Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude

The Superintendent's report for tomorrow night's meeting is a seven point plan for budgeting (or "for advancing student achievement and program sustainability"). I'm heading into my fifth Worcester Public Schools budget on the School Committee, and my first reaction to the plan is that it states (mostly) the obvious.
Sometimes, though, the obvious needs to be stated, and as I've said at least once from the floor: what's obvious in the fiscal policy of the Worcester Public Schools isn't obvious (or even done or recognized) elsewhere, to the detriment of elsewhere.
I'll save my comments for tomorrow night, but a brief overview:
  • The first four--projected enrollment and projected budget, zero based budgeting, a public process, and public quarterly reports--are standard operating procedure for WPS. If you've been following our budgets at all, you've seen projections for coming years, you've heard about how the budget starts from scratch and assumes nothing, you've been able to do that because it's all done publicly and accessibly, and you can catch up quarterly with subcommittee reports. This is a all good stuff (which isn't, to my continued surprise, done in every public budget), which serves to keep everyone as informed as they wish to be.
  • The fifth point essentially says that grants can be great, but they  need a long term plan for when they're gone. This is what's been done by this administration on Race to the Top and on the School Improvement Grants; this plus the above are why the Worcester Public Schools didn't face the funding cliff we'd heard so much of when the federal stimulus was gone. If you don't know how you're going to continue something once the money's gone but you plan to continue it, then you have no business applying for the money in the first place. 
  • The sixth point caps administrative spending at a level well below that calculated (on 1993 rates) by the state. Note that this caps internal WPS central administrative spending; city administrative spending is calculated per a (currently being renegotiated) agreement between the superintendent and the city manager. 
  • The seventh lays out a plan for new revenue: it will go in directions close to students and their needs or areas that are increasing well beyond the accounting of the state. It thus includes not only the classroom itself and its supports, but maintenance and transportation; it also calls out health insurance, retirement, unemployment, and workers' comp. 

You can find the plan at the above link; it will be first up after recognitions tomorrow night at 7.

The title? Those are the four cardinal virtues. They echo what Plato wrote would be found in a wise city.

The Secretary isn't the only one on Twitter

I'd forgotten...Globe reporter James Vaznis is, too.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

House budget amendment to study PARCC

...just passed:

and thanks to Rep. Sannicandro for live-tweeting the budget debate! 

A little help here, Arne!

Looks as though Congressional members of the education committee would really appreciate it if the Obama administration might take an interested in ESEA renewal. They didn't give the Secretary a very easy time when he was before them today.

Worcester School Committee meets Thursday, May 1

We have our May Day meeting at 7 pm; you can find the agenda here.

First up: recognitions! Science fair award winners, safety poster winners, and volunteers at Worcester State.
Then we're going to say goodbye to Jim Bedard, our facilities director, who is going to work for WPI (who is amazing and will be greatly missed...but I'll save that for the floor).

Report of the Superintendent is a new Seven Point Financial Plan, on which more anon; most of these are things we either already explicitly or implicitly do in our budgeting in the Worcester Public Schools.

Standing Committee reports from yesterday's Finance and Operations meeting and hearing are coming back to the full committee.

We have a report back that administration did ask that students be given access to library materials during MCAS testing (did anyone hear anything around this?).

The United Way is making a donation to Belmont Community School and Burncoat High (of $500 each).

Mr. Monfredo (who always remembers these) is asking that we remember Teacher Appreciation week (May 5-9) and Nurses Appreciation Week (May 5-11) and that we recognize the Teacher and Nurse of the Year (which we'll do at our final regular year meeting on June 19). Write a note!

North High got a grant for a garden!

Miss Biancheria has a transportation request, and is also looking for an update on the Worcester Tech graduation.

We're being asked to approve a prior year (a prior prior year? 2012-13) payment of $2652 for a guidance counselor stipend.

We're being asked to approve the new fingerprinting policy required by state law.

And we have the quarterly Central Mass Special Education Collaborative report. They're looking for new space, and it appears they're doing some marketing (?).

No Child Left Behind waiver extension

...which also includes the pressing question on how the state will determine where charter schools are allowed to go. Posting as we go.
Commissioner: pretty substantial discussion on this last night

PARCC update at the Board of Ed

posting as we go
Commissioner: session last night on graduation, high school assessment
today is on how the field test is going

If you're following the state budget

...I just found this (thanks to Rep. Sannicandro for the link): actions taken by the House on their budget debate can be found here.
And I went looking for it when the Secretary of Education came out from the Board meeting to let me know that the House had not taken action on innovation schools or early college high school. He's watching Twitter, folks. 

Board of Ed today: public testimony on student growth (and the NCLB waiver)

...posting as we go...
As they're all commenting, it's a big agenda today. I'm hearing that the whole issue of growth is just going to be postponed entirely: waiver, charter, accountability status. We'll see. Right now, the Commissioner and Secretary are just giving their updates. 

Monday, April 28, 2014

Public hearing on FY15 WPS budget

plea to keep Fast ForWord program
keep class sizes as low as possible for students

query as to additional city contribution goes where? non-NSS, like transportation
how does current deficit affect that? number tonight shows only required growth, as we don't know
but city is required to make up gap from this year? Yes
success of WPS is success of city
School Committee must "really take on the role of advocates...go into these conversations and force these issues"

how much do we lose at school choice? $2.7M
theory that other districts spending more
"a lot of students opting out...we're creating between students and parents who have the wherewithal who can take advantage of the choice at opt out...and those who do not"

