Saturday, December 29, 2012

PARCC releases tech requirements for online assessments

Good heavens, people were busy on the Friday before Christmas!
The PARCC consortium released the requirements for what technology will be called for in the PARCC assessments, beginning with the 2014-15 school year, when PARCC will be the new assessment system.
Yes, some of this is beyond what Worcester has. More to come. 

California denied their NCLB waiver

As part of the super pre-Christmas edition of "Taking out the Trash Day," you may have missed that California has been denied their No Child Left Behind waiver.
The denial of the waiver request is a really big deal. It means the most populous state in the country, with the biggest congressional delegation, will be stuck with the outdated, much maligned No Child Left Behind as it is for the forseeable future. And next school year is the 2013-14 school year, when all students were supposed to be at the proficiency level on state tests—so there will be many, many schools in the Golden State that will not meet their NCLB goals.
 ...and no word yet on how that's going to work out.

CTU files suit, citing discrimination

The Chicago Teachers Union has filed suit against the Chicago Board of Education, citing race discrimination. From the Teacher Beat:
The Chicago Public Schools' recent rounds of layoffs have disproportionately affected African-American teachers, the Chicago Teachers Union alleges in a class action filed this week.Even though black teachers make up only less than 30 percent of the teaching force, they were hardest hit by the layoffs, the lawsuit states. For example, of the 347 tenured teachers laid off in 2012, 51 percent were African-American.
In the lawsuit filed Dec. 27, the union says that the district's "turnaround" efforts, which involve the replacement of up to every teacher in a school so designated—and sometimes the conversion of the school into a charter—are to blame for the disproportional layoffs. Those schools have been located on the city's west and south sides, where many African-American teachers work. And the district's process for selecting the schools for turnaround isn't transparent or clear, the union contends.
The lawsuit seeks a moratorium on turnarounds and the implementation of "less discriminatory alternatives."
No word yet back from the district.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Calling off snowflakes!

Newtown now has so many snowflakes they're asking for no more:
The response to an initiative by Newtown PTAs and the Connecticut PTA to create snowflakes to decorate the Chalk Hill School in Monroe, where Sandy Hook Elementary School students will return to school after the holiday break, has created a blizzard. So many snowflakes have been delivered to Connecticut, from all over the nation, that the PTA is now pleading for school children and others to please stop creating and sending the winter icons.
"There is a semi-tractor trailer truck parked in Hamden [where the Connecticut PTA is located] to store all of the snowflakes ," said Middle Gate PTA President Kelley Mozelak, "and it's full."
The original idea had been to find a way to give children a way to support the children of Sandy Hook School and to help decorate the hallways of the new school, Ms Mozelak said. The local and state PTAs are extremely grateful for the participation, she said, and look forward toward a day in January when they will be able to decorate Chalk Hill School with the many snowflakes they have received.
Emphasis added. Sorry for the earlier posting without a link; posted by phone!
And please don't send along any more toys, either!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

meeting at North High

...yesterday of the Mayor, City Manager, and Superintendent with students and faculty.
A listening session
In addition to commenting on what a great school it is and how great the students are, the Mayor comments that they came away with a lengthy to-do list.
Boone: students and faculty concerned that single incidents will become the school's reputation.
"long and deep history of pride" at North
concerned that the seniors' college applications would be impacted by this incident and the perceived reputation on the schools
very few schools in the country where there has not been something that has cast it in a negative light for at least a brief time
O'Connell: a broader issue of how the students interact with one another and how they interact with the police
take a snapshot of what we are doing and what we should be doing
Boone: discussed in superintendent's advisory council
Monfredo: students were devastated; "not what North High School is all about"
Novick: amend to receive recommendations from students and faculty as well as police
Biancheria: not about a school, about all of our schools...program at Friendly House about respect
staff needs our support, students need our support
work with the community...request a list of the programs they have that are specific to respect, tolerance, and violence

reporting out from F&O

Agreement from Council and School Committee on number and methodology in school funding.
Where we are relative to the foundation budget will change each quarter, as the numbers that the state get from us and from the city.
From $800,000 to $1.3 million due to charter schools enrollment
Agreement and consensus on the number to be brought back to the joint committee

it's back

...the City Council has sent the question of repairing the South High pool over to us, and there's an item in the City Council Parks and Recreation committee on it, too, so it's being referred to our joint committee (F&O and Education).

School safety

after the National Anthem sung by Quinsigamond School's Chorus
Assurances from the Mayor that our schools are safe, that safety protocols have been reviewed, that the Superintendent is on top of it. He also notes that the School Committee will be taking up school security--in executive session--at our next meeting.

Update on Facilities chart

Yesterday at the joint committee meeting, we received an update on facilities repairs and rehab. You can find it here.

School Committee meets tonight at 7

The Worcester School Committee meets at 7 pm tonight. You can find the agenda here.
  • We have the staff of the Fanning Building coming in to be recognized for the Thanksgiving that they have every year for their students. 
  • We're being asked to open negotiations with our secretaries.
  • We've got an item coming over from the City Council on the South High pool (which last I checked, was actually still in the City Council Parks and Rec subcommittee, awaiting an administrative answer. Checking that again.)
  • Finance and Operations is reporting out (but not TLSS, which was cancelled due to weather).
  • Teacher appointments coming through.
  • We have reports back from administration on class sizes at Union Hill; on community gardens; and on principal contracts and work days.
  • We're changing the reimbursement per mile (as required).
  • We've got several requests going into Administration, including a request for a report on the incidents last week near North High.
  • And we vote for a new vice chair, as the School Committee traditionally has single year terms for vice chair.
7 pm (and no exec beforehand, so probably about on time!)

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Now we're at $1.3 million under Net School Spending

According to DESE, the adjusted charter school enrollment figures, based on Oct. 1 enrollment (rather than estimates), are significantly SMALLER this year than in the past.
We will, he said, therefore be $500,000 ADDITIONALLY under net school spending.
(Because the state funds the estimate, but then funds only the actual number of students in charter school seats.But the state taking that funding away does not change the bottom line of what needs to go to schools. The difference needs to be made up with municipal contribution.)
That brings the total to $1.3 million under net school spending.

Update on Facilities

joint meeting a year ago in the Doherty cafeteria
and we have a one sheet summary (which I will ask for electronically)
Allen: work completed; projects underway; FY14-18 capital plan; 10 year major renovation plan

Joint Council/School Committee meeting: Finance & Operations and Education: finance

We've got a phone call going into DESE: Jeff Wulfson, Deputy Commissioner of Education; Jay Sullivan, Executive Director, School Finance and District Support Center; Roger Hatch, School Finance Programs Administrator are "here" by phone.
posting as we go...

Three more things to add

  • Kudos to Mr. DelSignore for working so hard to get up to speed on the foundation formula and Chapter 70 and school finance in general overnight. He was having to respond to questions last night that were well outside his purview, and I appreciate his making such an effort.
  • If you want to have some (other) source for what happened last night around school funding, you're better off reading Mr. Foskett's Twitter feed during the meeting than the article from today. It looks to me as though the editors have once again played the "you need to get it all in and you'll not have enough space" thing again (which is always so disappointing, really). 
  • No councilor made a motion for administration to come back with a plan to fully fund the schools.
Joint meeting this afternoon at 11!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Just to clear a few things up...

