Saturday, February 28, 2015

Notes from the Foundation Budget Review Commission

Just walked in for the Shrewsbury superintendent Joe Sawyer talking about last year's override and class size issues
Query as to how they could have class sizes so high yet still being over foundation: is it teacher salaries?
Teacher salaries average for central MA
Q: percentage that's circuit breaker
Q: what's driving gap in teacher salary?
unrealistic assumption about teacher salaries, more teachers with master's degrees
Q (which we've heard before) Do we need a full redesign, or do we need a tweak?
circuit breaker is trailing, fees for transportation, athletics
"clearly...the idea around equity is important...combining some of the various sources, around grants, could be important"
Q: change census from once to twice?
fairly stable population, not a lot of effect on us
ELL tend to arrive midyear, has some effect on us
Q: $3.7M override this past year: what about this year?
budget increase of a bit over 3%, "very realistic and modest request"
given funding OPEB, snow and ice control
"even with a very modest request...our town manager's request is below even at that number"
"without additional state support...that's what tends to be causing the unpredictability"

Wachusett is in the house! Julie Kelley, Stacey Jackson
appreciative of having these hearings
"don't just identify a problem, offer a solution"
formula should not go beyond 2% increases of Prop 2 1/2
"strongly supports regionalization"
"alarming inability of towns, especially regionalized towns, to meet their obligations" to fund
1,2,3 towns that aren't able to afford their increases
of increases, half goes to education, and half to town services
in some cases, education is taking up 50,60 or more of the increase in revenue
should have a trigger if much of new revenue is being taken up by education services
Rep. Ferguson comments on compelling data

Rep. Hogan: sped costs don't reflect real costs and real needs.

missed a speaker there

Elaine Rabbitt: Dudley-Charlton regional SC
answer a challenge offered by Rep. Ferguson: was interested in hearing something new and hearing a solution
need change concept of special education and regular education
teachers no longer have students who come in without a backpack of baggage
what our students require is what we need to fund
"at best we can fund having a teacher in the classroom, but we can no longer afford other supports for our students"
Q: foundation formula makes an effort to account for different needs: would you say that there are catagories that we are missing? or is it that the classroom teaching catagory needs to be larger in general?
"the mental health component"
impossible task to think that a teacher can teach to the multiple needs of the classroom in front of them
minimal increases of budgets over past several years
"We have 200 Chromebooks used to test 2000 students"
"these things we are talking about did not even exist in those days"
"they don't have the resources, and more importantly, they don't have the time"
"that's a serious issue that we need to address"
supports have never existed
Q: what do you see as the drivers of that reality?
financial history that we've just been through; parents both working, sometimes multiple jobs
impact of what we're trying to prepare our students better
have children that are physically sick from the stressors we're putting on children around testing
Comments from Peisch is that it would be hard to recommend a substantial increase, as taxes would increase; encourage to think about other sources of revenue
Rabbitt: if we maximize what we provide students now, we'll need to provide less for us later (paraphrase)
"I really just have to challenge you with that"
"As a taxpayer, the best investment I can make is in the future of my community, and that's in education"

Rob Cohane, parent, WPS:
involved in CPPAC: where the money comes from
"I don't necessarily envy you for taking on this challenge"
special education, inflation, health insurance no longer provide services students need
urban challenges: difficult to make up that gap
when 20% of the foundation budget is going to fill in that gap
"who ends up paying for that? It's the students"
parents are paying for photocopiers, parents are paying for copy paper
cost of importing technology into the classroom
"that our children have an equitable chance to compete"
"parents in my community are paying more; it may not be a tax, but we're paying"
circuit breaker doesn't seem to be working: "By the time you get the money, it's two years gone."

Westboro: testimony is very consistent, lacks in the available funding of the information of the education system
is there anything that you haven't heard that you'd like to?
part of your charge is to look at how we prepare our students for testing and for their future
Do a zero based review? What kind of content and skills do we expect our graduating seniors to have? Is that affordable?
"then we can put together a formula that provides" equitably

Ralph Hicks: past 11 years have been a superintendent
"would really like to see us live up to Horace Mann and our forefathers"
Ashburnham-Westminster district
fully recognize that local aid has taken a hit
"we need to be able to fund education if we aer to maintain our leadership position, not only in the United States, but in the world"
trying to bargain a GIC-like plan with our employees, which would make our increase 5.8%, but when the inflationary increase is only 1.5%, we have a problem
about $400,000 to put towards next year
last override that passed was in 2004
"going to outline what teaching positions we need to cut"
Q: talk about mental health
runs through very small numbers of staff available
"problems kids come in with today are insurmountable"
most schools do not have the counselors that they need
one town might be willing to give us more, but because of the way that the regional agreement work we cannot take it
Q: is it not a matter for the regional school district agreement for different levels?
the way it's written right now, we're using the statutory method
have written a new regional agreement, hope to have it passed
Q: has talked about going to SC with cuts on Tuesday? Could we get those?
will email them
Q: changes in enrollment?
having a slight upswing, we were down for awhile
"if you build it, they will come" built a new school, young families saw a new elementary school
have increased school choice numbers

