Wednesday, December 29, 2021

It's a staffing issue

 You may have caught in passing the mention from today's Boston Globe that the Department is providing six million KN95 masks to school districts for staff when they come back to school next week:

To help protect school employees, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has supplied 6 million KN95 masks. That’s enough for one mask per day for each employee, including teachers and bus drivers, said a department spokeswoman.

Below, this appears to be predicated on there being about 100,000 staff in Massachusetts, so that's 60 days of masks, assuming one per day, which gets us (with February break off) to mid-March or so. 

This afternoon, the Department announced that they were sending out 200,000 tests to districts, allowing two tests per staff member: 

...strongly encourages all school personnel take one of the at-home antigen tests no more than 24 hours before they return to work 

It has been noted by others that the Department said they're spending $5.6M on this last, which would be $25 per test, and then the next email in my inbox had this headline:

I assume DESE paid what was being asked for what could be had now.
The above is occurring during a school vacation week and without warning. Masks are coming to central distribution points, from which districts need to retrieve them. I assume tests are likewise being sent out the same way, at which point districts will have to find a way to get them to staff, who are also on vacation.
As has been noted, we have been warned for weeks that this week's vacation is of concern. It's why districts that could manage it sent tests home with students before vacation for their use. Districts largely didn't have access to enough tests, and thus we have what it is difficult to describe as anything other than a very late effort. 

Students, of course, are not mentioned in any of the above--we have nearly a million of them in public schools in Massachusetts--and they're also going to be coming back into buildings on Monday morning. There are districts in Massachusetts that were among those to get tests in students' hands before vacation; some of the higher risk communities that had received the state distribution focused on schools. Not all did, and that would leave many districts out, regardless. Lines at testing centers have been long in the places where those tests are available; at home tests are difficult to find.

And the COVID rates in the state have never been this high before. As of last week's data, 41% of 5-11 year olds, 77% of 12-15 year olds, and 78% of 16-18 year olds had at least one dose, which doesn't appear to be enough to blunt the force of the virus.

There was a good deal of online (and elsewhere) outrage this week when the CDC rolled back quarantine recommendations, following staffing concerns expressed by an airline executive, after a weekend in which thousands of flights were cancelled

The above, on the other side, is based on protecting staff. But it is still focused on staff.

I have two concerns as we head into this holiday weekend, which has school on the other side.
The first is for students, most of whom were not sent home with tests, most of whom don't have access to free testing (as we even do in Worcester, if you can get there and can stand in line in the cold), most of whom simply, I'd guess, are not going to be tested before Monday morning.
And many of whom are not going to be walking in the door on Monday with masks equivalent to the above.

The second is actually a staff concern. The state positivity rate right now is over 13%, and that is only of those tested at medical centers; it does not count at home tests.
If anything like that many of the tests the state is sending out to districts to get to staff come back positive between Sunday night and Monday morning, what's our plan for Monday? 

UPDATE: the above was posted prior to DESE's email to superintendents Thursday night that the tests would not, in fact, be in on Friday as scheduled.

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

December Board of Ed laterblog

 Due to the Board changing their meeting to a Friday (they meet on Tuesday) fairly short notice (and this after they cancelled their November meeting at the last minute), I didn't get a chance to watch the meeting live. Here's a blog of meeting as watched afterwards. The agenda is here.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

FY23 Joint Revenue hearing LIVEBLOG!

 Welcome to the FY23 budget discussion! 

It's supposed to broadcast here, but it isn't...

Okay, we're in and late...FY22 numbers, that I'm going to pick up later from people who get this stuff in writing

Geoffrey Snyder, Commissioner, Mass Department of Revenue:
forecasting revenue for FY23 to be between $36.484B to $37.684B
That is 2.1% and 2.9% higher than FY22 range
Now we're getting the subsets of where the money is from...
uncertainty about sustainability of trends going forward
significant degree of uncertainty in these forecasts
Rep. Michlewitz: any impact on this from omicron so far?
Snyder: not specifically so far

Sen. Rodrigues introduces Mass Taxpayers' Foundation
"how difficult it has been" to project revenue
like a roller-coaster ride "and I think we have one more loop"
"startling" 15% growth in tax revenue
"in large part" due to federal relief
projecting reverting to slow growth for next year
1.1% in growth for FY23, or revenue of $37.6B
capital gains slowing, they project
sale tax revenue at only 1%; spending on durable goods shifting back to services
inflation rates to slowly decline over the next 18 months
"labor force issues" taking a firmer hold
pandemic has accelerated retirement among baby boomers
MA may be able to offset with "higher productivity per worker"
"highly educated workers tend to be more productive"
(this isn't going to help us with bus drivers)
Access to talent moves to forefront
workforce screening and skill development needed from state
outside factors that impact the forecast: global pandemic and geopolitical risks
stronger and more destructive storms due to climate change
Russia, China, Middle East
Cyber threats
Divisive political climate
failure to pass Build Back Better could slow economic recovery, per Moody's

Alan Clayton-Matthews, Northeastern University
"I have a different outlook"
FY22 $38.301B (12.2% above FY21)
FY23 $40.795B (6.5% over FY22)
federal stimulus has largely achieved its objective of buffering the economy
inflation will be subsiding
corporate profits will continue
assumes strong stock market has and will continue to spur a surge in capital grains
effect of unemployment insurance programs on tax revenues is waning
MA gross state product has been growing in step with U.S. GDP for past several decades, as well as past several years specifically
by 4th Q of FY23, employment is expected to achieve the pre-pandemic peak
after that, difficult to grow further without migration into the state
core inflation expected to wane (doesn't include fuel and food): FY22 3.8% FY23 2.3%
"capital gains realizations are much more predictable than stock prices in the model I use"
"fairly reliable predictions"
(I am going to add photos of the charts in here)

Rodrigues: does this include any consideration of the Build Back Better?
Only extension of the child tax credit "so essentially no"

Michael Goodman, UMass Dartmouth
supply chains, labor supply, and continuing pandemic creating headwinds for economic recovery
third quarter recovery, continuing into fourth quarter, slowing next year
labor market recovery has been constrained, well below our pre-recession employment peak
job market and underlying economy have been pretty strong despite these headwinds
"significant wage growth"
particularly at lower end, and even representing real wage growth, in excess of inflation
people still not returning to labor market, though
"a number of good reasons" for that (chart to put in here)

Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta: workers have other options, switching positions

aging of workforce also helps explain our current labor supply woes
high quality childcare very expensive; retirees caring for grandchildren?
all of these things reduce the size of the labor force
prices have been rising rapidly but supply constraints are a big part of the story
energy prices have been driving this, as well as things like new and used cars
"kinks in global supply chain are weighing heavily in our economic outlook"
national survey of CFO's suggest supply chain disruptions are likely to persist for some time
broad and uneven distribution of vaccines tied to economic trajectories: by county, higher vaccination, higher consumer spending, lower unemployment
surge in hospital admissions, but overwhelmingly those who are not vaccinated
do have hospital capacity issues, nonetheless
vaccinations "are not a force field of vulnerability"
six to eight weeks, suspect we'll see an uptick in cases
extending vaccinations and making it easier for venues to make it easier to see who is vaccinated and not so as to ride out the disruptions while having the highest levels of public health
"wind up with a little bit of humility"
chair of Federal Reserve saying that none of us knows where the economy will be in a year or more
inflation, labor supply, supply chain issues

Treasurer Deb Goldberg
long-term all weather portfolio will continue to perform well
Commonwealth's "robust economic base and its prudent fiscal management practices"

Evan Horowitz, Center for State Policy at Tufts
FY23 $36.5B 
unappreciated risks and weaknesses of current situation
"many ways for our economy to stumble" and fewer ways for corrections
more stable revenue streams are only slightly above state benchmarks
high corporate taxes and prepayment
little jump at end of state revenue as a share of GDP 

two paths possible, either fall dramatically or have a more gradual curve down
FY23 more likely to see a reversion in corporate taxes and prepayments
not particularly concerned about runaway inflation or stagflation
"inflation is much higher right now than anticipated"
each of the (more) dollars collected is less valuable
cost of running state government is higher (AND LOCAL AS WELL)
"makes revenue projections less cheering" 
once you account for inflation, projection is actually a decline

Hearing closed

Friday, December 17, 2021

What happened last night at Worcester School Committee

The upshot, not in order, of what happened last night at Worcester School Committee (full agenda):

  • Superintendent Binienda gave us an update on COVID, of which she said there has been "a great increase" in cases. For the week ending on Wednesday--the state measures from Thursday to Wednesday--there were 197 positive cases among students (up 10), with 33 quarantining (up 16). Among staff, there were 35 positive cases (up 8), with 2 quarantining (down 3). She gave us the test and stay numbers, but I missed one, so let me update that.
    There is a significant amount of contact tracing going on, as a result, which means the school nurses, who make these calls (which, can I just say, is really amazing, because it means that families are being contacted by someone who can actually answer their questions!), are working a LOT of hours. Our director of nursing, Debra McGovern, noted that we were being asked to approve a grant last night--which we did, and reconsidered it, so it can be spent immediately--which increases the dollar amount per hour nurses who are working those extra hours receive. 
    The district is emphasizing that all students need working devices that are going home. THIS DOES NOT MEAN CLASSES ARE GOING REMOTE.
    The superintendent was at pains to note that, per the Commissioner's meeting with superintendents this week, any remote decisions would be done ONLY for classes or schools--not entire districts---where positivity was "more than a half or three quarters" (that's quoting the superintendent) of the students. That would then need to be the recommendation of BOTH DPH AND the Commissioner's COVID group (?), and it would be for no more than eight days.

  • We took up the report from the City Manager's office on the removal of School Resource Officers from schools and the move to a liaison position (starts on page 113 on the agenda). A few additional notes on the report, which was referred to Finance and Operations for further discussion and updates with the City Council's Education Subcommittee:
       I would say that the Committee in general is supportive of the major change, which is removal of the police from the buildings. Mrs. Clancey rightly noted that the timeline on this--the report coming to the respective public bodies the week of December 13, with removal of the police happening at the end of the calendar year--left questions as to implementation of the plan regarding training and staffing in the buildings. While there was a response that some of that training will happen during January (if I was understanding that correctly), this is concerning.
      Though the liaisons will not be the schools, and this largely moves towards a neighborhood policing model, the liaison positions will still count as "police" in the Worcester Public Schools budget as a city contribution. The--I guess?--positive point here is that this removal doesn't put us any closer to plunging below required net school spending than we already were (remember, we're only $14K over this year, which isn't much of a margin for a budget of any size), but it does mean that, yes, we're still going to be spending $700K+ on police in the schools budget, which I know was something many advocates were hoping was going to be over.
       (This is reminding me that we probably are overdue for an explainer on Net School Spending around here, again. I went on at some length about this during the meeting, because I am beyond exhausted--it's been three city administrations now--of being lectured to about what the schools need to find money for, and how the schools need to be grateful for capital spending, in city where the municipality barely meets the legal requirement for operating costs, in a state where the average is spending a third more than required. In any case...)
       The joint MOU between the police department and the school department we asked to come back to us, in part because this will involve the devotion of resources (which is under our purview). The initial one is due the end of January (I hear some indications that some language already exists) for the next six months, for reconsideration this summer for an update.
       There were four focus groups. In total, those involved 12 students and 4 parents. While those weren't the only ones involved, it's...less than compelling. And, as I noted, having a school safety plan created by the city manager's office left us light on details on the "inside the school building side," which...would seem to be key? Thus this didn't appear to have a lot of voices of those inside our buildings every day.
       I should note that SROs are part of the survey that the student reps are collecting responses on, so that will be useful to have back--in January!--as well.

  • Last night our student reps--Adalise Rivera Lugo of UPCS, in addition to our ex officio Stacia Zoghbi of Tech--updated us on their student survey efforts (Students, if you haven't: take the survey! Check your emails!), their work on a social media policy for the student advisory council, and the Zen Den at Worcester Tech, which is something they'd like to see expanded to more schools.

  • The report out from Finance and Operations--agenda here, remember this includes transportation updates!--sent me down a line of questioning that I want to explain a bit here.
      The first thing to note is that our grants department is currently under the Deputy Superintendent, which is a change from prior administrations. Much of the current committee flagged that as of concern during our budget deliberation, particularly due to the influx of ESSER spending coming to the district, but it remains as it is.
      The ARP special education grant for $1.7M that came before the Committee at the end of October had 18 positions in it. I asked that we send it to subcommittee because it wasn't clear to me how we were going to fund what, from what one could discern from the grant backup, were new positions, once the grant, which would fund then for 18 months, ran out.
       Once it got to subcommittee, it became clear that these were not, mostly, new positions. When we received the September update on the budget, the IDEA grant (the usual one) came back $58K more than was budgeted. All to the good.
       However, between then and the end of October, the funding in IDEA that we as a district can spend fell by $313K, partly due to the money we're required to set aside for private schools, and partly due to a DESE program (that I'd never heard of before) called 3M, which is a required set-aside for turnaround work.
       Thus our federal IDEA grant, which funds the salaries for 192 people in the FY22 budget, was $313K short. 
      The School Committee didn't receive an update on this in the first quarterly report--grants, remember, aren't part of the finance office--so we had no idea that we suddenly had no funding for the salaries for quite a number of employees.
      Those, it turned out--and this we only gathered in subcommittee--is most of what was being carried by this ARP IDEA grant, with the intent once the grant runs out being to pick up the positions in the increased funding through SOA (which I am beginning to think that we are overcommitting, but one thing at a time).
      In any case, I'm not sure that was clear in my line of questions last night, but it's worrying to me to have a drop in revenue that funds positions that we don't know about and have to kind of stumble across.