Monfredo: meeting Net School Spending still only hits the bottom of the barrel

FY15 budget hearing: presentation

Mr. Allen presenting; posting as we go: I'm told that this presentation is different ('though I don't think there's different information...nope! There is! Changes in the House budget)
  • flat enrollment
  • low inflation (for the second year straight)
  • federal grant reductions and phase out (RTTT & Level 4 grants)
  • certain costs exceeding 'normal inflation' (workers comp, health care, etc)
getting both save harmless and $25/pupil minimum aid
state projected to fully fund circuit breaker (at 75%)
charter school reimbursement has increased in House budget (don't know district level detail yet) & charter school assessment is down ($500,000 savings/additional revenue between Governor and House budget for WPS)
"we expect to receive McKinney-Vento" next year, and would be no loss of service regardless
estimating federal grants to be level funded, but won't have them until after the budget is concluded, probably
80 teachers, 204 IAs, after school and summer programs, staff development, specialized programs: all from federal grants
Net School Spending: required growth (CM fully intends to meet required growth) plus amount below Net School Spending from this year
$314,854,113 (and as always remember, that includes charter and school choice students) projected foundation budget for FY15
charter reimbursement up a bit from Governor's budget
required local contribution is up a bit as well: now $4,554,886 (as the state is projected to get additional local aid)
other local contribution and I'm reading between the lines here, but what the City Manager's going to do beyond required minimum looks like it's really up in the air as yet
FY15 revenue change from FY14 $732,179
considering all funds, about $11M budget gap
multi-year projection in the budget book (page 20); projected a $6M gap
what else changed?
professional projections had us going up in enrollment by 253 students: $2.9M difference
inflation factor was less than estimated (0.65% below): $2M difference
budget gap anticipated $6.1M gap PLUS $4.9M in projections...and there's your budget gap
Worcester School Committee receives budget on Friday, May 9 and it will be up online that evening, as well. Plan your weekend accordingly!

School Dude process

flowchart here
Foley: work is getting done in a much more timely process
Allen: currently used to track and prioritize and record costs associated with all of the repair work done out at the schools
"there are a lot of work order requests out there, and they are prioritized."
in heating season, heat related repairs are prioritized
"we are limited due to the number of trade people we have"
Foley: how many requests coming in?
Allen will check


take a look at the list here
item held so that results from the Department of Public Health grant on opening playgrounds to the public outside of school hours can come back to the committee

Schools that currently do not have playgrounds or playground access:

Canterbury Street 
Chandler Elementary
Chandler Magnet
Clark Street
Columbus Park
Elm Park Community
Francis McGrath
Heard Street
Rice Square
Woodland Academy

This would be a good list to work on!

expanding instrumental lessons to all schools

Foley: slightly less than $100,000 to add the remaining schools
Those that do not have it:
  • Chandler Elementary
  • Union Hill
  • Woodland Academy
  • Gates Lane
  • Quinsigamond
  • West Tatnuck
  • Flagg Street
to provide either winds or strings requires a 1.1 full time equivalent teacher
to provide winds and strings would require an additional 41. full time equivalent teacher
Referred to budget

reopening schools

you can find the report here
Allen: "kind of a realistic estimate of what it would take to reopen some of our schools"
some of the space is being fully utilized, and moving those programs would create rental costs
Harlow being the only short term possibility
all of Central Mass Collaborative's rental agreements are up this year; they're looking to put it all in one site, which would open up Harlow to us
that would be 12 classrooms
that would be about 250-300 students
between $1.7M and $2.5M, though some of those costs are already covered
some things we wouldn't know until you knew the needs of the schools and possible reallocations
Ramirez: "that's one way to go...overcrowded middle schools, as well"
Allen: "administration agrees with you...doesn't identify as an elementary school"
Foley: may want to look more systemically
Novick: could spin up use of space over several years
any plans for the space if the Collaborative moves? not yet

Quarterly report

report here
Allen: bottom line has not changed
projecting about a $300,000 deficit in all accounts
not a concern that administration has
summer school starts in July so it's on next fiscal year
day by day subs in deficit
workers compensation: "no surprise...has run over in every year"
this year will budget "more closely in line with actual spending"
vehicle maintenance: $35,000 in deficit,, mostly due to price of fuel, also maintenance
utility account: new city electricity contract is a 10% increase over previous, also not seeing ESCo savings show up
Foley: do we know why we are not receiving ESCo savings?
Allen: working with the city on those; perhaps as part of future report, can give some detail on that
"we're hoping that we'll start seeing some savings on that"
Foley asks for a follow up report
"I suppose you don't want us to tinker with workers' compensation for the budget"
Ramirez: increase in autistic students? which line item?
personnel services is in district, tuition
Novick: is FY15 based on seeing ESCo savings? No.
instructional materials still frozen with $300,000 in it? to balance
principals have asked that if funds are going to frozen, freeze them up front so that it's equal

School lunch price increase

Looking at an increase to $1.75 (which is ten cents)
if we're getting $2.65 from the fed for a free lunch, we have to get to that price for a paid lunch over time
This will go into effect for the next school year.

Finance: update on technology

Update from administration on the Blue Ribbon Technology report
the report's not up online yet, but will be; I'll link once it is.
"as we prepare the FY15 budget, the most notable aspect you'll see is the increase of funds needed for the lease of our computers" as it is a full year this year (rather than a half year as it was for FY14)
technology has been "a lion's share of capital funds" over the past few years
network infrastructure and wireless infrastructure
"background information on developing the software applications in house" and how much we save by doing so
Walton: software development by writing computer code to make a computer do something

Layoffs going out today

I hate having to post this. Best information I have, with emphasis added, though: the Worcester School Committee received the following this afternoon from Superintendent Boone:
The Administration continues to work with the City Manager regarding the FY15 funding level based on the House of Representatives budget and the amount of city contribution for next year.  The WPS Budget will be available on Friday, May 9th and will be balanced based on our estimate of local, state, and federal revenue for next year. 

In order to meet our contractual obligations with the EAW, we need to proceed with posting of job vacancies for next year. To conduct this process, we must notify employees that will be laid off or displaced next year as a result of the budget deficit based upon the Administration’s recommended budget.  These layoff and displacement notices are being provided to employees today.    

In the elementary positions, we are planning on an average districtwide class size of approximately 22.8 students and we do not anticipate class sizes of more than 30 students (unless lack of available space within schools do not allow for additional teacher positions).  Also, please know that we “over cut” the number of positions to allow for a number of positions to be available in August/September to address enrollment changes that often occur between now and the start of the new school year. 

With regards to secondary school positions, the reductions identified by the Administration would not reduce course offerings to students next year.  However, we also do not see any changes in the number of study halls offered next year. 