Richard Bedard: school business manager in Millbury
health insurance and retirees health insurance
have worked for many years to bring down the cost of health insurance
Millbury has bid health care to one provider, have increased employee costs, copays
health care costs have decreased
"even with those decreases, the foundation budget allocation is still low"
a $2.4M shortfall on a $22M budget
spending 2 1/2 times the foundation allocation
retirees health insurance only included in NSS if they checked it off in 1993
that needs to change; phase in a level playing field
would put Millbury closer to the state average
foundation budget plus circuit breaker is only 60% of our special education costs

Tyler Keenan, Leicester School Committee
22 of 32 years have had increases more than 2 1/2
"real decline in spending power over time"
override votes are frequent, but don't pass
tuition of special education programs
rate increases tied solely with inflation are not accurate
fewer students=/=fewer teachers
but a smaller district it's necessary for things like AP if they are to be offered
size of district and challenges faced by smaller districts as opposed to larger districts
shouldn't have a model that's "overfit"
look at what districts are actually spending, not just what the foundation budget calls for

Mendon-Upton Regional
have a constant fear that we won't be able to keep up
$25 per pupil increase $59,000 per year for M-U
"doesn't even cover the average cost for an out-of-district placement"
"money I cannot spend in other critical areas"
"critical areas where I feel the promise is not being kept"
starting us in a deficit for FY16
regional transportation reimbursement "doesn't come close" to actual costs
try to share costs with area, but are a remote district
"have made a tremendous investment in technology" $1M this year: $410 per student
"do our best to do what we should be doing: equipping our children to be ready for the 21st century and beyond"
should add technology to foundation budget
93% and 97% residental communities
"district limit to the tax ability of my communities"
"cycle of necessary overrides every 3 to 5 years will continue" unless something changes
Q: data or suggestions about how much technology allocation should be?
$400 per student this year, though some of that is a one-time expense
Committee would be interested in suggestions on this one

Adam Gaudette from Spencer: part of two regional school districts
foundation budget is well-intended
mandated local contribution is devestating to local municipal services
still haven't recovered from the economic downturn
tax receipts and local aid both down
22% where we were in 2008 on local aid
"have done everything possible" to save money
Town Hall only 3 days a week, cut recreation dept, cut salaries in fire and police
not only eliminating jobs, eliminating services on town side
"making a plea to not only look at foundation budget, but to look at MLC rates"
suggest matching 2 1/2 percent

and then there was a long part where Worcester spoke...Testimony of Superintendent Boone, of myself, of Mayor Petty, and letter submitted jointly by Superintendent Boone, Mayor Petty, and City Manager Augustus.
Two tweets regarding questions taken by Superintendent Boone: 

On that last: while those testifying may not have labeled them as "efficiecies," anytime someone has said "We did this to save money," they were offering those examples. Thanks to Senator Chang-Diaz for noting this.

Brian Lewis, parent WPS
UMass Med committed to having a robust and diverse workforce
need for successful public schools to support that
"if our public schools do not have resources for simply things like supplies...we cannot expect them to meet the needs of those programs"
would urge commission to think about how it is allocated and supplied

sorry I missed who this is...from Leominster
Look at OPEB and health insurance for retirees
should have a whole commission on OPEB alone, because it is so technical
properly to recognize cost in year it's incurred
once OPEB fully funded then can be freed up to deal with other services
"grossly underestimates, especially on the OPEB side, the costs"
method of paying for right now is the most inefficient, pay as you go
if you pay as incurred, rather than pay as you go, better later
"that's the most cost inefficiency way of paying for it"
call on them to "start recognizing OPEB in the foundation budget"
wanted to bring that aspect of the fringe benefits, for you to become leaders in this issue

member, Acton-Boxborough SC
echo a lot of what was said today
"a lot of different areas that could use modernization"
assumed special education enrollment based on a number of factors
use numbers "truly reflective of what the enrollment is"
"I'd like to ask you to be bold in moderizing education in Massachusetts"
"bold action in adverse times"
"there's a statue that stands in Concord, Lexington, Acton and's your turn"

Westborough finance committee
bascially the only thing we get is to pay our insurance; nothing towards teaching, or anything else

Testimony before the Foundation Budget Review Commission

Madam Chair, members of the Commission:
My name is Tracy O’Connell Novick and I am a three term member of the Worcester School Committee. You have already heard today from our mayor, Joe Petty, and our superintendent, Melinda Boone, regarding the components and the assumptions of the foundation budget and their weaknesses. Our parents have spoken to what is needed for an effective education for their children. You’ve also received written testimony from our full Committee regarding the most pressing weaknesses of the current formula.You have asked to see, however, measures to ensure effective resource allocation as well as models of effective and efficient allocation. It is that which I will address.

To ensure effective resource allocation, every district must have a transparent and easy-to-understand budget process and document. Any member of the public should be able to find and use a district’s budget document, and it should take no special training to understand it. Every dollar and every dime should be accounted for in it. A ten minute PowerPoint or a handful of spreadsheet pages is not a budget. Such presentations not only hinder the effective allocation by the School Committee; they also impede the ability of the public to ensure it is such. I suspect that this is outside your purview; it is, however, something that MASBO, MASC, and MASS together can work to improve in districts across the state. That is the most effective means to such an end.
The Worcester Public Schools have again this year received the Meritorious Budget award from the Association of School Business Officials, International; I would thus suggest the budget document that our administration shares with us is a model to look to.

