Monday, September 29, 2008

Massachusetts Municipal Association looks at Question 1

At last week's City Council meeting, City Manager O'Brien cited numbers put together by the Massachusetts Municipal Association.

You can find the entire report here, but here's the numbers you need to know:
  • If it passes, Question 1 would ultimately decrease state revenue by 40% or nearly $13 billion a year.
  • This would result (probably) in state aid cuts of an equivilent 40%, or $2.5 billion a year.
  • Add to that an additional loss of $.5 billion in aid for capital improvements (road construction, highway improvements, school and library buildings).
  • The state pension funding would go down by $1 billion dollars.
  • Chapter 70 school aid (which ensures a minimum level of education funding) would decrease to $1.1 billion statewide (which is 27 percent of where it currently is). Some local districts would lose state funding altogether.
  • State funding for Medicaid and Transitional Aid to Families With Dependent Children would be reduced to the minimum amount necessary to maintain any federal revenue contributions. Cuts to these programs would total about $3.4 billion.
  • After making the basic assumptions, all other accounts would be subject to an “across the board” cut of about 63 percent, according to the MMA simulation. This includes two main municipal aid accounts – Additional Assistance and Lottery distributions – which together would be cut by $822 million.
  • Across-the-board cuts in school transportation, the special education “circuit breaker” program, reimbursements for charter school-related losses (though funding for charter schools themselves would be unaffected), and a wide array of school grant programs...
  • State contributions to municipal and school projects, including Chapter 90 road projects, would be eliminated or sharply curtailed.
We really can't afford this.

Friday, September 26, 2008

If you know it's a bad idea...

You can sign up to show your disapproval of Question 1.

PS: If you sign up, you won't be getting a phone call asking where you stand on this issue.
PPS: Let Who-cester know if you need a lawn sign or a bumper sticker. We can get them!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

School Buses

and stopping for them.
Or not, as the case may be.

This is one that certainly ought to be on the radar screens of every school committee and city council member. We can't have kids in this kind of danger every day, and we can't have the police department not taking the complaint seriously, either.

Heads up, out there! Get on this one, folks!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Item passes

The item passes unanimously.
Daily Worcesteria is raising a good question, though (scroll down to 7:35): what does this mean? Aside from the Council going on record on this, does this do anything? Are they putting a letter in the paper?

Well, at least they think it's a bad idea. Now they just have to convince a majority of voters in Massachusetts before November!

Rosen on Question 1

"have such a devestating effect..risk to public safety, schoolkids"
"we struggled with the school budget last spring and we did well by them"
(remember that!)
"Pools and parks...we'd have to neglect them even more...what would make someone go in and say 'that's what I want for my community'...people are frustrated and angry and upset"
cites federal, state, local "and the waste"

"wrong message coming from all of us...make sure you're doing well by us...can understand the frustration...that people forget their anger and frustration...have heard the message"

Palmieri on Question 1

"probably one of the more serious ones that we've had in some time"
a significant number of people who don't believe this is the case...there is this frustration
People aren't happy with government

People ask "where have the legislators invested? Have they really invested in education?..."
"preaching to the choir is not enough...can't just say 'oh, boy, we have a problem'...have to get a bang for the buck"

(reference to $700 billion passed by Congress)

wants statements followed by action

Haller on question 1

has her full support
"not on the ballot because some out of state person put it there"
result of frustration
Everyday people being priced out of Massachusetts
have to remain committed to driving out waste, sharing resources, partnering with the public
"have to remember that there's huge frustration out there"

63% cut in municipal funding
"destruction of local government as we know it"

Toomey on Question 1

"draconian doesn't quite adequately describe the cuts"
cites people begging for more money last spring
"imagine how many teachers that would many people would be left to educate 23,000 kids in school"
"the lights might go on, but not much else is going to happen"

asking the School Committee to join them in a letter of support to vote no on Question 1
"We can't afford it"

Smith on Question 1

"consequences would be disasterous for Worcester"
it would have to be made up somewhere
sales, meals, property taxes up
credit rating down: "negative domino effect"

wouldn't be able to have kids educated, sidewalks paved, parks maintained
"you pay for what you get"

"Hope people take this seriously"

City Manager's take on numbers

$225 million services provided by city
modeling done makes it look like:
63% municipal state aid cut
it would mean $50-40 million cut for Worc
The city has $140 million in fixed costs
$90-100 million left after cut
"to cut your department by 75%" you're left with a department that can't function

we would eliminate entire departments

Clancy on Question 1

(you'll remember that Councilor Clancy asked for numbers on this back in July)

last July asked admin to forward what we might have as a budget if it passed
points out that it would matter for next year's budget (takes effect Jan 1, 2009)
educate taxpayers of ramification on next year's budget
close up shop the 2nd year

our state aid could be slashed 52% across the budget
(he's creating numbers here, based on 52%):
100 or more police officers
100 or more fire fighters
400-500 teachers not to mention support and transportation costs
doesn't include DPW

only option would be an across the board sales tax increase
(speaks here about costs that cannot be cut: payment of debt, plowing)

"We'd be afloat and on our own"
we rely so heavily on state aid
It's only fair that taxpayers know before they go to the polls
"significant ramifications"

"If we could get a more tangible list of the items we'd have to do without" then the voters would have more of an idea of what we're facing
(here cites the schools specifically, 'though he's also looking for specifics from the city)

City Council liveblog: second item is up!

