That doesn't make them illegitimate.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Speaking of rumors...

There's one going around that Councilor Rushton has a motion for a list of cuts, which he then would give to schools.

Unless he (or someone else) plans to substantially amend the motion, the money isn't directed to schools.

As it stands, the motion (Item 2b on the upcoming Finance Committee agenda) directs the funds to "health insurance relief and funds back to the taxpayer."

That would be Section 19 and a tax cut.
Not schools.

Where, Who-cester wondered, is that money coming from, incidentally?

  1. incentive pay
  2. holiday lights and the municipal research bureau (believe it or not, both are funded by the same account!)
  3. contingency account
  4. workers' comp
  5. Union Station (half janitorial, half security)
  6. street patching and crosswalks

If all those cuts went through, it would be approximately $770,000.

Thursday, June 5, 2008


next meeting will start at 3pm

On sports

Mullaney gives us a preview of her graduation speech, at which the superitendent demands equal time (Mullaney is heading out to Doherty's graduation shortly), speaking of the impact of sports on kids' lives.

"So short sighted to cut athletic programs"

Adjorning at 5:40, as most the School Committee is heading out to Doherty's graduation.
Some conversation of having a 3 pm session.

O'Connell: other sources of funding for sports targeted for elimination? Funding from the Worcester Educational Foundation (which is for the arts, currently)? Can we ask them to consider that?

Caradonio says that it's a very small amount of money: "just tweaks" "If someone out in the listening public would like to fund one of these things...sure, we would take that. We see these as being efficient uses of the taxpayer dollars."

O'Connell asks about Sports Alive, which Hargrove rises to confirm it still exists.

Citizen comment on coaches

Charles Gruszka asking that they hold off on passing this today, put the sports on the private sector, and use this money for basics, like reading and math.

"Any outside funds, anything outside the school day... could (be used) do a better job on class size, support personnel, technology, and supplies."


School Committee just passed their budget, including their raises, without any comment.

Postage, school nutrition, unemployment

A bit of conversation on each of these...
Our postage is still 37 cents a letter.

O'Connell is hoping we can save money on the unemployment to for janitors.
We're laying off some long-term subs, which means we have to pay for their unemployment insurance (we have to reimburse the state).

In-state travel

Can we cut it back, asks Monfredo.

Covered under collective bargaining, says Brian Allen. There's mileage as part of this.
It goes up 2 to 4 cents each January, and it probably will again next January.


The mayor asks where the numbers came from, as many of them are, naturally, estimates.

If we were to go from today's prices, the budget would be $750,000 out of balance, but, says Brian Allen, we and the utilities themselves expect that the prices will come down over the summer. If they don't, he says, they'd take the money from the textbooks (from the health insurance savings). No new books if the prices don't come down!

At a question from Monfredo, we're getting a rundown on the switch over from oil to gas. We're trying to get rid of using oil to heat. Looking also at Worcester Tech in putting in maybe solar panels and heat recovery systems.

O'Connell questioning the renegotiation of our prices...should we join a larger consortium? It's not sounding like it, 'though it's obviously been considered. We renegotiate our gas in November.


On to janitorial staff...they're cutting three positions.
They're going to split janitors next year, by having them deal with buildings close to each other.

O'Connell asking if we can reinstate those positions by saving funds elsewhere.

Bogigian speaks on "year after year, we've cut the personnel...we can have all the equipment in the world, but if we don't have the just doesn't cut it...we can't have it both ways. We can't continue to cut custodial staff and then demand that we have clean beautiful buildings."

The mayor suggests that the schools put out an RFP on outsourcing the cleaning of the schools, pointing out that the cleaning of City Hall has been outsourced. This means, says the superintendent, that he has won the office pool! The mayor (who's in rare form this afternoon), when the superintendent cites the Research Bureau, retorts, "I don't think anyone believed anything they said." Bottom line, from Springfield which did the outsourcing, that the buildings were dirtier, there was theft, and they had to bring back in staff for supervision. Laying off employees means we have to pay their unemployment compensation, as well, Caradonio points out.

