Saturday, January 29, 2022

On Governor Baker's FY23 budget (a statewide look)

Governor Charlie Baker released his recommended House 2 FY23 budget on Wednesday. The full budget totals $48.5 billion.
Remember, it's House 2, because it is filed as a bill with the House; it is (bill #)2 because it is the second year of the Legislative session. Last year was House 1.

I tweeted out an account by account look on Thursday and Friday. I have also put all the education accounts into this spreadsheet, which I will update over the course of the state budget process. I won't go through all of the accounts here, but I'll hit some highlights.

The Chapter 70 state aid recommendation is $5.9 billion, supporting a $12.8 billion foundation budget for K-12 education statewide. You'll note that this is less than half of it, which is by design; the foundation budget is designed to be funded 59% with local funds. The recommendation is a second one-sixth step towards the goal rates of the Student Opportunity Act, increased by inflation. That's in  the rates for the health insurance, special education out-of-district, English learners, guidance, and low income students. This also increases the assumed in-district special education enrollment to 3.86% (4.86% for vocational), towards the goal of 4% (5% for vocational). It does again use 12 tiers for low income students. The October 1 (2021) count on which this budget is based increased the statewide low income enrollment count by 25,413 students; some of that probably is additional students who are poor, but some of that is better recognition of what already was, as I've been tracking here: 

The calculation uses the 4.5% inflation rate cap of the Student Opportunity Act, as the actual inflation rate would be 5.9%, so, if that was your bet on what Baker would do, you won. The calculation uses 4.51% for inflation for health insurance, which is better than it has been. The budget holds districts harmless on funding—no district sees a drop in Chapter 70 aid alone--as well as a $30 per pupil minimum increase for districts, both of which are of course in the Student Opportunity Act. 

My quick look at some districts shows some real impact on that poverty rate growth kicking in. Orange, for example, made its way out of hold harmless and into foundation aid. Mohawk Trail ate through $1M of their hold harmless this past year. We're getting there!

The circuit breaker reimbursement increases in this proposed budget from $393 million to $414 million; there's another round of the phase in of transportation reimbursement again this year as part of the implementation of the Student Opportunity Act. 

Charter school reimbursement increases from $154 million to $219 million. There are three things going on here. The increases in charter school tuition stemming from the increases in the foundation budget must then be offset by reimbursement. The next step in the phase in to fully funding 100% of charter reimbursement is also in here. The state is funding the next step, which is 90%, though the actual text of the SOA says in FY23, it will be 100%. They're following the phase in by year. In outside section 40, the proposed budget adds a proposed increase to the charter school facilities per pupil increment to $1088, which then would be tied to inflation. As that funding flows through charter tuition coming from Chapter 70, it then also creates a need for reimbursement initially.

Regional transportation reimbursement, funded last year at $82 million, is proposed this year at $77 million. We sometimes forget, I think, that this is a reimbursement account; it's based on completed actual spending. Some of that drop here is reflecting the drop in transportation spending during remote learning in the year from which estimates are drawn. 

Homeless student transportation funding is proposed for a substantive increase “to meet need,” from $14.4 million currently to $22.9 million for FY23, which seems wise.

METCO, funded last year at $28.5 million, is proposed in the Governor’s budget at $27.9 million.

Targeted intervention services, budgeted this current year for $17 million, is proposed to be cut this coming year to $10.3 million. Similarly, after and out of school grants, budgeted currently for $17 million, is proposed to be cut to $10.5 million. Extended learning grants, funded at $9.9 million this year, is cut to nothing. The regionalization grant to likewise cut to zero.
...all of which is rather depressing. 

On the other hand, two of Baker's favorite projects, early college and vocational education, are proposed for grant increases. He proposes a substantial increase in the early college program, funded this year at $5 million, to $9.5 million. What had been the Innovation Pathways program, he renames “Career Technical Partnership Grants,” raising the funding from $600,000 to $4.8 million. 

And for reasons I cannot decipher, the Executive Office of Education--that is, Secretary Peyser's office-- more than doubles from $2.3 million to $4.4 million, “to meet projected need and support new initiatives." I have no idea what that means, nor can I find anything further.  