I am working closely with City Manager Augustus on the budget level for next year.  I will provide a full summary of the budget actions that will be included in the Administration’s FY15 budget once we finalize the level of city funding for next year.  I will provide this information as soon as we have a bottom line budget. 
And I've said it before and I'll say it again: there is no budget until it is passed by the Worcester School Committee at the end of June.

Reminder: WPS budget hearing TONIGHT!

Quick reminder: WPS FY15 budget hearing TONIGHT!
7 pm
4th floor conference room at the Durkin Administration Building, 20 Irving Street

Stay tuned on the growth model

You might remember that at the last Board of Ed meeting, there was testimony and discussion around the use of student growth in calculating which districts are targeted for increased or additional charter schools. The Commissioner essentially deferred the decision to this month and this meeting, saying that he wanted it that calculation to parallel that in the NCLB waiver, which the Board discusses this month. Tomorrow, in fact.
This weekend, CommonWealth revealed that changes might not be coming after all:
Wulfson also suggested that, in the wake of concerns being raised by charter school leaders, Chester is rethinking his proposal to raise the growth component of the charter formula to 30 percent. “He’s signaling that if folks would like to spend some more time looking at this and studying it, he’s amenable to that,” said Wulfson. “He’s not saying 70-30 is the only possible outcome.” 
Yes, the charter schools weren't going to be able to expand any which way they wanted, threw a fit, and now the Commisisoner is (possibly) backing off.

Let's be super clear here: there is no merit to using only MCAS scores to determine this. There is no educational reason to leave growth out of the calculation. The only reason to stay with the status quo?

Imagine an entire elementary* school was kidnapped

...and it barely made the news.
That's about what has happened in Nigeria, where over 200 girls were kidnapped while at their school to take their final exams. They were kidnapped BECAUSE they were in school, taking their final exams, by a group that doesn't want women to be educated.
I'd recommend Mika McKinnon's (so angry she's swearing about it) post to get up to speed. About the only thing we can offer is collective public outrage, so I'd ask that you do that, too. If you're on Twitter, the hashtag they're using is #helpthegirls and #bringbackourdaughters.
They could be your daughters, or mine.

*that's how many. The girls are in secondary school.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Senator Warren on budgeting

possibly more on this later, but for now: 

Friday, April 25, 2014

Finance and Operations meets Monday!

As a sort of pregame to the public hearing on FY15, we're having our quarterly Finance and Operations meeting. You can find the agenda here.
5:30 pm, room 410 of the Durkin Administration Building (take the elevator to the fourth floor and follow the signs through School Nutrition) 

And should you be planning on attending the public hearing on the FY15 budget at 7 pm Monday night, you can find all documents released regarding it in in the FY15 budget folder on the WPS website

The insanity in push on evaluating teacher training programs

A telling couple of paragraphs from today's Politico article:
A recent study funded by the Education Department found that value-added measures may fluctuate significantly due to factors beyond the teachers’ control, including random events such as a dog barking loudly outside a classroom window, distracting students during their standardized test. A 2010 study, also funded by the Education Department, found the models misidentify as many as 50 percent of teachers — pegging them as average when they’re actually better or worse than their peers, or singling them out for praise or condemnation when they’re actually average.
Yet another challenge: Calculating scores for educators who do not teach subjects or grades assessed with standardized exams. Nationally, some 70 percent of teachers — including most high school and early elementary teachers, plus art, music and physical education teachers — fall into that category.
Despite such complications, Muñoz made clear in a call with reporters on Thursday that Obama wants student test scores, or other measures of student growth, to figure heavily into states’ evaluations of teacher prep programs.
“This is something the president has a real sense of urgency about,” she said. “What happens in the classroom matters. It doesn’t just matter — it’s the whole ballgame.” So using student outcomes to evaluate teacher preparation programs “is really fundamental to making sure we’re successful,” Muñoz said. “We believe that’s a concept … whose time has come.”

  • it's junk science
  • the Administration knows it's junk science, because one of its own departments is saying so.
  • we're going to do it anyway because it's "time has come."

This. Is. Insane.
(h/t to Perdido Street School for the link)


Meetings come up next week:
  • On Monday at 5:30, there will be the regular meeting of the Finance and Operations. While the agenda won't be posted until later today, I'm sure we'll have the third quarter report and probably a slew of facilities items before we lose Mr. Bedard.
  • On Monday at 7, there will be the public hearing of the WPS FY15 budget. Two things to keep in mind: while there will probably be an update from administration on the budget at the beginning of that meeting, the full budget will not be out until the following week (on Friday, if tradition holds); also, the bottom line of the budget comes not from the School Committee, but from the City Manager and City Council (for more on that, see here). 
 Both of those meetings on the fourth floor of the Durkin Administration Building, 20 Irving Street. They'll also both be broadcast live on Channel 11
  • The Mass Board of Education meets next Tuesday morning; you can find that agenda here. As they'll be discussing both the state No Child Left Behind waiver and PARCC, I'll be there and live-blogging.

  • And Thursday is the regular first meeting of May of the Worcester School Committee: 7 pm, City Hall. That agenda will also be posted later today. That also will be broadcast on Channel 11.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

School price increase

sent to F&O for consideration
we'll have to go up to $1.75 next year

dual language

O'Connell: offers an opportunity in dual language
students working together, both emerging with "a very well developed, well defined"
program operating at Chandler, as well as Roosevelt and Norrback
for a variety of reasons, consolidated at Roosevelt
"part of a program at their school"
Hobson's choice: choose school or program
Novick: file this item, as it is sitting in TLSS already
also request that the letter sent to parents
Boone agrees that letter will be sent
Foley support concept of merging: needs to resolved very quickly
Petty: hearing scheduled? give people false hope
sent to TLSS

grant fee

Monfredo: grant process fee
School Committee "possesses the exclusive authority" to set grant rates
asks that MASC give us a legal opinion
filed an item that the issue be resolved by October
"how long can we wait?"
O'Connell: "perhaps look at other options"
can bring a declaratory judgment action through Superior Court
"not adversarial, basically asking a Superior Court to make a decision"
Petty: send to City Manager as well