A few things that we can answer tonight that seemed to be left a wee bit unclear...
  • If you've been left confused tonight on who owes who what, the Mass Budget and Policy Center has a very straightforward explanation of how the funding formula for education works. It doesn't have to be complicated, honest!
  • If you're wondering why transportation (or adult ed, or what have you) doesn't count, it's right here in Mass General Laws, Chapter 70, Section 6: In addition to amounts appropriated for long-term debt service, school lunches, adult education, student transportation, and tuition revenue, each municipality in the commonwealth shall annually appropriate for the support of public schools in the how that section starts. Those are things the state thinks the municipality should be covering themselves, entirely. That's the way it works.
  • Much of the increase in transportation last year (as clearly spelled out in the WPS budget; sometimes we don't have to ask because admin tells us up front!) was an increase in required transportation for special education students.
  • There has to be some agreement between city and schools on how much of what the city does the city gets to count towards school spending. In Worcester, that written agreement specifies that, as the schools are 54% of the full city budget, 54% of particular departments are counted (as a sort of "in-kind" contribution) towards city spending on schools. The other way of dividing this is to have a per pupil cost. Please note that this is not an estimate, nor is it based on how much work any particular department does towards school operations.
  • The state has given a preliminary finding that Other Post-Employment Benefits do not count towards Net School Spending.
  • The Worcester Public Schools are receiving $33,907,109 in grants. That means the Worcester Public Schools budget for FY12 is $330 million. Not $400 million.
  • We have not yet gotten all of the numbers statewide for FY13; when we do, I will update this chart, which compares Worcester to a number of other Gateway Cities. It's not pretty. And, to quote, what is this? A Race to the Bottom?

  • And just so we are keeping all of this in perspective, here's where the money comes from for the FY13 budget; required city contribution is the green section:

Councilors on the auditor's report

Mayor Petty
thanks auditor
"we have a strong partnership between school and city side...fighting for same dollar...nice meeting with the Superintendent and the Manager last everyone knows what we're talking about"

City Auditor now up

"I was asked to do a reconciliation...had some disagreement on how much funding was owed or not owed under the education reform act..."
draws attention to attached schedule
posting as we go
I should note that Mr. Zidelis is in the doorway
Thanks both finance directors and DESE for their assistance
Look at first column
fund with local contribution and state aid
state sets budget
subtract chapter 70 aid
calculation of contribution
add tuition costs and school choice (for charter and out of district students)
total school expenditures
subtract chapter 70 and charter school reimbursement
then that's actual contribution for net school spending
subtract that from what's required
then additional city contribution (what the city "counts" towards their contribution)
add the contribution
total excess city contribution
then subtract those expenditures not eligible for net school spending: transportation, adult ed, crossing guards, rentals
excess spending of $553,344
but $1,353,705 carried forward
deficit of $799,361

Coming in under suspension tonight: UPDATED

Coming in under suspension tonight at Worcester City Council is a report back from City Auditor James DelSignore with a cover memo that concludes that the city is currently $799,361 under required net school spending.
At Council. Liveblog to follow.

Why the different number? It turns out that the state had already made the adjustment for the charter school tuition (you'll remember that the city wasn't actually adding money to the WPS budget, but rather being sure we didn't lose funds), which we didn't expect. The $945,694 owed in NSS already included the $500,000 transferred by the city. Thus the $799,361 stands.

Updated Net School Spending report

Sorry, late posting on this one.
The state has sent us an updated NSS report. An item on special education tuition was not in the previously posted sheet, changing the carryover from FY12 from $1,500,195 to $1,353,709, a difference of $146,487.
What does that mean?
The City entered FY13 $1.3 million under in Net School Spending (from the previous year).
We now are $799,207 under Net School Spending.
(Yes, this does include last Tuesday's transfer.)

I am sure this will be a topic of tomorrow's joint meeting: 11 am, 4th floor, Durkin Administration Building.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Gloucester charter: no more

I will have links for this tomorrow, but I have just received the news from someone at the meeting: Gloucester Charter School has voted to RESIGN THEIR CHARTER ahead of tomorrow's Board of Ed vote, which would consider a recommendation from the Commissioner that the charter be revoked.

What can we do for Newtown?

I know plenty are wondering what can be done to help those in Newtown, Connecticut, in the wake of Friday's horrid events.

The Connecticut Parent Teacher Student Association offers the following:
Snowflakes for Sandy Hook Please help the students of Sandy Hook have a winter wonderland at their new school! Get Creative!!  No two snowflakes are alike. Make and send snowflakes to Connecticut PTSA, 60 Connolly Parkway, Building 12, Suite 103, Hamden, CT  06514, by January 12, 2013.
There is also information on the above page regarding monetary and other donations.

TLSS cancelled

Today's Teaching, Learning, and Student Supports meeting for today at 5:30 is cancelled due to the weather.

Because we are teachers

...please read Teacher Ken's column on teaching.

Two hour delay

Worcester Public Schools on a two hour delay this morning. There is no am preschool.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Requiescat in Pace

Charlotte Bacon, 6
Daniel Barden, 7
Olivia Engel, 6
Josephine Gay, 7; just, as her birthday was Tuesday.
Ana M. Marquez-Greene, 6
Dylan Hockley, 6
Madeleine F. Hsu,6
Catherine V. Hubbard, 6
Chase Kowalski, 7
Jesse Lewis, 6
James Mattioli, 6
Grace McDonnell, 7
Emilie Parker, 6
Jack Pinto, 6
Noah Pozner, 6
Caroline Previdi, 6
Jessica Rekos, 6
Avielle Richman, 6
Benjamin Wheeler, 6
Allison N. Wyatt, 6

Rachel D'Avino, 29; Ms. D'Avino was a special education aide at the school.
Dawn Hochsprung, 47: Ms. Hochsprung was the school principal.
Anne Marie Murphy, 52; Ms. Murphy was a special education aide at the school; her particular charge was Dylan, above.
Lauren Rousseau, 30; Ms. Rousseau was a permanent long-term sub at the school; she was subbing in first grade Friday morning.
Mary Sherlach, 56; Ms. Sherlach was the school psychologist.
Victoria Soto, 27; Ms. Soto was a first grade teacher.
Information taken from the New York Times blog. Updated and corrected 12/18/12

Friday, December 14, 2012

Fielding some school security questions

In light of the horrific attack in Newtown, Connecticut earlier today, I've gotten some questions regarding Worcester Public Schools security. We can't go into enormous detail on some things (for obvious reasons), however:

  • Schools all have lockdown drills.
  • All schools are locked during the school day and one has to be buzzed in after being seen by camera from the office.
  • All schools have security plans.
And deepest condolences to the community of Newtown, Connecticut.

Cutting teacher voices off

You'll want to read this column (based off a speech given at an event held in honor of the late Judge Sumner Z. Kaplan ) by Professor Jim McDermott about whose voices are being shut off in the conversations on education: voices like Mrs. Barbieri's:

If you were to ask Eileen if she teaches writing or reading or science she would say, “NO, I teach young readers and young writers, and young scientists. There is a huge difference, you know.”
It's the line at the end about having to "sneak teach" that got me.