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Liveblog: January Board of Ed on the budget

 Bell: "while we await the Governor's FY23 state budget proposal" (TOMORROW!)
working through FY22 budget
enrollment reserve: close to finalizing a recommendation on a methodology for that
will go to Secretary and Governor for review before going to the Legislature (wait, it has to do what?)
$55M Legislative bill passed:
HVAC, Compensatory services, educator diversity initiative, 53 separate Legislative earmarks

close to $3B in federal funding being managed
I missed how much of ESSER I has been drawn down; I'll ask
30% in ESSER II out
75% of applications approved for ESSER III
not yet approved: a lot of construction related; have to ensure that they adhere to state and federal procurement
$1.66B; approved about 3/4 of a billion of those funds out so far

looks like further Legislative action: masking and testing funding; not yet on Governor's desk

Peyser now arguing that DESE's isn't the bottleneck
districts enabled "to spend money as its needed"

Moriarty asking about outreach to families on compensatory services

Bell: let's be smart about getting it out there
$100M HVAC can be spent until 2027
even modest HVAC construction isn't going to happen overnight
"some of these things are multi year in nature"
Hills: school committee members are very focused on the cliff
to a large degree "money is fungible at the local level"
cliff impacts spending at local level "to a degree maybe not clear at this level"
"this is an issue that more people are following, what the real cliff is, than might be apparent"

Bell: local governance are still running their local appropriations
SOA: there are going to be additional funds coming
"how do you thoughtfully link up" those funding
DESE also managing private school federal support

Peyser: 2027 aligns with full implementation of SOA 
front load their investments that they might have to otherwise phase in
when funds were appropriated, was concern that there would be a hole
in addition to the one time COVID related expenses, a chance to front load

West: deadline to spending? or obligating?
Bell: expenditure dates

Hills: SOA plans? 
Riley: submitted. Have been very clear to districts about this phase in pick up of SOA from federal funding


Liveblog of January Board of Ed: MCAS Science

Rouhanifard: vote of acquiescence 
sad day, devaluing science

Peyser: don't want to send a signal that the sciences don't matter
need for high quality assessments

Moriarty: who we can't hear because his mic isn't on

Riley: updating lower grade science assessment

West: make the motion "despite the lack of enthusiasm"


Liveblog of the January 2021 Board of Ed: opening comments

 The agenda is over here. Livestream can be found off of this page

updating as we go once it begins...

We are here for the call to order! 

BPS parent: "given that families do not have a remote option this year..."
COVID safety has to be a continuous top priority
Families and students must have a voice in decisions
DESE making decisions without our input
"families are in turmoil"
"Despite what you say here today, we know that transmission is occurring in schools"
"Asserting that transmission does not occur in school" does not address the issues
"your current policy for test and stay does not reach all contacts who are exposed"
"So I ask, how can you say there is no transmission in schools"
shifting to testing at home will create more inequity
rapid test direction in only two languages
"the new DESE policy has many problems...offers an 'either/or' option"
"you did not consult us"
"we can't test our way out of this pandemic"
better masks, guarantee adequate ventilation and filtration in every eating place
do not penalize families for missing more than 18 days in a school year; families are getting court orders
support districts to investigate outbreaks
allow remote learning; needs to be support for families and students
"any mitigation strategies, any COVID protocols, there needs to be racial equity"

read testimony: need to address individual people, not just goalposts
that was a parent

Mass Advocates for Children: advocate for racial equity
parents have expressed their concerns, students have organized a walkout
pre-existing inequities..."COVID has revealed" how pervasive these inequities are
"I am here to urge you to put equity at the forefront of your policies"
urge you to ensure students can access their education safety
should have the right to access remotely, and should count towards instruction
"decision makers cannot continue to minimize the concerns of students and their families"

"I was here back in September begging you to consider the options available" to students and all of those in their schools
appreciated home and hospital mention from Morton, and SEL from Stewart
"It was sadly clear that the conditions and desires" of parents expressed "were certainly different than is typical in this space"
decisions made without consultation; have been denied repeated requests to meet with Commissioner
even now "no option for parents and guardians to testify via Zoom or in another language
"it literally sickened me to witness" the gap between our experience and the Board's understanding of this 
"to witness yourself pat yourself on the back for forcing testing" during a pandemic "as if the data all around you wasn't enough"
"as if the struggle of our teachers" and "our telling you wasn't enough"

Testimony asking to keep the other two test
"only serves to reduce the accountability standards of the adults in the system"

