Monday, June 30, 2014

The overdue reconsideration of the foundation formula covered in today's Telegram and Gazette. Two things need correction:
  • The foundation budget commission was included in both Senate and House versions of the budget and made it into the conference committee budget, released last night. As such, so long as the conference committee budget goes through, the various bills referenced don't need to go anywhere. 
  • Deputy Commissioner Wulfson's comments are not only worrisome; they're wrong. First, the reconsideration of the foundation budget is, bluntly, called for in the original law. It is, aside from all other considerations, overdue for being recalcuated. The state is REQUIRED to do just that, not decide to tie this up with further strings, as happened in the original decision. It is the moving forward of the commission that has held districts off from filing suit again, as the state has not fulfilled its responsibility under current law.
  • Second, this notion that money is not "a magic bullet" makes for a nice sound bite, but it is also wrong. There is a large body of research--stretching well beyond the state's "well, we spent more money on Worcester, but they're not doing as well as Weston, so clearly that's a fail" reasoning at work here--in part stemming from Massachusetts' funding itself clearly demonstrating that in fact funding does very much matter. You can start with this post from December by Bruce Baker, and go from there. School finance cases across the country, including the most recent one in Kansas, have consistently said that money matters, equity matters, and that part of what needs to be considered is the needs of the students served. It is dismaying, to say the least, to have the Deputy Commissisoner of (among other things) finance be so ill-informed. 
I understand that this is going to be a political process, but let's not start with bad information. 

Friday, June 27, 2014

PARCC/ MCAS update from the Commissioner

For those tracking such things, the following is part of the weekly update from Commissioner Chester:
Update on PARCC – MCAS Choice for 2015:
As of June 27, a total of 253 districts or charter schools with students in grades 3-8 have made a decision on which assessment they will administer in spring 2015, with 145 districts or 57 percent choosing PARCC and 108 districts or 43 percent choosing MCAS. For a FAQ on the PARCC-MCAS choice, go to
The Board also voted to extend the use of MCAS as a graduation requirement to the class of 2019.

UPDATE: Also, DESE will release a list of which districts are doing what after the June 30 deadline.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Summer school bus routes

I didn't even know we had these, but the summer school bus routes are posted.

And today in people not knowing that they're talking about

Goodness, we're having quite a week in the Telegram and Gazette "As I See It" section, aren't we? The Pioneer Institute yesterday and DFER today!
Should you have forgotten who DFER is, here's a quick reminder of whom we're dealing with and why we should not be listening to them on, well, probably anything. They don't--mercifully--have much of a presence in Massachusetts (and Massachusetts election laws prevent them from flooding elections with funds the way that they have elsewhere in the country, at least directly), but let us not forget where this is coming from.
That said, the editorial itself is essentially alarmist rhetoric, not even doing much with the report from NCTQ: "crisis," "especially dire," "below average" and on and on: BE AFRAID! BE VERY AFRAID!
And the report from which this all draws is round two of NCTQ: NCTQ, which comes to this with a foundational bias, which has terrible methodology (yes, that's from last year, but they used the same system this year), and in some ways made it even worse than it had been before. And the ratings, make no mistake, have some schools running scared, with what are going to be bad results on teaching and learning in classrooms at the colleges and universities.
The best analogy I've seen for this is if you rated restaurants by take out menus, without ever visiting the restaurants or eating the food; I'd only add that you're having it all done by critics who don't like to eat.
Why are we giving these people any attention? They don't know what they're talking about.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Worcester Art Museum is free on Friday

This is part of the Highland Foundation's Free Fun Fridays. Also free this week: Franklin Park Zoo, Cape Cod Maritime Museum, Tanglewood, The Sports Museum, Mass MOCA, and the MIT Museum. 

Summer building work

There are often projects going on in our schools over the summer; this summer, we have several BIG projects happening:

  • Worcester East Middle School is getting new boilers.
  • Chandler Magnet School is getting the rest of their new windows. They're also getting the roof work and solar panels done, thus the flags around the roof.
  • Worcester Arts Magnet School is getting new windows, as well as some work done to the vestibule and the bathrooms.
  • Columbus Park is getting its new boiler, as well as having the new windows installed.
  • Tatnuck Magnet is getting new windows.
Good stuff! (And thanks, MSBA!)

