Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Mass Budget comparison

If you're wondering how the various proposed budgets measure up, you can look at Mass Budget's comparison of the various versions of FY10.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Fy10 Federal Education funding bill coming up

Congress is beginning work on an education funding bill for fiscal year 2010, which begins October 1, 2009. The first action will take place in the Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee the week of July 6, and then will move to the full Appropriations Committee and the whole House of Representatives shortly thereafter.
(They passed the stimulus bill; this is the regular funding bill.)

If you've got an opinion, let your rep know!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

School Committee retreat

The School Committee summer retreat has been scheduled for Friday, July 17 and Saturday, July 18.
I don't yet have times or location, but I will update this post once I do.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Unionizing charters

Charter schools have usually been seen as non-unionized, but a growing number of them have teacher organized by unions.

Note, also, the attack by the Secretary of Education on Rhode Island's cap on charters.

On Monday, Secretary Duncan addressed the National Charter School Conference (link to the speech):

What I like most about our best charters is that they think differently.

The Denver School of Science and Technology serves grades 6 to 12. They take the 6th graders on college visits. Those children spend years choosing a college – instead of months – and 100 percent of their graduates go on to four-year colleges and universities.

North Lawndale College Prep is in one of Chicago's most violent neighborhoods, yet they cut security staff and hired social workers instead. That extra personalization is one reason that more than 90% of their graduates are going to college.

I was just at the North Star Charter School in Newark, where they have reversed the achievement gap. Their kids are outperforming the state and every single graduate was accepted into a four-year college. These results speak for themselves.

So I'm a big supporter of these successful charter schools and so is the President. That's why one of our top priorities is a $52 million increase in charter school funding in the 2010 budget. We also want to change the law and allow federally-funded charters to replicate.

Do those schools have to accept every kid who walks in the door? If not, where are the kids they don't take going to school?

Okay, but here's something that's hopeful:
Charters are public schools, serving our kids with our money. Instead of standing apart – charters should be partnering with districts – sharing lessons – and sharing credit. Charters are supposed to be laboratories of innovation that we can all learn from.

Emphasis added. Ahhh, yes, they are! Under Ed Reform in Massachusetts, this is precisely what our charters were supposed to be! My question for the Secretary is just what is he going to do to make that happen, to recapture that vision? Creating thousands of new charter schools all over the country (and threatening the state of Rhode Island) isn't going to do it. That is going to take leadership. Is he actually prepared to spend time and energy on this, or is he just going to mention this once and let it lie?

You might also be interested in his four models of charter takeover, at the close of his speech.


For those marking up their summer calendars, the next School Committee meeting is July 16 at 4pm.

Testing, testing...

Sunday's Berkshire Eagle had an article on the increasing amount of testing in Massachusetts schools.

For many high schools, this past week was full of finals: end-of-the-year exams given by teachers to determine how well students learned the subjects they were taught. Earlier this month, all public-school students in the state in grades 3 through 8 and Grade 10 finished the math and English portions of the MCAS. (Students have the opportunity to retake the tests in grades 11 and 12 if they fail them in Grade 10.)

Students in grades 5 and 8 and some high school students also took MCAS tests in science and technology/engineering.

The state board of education piloted MCAS science and history exams in 2006 and 2007. And though the Class of 2010 will have to pass the science tests to graduate, the state board of education voted to hold off two years on giving the history test, largely because of cost.

Though MCAS tests are untimed, the average third-grader spends 41 2 hours in test sessions, and the average 10th-grader spends nearly 10 hours, according to state data.

Additional school-required exams vary from 10 minutes to three hours in length.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Mass Budget on the Committee Budget

Here's Mass Budget on the FY10 Committee budget:

The Conference budget relies heavily on revenue from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). This federal stimulus law provides significant aid to states to reduce the budget cuts they would be required to make in response to the national recession. The Conference Report uses about $1.5 billion of this money to help close the $5 billion gap. Had those new federal dollars not been available, the state would have had to have cut services even more deeply, or raised taxes more. In addition to the long-term benefits of not cutting more deeply into important investments, such as those in education and preventive healthcare, the ability of states to use the ARRA funds to reduce budget cuts can help to reverse the downward spiral of the national economy. Public spending by state government is important for stimulating economic activity at a time when such stimulus is clearly needed. The reliance on this aid, and on over $200 million from the State’s Stabilization (“Rainy Day”) Fund, also means, however, that the state continues to face serious structural budget problems and will have to make additional hard choices in the years to come.

Specifically on education, here's the bad news: By and large, the Conference Committee report adopts the lower funding level when choosing between the House and Senate recommendations.
  • Chapter 70 is down by 2% per community (the proposed Senate level)
  • We're getting to foundation only through stimulus funding ($167.6 million)
  • adopts the lower inflation number of 3.04% in calculating foundation (which leads to a lower foundation number)
  • funds the special ed circuit breaker at $88.9 million less than the FY 2009 budget; this will mean less money coming from the state in special education funding
  • extended learning grants are down by $1.8 million from the FY 2009 budget
  • kindergarten grants down by $7 million from the FY 2009 budget
Please note that all of these are state numbers. What specifically it means for Worcester is something that is undoubtedly still being crunched.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

conflict with the fed

Mr. Monfredo's suggestion on Thursday that we look at the unfunded mandates by the state and federal government has some merit, but his suggestion about capping charter schools brings us into direct conflict with the federal Department of Education: Secretary Duncan has tied the use of federal stimulus funding to states removing the caps on charter schools. It's fairly clear that our governor has made the promise.
We may thus be faced with a tough choice: no money, or more charters.

If a budget is passed in School Committee...

and there isn't any mention of it anywhere in the press, did it really happen?
Recall that there were articles covering the various sections of the city budget when the City Council was hearing it.
Yet the Worcester Public Schools budget, all 3/5 of the city budget worth, was passed by the School Committee on Thursday night...
to nary a whisper in the press.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

FY10 budget vote

...is unanimous and accompanied by the Mayor's comment that she doesn't even know why they're doing this, as they're going to need to reconsider it all again. Thus there is no vote to reconsider.

Monfredo with more suggestions!