Mrs. Barbieri teaches at Clark Street School. And, yes, Professor McDermott, Judge Kaplan was all of that.

Broad to NJ: you can have the funding if Christie stays in office

The recent forced disclosure of the terms of a grant received by New Jersey from the Broad Foundation had some interesting terms included. Among them:

  • Chris Christie must remain as governor
  • The number of "high quality" charter schools must go up by 50%
  • If the state is forced to make the grant public, "it must give the foundation advance notice of such disclosure 'so that TBF may contest the disclosure and or/seek a protective order.'"
The Education Law Center, which forced the publication of the grant, is calling for an investigation.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Outgoing Brockton Superintendent Matt Malone to be next Massachusetts Secretary of Education

Matt Malone, last in the news when the Brockton School Committee voted 5-2 to end his contract despite there being one year left in it, will be Governor Patrick's next Secretary of Education. (That's him to the left of outgoing Secretary Paul Reville in the Globe photo.) He is a 2003 graduate of the Broad Academy.
The Brockton vote came after a June evaluation in which Malone was given a composite 2.77 out of a possible 5 score, and after what appears to be a contentious time (and an ongoing issue over residency, which is required of the Brockton Superintendent). Malone came to Brockton, hailed as a "rock star," in 2009 from Swampscott, where he faced a vote of 'no confidence' from the local teachers' union in 2008; you can find his response here. He also denied being a rock star. Malone came to Swampscott from a job as assistant to the superintendent in San Diego, where he worked on "school turnarounds." Before that, he was a headmaster in the Boston Public Schools, having first taught social studies and having begun his career in education as a paraprofessional.
He is a former member of the U.S. Marine Corps, and a graduate of Suffolk University and of Boston College.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Reville leaving as Secretary of Education

According to reports leaked tonight ahead of tomorrow's official announcements, Secretary Reville will be among those stepping down for the last two years of Governor Patrick's term.
And rumors are rife...

TIMSS and poverty with an update

Clive McFarlane has a column today on the results of the TIMSS exam; Massachusetts students did really well internationally.
Mr. McFarlane only has so much space (and he got Secretary Reville on the phone!), so I should perhaps comment that I also said we do great things with our kids, regardless of their circumstances, but we need stop pretending that kids come to us on a level playing field.
(Something the Secretary also apparently feels is true.)
Could we start talking about TIMSS when we talk about pre-natal care, child nutrition, housing, health care, and the host of other societal supports that should surround our kids?

UPDATE: thanks to the alert reader who sent me this link to a comparison on the poverty gap of the US and other countries. Worth a look. It's not an education crisis: it's a childhood poverty crisis.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


There will be a joint meeting of the Education subcommittee of the City Council and the Finance & Operations meeting of the School Committee next Wednesday, December 19, at 11 am in the 4th floor conference room of the Durkin Administration Building, 20 Irving Street.

We know it's annoying that this is during the day, but there's been a request for a finance official from the state, and we have to work around their schedule.

Public meeting that will be live broadcast on Channel 11!

Go read Superintendent Starr

It's been the call for a three year moratorium on the use of standardized tests that's caught most people's eye, but it's worth reading the whole of what Montogomery County (MD) Superintendent Joshua Starr says in this recent column. He has worthwhile remarks on teacher evaluation and Common Core assessments, too.

update on the comment that wasn't there

The T&G got back to me this morning (thanks!) and said that their automated filter had caught it due to the contents of the html code.
It's now posted.

Regional schools update

  • You might remember that Quabbin Regional is still without a budget for FY13. The state was to impose a budget by December 1, but Oakham has asked for a delay to speak with DESE about it.
  • The 20-member Wachusett Regional School Committee is up for two additional members from Holden unless they rewrite their regional agreement. The Committee last night voted to look at rewriting the agreement, rather than expanding the board. Any chance in the agreement not only requires DESE approval; it also requires the approval of a super majority of all five member towns at town meeting. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

It appears that I will have to post this here

I wasn't going to post on today's T&G editorial, which largely repeats much of what was said in earlier editorials, as well as repeats some of last Tuesday's confusion. It also continues the "math is hard" attitude that the budget is far too complicated for mere humans.
This last is simply not true.
As is my habit, 'though, I read the comments, because it's not uncommon for legitimate questions from citizens to show up in response to such a column. Thus this evening, I responded to a series of questions regarding the WPS budget with a post much like the following:
It does not take 'significant expertise' to understand the Worcester Public Schools budget, which is a straightforward document (and intentionally so).
You can find the WPS administration budget--which includes both central and school-based administration--on page 99 of the FY13 budget here:
For this fiscal year, the Worcester Public Schools have budgeted $11.4 million for administration, of which $2.5 million is for central administration; the remainder is school-based administration, which includes principals and assistant principals.
If you are interested in the positions within central administration, you can find that in the Durkin building budget on page 288 of the FY13 here:
This includes every position that works in the Durkin Administration Building, including all secretaries and support staff. Salaries are specified by position. 
Over the past several years, we have had a smaller number of central administrators than previously.
The comment was posted at about 6:20 this evening.
It appears, however, that this comment displeased someone, for it was 'removed' at 6:26.

I will only add that for those who have confusion regarding the WPS budget, there are many of us who would be more than happy to answer your questions.
When we are given the chance.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Presentation on Chapter 70 on Thursday

The Wachusett Regional Revenue Sharing Task Force is presenting a primer on the Chapter 70 formula on Thursday, December 13 at 7 pm at the Holden Senior Center. While the focus will be on regional finance, the basics of Chapter 70 remain the same (the divisions amongst the towns is the additional element).
Should you be puzzling over how this works, several members of the Wachusett Regional School Committee have mentioned to me that you'd be most welcome. As the presentation is being done by Worcester Public Schools CFO Brian Allen, your questions on municipal Chapter 70 are still in good hands.

And for those looking for a Worcester finance update: there have been several efforts to schedule a joint Education (City Council) and Finance & Operations (School Committee) meeting. As yet, a date has not been set.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

A few notes from EDU

The lower-level classrooms of the Harrington Learning Center block signals quite effectively, thus no notes until now. I did tweet as possible. A few notes:

