Friday, September 29, 2017

Why your district's required net school spending may be higher than foundation this year

It's not what you think!
I got this question yesterday and I thought it possible, having poked at it today, that others might have come across it and wondered.

It is possible to have a required net school spending level ABOVE foundation this year EVEN IF your district has been spending at or above required spending levels in prior years.

To review: the foundation budget is the state's number of how much the state believe it costs (in total) at a minimum to educate students in your district in a particular year. It includes both your required local contribution and your ch. 70 aid (that makes the difference between what the state says you can afford to pay and the foundation budget).
Net school spending is how much your district must spend on education (which is specifically defined) in a year. This should generally be your foundation budget BUT if your district has spent under foundation in one year, the amount by which the district has underspent gets added to the subsequent year.

There's another reason this may happen, though.
You might remember that when the state made the change from low income to economically disadvantaged, there were some districts that lost out: not all the kids who had been registered for free or reduced lunch appear on state rolls for programs, and most districts saw a corresponding drop in the count of disadvantaged kids. For some districts, it was catastrophic.
There's been work going on around that--I even saw an update on it this week--but in the meantime, the state has passed additional funds as a stopgap for the small number of districts that were hit by this.
But those are not in the foundation budget; they're over and above that.

Let's look at Cambridge, as that's the district I heard the question on. Here's the summary for Cambridge for FY18:

Pretty straightforward: the foundation budget is $84M; Cambridge is a wealthier community, so they pay most of it--the $69.6M--and the state aid is the remaining $14M. Cambridge saw an increase in enrollment over last year, so this is a straight increase in the foundation budget.

But here's what happens in line 8, below that:
Because Cambridge was among the handful of districts that lost out substantially in the switch to economically disadvantaged, the Legislature voted to add a sum to make up for that. For Cambridge, it's just over $100K.
That isn't foundation aid, though, and it didn't change the foundation budget. But the state IS going to require that it be spent on education.
Thus, we end up with a final calculation that looks like this:

If you compare the righthand (FY18) line in blue, which is the Ch. 70 aid, to that line in first chart, you'll see that it's gone up by the additional aid from line 8. Because that is required spending on education, it gets added to the required net school spending, which now is above the foundation budget. So we end up with required spending that is 0.13% over foundation. 
And yes, this happened last year, too. Nobody asked me last year. 
And as always, if I lost you, send me a line! 

Worcester School Committee meets Thursday, October 5

You can find the agenda here. There is also an agenda for an executive session for litigation on discipline of a teacher; the regular agenda posts three litigation items on worker's compensation and negotiations with custodians, nurses, and computer technicians.

The report of the superintendent will be "will be a summary of initiatives in process and planned in this school year" with a backup to come.

There is the usual beginning of school rounds of appointments, transfers, resignations, and retirements. The committee is also being asked to approve the appointment of a number of nurses (a power reserved to School Committees in Massachusetts).

There is an update on Ch. 74 and other career pathways at North and at South.

There are a series of responses to sharing information with students about various programs.

Mr. O'Connell is requesting the committee consider the resolutions that will be before the MASC Delegate Assembly on November 1. The committee has previously voted to make Ms. Colorio their delegate.

The administration is asking for authorization to rent space for parking school buses (this would be the buses the district owns; there's no backup).

There are a number of prior fiscal year payments (which I'll post if I get a chance).

Mr. Monfredo would like a report from the Wellness Committee, and a program on secondary allergens.

Mr. O'Connell wants to develop a process for consulting on school improvement plans.

Ms. Colorio is asking about a confidential drug hotline.
Relatedly, Miss Biancheria is asking:
Request that the Administration develop a protocol to train teachers to handle students in need of drug education and indicate how teachers can develop ways by watching, looking and listening to deal with problems of substance abuse.
...which seems a smidge...problematic.

Miss Biancheria is also suggesting the use of in-house attorneys rather than hiring one (one should perhaps note that school committees having legal differences with their municipality is not unknown, even currently).

There are a series of donations ((coming through on a single item!).