On the state level, he's talking about unfunded mandates. He's calling for:

freezing school choice

freezing charter schools

eliminating transportation to out of district tech schools

sorry, we lost power there...
he also wants to look at federal unfunded mandates: NCLB, and busing kids who are homeless.

This all gets sent to business standing committee for consideration over the summer, with an added request from Ms. Hargrove that they look at it closely on their summer retreat (still to be scheduled, last I checked).

FY10 budget vote: but wait, there's more!

Mr. Monfredo wants to reinstate a position of an adjustment counselor (we save $15,000 in unemployment compensation)...cut unemployement by $15,000...cut advertisement, printing, trash, electricity...most by $5000

Note please, that this is only the second motion being made regarding moving money around, and it's a motion not to save money, but to reallocate it to keep a position.

A teacher who works with students in a transitional period. They would have to move one of the other adjustment teachers over to there to take this on if we eliminate the position.
The Mayor points out that this is going to be a problem next year..."Unless we start now to deal with the disaster is clearly on the horizon"
Ms. Mullaney agrees "totally" with the Mayor. "We'd all better start getting used to it and tighten our belts"
Mr. O'Connell points out we're moving money, rather than creating a new position. He asks if the administration feels that the changes can be made without a large impact on services. The accounts Mr. Monfredo has chosen are more flexible, says Mr. Allen.
Role call on keeping the position fails 2-5.

Considering the budget

We are now considering the budget.
Ms. Mullaney would like to address the budget (as she and the Mayor were not present, as they were at the Burncoat graduation), and particularly the administrative reorganization that is saving $500,000. She opposes the new accountability person. "I have not been persuaded this position is necessary...$26 million coming up next year, 400 teachers...cannot add another person to the table of organization...I cannot vote for that kind of expenditure.."
She wants another roll call vote (so she can vote with Brian O'Connell).
Mr. Monfredo says the new superintendent requests this, and we will evaluate next year.
okay, we're talking not about the Chief Academic Officer, as it's being advertised..right. Chief Accountability Officer
Brian O'Connell says we have a number of administrative positions in play. She may be able to find within the current confines of the administration and its budget. He's voting against this postion. If it's that important, she can find the dollars for it.
Mr. Bogigian says suppose Dr. Boone comes on and she can find the money...what if instead we fund the money and let her do the restructuring she's planning to..."it will more than ten times pay for this position...let's have confidence that she can bring the money that will pay for this position over and over again"
Ms. Hargrove says yesterday's meeting was very unpleasant and very sobering. We will need to "think outside of the box...a massive, massive issue...We need to assist her in this time." Supports the position.
Mr. Foley...major issue in FY11, $26 million deficit, systemic review of the changes...looking for successful outcomes in the system.."One of her first requests of us...courtesy to approve the position" Supports putting it in the budget.
Mayor Lukes wanted to hold the budget to have the meeting with the state delegation, "'though there didn't seem to be any compelling issues" on the budget. Somewhat uncomfortable with having to vote an additional position. Thinks that adding positions is not reality. Not possible. "We have to look at everything..." She wants a list of new positions for next year. Mayor Lukes wants to know what our legal status is in voting a budget if we have to keep looking at it in the coming year...Mr. Allen says that historically there are adjustments made into the year, and he says that budgetarily, they are within their perogative to revamp the budget into the coming year. To the mayor's question of when the budget is done, Mr. Allen stops himself from saying "next June."
Mayor Lukes asks him to comment on the report in the T&G that we aren't saving any money in the superintendent's office...her office is staffed as it was at the beginning of the year, rather than the end of the year, thus no change in the amount of money.
Vote is four to three, keeping the position of Chief Accountability Officer.

Lauding Dr. Loughlin

"There are some who resist change...there are some who" didn't cooperate, says Mr. Bogigian, speaking of the interm superintendent. "It was all about the kids."
Much talk (with some wonder) from members of the interm superintendent visiting every school in the city in her first month. That hasn't happened much.
Ms. Hargrove is using the projects fair as a frame for talking about Dr. Loughlin. And quoting Scarlett O'Hara, and closes by talking about planting trees under which one never expects to sit in the shade...giving a nice segue to Mr. Foley, who says we could use the trees in Burncoat.
Mr. Foley is now likening her to "Brigadoon" in that she comes back every six years.
There has not, the EAW president says, been a time in the history of collective bargaining when the superintendent gave the union president a hug at the close of negotiations.

Liveblogging School Committee: standing committees LIVE

Liveblogging School Committee...looks like they are doing the regular agenda first, then the budget.
Right now we're on item gb#9-25.1, dealing with the filming of standing committee meetings. (dang, sorry; it looks like the link to the backup isn't working) The mayor appears to be concerned about how we are paying for the retirement of people whose salary is funded out of the Channel 11 account. She appears to think that it's difficult to figure out where the money is going.
Now where did we get the information on needed upgrades for this report, she asks?
Equipment is unreliable..."we missed a lot of opportunity for our students and our parents if we've been sitting on this equipment for the past ten years" says the mayor.
Brian Allen points out that we did not have the staff to use the equipment previously.
20% of all Channel 11 program is non-bulletin board programming..."frankly, that's disappointing," says the Mayor.
Administration recommends that standing committees continue to meet on the fourth floor committee meeting room. The Mayor is bothered by this.
The Mayor is making a motion that they go back to the drawing board to come up with a better recommendation. She says that the fourth floor "has become a tradition..to relegate them to a fourth floor meeting room is unconsciable...a twelve month recognition of the importance of what the School Committee does."
Mr. Monfredo disagrees about the Durkin building...he'd like it to stay there.
Broadcasting at Durkin allows them to broadcast live, only other place is Tech auditorium. It's the modulator from Charter. The Mayor wants new conversations with Charter.
Mayor asks if the new North will allow it.
Mr. Foley is supporting the motion from the administration. Difficult to schedule meetings in either City Hall chamber. Mr. Foley says it's accessible, easy to find...people have said that City Hall is difficult to access. "I don't know that there are any good answers."
The Mayor says people coming isn't the issue...not a popularity contest.
Mr. O'Connell supports looking at the new North. He wants to know if we could use it for concerts, award ceremonies, and so forth. Mentions of Norrback, Claremont Academy, Doherty...he wants to know how much it would cost to bring Claremont back online.
Mrs. Mullaney starts out by speaking of the budget message they received yesterday from the state; she sees no possibility of bring Claremont online "this will never happen; I don't support looking at it" Have some time to look at North, as it won't open until 2012. Echo Monfredo and Foley on locale of subcommittee meetings...we have not seen an increase in subcommittee meetings...she can't get a parking place in City Hall "I don't think people are clamoring enough to come down here enough to change the location"
Suggestion from Dr. Boone that we put PowerPoint presentation directly on the screen through the cable, rather than through the camera. (oooh, good idea!)
There was apparently some miscommunication regarding graduations where one nearly didn't get televised...?
Channel 11 schedule is one day repeated every day (there's one schedule that's the same every day).
The Mayor is withdrawing the motion to move from Irving Street, as she says "I can see that we're attached to Irving Street, for some strange reason."
Items are to approve the administration plan with continuing conversations with Charter.