In the interest of looking for effective and efficient allocation, I went back through the past 13 years of Worcester Public Schools budgets. Prior to FY02, the foundation budget had been fully implemented, but it was then that we began to see double digit health insurance increases.
It is thus not a coincidence that when I compiled a full list of the cuts and other saving measures implemented during those years,  I was only able to fit it on a single page by putting it into a 9 point font.

Much concern has been expressed about district changes to health insurance for cost savings.
In Worcester, our employees in FY10 went to a 75/25 split on health insurance costs, saving the district $3.2 million a year.
In FY12, our employees, ahead of state movement on health insurance, were offered what was termed a “GIC-like” plan, Fallon Advantage. Through that and through migration to lower cost plans, the district saved $7.2 million that first year, and  $2.5 million the year after.
Thus in total the district is saving nearly $13 million a year on the full measure of those health insurance changes.
And still, Madame Chair, in Worcester, our health insurance costs are undercalculated in the foundation formula by $25 million a year.

During those thirteen years, the Worcester Public Schools also:
  • converted nearly all buildings from oil and from electrical heating to gas, along with other energy saving programs, saving the district $475,000 a year and growing
  • implemented a district-written computer power management system to automatically shut down machines, saving the district $150,000 a year in electrical costs
  • updated our in-house created and managed student and employee database system, saving the district a net $382,000 year
  • brought back in-house special education programming associated with our district program for students with autism, saving the district $3.5 million a year (and improving service)
  • cut printing and postage costs through electronic paystubs, saving the district $65,000 a year
This is in addition to savings realized through every line being scrutinized every year through the district’s zero based budgeting system, and through a transparent and public budget process. It also ensures that savings are put back in the classroom.
At the same time, however, the Worcester Public Schools also:
  • closed a total of seven elementary schools and one middle school program
  • cut citywide preschool programs from full-day to half-day
  • cut extended day programs in 10 elementary schools
  • cut all elementary school librarians
  • cut the citywide gifted and talented program
  • cut world languages in all city elementary schools
  • cut after-school programs in 9 schools
  • cut 130 Head Start slots
  • hit a low of $30 per pupil spending in FY05, a level from which we are still recovering
  • hit a low of $200,000 for CITYWIDE technology spending, a level from which we are still recovering
  • went above the student-teacher ratio recommended by the foundation budget
  • and cut hundreds of classroom and non-classroom positions

There are times at which it is no longer “effective” or “efficient” spending.
Sometimes a cut is just a cut.

The education and programs we were able to provide in 2000 were much closer to that which we should be offering our children in class sizes, in course offerings, in after-school programs, in support services, in supplies, in technology...across the board.
But we start each budget year with at least a $70 million gap to make up due to inflation, special education, and health insurance alone!
We are not, in Worcester, giving our children the education that they deserve. Nor are we giving them the education envisioned by the foundation budget.
The state constitution marks it as “the duty of legislators and magistrates in all future periods of this Commonwealth to cherish...the public and grammar schools of the towns.” It is necessary, John Adams wrote, “for the preservation of (our)  rights and liberties.”

We urgently need action.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Mid year budget cuts. Half a million dollars

In one chart

More to come on this. The full memo is posted here.

Full Q &A from admininstration on advanced academy proposal

Last night we received responses to questions that we on the School Committee have submitted so far about the advanced academy proposed. I posted summaries of some of these answers last night; here are photos of the pages of responses.
And if you have questions that you haven't seen answered, please let us know!

And once this is posted online by WPS, I'll link. 


IPlease spread the word: 
Due to on-going repairs of a gas leak in vicinity of the school, the VERNON HILL SCHOOL will be CLOSED on FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 27, 2015.

The school was evacuated yesterday due to this leak (which does not affect the school's gas supply). Gas fumes are collecting into the school through an underground conduit; the situation is continuing to be monitored, but classes cannot meet there today. 

5 am update from Mr. Allen: As of 5am, the repairs of the gas leak near the school were still underway.  We understand that once the gas leaks are found, it will require several hours for repair.  Therefore, with all abundance of caution, it has been decided that the Vernon Hill School will be closed today. 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Public testimony on proposed academy

Len Zalauskas, EAW: largest local of the NEA in New England
"I haven't made up my mind, and I'm not speaking in that regard."
When the meeting was held at Doherty with the staff? "I find that troubling."
"then the money piece...I don't know if it's me that's naive"
"to think that the City Council, which has had no interest in funding the schools for years"
"to think that all of a sudden that the money is going to come falling out of the sky"
"it might be the greatest thing in the world, but we need to have more funding"
"if we can get a firm commitment from the City Council that they're going to do something"
"let's get back to reality here; either we're going to get back and do something for the schools"
"to think that Jesus is going to come tomorrow and bring the money, well, good luck my friends"

Donna Colorio: "opposition to" plan
not opposed to an exam school, opposed to IB
IB will increase college costs for seniors compared to AP in college
wow, making some big assumptions on acceptances there
"No emerical evidence that it will improve achievement"
check our footnotes
inquire based program....
concerned about expense
"many schools drop IB...costs, less flexible, lack of participation"
disputes handled "under Swiss law" not actually the case