Mullaney..."The janitors in our schools do more than cleanup after kids...they assist the principals in all sorts of tasks..have a relationship with all parts of the school. They are not just cleaning people; they know how to do some sorts of emergency things to keep things going. Not just after school closes...these are important people in the building..a minor amount of money in my opinion to keep this ship afloat."

Hargrove: "I've heard about privatizing for 50 years...not dealing with Wal-Mart; we're dealing with children. I've seen it over and over again...they constitute part of the family we have in the Worcester Public Schools."


Mr. Foley got up to start to speak but was interrupted by the mayor (speaking from the chair, incidentally). He said:
multi-year effort
help us go in the right direction
working in collaboration with the City Council and the City Manager
budget solved by savings
city is really just over 100%; that's a fact.
what if people opt not to move in the city of Worcester
so far below reductions now
"If taxes is one of the issues,it has to be on the table."

Lukes lets them have it!

responding to colleagues
103% (if we're going to be honest)
entire amount of saving of airport from MassPort
If we're looking ahead...few children in public schools in 2020
"You have gotten a fair shake, my colleagues must remember"
Parks, streets, pools cited as not having enough money
Fire safety
"we have some severe problems on our side, and frankly the only solution is to raise taxes, and I don't think that's fair to others"


nice things to say about CM, CC, SforC
three motions
50/50 split
102 %
reconsideration of the foundation budget formula

The 50/50 split was just voted DOWN, largely because the mayor doesn't like the the airport funds going entirely to schools; she wanted that included in the split.

There is now a debate going on between the mayor and Brian Allen over whether or not the budget has 103% or 100.5%. He is saying (with some heat) that the state's calculation is 100.5%. She is trying like anything to get him to say it's 103%.

"Are there program cuts?"
Yes, says Brian Allen, 'though they would have been much greater if we hadn't saved the money from the insurance.

On reviewing the foundation budget formula, the motion passes.

O'Connell: opening comments

Much ground from the spring
acknowledge appreciation of CM and CC
and Stand for Children
still bare minimum
multi year recovery effort
"nothing more that a reasoned dispassionate consideration of our needs"
look back to 2002

catching up here...

at the budget hearing

Both O'Connell and Monfredo have spoken on the spring...both acknowledged that we aren't there yet.

The Mayor just let them have it, and went on at some length about the cuts on the city side.

School Committee's turn

The School Committee has its (first) turn at budget hearings this afternoon starting at 4pm in the City Council chamber.
(there's a second one on June 19, after the state money comes through)

We will be there and blogging, 'though accompanied by those most affected by education funding, so we guarantee nothing in terms of coherence.

If you have anything to say regarding where the money goes in the school department, here's your chance!

And we welcome any reports on the discussion at the meeting at 7pm, as we can't make that.

how not talking hurts the schools

Today's Telegram article is a report based on Tuesday's budget hearing (a note for newswatchers: this isn't unusual. What happened on Tuesday at and around City Council meetings generally gets strung out over the course of the week in the Telegram. It makes it a bit difficult to be timely in responding to what happens at one Tuesday's in time for, say, the next Tuesday's meeting.).
It's the quote from Councilor Palmieri that is most telling when it comes to how the City Council sees school funding:

“I want to give the School Department more money, but not just a blank check. We wouldn’t have any control over where that money would go or how it would be used.”

Now, the City Council isn't supposed to have any control over where school funds go or how they'd be used; it doesn't fall under their purview. I'm sure Councilor Palmieri knows that. What he speaks to, however, is the breakdown between the School Department and the City.The lack of clear communication has created an atmosphere of doubt on the part of some (most?) city councilors. They're perceiving the School Department as some sort of black hole into which money is poured.
This isn't entirely the fault of either the School Department and the School Committee. There doesn't, from the outside, appear to be a clear line of communication between, say, the City Manager's office and the Superintendent's office. There obviously should be. It's in the best interest of both parties.
It also doesn't feel as if all of the city councilors go out of their way to inform themselves about the school budget. If they're that concerned, they should. I would think, for example, that it might concern them that our state funding is in some jeopardy because our city isn't funding our schools at anything like the level they should be.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Budget up next week! UPDATED

And the pieces of the budget are approved!