State money

Coming as it does the day the School Committee is due to pass next year's nearly $300 million Worcester Public School budget, the article in today's local section on the meeting yesterday between some members of the Committee and the legislative delegation is telling. It clear from this, as it has been from other reports, that the days of Worcester counting on the Commonwealth to pay the bills is over. While we don't need the rabbit from the hat cited in the first sentence for this year, we are going to be facing some very large cuts next year without some drastic changes. Senator Chandler's suggestion, that changes be made this year, is a good one.
We'll see if the School Committee takes her up on it.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Comments on Duncan

This is the second in a series of four speeches that Duncan is making. The first was to academic researchers last week. He will be addressing charter school advocates next week, and the National Education Association in July. Each is dealing with what he sees as being one of the four major areas in which national reform is needed:
  1. data tracking
  2. national standards and assessments (this week's speech)
  3. turning around low performing schools
  4. teacher and principal assessment
While this speech largely focuses on the idea of national standards, he does briefly deal with each of the other issues.

The federal government right now is putting a great deal of money into tracking student information. Secretary Duncan wants to use this data not only for tracking how students are doing but also "to know which teachers are producing the biggest gains and which may need more help." What are those gains? Easily trackable ones, so far, which means nice, neat round numbers in standardized testing. And what sort of help? So far, about the only help he's offered teachers who aren't producing those big gains is to speak of them losing their jobs.
As for low performing schools, note how that immediately becomes about opening more charter schools. We don't fix the schools we have--schools which take everyone. We just rid ourselves of them entirely and start new with no unions, new buildings, and our pick of students. Yes, Secretary Duncan, we do have a "moral obligation to those kids" and your answer doesn't fulfill it.
Teacher assessment very quickly becomes about tying teacher performance to student performance on, yes, those pesky tests again. Remarkable. Do teachers have a great deal to do with how students do on tests? Of course. Do they have everything to do with it? Not at all. You are guaranteeing a nation that runs on these tests if you do this, and you will drive even more of the bright, creative people you need in the teaching profession out of it if you do this to teachers.
As for the bulk of the speech on assessment, there is a great deal of attempted reassurance here: these are going to be your standards, he assures the governors. These are going to be your tests, he says.
Massachusetts Ed Reform started with "our" standards, written by teachers. It quickly declined into being all about a test that had very little to do with the standards at all, and even less to do with quality education.
I'm not opposed to national standards, as it happens. Everyone really ought to learn American history and algebra and essay writing. I have to say, though, that I don't think it's going to be very easy to write standards, and I very much have my doubts that it's going to be done by educators.
Having it done by the nation's governors, much like having it done by state legislators, is certainly a mistake.

Duncan speaks to the nation's governors

You can find Secretary Duncan's speech to the country's governors here.

Common good forecaster

Here's great map to look at: the United Way and the American Human Development Project have created a map that forecasts how things would change if educational outcomes were better.
Move the sliders around and see how things change as a result!
thanks, Kris!

Slight schedule change

The regularly scheduled School Committee meeting will take place directly AFTER the 4pm budget meeting today. Expect to have a brief conversation regarding the budget, have it passed as finance, then have them go to School Committee and approved there.
Thus there is NO 7pm meeting, but the 4pm meeting will be first finance, then regular session.

Monday, June 15, 2009

We have an annex for that

This is a week to bring your laptop to School Committee...or pre-print your own agenda.
Among the items being dealt with in the annexes:

  • self-insurance
  • filming of standing committee meetings
  • cost savings sugggestions for FY10 budget
  • Channel 11
  • that controversial paving of Chandler Elementary's parking lot
  • the budgetary impacts of School Committee items in light of the FY10 budget

School Committee is still scheduled to hold a 4pm budget hearing session on Thursday, where one imagines they will move to reconsider the budget as finance committee, before having a final vote on the budget as the committee. They also are scheduled for an executive session at 6 pm and a regular meeting at 7 pm.

Last chance for comments on the budget!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Duncan's tour continues

I haven't posted anything lately on Secretary Duncan's listening tour; we missed Montana and Wisconsin. This past week he visited a New Jersey charter school.

This week's question from Duncan:
How can teachers and principals use test results, attendance and other data to inform what happens in their classrooms?

Duncan on Talk of the Nation

If you missed it earlier this week, here's Secretary Arne Duncan on Talk of the Nation.

Empowering Schools

Yesterday the Forum on Educational Accountability released a joint statement on NCLB, calling for more than a name change. Signed by 85 national organizations, including Council for Exceptional Children, Learning Disabilities Association of America, National Council of Churches, Public Education Network, American Federation of School Administrators, and the National Education Association, the statement includes a list of 14 roles properly held by the federal government around education. It concludes:

Incremental changes will not fix NCLB's serious flaws and will not enable all students to succeed. To ensure high-quality learning outcomes, Congress must overhaul ESEA, particularly Title I, to empower schools to improve, focus on improved assistance, help ensure funding equity and adequacy, redefine accountability, and reshape the federal relationship with states and districts.

