Friday, June 4, 2021

What did you propose at last night's Worcester School Committee meeting?

 As we opened budget deliberations last night, I shared the following with my colleagues on the Committee: 

June 3, 2021

FY22 WPS budget transfers and additions of Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief funds

For consideration at June 17, 2021 meeting

Early elementary classroom teachers:

As has been discussed in Worcester and elsewhere for years, lower class sizes in the youngest grades, providing much more time and attention to each individual student, allows for greater student success in school. This success stretches well beyond literacy and numeracy into social development, mental health support, social emotional learning and more. One of the main ways in which Worcester is set apart from wealthier communities across the state in elementary instruction is in our class sizes; even as we have managed to stay at or below the foundation level, other communities have lowered sizes further.

In the interest of creating this atmosphere for our youngest students, it is proposed that the 13 positions proposed as early literacy specialists instead be added to the budget as early elementary (K and 1) teachers, to lower class sizes significantly. These positions should be held aside for assignment until student enrollment is known.

This proposal does not require a transfer of funds; this is the additional funds in 91111 Teacher Salaries, which will be picked in up FY23 through the increase in the foundation budget due to the Student Opportunity Act.

Adjustment counselors and support:

The overwhelming outcry of the pandemic has been the need for increased mental health supports for our students. To meet this need with an increase of only 4 additional adjustment counselors is woefully insufficient. 

It is proposed that the Worcester Public Schools bring the ratio of specifically adjustment counselors to students down to 1:250. This would require an additional 17, rather than 4, positions to the 79 the district already employs. 

The cost of these 13 additional adjustment counselor positions is $1M plus $117,000 for health insurance for those positions. This requires an additional allocation of federal funds for this year only, of $1M to 91111 Teacher Salaries and of $117,000 to 500132 Health Insurance. 

At this time, the long-term creation of the remote academy remains in question: what grade levels it will be, if it is a transitional program, or if it will be longer lasting. If it is a shorter time program, the transition of students out of the remote academy in the 2022-23 school year will allow these positions to transition into the general fund as those positions phase out.

The strain of this work, plus the ongoing trauma of students, necessitates further support for staff. To this addition of staff, it is proposed that the Worcester Public Schools enrolls the entire district in the BRYT program, already successfully piloted at Woodland Academy, for a cost of [awaiting administrative report on this amount]. 

Districtwide equity audit:

The Committee has, through an item sent to subcommittee, agreed to consider a districtwide equity audit. Doing so would be in line with work being done by the city of Worcester in its own FY22 budget. We also know that such work is necessary for the well-being of both our students and our staff in order to have a system that is equitable to all. 

For a first year’s installment in this work, it is proposed that $140,110 be set aside for payment for an out-of-district provider of such work. 

The proposal is that $140,110 be moved from account 91110 Administrative Salaries to 500130 Personal Services in lieu of the additional administrative positions proposed. 

Districtwide institutional bias training:

The Worcester School Committee has shown its own commitment to institutional bias training with its own time earlier this year. In order to fulfill the priority of both the strategic plan and the Student Opportunity Act plan to expand institutional diversity, the district must create a climate and culture in which those from diverse backgrounds are welcomed and appreciated. To expand this commitment of the School Committee to the rest of the district requires a real commitment of funding.

In order to fulfill this commitment, it is proposed that $797,600 be set aside for such work during the full day professional development for district staff. This is proposed in lieu of the early literacy training for 6 sessions and for reading recovery in account 500130 Personal Services in the bridge funding for the Student Opportunity Act. 

This proposal does not require a transfer of funds.

Per pupil supply funding:

The per pupil funding for supplies has been frozen at $68 per pupil since the line was increased to that in FY13, nearly ten years ago. From this, schools are expected to provided all supplies need for students, as well as supply music, PE, art, and their library. It is entirely insufficient for these purposes. 

It is proposed that the per pupil allocation to schools be raised from $68 to $75, for an increase in the line of $168,000. The proposal is to reallocate these funds from the proposed increase in Instruction and School Leadership, line B to line A. Note that line B is already funded at $395,912; this proposal reallocates only the increase. 

These funds then will be picked up in FY23 in the increase of the foundation budget due to the Student Opportunity Act.

This proposal does not require a transfer of funds.

The following proposals are put forward for the 2022-23 school year for advanced planning: 

Summer school:

As it is proposed, WPS is offering 13 or 14 half days in July of summer school, with limited space. This is insufficient for the needs of Worcester Public School students coming out of the pandemic. 

As planning time is insufficient for this summer to be used, we need to look ahead to next summer to ensure we are well prepared for our students. The Worcester Public Schools are well-equipped to run summer day camp programming that embraces the academic needs of elementary students under the guidance of teachers while providing work experience to our older students. An eight hour a day program, with breakfast and lunch provided, with programming for games and sports, for art, for enrichment of the academic subjects tailored to the needs of students run citywide out of schools would be of service to all.

This one time program employing district secondary school students at a 1:10 ratio with elementary school students overseen by district staff, provided with nursing, custodial, and administrative oversight, as well as with appropriate supplies could be run, given current contractual rates, at a cost of $10M for the summer. 

Full day preschool:

Focus on early childhood education was raised frequently during last spring’s Student Opportunity Act public hearings, and as such, are part of the district’s SOA plan. As has been noted for some time, the half day programs provided by the Worcester Public Schools meet the needs of neither students nor families. Both the educational and the scheduling needs are better met by full day programs. 

Taking our half day programs to full time for the 2022-23 school year would require an additional $2.3M in staffing (in line 91111) plus supplies and materials and facilities. There will never be a better time for this district to have the start-up costs necessary for such a program. It is to be hoped that the offer of full day programming would also pick up additional enrollment, offsetting some of the cost of this moving forward. Regardless, the cost can be picked up through the foundation budget increases of ensuing years. 

Facilities and Ordinary Maintenance:

The Facilities and Ordinary Maintenance account 500152  is being supplemented for FY22 with $4M in federal funding as part of the planning process for major capital work in FY23 and FY24 through such funding. The chronic flat funding of this account in a district with buildings ranging in age from the mid 19th century to brand new, with the full range of equipment that entails and with millions of square feet of buildings to repair is simply irresponsible. It is proposed that we as a Committee plan to pick up at least this amount of additional funding over the next several years of the implementation of the Student Opportunity Act, increasing the account by at least $1M a year.

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