The City Council is recessing straight to Finance next week to deal with reports they have coming in, and then they will be voting in full session on the budget.

UPDATE: I checked in with the City Clerk after the meeting tonight. Among the reports coming back next Tuesday (presumably) is one on the airport funds, that much discussed $250,000. It will be among the reports considered in Finance subcommittee at the beginning of the City Council next week.
(Thanks, as always, Mr. Rushford!)

Technical Services

And Who-cester would like to take the chance given by the the budget hearing on Technical Services to thank them for:
  • Wi-fi in City Hall
  • a great, and frequently updated webpage
You make blogging in Worcester much easier!

(if you care about water and sewer rates)

There's a the DPW&P subcommittee meeting tomorrow night at 7pm here to talk about water and sewer rates.
(I know some people were doing comparisons.)

Also, next Tuesday's meeting is going to recess to finance right off the bat at 7pm. They have all sorts of reports (coming out of the budget hearings) to talk about before they go to full council and vote on the budget.

Where is there money left?

The attachment to item 6.30 A on tonight's City Council agenda gives a list of the money that hasn't been spent yet this year. (There is, before you get too excited, 15% of the year left.)

It makes for interesting reading. Councilor Rushton is trying to figure out where that money is, and how much it is (he's focusing here on the snow removal budget, which was going to carry a deficit of almost $3 million over to next year; they are now going to be able to bring it down to $1 million. Carrying a deficit on snow removal is allowed under state law, and it sounds like we do it about half the time).

$12 million is the health insurance money (both city and school sides); you'll remember that holiday? It hasn't come out yet.

All of this bears on schools, as extra money is up for grabs.

"How does free cash look?" asks the mayor. "Free cash" is exactly what it sounds like.

"Not so good," answers the City Auditor, though it sounds like it's better than it was. The mayor is asking for a report by the end of the month on how much it is.

City that reads week

Proclamation by the mayor: June 1-6 is the "City That Reads" week

15,000 books went out to students in Worcester this week.

Liveblogging tonight

Waiting (at 7:15) for the City Council to come back from dinner break...we'll be liveblogging, 'though
it doesn't look like much is on the agenda for tonight.

Unfortunately, Who-cester wasn't here to liveblog the hearing this afternoon, as there was a considerable exchange in discussing the airport budget on schools (that's the $250,000 again). They haven't, I've been told, voted on it yet.

Last round this afternoon

The last round of budget hearings are this afternoon at 4pm.
An article in this morning's Telegram & Gazette local section points out that the education funding debate isn't quite settled:

But some advocacy groups contend that the city needs to increase its share of new monies for education to a level that is 102 percent of the current year. They contend that new city money in the budget approved for the public schools is only 100.5 percent of the so-called foundation budget.

Here's hoping the fight on this one isn't quite over. Not cutting is good. An increase is better. An increase close to what we asked for would be even better than that.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

What happens next?

So, now that we've passed the education budget, what happens next?

  1. The Finance Committee has a hearing on Tuesday afternoon for Health and Human Services (including the Library), Economic and Neighborhood Development (including the airport, Union Station, and cable), Administration and Finance, Capital Campaign, and Line Item Budget. From how things went last week, it sure looks like the mayor is pushing to get things done. Unless something goes off the rails somewhere, this will go through Tuesday night.
  2. Tuesday night is the regular City Council meeting. At some point, either during the meeting or even beforehand at the hearing, the City Council as Finance Committee will take up the issue of the $250,000 from the airport. There's two orders up for this one: Councilor Palmieri's order for the money to go to the library, and a jointly sponsored one by Councilors Eddy, Germain, Smith, Rosen, Rushton, and Toomey that the money go to the schools.
  3. Should the parts of the budget all pass on Tuesday, the entire budget will be put on the agenda for the City Council meeting on June 10, next Tuesday. At that time, the City Council will vote on the entire budget.
At that time, the different city departments will know where they stand for next year. It looks as though the School Committee is moving ahead with the first hearing on the school budget on Thursday (4-6 pm, City Council chamber), with a hearing following the budget approval on June 19.