  • Both ESSER II and III were approved, but remember, there's a lot of scope in there for application (and grants can be amended), so you should please attend our public hearing on ESSER on Monday at 7; that's the agenda with the Zoom link, so please share! 

  • I asked for a report on our access to the Massachusetts Immunization Information System, which is a statewide datebase for, yes, immunizations. I know other districts have been using this access to have up-to-date information on how many of their students are vaccinated; we do have this access, so we're getting a report on how that works and, moving forward, should be able to have those percentages as part of our COVID updates.

  • Mrs. Clancey requested an update on open teaching positions and what is being done to fill them. I hope we get this back soon.

  • We had a boatload of items come back as requests to be filed (that starts on page 59 of the agenda). I did ask to pull a few back out, including the request to put the homeschooling form on the website; we now have the PowerPoint about homeschooling, but not the actual form, and I asked that this be fixed before the end of the calendar year. 
    We also aren't following our own fundraising policy (GBEBD), which requires that all such efforts be approved by principals, first to keep the school moving the same direction, but also, because sometimes (believe it or not!), we can actually pay for things. Also, if the principals don't know, we never hear about it, and we can't fix it. With over 200 projects currently up on Donors Choose from WPS, I'm going to bet that most of them didn't follow this process.
    (And yes, I know this is a pain, teachers. But I also want us to actually fix the problem.)
    The other thing, incidentally, is we're not following is the part that doesn't allow for solicitation among those to whom someone is directly answerable; there should not be solicitation coming from any administrative office, thus, nor should solicitation go from teachers to families in a specific fashion. That section reads: 
    Employees shall not use a crowdfunding source, or set up their appeal in such a way, that they are asking for donations directly from people over whom the employee making the request has authority, or with whom the public employee is having official dealings (such as parents of student's in a teacher's classroom - the solicitation can say "Classroom X needs tissues and crayons," but it shouldn't be directed to parents who have shared email addresses with the teacher for purposes of communicating about their student).

  • We did also honor our outgoing members, and I won't try to summarize that. I do want to note that Mayor Petty had each of the outgoing members chair part of the meeting, which was a very nice gesture. 

Important note: the city inauguration is on January 3 at 5:30 at Mechanics Hall, and the public is MOST welcome!

Monday, December 13, 2021

on WPS capital spending

 The Worcester School Committee just received the following email:

At the School Committee Meeting that was held on Thursday, February 27, 2021, Miss Biancheria made the following motion:

      Request that the Administration provide, in a Friday letter, any updates on the Roosevelt School traffic problems once contracts are signed.

Response from the Administration.

The Worcester Public Schools Five-Year Capital Budget allocated $1 million for the Roosevelt School traffic reconfiguration project from the FY22 allocation (see page 180 of the budget book). However, with the city’s recent purchase of several Becker College properties,  the WPS is expected to fund the purchase of the Weller Academic Building through a reduction of its capital budget allocation.      Since the acquisition of Becker College properties was not included in the district’s five-year capital plan, the district must defer $3.5 million of projects listed on the five-year plan to a later date.   The WPS Administration is working with the City of Worcester Administration to shift project funding and develop a longer-term collaborative capital funding strategy.  The district will evaluate the Roosevelt School parking lot funding plan as part of these adjustments. 

The entirety of the Worcester Public Schools' capital budget is $3.5M each year, as follows from page 192 of our budget

Effectively then, the capital budget of the Worcester Public Schools is being zeroed out for an entire year to purchase buildings on which the Worcester School Committee was not consulted and had no say in.
What will be postponed? Start with page 188. The memo says that it is the five year plan, so it won't necessarily be this year's plans. 

Sunday, December 12, 2021

How much has Massachusetts really been trying on school funding?

This year's Shanker Institute report on the adequacy and fairness of school funding, which uses 2019 data, gives a stark picture of where we have been in Massachusetts. 
2019, of course, is when, in November, we FINALLY got a revision to the state formula, one-sixth (mostly) of which was FINALLY implemented this current fiscal year.
The work of Bruce D. Baker of Rutgers University), Matthew Di Carlo and Kayla Reist of the Shanker Institute, and Mark Weber, also at Rutgers University, the report looks at effort, progressivity, and adequacy; that is: how much are states actually trying in using the fiscal resources they have for schools, and do they make sure poor kids are getting more resources, and are districts getting enough money to get to outcomes needed.

And we don't look so hot, Massachusetts. 

First of all, given what we have in Massachusetts, we really aren't trying all that hard on funding schools. Check where we are on the map: 

If you take a look at the state level detail, it's honestly kind of even worse: our effort level ranks #43 in the nation (out of 49). There's a headline you're probably not going to see in the Globe
A few other stats from that state profile on effort: 
  • In FY 2019, total direct state and local K-12 spending in MA was equivalent to 2.84% of the state’s economic capacity (GSP).
  • This was 0.61 percentage points lower than the unweighted national average of 3.45%.
In other words, most other states try harder than we do to fund public education. 

While the state effort had increased prior to the recession, there was a decrease of 0.42 percentage points in MA's effort during the “K-12 recovery” period of 2012-2019.
In other words, recently, we've been going backwards.

Okay, but what about adequacy? Surely we are giving enough?
(That sound you hear is the hollow laughter of Gateway cities, among others.)
I'd argue that we already know the answer to this: 2019, which is the same year being compared here, is also when the statewide average spending over foundation--over what the Mass General Law itself calls an "adequate minimum"--was 31%. In other words, towns and cities (because remember, that addition is always local funds!) decided on their own that a third more money was called for than was required.
On this one, Massachusetts does better: a actual per-pupil (PP) spending in each state to cost model
estimates of the amount required to achieve U.S. average test scores shows Massachusetts as $997 above that amount, which places us tenth.
...I think that most of us think that we should be doing more than aiming for average U.S. test scores.

On progressivity, the news again is grim: 
Oh look: Massachusetts is a red state.

This measures "the degree to which states provide greater resources to districts serving higher-need students." This, remember, is the entire point of the foundation budget. And how have we been doing at the state level? 
  • School funding in MA is regressive.
  • Higher-poverty (30%) districts receive 16.2% less revenue than zero-poverty districts.
  • This level of progressivity ranks #42 in the nation (out of 49).
42 and 43...leading the nation, indeed. Check out the chart: 
We've been falling since 2010, dropped below the nation in 2017, and plunged straight into regressive territory in 2019.