September Board of Ed in Sum

crossposted from MASC 

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education held their regular monthly meeting in Malden. The meeting agenda can be found here
Prior to the meeting, two new members of the Board were sworn in: Amanda Fernandez, who replaces Penny Noyce, and Martin West, who replaces Roland Fryer. James Morton was also sworn in for a second term. Fernandez is the founder and CEO of Latinos for Education. West is on the faculty of the Harvard Graduate School of Education
Chair Paul Sagan participated in the meeting remotely via video from Budapest; the meeting was chaired by Vice Chair James Morton.

Secretary DeVos at Harvard: coverage

You can read her remarks here.
The Globe, with some focus on the hundreds who protested outside, is here.
EdWeek showed up.
Max Larkin discussed her visit on WBUR this morning.
And the Chalkbeat has six takeaways.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

New Board of Ed members

As I mentioned Tuesday, there were two new members of the Board of Ed sworn in before the meeting. The Governor's press release went out later that day and says the following:
About Martin West:
Martin West is an associate professor of education at Harvard Graduate School of Education and a faculty research fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research. He is also deputy director of the Harvard Kennedy School's Program on Education Policy and Governance and executive editor of Education Next, a journal of opinion and research on education policy. He studies the politics of K-12 education in the United States and how education policies affect student learning and non-cognitive development. In 2014-15, he worked as senior education policy advisor to the ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. He previously taught at Brown University and was a research fellow at the Brookings Institution, where he is now a nonresident senior fellow. He received his Ph.D. in Government and Social Policy from Harvard in 2006 and his master’s in economic and social history from Oxford University in 2000.

About Amanda Fernandez:
In 2016, Amanda Fernandez, co-founded Latinos for Education, a non-profit dedicated to developing, placing, and connecting essential Latino leadership in the education sector. She was previously a vice president of Latino Community Partnerships at Teach For America, where she engaged with the Latino community for recruitment, development and advancement of staff and alumni. She led multiple efforts to highlight the need for Latino leadership in the education sector. While at Teach For America, she launched national summits focused on professional development for Latino staff, and boosted participation from 40 people to more than 300 participants and speakers. She also led the launch of a CEO sponsored Latino Advisory Committee, which fostered leadership and community building within the Latino population at Teach for America. Earlier in her career, she worked as director of organizational consulting at The Bridgespan Group, an organization that helps nonprofit and philanthropic organizations develop strategies and build their organizations. She received her bachelor of arts’ degree from Western Illinois University and a master’s degree from Fordham University.
So what do we need to know?
West is serving out the rest of Roland Fryer's term (which goes through June of 2020). West by far has the larger online footprint. Beyond his work at Harvard, he's easiest to find as the editor of Education Next, which is on the ed-reformy end of things. You can see some of his thinking in the conversation he had this spring on the "Building Excellent Schools," a training organization for charter school leadership. For example:
“For those, like me, who think that the expansion of school choice is a promising way to improve outcomes for American students, charter schooling has proven to be politically more successful, more palatable, and able to benefit from bipartisan support,” he says, pragmatic as ever. “I think it has demonstrated that when the right conditions are in place it can really produce dramatic improvement for students who have been poorly served by traditional school districts.”
His most recent research (that's been discussed popularly) was something over the summer on students not seeing long term negative impact in being held back in school; this is of course in contrast to four decades of research that found that students are harmed by being held back. He also formed the joint research project of Boston charters and MIT and Harvard researchers on character education, funded by the Walton Foundation. You can find his appearances on CSPAN here. Among them are his testimony before the HELP Committee as they considered the revisions to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. That largely focuses on testing and its impacts; he believes testing is efficacious, as it is reflective of long-term earning ability. Frankly, his testimony is a bit more nuanced than I expected, conceding, for example:
t some evidence suggests that heavy handed test-based accountability policies can promote rote, teacher-directed instruction and encourage schools to focus narrowly on test-preparation skills rather than ensuring that students are exposed to a curriculum rich in academic content. These tendencies may be strongest in schools with high minority and low-income populations, which typically face the strongest pressure to improve (Diamond and Spillane 2005).
and likewise:
the level at which students perform at a given point of time is a poor indicator of school quality, as student achievement is heavily influenced by factors outside of a school’s control. Measures based on the amount students learn from one year to the next can provide a more accurate gauge of schools’ contribution to student learning (Deming 2014).
...which is why he favored testing multiple times in elementary school. That's an argument, note, in favor of measurement of student growth. In the same testimony, he also argued in favor of moving much authority back to the states.
In terms of his political history, he was an advisor to Mitt Romney in his campaign for president, and he worked for Senator Lamar Alexander. He was among those who more than once said he had no interest in working in the Trump administration, however.