The federal government must provide strong leadership through supportive policies and sufficient funding. The systemic school improvement and accountability changes outlined in this document are interrelated changes that reinforce each other and must be implemented together. They are not a menu from which to pick and choose. Experience and research show that these are among the most critical changes that states and localities can make to improve learning. The federal government therefore must provide strong financial support to these efforts and more broadly work to ensure all schools have adequate resources to educate all their students well.

We therefore call on Congress and the President to follow the guidance found in the Joint Organizational Statement on NCLB and the initiatives described above.

Monday, June 8, 2009

This year's salary increase

The FY10 budget as currently passed (we're a vote as full School Committee away from entirely passed) includes for FY10 a ZERO PERCENT salary increase for all staff.

(Remember that the contracts are negotiated with the School Committee; if they don't stick with that, they're going to have to cut something else somewhere.)

Note further that some non-represented employees had their FY09 (this year) raise rescinded by the School Committee.

Just in case any of you had thought that people were getting double-digit raises whilst we were laying people off in city departments...

First free online university

thanks, Brendan!

The United Nations Global Alliance for Information and Communication Technology and Development (GAID...and you wondered why they used acronyms!) has announced the world's first free online university, the University of the People.

Admission has already opened and already 200 students from around the world have registered. Students must have a high school diploma and be proficient in English.

The only charge to students is a $15 to $50 admission fee (depending on country of orgin) and a processing fee for every test.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Sutner on Administrators' pay

While there was not a word of coverage of the consideration of the FY10 Worcester Public Schools' budget this past week, there is on the front page of today's Sunday paper a considerable article on administrative compensation.

The gist of the article is that it's been difficult to decipher who makes what and why in past years. You'll receive no arguments from me there. It's a system that has recently had a number of changes made it; most people receive several forms of compensation. In some cases, this information has been difficult to access; if you don't know what's what, it can be hard to understand.

The direction of the article, from the title ("Despite economy, school pay is up") on, is entirely misleading, though. The amounts of pay cited are for 2006 and 2008.
We are in the final month of fiscal year 2009.
We've just considered the budget for fiscal year 2010.
The economy didn't crash until the end of calendar year 2008.

The article sets up a false comparison. These administrators received this pay last fiscal year, before the economy went south. Their pay for this year was set during the spring of last year, again, before the economy declined.

Now that the economy has been hit, these administrators, along with everyone else who works for the Worcester Public Schools, are looking at a year without a pay raise--this coming year's budget depends on it.

There's plenty of fodder for articles in that, or in plenty of other aspects of the FY10 (the upcoming!) school budget: we haven't cut back the budget to only core services; we haven't funded our translation services enough to be in compliance with Civil Rights obligations; we are still going to have classrooms of 30; we have English teachers who are photocopying novels as we can't afford books; we have schools without paper towels because we've run out for the year. And the School Committee took just over two hours to consider a $300 million budget.

At best, this article is a year out of date. At worst, it's an attempt to mislead the public into anger regarding administrative pay (as it gives a great excuse to print a chart of salaries in the paper). This bracketing (with a pull-out quote by the superintendent, declining teacher raises) of previous year's raises to this year's economy is false.

It's fine to have a conversation about compensation of public employees. Let's have it with clear and correct information if we do.

Education Subcommittee hearing

The Joint Committee on Education will be hearing MCAS bills on
Tuesday, June 23 at 1 pm in Room A-1.

Rep. Sciortino has again filed a bill that would reform MCAS, H. 3660. From the fact sheet:
The Commonwealth has yet to fully realize the goals of the Education Reform Act of 1993 (ERA), which called for a comprehensive assessment system composed of a variety of instruments and methods.

Our current system has its strengths but has also brought unintended consequences such as narrowed curriculum, too much time spent on standardized testing and test preparation, student disengagement, stagnant achievement gaps and rising dropouts.

To build on the strengths of our public schools, address weaknesses, close achievement gaps and move toward a full realization of ERA, we need a balanced assessment and accountability system that will promote 21st century skills, educate the whole child and focus state attention and resources on schools and districts that most need help in their efforts to improve quality and outcomes for every student.
This balanced system will consist of the following integrated components:

• Locally-developed and state-approved assessments to evaluate student achievement and school quality. It will retain some MCAS testing and incorporate multiple measures, including exhibitions, projects and portfolios, to better assess 21st century skills. A balance between traditional testing and other assessments will remedy the problems of too much standardized testing, too much test preparation, and too little attention to developing 21st century skills and educating the whole child.
• State-developed end-of-course exams in English, math, science and history that measure key content and 21st century skills. This will help remedy an MCAS-driven curriculum that is too often a mile wide and an inch deep, and assess our high school students' mastery of the core curriculum with greater rigor and relevance. Students will take them seriously because they will count for 20% of their course grades.
• A school quality review model to assess the effectiveness of school practices and support improvement where it is needed most. It will expand to middle and elementary schools the widely accepted New England Association of Schools and Colleges accreditation process already used successfully by state high schools.
• Required annual local reporting by schools to their communities, using a state-defined set of indicators that focus on equal opportunity and access to knowledge for all students as well as results on local assessments, statewide standardized tests, and the quality review.
• Accountability and intervention based on a range of quantitative and qualitative information for chronically underperforming schools and districts.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Nearly $300 million in 135 minutes

..works out to $2.2 million a minute.

That's how fast the School Committee went through the Fiscal Year 2010 budget yesterday afternoon.
In a meeting that lasted a bit over two hours, there were entire sections of the budget passed without comment, question, discussion, or reconsideration.
In fact, the only suggestion made on changing anything in the budget was made by Brian O'Connell, that the new Chief Academic Officer position be dropped as this "is not the time to be adding new positions." His motion was quickly voted down by his colleagues.

The Worcester Public Schools are the largest single employer in the City. They have, for 180 days of the year, the well-being and education of 1/7 of the City population as their responsibility. They spend the largest amount of the city budget each year.
Does this not warrant more time?

The City Council took more time to hear nearly every piece of its budget than the School Committee did to hear the whole thing.

In the year before we face a funding cliff of gigantic proportions, would it not be a good time to be innovative in our funding? To, perhaps, cut everything not absolutely necessary and put to things which we won't be able to buy for some time? To re-arrange, to get the books now, as we won't get them later? To upgrade computers that won't see upgrading for some time? To be sure that we are running at absolute maximum efficiency on utilities (and even move towards innovation as we do)?
To suffer a bit this year so we don't have to suffer as much in years to come?