Parent in New Bedford: innovative charter school before the them
thanks Board members for being in New Bedford
over 150 in meeting, roughly 99% of audience disapproval for charter school; most who approved don't live in New Bedford or Fall River
"the people of Fall River and New Bedford have spoken, and I hope that people here listen to them"
analysis of proposal
"this fixation on learning loss needs to cease. I ask the Board to hold all school districts...schools...students on MCAS scores"
Additionally: bank has now withdrawn support for proposal
"the stability of the charter school is in question now that three members...have withdrawn themselves from the application"
application "has always been littered with red flags"
"now the school's governance in complete shambles"
"if BESE takes its responsibilities seriously, it must reject this application...if it does not, it significantly lowers the bar"

Dan French, vocational educational justice coalition
analysis of admission patterns

  1. overall, while doing better, not enough attention is paid to recruiting EL and students of color
  2. voke schools offer seats to less privileged students at substantially lower rates across comparisons groups
  3. when offered seats, less privileged students are more likely to accept seats than more privileged peers
Demand for seats outstrips vocational schools' admissions

Chelsea organizer: admission policy to local vocational school from 14 year old student
"the worst thing was knowing I could have learned something different"
guidance counselor "hesitant to encourage students to even apply" to vocational schools
every year "less and less" of students who might have thrived apply
"heavily discouraged" based on what they've seen in prior years
every student should have an equal opportunity to participate in vocational education
using data that's heavily biased
"will the Department enforce the civil rights standards or not"
and sorry, missing this testimony entirely...

Craven: thanks Board
"every speaker this morning represents someone who is diametrically opposed by someone else"
"thank the Board for standing strong and doing the due diligence"
thank the Board for being in New Bedford
"again, the concept that voices aren't heard...we hear them in hours and hours of testimony across the Commonwealth in many ways"
"kindness, patience, and partnership" across the Commonwealth
"lacking kindness in discourse"
haven't seen urban superintendents in some time; will be coming in
thank Governor Baker who has appointed all on Board (except the student member)
remembering Paul Andrews of MASS

Carris Livingston on Presidential Scholar's award
it's already done for this year, but to keep in mind for other years 

Peyser: normally would provide an update on the Governor's budget
doesn't come out until tomorrow

appears we've gotten past the peak of omicron
"but still we must remain vigilant"
part of preparation was handing out home tests "over holiday break"
it was LITERALLY over break, as opposed to BEFORE break, which would have gone better
planned on giving two, gave one
extended mask mandate
"over 300 schools and districts" (remember this includes charters) have signed up for new program
Johnston: "our testing program has never remained the same"
key is "the listening that we do"
visiting "five districts" to visit together
"available technologies" have changed
"our data are telling us that our schools are safe"
the change is to keep staff focused "particularly on symptomatic individuals"
"opt-in" by families
materials "translated" on our website
"have responded to what we've learned by listening to parents and students and staff"
changes if they are coming in late March, early April
Hills: were there any district leaders who told you that this was not a good option?
Johnston: overwhelmingly asked to reduce the burden
they literally didn't have a chance for the superintendents to talk back on that call
Stewart: what about districts that don't change?
Johnston: will continue to stay where they are, provided with testing and staff (what staff is that?)
Stewart: would be interested in learning about districts that aren't changing
Johnston: disparities between participation; "really pleased to say there is not a difference"
share that data, and we'll see
Stewart: what we learned last year; call for greater flexibility from students
"would love to know what best practices were picked up"
"really haven't heard much at all about any other best practices from year of best practices"
Lombos: new testing option an add on?
Johnston: a choice
Lombos: is that what you heard from the districts, that it was a choice not an add on?
Johnston: wasn't posed that way, but hearing this is very responsive to concerns
Lombos: respond to public testimony we're hearing
Johnston: what's happening in our communities in our
students testing positive "primarily due to" community transmission
Lombos: would say then it's one of the only places where there's testing and that the transmission is coming from other places 
Clark: we rely on our partners to do their work
effort to bring districts together
Johnston: "it's really the listening we've been doing"
"helping them make informed decisions"
not struggle alone
"need to have advice, need to have answers"

Carris Livingston: what if the test kits don't show up
Johnston: have a ready supply in our warehouses
redundant systems in distributions
Carris Livingstone: expired
Johnston: have checked
"it's tricky" 