Fernandez, who has been appointed to a full five year term, prior to founding Latinos for Education, was the Vice-President for Diversity and Inclusiveness at Teach for America. Prior to that, she worked for Bridgespan in recruiting, which I know will raise concern in some quarters. Latinos for Education describes itself as:
Our mission is to develop, place and connect essential Latino leaders in the education sector. We are building an ecosystem of Latino advocates by infusing Latino talent into positions of influence.
We believe that Latino leaders should be at the forefront of creating an equitable education for Latino students. Latinos for Education prepares nuestra comunidad to break down barriers to educational opportunity for the next generation of Latino students.
Her other local education connection is a seat on the KIPP Massachusetts (charter) advisory board. She was the speaker at the Boston University School of Education convocation this spring, where she spoke of the importance of valuing your identity, working with passion on the struggle, and rising together.

Time to start the concern on FY19, Worcester

I just wanted to flag yesterday's article (which looks like it's about last week's school committee meeting?) about the projected FY19 Worcester Public Schools budget. It's projected, in overall enrollment, to be flat. Because Worcester is an at (or just above) foundation district, the budget is nearly entirely enrollment driven: no increase in enrollment, no increase in the budget. As Mr. Allen points out, they don't yet have ELL and low income numbers nailed down, so there's still some possibility there for growth, but at least ELL jumps will also mean the need for additional staff or programs, so that won't help, either.
The only additional element not mentioned in the article is inflation. You can expect something like a 3% increase in overall costs; rarely is the inflation fact in the foundation budget anything like that.
If you haven't asked the Legislature about the Foundation Budget Review Commission lately, please do.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

September Board of Ed: budget

have filed spending plan for FY18
expect approval in next few weeks
still working with Governor for $4.1M more in student assessment
budgetary subcommittee in October; planning in FY19
still below benchmark for FY18

September Board of Ed: legislation

McKenna now a visiting professor at Tufts: on civics: doing a survey working on everything going on K-12 in civic engagement
Breakfast in the classroom: look at the budget, there is language on breakfast in the classroom
chair of the Joint Committee thinks that it already mandates DESE to do regulations by January 2018 to mandate implementation for all schools
Wulfson: will come back with data on what's required, on what requirements are, and next steps

The backup is here.
right in middle of process
Joint Committee currently has 338 bills in committee, has released 17 bills favorably, has had 9 hearings.
"make sure we are both proactively and reactively commenting on bills"
"many committees do ask us for our comments"
bills may look quite different by the time they get to the House or Senate floor "and then it gets amended"

Wulfson: as an executive agency, "we don't feel it's our role to advocate on specific legislation"
"we see our role as being the honest brokers and the technical experts"
resource for legislators in drafting bills
Legislature's job is to enact the laws; our job is to carry them out

Moriarty: is this the agency that calculates the unfunded level of mandates?
Wulfson: unofficially we'll be asked; office of local mandates in auditor's office
Not everything that costs money is an unfunded mandate

Doherty: believe Board has taken a position in the past on ballot questions
notes the Fair Share question is coming
should consider over the next several months "if this Board has a responsibility on taking a position on increased funding for education"

September Board of Ed: MCAS update

backups here and here
Wulfson: eighteen months ago that Board voted to do new MCAS

Michol Stapel:
participation rates: topping 97 percent in all categories (lowest grade 10 ELA, 97.9%)
"really high rates across the board"

September Board of Ed: ESSA update

alas, there is no backup for this one
ah, but there is a PowerPoint...
Wulfson: plan approved last week, requirement to receive federal funding
"reflective of our high standards and our aspirations here"
"very collegial process...hard work of our staff but our colleagues at the Department of Education"
legal obligations of the law, but reflects our values and those of our school system
"accountability is just one small part of our state plan"