House Bill 135 on unaccompanied youth

text is here
motion to support passes unanimously
link from Ms. Biancheria to dropout rate, as homelessness correlates with dropping out
Boone: dropout information has been provided
information beyond that?
Biancheria: bullets; Doherty "very high compared to what they were before"
"September, October, November, compared to last year and the year before"
take it to the floor and have a discussion on "the schools, the sites, and the efforts"
"some schools didn't necessarily have to worry about that but they do now"

art and music and study halls

report is here
Biancheria: study halls per high school
"as we look towards our future, are we taking into consideration that there are some schools that have" so many study halls
Boone: challenges that we face with a budget of sustainability; haven't been able to drill into this the way that we would like to
part of making sure that we are able to address the increase graduation requirements that School Committee has approved
Allen: FY15 budget will have a reduction in secondary teachers: "believe it will not reduce course options" thus should not increase course options
difference between Tech and others is a scheduling issue (as Tech has week on and week off)
look at what courses students are interested in and address that with the appropriate number of staff; "not something that's going to happen in FY15, but we're looking forward to it in future years"
Biancheria: thought North was due to previous block schedule, but Doherty has similar number
"hope we can at least bring that number down"
Boone: working with principals to examine their scheduling process to ensure that we have maximized class options
Biancheria: study halls supervised with a teacher
Allen: yes. This report does not give number of kids in each study hall. Essentially five classes per period are set aside as study halls.

Report on the North High funding

report is here
Biancheria: difference between purchasing equipment under chapter 74 funds or with MSBA funds?
Boone: North wasn't chapter 74 approved when it opened; needed equipment and facilities to gain that
Allen: part of MSBA funding allows for chapter 74 area of the school to be outfitted with MSBA funds
Biancheria: if the equipment needs replacing, does it come from chapter 74?
Allen: would come through a recommendation from administration and approved by School Committee
Boone: used for additional staffing needed by program
Biancheria: music and art room furniture and equipment; how do we look at that equipment? who decides it replacement?
Allen: all of these purchases were originated at the school level; former principal solicited input for what was needed; intend was not to take equipment over from the old school; "probably 99% or more than that was new"
Biancheria: $8710 remaining: principal can use?
Allen: school-based decision
city looking to close out account now that they have reconciled it (which is why it couldn't be spent for some time)

Worcester School Committee: Approvals

Contract with the Instructional Assistants: approved
School choice for the 2014-15 school year: approved

Monday, April 21, 2014

Worcester School Committee meets TOMORROW!

The Worcester School Committee has a rare TUESDAY meeting tomorrow night at 7 pm. It is preceded by our annual school choice hearing at 6:45; you can find the meeting agenda here.
 The school choice hearing is something we are required to do annually. Each year, the Worcester School Committee has to vote on if we will allow students to choose to come to Worcester from out of town (we must allow our students to go to other districts; we can decide if we wish to take those from elsewhere.) Generally, we do, on a space available basis. The hearing is to allow any member of the public to speak on this issue prior to our vote.
There is no report of the Superintendent.
The EAW wishes to enter negotiations regarding the new requirement that all of our employees be fingerprinted so as to be screened by the national database, something which Massachusetts was the only remaining state to fail to do.
We have the reporting out of Teaching, Learning, and Student Supports; my notes on that meeting are here.
We have a few personnel items reporting out from Administration.
We have a report on state funding remaining for North High School through MSBA.
We have a report on the number of art and music teachers and the number of study halls by high school.
We have congratulations to pass along to our DECA students and to the Burncoat robotics team!
We're having a budget hearing!
We're sending the audit reports off to F&O (as we do each year).
Rep. O'Day's bill on homeless students  is before us for consideration.
Miss Biancheria is asking for a report on dropouts and one on the collaboration with the youth opportunities office.
I'm doing my annual request for a report on the demographics and MCAS scores of Worcester's charter schools.
I've also asked that we ensure that our student reps are elected (per student request, incidentally).
And I'm asking for the number and percentage of students that opted out of the March PARCC pilot with a similar report requested for the June pilot.
Mr. Monfredo is asking for MASC's legal opinion on the ongoing grant administration issue with the city.
He's also asking for a report on "the successes" of the AVID program.
Administration asks that we elect our representative and alternate to the MASC conference in November (h/t to Dr. Friel, who I believe is making sure we get the early bird rate on this!).
Mr. O'Connell is filing an item on the Norrback and Roosevelt dual language program.
Mr. Monfredo deserves congratulations for receiving the Ubuntu award from ACE!
We're being asked to recognize the good work of Professor Wagner's classes at Chandler Magnet and of Working for Worcester citywide.
We're sending our annual, required, school lunch price increase off to subcommittee (this would be an increase for the 2014-15 school year).
And we have an executive session at 6, discussing a grievance and negotiations with the instructional assistants.


Folks, it's over:
After months caught in the crosshairs of parents, advocates, and educators concerned about student-data privacy, controversial nonprofit inBloom announced Monday that it will close its doors.
As per usual with this crowd, their press release blamed parents and teachers and missed the point:
 It is a shame that the progress of this important innovation has been stalled because of generalized public concerns about data misuse, even though inBloom has world-class security and privacy protections that have raised the bar for school districts and the industry as a whole.
No, no, you haven't. What you have done is raise awareness of how much money there is to be made in data controlled by school districts and how aware parents, teachers, and data privacy mavens need to be of the ridiculous ends to which some will go to get it.

The Board of Ed meets April 29

copied from the Commissioner's weekly update:
 At the April 29 regular meeting, the Board will vote to endorse the Commissioner's proposed one-year waiver extension request. The Board will discuss the Massachusetts Advocates for Diversity in Education Task Force report and hear the Department's efforts to attain the diversity goals. The Board will discuss a new report and additional data on the 2012-13 educator evaluations. The Board will hear updates on the new Lawrence Public Schools contract agreement, Level 5 schools, and PARCC. The Board will discuss and vote on regulations related to student discipline and vote to rescind regulations related to private occupational schools. The Board will discuss and vote on a charter school matter and hear an update on the Fiscal Year 2015 budget.