Rushton rises to address it:

Question 1 is "an urban lynching"
central Mass dominated by the health and vibrancy of Worcester
"prescription for disaster"
if we take away income tax, we go to property tax...unacceptable
the property tax is a "selective regressive tax" "property owners burdened to the max"
"foolhardy and disrespectful to the max"
sends the wrong message
"strongly urging this council"
"question 1 a no go in the city of Worcester"

Question 1 up tonight!

Just a reminder that today's Tuesday, and, yes, folks, that means it's CITY COUNCIL!
(cue applause)

Item 2 on their agenda is Question 1, the income tax rollback. If you think that it might just possibly make a difference to the city of Worcester if the state loses 40% of its revenue, then let your councilor know it! Links are, as usual, to the right.

Monday, September 22, 2008

New condemnation of the SAT

And there's new recommendations against the use of the SAT in college admissions, this time from the college admissions officers themselves. The part that's especially relevant?

Mr. Fitzsimmons’s group, which was convened by the National Association for College Admission Counseling, also expresses concerns “that test scores appear to calcify differences based on class, race/ethnicity and parental educational attainment.” The report calls on admissions officials to be aware of such differences and to ensure that differences not related to a student’s ability to succeed academically be “mitigated in the admission process.”

Of course, if a standardized test is preventing you from graduating from high school in the first place, there's no "mitigation" possible.

Textbook money after all!

As you might remember, $1.25 million of the health insurance savings from last year was put aside for two things:
  1. Fuel
  2. Textbooks
The ordering of textbooks was held off until the prices for fuel were locked in for the coming year.

I saw a small item (you'll have to scroll down to find it) in last week's paper mentioning that the prices were in, so I asked around to find out more. The prices have been locked in (as it happens, the schools outwaited the city, and so got a lower price!), and there's money left!

$ 1 million!!!

So, the City of Worcester's schools will be getting ONE MILLION DOLLARS in new books this year, due to the health insurance savings from last year!

As we find out what books in particular are coming in and where, we'll keep you posted!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Question 1 before the City Council

It's the second item of business on this week's City Council agenda:

Request the City Council of the City of Worcester adopt a resolution for going on the record in opposition to Question 1 ballot question that will rollback the state income tax

There's always the question (as was seen with Question 2 last meeting) as to whether the Council will decide the question falls under their purview, as the City Council will only discuss those matters.

The relationship is stark on this one: the Commonwealth's major source of income is the state income tax. Worcester's schools receive a majority of their funding from the state.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Here's your scores

The 2008 statewide MCAS scores were released Tuesday, to a variety of reactions across the state.
(The district and school scores are embargoed until next week.)

Globe coverage

This is the first year that science is a requirement, and 7% of the now-junior class (the class of 2010) didn't pass that exam. The other "didn't make it" stats: 42% of blacks, 46% of Hispanics, 15% of Asians, 13% of whites, 53% of those with disabilities, 39% of low income students, and 72% of those with limited English.

There was much from the state education powers-that-be on "an achievement gap to close," "scores indicate we are not there yet," and so forth. The question that wasn't asked (and continues to be avoided) is just what is being tested with the MCAS. Do these scores show us something about the students taking it? Or do they show us more about the test?

Tests are squirrelly things, as any teacher that put a question on a test can tell you. A question can be as clear as daylight to the writer, and be completely meaningless to even a well-prepared student. One can a take a test on a subject one knows well and still do poorly, if the test isn't a good assessment.

If you take a look at those stats above, some things about the MCAS become very clear. It's a test in English, so it's no surprise that those of limited English proficiency would struggle with it. You're testing multiple things at once there: working knowledge of English and whatever the test is on. The piece that is ignored in this state, and shouldn't be, is the rest of the built-in expectations of the test. In addition to your working knowledge of English, there are assumptions made by the test takers. The classic example of this is a test question on snow given to children in a part of the country where it never snows. If the question was designed to test your knowledge of literature, but you don't have the working background knowledge, then your ability to demonstrate your knowledge of literature is inherently limited by the test.

This is a notorious flaw in standardized testing. It warrants discussion in a state where all our educational measurements are based on a standardized test. You'd be hard pressed to find that conversation happening, though.