LGBTQ Safe Schools presentation at the Board

Wulfson on Safe and Supportive Schools
"another way in which we lead the schools for our most vulnerable students, particularly those dealing with sexual orientation and gender identity"
"at a time of histrionics in other parts of the nation...very proud of professionals dealing with students in a very professional, empathetic manner"
report is here

Sagan on Commissioner's search

Step one has been completed: a search firm has been hired
Korn Ferry has been retained
lead Rosa-Lyn Morris, a former teacher through Teach for America (she also did work with NCTQ), father a former state school chief
next to create a job description
each Board member will be interviewed on that
have asked that they go out and solicit input from the field
Teachers union, principals, superintendents association, business groups
no, he did not mention school committees or parents
preliminary screening committee with appointed advisors
need in preliminary period for confidentiality
will reach out to at least 150 to 200 candidates..."not just obvious people apply"
preliminary committee start sorting in November
Sagan not ready yet to decide on preliminary subcommittee
Stewart "it surprises me that we've already selected a search firm"
"have not authorized or signed off on authority"
Sagan "a routine matter that the chair could do on its own"
Stewart: "not clear on what the Board's role on this will be...going to be updated on a monthly basis...fairly accelerated schedule"
most important work that the Board does
need for public confidence in process
Sagan points back to getting in touch with Department with questions
Stewart: what actions will be taken prior to the October meeting?
Sagan: one on one interviews with Board members
hope to have job description for October meeting
Stewart: search subcommittee: appointed by October?
Sagan: that's my intention
Stewart pointing, rightly, to the amount of power that Sagan has essentially seized in this process

September Board of Education: opening remarks and new members

The agenda is here.
Prior to the meeting, two new members were sworn in: Martin West, associate professor of education at Harvard Graduate School of Education, who also has an association with the Brookings Institute; and Amanda Fernandez, CEO of Latinos for Education, who previously worked with Teach for America, and had an association with the Bridgespan Group. James Morton has been reappointed for a second term.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Secretary DeVos is coming to Cambridge part of a school choice event at the Kennedy School of Government (which seems...odd?), and YES, there is a protest.
The lottery (yes, the fitness of this has been noted) for tickets for her speech can be entered here.
I can't go, but please go make some noise for me! 

Friday, September 22, 2017

Who are those guys? A bit about the Board and Department of Elementary and Secondary Education *

*title reference after the break, should you not know it
I was having dinner with a friend who is active in her school district earlier this week, and she said (here I'll paraphrase): I know there's a Commissioner, and I'm hearing a lot lately about this guy Sagan, but what are their jobs and who does what?

And so, a (very small) Board and Department explainer.

I could write at length about the history of Massachusetts education (and maybe at some point I will), but know that the Board of Education was established (by state law) in 1837, making it among the oldest Boards in the country. Initially, it didn't have power: it was intended to be a statewide study group, as there was a great deal of concern coming out of the American Revolution both that the quality of education had fallen (people were a little distracted) and then that private academies, established with the intent of getting boys into Harvard, were pulling resources away from the public grammar schools (much of which may sound oddly familiar). Both the Governor and Lieutenant Governor sat on the Board, which otherwise was appointed by the Governor and served for eight year terms. The first group was fairly geographically disbursed, though I will point out that two of the men were from Worcester:
BOARD OF EDUCATION: Established by an Act of the Legislature; April 20, 1837.
The Governor and Lieutenant Governor, ex oficiis; Hon. Thomas Kinnicutt, of Worcester; Emerson Davis, D.D., of Westfield; George B. Emerson, Alexander H. Vinton, D.D. of Boston; Hon. Stephen C. Phillips, of Salem; Mark Hopkins, D.D. of Williamstown; Rev. Edward Otheman, of Chelsea; Hon. Issac Davis, of Worcester; Barnas Sears, D.D., Secretary; Hon. Thomas Kinnicutt, Treasurer.
The Board had the power to appoint a Secretary, whose job was two-fold: he was to collect information about how public education was working in the Commonwealth, and he was to share, as we'd put it now, best practices. The man they appointed, Horace Mann, is generally recognized as among the most important figures in American education because of the work he did as Secretary.