Now again, let me note: this is 2019 numbers. This is pre-Student Opportunity Act, and much of this is what the SOA is intended to deal with.
It should, however, be a statewide scandal that Massachusetts, which claims education as what we do and what we're about, has been doing so very very poorly on these measures. It should be in headlines, it should be active discussion in the Legislature, and the Board of Ed should be outraged that the state has let it fall so far. 
This also absolutely should be part of the story we tell about our districts: this is a Constitutional responsibility of the state, that the state has not fulfilled and has let fall to towns and cities, that the Supreme Judicial Court said in 1993 was not their issue alone. And yet it has been left to them, some of which we know, again by the SJC decision, are unable to fulfill it. 
No discussion of Lawrence or of Holyoke or of Southbridge, for certain, but also no discussion of Worcester or Fall River or Pittsfield should ever be conducted without reference to this. The state has failed students in those districts, make no mistake. 

Monday, December 6, 2021

Coming up!

 The Worcester School Committee does not have any meetings this week, but I did want to share this one right away: We're holding a hearing on ESSER spending--that's the federal pandemic grant--on Monday, December 20 at 7pm. It will be virtual.

Friday, December 3, 2021

December 2 meeting

What happened at our December 2 meeting:

  • We once again had a thoughtful and insightful report from our student rep ex officio Stacio Zoghbi and South High rep Shelley Duodu. Our student reps are in the midst of collating data from student surveys (if you're a student and haven't yet taken it, please do!), but they did share two concerns that have come to the fore. The first is COVID, and in particular, student concerns that masking isn't being enforced at schools.
    The second was mental health, and I want to quote here part of what they said: 
    For those of us who do make it to graduation day, we spend 14 years of our lives in and out of school houses, growing, learning, and hopefully thriving. Yet, for a myriad of reasons and pressures, these places of learning and development are becoming places students dread arriving at. 

    This is not okay. I asked at our last meeting for an URGENT report on student disregulation, and it seems every day we see further evidence of how far afield we are on this issue.

  • While we did not have a formal report of the superintendent, we did have an update from Superintendent Binienda at the request of Mayor Petty on COVID. DESE met with superintendents earlier this week; they expect an increase in cases between now and the first week of January. That was all that was shared; I don't know if they left it there or have more about it.
    The Committee was asked to vote to extend test and stay to Worcester Public School students who are considered close contacts at an after school program approved by Early Childhood Ed. It is very specifically ONLY that. We did vote all approval.
    We also heard this week's COVID numbers--those are updated on the website here--which is 140 students and 28 staff.
    We requested an update on where we are with vaccinations of students; I'll share that once we get it.

  • Mrs. Clancey shared the report from Governance, after which Mr. Monfredo attempted to get passed the original item that had been rejected in subcommittee, a contract that the district would require of all families that would hold them responsible for $300 for a lost or broken Chromebook, $30 for a missing cord, and so forth. This was not moved forward from subcommittee. The subcommittee report moved the financial impact question to Finance and Operations, but did not move the superintendent's recommendation on creating a contract forward, noting that it was covered by our current policies.
    We, the district, have chosen to require these devices for students; students are required to have them; families cannot refuse them, even the three-quarters of our families who are low income.
    The superintendent argued that "kids don't take care of them," and that "we have to instill in kids that they have to take care of them." She said that we were more like a 1 to 3 district; this was later in the discussion contradicted: we are short more like a thousand now, which makes us close to one to one. We also expect to have orders coming in next week.
    If you're interested in watching the discussion, the report starts about 28 minutes into the meeting and goes from there. Mr. Foley noted that talking about about "malicious destruction" is loaded language, and that we have a responsibility as a district, as a one to one district now, to figure out how to make the funding work. Ms. McCullough called attention to the part of the student handbook that includes technology; it was decided that updating that language would be discussed in Governance at the next update. Miss Biancheria strongly noted the burden this requirement would impose on families, speaking of our students getting free breakfast and lunch for a reason, and rejected this as a family's responsibility.
    During the discussion, part of what we discovered was that some--certainly not all, but some--of the Chromebook shortage is artificial; when the new South High opened with Chromebook carts, students there were told that they could simply leave their Chromebooks at home for homework, and use the new ones for schoolwork, all while at least hundreds of other students across the district didn't have Chromebooks at all.
     The motion which was made on this--which passed, 5-2, Biancheria and Monfredo opposed--was to distribute the resources we currently have to our students as soon as possible. 
    The report of the Governance committee was accepted as presented.
    Later note: If you read the T&G on this, and you can't make the math work from what is said, that is because the math doesn't work: 500 Chromebooks times $300 each doesn't equal a million dollars (it's $150,000), nor does $1 million equal ten teachers, as we don't pay teachers $100,000 each. 

  • Annually, the district officially counts our enrollment, and you can find our report for this October 1 on pages 36 to 39 of our agenda. This was sent to Finance and Operations for further discussion, for two reasons: 
    1. this is the best look the School Committee has at how many students are where and how that is changing. This has, of course, facilities implications.
    2. our enrollment is our budget determiner! We are down 250 students from last year. That's a $3.7M loss, per Mr. Allen. Note, further, that because our enrollment did not go back up this year, the $9.7M of ESSER funding that we used as hold harmless funding last year now needs to be...something. Considered? Thus we're starting the FY23 budget deliberation--welcome to the FY23 budget deliberation, by the way!--short $13.4M.
    It's worth noting that we have students who have joined the district since the October 1 count; the Mayor asked for a report on that. As those students are ours but are not yet counted, there was also a motion to bring this to the attention of our state and federal delegation

  • Mr. Monfredo's item on cursive was sent to Teaching, Learning, and Student Supports.
  • Ms. McCullough's item on considering "the use of Fountas and Pinnell Literacy Program in light of recent data" also went to Teaching, Learning, and Student Supports.

  • Ms. McCullough's two athletic items went to the respective committees: coach salaries to negotiations and the athletic budget item to budget
  • And Mayor Petty announced his appointment of the superintendent search committee, which will conduct the preliminary interviews for superintendent. They are:

Kola Akindele  
Jennifer Davis Carey 
Alex Corrales  
Patty Eppinger  
Lisa Houlihan  
Jermoh Kamara – after being sworn in. 
Laura Maloney 
Roger Nugent  
Joe O’Brien 
Hilda Ramirez 
Laurie Ross, Ph.D. 
Kimberly Salmon 
Ahn Vu Sawyer 
Kay Seale 
Ivonne Perez
Fred Taylor 
Alex Zequeira 
Stacia Zoghbi

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Not talking about it doesn't make it go away

Item I filed on the Worcester School Committee agenda 11/18/21;
and yes, "disregulation" is actually spelled with an "i"

I thought about opening this post with links to the dozens of articles from across Massachusetts of fights and injuries and community reaction. Driving more activity to those articles, though, isn't really going to help.
If you pay some attention to education news, you've no doubt already caught some headlines around our schools, so you don't need me for that. That's also just what has made the news, and we know that never tells the whole story (and sometimes is even manipulated or manipulative, as noted by Lawrence leadership). And fights are only one way of distress being acted out. Many are much quieter.