Chris Comeaux: three kids in WPS
fully support anything that offers more opportunities to kids in WPS

Deb Steigman: applaud efforts in trying to improve our school system
don't believe a costly academy is the right effort at this time
"can't stand here with a clear conscience to say go forward"
less labs in 9th grade than in the middle school
"and for a city that reads we hardly bring home any novels" because we don't have enough
Nelson Place busting at the seams
"why are we looking at the select few?"
"budget isn't going to be any better, it's probably going to be worse"
"something to put on mantle"
"where the heck are you going to put it in Doherty; it's already crowded"
"if that money is found, it should go into trying to fix what we do and make it better"
"let's fix the rigor for everybody, not just 250 students"

Thao Tran: multiple hats: teacher, mother of a future dual student, researcher in language
given the proposal: could be a formula that this could be very profitable
no better time than now to look at getting our students ready for the globalized
perfect time to clarify that dual language is a rigorous
"IB is not a prescriptive program"
doesn't have to be for a select few, implementation process for children in neighborhoods
asking that we revisit how we would implement this
revisit the curriculm behind
prepare our students for a multilingual globalized world

Monica Campbell: parent of students at Doherty, teacher at a private school
topic at our dinner table: her children were the first to say that this can't happen, "Where is it going to go?"
"they love education, they are well-rounded, and well-balanced"
won't raise the bar for everyone
won't allow everyone to have an equal opportunity
"my 9th grader comes home with hardly any homework on a daily basis"
senior had to do dual enrollment, in addition to AP and honors
a lot of questions on how to make IB work for everyone and "not just the 250 we're talking about"

Catherine Whalen: English teacher at Doherty, EAW vice-president
"my dad was head of secondary education in the city of Worcester...dedicated the key to the the city of Worcester"
robocall went out to parents, but "not to us"
proud to each very wonderful kids in AP classes "and we invited everyone"
"you want to be challenged in a certain area...okay"
"we give everyone an we're going to take 250 kids and take them from across the city...scores rely heavily on bright children"
now hit the underperforming button on the other schools
"I know that the teachers try to do that" (teach with rigor and confidence every day)
"disconnect between the people who actual educate and the administrators is an abyss"
"agendas here that are driven by politics and not by the community"

Angela Plante: educator, parent of students, parent of current Doherty student
"always encouraged to look at various points of view"
"with these 250 students...what will it do to class rank of students at Doherty?"
see the question above about their enrollment

Peter Bowler, assistant principal at Doherty: to discuss logistics
"We are challenged for space at Doherty; we have been for years"
appreciate the thought of a rehabbed school or new school
"I think that any time you can offer other opportunities it's terrific"
"if there is an academy for advanced learners, we'd welcome the challenge"

And Steve Foskett's article is now posted

Notes from the Superintendent on proposed academy

You can find the backup here. Also the Superintendent's PowerPoint presentation is here

Boone: will be establishing a tab on the website so that all information is available to the public
Ad-Hoc Committee report .
Note that this is not designed to supplant or replace any of our existing programs
"those programs serve a very viable function and a very valuable role"
students grade 9-12, maximum of 250 students
admission based on ability and interest in a rigorous program of studies
international baccalaureate program recommended
a clear match for the humanities focus recommended by Ad-Hoc
admission still being developed but will include criteria and process include: application, grades, MCAS and other state assessments, transcript, student essay, teacher recommendation, discipline and attendence history
rubric for scoring will be developed
blind application process
algebra, pre-algebra, and foreign language will be weighed in admission
budgeting scheme includes a planning year with assistant principal and the IB coordinator plus an innovation program
Advisory council will be established to guide planning
program evaluation led by Research and Accountability
staff looking at site survey in February and March plus innovation academy plan
School Committee to vote at second meeting in April
budget is submitted to School Committee in May (and this will be included should SC vote in favor)
assistant principal and IB coordinator hired by July, along with appointment of Advisory Council

some FAQ
Why Doherty? Cetnral location
Where will students be enrolled (at their home school or at Doherty)? Not yet determined
Why a 10th grade, possibly? Fiscal economies of scale (same number of staff needed)
Private school students? It is designed for students who are enrolled in WPS at the time that they apply for admission
Assistant principal? for infrastructure work
Transportation? Provided, no cost estimates til we know which students are coming
Students removed? Only for violations of Code of Conduct, then can return to home school after suspension
Why IB? It is a well-established full curriculum (which AP is not; those are stand-alone courses)
Where are there IB programs? 16 in the state (including Abby Kelley Foster Charter in Worcester)
Financial viability? "This will require additional funds, as we are not looking to take any programs offline to do this." Thus that does need to be considered.
Why humanities? That was the proposal of the Ad-Hoc committee; students have to have math and science to graduate

Yes, you should come testify at the Foundation Budget Review Commission!

Maybe even after all my posts about how the foundation budget isn't complicated, you're not convinced.
Maybe you aren't going to be able to wrap your head around net school spending and inflation factors by Saturday.

You should still come testify at the Foundation Budget Review Commission!
Of the four sections of the FBRC's purview, focus on this:

educational programs and services necessary to achieve the Commonwealth's educational goals

That just means: what does a good education look like? 