Due in particular to that waiver issue (as well as the update on PARCC), I'll be there and liveblogging.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Governor files supplemental budget with FULL funding for charter reimbursement

(h/t Julie; thanks!)
Governor Patrick filed a supplemental spending bill on Thursday that includes full funding for charter reimbursement!
A few reminders (that I needed myself):

  • this is for THIS (FY14) fiscal year; FY15 is still in the House.
  • even if this passes, it would come through for Worcester as local aid. It would then have to be appropriated by the City Council to the Worcester Public Schools. Were it not, it would increase the local aid number...which would increase the amount by which the city is under the minimum local contribution.


...or Round two of "No, no expansion in administration"

Should you be checking in on WPS internal postings or hearing of them, you will have seen some or all of the following from this past week:
  • Facilities Director
  • Technology Focused Instructional Coach
  • Health and Physical Education Liaison
  • Evaluation Team chairperson
  • Focused Instructional Coaches at Clark Street, Canterbury, Elm Park, and Burncoat High
All of the above are current positions in the Worcester Public Schools. 

Very briefly: the Facilities Director is THE person who oversees any and everything having to do with buildings and grounds for the 50 buildings that we have for the Worcester Public Schools; he (currently) is the point person on everything from snow removal to heat to construction and renovation. 
The Technology Focused Instructional Coach is the person who gets teachers to the place they need to be for our kids to be able to do with computers and other technology that we want and need them to be able to do (and, not at all incidentally, one of the most in demand people in the district). 
The health and PE liaison is the one person in the district ensuring that the information that literally saves kids lives is being delivered in the classroom everywhere--in every school--in the district. 
The evaluation teams are the special education IEP teams; the person who coordinates those meetings with parents, staff, and others, and works through the decision making process is both legally necessary and crucial to the process. 
The focused instructional coaches--funded by Title IIA funds for that are for professional development and thus are not able to be used for other staffing positions--are how WPS does in-house professional development. 
All of these positions are projected to be continued in next year's budget.

Note from NEASC on South High

Bit of an update from NEASC on South High: they're pleased by a number of the issues they'd raised being dealt with (including an instructional leadership team and a site council).
They're also interested in hearing the results of our application to MSBA.

Us, too!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

FY15 mythbusting: Round two

Over the past week or two, I've heard a few more myths about the FY15 budget that we should put to rest:

MYTH: The schools are going to unilaterally change the employees' health insurance.This from this article last week on the city's proposing changes to employee health care.
This one is pretty straightforward: we can't unilaterally change our unionized employees' health insurance contributions. While there is a re-opener clause in our settled contracts (which at this point is most of our contracts) regarding health insurance, all it says is changes on city side mean talking on ours. The city is in the beginning stages of negotiations with the municipal unions at this point.
The City Manager can unilaterally make changes in contributions for all non-represented employees, city and schools. That is the minority on both sides, however.

MYTH: We could save money by not implementing the Common Core.
There's two misunderstandings at once in this one: first, that all curriculum changes stem from the adoption of the Common Core--not true; second, that we haven't implemented the Common Core already--also not true.
Worcester was already looking at our math and English curriculum prior to the Board of Education's adoption of the Common Core standards two years ago. On the math side, you might, if your child is now in middle or high school, remember Everyday Math? Possibly fine curriculum, entirely unsuited to Worcester. We were already well engaged in re-evaluating that prior to the state level changes.
Once the Board voted to move the state standards--standards to which we are tied--we were well into making changes, already, so it was an easier shift for us than perhaps it otherwise might have been.
What all of this hasn't done is given us new materials. Math right now is in a pilot at the elementary level to figure out what we can replace Everyday Math with. We do need a solid math curriculum for elementary (where the teachers, bless them, have been pulling together their own resources for several years as we adjust; we can't continue this way). That's the need for new textbooks at the elementary level.
We were due to review the curriculum regardless; implementing the Common Core already has happened; and we need new textbooks for math, regardless.
Some of this also gets into questions around PARCC and technology spending. While PARCC does add urgency to our technological upgrades, particularly around bandwidth, it's really something that we need to do anyway. Can we do without technology if we have to? Sure. Should we? No.

MYTH: Administration is adding positions.
As far as I can tell, this one is not based on anything other than mistrust in some quarters.
The Worcester School Committee does not get the budget until the first full week of May. However, we've now been told--twice--that administration is among the accounts being reorganized and reduced in this budget.

MYTH: The dual language merger is being done to save money.
I'm relieved that parents have gotten that this is a tough budget year, but every year there is a complete evaluation of programs, as well. For dual language, the handoff from Sergio Paez to Bertha-Elena Rojas this past year gave a clear opportunity for fresh eyes to look at issues that had come up for several years. Most notably, having students continue past third grade in a full 50/50 split has been difficult if not impossible, both in terms of staffing (finding and retaining teachers who can do 4th, 5th, 6th grade curriculum in both English and Spanish is very tough) and in terms of school program. If we don't do that, though, we aren't running a dual language program, and the students aren't going to reap the benefits of a fully bilingual environment.
Thus, merging the kids to Chandler Magnet (where it's their innovation plan) and Roosevelt (where the program started) allows concentration of effort, energy, and staffing.
What it doesn't do is necessarily save the district money. The 72 students currently in Norrback's dual language program can be going to any of several schools. Where they go determines where we need staff. It is possible that we will lose a position or two through this, but not necessarily.
And the transportation, for those curious, is being done with current resources.

And remember: WPS FY15 budget hearing the Monday after vacation! April 28 at 7 pm!

Dual Language update

While we've got an article on some (and by no means all) parental reaction to the dual language merger in today's paper, it doesn't give you the information about plans for next year. Here they are.
  • for current Norrback dual language students entering grades 4, 5, or 6 for this coming year, they may stay at the school and continue to have some form of what they do now in those grades at Norrback: a single period, pull out Spanish period. This will continue until the students entering grade 4 finish 6th grade at Norrback.
  • for current Norrback dual language students entering grades 1-4, they may transfer to either Chandler Magnet or to Roosevelt's dual language program. Transportation will be provided for these students. These students will have, as they have had thus far, a 50/50 model of half day Spanish, half day English. Also, any siblings who attend Norrback but are not in the dual language program may transfer to the same school as their dual language sibling and also have transportation.
  • for students entering kindergarten who have applied to the dual language program, those students have yet to be evaluated for the dual language program (as they are every year; not every child who applies gets in). Those evaluations will be taking place over May and parents will be informed of placement in or not in the program by the end of May.
Note that there are 79 students in the dual language program at Norrback; 2/3 of those students do not have Norrback as their home school. 
Parents and students are invited to visit both Chandler Magnet and Roosevelt in the coming weeks ('though not during MCAS testing) to see what would work best for them. There are open houses from 6-7 pm on the following dates:
• Roosevelt School – April 29th
• Chandler Magnet – April 30th
They are asked to respond with their chosen option by May 9.