There's no doubt, though, that students are struggling. Last month, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) and the Children’s Hospital Association (CHA) joined together to declare children's mental health a national crisis.

There was an argument made often last year that student mental health was suffering specifically from being home from school, and that sending students back to school would solve the issue. Now, there's no doubt that having students out of school buildings did separate many from various kinds of supports that they need or wanted, which range, of course, far beyond mental health supports.
But this ignores, for example, that student suicides are historically higher on school days and during school months. The default that schools = better for kids is not only not universally true; it ignores some data we really need to pay attention to.

Despite it having made some headlines, what I haven't seen crossover into action is the amount of death in the pandemic that has surrounded children. More than 140,000 children lost caregivers in the U.S. (as of June). As with so much else:
There were significant racial and ethnic disparities in caregiver deaths due to COVID-19. White people represent 61% of the total U.S. population and people of racial and ethnic minorities represent 39%  of the total population. Yet, study results indicate that non-Hispanic White children account for 35% of those who lost a primary caregiver (51,381 children), while children of racial and ethnic minorities account for 65% of those who lost a primary caregiver (91,256 children).

When looking at both primary and secondary caregivers, the study found that findings varied greatly by race/ethnicity: 1 of every 168 American Indian/Alaska Native children, 1 of every 310 Black children, 1 of every 412 Hispanic children, 1 of every 612 Asian children, and 1 of every 753 White children experienced orphanhood or death of caregivers. Compared to white children, American Indian/Alaska Native children were 4.5 times more likely to lose a parent or grandparent caregiver, Black children were 2.4 times more likely, and Hispanic children were nearly 2 times (1.8) more likely.
If we add to that the deaths that haven't been primary caregivers, but those of relatives of children, the loses--again disproportionately--are staggering. There are also the years of lost life that add up, that in many cases surround children. 
Then there have been the subsidiary impacts--food, housing, employment--which in the U.S. skew disproportionately by race and towards children. More than one out of every three people living in poverty in the U.S. is a child. That which hits poor Americans hits children, always.
And I also have been searching, without finding beyond some tweets, something that looks at how the younger generations have viewed the ways in which adults managed the pandemic. I know that many of us (adults, that is) had perhaps this idea that of course people would do what was necessary to keep each other safe and would stay home/wear masks/get vaccinated/etc as needed to make others safe. And yet, of course, that hasn't been the case. I wonder--and I don't know--if there is any way in which children and young people feel adults haven't done their jobs in steering us all through this. 

There are major structural issues to providing supports for children, from sustainable funding (ESSER goes away!) to lack of providers. I keep thinking back, though to Neema Avashia's piece from September about time for healing. The state instead has stressed "acceleration" for learning, with limited mention of mental health at all. Districts have, I think, responded with varying degrees of flexibilities and supports and staffing. 

I don't think that we as adults in education have done enough to acknowledge the death--really--that has surrounded our children, the losses far beyond social events, or the drop in trust in organized agency. 

We don't fix what we don't talk about. 

Friday, November 19, 2021

Not *that* low income

The state has now posted state and district enrollment numbers (the October 1 count) for the current school year, and if you pay the close attention Cleo does, you're going to notice something on terminology: 

IT IS IMPORTANT TO KNOW: the former definition of low income is NOT something we're going back to; for what this includes, see the help section which has this:  

Low-income (prior to 2015): Indicates the percent of enrollment who meet ANY ONE of the following definitions of Low-income:
The student is eligible for free or reduced price lunch; or
The student receives Transitional Aid to Families benefits; or
The student is eligible for food stamps

Economically Disadvantaged (2015 to 2021): Calculated based on a student's participation in one or more of the following state-administered programs: the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); the Transitional Assistance for Families with Dependent Children (TAFDC); the Department of Children and Families' (DCF) foster care program; and MassHealth (Medicaid).

Low-income (2022 to present): Calculated based on a student's participation in one or more of the following state-administered programs: the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); the Transitional Assistance for Families with Dependent Children (TAFDC); the Department of Children and Families' (DCF) foster care program; expanded MassHealth (Medicaid) up to 185% of the federal poverty level, as well as students identified by districts as homeless and students the district confirmed had met the low-income criteria through the supplemental process and collected the required supporting documentation (SIMS DOE056)

This last one is the one I want to be sure folks are clear on; what the state is now using effectively is economically disadvantaged PLUS.

What happened last night at Worcester School Committee (11/18/21)

So what happened at last night's Worcester School Committee meeting? 

For those for whom the sound didn't work until a bit of a way in, Roger Nugent, president of the EAW, spoke first requesting that we amend an earlier authorization for sick bank use for an employee (extending it beyond days donated by one school to the larger employee pool, as some donations came from outside the school), and shared a petition from some members on "choice" around vaccinations.

We had TWO student reps at the meeting last night: Stacia Zoghbi (who's our ex officio, as she was elected by the other student reps to be our official non-voting member) and Julianna Manxhari; Stacia goes to Tech and Julianna to Doherty. They sent out a survey to their peers across the district--students, PLEASE TAKE IT!!--and plan to share the results of that with us at one of our next meetings. They've also asked for a seat on the superintendent's search committee (and it sounds to me as if they're going to get it). 

The report of the superintendent was from Dr. Marco Andrade (whom I mentally refer to as "the data person") with a report that was framed from the perspective on the Office on Civil Rights (a subdivision of the U.S. Department of Education) around disparities in student data on social-emotional data, achievement information, absentee and discipline data, and post-graduate education and persistence. The report is here, starting on page 28. We have significant gaps, as was noted, and this is being referred to School and Student Performance for further discussion, because (as I said at the meeting) the data is only the start; the question is what we're going to do with it.

Reporting out were both Finance and Operations and Teaching, Learning, and Student Support standing committees. F&O had the transportation report, so we approved the new position descriptions (as budgeted for in the report, and as approved as part of the plan) for that department at the same time. And yes, we're hiring!
We also had the first quarter report, and one part concerned me: 

A $400K transfer from teachers to administration would raise an eyebrow, in any case, but it have it come in for the first quarter report--when we just passed the budget in June--and to have it explained as the conversation of five EL teachers to four EL administrators, particularly when we had just received a report from that department a few months back with no mention of this is simply bad process. 
I voted for the transfer, in part because it became clear that the administration had actually hired people ahead of the transfer, which is also bad process. 