Board unanimously supports growth

...though, really, the above should read something more like "Board unanimously realizes that what schools do matters," but I suspect that might be somewhat unclear: just heard that the Board of Ed today unanimously supported Commissioner Chester's recommendation that 25% of district ratings be from growth, with 75% remaining from achievement.
This despite the enormous outpouring of angst from the Mass Charter Association, who have been aghast at the notion that they might possibly need to move their operations into suburbs, of all places, where, among other things, parents might have the organizations to keep them out. And despite the apocalyptic stylings of those like Jim Stergios, who are convinced that not giving charter schools a free hand...will do what, exactly?
Last year, after several years of stagnation, the percentage of Massachusetts third-graders who scored proficient or advanced on MCAS reading tests fell to its lowest level since 2009. At 57 percent, the portion of third-graders reading at or above the proficient level is 10 points lower than it was in 2002. 
...all while we were continuing to expand charter schools, who were somehow the magical answer that were going to create competition to make everyone better. So that's clearly working well.
Yes, that last is sarcasm.
Look, it's pretty straightforward: measuring schools based on what kids come in with is wrong. It's unfair, it's inaccurate, and it's not useful. More than anything else, that's what "achievement" scores do.
Growth scores, for all their flaws (and they are many) at least get us away from the "born on third base, think you hit a triple" evaluation method. Wherever you start from, you start there; the question is how far you get from that point.
And, just a reminder: we do it with everybody, unlike the charter schools.

My thanks to the Board of Education for a good decision today. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

School Accountability Plans

reminder from Biancheria that we don't approve or make changes
We have the ones from Gates Lane, Burncoat Prep, and Tatnuck Magnet tonight
Perda: "pretty much random, except I tried to get some distribution across the accountability levels"
all schools stick to the district-provided template for providing plans; all aligned to district accountability plans:
  • student achievement
  • safe and secure schools
  • parent and community engagement
  • communication
in cycle of reflection ahead of developing plans next year
Biancheria: do they speak with parents on developing?
dates and times? due to admin, but presentation to school site councils at the time
still tweaking of document that takes place: peer review by other principals
reviewed by accountability office, and quadrant office both on measurements and on interventions
then posted online in late fall
Perda: preliminary ELA MCAS data released to schools today for schools to start looking at 
"whether or not the instructional piece that they've put into place is working"
O'Connell: very specific role "in order to ensure consistency with the district accountability plan and three year action plan"
role of parents: parity of members of staff in school on site council, some achieved that
reminder to principals ensure that when site council convene that they have parity (Ch. 71, sec. 59c); thus follow composition of site council and makeup of them
site councils often meet at times that parents cannot make; of concern
Novick: do they ever not use MCAS?
Yes, but not often.
So what will we do next year? ...still to be determined...
concerned that we are lowering or raising the number rather than reaching the outcome wished for
(You can lower the number of student office referrals; that doesn't necessarily make the school any safer)
Not everything important that happens in a school fits in the box; concern with making something go up or down a number, not with what that means for the child, the school, or community

Arrested Futures: accountability

follow-up from an earlier item
Robarge: chance to review and discuss the report previously. Worcester is really doing a good job, relative to other districts reviewed in report; a lot less school-based arrested. Heartening to see. Don't have uniformed police officers in our schools, not primary arbiters of discipline; when they are, they use means at their disposal, namely, arrests
racial disparities: African-American students arrested out of proportion.
Focus on public order that could be dealt with in a non-criminal manner, rather than through the court
WPD: does seem to be a bit of an open question as to their role; contract or MOU related to that relationship
Excellent as to documentation that relates to that relationship
Biancheria: staff in our schools; decision making process
motion asking for more details on agreement with WPD
new laws around expulsions and suspensions; have yet to receive information (admin was still waiting to hear from state)
O'Connell: summary of where they (WPD) are housed, what their duties are, how they are funded
PBIS: added as there is interest from schools
There does not appear to be a current written MOU between the Worcester Public Schools and the Worcester Police Department about their interaction in the schools: motion to create one if one does not exist

Accountability subcommittee meets at five-thirty

We have three items on the agenda:

  • the report on juvenile justice called "Arrested Futures"
  • school accountability plans (we're looking at Burncoat Prep, Tatnuck Magnet, and Gates Lane)
  • data charts that track graduation
The agenda doesn't appear to be online...I'll link once it is.