And in the spirit of full disclosure: one of my own children is a student in the dual language program at Norrback. We have not yet made a decision regarding next year.

Burncoat High Musical!

Jonathan Kozol speaking at UMass Boston

I can't go to this--back to back finance meetings--but for those who can:
The College of Education and Human Development
invites you to a keynote address by

Jonathan Kozol

Monday, April 28, 2014 - Campus Center Ballroom
Poster Sessions: 1:00 - 3:00 p.m.
Keynote address: 4:00 p.m.

Jonathan Kozol has been working with children in inner-city schools for nearly 50 years. Kozol, who has examined the inequality inflicted upon children born into poverty in a wealthy nation, has been called "today's most eloquent spokesman for America's disenfranchised." Following the address, Kozol will answer questions and sign copies of his most recent book, Fire in the Ashes.

For more information and to RSVP, please visit

Reception to follow. For dietary or disability-related accommodations, please visit two weeks prior to the event.

This event is made possible through support from the UMass Boston Alumni Association, University Advancement, and the Healey Library

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

TLSS meets today at 5:30

You can find the agenda here.
Notes as they're needed.

Birmingham didn't forget

While the commentary from former Senate President Tom Birmingham on ed reform at 20 is largely getting attention due to its mistrust of the Common Core, I was pleased to see that he remembered what is too often glossed over: it was a funding deal. And more than that: it's overdue for reconsideration:
Today, I fear we may be veering away from the act’s two core values — adequate funding and rigorous standards. If we abandon the bedrock principles that have proven to be historically successful, we imperil the progress we have made. In the last decade, support for public schools lost its primacy on Beacon Hill and state budgets reflect that. Today our inflation-adjusted education appropriation is the same as it was in 2002.
In contrast to the generous expansion of the 1990s, education funding for the last decade has remained flat. As a result, according to the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, many (mostly low-income) school districts simply do not have the resources needed to provide the caliber of education envisioned in the reform act’s foundation budget.

We're overdue for fixing that.  

Next Finance and Operations

The next meeting of the Finance and Operations subcommittee of the Worcester School Committee is scheduled for 5:30 on Monday, April 28.

(Thus preceding the public hearing on the FY15 budget which begins at 7.)

Monday, April 14, 2014

Teaching, Learning, and Student Supports meets Wednesday

Teaching, Learning, and Student Supports meets on Wednesday at 5:30 pm. You can find the agenda here.
We're seeing several items on here we've seen previously: questions around reopening a television studio, about a bowling club, about career pathways and internships, about civics and the immigration and naturalization exam, and about chapter 74 funding.

4th floor of the Durkin Administration Building, or live on Channel 11.

Friday, April 11, 2014

A note for you Worcester political watchers

There's no Worcester City Council (due to Passover) or School Committee (due to Holy Thursday) meetings next week. 
Worcester School Committee has a (possibly unprecedented) Tuesday meeting on April 22. 
City Council next meets on Tuesday, April 29. 

Spring Arts Festival!

The Worcester Public Schools Spring Arts Festival opens May 2! 

May 2, 2014 from 10:00 AM-2:00 PM
Music/Dance/Drama Performances—Saxe Room Art Demonstrations Outstanding Seniors in the Arts—Noon

May 6, 2014 from 5:30 PM-7:30 PM
Meet the Artist Night Gala Reception

May 9,2014 at 11:30AM
Seeger Sing Concert on the Worcester Common

All artwork on display through May 28!

You're going to need to share, Mayor Walsh

Hey, remember how Mayor Walsh started off his tenure by talking about Boston's "share" of state school building money?
Boston has their MSBA submissions ready (and they're squeaking in under the wire; they're due today), and it looks like we're hearing more of that "fair share" talk.
Cheers to MSBA CEO Matt Donovan for talking right back:
“It’s going to be based on need,” said Matt Donovan, the authority’s chief operating officer. “That $500 million, that has to be spread equitably throughout the state.”

Don't panic: organize (Round two)

Hearing concerns from parents that layoffs are happening now, even though we don't yet know what the final budget will look like.
Yes, that is true, on both counts!
We've had budgets these last few years that haven't involved layoffs like this, so for those who haven't been through this already:

  •  In order for Human Resources to hold up our end of the contractual agreements about position changes, notices of position cuts and layoffs have to go out now, for those changes to be processed and take place before the end of the year. Openings that will occur due to retirement, due to teacher's not having professional status, due to layoffs, or otherwise, go out on the "bid list" for those within the system that are interested. There are several rounds of this, and it's starting now.
  • This always happens prior to the budget. The budget won't come out until the first week of May; it won't be deliberated until June. That's far too late for decisions about cuts and class sizes and assignments to be made.
  • If changes have to be made over the summer, it's much easier to make them in a positive direction--adding teachers to cut class size, assigning support staff, opening additional sections--than to make cuts over the summer.
  • And finally--and you're going to hear this a lot from me in the coming weeks--NO BUDGET IS FINAL UNTIL IT IS VOTED ON IN ITS ENTIRETY BY THE SCHOOL COMMITTEE. 
So, if you are hearing about cuts at your child's school, if you're concerned about course selection, if you've heard something about staffing levels: don't panic. Don't give up. 
Also, don't think that means that the school administration or the School Committee has given up. We plan for the worst; we hope and work for the best.
If you now have specifics about your school, NOW is the time to make those calls and emails, to have those conversations, about what a school budget that isn't appropriately funded looks like for your school. 
The School Committee doesn't determine our bottom line; the Worcester City Council and City Manager do.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