TLSS had the vocational admissions policy, and Ms. McCullough noted that the deliberation also included discussion of the recruitment of more representative applicants (as the demographics of Tech become non-representative by who applies even with the new policy), as well as some discussion of the question of interest, which will be taken up during tours. The standing committee's report was passed, which gives provisional approval. Final approval will follow a public hearing next month.
Note that later in the meeting, we accepted a grant for $130K that is directed at this question of student recruitment to Tech.

We received back a report on an item I'd filed that had been bounced back and forth several times as incomplete regarding contracts that are directly with the superintendent. I'd heard concerns months ago that contracts weren't being completed, and so filed the item back in August. Eventually, the principal contracts largely were fulfilled, but there have been a number of outstanding administration contracts that were still not completed. I'll share here what we got last night: 

Beyond the contracts still not renewed, there are two things here that concerned me. The first is this group of people marked "N/A" who, I was told, simply do not have contracts. There isn't parity across administration in who this is, though, and I'm concerned that this not being based on something solid could open us up to discrimination allegations.
The second thing, from the far right column, is several contracts that now expire in 2026; that is, some people have recently been given five year contracts. This is itself unusual--five years for public contracts is covered for other circumstances by laws--but contracts given for five years by a superintendent who herself is leaving in seven months is particularly attention grabbing, as was my subsequent understanding that questions have been raised about extending contracts that are not yet expired.
As Mayor Petty noted, there is case law around the ability of executive successor, backed by the public committee, being able to cancel extensions in such circumstances, and he told Superintendent Binienda last night that he expected any updates not already included above to come before the School Committee.

We received back an updated report from Mrs. Clancey's motion asking for information on the transfers; this was the additional elementary teachers and the additional adjustment counselors. She asked for information to be shared with the school committee about what the adjustment counselors are finding in their discussions. 
I was concerned to learn that the elementary teachers, who we'd specifically transferred to lower class size, largely have not been assigned to do so; only three are classroom teachers. 

An additional position for the Chief Diversity Officer passed (6-1; I was the 'no' vote, as I think this office continues to be poorly defined, and I think that needs to be fixed first.)

We accepted at $12,500 grant from Mass Insight for AP teacher training.

The audits are coming to F&O! (That's all we know so far. They do every year.)

Ms. McCullough filed an item looking into playground inspection and repair, so expect to see that coming.

She also asked for a reassessment of the need for crossing guards at secondary schools.

We also had clarified, on her motion, that volunteers MAY be in schools, so long as they have provided either proof of up to date vaccination or recent negative COVID test (just like employees).

And she asked about virtual tutoring. Earlier in the meeting, Miss Biancheria questioned administration about part-time tutors who are retirees possibly being hired.

I filed an item specifically on bus 38, as I haven't gotten any response to my emails to the superintendent (who has directed that communication with Durham is hers) regarding it.

We're also going to recognize all the people who don't get recognized when you build a new school building for opening South (or at least we're going to try!).

And we're going to thank the National Guard, AA Transportation, plus WPS Transportation (per the superintendent's request) and the Lieutenant Governor (per the Mayor's request) for their work on transportation in October. Other amendments were not accepted.

And then a report I hope comes back soon: 

Request administration report urgently via school level staff on student disregulation, how it is manifesting in our schools, how staff is managing and coping with such disregulation, and what resources and policy changes from this Committee are necessary to better support students, families, and staff.
We next meet on the Monday the 22nd with the superintendent search firm! 5:30! 

Friday, November 12, 2021

Change in admissions for Worcester Tech on Monday subcommittee agenda

 Really important conversation happening in Teaching, Learning, and Student Supports on Monday at 5 pm: 

Go to page 10 of the agenda to find the presentation.

You might remember that back in June, the Board of Ed changed the regulations regarding vocational school admissions. This was due to, bluntly, ongoing civil rights concerns around equity of access and attendance at Massachusetts vocational schools. While Worcester Tech is an in-district school, the change in regulations do apply to Worcester Tech. 

The presentation does a good job of walking through where we're at and the alternatives being presented, along with projected outcomes. I'd note that demographic representation is something to which close attention is being paid at various levels.

The two part test to ANY admission requirement--in other words, doing anything other than drawing names out of a hat--is the district has to be able to demonstrate that the requirement, whatever it is, is necessary for participation in the program AND there isn't an alternative. 

I'll also note (and I'll stop with this comment): some of us want to know if students at Tech actually want to study in the programs themselves. 

It's a fully remote subcommittee meeting; you can find the link to the Zoom on the agenda. 
I have a superintendent search meeting that night, so I'll be elsewhere and catch up later. 

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

What happened Tuesday

  • The Worcester School Committee unanimously supported the recommendation of the search committee to contract with Greenwood Asher to conduct the superintendent search. That now goes to the city Purchasing Department, that has to be certain we've adhered to all necessary for a legal bid process; as we've been working with them right along, it is expected to move forward without complication.
  • The report on positions being filled was held, as it had no information regarding the hiring of adjustment counselors.
  • ...and as a result, the position description was held.
  • The five year contract masquerading as a donation of equipment that would charge families a fee to view livestreamed games was set to Finance and Operations for a report back from the Inspector General regarding if it is subject o bid laws. The superintendent said she'd been given a legal opinion that it was fine; the Inspector General has found that by recommending a particular vendor, the district has created a market for that item; "this market has an intrinsic value; there is value attached to this opportunity." As such, ch. 30B kicks in; further, in not sending such a proposal out to bid may also invoke the state ethics law, as equal opportunity to access the market was not granted to others.
  • The two grants, which, among other things, including the hiring of more than 20 positions on a single year grant with no plan for what happens after the funding runs out were also sent to Finance and Operations. As the School Committee adopted a financial policy in 2014 (part of the Seven Point Plan) of ensuring program sustainability particularly when adopting grants, adopting a single year grant that hires multiple people without either the note that the positions will be ended when the grant ends or specifically how those positions will be funded when the grant ends violates district policy. 
    You may recall from our budget deliberation our close attention to the use of ESSER funds either as one time funding or as funding that will be picked up through the first year of the Student Opportunity Act funding. Note that this only works one year at a time. 

Monday, November 8, 2021

The rest of Tuesday's agenda

 The report of Thursday's Ad-Hoc search meeting (which you can watch a video of here) is being reported out to the full Committee tomorrow (Tuesday) at 5 pm at a special meeting of the Worcester School Committee, so we can keep moving on the search.

This isn't a regular business meeting of the Worcester School Committee, which is why it's odd that we've somehow ended up with an agenda that has a lot of other things on it; the mayor, for example, is jamming this meeting in before the regular meeting of the Worcester City Council.