Chester recommending 25% growth

At tomorrow's meeting, the Massachusetts Board of Education will take up the question of how to weigh student growth in district measures. In his memo to the Board, Commissioner Chester is recommending a measure of 75% achievement (aka, plain old MCAS scores) and 25% growth.
He also comments:
I do not accept the proposition that some urban districts must always rank below low-performing suburban or rural districts.
Thank you, Commissioner. Neither do we.
This measure impacts which districts are considered the "lowest-performing" districts, as well as in which ones charter schools are allowed to open or expand.
I will not, unfortunately, be able to be at tomorrow's meeting. Hope James Vaznis is going to tweet! 

Friday, June 20, 2014

School districts still suffering from economic downturn (with a Worcester connection)

This post from Five-Thirty-Eight just came to my attention, and it's relevant reading for anyone thinking about school funding.
Once the recession ended, however, so did the stimulus — long before state and local governments were ready to pick up the slack. Federal per-student spending fell more than 20 percent from 2010 to 2012, and it has continued to fall. State and local funding per student were essentially flat in 2012, the most recent year for which data is available.
They go on to point out that the problem is particularly acute for urban districts, which get more federal dollars, and thus are more subject to swings in federal dollars.

I've been doing some thinking what effect Massachusetts' foundation formula has on something like this, and, so far as I can see, it's much the same: if the local community can or is able to step in to take up the missing piece, then the district can see the funding remain stable or keep pace. If not, then, while the foundation formula is going to keep us from the worst of the bumps, districts are still at the mercy of larger entities.

This ties directly in, as well, to what our major challenge in Worcester was this year: the inflation factor. For the FY15 budget, the inflation factor is 0.86%. This is well below the current U.S. inflation rate (ending May 2014) of 2.1%; it's also well below the annual cost increases for the Worcester Public Schools, of about 3%. And this is particularly a problem, because the foundation budget inflation factor's actual name is "the Implicit Price Deflators for Gross Domestic Product, State and Local Government Purchases"* That means that it's based on how much state and local governments spend: local and state governments spend more, the inflation factor goes up; local and state governments spend less, the inflation factor goes down. If we have less to spend, the inflation factor goes down, and then we have even less to spend, and the inflation factor goes down, and...Note that it doesn't necessarily reflect actual cost increases, which it might if it were tied to other things, like the inflation rate. It does put us in a vicious cycle, though, unless we rework the formula, step it up locally, or both.
Preferably both.

*Nope, not making that up. See page 68 of the FY15 Worcester Public Schools budget. 

Happy last day!

Enjoy the summer!

And remember: there are no specific assigned summer reading books for the Worcester Public Schools. Does it have words? Are you enjoying it? Then read it!

FY15 budget passed

There were two changes made yesterday to the budget as originally proposed:
  • On a motion from Mr. Monfredo, $6400 was moved from the Building Utilities account to Misc. Educational OM, to fund the Future Teachers program. 
  • Per administrative recommendation, and due negotiations with new principals, $65,000 was moved from the administrative account to the teacher account. That will get us another teacher back. 
Other than that, FY15 passed as proposed.

Coverage here as well as here

No liveblog today

I've gotten Lyme disease.
I'll be there for the major budget accounts, but that is all I am going to manage.
However, you can find the highlights of what happened in Megan Bard's MassLive comment section

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Extremely last minute agenda review

The Worcester School Committee meets tomorrow night and you can find the agenda here (with apologies for the last minute nature of this post; I've been fighting an illness since Sunday).
But first: Back to the budget! We will pick up with the utilities account with the order as found here. We'll run on budget until 6, break for executive session (which, if you look at the end of the agenda, looks sizable), go into our regular meeting at 7 (ish), and then return to budget if it hasn't been completed (sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't).
First up, some recognitions: our nurse of the year, Karen Lajoie, is coming in, as is Donna Lombardi, our school nutrition director. We also have some South High students who did well in the statewide storytelling contest.
We've just this afternoon received the Superintendent's mid-cycle review report (it is not yet linked to on the agenda).
Speaking of budget, we have some responses from administration coming back on budget line items (these will undoubtedly be taken up during the relevant budget account discussion, but they have to come back somewhere).
We have a response from administration about bussing the Reach and Challenge students from Fanning.
I've put an item on, being considered by school committees across the state, about state mandates; if five committees pass it, it will go before the state Delegates' Assembly in November.
We have a proposed amendment to the attendance policy.
We are being asked to file all items that are related to the FY15 budget.
Miss Biancheria is asking about the June 3 incident at Worcester Tech, and also about notifying School Committee members know about emergency incidents.
We're being asked to approve five new courses for next year: Advanced Qualitative Reasoning; Dance Conditioning; American Rhythm Tap; Dance for Fun; and Hip-Hop (course descriptions attached to the agenda)., as is often the case this time of year, a bunch of proposed recognitions!