As industrial, or what we'd call vocational, education grew up over the latter 1800's, a board overseeing those schools was likewise established. When the Legislature in 1909 abolished both that and the Board of Education overseeing the other schools, as well as the position of Secretary, creating instead a combined oversight, they also created the position of Commissioner. The Commissioner then, and still today, is the executive officer of K-12 education in the state. He--they thus far have all been men--oversees the day-to-day operations of the Department for Massachusetts.

The Department and the position of Commissioner are described in MGL Ch. 69, Sec. 1A. It specifically lays out the Commissioner's duties, with more in much of the rest of the chapter, with the implication that the Department as a whole will carry them out. It's a lengthy list, which has since been supplemented by the duties states are expected to carry out under every federal education law since.

The Board of Education, as reconstituted in 1909 and again since, is described in MGL Ch. 69, Sec. 1E, with their duties described in MGL Ch. 69, Sec. 1B. A great deal of the duties harken back to that original concern of standards of education. Thus the board sets curriculum standards, but also standards for things like teacher licensure. It is a nine member board, with one member nominated by the state labor council, one to represent industry, and one of the parents' group. They are appointed by the governor to five year terms, of which they may serve two; one member serves conterminously with the governor. They meet once a month (with exceptions) to do this work, and the Commissioner is appointed by the Board as I explained here.

The Secretary of Education, who oversees not only K-12, but also pre-K and higher education, is a cabinet official of the Governor. He is appointed by the Governor and serves at the pleasure of the Governor. As a part of that, he holds a voting seat on each of the three boards of education. While he oversees an executive office, most of the work at the state level on education happens within the three departments, not within the executive office.

To put names to the above: the prior Commissioner, who passed away in June, was Mitchell Chester. Currently serving as Acting Commissioner is Jeff Wulfson. The Secretary of Education is James Peyser.
Something which is largely not remembered, 'though it was mentioned upon his appointment as Secretary, is that Peyser previously served as Chair of the Board of Education, after being one of two finalists for Commissioner, a job that went to David Driscoll, Chester's predecessor, in a deal worked by the previous chair John Silber.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Board of Ed has their September meeting on Tuesday, September 26

You can find the Board of Ed agenda here. It should stream live here.
In light of the extensive coverage Chair Sagan's recently discovered $500,000 donation to Families for Excellent Schools, who were operating a pass-through for the Yes on 2 campaign, is getting, let me start by pointing out that he won't be at the meeting: he announced last month that he had to be away this month and would be participating remotely (yes, really: he announced it at the meeting in August). The meeting thus will be chaired by Vice-Chair James Morton.

After opening remarks, there will be an update on the Commissioner's search.
The Board will then hear the report on LBGTQ students and the Safe Schools that had originally been scheduled for June.

The Board is scheduled to hear an update on the state ESSA plan. As all plans not already submitted were due Monday (meaning the federal Department received more than thirty new plans), you'd think they'd be seeking to clear out the few remaining they've been reviewing (Massachusetts, Michigan, and Connecticut), but no word as yet. Perhaps why there is as yet no backup?

There are TWO updates on student assessment: an update on the MCAS (both that was given and coming up), which includes a glimpse of the new parent report (not uploaded; let me see what I can do), and an update on the high school test (backup currently not there).

There will be an update on pending bills (this may at least partly be in response to a request from several members that they at least get information on this, and may be lively in light of the bill Senator Jehlen is filing). They'll also be getting an update on the budget.
Among the other items being forwarded to the Board is a schedule for proposed charter schools coming before them; I will get that and share it.

Livetweeting/blogging on Tuesday!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

It appears that Worcester CPPAC meets tonight

A Connect-Ed last night announced that the citywide parent group in Worcester, CPPAC, is meeting tonight at 7 pm at the Worcester Art Museum. Superintendent Binienda will be there, and there was mention of an update on the strategic plan.

I won't be there, as I have another event to be at tonight. CPPAC has for years met on the second Wednesday, so I (like, I imagine, others) had last week marked off. Twenty-four hours notice isn't enough. 