West: move in change
Johnston: pool and/or symptomatic
West: so no longer test and stay
what are we seeing then
not seeing a sudden shift
Johnston: those with pool testing are maintaining, those with test and stay maintain

Moriarty: recognize and honor, the policy decision vital that schools stay open
"harder than it's every been before"
"think we should recognize and honor the heroic efforts that have been made" to keep schools open

Lombos: truancy issues and courts getting involved
if we are asking folks to test and quarantine
maybe it's a miscommunication with the courts?
Riley: "we'll get back to you on that"
Clark: "how much of that is our role?"
Riley: there is a part of that is our role
Johnston: "we have put out" guidance to schools and districts around working with families
really is about local schools and districts
recent webinar for principals, resources that aren't the courts
Moriarty: policies at district level "that school committees
Clark: "we're only as good as those implementing locally" the state law from the Legislature

Carris Livingston: continuing learning if they have to quarantine
how best to assist students if they have to quarantine
Riley: individual districts have contracts with teachers' unions
some of which don't provide for that
Clark: any authority of state?
Riley: local authority
West: can call out what we find objectionable
Peyser: more of hybrid issue
Lombos: want to check that there is actually a collective bargaining issue
Carris Livingstone: hear that hybrid was very difficult
"as communities not think of this as either or"
"remain open to discussion about this"

Riley: BPS MOU in a future meeting
All voke schools have submitted admissions policies
will begin process of evaluating

Saturday, January 22, 2022

Notes from the first meeting of the Worcester School Committee

 This blog started, of course, as a blog of the Worcester School Committee, 'though it started back when it wasn't possible for most of us to liveblog anything, back when I would lug a (heavy!) laptop to the public gallery at Worcester City Hall, write things up, and post only when I got home. I did liveblog some of the meetings I was in; I have done less of that during this past term, partly because juggling the multiple screens during a meeting is a bit much. I do continue to use this blog as my record of what's been going on, however, so I intend to continue to write up as I can what I can.

You can find Thursday's agenda for the first meeting of the new term here.

We were a bit late coming out of executive session--a quick look at the final page of the agenda, which spells out why we were in exec will tell you why--as we're both in successor negotiations and in COVID era negotiations at the same time.

We did have comment from EAW President Roger Nugent, on a few more requests for shared sick bank days. We also had an IA comment on their still-outstanding retro pay; the IA unit was the final one to settle, and thus the lengthy process of updating their pay is still in train. As Mayor Petty noted at the meeting, this is in part due to the city's ancient financial processing system; it was due to staffing issues in payroll (including having a lengthy time before a new manager of payroll was hired by the superintendent after our long-serving one retired in the spring). 

The first report--and I'd say the highlight of the meeting--was a report from our student reps on student sentiment, as gathered through a student survey. I'm going to insert copies of their issues slides below as images: 

The top five issues are mental health (more than half cited it), COVID, nutrition, facilities, and student activities. They also added transportation, as that's already being discussed. 

Each of the slides makes requests and then adds student quotes to the issue.
For mental health, the requests are safe space accessibility; promote resources; mental health awareness/training; expand wellness programming.
For COVID, the requests are social distancing procedures; supplying high quality masks; make-up work guidelines; more hand sanitizing areas.

For transportation, the requests are expand bus routes to students within the two mile radius.
For facilities, the requests are not locking bathrooms, making single use bathrooms accessible, examining HVAC in schools.

For student activities, the request is to enhance them.
The report was sent, by section to subcommittees: COVID and facilities and transportation went to F&O, mental health to TLSS, (and I think bathrooms may have gone to Governance for policy work? I'll have to check). 
The T&G featured this discussion in their coverage of the meeting. One of the things that was mentioned several times by students in their presentation was that in some cases, we have resources or answers to things, but students don't know of them. And if students don't know, it is as if we don't have them. UPDATE: And speaking of that, it comes up in today's Boston Globe article that spent a day with Stacia Zoghbi!
I won't recapitulate my arguments here, but I do think bathroom access is a basic human rights issue, and it makes me furious that we have to even have this discussion. 
I do want to say how fantastically grounding it was for the students to be directing the discussion, and on areas that are under School Committee purview. I'm so grateful that they're putting the time and work into this for the district.