Trying to track which district is doing PARCC or MCAS next year?

Mike's keeping track for us.

Have you called your senator lately?

Tomorrow, the Massachusetts state senators are caucusing on the charter bill (now H 4108) before it goes to the Senate floor. This is when they decide if they have the votes to get it through.
The cap lift people have been pushing hard, so it is vitally important that senators hear from their own communities on how this bill will hurt them.
Please get in touch with them!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Principal and Assistant Principal appointments

This afternoon, we received the following from Superintendent Boone:

I am happy to announce the Principal and Assistant Principals selected for the following:

  • Siobhan McKenna Dennis, Principal, Columbus Park School
  • Lauren Chuk, Acting Assistant Principal, Canterbury Street School
  • Susan Donahue, Acting Assistant Principal, Rice Square School
  • Patricia Murphy-Brown, Acting Assistant Principal, Vernon Hill School
  • Maureen Power, Assistant Principal, Jacob Hiatt Magnet School
  • Joanne Quist, Acting Assistant Principal, Sullivan Middle School
  • Tina Schirner, Assistant Principal, Grafton Street School

Friday, June 13, 2014

Another teacher!

Quick look at this coming Thursday's agenda shows that admin has saved $65,000 from the administration account in their negotiations with new principals. 
Recommendation is to transfer that amount to the teaching account. See backup here:  
More to come!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

UPCS graduation address

Because I know some enjoy reading these, here's my speech to the University Park Campus School graduating class tonight:

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

A few more updates for tomorrow

  • WPD has just released the motorcade route, in the hope of having people avoid it: Pleasant down from the airport, to the Newton Square rotary, down Highland to Worcester Center Blvd. That will all close as of 2:30; they expect to reopen it sometime around six.
  • The streets immediately surrounding the DCU Center close tomorrow at 10 am. 
  • For those attending graduation: doors open at 1 pm. Given the above, think ahead about parking. All will have to pass through airport-type security (so travel light!) and don't forget your ticket! All must be inside by 3 pm.
  • Graduation is scheduled to start at 4 pm. 
  • And again, no, no plans at this time for early dismissal for any of the Worcester Public Schools. All schools save Worcester Tech are operating on their normal schedules. There will of course be traffic delays, as there will be for the city. Buses are will drop off at usual stops. And can I suggest that this would be a great day to have your kids walk or take the bus, if at all possible? 
  • And remember: DC does this all of the time; I'm sure we can manage it once!

Today in things that are wrong

From around the web:
  • States that already were funding their schools at the lowest levels are those that cut the most during the recent recession. Also, while Massachusetts is way down on that list, check out the actual numbers: 70.7% of our districts cut per pupil funding, and we're down 6.3% 2009-12 in actual dollars. Worrisome.
  • New York City was going to go with universal lunch, then discovered what we had--that you're going to throw off your Title I funding if you do so. Two things wrong here: 1. this seems fixable. 2. the end of this article has a school nutrition director commenting that her enrollment is down 14% but her reimbursements are up. That has nothing to do with Title I, however: school nutrition reimbursements may well be up, but if her enrollment is down 14%, then the Title I funding for the district is down, as well. 
  • The National Council on Teacher Quality is coming out with another report on teacher preparation and it's probably going to be a mess again
  • The Gates Foundation is now calling for...a two year moratorium on consequences of Common Core testing? Really? 
  • There are thousands of kids entering the US unaccompanied by parents or guardians due to growing violence in parts of Central America. 

Monday, June 9, 2014

I know the rumors are rife...

...but no, no plans at this time to dismiss anyone from school early Wednesday, per Superintendent Boone.
There will be a Connect-ed tomorrow after the last plans are confirmed. 

The numbers are what they are

If you've been following our FY15 budget, you've probably heard the above said more than once; it's pretty much the comment I'm making in the GoLocal article today about the budget.
It's appropriate in another context from that article, though, which is how I'll use it here. One of my colleagues comments, "There are currently 50-60 administrative positions; I don’t think that many are needed."
Here's the employee headcount (that's page 23 of the budget; you can click to make this photo bigger): 

Try 23.
Unless you're going to cut principals, you don't break 50. And since central administration as a budget item is approximately $2.5 million, an $1 million cut isn't realistic, either.

The numbers are what they are. No need to invent them. 