Monday, September 15, 2008

What's ailing boys

(and it's none too good for girls, either)

The National Center for Health Statistics report is getting plenty of national press: nearly one in five parents of boys were concerned enough about their son's emotional or behavior problems that they called in professional help.
Enviromental pollution, epidemics of autism....I'm with Newsweek's Peg Tyre on this one:

Instead of unstructured free play, parents now schedule their kids' time from dawn till dusk (and sometimes beyond.) By age 4, an ever-increasing number of children are enrolled in preschool. There, instead of learning to get along with other kids, hold a crayon and play Duck, Duck, Goose, children barely out of diapers are asked to fill out work sheets, learn computation or study Mandarin. The drumbeat for early academics gets even louder when they enter "real" school. Veteran teachers will tell you that first graders are now routinely expected to master a curriculum that, only 15 years ago, would have been considered appropriate for second, even third graders. The way we teach children has changed, too. In many communities, elementary schools have become test-prep factories—where standardized testing begins in kindergarten and "teaching to the test" is considered a virtue. At the same time, recess is being pushed aside in order to provide extra time for reading and math drills. So is history and opportunities for hands-on activities—like science labs and art. Active play is increasingly frowned on—some schools have even banned recess and tag.

Recess at our neighborhood elementary school? 15 minutes, twice a day. And the first homework came home from kindergarten last week.

I know of parents who have pulled their sons from school, rather than give them behaviorial drugs. I know of parents who have chosen to homeschool, certain that their sons would be diagnosed with ADHD if they were sent to school.

What I wonder is this: at exactly what point, are we as parents going to draw the line? We're making children miserable and ill--ask any third grade teacher about MCAS week--even drugging them, and we're proving what? That having money means you're better at filling in bubbles? That business in America really does run everything?

These are our kids. We are their parents. They depend on us to protect them, yet somehow we're letting ourselves be pushed around by people who puport to know more about education than we do. Often they know about as much about education as they do about children. Exactly nothing.
Kindergarteners don't need to know how to read, and in many cases aren't developmentally ready for it. Little kids need to run around. History class, field trips, science labs aren't luxuries, but 21st century necessities (and sometimes, sanity breaks).

Don't be pushed around. Do what's right for your kids.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Question 1 and the City Council

This past Tuesday's meeting led the Daily Worcesteria to believe that Councilor Eddy would be bringing up Question 1 (that's the state income tax rollback) at this coming Tuesday's Council meeting. It's not up on the agenda, but that doesn't bar him (or anyone) for bringing it up under suspension. I'll check in and see if we can find out.

UPDATE: The City Council doesn't meet this week (primary election is 9/16). Councilor Eddy assures me that it is up for next week's agenda.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Another thing that bug isn't good for

Keep an eye on this one:

“If this were to be requested of Worcester and the surrounding towns, something would have to give. We’d be pitting beetle eradication against public safety. We’d be pitting it against teachers in the classroom,” Mr. O’Brien said.

from the front page of today's Worcester Telegram and Gazette

Tip of the hat to the City Manager for immediately couching this in terms of teachers. Brilliant, Mr. O'Brien. And yes, this does mean that if you want to keep funding levels steady (or better yet, growing), we need to rally around beetle funding.

If you think of a good cheer for this, let me know.

Monday, September 8, 2008

What do these have in common?

If you haven't seen Boston Magazine this month, they're running the ever popular "Top 50 (fill in the blank here)" issue.
This month, it's the "Best Schools," which, given the magazine's focus, means something more like "the Best Schools inside of Route 128." Oh, okay, "inside 495."

If you know urban education at all, you'll get no real surprises here ('though I would like to know what Lowell is doing: anyone know?). If it's an exam school, it's on there. If it has high property taxes, majority college educated parents, majority white, it's on here. Oh, and high per-pupil spending certainly doesn't hurt, "efficiency calculation" or no.
They did do us the favor of looking into how some districts (Arlington?) are "stretching their dollars," but if this is their prescription, they should be sued for malpractice:

Management consultants, fundraising, PR campaigns—the public school game is changing. Superintendents now have to be equally adept as educators and CEOs. They must understand complex fiscal matters as completely as they do what makes a child learn. Patrick should continue to pursue big-picture reform, but with our schools needing help now, it'll be up to superintendents and administrators to get creative, run their budgets efficiently, and deliver practical solutions.

You heard 'em, superintendents: go out there and...get creative!
Gee, thanks, guys.

Those of you still living in this universe might enjoy Sandra Tsing Loh's interview with about her new book about public education. And when you laugh at her, it won't be the hollow laugh of despair, as it would be with the above selections.

"The Spirit of America"?

The military show "The Spirit of America" is coming to the DCU Center later this month. This year there is some pushback about schools, public or private, sending their students to such a show. You can find Scott Schaefer-Duffy's thoughts here. Scott's tackling it from a Catholic perspective, of course, but Catholics hardly have the market cornered on pacificism. Give it a read, and give it a thought.

If you'd rather not have public funds spent on buses to send public school children to such a show, would rather not have your child go to such a show, or otherwise have a thought on this, you'll find the School Committee member's emails to the right, as always.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Massachusetts senate race

Ed O'Reilly, who is challenging John Kerry for the Democratic nomination for Senate, has an extensive education policy section on his website. He's obviously given a great deal of thought to, in particular, NCLB and the effect it has been having on public schools. Give it a read.

(And Kerry? Here's ALL his website has to say:

"I believe we should meet our responsibilities to our schools and ensure
that No Child Left Behind works for schools, states, and teachers by
rewarding those who meet higher standards and rewarding schools that turn
around and improve."