That also means: what does your school not have, to give the kids a good education, that it should?

As I posted earlier, just taking health insurance, special education, and inflation, the Worcester Public Schools' foundation is undercalculated by at least $70 million a year
That's a lot of money.

Is your child in a class with too many other kids?
Does the school run out of paper by spring?
Does the high school have the variety of classes it should? Are there enough sections for the kids who want to take them?
Is there building maintenance that's been put off?

What would you want for your child's or your students' education that's missing?

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Foundation Budget Review Commission hearing on Saturday!

Reminder that the Foundation Budget Review Commission is in Bolton on Saturday!
11 am
Florence Sawyer Elementary in Bolton

Remember, the Commission's purview is: 
  • educational programs and services necessary to achieve the Commonwealth's educational goals
  • Components & assumptions used in the calculation of the foundation budget
  • Measures to ensure that resources are effectively utilized
  • Models of efficient and effective allocation
I've heard from some parents who plan to go but are looking for some help with testimony. Post on that tomorrow!

Upcoming Finance and Operations subcommittee

Now posted: Finance and Operations subcommittee meeting on Monday, March 16 at 6 pm in the 4th floor conference room at DAB.
The agenda isn't out yet, but it will definitely be the 2nd quarter report (which will be hits from both the Governor's budget cuts and the SNOW) and (possibly?) the school calendar for 2016 and beyond. Mark your calendar if those are of interest!

Worcester School Committee meets Thursday, February 25

You can find the agenda here.
There isn't much on the agenda, as the main attraction is the public hearing on the proposed academy including an IB diploma program. PLEASE ATTEND IF THIS IS OF INTEREST!

Also on the agenda: a number of recognitions, a handful of retirements, encouraging Read Across America Day, and accepting a donation from North High Alumni for the purchase of a van for the school (thank you!).

We also have an executive session at 6 "to conduct strategy sessions in preparation for negotiations with nonunion personnel, to conduct collective bargaining sessions or contract negotiations with nonunion personnel."

Free family concert on Sunday!

Worcester Chamber Music Society presents 

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Join the WCMS for our fourth annual Free Family Concert when, through music, art and narration, we tell stories of the vain Emperor, who is tricked into wearing no clothes, and Katy the bulldozer, who makes it possible for the townspeople to do their jobs!

MCAS/PARCC dates in Worcester

I've had some questions regarding the dates for MCAS and PARCC and if they'll move due to the snow. WPS has asked the state for more time (as other districts have done), and we expect that this will be granted; this would extend the testing window by about a week.
Note that for the Worcester Public Schools, the actual dates of testing are determined by the school. Check with your school office for specific dates.

I'm also going to ask that these be sent to parents; they usually are, but it's good to check!

What you aren't seeing in Board of Ed coverage

Massachusetts, we have a problem.
The Mass Board of Education meets once a month in Malden for a Monday night followed by a Tuesday morning. Under Mass General Law, they have broad statutory powers over K-12 education in the Commonwealth.
The Board met Monday night, and then yesterday for a six hour marathon meeting.
From that meeting, from what I can tell, we got two pieces of coverage:
  • MassLive, which has been closely following Holyoke, did a report on DESE's report on Holyoke, as well as a report on the Board meeting account of Holyoke and public testimony (including my own) at the meeting. Kudos to MassLive, by the way; they've been following the Holyoke situtation closely.

  • State House News (here reported out by the Brockton Enterprise) reported on the Commissioner taking everyone to task in their reactions to his not forwarding the Fitchburg and Brockton charter school applications for approval. This fits in nicely with the Boston-area narrative (which, from where I sit, appears to be largely Pioneer Insitute-driven) around people calling for his ouster. Also from where I sit? I don't see it happening.
Did I miss anything? Please, let me know if I did.

What didn't you read if all you saw was the above?
  • a lengthy conversation among Board members around vocational education regs--you know, vocational education? That's been such a popular political topic?--that pointed up the tension between regular school districts and vocational school districts on enrollment and funding. All those "well, why can't we just...?" suggestions boil down to regs like these. If we're going to talk about expanding vo-tech ed, PEOPLE NEED TO UNDERSTAND THESE THINGS.

  • an update on PARCC revealing the very pertinent pieces of information that the PARCC consortium, not the state of Massachusetts, will set the "college-ready" score on PARCC and parents will not have student PARCC test scores until after the Board votes to go with PARCC or not (because of timing with that cut score being set). Further, our MCAS contract is up for renewal this year, and the states--not PARCC--own the test development information, so Massachusetts could move on with PARCC-like testing even if the consortium falls apart.
And those are just off the top of my head.
Look, I get that the press is under unbelieveable pressure, and having someone sit in a really long meeting in Malden feels...long. I was there. I get it. But this is seriously important information for EVERYONE in Massachusetts to have, and for it to be missed by...everyone is a gaping vaccuum.