Friday, June 6, 2014

Speaking of PARCC, here's the state breakdown

EdWeek has an updated breakdown of which states are going with which test. Note that about half the kids in the U.S. are taking neither PARCC nor Smarter Balanced; at this point, that does include Massachusetts, which is in the "undecided" column.
About eight million kids are in PARCC states; about 12 million are in Smarter Balanced states.

Speaking of local news coverage

I started live-blogging Worcester School Committee meetings in 2008, because the Telegram and Gazette, while always there and always writing, could only devote so much space to a meeting. From my perspective, 'though still limited, recently the coverage of meetings beyond Worcester (and beyond Council) has improved.
That's why the loss this week of 1/5 of their staff, and the conclusion drawn by WBUR on what it will mean, really hits home:
In a press release gussied it up to look like a news story, Redding said, “This will not impact our news coverage in any way.” 
This is like your favorite local restaurant laying off a fifth of its wait staff and reassuring you service won’t be affected in the least.
Of course the layoffs at the Telegram will “impact” the paper’s news coverage significantly and in the most basic way: There will be far less quality local news in the Worcester Telegram.
 I quoted Madison earlier this week, because it's no exaggeration to say that our government was put together with newspapers in mind. A free press is in the First Amendment; the power of the press was brought to bear in the times leading up to the American Revolution, and those who then went on to set up the government clearly saw the press as a necessary balance to government power. Clearly that's something we need on a national level, but for any local government to lack a press check on what they do weakens the ways in which it answers to the people it serves. We need press not only to report on who says what and votes which way, but to ask why and what for.
I am very, very concerned about this, not only for Worcester, but for our surrounding communities.

MCAS or PARCC next spring

sorry for the break in blogging there; just got my computer back and didn't have a full charge
As you'll see from today's coverage, Worcester is in the company of just Boston and Springfield of having the possibility of not choosing either just PARCC or just MCAS for spring 2015; we can choose school-by-school.
No doubt a bit of the consideration in this will come down to individual school accountability levels: we have a number of schools that are fighting hard to rise a level, and a one year freeze may well not be something that they want to do. The other consideration is around next generation tests, which are either going to be the PARCC or going to be a changed MCAS; continuing with the current MCAS isn't something that the state is considering.
Note, incidentally, that the decision is budget neutral: our computer rental is the second year of a five year lease (for all computers in the district, which we need), and our broadband upgrades make it possible for us to do things like get a full class of Chromebooks online (something which we unfortunately cannot do now). Thus money doesn't play into this decision.
There is a time component--PARCC is a two part test, two parts of the spring--which may be part of the decision, as well.
At this point, the item--which was altered to simply request a recommendation from administration--rests with administration, who are taking the matter up with principals. Thus, while you can certainly weigh in with those of us on the Worcester School Committee, I'd recommend taking the item up with your principal at this point, should you have a view on this matter.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Sorry, ran out of battery

A few more posts to come tomorrow from tonight's meeting!

Student Advisory Council report

While much of the Superintendent's midcycle review is being postponed, we have the Superintendent's Student Advisory Council being presented here tonight.
insight into what happens outside my school and how I could contribute to improving my school
we brought up that our school didn't have people to be in after school, so students couldn't use the library
"I saw the changes...library staying open until 3"
"I learned a lot about how school systems work...I talked a lot about we would be able to gain new courses and get them into the curriculum"
"I am very proud of what we opportunity to learn more about what's going on in our schools and how to fix them"
"everybody develops leadership while they're in it"
"also the students that have a voice"
"I learned so many new things about my school that I didn't know before"
overcrowded buses, and "we actually got heat in the buses"
"awesome to be with them"
Boone: a mechanism by which we talk about the student voice

Regular session: Worcester School Committee

Worcester School Committee back on the regular agenda, which you can find here.
Proclamation: week of June 9th is "Reading in Our City Week"
Honoring Worcester Tech DECA students
Plus Teacher of the year Mary Margaret Mara!
We've also been told that the midcycle  superintendent's review is being held.

Budget account by account: starting at nurses

posting as we go
O'Connell: provides for 51 nurses : is that every school?
Rodrigues: coverage in all schools, yes. Still figuring out where for doubles

Budget hearing: account by account

posting as we go
Boone: figures identified in this document were approved by City Council, thus gives us a starting point
Monfredo: money we received is still a $2.1 million deficit that needs to be made up
Boone: FY15 meets minimum, FY14 balance
Allen notes that the number is on page 375 of the budget

WPS budget hearings today at 4

You can find the suggested sequence of accounts (the order we'll take them in) here.
The budget itself is here.