Our second report of the evening was an update on the Barr Foundation-funded Portrait of a Graduate work. This report, which starts on page 44 of the agenda, went through again what this is, with a bit of an update at the end as to next steps. They'll be back in March with a draft.

Both F&O and the superintendent's search reported out: F&O on the ESSER hearing and the search on the public input sessions with the search consultant. Let me recommend the presentation that F&O received back in December on ESSER plans. 

Ms. McCullough had filed several athletic items which came back. Athletic eligibility was recommended to not be changed at this time. Coaches salaries will go to negotiations. She'd also asked about athletic spending; the backup we received was a record of spending. I believe the intent is to take this up with budget.

We voted to settle our bottom line for the FY22 fiscal year, which, yes, is the year that we're about half through. This is $2.25M higher than the budget we voted in June. You can find the full backup starting on page 103. The reason for the change is pretty straightforward: the city budget, and thus the district budget, was based on the Governor's budget. The Governor's budget has often been not what happens for schools, and that was true for this fiscal year again; the Legislature agreed to implement 1/6 of the Student Opportunity Act, while the Governor had budgeted for only 1/7. That's a $2.25M difference for us, and thus the update (which we knew in June would be coming; we just have to wait for the city to set the tax rates first). 

(I asked offline, by the way, if we should make a fuss over this, and it sort of doesn't really matter; by the time we pass our budget, there's usually a good indication of what the Legislature is going to agree on, so even if the line we pass isn't actually it, we know and can plan for what it is going to be.) 

We then had a number of items filed by members for further or future action:
  • Mrs. Clancey filed two items to do with safety and building access, stemming from the Doherty High incident last month. She's requesting a report back on safety and security around entering and exiting the schools, and an update on the role of security guards, including their hours.
  • Ms. Mailman asked--and the committee agreed--to have members address one another as "Member" which was amended to "School Committee Member" in meetings. 
    Our name plates are going to simply have our full names.
  • Ms. McCullough requested that we consider participating in the Practice Safe Skin Program through UMass, which is a sunscreen program.
  • Ms. Kamara asked that we set up COVID testing programs in each of the four quadrants. This is a great idea that we don't have the resources to do, which was the response of administration. As I also had filed an item asking for a COVID update as a standing item at each meeting, we took that up more generally. She asked for the protocols around COVID positive employees.
    The superintendent gave us the update on COVID positive cases: between 1/14 and 1/20, there were 936 positive students, 36 quarantined students, and 922 test and stay students; and 142 positive employees, 1 quarantining, and 43 test and stay. 
    Superintendent Binienda also confirmed that the district will not be switching to the new voluntary home testing protocol the state has put together. 
    I asked that the reminder about masking requirements go to school staff as well as students, as I've received a number of student complaints that staff aren't properly masking (and the balance of power is such that students aren't in the same position on reminders). I also asked if we could get a report back from Honeywell, which is currently doing an analysis of our HVAC systems, if the portable ionization/filtration units that had been in the old South High school could or should be moved to the cafeterias of the schools that don't currently have those, as many of us are concerned about lunch being the most dangerous time of the day for transmission of COVID.
  • Ms. Kamara asked that the position of chair and vice chair of subcommittees be clarified; this was going to Governance, so it will be taken up with the rules at their next meeting, as will my requested addendum that we also define the subcommittee's realms.
  • I sent policy DK to Finance and Operations so we can align it with the city charter (If you have ever heard me talk about why some city school committee members don't have to learn about warrants, you'll know why. I can do a post on it later.)
  • I sent an item on considering new and reoccurring building needs to the joint committee we have with the City Council (and have I mentioned how thrilled I am that Councilor Nguyen is chairing the Education subcommittee?)
  • Two to discuss that a number of other districts have been moving forward on: eliminating the "test out" option for the employee vaccination requirement, and adding a requirement that students participating in extracurricular activities be vaccinated. (That last was proposed by WPS student athletes who are concerned about their friends and teammates.)
  • I proposed a pilot of supplying menstrual supplies at secondary schools. The superintendent said that we do; as students don't know that we do--heck, I didn't know that we do!--it seems we have work to do, particularly around equity of access and not having to make special trips places and ask for them. It's going to Finance and Operations (budgetary impact).
  • Something we're overdue for on our calendar: to consider what observances are recognized by the Worcester Public Schools. That went to Governance. 
  • Another that came from students: To make provision within all WPS secondary schools of space for prayer during the day for those whose religious observance requires it; relatedly; to add to the student handbook notification to students and families that such provision will be made as needed. This is going to Governance for the policy aspect and to F&O for the physical plant question. 
We also voted to accept an FCC purchase of  $7,375,056 for the purchase of 23,192 Chromebooks, which, hey, is good news!