Monday, September 18, 2017


Last night around 10pm, I saw the following article post from the Boston Globe: "Two dozen Boston risk being declared underperforming." It opens as follows:
More than two dozen schools in Boston with low standardized test scores are at risk of being declared “underperforming” by the state, an action that can lead to the removal of principals and teachers, according to a School Department analysis.
The 26 schools are spread across nearly every neighborhood, from East Boston to West Roxbury. Officials are expected to learn the fate of each school when the state releases the latest round of MCAS data at the end of October.
It also says:
The analysis flagged 11 schools for being at the greatest risk of being declared underperforming because their MCAS scores rank very low in comparison to other schools statewide.
Now, if you pay close attention to what's been posted on here, you, too, are shaking your head at this article. The simple fact of the matter is the Board of Education voted that all schools taking the new MCAS would be held harmless with regard to test scores this year. This is a reset year; most schools simply are not going to get a new accountability level, because this is the first year of scores from the new MCAS. The only exceptions are schools that have low participation (by whole population or subgroup) which will go to Level 3 plus schools that already are Level 4 or 5.

Secondary schools, remember, still have the 10th graders taking the old version of the MCAS for now, so they could have changes made, but that is the minority of schools here mentioned.

Puzzled, I sent out some tweets:
(there's a thread there if you follow the link)
I also added this commentary:
I tagged in the Boston Superintendent Tommy Chang, and that elicited this response:
In piecing it together, it appears that this originated with the Boston School Committee receiving a report on their Level 3 schools at last week's meeting. You can find the presentation they saw here. Rather than an article which focused on what was and was not working at those schools--which is kind of supposed to be the entire point of this whole discussion--we instead saw an alarmist vision of state takeovers for something like a fifth of Boston Schools.

As a side note: at some point we should talk about the state's capacity at this point. I've mentioned this in passing before, but DESE is down lots of staff, particularly since Race to the Top ended. Level 4 and 5 schools take lots of staff hours to coordinate with districts. Also, Level 4 schools come with School Turnaround Grants, which now have to come out of Title I funds (there isn't a separate line for them). I'm not going to say DESE can't or won't declare more schools, but we shouldn't discount what it takes on the other end for them to do so. 

I sent out a recap this morning, since that was competing with the Emmys:
You'll need to follow the thread there.
Later this morning, DESE sent out the following:

Thus as best as I can tell, what we have is a fairly straightforward School Committee report that turned into clickbait.

The problem, of course, is that this feeds into a whole bunch of other issues: there is MASSIVE parental mistrust of the planning of the Boston Public Schools, and every move is seen as leading to school closures or takovers. The state's having taken over three districts and a number of schools is seen as threatening by anyone with any school that isn't consistently Level 1. Lots of people find the accountability leveling confusing, and the past few years of switching tests and systems has only made that worse. And we don't have nearly enough press paying consistent attention to these sorts of issues, such that we can get clear, consistent reporting to people who care about these issues but don't do it full time.

Honestly, we deserve much better than this. There are lots of little pieces of blame to go around here, but I'm laying as much as I know at the Globe's door. The crux of what they printed today was untrue, alarmist, and actively harmful.

Worcester School Committee meets Thursday, September 18

And it's the opening of school report! That's not yet posted, but the agenda is here.

Before the meeting, there is an executive session on negotiations with nurses, custodians, computer technicians, and non-represented personnel, plus two issues in litigation.

This agenda has the lists of resignations, retirements, and moves within the system (there will be more than one round of this); note that the two administrators who have become superintendents elsewhere--Marco Rodrigues in Hudson and Dave Perda in the Worcester Roman Catholic Diocese--are listed.

There is a response on the celebration of Constitution Day (which was yesterday).