This sort of message properly comes from the School Committee. The administration takes the direction on spending priorities from them. No such direction was given.
Instead, we saw much complimenting of extra programs loved by individual members. That was, in fact, the bulk of the conversation.

It was absolutely flabbergasting.
It was irresponsible.

We have to do better.

Looking for the budget conversation?

It's now up online:

...all approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes of it.

Tech people

Some of you may have heard me speak at a joint subcommittee meeting about technology. My kindergartener wanted to know when "the computer lady" was going to come back to her classroom to put the math games on the computer the teacher had been talking about. When I told her that I didn't know, that there was only one computer lady for the city, she asked why. And then she answered her own question: "Momma, if they don't have enough money, they could have some of my money to get another computer lady to put math games on our computer!"

So I thought I'd look into just what all the other IT people who work for the district are doing, since her piggy bank isn't quite that big. Here's what I found out:

  • An information technology officer is in charge of all IT for the district. This is no longer a position that reports directly to the superintendent (it reports to the CFO). In essence, this person makes sure that everyone else on here is doing what they are supposed to, and that the 6000 computers, a cable station, data networks, an email system, and a website that WPS maintains stays up and running.
  • Educational access channel producer: the person who does Channel 11
  • 2 School year production assistants who run the cameras for all that goes up on Channel 11.
  • A network administrator who maintains, yes, the networks: a Wide Area Network (WAN), more than one Local Area Network (LAN), domain controllers, an email server (the district runs its own), and all network hardware.
  • A network integrator who assists the above and runs the anti-virus programs and Windows updates.
  • Lead computer technician and 7 computer technicians who maintain those 6000 computers, and all the associated hardware: printers, interactive whiteboards, etc.
  • Student database administrator, who keeps track of the 23,000 students and their associated information
  • Student database software developer writes the code that runs the student database
  • Student database trainer makes sure that everyone who needs to know how to enter information into the student database knows how to do so. This is also the person who prints report cards and maintains Connect-Ed (the call system).
  • Technical support specialist specifically supports the administrative computers
  • School based technologist maintains the NovaNet system and tracks MCAS and MAP testing scores.
  • A half-time web apps and data analyst, who is moving us to more web-based systems (for example, right now, we're moving secondary grading to an online form rather than the current floppy disk/USB drive system).
  • A webmaster

What do all of you techies, in particular, think? Balanced use of manpower or not?

No coverage?

I went through my paper twice this morning to make sure, but it seems the consideration of nearly $300 million in school spending merits...no coverage at all by our local daily.

You'll hear more from me later today on the budget.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Back in regular session

The School Committee is now back in regular session, lacking Ms. Mullaney, speaking of Don Kelley, the quadrant manager. Dr. Mills tells us that he has been in education for 40 years.
Mr. Monfredo: "It's nice to be important; it's more important to be nice."
Ms. Hargrove: "consummate professionalism" and says "we're going to miss you a lot" She's also counting on him to get her off the ice in the wintertime, as she lives nearby.
Mr. Foley: wants to know who's going to sit in the bullpen and estimate how long it's going to be until the meeting is over. "You really get it, you really care for what happens to every kid in our school system." Going to miss his sanity. Suggests to his wife that he could come back as a sub.
Ms. Loughlin cites his coming to work with four broken ribs this winter.
Mr. O'Connell says that caring for education misses the mark...it's caring for kids that matters.

Mr. Kelley, after some words of his own, receives a lamp (the light of learning, like on the WPS seal), a bunch of flowers, and a standing ovation.

Entire budget approved

...but not reconsidered, as we are lacking both the Mayor and Ms. Mullaney, due to graduation.

That is a nearly $300 million budget, considered in 2 1/2 hours.

Educational supplies

A budget of $4 million dollars for the entirety of the 23,000 students in the WPS system

Ms. Hargrove says she "has to compliment [Brian Allen]" as "this budget is quite remarkable"
Mr. Foley reminds us all of the health insurance savings from last year that we are spending on textbooks.

Teachers' account

Cutting the autism specialist for next year. Several, including Mr. Foley, are uneasy about this, and they wish to revisit it with Dr. Boone.

We will have 4 classes of 30 next year, none over. Those are all at schools that cannot have them split due to lack of classroom space.

Out of state travel

unless you get a grant, you aren't going


Mr. Bogigian wants to know how many supervisers there are: two, and they fill in when there are absences, and they do some screenings as well.
Ms. Hargrove wants to know if we have someone in every building: this brings us close, but we've been providing some from a federal grant to fill in, and that grant has been cut.

Battery going

We're going to be heading off here: both clerical accounts were just passed without change

Chief Academic Office

Mr. O'Connell suggests reducing the Administrative budget by the $120,000 budgeted for this postion.
He says this is not the time to create a new postion: "a misallocation of our resources"
Mr. Monfredo:"reluctant to do anything..not going to tie the hands of Dr. Boone...give every opportunity..."
Mr. Foley: very important to her, work closely with her and her team, support keeping it
Mr. Hargrove: agree that...have her show us how this position would work...caveat that we look at what is going on down the road
Mr. Bogigian: wish he could agree, but he can't
The motion is going down.

Health insurance

$39 million
Last year's savings we are spending on textbooks and instructional supplies
A suggestion from the public that we rein in health costs (and suggests we should do it as a city).


Mr. O'Connell asks for motions to decrease the amount allocated.

Workers' comp

Mr. O'Connell wants to know if there are any developments on this. No, more or less, is the answer.

Retirement fund

$12 million
This number depends on the state passing our home rule petition. As per usual, Mr. Allen has budgeted the larger number;we'll free up money later on if it passes.


freight and trucking


(The Mayor just left to get to two graduations.)

About $9 million
Mr. Monfredo points out that federal law requires us to transport homeless children, but does not fund it.
Mr. Foley asks about negoting the new bus contract.