I have many thoughts on much of this, which I will share, of course, during the deliberation tomorrow.

On the agenda: 

  • A response to the request to provide an update on new hires from the re-allocated funds during budget hearings. That response reads, in its entirety, as follows:
    As part of the FY22 Budget, the School Committee reallocated 13 teacher positions for early literacy specialists / interventionists to class size reduction teachers.
These teachers have been assigned to the following schools:
1. Belmont Street
2. Canterbury Street School
3. Chandler Magnet
4. City View*
5. Clark Street
6. Columbus Park
7. Grafton Street
8. Goddard*
9. Lincoln Street
11.Rice Square
12.Vernon Hill*
13.Woodland Academy
*Classroom teacher.
The teachers are addressing significant gaps, working with the assigned teacher
and in some cases covering missing staff.

  • A new request to pass the "Job Description for Recruitment and Cultivation Director" which the Committee has said it will only consider once the above item is responded to in full.

  • A 16-page contract masquerading as a "donation," which is a subscription service for school sports broadcast (starts on page 13 of the backup, if you're interested).

  • A $1.7M ARP one year special education grant which would add 20 positions.

  • A $155K ARP one year early ed grant that would add two positions. 

Again,  I am abiding by our ethical obligation to keep deliberation for the meeting itself. However, take a look. 

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Important meeting on the superintendent search this week

 I know that much of our attention in Worcester is on Tuesday's election, but I do want to call your attention to something happening Wednesday that matters for the Worcester Public Schools.

You might remember that responses to our request for proposals for the firm to staff the superintendent search were due this past Wednesday. Those proposals were received--there were two--and the search committee is meeting this coming Wednesday the 3rd at  7 pm to deliberate regarding the proposals received and send forward a recommendation to the full School Committee, which is scheduled to meet on the 9th to make that decision. 

I'm not going to talk about my own views here--I have time for that Wednesday--but I do want to be sure folks are informed about process.

You can find the responses appended to the agenda (along with the link to the subcommittee meeting, which will be online), but I've also uploaded the proposals here separately: 

A very very important point: the School Committee is legally bound by the terms of the RFP. What that means is all the careful delineation we did in the original document now outlines how we will decide who to hire. We cannot just pick. The RFP outlines minimum requirements, and then gives a lengthy list of what we're evaluating based on. I have taken that information and put it into a rubric form for our use; it's here, if you'd like to do your own.

Do review the above if this is of interest, and plan to watch the meetings. 

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Hearings on Worcester's way to elect the School Committee start Thursday

 who knew? h/t Steve Foskett

The City Council's Municipal Operations committee will hold a series of hearings across the city on the three options the Council is considering for the election of the School Committee. The first is this Thursday. The full list of dates are: 

• 6 p.m. Thursday, November 4, Great Brook Valley Recreation Center, 33 Freedom Way

• 6 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 10, City View Discovery School, 80 Prospect St. 

• 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 18, Union Hill School, 1 Chapin St. 

• 6 p.m. Monday, Nov. 22, Belmont AME Zion Church, 55 Illinois St. 

• 6 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 1, Worcester Youth Center, 326 Chandler St. 

Please spread the word!

I haven't posted about this, because it would come off as trying to make it an election issue--which it isn't, beyond perhaps considering if you should vote for councilors who oppose a voting rights lawsuit--but I'll work on getting something up in the coming weeks. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

A few updates from the F&O meeting on transportation

 I did a rundown of the report received this afternoon, but there were a few additions from new information received: 

  • Seven of the drivers currently CDL training are going through 7D training to be able to pick up when we lose the National Guard. 
  • As I noted in the earlier post, MassHires is continuing to train bus drivers; it's been great to see the response already to this. It takes 60 hours to get a CDL plus a couple of weeks to get a test date, so it's been taking about two months to train new drivers.
    Mr. Foley asked that WPS social media be used to spread the word; I'll share the info again here: 

  • The school bus bid closes tomorrow, and WE ARE GOING TO GET BUSES AS THEY COME AVAILABLE! In other words, we don't have to wait til next year; as we have drivers, they're coming on, and likewise with buses!
  • DESE APPROVED THE USE OF ESSER FUNDS FOR BUSES! Remember, this means savings FASTER because we've just bought the buses. Important long term note: we need to plan NOW for the replacement cycle (as you don't want to have to replace all 100 buses in 15 years). 

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Here we go: WPS transportation is coming!

 I was looking through archived emails for something else this weekend, and I found one in which I was filing an item on changing school start times, and the response I got back referenced the transportation study. 

The email was from 2014.

You can perhaps imagine my delight, then, at seeing the following header in this week's Finance and Operation subcommittee agenda backup: 

That starts on page 23. We'll be getting monthly updates on this from now until we have all the buses on the road (and perhaps after?). 

What's in the update?

There are already 21 drivers in training: 15 getting the CDL license, 6 getting the school bus piece. There's an another 11 being screened for another class. 

And this isn't in the report, but yes, we WILL continue to add classes, so if you're interested, get in touch! 

Our buses are out for bid, which closes Wednesday (and if you're into school buses, the bid is interesting reading!). Out for bid are:
  • 100 Type C – 71 passenger School Buses (gasoline)
  • 38 Type A Mid-Size School Bus (gasoline)
    • (Both of the above are the same as what is currently used; "type C" is the kind with the engine out front, which is currently how you can tell WPS buses from Durham buses, which are "type B").
  • 27 Type A Wheelchair School Bus (gasoline)
Those are either going to be paid for through ESSER funding--after all, actually getting students to school on time reliably is a basic prerequisite for doing more learning in person--or through city capital funds. As of Friday, the state was still reviewing the ESSER application for this work.

Two things students and families will be interested on in the new buses:
  1. "Each bus will have new tablet technology providing automated route guidance and adjustments"; in other words, rather than turn-by-turn printouts, there are tablets in the buses that do that, and can be updated real time. 

  2. "The Versatrans MyStop bus location mobile access application will be operational on all WPS buses next year." In other words: YES! We will FINALLY have an app to track buses.
Natural question for both of the above: why don't we have those now? 
  1. On the first, we do: WPS buses that run in house have tablets that update real time with route information. Durham hasn't made the investment in the technology to do so. We've seen how useful this can be real time this year, when more than once, WPS buses have been rerouted by WPS dispatch to pick up kids from routes that Durham has dropped or slipped behind on.