There are seven prior year payments:
  • in the amount of $1,470.38 for a student who attended the Waltham Public Schools from September 16, 2016 to June 17, 2017.
  • in the amount of $194.40 for mileage reimbursement for a parent to drive to and from the Thrive day school placement at 100 Hartwell Street, West Boylston, MA in May and June 2017.
  • in the amount of $6,290.00 made payable to May Institute, Inc.
  • in the amount of $8,827.50 for Education Inc. services for home tutoring.
  • in the amount of $2,250 for teacher professional development at Project Lead The Way which was held at WPI.
  • in the amount of $3,000 for Project Lead The Way’s participation fees.
  • in the amount of $1,600 for an employee.
Miss Biancheria wants to celebrate Manufacturing Day (October 6), to recognize Superintendent Binienda's Healthy Communities award, and to have a report on transportation. 

Mr. Monfredo wants an update on teaching CPR.

There is a request that the School Committee vote to accept a 21st Century Out of School Time Grant for Claremont Academy for $150,000, 'though there is no backup.

And apparently we're getting yet another limited admission "academy," this time at North High for Microsoft Image. The School Committee is being asked to approve the admissions requirement and letter. with no prior conversation...

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Quick note on the FY18 circuit breaker (with an update!)

From today's MASBO update from Jay Sullivan: the FY18 special education circuit breaker is expected to be 65%. The circuit breaker reimburses districts for out-of-district special education tuitions of a particularly high amount.

If that sounds low to you, here's why (charts are the work of MassBudget, which has great stuff on their Budget Browser:

That's $281M for FY18.

Yes, that is down (about $2M) from last year. And costs keep rising for districts, so there are more applications for less money.

If that's less than you were expecting, it was higher in earlier iterations of the budget:

Not good news. 

UPDATE: I got a question late last week about this, and I thought the answer might be of more general interest. A school committee member asked me, "How do I know what this means to my district?"
Great question!
To back up a step or two: every district budget is created based on projections of how much money is coming in the next year (and from where) and how much money will be spent next year (and to where). Thus, in every district that qualifies for circuit breaker, someone in the finance office sat down at some point and said, "Next year, I think out of district tuition will cost X, and I think we'll get Y back in circuit breaker reimbursement."
Now, I would also tell you that you should be able to find this written down somewhere:
If not, this is a perfectly legitimate question for a school committee member to ask during budget deliberations.
Since it now has changed, it is now a perfect legitimate series of questions to ask to discover: what percentage did we project circuit breaker as? And that was how much? And it now being 65% means it now is what?
And, as those are budgetary questions being asked, that should all be public information.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Worcester: preliminary election on Tuesday! A few thoughts on D5

Worcester districts 1 and 5 have a preliminary election on Tuesday; in both cases, the four names on the ballot will be narrowed to two for the November election. I live in D5, and I haven't been following D1 closely. I will say that I've worked with Ed Moynihan, and if I lived in D1, I'd vote for Ed. What follows are some thoughts on the D5 race, in part drawn from Nicole's liveblog of the forum earlier this week, in part drawn from what I've found in my mailbox. 
In full disclosure: of the three candidates running active campaigns, I've met Matt Wally twice, have lived down the street from Paul Franco for twelve years, and know Doug Arbetter pretty well.

From an education policy perspective, the City Council races are relevant for where they actually have a purview on school policy, From past experience, I can tell you that councilors often appear to have no idea where that is. The refreshing thing about this year's district race is that we at least don't appear to have candidates who are overstepping. It's not as clear that we have a solid group stepping up.
The main place Council purview falls on schools is the budget, of course, and as Worcester has yet to fight its way up to a full percent over foundation, and at a time when Worcester is owed on the order of $100M a year in foundation funding from the state, it might have been good if anyone (anyone?) had asked about that as an issue. It does not appear that they did; I have seen no mention in the forum or in interviews of Worcester's funding (as a measure of foundation) nor of state funding for schools.

I have on my table the mailers of the three candidates: the only one who mentioned school funding at all was Doug Arbetter.
from Doug Arbetter's mailer

Yes, yes, you're thinking, Tracy continually goes on and on about foundation and that's your thing. Well, if the district is owed another $100M on the school budget, I'd expect any candidate who professes to care about education to know and care about that.