Bus monitors

About $800,000 worth, some grant funded

Non-Instructional Support

Another grab bag of people, including:
Print shop
Parent liason
Special ed drivers: are we adding more drivers? No, we added them this year, but now we're paying for them for a full year.
School transtition
Business office

Support overtime

This includes special ed drivers, which Mr. O'Connell asks if we do any combining with other districts on this.
Yes, is the answer.

Crossing guards

This was a hot one last year when the WPS stopped paying for private school guards. It passes with barely a conversation this year (the Mayor asks how much they make; $5000 a year)

Misc salaries

Including a grab bag:
Adult ed
special ed summer schools
Clark Masters program (Mr. O'Connell would like to see us re-impliment this)
cheerleader advisers ($12,000)
Community schools: level service, level funding
Future teachers' academy
Police service
Translators ($100,000)

Mr. O'Connell wants to spend more on the future teachers' academy, too.
Mr. Bogigian on community schools: how many did we have in FY08? There were six more (we had 10); it was $258,000 then. Now we are spending a bit over $200,000; he wants to know how this money works out. Do we, he asks, have a community school run by 21st Century grant?

Also, this from the translators section:
"Additional language translations will be required for Office of Civil Rights compliance"
We are currently out of compliance under civil rights laws, and we are not budgeting enough to get into compliance. It seems we probably have underbudgeted here to keep us in legal compliance.

Much conversation going on about community schools. The Mayor ties this to pools being open and having things for the children to do.

Instructional Assistants

are some being held back pending enrollment?
Yes, they are assigned pending enrollment.
Why did it increase?
Special ed and ESL
The Mayor wants to know if we are expecting an increase inkindergarten (yes).
2000 students...possibly

Athletics Operations

Mr. O'Connell talks about mini-olympics: "lifetime habits of physical fitness"
"have we looked at organizing mutual teams" with surrounding towns with the approval of the MIAA?
We could look into that: crew and golf are cooperated within the city. We could look into that.
Referral to administration.
Mr. Monfredo wants to know if we could have mini-olympics and special olympics on the same day (with separate events).

A word from Stand for Children

A member of Stand for Children is addressing the School Committee regarding the grant percentage change, urging them to stand strong as the city attempts to raise the grant rate (from 1% to 3%) and on the Medicaid reimbursement.
"Education is a fundamental investment to the health and vitality."

The Mayor "using the word siphon...generate a backlash..our priorites are going to change significantly...that kind of language is being used...you're going to lose your case"

School Committee account

approved without discussion


As we are legally responsible for paying back the state for unemployment when we lay people off, Mr. O'Connell points out that this is going to get worse next year.
He asks if there is some way of mitigating this.
Can we lay people off later to avoid laying them off and then rehiring them?
Mr. O'Connell wants us to try to know things earlier to avoid laying off teachers that we really would like to keep.
Mayor Lukes asks if we can have budget projections for the next two years; Mr. Allen points out that this is included.

Other insurance programs

The Mayor has come back, and we're now taking other insurance programs.
This one is a bit of a grab bag.

Day-by-day subs

Mr. Bogigian speaks on standards of day-to-day subs.
"One of the reasons we can't get subs is the pay" (this is disbuted by administrators to my left)
He'd like to see us put in a raise.
Ms. Luster addresses this: most subs have BA's at least. Received accolades for program now that they have an automated program. "It's not the same as when the regular teacher is in the classroom."
Mr. Monfredo: good subs...do we know who they are?
Principals can give certain subs priority to their vacancies; some schools will thus have a harder time finding subs.
Mr. O'Connell is asking if that's a motion on raising sub pay.
Mr. Foley "caution about asking for an increase" Is there an impact of the economy on this? Recommendation from administration on this, please.


Schools are now covering mailing employee checks home ($62,000) which previously covered by the City. The City distributes checks, rather than mailing them. Due to summer vacation and the number of buildings, the schools don't do this, but it is a topic of conversation with the new superintendent.
Mr. O'Connell is asking if we might get a recommendation for the first quarter.
Mr. Foley asks if we can deduct this from the costs borne by the City.

Round of applause

I should mention that during the previous item, HR Manager Stacey DeBoise Luster walked in, accompanied by applause. She'd been trapped in the City Hall elevator and was rescued by the fire department.


Mr. O'Connell points out the budget narrative covering this.
Mr. Monfredo asks about locking in oil.

School plant approved

no discussion

Custodian overtime

Overtime has gone up because we have fewer custodians.
Overtime is primarily used for absences. We've been running too low on overtime; this is a more realistic number than has been in the past.
This is a decrease in the salary account, and increase in the overtime (which is how we've been spending money, anyway).
Mr. O'Connell asks if we use summer staff.
We get grants to do some of that: yard work, inside work.
Can we hire summer help out of summer overtime or are there collective bargaining issues?
Probably contractual issues.
Mr. O'Connell putting an item on the table to hire summer help (former/ current students) for FY11 (!). Mr. Monfredo talks about cosmetic changes in the summertime, and brings up an item he'd proposed on having parents help out.


We're keeping all custodians, losing a custodial clerk.
Vote to approve.

Paper products

Now 100% recycled

School Plant

Mr. Monfredo is asking about a proposal he had made to turn off lights, down thermostats, etc.
We're undergoing an energy audit, close to getting some results.
It's an 180 day process
"key to change is changing behavior and getting everyone on board"

Working in conjunction with the city, visiting sites..

grant percent change

The grant percentage change to 3% is included in the budget

General questions: Foley

Where are we filling the gap if the state money falls?
Using IDEA stimulus money

This year's budget is built on stimulus money; next year, we lose 400 positions unless something drastically changes.


we're losing no teachers
requires 0% raises
reduces administration costs by 1/2 million

Allen overview

11.6 million more to raise us to foundation
based on House budget
"likely that we would have reductions from this plan"
"will change"

"We now know that heavy relience of stimulus funds" will end this year, as we are spending next year's money this year.
"simply maintains the current level of service"

overview of how it works

Mr. O'Connell is reminding us that they will review the budget one section at a time, voting on each. Only after all sections have been reviewed individually will the entirety of the budget be voted on.
The sections are in an order set by the administration. I don't have the list in front of me, but it looks like we start with janitors and school plant.