  • The news that the Movement of Rank and File Educators, the progressive caucus of which Brian Jones is a member, will be mounting a challenge to the UFT (the teachers' union in New York City) at their next union election is, I have to say, pretty awesome. It's impossible to do justice to Jones in notes (he's the sort of speaker who will have you calling out "preach it!" Baptist or no), but he commented that the future of public education was in real doubt, and that we have moved into that movement that he's heard from those who protested the war in Vietnam, when you realize that this isn't all a misunderstanding, but is actually a deliberate action. We have a responsibility, he said, to call out as explicitly racist those policies and funding decisions that result in different amounts of resources--library time, art classes, science labs, field trips--going to different kids. He also commented (on TFA and the like) on our "taking kids from Denver and having them teach the kids in Harlem...are you telling me you can't find people in Harlem to raise them up to teach?"
  • As much as talking about it makes my teeth hurt, I went to the morning session on educator evaluation. It was clear from those talking that this is really all over the map: while lots of districts have come to some sort of an agreement on the evaluations thus far, how it works on the ground (and the degree to which it is working on the ground) is all over the place. There was much commentary on how this really can be a "gotcha" sort of system, and one that pushes (again) test prep at the cost of much else; as one teacher said, this "does not allow me time to show my kids how to live in a democratic society, how to have agency."
  • After lunch, I went to the session on the push by the charter school association in Massachusetts plan to push for a lifting of the cap on charter schools starting in January; you might remember they were looking for a director for this effort. If you're a regular reader, the arguments raised--that the population of charter schools does not reflect the sending districts, that the funding is atrociously inequitable and not appropriately funded, that faculty has burned through at a great rate, that parents and community have no system of accountability--will be familiar. The piece of information I found new is that some charters are, sensitive to the criticism that they have extra resources, doing an analysis on how much difference they make on student achievement using just public resources. Guess what? Turns out that resources matter. 
  • At the end of the day, Xian Barrett, who is a member of the Chicago Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE), who are the group now running the Chicago Teachers Union, spoke. He spoke eloquently of unions being born out of struggle (once upon a time they didn't have a million dollar budget and full time executives), of the need for close connections and alliance with the community served (something which CTU did brilliantly in their recent strike), and the question of who gets a seat at the table: "Those with no connection to public schools currently have the largest voice at the table; I am not convinced they have any business being at the table." 
A hopeful day!

Comments to Secretary Reville at the FY14 hearing

On Thursday afternoon, Massachusetts Secretary of Education Paul Reville was at Worcester State for a hearing on the FY14 (that's next year) state budget. I was thrilled to see members of other school committees there!
Secretary Reville was interested not only in how money should be allocated, but in suggestions we had for saving money. My points were as follows:
  • The Board of Education continues to create new charter schools, while the Legislature continues to level fund charter school reimbursement.This year, the gap between what Worcester is promised in funding and is actually receiving is a half a million dollars. A freeze on new charter schools until and unless this is resolved would not only save the state money, it would stop this bill from continuing to come due at the local level. I also mentioned that I had now brought this up with both branches of government involved. We'll see if that makes any difference.
  • Having the state Legislature actually follow the foundation formula, instead of "finding" extra money for particular (and not high-need) districts, would save money. Last year's "extra" $30 per pupil could have funded (just to pick one example) the charter reimbursement.
  • Unfunded mandates remind a problem: the push towards the new PARCC assessment will require a vast expansion of technology, and, while the Commissioner was hopeful that MSBA would pay for it, Executive Director McCarthy was more dubious. The McKinney-Vento required transportation for homeless students is a well-intended requirement, but it costs the Worcester Public Schools $530,000 last year (and was just cut for FY13). 
  • The falling off of Level 4 school funding will be happening soon. The Secretary spoke of "building district capacity to sustain support for underperforming schools," but how has district capacity been "built"? Are they not simply expecting local districts to pick up the expanded costs of these particular schools, thus forcing us to make sacrifices at our other schools, some of which are narrowly avoiding Level 4 status themselves?
  • While the state does require, by both Mass General Law and regulation, a particular level of funding for schools, so long as communities remain at 95% of that or higher, all that happens is the issuing of a polite letter from DESE. Worcester has thus learned, apparently, that there are no real consequences (besides public and political embarrassment) to their failure to comply. Some real backing from the state in real consequences for continued (and intentional) non-compliance would be appreciated.

Educators for a Democratic Union conference today

I'm heading over later this morning to the Educators for a Democratic Union conference at Quinsigamond Community College. If you're interested, I understand that they are taking registration at the door (and it's free! Just bring $10 for lunch!).
While this is part of a conversation going on within the MTA on how best to work towards a union that better represents the challenges facing the classroom teacher in the current education climate, the conference is open to all working on or around education.

Will post!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Civics education

suggestion tonight that we might consider giving the naturalization exam...going to TLSS
Also a request to Council for voter registration at schools and high school seniors serving at polls for translation

Subcommittee reports

...which the minutes are up for...

Blue Ribbon Technology Report

We have Mr. Coghlin here tonight, presenting along with Bob Walton (who is the head of all things IT for the schools) on a panel that they've had looking at technology in the district.

After an introduction from Mr. Coghlin, Mr. Walton is now spreading technology all over the table (are we insured for this?). Mr. Walton comments that this is not a PowerPoint presentation; it's a Keynote presentation (and it's being done wirelessly).

January-June 2012
Internet is up to 300MB
over 400 document cameras (that's the Elmos)
interactive whiteboard
computer labs
Moodle being used at some schools
network infrastructure put in largely in 1998
average age of computers in system is 6 1/2 years old
8 computer technicians, 2 trainers, 3 database staff, 1 webmaster, 2 network administrators
new system needed for payroll, etc
piloting new technologies

Over 90% of WPS computers use Windows XP; end of support in April 8, 2014
updates ongoing to "patch" operating system
all computers then vulnerable to hackers and exploits
regulatory and legal compliance issues if we can't patch the system (private info in system)
internet policy restrictions for students and teachers: "Are we throwing out the baby with the bathwater?"
PARCC assessment

Needed in infrastructure
working on wifi in all schools: "almost need to get into an access point per classroom to handle" the load (with multiple devices per person)
support for a BYOT (or D) pilot and then bringing it up to scale
professional development: technology is the norm

reviewing and changing regs on YouTube and webmail
changing policy on cellphones in schools
security then needs to be considered
lease or purchase technology
continued commitment to technology

the IT budget was cut, we've done the best we can with that budget
"it's like a car...over time you replace the parts...going to have to make a decision at that point"
at that point with Windows XP expiring

The specifics on recommendations on staffing, computer replacement, and the like are all in the report, which we've sent to Finance and Operations for further consideration.

Contract on the new Special Education Director

We're voting tonight on the hiring of the new special education director at a salary of $137,000, with steps in January of 2014 and January of 2015 of $3000 and with NO raises otherwise.
This is coming out executive session; this is the public vote of a vote taken in executive session. 
Vote passes 5-2, Biancheria and Colorio against

This should mean that she will start in January of 2013.

Hot off the presses: DESE on the Worcester Public Schools foundation budget

Just in from the state: Worcester's Chapter 70 Net School Spending Compliance for FY12
(I have a photo, but my phone balks at posting within City Hall.)
The final analysis?
SHORTFALL IN BUDGETED FY13 Net School Spending: $945,694

School Committee tonight!

The Worcester School Committee meets tonight! 7 pm!
Also, for those interested, the Election Commission is also meeting at City Hall, upstairs in room 401. However, there is a chance that due to overflow, it will be moved to Levi Lincoln.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

How Worcester got an elected School Committee

This is taken from the excellent A History of Worcester (1674-1848) (p. 120) by Kenneth J. Moynihan, whose columns in the Worcester Telegram and Gazette I continue to miss.
In 1823, a committee arose that seemed like all the others, but it was not. At a self-initiated meeting in August, “the inhabitants of the center school district” appointed a six-member committee to “report on the general concerns of said district.” Within weeks the committee was ready to report that “for several years past, the schools in this District have generally fallen below the common standard in the Commonwealth,” and would not bear comparison with those in neighboring towns. “Ought this state of things be long endured?” the committee asked. “Is it not reproachful to the Center District of the shire town in the county of Worcester?”
As part of the solution to this problem, Worcester's first board of Overseers was elected at the end of that year.