Let's please get better coverage on state education issues. Not this soap opera over who's in and who's out: the stuff that hits our kids in classrooms.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Recommendations on LGBTQ youth

You can see the recommendations here.
encourage to have a sensitive discussion
vote not til at least next month

ESEA waiver renewal: board of ed

Chester: must apply in March
three year renewal of our waiver (had a one year renewal on our initial two year waiver)
uses five level accountability system
keeps us out of AYP
doesn't require use of Title I and IIA as fed requires (state's requirements instead)
"Congress is putting a LOT of energy" into ESEA renewal
"if that happens, this process could be moot"
reminder that 100% proficiency requirement under NCLB

presenter notes that Board does not need a PowerPoint "need to cut right to the point"
"want to keep a lot of that intact"
cutting proficiency gap in half "has been the work of our schools"
new requirements "things this agency had already been working on prior to submission"
measureable impact on student learning in teacher eval

Intend to bring back "enhancements" not radical changes, next month
with testing decision up in the air, and ESEA possibly being renewed, not wanting to do too much to change
presentation with vote on March 24; due to fed on March 31
Roach asks if they could just pass it
no presentation yet, so March
Peyser: "curious about impression is to do as little as we can to get as much flexibility as we can...why would we change that?"
answer: have learned a lot about accountability system, for example, how ELL students are figured in
Peyser: "a little concerned about getting the policy making ahead of the board, just to get the application in"
Chester: if you're saying let's not commit, nor ask permission for what we don't have to, we're on the same page
Peyser agrees

PARCC update

This is an update on the timetable, per the meeting notes. I've dug back through and I cannot find it online.
Chester: provide Board with sufficient background, that you feel like you've gotten sufficient understanding on which to make a decision
proposed timeline of presentations to the Board

Amendments to Vocational school regs

Chester: have spent a lot of time
recommendation to adopt these today
multi-year process discussion with traditional superintendents and vocational superintendents

Charter schools: Board vote

Vote on Commissioner's recommendations
McKenna: had a long discussion last night
entertain a motion to approve Commissioner's recommendations

Breakfast in the classroom

Important clarification on regs on breakfast in the clasroom and hours of instruction

Holyoke review

Chester introducing people at table
district review process: not going into depth on this today, as have yet to brief district
Note: post meeting, this went up from MassLive, which includes the full report from the state
district has report in hand

State report on dropouts and graduation rates

Chester "a real tribute to educators in the Commonwealth"
"lowest that it's been in three decades that we're able to compare those rates"

My testimony today before the Board of Ed here. 

My name is Tracy O’Connell Novick, and I am here today on behalf of my colleagues on the Worcester School Committee. At our February 5 meeting, we passed an item calling on the state to collaborate with districts rather than to impose measures on them. I am here today to speak to that.

At the time of our meeting, my colleagues and I viewed with grave concern the proposals then before DESE to put Commonwealth charter schools in Fitchburg and Brockton. Many states in the country leave chartering of such schools to districts; Massachusetts imposes them from the state level. Every additional charter school directly leads to underfunding the reimbursement to all districts, as the funding level does not increase commensurate with the increase in schools.

We thus appreciate the Department’s action in recommending no action be taken on these charters. Moreover, I particularly appreciate Commissioner Chester’s rejection of the assertion that students were thus “left with no choices other than failing district schools.” Brockton and Fitchburg have indeed made “considerable strides,” and all of us who work in cities appreciate that recognition.

This leaves us concerned about districts like Holyoke and schools like the Dearborn. In fact, it leaves us--all of us in districts like mine across Massachusetts--concerned for our own schools.

And this is not the healthy concern that any of us feel for the public schools under our care; this is more akin to the concern with which the democratically elected Ukrainian government viewed Russia eyeing the Crimea.

Needless to say, this is hardly the mutually supportive relationship envisioned by the Constitution of the Commonwealth. It’s also not the best way to improve schools or to enrich the lives of students.

There are positive examples of the state collaborating with districts. The funding of an innovation model in Worcester, for example, has allowed not only Chandler Magnet, but the district, to study closely and implement a growing and effective dual language program. We know this to be one of the greatest benefits we can give our children. Our program began with us; the state’s support and encouragement has allowed it to grow and to grow well.

One of the greatest strengths of the Department lies in its collection of finance and other information and making such information easily accessible. It is one I greatly appreciate. It also points up that Lawrence, which now is cited as an example to follow, had as one of its biggest changes under state receivership that it swung from $8 million under net school spending to $2 million over in a single year. That is a substantial difference, and one that the state can create without taking over a district.

I must say, Madame Chair, that as a lifelong resident of Massachusetts, I find it deeply problematic that the state would consider such measures. This state was founded on the ideal that those who considered themselves our betters did not know better than we what to believe--a state that lead the way in refusing to pay taxes to those not elected by those paying the taxes--for that state to overthrow properly elected democratic governing bodies, as school committees are, is to refute our own history.

I hope that we are better and wiser than that.

Notes on public testimony

including remarks on principals, charter schools, Holyoke, vocational education

Posting from the Board of Ed: introductory remarks, posting as we go

You can find the agenda here.