Mr. O'Connell takes the chair

Mr. O'Connell is chair today.o'

Liveblogging school budget hearing

...waiting for the FY10 school budget hearing to start here at City Hall. It's not looking like we're going to have crowds of people testifying...


Page 36 on (if you're reading it online) has organizational charts. There have been several calls, both from the School Committee and the community, for charts to show who works for whom and where.
A few things of note:

  • The Clerk of the School Committee answers directly to them, not to the Superintendent (parallel, in this way, to the City Clerk, who is hired by the City Council rather than the City Manager).
  • Lest we forget, the Superintendent works for the School Committee.
  • Answering directly to the Superintendent are the Higher Ed Liason (which is a grant-funded program), School Safety, Chief Accountability Officer, Chief Academic Officer, Chief Financial Officer, HR Manager, and School Plant Manager.
  • The new Chief Academic Officer (in the system set up by the incoming Superintendent) has both quadrant managers answering to her, plus student support services, manager of federal programs, staff and curriculum development, and special ed.
  • The Manager of Federal Programs has a whole lot going on, most of it grant-funded: Head Start, grants, accounts, adult ed, elementary initiatives, early childhood, and the parent information center.
  • In addition to what you'd expect (counseling) under student support, it also includes physical education and athletics, ELL programs, nursing, and the alternative programs run by WPS (the Creamer Center, School Age mothers, etc.)
  • Accountability is the federal testing office, which I believe is mandated by NCLB. Yes, that would be an unfunded mandate.
  • Is anyone else surprised, that with the number of people working in the IT department (which falls under the CFO), we have only ONE person who actually goes out to the schools?

Here's the plea for help

The end of the budget narrative puts it well:

The FY10 budget of the Worcester Public Schools relies so heavily on federal stabilization funds in order to reach the foundation level of spending. These revenues may not exist in FY11 and the state economy does not appear to show signs of recovery for the FY11 budget process. As a result, the Worcester Public Schools will likely face significant budget reductions in FY11. The current projected deficit indicates over 400 positions will need to be reduced next year... Decreasing revenue and increasing fixed costs will further erode our quality education system. The collective resolve of the entire community is needed to maintain the quality education that the students of Worcester have received and deserve.

Emphasis added
And, in fact, it looks as though the federal funds will not exist in FY11, and thus we really are going to be in that hole.

Instructional supplies

We're up from FY06's low of $40!

But we're at $63 for the third year in a row.

Picture heading to Staples with your child. You're going to enough crayons, paper, pencils, pens, to last for the year. How long does it take to get to $63?
And how much are you going to have left to get new books? How about the high school students who need chemicals for lab?

Building utilities

The good news: it's costing us less (we've converted a number of schools from oil to natural gas, and it's saving money. There's a bunch of stimulus money headed to even more boiler rooms across the city, too, so that should continue to help).

The bad news: I've got a sneaking suspicion that we aren't being nearly as bold and forward-looking as we need to on this one. We've done some work on South High, for example, but it still heats with electricity (flinch). Does it take heat sinks, wind towers, biofuel...? We really need to be thinking about this one. I wish we'd had some "shovel ready" projects along this line, rather than just converting the boilers.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

More budget analysis coming

Just to reassure you: I've not gone through the whole budget presentation yet. I'll try to get it done by Thursday's meeting, and I'll post as I do!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Budget hearing reminder!

The Worcester Public Schools budget hearings are:
Thursday, June 4
Thursday, June 18

At 4pm
in the City Council chamber at City Hall

I assume that this Thursday's will begin with a presentation of the budget by Superintendent Loughlin and Chief Financial Officer Brian Allen, and then the sections of the budget will be reviewed and voted on by the School Committee, with input from the public.
(if anyone knows otherwise, please let me know!)

Educating for the symbolic-analytic future

Robert Reich, in the second of his three columns on GM, has this to say about American education:
In decades to come, nations with the highest percentages of their working populations able to do symbolic-analytic tasks will have the highest standard of living and be the most competitive internationally.

America’s biggest challenge is to educate more of our people sufficiently to excel at such tasks. We do remarkably well with the children from relatively affluent families. Our universities are the envy of the world. and no other nation surpasses us in providing intellectual and creative experience within entire regions specializing in one or another kind of symbolic analytic work (LA for music and film, Silicon Valley for software and the Internet, greater Boston for bio-med engineering, and so on).

But we’re in danger of losing ground because too many of our kids, especially those from lower-middle class and poor families, can’t get the foundational education they need. The consequence is a yawning gap in income and wealth which continues to widen. More and more of our working people finds themselves in the local service economy -- in hotels, hospitals, restaurant chains, and big-box retailers -- earning low wages with little or no benefits.

While he doesn't answer all of the puzzle, he has a few suggestions.

on the 75/25 split

You've seen the ongoing conversations the City is having with employees over health insurance; the schools are having that conversation, too.
Currently, the Worcester Public Schools have 2235 employees who have a 75/25 split (that's 75% of costs carried by the city; 25% of costs carried by the employee) on health insurance. They also have 504 who have an 80/20 split on health insurance. (You can see a chart of who has what on page 16 [online edition] of the budget presentation.)

Were all employees to switch to a 80/20 split, Worcester would have a one time savings of $3.3 million dollars.
And subsequently health insurance would take up less of the city budget.

Cutting admin

Featured prominently in the FY10 budget narrative are the following cuts from administration:
Cut 1 Instructional Technology Liaison: $ 103,000
Cut 2 Finance Positions: $ 95,000
Cut 1 Special Education Position: $ 85,000
Cut 1 School Safety Position: $ 75,000
Cut 1 Math/Science Facilitator Position: $ 75,000
Cut 1 Custodial Clerk Position: $ 50,000
Cut 0.5 Administrative Clerical Position (HR) $ 17,000
Total $ 500,000

A quibble

Page 4 of the Budget Narrative (p. 15 if you're reading it online) lists at the top of the column Chapter 70 state aid as being a 0% change from last year.
Not exactly.
Worcester's Ch.70 state aid is down $14 million from last year.
The state is filling the hole by giving us federal stimulus money instead.
Here's why that matters:
  1. It limits what we can do with the money. If we use federal stimulus money, which counts as grant money, for teachers' salaries, for example, it's assessed at 9% by the teachers' retirement account. Thus some creative reallocations has it all going to special ed.
  2. The schools lose some. At least 1% (and possibly 3% if the city manager gets his way) of grants go the the City. That doesn't happen with Ch. 70 aid.