Stay tuned...

It looks as though there may be a joint Standing Committee on Finance and Operations (School Committee) and Education Committee (City Council) meeting coming up next week.

Worcester School Committee meets Thursday

The Worcester School Committee meets tomorrow night at 7 pm. You can find the agenda here.
We are honoring both Harvard Pilgrim Health Care (for their work this year at Chandler Elementary) and South High (for their wellness award).
The report of the superintendent is a report back from the Blue Ribbon Panel on technology. If you have an interest in technology in education, please take a look and tell me what you think!
Reports are coming back from:

We have a few appointments coming through.
We are opening negotiations with our secretaries.
Mr. O'Connell has filed an item to consider civics mastery, including possibly having students take the U.S. Naturalization test.
We are being asked to receive a donation for McGrath School from Unibank for leveled readers.
We are being asked to receive donations on behalf of Claremont Academy for their trip to Spain this year.
We are being asked to receive a grant for family literacy for $5000. 
We are being asked to receive a grant from the Boston Foundation in Architecture for $1920 for an after school club at Worcester Arts Magnet School. 
We are forwarding letters to our distinguished alumni. 
I'm asking that we have regular meetings of the Standing Committee on Finance and Operations with the City Council's Education subcommittee (anyone wonder why?)
We're congratulating the Burncoat quadrant on the "Burncoat to Broadway" concert.
Miss Biancheria and I are requesting that we review the school accountability plans (in the Accountability subcommittee).
We are being asked to approve spending for FY12 in the amount of $20,383.21

7pm, tomorrow night at City Hall!

Last night at Council

If you didn't see last night's meeting, don't go by the T&G report; give Worcester Magazine a read for interplay and what actually happened during the recess; you might also read Nicole on the questions this raises on open government..There's also a follow-up just now on the T&G site around the comments Councilors made on the possible school audit.

There are a few things that need clarifying:

In the several calls for an audit last night, the city auditor was cited as being an "independent third party." The City Auditor is "independent" specifically of the City Manager. He is hired (as was evidenced last week in his contract renewal) by the City Council; he thus is independent of the executive branch, but answerable to the Legislative branch. This does not make him a "third party" in any meaningful sense of the word.

There seems to be a notion being bandied about that somehow this "operational audit" is going to answer once and for all the question of if the schools are being properly funded. This is not actually an open question. There is an agency tasked with just this question, and they answered that question (again) yesterday. Under Chapter 70 of the Massachusetts General Laws, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has found that the City of Worcester for FY13 is $945,650 under required local contribution. After last night's votes, that number is now $417,123.
more to come...

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

No impact on WPS under Governor's proposed cuts

This evening, the Worcester School Committee received the following email from Mr. Allen:
Today, as you have probably heard, Governor Patrick announced a number of state budget cuts today needed to balance shortfalls in the state revenue for the fiscal year.  The purpose of this email is to provide information specifically relating to the impact of these cuts on education and specifically the Worcester Public Schools. 

I had the opportunity to be at a session today where DESE was presenting on the impacts of the federal sequestration cuts.  Within the session, we were provided specific information relative to the education cuts. 

·        First, there are no Chapter 70 cuts.  The Governor (and State Legislature) have consistently honored the Chapter 70 funding formula and the commitment is continued by holding this line item harmless in these current state reductions. 
·        Circuit Breaker is being reduced $11.5 million.  The DESE has published reimbursement this year at 70%.  Even with this reduction, DESE believes that this 70% reimbursement will still be met.  They have indicated that extraordinary relief (which we would not qualify for) would be the line item within circuit breaker that would be reduced.  Therefore, we are not expecting a reduction in our circuit breaker reimbursement this year. 
·        McKinney-Vento (homeless student) transportation is being reduced by $5.25 million.  McKinney-Vento was funded for the first time this year at $11.3 million and was based on a survey of costs of school districts last year.  As provided in the budget update memo yesterday, we submitted $509,000 in our DESE report for McKinney Vento reimbursement.  DESE is unable to estimate the impact on districts as they are still waiting for 40 school district to submit their financial reports that were due on October 1st.  At this time, this will have no impact on our budget because these funds have not been allocated to the WPS budget for the current fiscal year.  I also understand that these funds have not been included in the budget for the city as adopted this evening by the City Council. 
·        Charter School reimbursement is reduced by $1 million (of a $72 million line item).  In December, DESE does an update to enrollments and reimbursements.  We know that the reimbursement line item is already underfunded but DESE does not believe that this reduction will further reduce the amount provided to municipalizes once the quarterly enrollment updates are completed.
·        Foundation Reserve is reduced by $2.5 million.  We do not receive these funds.
·        Regional Transportation is reduced $1 million.  We do not receive these funds.

Overall, education is being reduced by $21.6 million, but we are not expecting that there will be any impact on our budget.  There are sometimes some of our funding (or programs) from other state agencies (such as Early Education and Care and Health and Human Services) will impact us.  At this time, we are unaware if there is any impact on us but we will provide any updates as necessary.

Obviously, the status of the state budget revenues presents more of a challenge as we plan for the FY14 budget.  Each of these line items are areas that we will need to monitor closely as the state budget process begins next month.

Tons of conversations around schools at Council tonight: UPDATED

And I did not manage to liveblog. Too involved.
I will try to catch up later.
Long story short: Councilor O'Brien held the tax classification as well as the associated transfers under personal privilege, largely because he did not want to pass another budget that underfunded the Worcester Public Schools.
THEN there was a recess.
THEN Councilor O'Brien came back out and rescinded his hold and the Council voted the transfers and the tax classifications.
HOWEVER it appears that the "let's all have this discussion together" bit from earlier in the conversation is still going to happen next week.
So, if you have any interest in school funding, and, particularly, in the City meeting its legal obligation to fund education (per M.G.L chapter 70), then I would urge you to do two things:

  1. call your city councilor, the Mayor, and the City Manager and express this commitment.
  2. plan to be there next Tuesday night.

Comments before the Council

...are here. And in full after the jump.

Hold that adjustment!

Governor Patrick has announced today that he is asking the Legislature for a cut of $9 million from unrestricted local aid to cities and towns due to tax revenue being lower than expected.

One suspects that 28% of the cuts statewide will not be taken from the City of Worcester.

Why then is the Worcester City Council receiving a recommendation that they prepare for a cut of $2.5 million as part of tonight's proposed adjustments?

It would be sensible, in light of this announcement, as well as the reiteration last night that the City is not meeting its legal obligations to fund education, that this item be held for new recommendations from administration.*

*Recall that under the charter, the City Council may only accept or reject the City Manager's budgetary recommendations. They may not propose new ones.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Paging Daniel Patrick Moynihan*

*Senator Moynihan is popularly credited with the line "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts."