McKenna: reminder to Board on information on summer learning
Welcoming new members: Ed Doherty and Jim Peyser (new Secretary of Ed)

Chester: "it's been a tough winter...anybody notice that? the point that we never ended up holding our January meeting."
Comments that his report is especially long
districts have missed a bunch of time; snow day policy has been in place for a number of years
"not even unprecented in my tenure in Massachusetts"
cites in 2008-09 "ice storm that heavily impacted districts in the Worcester area"
"out of that even that we came up with the schema that we have used ever since"
"will keep our eye on the weather...expectation is that districts will work hard to make up time"
"working to expand time with kids not reduce time with kids"

EdWeek "Quality Counts" report: highest overall, ranked highest in "chance for success"
Chester's response to Bump's auditor of charter schools
"welcome opportunities to improve"

Funding technology: bond of $38M upgrading infrastructure
excited about federal E-rate
first money out of state bond issued; requires a local match
Working with executive office on IT
142 school districts on a call with FCC who oversee Erate and with Senator Markey last week
federal officials assure us that there is sufficient federal funding to receive funds to upgrade funding for infrastructure

teacher equity report required by fed in June (more coming)

MBAE report on PARCC/MCAS in which MBAE said that MCAS wasn't sufficient

echoing McKenna's welcome to new Board meetings

McKenna: early education we're 27th
1st in K-12

Peyser: "this is deva vu all over again...been awhile since I've been at this table"
"primary goal is to learn and to get back up to speed"
"for now, it's just great to be back"

Monday, February 23, 2015

Worcester's latest update on spending compliance

h/t to An Education Blog for pointing out that the Net School Spending compliance reports* were updated as of 2/17.
The latest update for Worcester is that we are currently under NSS by $3,085,579 .
This puts us at 97% of NSS.
That's including a $2.9 million carryover from FY14, which was largely a $2.5 million carryover from FY13.
(This is updated again from the Superintendent's update of 1/23, which had us under by $3,016,988.)

*Should you be looking to do this yourself: download the FY14 compliance report, open in Excel, enable the macros, and scroll down to your district. They're in alphabetical order [Worcester is 348], with regional and vocational districts last.

Foundation Budget Commission this Saturday

And so I pass along the following from CPPAC:

Good Morning, 
I wanted to let you know the Foundations Review Meeting has been re-scheduled to this Saturday, Feb. 28, 2015 @11amat the Florence Sawyer Elementary School, Bolton, MA.
The EAW has kindly offered a bus; it will be leaving from the Worcester Public Library main branch at 10am

If you would like to ride the bus, please contact us There are 50 seats available and it is a first come first serve basis.  

If you are unable to attend the listening session and would like to provide testimony:  

·         Send your testimony to jennie.williamson@mahouse.govin the subject line write: FOUNDATION BUDGET REVIEW COMMISSION TESTIMONY

Please pass this along to anyone you is interested in attending.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Back to school tomorrow! Evening update from the Superintendent

We've just received the following from Superintendent Boone:

​Good evening!

This winter seems relentless! If it's not the snow then the frigid temperatures are dominating the weather. February vacation gave us the much needed time to complete snow cleanup on grounds following a very historic three weeks of snow. Obviously, roof capacity and loads due to snow accumulation has been a focus and concern. Last week, visual inspections were conducted at all by buildings by our structural engineer. We took action based on his recommendations. An outside contractor was hired to remove snow from buildings where necessary. Removal continued through yesterday. In addition, our staff removed snow where needed, including the modular units. Snow removal has been ongoing on those units following each significant storm. The City Inspector continues to inspect the structural integrity of modular units.

The Facilities and Operations leadership and staff have planned the work in a very efficient manner and conducted all necessary visual inspections and removal in a very effective manner. City Manager Augustus also made DPW support available to support our snow removal efforts at some of our schools. Based on the above actions, schools are ready to open under normal operating status tomorrow morning!

To date, nine school days have been missed due to snow and/or dangerous temperatures with the last day of school now set for June 25, 2015. We are preparing a recommendation to the School Committee on options to makeup the missed days and to be prepared should the weather necessitate additional missed days. The Commissioner of DESE issued general statements and guidance and we will be following up with the department to finalize our recommendation.

The forecast for tomorrow does not include precipitation but the arctic blast returns!!! Please stay warm and walk/drive carefully because today's melting will refreeze over night.

As always, please feel free to contact us should you have questions or need additional information.


Friday, February 20, 2015

Public hearing Thursday!

More to come on this week's agenda, but please mark the calendar: at our next meeting, on Thursday the 28th, is the public hearing for the proposed IB program.
The meeting begins at 7, but we do have some recognitions first, so I would expect that portion to start at 7:30 or thereabouts. 
Please do plan to attend if you have a view regarding this proposal! 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

More on Lawrence

...from Edushyster.
First, a trip down memory lane. Alas, a brief trip it must be, Lawrence, as all of your lanes, including those of the memory variety, are be-choked with snow these days. Our story starts a few years back when the state set out to determine what on earth had gone wrong with your schools. The answer, as you still recall but few others do, was that you were a district in utter chaos with leadership either lacking, completely inept or just plain corrupt. But what to do with your struggling self? Some, like this gentlemen, wanted to see you blown up and turned into a northern version of New Orleans. Still others wanted to see you set a float on a raft of edu-jargon. Still others–was it possible that were still other, others?–had other ideas. But whose turnaround scheme would reign supreme and become *the Lawrence model???

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Looking at an elected school board?