If you haven't seen budget hearings before, they operate slightly differently from a regular meeting, a bit more like a subcommittee meeting (which it technically is, as we're meeting as the Budget subcommittee, which is a committee of the whole). We don't stand to address the chair, and, while all questions and answers still go through the chair, there often is more back and forth.We go account by account, hearing each, regardless of how small (Out-of-State Travel $5000) or large (Teacher Salaries $149,737,163). Keep in mind that several accounts are further broken down beyond their line items, and that many questions stem from there.

In terms of blogging, I'm not going to do a post for every account, but I'll try to be sure the ones with discussion get their own post. 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Four schools with new windows coming!

Just to give it a post of its own: Clark Street (built 1953), West Tatnuck (1961), Union Hill (1922 & 28), and Goddard (1900) are all getting new windows (all have their original windows now).
Planning this summer on these...once I get more of a timeline on this, I'll post it.

Accelerated repair programs on the MSBA agenda today

Not just Clark Street, West Tatnuck, Goddard, and Union Hill on the agenda today; there are schools from Auburn (the middle school and Bryn Mawr Elementary), Bellingham, Brockton, Dartmouth, Falmouth, Franklin County Regional Tech, Gardner (Sheffield Elementary), Gill-Montague Regional, Greenfield, Hampden-Wilbraham, Holyoke, Hudson, Leominster, Lynn, Medfield, Medway, Melrose, Middleton, Nashoba Regional (Florence Sawyer), North Attleboro, Northampton, Norwood, Orleans, Peabody, Quincy, Randolph, South Shore Regional, Southern Berkshire Regional, Springfield, Stoughton, Sudbury, Tri-County Regional Vocational, Tyngsborough, Wayland, and Wellesley...
...being invited to the Accelerated Repair Program.
Bourne, Ipswich, and Millis are being invited to eligibility for major renovation/rebuild.
Billerica and Braintree are being invited to Feasiblity for major renovation/rebuild.
more to come...

Executive Director's report: 37 project visits since March
accelerated repair: 60 schools in 39 school districts visited to evaluate for recommendations since March
3 groundbreakings, one ribbon cutting, one topping off
33 project visits coming up this summer
security: local decision making; not a school problem, a community problem
SOI period has closed: 227 applications for the core program

removals from eligiblity: Shrewsbury for Beal Early Childhood Center; town has concluded that they are unable to proceed for funding reasons
two being removed from accelerated repair: from Central Berkshire and from Dighton-Rehoboth

Three invitations to eligibility: Bourne, Ipswitch, Millis, all for elementary schools
these are from the 2013 SOI process

Two invitations to feasibility: Billerica, for Billerica Memorial High School; Braintree, for East Middle School

51 projects being invited to accelerated repairs
cruising through cities and towns now...comments from communities and schools
several communities glad to see 50 year old boilers go (I'm not going to bring up Worcester East Middle here)

Superintendent Boone points out that the average age of Worcester Public Schools is 75 years (and that's with one that's brand new!)