House Ways and Means Budget is out

The House Ways and Means budget came out earlier today. A few education notes for the state, largely swiped directly from the Mass Budget and Policy Center analysis:
  • This budget does NOT fund a foundation budget review, which Governor Patrick's budget included. This is a major oversight and should be rectified.
  • We already knew the Chapter 70 numbers, due to the agreement between the two bodies on this and local aid; no changes there.
  • The charter reimbursement item got an increase! It isn't level-funded! It isn't fully funded, either, but not being level funded is progress; it's up $5 million from Governor Patrick's budget.
  • It also increases the circuit breaker for special education funding! And this, they suspect, may actually be fully funded. My goodness, they might be listening!
  • It level funds Kindergarten Expansion grants and cuts Adult Ed by $1 million.
  • It also eliminates entirely funding for Innovation Schools (that would be new funding going forward, so wouldn't affect the money just received).
There's also a projection for MSBA of $771.6 million; interesting note that the Governor had a higher projection. If, as he proposed, soda and candy were included in the sales tax, it would of course increase those single cents of the tax that go to school buildings.

No numbers specific for Worcester yet: we don't have our (updated) charter school projections for next year, which is the major impact of the above. I'll post if we get anything.

Less time on the letters, more time on the budget, Lynn

In our fellow Gateway city of Lynn, the FY15 conversation has been all about the foundation budget: namely, that the city is $8.5 million under Net School Spending, and thus is facing the loss of state aid.
Yeah, they actually do that if you fall below 95%!
As their gap results from their retirement assessment not counting towards Net School Spending--which it hasn't in all 20 years of the calculation of the foundation budget--the city first decided that they needed to just fix the formula.
It will not come as a surprise to readers of the blog that a change in the foundation formula is not something that passed quickly through the Legislature. Or, indeed, at all.
It now appears that, in their effort to make this all go away, city officials are digging through old correspondence:
LYNN — Letters unearthed from nearly 20 years ago have Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy convinced the city may find a way out of a multi-million dollar school spending problem.  School Superintendent Catherine Latham on Tuesday showed School Committee members 1995 and 1996 letters noting “the city has not factored in past health insurance for retirees” and asking for it to “be factored in” to city net spending calculations.“This is the most promising lead we have yet that, perhaps, we weren’t doing it wrong,” Kennedy said. 
Not surprisingly, the state has pointed out that Lynn has been using the same calculation for twenty years now...
...just like every other community in the state, whatever side their retirement assessment is on.

But on a positive note, An Education has been giving her community a crash course on Net School Spending and the foundation budget, so we're ahead there!

Site Council training!

Under the Ed Reform Act of 1993 (chapter 71, section 59C), every public school in the Commonwealth is to have a school council, which:
 shall meet regularly and shall assist in the identification of the educational needs of the students attending the school, make recommendations to the principal for the development, implementation and assessment of the curriculum accommodation plan required pursuant to section 38Q 1/2, shall assist in the review of the annual school budget and in the formulation of a school improvement plan, as provided below.
If you're on a school/site council, are interested in being on one, or just want to know how all of this works, CPPAC and the Worcester Educational Collaborative is bringing in the Mass Association of School Committees for a training session:

May 6th 6pm-8pm
Fuller Conference Center
Mass College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences 
Space is limited. 
Please register April 28th by calling Margaret LeRoux at 508-757-5631 ext.222 
or by e-mail at
A light supper will be served. 

What our teachers can't say about standardized testing

An excellent piece in today's New York Times about what teachers can't tell us about standardized testing.

Waivers falling apart?

In the past two days we've had some waivers on No Child Left Behind coming apart at the seams:

  • It looks as though Washington state is going to find out what happens when you get your waiver from the federal government revoked. D.C doesn't like Washington's proposed teacher evaluation system, as districts can use either state or district tests for teacher evaluation; D.C. of course wants it to be the state test. As the state legislature adjourned without changing the law, it looks as though the ball is back in the DOE's court.
  • Sacramento announced yesterday that it is leaving the group of California districts that have their own No Child Left Behind waiver. California as a state does not have a waiver, but a group of districts went over the state's head directly to the fed and got one; now that is falling apart, and it's also over teacher evaluation systems.
I should note that this attempt to tie teacher evaluation to student test scores is the part of the waiver that has been postponed in Massachusetts, as well, 'though so far the DOE seems satisfied. 

2% of what?

with apologies to my regular readers for a bit of a re-run...

So I see that Worcester Magazine has recognized that the Worcester School Committee settled a contract with most of our unionized and non-represented employees earlier this school year. In most cases, these contracts include a 2% (or a 1% then 1% split over the course of the year) cost of living increase for this year.
And now we may have layoffs and budget cuts. How could this have happened?
I feel as though I say this ad nauseaum, but the Worcester School Committee (and, indeed, the Worcester Public Schools administration) does not control the revenue that comes into the district. We are at the mercy, and the decisions, of those in Boston, in Malden, in Washington, and in City Hall.

Our budget is projected based on the best information we have, and the increases in our budget are predicated almost entirely on two things:

  • the inflation rate
  • school enrollment
You'll note that we don't control either of those things, either.
However, the inflation rate is something that we have some records on. Here's what the state-issued inflation factor has looked like for the past several years:

With the very marked exception of FY11--which is when the federal government, recognizing the economic downturn, kicked in ARRA funds--we've been pretty steadily around 2%. In fact, the average of the above is 2.7%. Based on that alone, a 2% raise is entirely a reasonable proposition.

The second factor that influences our revenue stream is how many kids we have (and what needs those kids have). Here's our enrollment, both known and projected: 

Those projected figures are from NESCEC (enrollment figures are what they do) and MSBA (who of course are building buildings based on their numbers). No slouches on numbers, in other words. 
Yet, rather than the 25,022 or 25,032 that were projected as our population for October 1 of this year, we instead have an enrollment of 24,777. That's a LOT of kids that we were expecting that we don't have!
And that changes our foundation budget accordingly.

Now, I don't expect that everyone is going to know this. This was, however, part of our budget presentation back in February, so this isn't "news" in terms of the budget gap and the possible impact it has on programs. We already knew this, and we've known it for months.