I'm thinking here of friends in Boston who'd like to elected their school committee, but any community that is pushing for an elected school board should read and use this recent review of the evidence by the Collaborative for Equity and Justice in Education out of the University of Illinois at Chicago. While it is drawing from the evidence from Chicago, the conclusions apply much more broadly:
After 20 years of mayoral control in Chicago, the research paints an alarming picture—Board policies and actions have resulted in a school district that is more unequal on nearly every measure we examined. In sum, high stakes accountability practices, school closings, selective programs, privatization, and CPS budget priorities have exacerbated historical educational inequalities. The Board’s policies under mayoral control are educationally insupportable. This presses us to ask: Whose interests does the Board serve? Financial and political interests, or the majority of CPS students? 

Saturday, February 14, 2015

New York's looking at Lawrence:now with a morning update

It appears that Governor Cuomo of New York is recommending to the state Board of Regents that they look at the Massachusetts receivership model for adoption. As Capital reports:
“Given the preliminary success in Massachusetts, a similar approach could be transformative in New York,” Cuomo top aide Jim Malatras wrote in a  letter to Board of Regents chancellor Merryl Tisch that was released on Friday. “Therefore, we would like the State Education Department to further research the Massachusetts model by performing a comprehensive data and field analysis to see how and why the program is working and the specific measures that are making the model a success.”
Note that what we're talking about here is the state takeover of Lawrence, which, yes, has certainly raised test scores. It's also a single 14,000 student district that the state has been running for two years. That's not what researchers would see as a good body of evidence.
It's also hugely more complicated than just the state takeover, which Capital itself did a good job of pointing out in its own coverage the day before. Most important, in my view, is the remarks from the Lawrence teachers' union president Frank McLaughlin:
Rather, schools are improving because they’ve been given more resources under receivership and because the city’s local government has stabilized after an era of corruption that ended with some officials being jailed, he said. 
“What’s receivership going to do?” McLaughlin said. “It’s certainly put us in the newspapers. It certainly has gotten [U.S. Education Secretary] Arne Duncan to come to town and pat us on the back. [American Federation of Teachers president] Randi Weingarten was in town, as was Governor [Deval] Patrick and a bunch of politicians. Lawrence is a better school system than it was three of four years ago, but … that’s for multiple reasons: We eliminated the corrupt government that was running the city, and we have more resources that are getting to the children."
As pointed out by no less than the New York Times editorial board, the main crisis in New York state public schools isn't going to be solved by receivership, because it's a funding issue (h/t to Bruce Baker for the link). Governor Cuomo has repeatedly refused to hear this, and I can't imagine that he's going to take this receivership opportunity as a chance to do so.
Massachusetts reformed its funding system 20 years ago, and, while we are overdue for a rewrite, New York has yet to do it at all. Pushing a receivership model whilst not solving this greater issue does a grave disservice to the children of New York.

It also misses what's critically important about Lawrence: it's never just about what's happening in the classrooms.

UPDATE: Last night, this came through on Twitter:

 Jeff Riley is the state receiver, thus superintendent, for Lawrence. When I posted last night, I was doing it based on my memory of comparing districts across the state that were under Net School Spending. So I went back to the DESE spreadsheets and double-checked. The full chart for Lawrence doesn't fit neatly in a blog post, so I put it over here. Here's the over/under required minimum spending, starting in FY06 and going through FY15:
Dollars Percent
Over/Under Over/
Requirement Under
-660,871 -0.5
-2,134,567 -1.7
-3,538,575 -2.6
-5,126,116 -3.9
-821,848 -0.6
94,681 0.1
-5,134,575 -3.4
-8,917,427 -5.4
1,287,562 0.8
690,393             0.4

The year that it goes from -5.4 of required spending to 0.8 over required spending is the year after the state took over. The city went from not meet its minimum obligation, thus underfunding the schools by nearly $9 million, to more than meeting that, funding the schools at $1.2 million over the minimum required.
So, while no additional funds came from the state with receivership (which I think is what Jeff Riley means above), yes, money matters, and yes, it did increase for Lawrence.

More from the state on snow and school calendars

A few things of note from yesterday's Commissioner's weekly update (which now not only comes via email on Friday; it gets posted then, too! Thanks, Jackie Reis!):
  • they're rescheduling state testing: 
In response to the recent snowstorms that have caused an unprecedented number of school closures this month and to allow schools more instructional time prior to assessment, ESE plans to offer flexibility for scheduling the statewide testing windows for MCAS, MCAS Alternate Assessment, and PARCC. This flexibility will include extensions to the testing windows as well as alternate dates for the MCAS Grade 10 English Language Arts, Mathematics, and June Science and Technology/Engineering tests, and the grades 4, 7, and 10 MCAS ELA Composition and Composition Make-Up tests. More details will be emailed to superintendents and principals next week once we are able to determine all related logistics. There will be a short turnaround time for superintendents to request an alternative schedule, as we will need confirmation of decisions by the end of February.

  • they're pushing a) earlier year starts, b) March vacations, and c)" innovative calendars" for future years
  • they're not fans of "blizzard bags" and the like: "In many cases, this work appears to be very similar to normal homework assignments; there is educational value, but it does not necessarily meet the standard for structured learning time. For this approach to count toward the student learning time requirements, school districts must ensure that such work is structured learning time, is substantial, and has appropriate oversight and teacher involvement."
On everything else? Cancel those vacation and professional development days.