As part of the preparation for tomorrow night's tax vote, City Manager O'Brien is recommending, among other transfers for FY13, that $528,527 be transfered to the Worcester Public Schools from free cash to cover the gap in state funding on charter school reimbursement. As has been discussed in the past, the Board of Education continues to allow new charter schools to open, while the Legislature continues to level fund charter school reimbursement. Thus the gap.
This recommendation is great. It is very helpful to have the city recognize this as a problem--perhaps they could join us in calling on the Board of Ed to stop creating it?--and the funds, which we did not expect, are very useful. We will not have to transfer half a million dollars from classroom services to pay for this bill foisted on us by the Commonwealth.

In today's Telegram and Gazette, the City Manager is quoted as saying:
As a result, the city’s contribution to the Worcester public schools will exceed the minimum contribution by $1.5 million. 
He also makes this claim--twice--in the budget memo that backs up the Council item.

This simply is not the case.

You might recall from the November 1 meeting of the Worcester School Committee that Mr. Allen informed us that the city is $1 million under minimum contribution for foundation funding for FY13. We expect very shortly to receive official notification from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, though, per the administration's memo, the following was confirmed today:

The Worcester Public Schools did not meet the required spending in FY12 by $1,500,195.  This spending shortfall is carried forward to the next year in order to be made whole.  As of today, the City is failing to meet net school spending in fiscal year 2013 by $945,650.

In order to create a $1,500,000 surplus out of a $945,650 deficit, it appears that the City:

  1. ignored prior year requirements, in direct disregard of previous DESE notifications, as well as 603 CMR 10.0, which requires that "an amount sufficient to meet the carried forward spending obligation must be appropriated by the municipality or municipalities responsible for the financial support of the school district." In other words, the amount you didn't pay last year? You have to pay it this year. 
  2. ignored--again--the simple fact that transportation isn't included in the foundation budget. 603 CMR 10.0 gives a list of what counts and what doesn't. Transportation--which went up by $1 million for this fiscal year, both for increased costs and for increased services--does not. Thus the funds that WPS expends on transportation--all $11 million of them--do not count towards the foundation budget required spending.

You can hate that. You can try to change that. You can even go into Boston or Malden and argue with the powers that be over it.

What you don't get to do is pretend that it isn't happening. 

Post weekend wrap-up

A few notes from over the weekend:

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Familiar faces

In the news on Level 4 schools coming out of this week's Board of Education meeting, a familiar to Worcester name pops up in connection with the work on Dean Technical High School in Holyoke:
“It will take several years. If you see a school that turned around their test scores in a year, they cheated,” said James A. Caradonio, the new career and technical education director at Dean and former superintendent of the Worcester Public Schools.
Dean is unusual in that the state insisted that an outside agency take over running the school.

You're going to want to see this

If you have younger children, there's a decent chance that you're already familiar with Jarrett Krosocszka, who was raised in Worcester and is a proud Gates Lane graduate. Krosocszka recently did a TED talk at Hampshire College, telling his story of growing up and what art meant to him. I don't often recommend lengthy videos, but this one, entitled "Imagining Beyond Your Circumstances," is well worth it:

 You can read more about that talk, and the importance of art--and libraries!--in this post that The Atlantic did about him.
For the third year, Krosocszka is running an auction to benefit the scholarship he established at the Worcester Art Museum in honor of his grandparents. You can go bid---wouldn't you love for him to draw your Christmas card?--or send a donation to the Worcester Art Museum, memo: the Joe and Shirl Scholarship, 55 Salisbury Street, Worcester, MA 01609.
And from those of us who fight hard to keep funding things like art classes and libraries: thanks, Jarrett.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Education in early Worcester history

I'm doing some research for the final report of the exam/IB school Ad-hoc committee. Today's reading: William Lincoln's 1832 History of Worcester, Chapter XV: Education. It opens as follows:
When the original committee of settlement secured the support of the worship of God, they made provision for the education of youth At their first meeting, in 1669, when the untrodden wilderness spread over the territory of Worcester, it was agreed that a lot of land should be 'appropriated for the maintenance of a school and school master, to remain for that use for ever.' In the contract with Daniel Henchman, in 1684, this determination was affirmed; and it was enjoined, 'that care be taken to provide a school master in due season.' When surveys were made after the permanent settlement, a tract of forty acres was granted for the promotion of this object.
The circumstances of the first planters long prevented the commencement of public instruction. The earliest municipal action on the subject was April 4, 1726.In pursuance of a vote of the town, 'the selectmen agreed with Mr. Jonas Rice*to be schoolmaster, and to teach such children and youth as any of the inhabitants shall send to him, to read and write, as the law directs,' until the 15th of December. On the expiration of this term, it was peremptorily voted 'that the town will not have a school.'
(emphasis mine)
Yes, that means that, after it took them 57 years to start their school, they had a single year of school and CLOSED THE SCHOOL. 
But wait! There's more! In 1728, Worcester has to come up with money "to defray the charges of a prosecution, for want of schools;" the fine is suspended, as the town promises to mend its ways, yet it again faces the grand jury "for neglect of its grammar school" in 1785 and 1788. On this and more, Lincoln opines:
It had been well and wisely ordered by the fathers of New England, that each municipal community of sufficient ability, should afford to youth the means of acquiring the languages. The salutary effect of this regulation was little appreciated, and was even regarded as oppressive, in times less enlightened than the present. In 1766, the representative was instructed to endeavor, 'that the law requiring a Latin Grammar School, be repealed, and that not more than one such school should be kept in a county;' and, in 1767, to use his exertions to relieve the people from the great burden of supporting so many schools of this description, 'whereby they are prevented from attaining such degrees of English learning as is necessary to retain the freedom of any state.'
...because teaching those kids Latin...hmph!
In 1757 and several following years, Worcester's schoolmaster? John Adams. It looks a bit as though putting education and its fiscal stability into the Constitution of the Commonwealth may have been the result of first-hand experience!

*yes, after whom Rice Square is named.That area of Grafton Hill was the Rice family homestead.

Northside Independent School District : new challenges

You might remember that Northside Independent School District has implemented a policy of having students at two of their high schools wear a card containing an RFID chip--a tracking chip--so they might track student attendance (which is tied to funding).
A student who refused, citing religious objections, to wear the card was expelled; she is now suing the district. This brought the issue to the attention of the online cyber group Anonymous, who, over the weekend, hacked the school website. The district commented that the site was attacked, but was never shut down.
A judge has ruled in the student's favor and blocked the expulsion.