No, zero isn't good enough

I really wish the T&G editorial board would read their own paper.
Look, I know when the message is "we'll meet school funding minimum for FY15, but we're still under because of carryover," it's a bit confusing if you haven't really been tuning in. But the comment from the T&G editorial board this morning that "(t)he schools have finally edged above the state's minimum funding requirements" is just plain wrong. 
Both the City Council coverage from Nick Kotsopoulos and the School Committee coverage from Sara Schweiger have been very, very careful to say that the minimum was met for the single year budget. We remain $2.3 million under the minimum. And even if we had hit the minimum, that isn't new: we hit the minimum last year after transfers.
The thing about hitting the minimum, though, is that you stand a very good chance of going under. Budgets are living documents, and some of this budget isn't in the hands of either the City Council or the School Committee; it's in, for one, the hands of our charter schools, whose enrollments may well not be as projected. Yes, the very charter schools that the editorial board keep championing...oh, the irony.
The state very clearly warned us of this danger in a joint meeting we had two years ago. You can't start the budget year at minimum and expect to keep your head above water. Worcester is in an unusual situation compared to communities across the state, in that we don't learn our lesson: we fund at minimum, go below, fund at minimum, go below. The Einstein line about doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results being the definition of insanity comes to mind.
And, again, this is, honestly, the wrong fight to be waging. The statewide average on school spending is 17% OVER foundation for FY14. Everyone agrees the minimum is not sufficient for education, which is why we finally got a foundation budget review through both houses of the Legislature this year. The idea that somehow we can magically manage on a budget that comes in at zero, despite all evidence being that it's insufficient is to live, to borrow a phrase from a local radio show, in La-La-Land.
Maybe because, as Superintendent Boone once said, the buses are running and the schools are open, some assume that all is fine. And maybe in some ways we're a victim of our own success: we are meeting kids needs, we are running athletics, we haven't lost the arts, we do have special programs like the arts magnet and dual language...clearly we're doing okay, right?
But we aren't. Not really. We have completely insufficient levels of support staff, of guidance, of counselors, of others who keep kids well and whole and moving towards successful adulthood. We're financing facilities repair at levels that would be laughable if they weren't setting us up for future problems. We're not staffing our classrooms with teachers the way that we should, particularly for the kids we are serving, and we don't have the room to do that, anyway. We aren't even funding overtime for custodians and school plant the way we need to in a city that sees lots of snow (and thus lots of overtime) in wintertime. And I could go on and on and on.
I have to say that I really sympathize with the decision by the decision by the Philadelphia School Reform Commission (their unelected board) to refuse to pass an FY15 budget this week. I'm not going to advocate that we do that--Philadelphia has seen much more draconian cuts than we have, and we have a job that we were elected to do. So I'll go in there on Thursday and grit my teeth and probably vote in favor of a lot of cuts that I know are not in the best interest of the schools, because we can only allocate the funds we have.
But I'm not doing so under the illusion that zero is good enough, and I don't want anyone else to be under that illusion, either. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The "long shadow" of poverty

In what sounds like a depressing but important book, Karl Alexander, Doris Entwistle, and Linda Olson have tracked almost 800 children for 25 years (since the children entered first grade) and have published their findings in The Long Shadow: Family Background, Disadvantaged Urban Youth, and the Transition to Adulthood.
As Mother Jones put it, "If you're born poor, you'll probably stay that way."
The bit that particularly is important for education is this:
Alexander found that education, rather than giving kids a fighting chance at a better life, simply preserved privilege across generations.
That's a tough thing to hear, but it would make a real difference in our policies on a lot of things if we got that into our heads and acted accordingly. It has to be broader than going after schools all of the time.
Johns Hopkins summarizes many of the findings here.

Worcester projects before MSBA tomorrow!

We've received excellent news from Superintendent Boone earlier today:
We learned late yesterday that the four Statements of Interest submitted to the MSBA’s Accelerated Repair Program will be recommended for funding by the MSBA Board.  The four schools are: Clark Street, West Tatnuck, Goddard and Union Hill.  The MSBA Board Meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, June 4, 2014 at 10:00 am at its office in Boston.  This is exciting news and brings to 13 the total number of projects funded from the Accelerated Repair Program.
I'll be there and blogging!

Written testimony on H4121 (the gun bill)

For those who find it useful. You can find the members of this committee here. Thanks to Grace for sharing her research on this!

To the members of the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security:

I would have preferred to give my testimony today before you in person; unfortunately, it was only yesterday that I learned that H4121, widely billed as “the gun bill,” in fact has a number of provisions in it that are of interest, and indeed, of concern, to school districts.

Let me preface by saying that I applaud your attention to gun control. Worcester lost a member of the class of 2014 just a few weeks ago to a gun, and the work you do to keep our kids safe is greatly appreciated.I am troubled, therefore, by the requirement that each district hire a “School Resource Officer” to be in charge of school safety, answering to both the police chief and the superintendent of a community. With all of the work that the Legislature, and in particular, the Joint Committee on Education, has done around reforming school discipline and cutting the school-to-prison pipeline, this is a giant step backwards.

We know too well what a single arrest does to the chances of a student completing school, and sending a student who has had court interaction to a school with a high rate of arrest correlates with an alarming increase in such students dropping out.

I understand that there might be an adult perception of safety in the presence of police; however, students frequently report feeling less safe with the perception that an armed guard is needed in school. There is also troubling evidence that students who are subjected to activities intended as “deterrence” have a greatly increased chance of future infractions.

In short, evidence clearly demonstrates that this proposed state mandate, rather than making our children safer in schools, may well make them less safe. That is unacceptable. I would ask that you strike this part from the bill, and take a very close look at the other various mandates on school districts that are also part of this bill. Gun safety is a societal issue, not a school issue, and loading districts with more “must do’s” does not help us to do the job with which we are charged. Please focus on gun safety, and allow us to focus on educating children.