  2. On the second, it's been in the Durham contract since at least 2015, The contract has never fulfilled that part of the agreement. That has been ongoingly noted by members of the School Committee ('though it wasn't enough to get the contract not renewed last time). If the Committee and/or the superintendent doesn't require that the contract be fulfilled, it doesn't get fulfilled. Consequences to not fulfilling the contract can be imposed, but that takes cooperation with the superintendent. 
And no, we haven't forgotten alternative fuels. The start-up costs are too great for the fleet expansion, but as we sub out the leased buses, "exploring" (which is the finance office saying "we're working on options and we'll be reporting back) alternative fuels is the plan.

There are two rounds of hiring beyond the drivers: 
Positions to be added During FY22:
 Human Resources Liaison (to be
called Transportation Personnel
 Transportation Systems Coordinator
(new position from budget savings)
 Transportation Safety and Training
Liaison (3) (from budget savings as
identified in report)
 Transportation Safety Supervisor
(from budget savings as identified in

Positions to be added for FY23:
 Four Mechanics
 Operations Supervisor
 Transportation Liaison

The HR addition is of course because we're bringing on a LOT of new staff, and that takes additional work in the office there. You can read more about the safety and training positions in the report. The systems coordinator is in part specifically to be sure that the routing piece works, including the tracking app. In other words, this isn't a lick and a promise; there's hiring going on to staff that work. 
I am really pleased about the mechanics, as another ongoing issue we've seen has been not as much preventative maintenance on the buses that are contracted out; buses shouldn't fail as often as theirs do. 

There's also a site map of 115 Northeast Cutoff, which is where WPS Transportation and Facilities are now, indicating the room for expansion for this project. They've not only got room: they've got the plan. 

This is not my subcommittee, so, while I will be on the meeting, I won't be speaking. 
The one thing I really, really want to know is what of the above we might bring on when! 

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Things I'm reading

I don't have time today for a long post, but I did want to share a few things I've read this week:
  • This piece on Colorado school board races reflects what is going on across much of the country right now. It hasn't, as yet, hit Worcester quite this way, but if you see me react strongly to accusations of ideological brainwashing and the like, this is why, 
  • Likewise, this piece on how the outpouring of...whatever it school boards is a continuation of, rather than something separate from, the January 6 storming of the Capitol is instructive. It's important not to minimize or to dismiss what is happening because it is "only" school board meetings.
  • This long piece in the Washington Post on why teachers are quitting, as well as this piece reflecting on what teachers need are part of what I'm considering as we move forward.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

October Board of Ed: Mystic Valley Charter

 ...asking for a waiver that it be evaluated under the same regulations 

Riley: thinks waiver is unnecessary and would require that the charter school be evaluated on a different basis than any other charter school in the state

probably good to link to this, for example, to give some idea of where this is coming from

lawyer for Mystic Valley: racism and discrimination are evils that must be eliminated
disagreement on how to get there
school believes focus on "our shared American culture" while in schools
doesn't mean differences don't matter
question of "emphasis and focus"
"heavily emphasizes the country's shared values and history"
philosophy "which it has practiced for twenty years with DESE's approval"
scripted curriculum, concept of core knowledge
"Great Books" approach
Mystic Valley's charter has been renewed every five years
"all that changed in 2018"
added culturally proficient and culturally competent
students individual cultures and identities
would require charter to change their approach and "not be faithful to its charter"
only "partially conducive to learning" according to DESE
"Mystic Valley has for years warned that this would be the result"
Mystic Valley has pursued "a waiver and a lawsuit"
"wants to educate students" not pursue this in court

share "what we believe to be misconduct" by DESE employees
"have targeted Mystic Valley for being a racist school"
did not know "the extent of the coordination" among state agencies "and a small group of vocal critics"
filed lawsuit for public records
"large scale and coordinated efforts of critics, the Mass Attorney General's office" the Commissioner's office
alum testimonials provided to AG's office and DESE
reports of these testimonials then were in the press
"to create a fictitious, scandal-like atmosphere"
I'm not writing all this down, but essentially, they're arguing that there's been a conspiracy against them and this is the result

I also don't follow how the school's lawyer is getting there, but somehow he is arguing that the district gets to go on its way whether the Board agrees with the Commissioner or not

superintendent cites MCAS scores
cites waitlist
"due to our popularity" school has been at or near sending cap in three of six communities
"implore you to take a very close look" at what has gone on so far

Craven calls up DESE staff to answer questions
"even though we're aware the charter school has sued us, we're really here to talk about the waiver"
reminder that much of what was said is with regard to the ongoing litigation
the question before the Board is that all charter schools be evaluated on the same basis

Hills: want to be sure he's understanding correctly
are there comments in writing that the school is out of compliance with regard to regulation
A: criteria is separate and apart from regulatory requirements
charter is seeking a waiver from one of the sections of the regulation, that all be evaluated by the same criteria
78 charter schools in Massachusetts; this charter school would be the only one evaluated differently
determinations of renewal are based on very clear criteria as well as governance practices
currently about 11 charter schools operating with conditions on their renewal
Hills asks if there are comparable situations to this
Chuang: do charter schools have to meet every aspect of their criteria? the answer is no
renewals can happen with conditions
Department has never expected schools to be perfect
reasons why conditions: don't see academic performance, governance practices not aligned with legal expectations, finance concerns, adherence to charter (for a school that is Montessori but was not implementing)

West: the Commissioner doesn't believe there is an inherent conflict between the charter and the criteria the state requires
Chuang: that is correct, there is no conflict
"the Commissioner has indicated that there is no need for this waiver"

Peyser: one question about timeliness" as their charter is not up for renewal
feels like this is premature
standards and expectations for all charter schools, but not an algorithm
"the case that's being made is a theoretical one" based on a midcycle site visit and report

Morton: challenging the legitimacy of two of the criteria in both the form of a waiver and the form of a lawsuit
"we have standards that have been adopted and approved" and they are seeking a different set of standards

to the Department's knowledge, this is the first time this has been sought

Hills: may be first time conflict with charter and criteria
"I'm sitting here absorbing information that's in conflict with each other"

Rouhanifard joked as sidebar that this could be a Supreme Court case
interested in that aspect

lawyer is back up
asks that they look at all the materials 
argues that the report that has been issued with be part of the renewal process in 2023

Craven: decision before the Board is if there is a conflict or there is not
other matters you've raised are not to the point

Carris Livingston asks for the definition of "American culture" that Mystic Valley uses
director: goes back to the foundation documents of the country
"all of these core traits that form the traits of our character education program"
helping our students understand "that we share far more than what might divide us"

Peyser asks if the Board is obligated to act on a waiver request
The Commissioner and the school have requested that the Board act
the Board "may grant a waiver in exceptional circumstances"

West asks for clarification
Morton reads the motion (which is written as "to deny")

Hills asks if giving reasons becomes part of a legal record
Legal counsel: "Mr. Hills, this is the motion the Commissioner is recommending"

motion to deny passes