This is not, however, the only place that schools are mentioned on the mailers, though, to be fair: both Franco and Wally talk about South and Doherty, which Arbetter does not:

from Paul Franco's mailer

from Matt Wally's mailer

 Yes, South High is in District 5, as much as that may be a surprise: D5 is, as Cyrus Moulton points out in his coverage, truly the west side of Worcester. That isn't necessary what Worcester thinks of as the "West Side" of Worcester (roughly, north of Park Avenue). Note the difference in focus: Wally (as he echoed in Nicole's forum coverage) is concerned about paying for the schools; he said that he disagreed with the decision the Council made not to add to the North High stabilization fund. Franco's "will stand the test of time" language appears to be remarking on the age of the buildings we're replacing, that is 40 and 50 years old respectively. MSBA's standards are for buildings to last fifty years. Wally's point is something that arguably is within the Council's purview (as they vote the capital budget); unless Franco is appointed to a building committee, I'm less certain his is.

That's it for specific mentions on schools by the candidates, which in itself is disappointing. There's a few other things of note on the mailers, though:
Doug Arbetter mailer
 Arbetter's is the only one that mentions political party; Worcester's elections are (at least nominally) non-partisan. Interestingly, if you get the city Republican party's updates on Facebook, you'd know that Franco's a Republican, though he doesn't mention it on his mailers.
Paul Franco mailer (with edits)
The big push that Franco talks about on the right of his mailer, around property that isn't developed, largely has to do with the owners not wanting to move forward with projects. As you might gather from Nicole's blog, Franco's experience on the Conservation Commission largely (in his case) was around his working "with" developers to develop property, rather than to preserve open space. This sets up an interesting conundrum: does he privilege the rights of the property owners, or is he advocating for the city to take these properties by eminent domain?
Matt Wally mailer
Wally, as the other two do, hits public safety in his mailer, but he also links to his current seat on the Parks and Rec Commission by mentioning parks improvements.

It's pretty clear from Nicole's blog that Wally is hoping to position himself as the "centerist" candidate in contrast to Franco the conservative and Arbetter the progressive. Both Franco and Wally hit the policing theme hard in their T&G interview, something Arbetter, who appears to be focusing on taxation, does not. I'm not sure what "today's approach to policing" is, as mentioned by Franco. There has been no discussion of police in the schools, nor of the nearly million dollars a year that is now costing the district. In the forum, Arbetter captured the question of pedestrian safety--key, in a city in which half the schoolchildren walk--best, though all spoke of sidewalks.

When it comes to my vote on Tuesday, I'll echo what I've heard lots of people say since January (or even last November): resistance starts locally. I want, and I think my city needs, a city councilor who of course is going to keep all our people safe and use best practices to do so; a city councilor who of course is going to protect the rights of LBGTQ people; a city councilor who of course sees women as equals, not as pawns; a city councilor who of course supports the right of all to worship (or not) as they choose in safety; a city councilor who of course doesn't resort to fearmongering for political ends.
We also need a candidate who will clearly disavow those who do otherwise.
Earlier this week, only Doug Arbetter did.
I'll be voting for him on Tuesday.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Worcester's free cash is in

The T&G is reporting that, with FY17 closed, the city has nine million dollars it expects to be certified as free cash.
Note that on Tuesday night's Council agenda, Mayor Petty encouraged the City Manager to use some for the Worcester Public Schools.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Worcester School Committee meets Thursday, September 7

There's a meeting of the Worcester School Committee on Thursday, September 7. You can find the agenda here. Looks like a light agenda!
The report of the superintendent is on collaborative learning.
Mr. O'Connell wants to review the latest accountability data; he also wants to know how schools are observing Constitution Day.
Miss Biancheria wants a report on Ch. 74 programs and on the Worcester East Middle science program.
The Committee is being asked to receive a toxic use reduction grant and a number of donations.
The Committee also is scheduled for an executive session for negotiations with nurses, custodians, computer techs, and IAs, and contract negotiations with non-represented employees.

Joint Committee hearing on start times, recess, innovation zones

The agenda is here, 'though I don't, as yet, know in what order they'll be taking testimony.
The hearing starts at 10. Posting as we go. 
It appears they'll be taking the "zone" bills first. They are H.304 and S.279
Senator Chang-Diaz is calling the joint committee hearing to order. More on the House than the Senate side represented.
"We have a full house today; we anticipate going very long today."