Thank you for your attention,

Tracy O’Connell Novick
Worcester School Committee
see, for example, the Justice Policy Institute’s for more information regarding the effect of police in schools.
 see, for example, Does Official Intervention Result in Deviance Amplification?

Monday, June 2, 2014

Nelson Place preferred design VOTE

There are actually two votes happening tonight: one to change one of the three preliminary design proposals; one to move forward with a single preferred schematic design.
That's because one of the three preliminary designs was put off the table by the lack of Assumption land for the project.
Mayor Petty introduction: thanks all for participation, attempts to incorporate concerns
final schematic design done sometime a few months from now

Nelson Place preferred design

Being recommended to the building committee tonight:

Notes coming in the next post. 

House 4121: the gun bill

Thanks to Clive McFarlane today for sending me off to look at what's actually in the gun bill that House leader DeLeo proposed last week. The language pertaining to schools reads as follows:
Section 37P. (a) As used in this section the following words shall, unless the context clearly requires otherwise, have the following meanings:-
“Chief of police”, the chief of police or the board or officer having control of the police in a city or town.
“School resource officer”, a duly sworn municipal police officer with all necessary training, up-to-date certificates and a license to carry a firearm charged with providing law enforcement and security services to elementary and secondary public schools.
(b) The school department of a city or town, a regional school district or a county agricultural school shall, subject to appropriation, employ at least 1 school resource officer to serve the city, town, regional school district or county agricultural school. The school resource officer shall be appointed jointly by the superintendent and the chief of police, in the case of school department of a city or town, or by the superintendent and each chief of police in any city or town served by a regional school district or county agriculture school.
In appointing school resource officers, superintendents and chiefs of police shall consider candidates that they believe would strive to foster an optimal learning environment and educational community. The appointment shall not be based solely on seniority. The performance of school resource officers shall be reviewed annually by the superintendent and the chief of police.
(c) Upon written application by a school department of a city or town, a regional school district or a county agricultural school, the secretary of elementary and secondary education may waive the requirements of this section if the secretary believes a school resource office would not assist that particular city or town, a regional school district or a county agricultural school to ensure safe schools.
(d) The department of elementary and secondary education shall promulgate any rules or regulations necessary to carry out this section.

As it happens, there's actually a heck of a lot more in here on what schools must do: they must have a district mental health plan, they must have a device in each school dedicated only to communicating with the police department, they must provide two hours of suicide prevention training each three years.
And the state doesn't want to review the required reporting from school districts...

So, in terms of the officer bit, the bill doesn't require one in every school; it requires one in every district. It does require that the person be a police officer (note that Worcester's school safety person is not). It requires that this person be appointed not by the superintendent, but by the superintendent jointly with the chief of police.
The requirement is "subject to appropriation" and can be waived only by the Commissioner of Education.
Gosh, where to even start with this?
I don't think that the state legislature is in the best position to tell us how to keep our schools safe. I well understand the issues with local control, but we know our schools, we know our school cultures, and it is districts that are best positioned to decide if having a police officer in charge of school security is a good idea. This would REQUIRE it in every school district statewide, unless you get the Commissioner (who also is not in a position to best tell us how to keep our schools safe) gives permission otherwise.
I also have a real issue with a jointly appointed school safety officer, reporting both to the superintendent and to the chief of police. Right now, we have WPD liaison officers, who answer to the chief, but who work with the district and schools on safety; they are citywide. Our school safety, however, is directly under WPS purview, not police department purview.
I am also exhausted by this notion that somehow the only way to keep our kids safe at school is to turn our schools into armed camps. It isn't. Our schools are civic spaces; they are where we are creating the next generation of a civilized society. You don't do that in a prison, not if you want to do it well. It sends an absolute message for kids to have to go past an armed guard to get into school every day, and that message is NOT 'this is a safe place for you to learn and grow.' We have got to stop sticking this only on schools and start dealing with this as a societal issue.
The "subject to appropriation" implies a) that the state is paying for it b) if they are able. That's far too weak a reed for me to depend on.
There's a whole lot more going on here than a gun control bill, and some of it is not good. Should you be in Boston, the public hearing starts at noon in the Gardner Auditorium at the State House tomorrow. Otherwise, write to your reps.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

T&G facing layoffs

As the Telegram & Gazette staff learn their fates tomorrow, thinking of this quote from James Madison:
A popular Government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy, or perhaps both. 

We need a solid local press.