Heating after the long weekend

The Worcester School Committee received the following in an email from Mr. Allen regarding heat in the schools this week (underlining added):
Although the number of instances over this period of time is high, please know that the type of issues are very common that the Facilities Department faces with the schools throughout the heating season.
Columbus Park had a water line break in the boiler room and heating issues from the boiler.  Several of the technicians were deployed to address this issue at the school.  All of the issues have been resolved.
We had an unusual number of calls related to Canterbury Street.  This issue here was something that occurs in some of our schools not yet on full monitoring.  The custodian reported to Maintenance Services first thing this morning that the building was cold.  Since we had a number of personnel at Columbus Park, Maintenance Services was on site at the school between 9-9:30 a.m.  The boiler was reset and is again fully operational.  However, it is likely that it took several hours to regain normal heating temperatures to the entire building.
McGrath, Forest Grove, May Street, and Doherty had a variety of issues affecting heat delivery.  All of those overall building issues have been resolved.  There are instances of isolated classrooms issues at these site that will be addressed.
Burncoat High (B-Wing) has no heat and a replacement part is being shipped from Texas for the repair.  The repair should be completed by end of the week.  The school is fully aware of the status and will make adjustments to building usage as appropriate and needed.
Claremont, Roosevelt, Norrback, Quinsigamond, and Worcester Arts have new boilers through Honeywell ESCo program and each of these schools are having operational/technical issues associated with new boiler set-up and controls adjustments.  Honeywell and the boiler manufacturers are working these issues at the schools and we hopeful they can resolve them in the very near future.
As we progress into the cold winter season, it is not uncommon to have multiple heating issues at our schools on any given day.  Please be assured that the Facilities Department will respond to any and all heating issues that are reported by the schools.  They very are cognizant of the instructional benefit of having a warm and comfortable classroom and every effort is made to minimize disruptions to the learning process resulting from any facilities issue. 
And I will only add ('though this is somewhat repeating what Mr. Allen says above) that yes, you should always say something if you have a concern,and no, it is not okay for a building to be cold.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Homework fails another research study

I'm still working to get to the full paper (abstract here), but if the Maltese, Tai, Fan paper says what Alfie Kohn summarizes for Huffington Post, at best we are wasting a whole lot of kids' time:

But it was grades, not tests, that Maltese and his colleagues really cared about. They were proud of having looked at transcript data in order to figure out "the exact grade a student received in each class [that he or she] completed" so they could compare that to how much homework the student did. Previous research has looked only at students' overall grade-point averages.
And the result of this fine-tuned investigation? There was no relationship whatsoever between time spent on homework and course grade, and "no substantive difference in grades between students who complete homework and those who do not."
This result clearly caught the researchers off-guard. Frankly, it surprised me, too. When you measure "achievement" in terms of grades, you expect to see a positive result -- not because homework is academically beneficial but because the same teacher who gives the assignments evaluates the students who complete them, and the final grade is often based at least partly on whether, and to what extent, students did the homework. Even if homework were a complete waste of time, how could it not be positively related to course grades?
And yet it wasn't. Again. Even in high school. Even in math. The study zeroed in on specific course grades, which represents a methodological improvement, and the moral may be: The better the research, the less likely one is to find any benefits from homework.
We've got an item on this one in subcommittee.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

And in honor of Thanksgiving: school nutrition

The online payment system of school nutrition has processed 400 payments since the beginning of the school year. Many are multiple child families. The payments average $40 a transaction.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

FY13 First Quarter report: updated with notes

Find the back-up here
Account by account here

Update: sorry, I was asking questions, and so missed posting any notes. Here are a few from last night's meeting.

As per usual, the first quarter account has the "vacancy factor" for several accounts, as positions that became empty at the end of last year or over the summer weren't filled immediately. Thus several accounts have projected balances from salaries that did not need to be used for that time.

Currently, there are 12 custodians out on workers' compensation, which is why there is a projected balance in this account and is (partly) why there is a projected deficit in the workers' compensation account.

Personal services and tuition are both projecting deficits at this point (of $130,000 and $200,000, respectively) due to increased need and projected increased costs due to potential placements out-of-district.

Instructional supplies and materials is the account has the reserve we've set aside for changes in charter school assessment (this doesn't entirely get sorted out until the city sets the tax rate). There's $350,000 in this account for that; in looks as though we're going to get hit to the tune of $528,527 this year.

Facilities ordinary maintenance is projecting a deficit of $70,000 at this point, due to the increase in the trash removal contract. We're now paying $1.82 per cubic yard for trash and $.89 per cubic yard for recycling (and will be through July 10, 2015). In an effort to bring this cost down, we'll be piloting a program to cut down (or eliminate) liquids in the lunchroom trash, as liquids can be 20% or more of the weight of cafeteria trash. We also had a bit of conversation around increasing recycling and the implementation of composting (particularly at North High, which has a composter in their kitchen).

St. Peter-Marian's building

...we can't just lease a building; we have to bid out any property lease or acquisition.
Do we need more space?
Elementary space is going to become an issue
do maintain property for possible reuse as school (we did when we closed them)
do have some current options
master plan of facilities needs is warranted
do we need to redraw boundaries? Not there yet, will be soon
need (again) for a master plan of facilities
Foley: make sure the population growth is in the places where we can handle it
NESDEC: hoping to see projections from them in the early year or spring

Adding "highly qualified" IAs

to Negotiations

Clothing bins

RFP suggestions here
any funds collected would be general funds and would go back to the city unless it were done as a student activity account (as it is at Sullivan)
can we just ban this? Yes.
Is it worth Sullivan's while? Several hundred dollars per year
motion to hold so as not to surprise Sullivan by taking away a revenue stream

closing out FY12

We're closing the previous fiscal year with a balance of $2,723 (out of a $273 million budget).
Comments here from Foley had how close we run this closely.


We have a report here on the school police liaison officers. About half and half on activities that are specific to schools and many that are general policing.

Cable contract: Channel 11

You can find the back-up here, but we're having a presentation, as well
A reminder here from Allen that you can find what they do online here
Walton: professionalized staff of Channel 11 since 2009
changed to production assistants
two major studio upgrades at Doherty and South
complete overhaul at Channel 11 to digital
used to be tapes and DVD; entirely digital
mobile equipment has been replaced; three digital cameras; communication system; mobile studio
127 live events recorded last year
had to turn down events due to time constraints
now record all subcommittee meetings (done by Ch. 11 now, instead of city's Ch.12)
broadcast live at DAB, Tech High auditorium and Harrington Room at Tech
live-streaming of events as well as archived
Cable contract was a 10 year contract that was extended
March 8, 2013 is when it's up for renewal; in assessment
previous division was 20/20/60; now is 20/25/55 (channel 11, 12, 13)
asking for 25%, to add an additional production assistant (dedicated to subcommittee meetings)
was a big difference between channel 11 and 12 directors' salaries
20% grant for capital
currently broadcast on analog as well as digital; want language that it is on all cable packages
would like to see it in HD (without letterboxes)
Charter would need to provide a fiber connection to Sklyline Drive
North High was supposed to be a site to broadcast live from; asking that it be provided to us
Foley: look at more equity
Walton: much more labor intensive, going out and filming live events
majority of what we produce is locally produced

Central Mass Special Education Collaborative

audited for FY11
$4.5m in accounts, but had not entered encumberances for the summer
and had not entered OPEB
was (after that) $1.4m
surplus from last year; charge to Worcester is frozen, thus using up $1m of the surplus
currently undergoing an FY12 budget
Allen: that $1m freeze will go away; sped account will go up by $1m PLUS growth
one time freeze used to save teaching positions
double increase for next year
Foley: is this the first time the state has conducted an audit?
Dio: first time the state has paid any attention to collaboratives since their inception
5 out of 28 looked at...finished and moved on
issues uncovered at Merrimack were outside of anyone else's operating experiences
Foley asks how often we have people here: Allen says it seems like every week
audits should be instructive
Dio comments that most collaborative directors locally have been public school employees and are familiar with what is required of them, followed that even as not required