Here's the teacher cuts

Knew they were coming:
The federal reinvestment and recovery dollars are expected to run-out by fiscal year 2011. At that time, the Worcester Public Schools will face significant budget reductions, including up to 400 position reductions next year.
(p.13 of the budget, by the online pagination)

There's the cliff.

What's interesting about the budget allocations

There's a few things that are interesting about the budget allocations as listed below:
  • the School Committee costs $87,000 a year, which is purely the salary for the six committee members
  • we're only paying half a million dollars a year for crossing guards. For a metropolitan area that has many kids who walk to school, that feels like a bargain (if indeed we have enough).
  • both the out-of-state travel and the tuition accounts have been zeroed out, limiting meetings, teacher development, etc. to what is in-state, free, falls under another catagory, or is paid for by staff.
Please note also that in this year's budget are two things which may be of general interest: organizational charts (newly updated to reflect the incoming superintendent's reorganization) and a school-by-school budget. You can now see how much your neighborhood school spends, on what it spends, and compare it to other schools in the system.
There's also a length executive summary.

Where does $291 million go?

Here's the breakdown on the nearly $300 million of the FY10 Worcester Public Schools budget:

Administration $10,520,074
Teachers $129,265,433
School Committee $87,000
Day by Day Subs $681,200
Instructional Assistants $4,670,198
Coaches $447,156
Bus Monitors $740,423
Miscellaneous Salaries $853,119
Educational Support $2,083,265
Crossing Guards $497,983
Custodians $6,089,545
Custodian Overtime $972,422
School Plant $2,157,587
School Plant Overtime $155,579
Administration Clerical $3,068,043
Support Overtime $331,787
School Clerical $2,072,881
School Nurses $2,462,020
Non Instructional $3,121,194
Retirement $12,273,048
Transportation $9,972,179
Out-of-State Travel $0
Athletics OM $325,849
Health Insurance $39,167,805
Other Insurance Programs $3,504
Workers Compensation $929,935
Personal Services $1,650,593
Tuition $0
Printing & Postage $256,664
Instructional Materials $4,223,589
Misc. Educational OM $2,210,243
Unemployment $275,000
In-State Travel $186,919
Vehicle Maintenance $460,427
Building Utilities $7,944,546
School Plant OM $2,310,120
Total General Fund $252,467,330
Nutrition 1 - 2 Nutrition Program $10,366,268
Federal 1 - 16 Grant Programs $28,857,665
Total Budget $291,691,263

From page 3 of the budget presentation

Reforming school reform

An absolutely amazing article in this week's The Nation on school reform, or what's being called "school reform" nationally right now. This is what Duncan, Rhee, Klein, and yes, even Al Sharpton have in common on education. It's what I've been complaining about in the Obama administration for several months now; their reform isn't reform at all. The article is only available to subscribers, but you can:
  1. sign up for their free four week trial
  2. borrow it from your local liberal
  3. read it at your local library
  4. let me know if you'd like to see the whole thing (I'd be violating fair use to post it all)
It is well worth it!
Here's the kicker:
Obama's decision to invite representatives of only one side of this divide to the Oval Office confirmed what many suspected: the new administration--despite internal sympathy for the "broader, bolder approach"--is eager to affiliate itself with the bipartisan flash and pizazz around the new education reformers. The risk is that in doing so the administration will alienate supporters with a more nuanced view of education policy. What's more, critics contend that free-market education reform is a top-down movement that is struggling to build relationships with parents and community activists, the folks who typically support local schools and mobilize neighbors on their behalf.

So keenly aware of this deficit are education reformers that a number of influential players were involved in the payment of $500,000 to Sharpton's nearly broke nonprofit, the National Action Network, in order to procure Sharpton as a national spokesman for the EEP. And Sharpton's presence has unquestionably benefited the EEP coalition, ensuring media attention and grassroots African-American crowds at events like the one held during Obama's inauguration festivities, at Cardozo High School in Washington.

"Sharpton was a pretty big draw," says Washington schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, recalling the boisterous crowd at Cardozo. Rhee is known for shutting down schools and aggressively pursuing a private sector-financed merit pay program. Some of the locals who came out to hear Sharpton booed Rhee's speech at the same event, despite the fact that her policies embody the movement for which Sharpton speaks.

The $500,000 donation to Sharpton's organization was revealed by New York Daily News columnist Juan Gonzaacutelez on April 1, as the EEP and National Action Network were co-hosting a two-day summit in Harlem, attended by luminaries including Chicago schools CEO Arne Duncan. The money originated in the coffers of Plainfield Asset Management, a Connecticut-based hedge fund whose managing director is former New York City schools chancellor Harold Levy, an ally of the current chancellor, Joel Klein. Plainfield has invested in Playboy, horse racetracks and biofuels. But the company did not donate the money directly to Sharpton. Rather, in what appears to have been an attempt to cover tracks, the $500,000 was given to a nonprofit entity called Education Reform Now, which has no employees. (According to IRS filings, Education Reform Now had never before accepted a donation of more than $92,500.) That group, in turn, funneled the $500,000 to Sharpton's nonprofit.

Okay, that's a lot of smoke and mirrors. Why should you care? First of all, this is a group of people remarkably far removed from classrooms, making decisions about education at some very high levels, right up to the Secretary of Education for the country. They have very little idea of the realities of teaching and learning in those classrooms, and they have very little idea of what has actually been shown to work. (See, for example, David Brooks' misreading of Geoffrey Canada's Harlem Children's Zone as a vindication of needing only to improve schools rather than their surroundings. There's a reason it's called a Zone.) This is much of what some bloggers have been referring to as "vulture philanthropists" who are experimenting with public education across the country.

The big reason to be concerned is that these are largely people who have no interest in parental and community involvement: quite the reverse. They see it as getting in their way.