I can't help but notice that this is coming up just as the pressure is on for the city to fulfill their fiscal responsibilities and fund education appropriately. I'm not a conspiracy theorist, by any means, but rather than having a real conversation about what we should be doing for our kids, we're going to have another round of discussion over administrative salaries--the raises of whom, I should point out, wouldn't even fund half a teaching position.

The athletic budget of the Worcester Public Schools is $444,242 for this year. That's 0.14% of our general fund budget. If there is any discussion about cutting that line item, it should make everyone extremely concerned, and not only because of the impact it will have on students.

If we are in such dire straits that we're looking at a line item that is such a tiny amount of our entire budget, then we are in dire straits indeed.
And we are.
It is high time that we recognized that and started having serious conversations about funding, rather than getting distracted by sound bites and grabber headlines. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Dual language program merging

This afternoon, the Worcester School Committee received the following from Dr. Rodrigues:
The Dual Language Program at Norrback Avenue School and Roosevelt School has been a great feature to the district’s portfolio and as a viable option for parents in Worcester.
This year, Dr. Bertha Elena Rojas and her team conducted a thorough review of the two programs’ practices and outcomes resulting in some immediate realignment of resources, scheduling, and the development of a structured professional development series to strengthen teachers’ instructional practices in a multilingual, bi-literacy environment.
Since its inception, we have not been able to provide the features of this program beyond grade 3, with limited Spanish language exposure in grades 4 through 6. Evidence based research of dual language programs emphasizes the importance of an uninterrupted 50/50 model of instruction, in Spanish and English, from Kindergarten through grade 6.
In order to strengthen our program delivery and to expand the 50/50 model through grade 6, the district will merge the Norrback Avenue program with the existing program at Roosevelt School. This merger will create a robust program, with greater alignment of resources, and expansion of the50/50 model of instruction to grade 4 in 2014-2015 school year. This merger also required personnel realignment, favorable to current budget constraints.
This afternoon, parents/guardians of students enrolled in the Dual Language Program at Norrback Avenue School will receive a letter describing the merger of the programs for next year. Parents are invited to an informational meeting at Norrback Avenue School and Roosevelt School (letters attached).  The principal of Roosevelt School will be in attendance at the Norrback meeting and will offer parents the opportunity to visit the Dual Language Program at Roosevelt School in the coming weeks.
We are excited about the merger as it will raise the district’s ability to implement the Dual Language Program with fidelity and to expand and sustain the 50/50 model through grade 6.

This BPS bake sale press release is a thing of beauty I will run it here in its entirety; the bake sale raised $1250. And props to both Superintendent McDonough and BPS CFO Don Kennedy for showing up!

*Parents Organize $61 Million Bake Sale To Take Place at City Hall Plaza on April 8th, 4-6pm to Bridge FY14-15 Boston Public Schools Deficit*

*Group hopes to raise $508,333 per minute to offset devastating Boston Public School budget cuts*

March 31, 2014.

After spending the last six weeks trying - and failing - to find the Boston school system's secret money vault, parents have now arrived upon a Plan B to help address the daunting $61M deficit facing the Boston Public Schools (BPS).On Monday, BPS parents from dozens of schools from all across Boston announced that they will deploy a tool that has served them well in past attempts to mitigate education cuts: a bake sale.

*The Bake Sale to raise $61M will be held on City Hall Plaza TuesdayApril 8th, from 4-6 pm*. The tens of millions of dollars projected to be raised during the two-hour event will be donated to Boston Public Schools.

"Plan B will work," explained Karen Oil, a parent from the Young Achievers school in Mattapan. "BPS parents will draw on our years of experience selling cupcakes and muffins in bake sales to help the Mayor and the Legislature close the huge deficit caused by the loss of federal and state funding, cost increases, and enrollment miscalculations."

"Our small school faces dire instructional losses, as well as deep cuts to our essential support programs," Roxbury resident and Mendell School parent Ellen Pierce noted. "When good, successful schools like ours, and many others, become neglected, it's the kids in those schools who suffer the consequences." Pierce continued, "There are many things parents have come to appreciate about the BPS in recent years, and it's such a shame that so much good work will be undone by these cuts. So we thought we'd help. We think we can sell enough cupcakes to help close that $61M gap. And muffins as well!"

"We are so happy city, state, and federal politicians are searching for the money right now - looking under sofa cushions and pointing to one another,hoping someone didn't leave it in their car," said Heshan Berents-Weeramuni, a parent at the Curley K-8 School in Jamaica Plain which is losing 13.5 positions. "Unfortunately, they haven't found it all yet. State officials, for example, have managed to find only 63 percent of the charter school reimbursements they owe the Commonwealth's public school kids. Some have offered to check their lunch boxes to see if they have more Chapter 70 aid and Circuit Breaker funding too."

"Next year, state funding will only account for 11 percent of BPS' total budget (down from 31 percent in FY99). So together with federal losses, cost increases, and the BPS' enrollment miscalculations from last year (and despite the Mayor's 4 percent increase), we have a huge deficit," added Oil. "We all care deeply about the great schools that 75 percent of all Boston children attend today. And so we thought we would help find some money too."

The Curley, Mendell, Philbrick, Young Achievers, Lyndon, Roosevelt, Bates, BTU School, Mary Lyon, Hurley, Roger Clap, Winship, and Irving, are among some of the 63 schools that, on paper, face large cuts next year. When cost increases, as well as federal and state cuts, are factored in, that figure is likely closer to 90 schools. "So we thought we'd help the City and the Commonwealth out by selling $61M worth of cupcakes. That's a lot  of cupcakes to sell, but we think we can do it," added Berents-Weeramuni. "Muffins too. I mean who doesn't like muffins, right?"

Did we mention we'll have muffins?

After BPS parents raise the necessary $61M this coming Tuesday, April 8th from 4-6 pm on City Hall Plaza, they plan to head into City Hall itself to view the BPS Student Art Show, which runs until 7:30 pm. "The art show is just one example of the amazing things that happen at Boston Public Schools every day," said Pierce. "At the end of the day, that's what it is all about."