Bus stops, bus counts

where are the kids, how many are on which bus
if there are no kids at a stop, go several counts with a zero before the stop is dropped
slower to drop than to add; don't want to take a chance at missing a child
if we can make something more efficient
all WPS routes are posted on the WPS website
changes go to the school and to the bus company
a bus driver asks how stops are added?
typically that the school gets a request for a stop to be changed or added and that is sent to transportation
should there be a stop there, is there a child there, is there a stop that the child can go to?
sometimes we say no to new stops
"try to minimize the impact on the students who are already on the bus...what people have built their lives and their schedules around"
bus stops turned around a lot more quickly than previously
parents need to go through the principal, who does an initial evaluation, then contacts transportation
drivers need to go through their supervisors, who then contact transportation

Bus contract: student pick-up

Biancheria: issues on substitute drivers
substitute drivers said if students not picked up, radio in kids missed, kids not picked up
"Three times in three weeks, I felt it was something to discuss"
Hennessey: bus stops are put out that are then reviewed over the course of the year for capacity and actual student population
students capacity exceeded after certain stops; an additional bus then dispatched to pick up overloads
then routes reshuffled to have buses running that are at capacity (not over); juggle stops among buses
changes made, sent to schools, schools question why, to be sure buses are running full but not over
Foley: if we can get the information right away, we can track back what happened and why
Hennessey: this might not have been substitute drivers, even a regular driver, if they reached capacity, they had to stop putting kids on the bus
Biancheria asks if there is anything in the contract that says that substitute bus drivers need to be trained; Hennessey points to page 6 of the contract, thus routes, school locations and starting times, must be things that drivers must be familiar with
Biancheria points out that we pay $12 million a year for our transporation
bidding process for the drivers for who gets what route
Foley: how many buses do we transport daily? 11,000 students per day
nice job of picking up the contract and servicing our students
parents should contact transportation office with issues so that problems can be tracked back

City Auditor on actuarial benefits

Foley: increase in payments that are to our retirees?
What should we be aware of that's happening?
8% assumption on return, coming in much lower
Allen: the one account that seemed unclear to many, what the future looked like for the retirement account
"this is the assessment provided to us by the city...what the long-term projections would look like"
DelSignore: 2008 was a horrible year, it "could have increased 50%"
"assets moving" smoothing both gains and losses
anticipating investment income is going to be lower than it has been
formula based on when they were hire
"I wish I had good news for you, but I don't"
schedule comes out almost identical to last year, expect an 8% increase for this year (how much we have to make up)
28.25% of the City
"benefit increases have not gone on recently"
"we have one more year of smoothing to go...another $56 million to smooth out"
a couple of years of gains, another year of actuarial loss in 2011
whatever amount; over 8% or under 8%
Foley: is that 8% return a reasonable expectation?
DelSignore: city has always met its annual expectation
8% has historically been a reasonable number (not now)
others thought a discount rate of 4%; assessment rate would double
"should have faith in the markets"
problem with oversight agency; now has been resolved
alternative investments continue to do very well
"could already have been a lot worse if we didn't use assest smoothing"
$56 million to overcome...would have to earn 15% this year
probably going to increase 8% every year for awhile
impressed rating agencies were very impressed
stretched out the assessment, but you have to pay it sooner or later
"if the market recovers, does better, it won't"

City Auditor on unemployment benefits

Allen: reforms needed with regards to unemployment compensation
(this is in reference to a letter that was co-signed by our city auditor)

  • retirees who come back as tutors (for example), are laid off, and collect unemployment
  • teachers who are laid off and collect unemployment during summer months
DelSignore: reasonable expectation of being employed, cannot collect unemployment
those who work a 40 week year
"it would help the city and the school side if those things were passed"
Foley argues that cafeteria workers are not full-year contracts
Allen: can receive their pay over the full year just as teachers 
Foley: anything in the report that we should be aware of?
Allen: don't know if anyone is filing this in the new session
Foley: add to our legislative agenda
task force taken after that
Colorio: any teeth to this?

Allen: not any time soon
DelSignore: not as much as used to be

Finance and Operations liveblog

...starting soon. The agenda is posted here.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

And since we're still forging onward in value-added measurements

(or, in Massachusetts, Student Growth Percentages, which are even more volatile)'ll want to go take a look at Bruce Baker's charts on how stable those measurements are over time.
A hint: they aren't!

I want my red pen back

Sometimes, you read something that makes you really want your red teacher pen back, so you can write in the margins comments like "This does not follow" and "You have no support for this conclusion."
And so it is with the latest report from the Pioneer Institute.

The report is titled Enrollment Trends in Massachusetts: An Update and so far as that goes, it makes some reasonable points. Student enrollment across the state is recently down (you can find DESE numbers here). It is down more in some sections of the state than others. The Chapter 70 formula isn't constructed to handle drops in enrollment.
Population across the state is also down, of course, which is why Massachusetts lost a House seat in the last census.
However, if you look at the chart on page 6, Worcester isn't alone among urban districts in recently growing. That gets mentioned, but doesn't really fit the narrative, so not much is made of it. The report  comments "it is not clear why regional demographics are changing," which would seem to be somewhat important if we're going to make anything of enrollment changes, particularly as regional demographics have much to do with how Chapter 70 is allocated.
The real stunning leap, however, is in the conclusions around charter schools. Charter school populations are also not growing as quickly; how it is that this necessarily means that they are "bumping against the cap" (rather than just not gaining students) is not explained or cited.
Nor is anywhere anything made of the growth in urban district public schools, like Worcester, where charter school additions have been focused over the past several years. We are having more charter schools thrust upon us, in many cases schools of questionable worth, and the public school enrollment is increasing at the same time. No wonder these districts are not mentioned.
Pioneer makes the leap that enrollment across the state is dropping, therefore....we need more charter schools?
I suspect I need not point out the relationship with the previous post, but, seriously, people: you've got to do better on your leaps of logic here, or I'm going to dig out my red pen.

Charter schools looking to lift the cap...

This from the job posting from the MCPSA*:
In January, 2013 the MCPSA will launch a statewide grassroots campaign to raise the cap on Massachusetts charter schools. We seek an experienced campaign manager to join this exciting and empowering campaign.
Empowering for...?I guess I'll be putting miles in on the commuter rail again!
Responsibilities after the break:

Neighborhoods matter

Some thought-provoking insight in this article on urban poverty from The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Friday, November 16, 2012

A few notes from the Commissioner

I just pulled these off of the weekly Commissioner's update*

  • The state Board of Ed is meeting on November 26 and 27. On the 26 in Malden, the Board will focus on Level 4 schools. On November 27, the Board will meet in Lawrence, to "hear a presentation from Lawrence Public Schools Receiver Jeff Riley on the turnaround effort that he is leading. The Board will discuss its budget priorities and will vote on its state education budget proposal for FY2014. The Board will also take an initial vote on proposed amendments to the regulations on innovation schools, vote on a charter amendment for the Match Charter Public School, and hear a report on the Gloucester Community Arts Charter School."
  • DESE is holding eight hearings across the state on the proposed new charter schools. The schedule is posted here
  • Commissioner Chester begins this week his term as president of the Council of Chief State Schools Officers. 
*If you want to subscribe, send an email to with the following in the body of the email: subscribe ESEUpdate Your Name.