I want to do a separate post on two upcoming School Committee meetings, but let's let this one stand as it is! 

Monday, January 17, 2022

"We pauperize education": a letter to my delegation

“The richest nation on Earth has never allocated enough resources to build sufficient schools, to compensate adequately its teachers, and to surround them with the prestige our work justifies. We squander funds on highways, on the frenetic pursuit of recreation, on the overabundance of overkill armament, but we pauperize education." Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Speech to the United Federation of Teachers on receiving the John Dewey Award, March 1964

 To the members of the Worcester and Massachusetts delegations,

In the past week, thousands of students across the country, largely in urban districts including here in Worcester, walked out of their schools in protest of unsafe learning conditions. 
And those, of course, are just those who walked out, not all of those who feel this way. 

We have heard, over and over during this pandemic, that schools should be "the last things to close." That statement, however, continues to live in isolation, as there has not been a real policy in the United States or in Massachusetts that made other things the first to close. Thus schools have simply been ordered--and it is ordered, at this point--to open, without regard to what has been noted throughout the pandemic of the close tie with community spread and the intimate relationship schools have with all aspects of their community. There has been no community effort, let alone a state or national effort, to create the conditions and provide the resources in which schools can safety function in buildings during a pandemic. 

Likewise throughout the pandemic, there has been a significant lack of effort to close the gaping wound of racial health inequities which have continued through this time. Instead, the argument has been that children of color and in poverty most needed to be back in school buildings. This was well addressed this past week by Dr. Michelle Holmes, who in The Prospect wrote

It is curious to me that Leonhardt, Strain, Oster, and Bloomberg, none of whom are known as racial justice leaders, all now cite the disproportionate academic and social suffering of Black and Latino or low-income children as top reasons for in-person schooling, despite such disparities having been present historically. Nowhere in their arguments do they cite voices of color sharing their viewpoint. Also not evident are the voices of older people and those at high risk of exposure in their jobs.

As Dr. Tressie McMillan Cottom noted in her New York Times column this week

How we got here is a story about parents engaging with schools as consumers who want to extract the most school resources for their children. Mothers are the ones societally tasked with doing that extraction. A good mom gets the best learning plan, best teacher, best school, best activities and all-around “best” school experience for her kid. And a mom with the privilege of race and class gets to define the terms of what counts as best. 

This week alone, I heard firsthand of: 

  • a promising young elementary teacher who had to quit her job, as her young children kept having their childcare close due to COVID infections;
  • a number of combined elementary school classrooms, due to teachers and students being out due either to illness or to quarantine; 
  • students coming to school with known symptoms in order to be tested, as their families have no access to testing; 
  • students who didn't have a first or second shot because parents have not had the opportunity to get their children to a site, due to work obligations;
  • staff who are still deceived as to the nature of the vaccine; 
Students continue to be concerned that they will miss work if they miss school. Teachers are torn between attempting to continue to cover skills and material and leaving myriad children who are absent well behind. Administrators open every day scrambling to ensure that students are at least supervised during the course of their day. Parents are continuing to send students to school because the national message has been that the 'pandemic is over,' and thus there is no provision for them to stay home with sick or isolating or quarantining children. Everyone in district leadership knows we don't have enough bus drivers, or school nutrition staff, or nurses, on an average day, and that we are dangerously burning out those we have. 

I know of no one in my city, state, or country who has the sort of easy access to testing that guidance assumes: at home tests are hard to find and not cheap; PCR tests require taking time during the workday to stand in line. Neither of these is achievable for many. 
I know of far too many people who are not vaccinated, some of whom are are staff, many of whom are our students. I am exhausted by those who have cars and flexible time and access to health care and speak English as their first language who say that there is no excuse. When you are juggling three jobs in a country that pays little mind to your language or your health, when you don't have a car and have unstable housing and access to food, then perhaps we can discuss who has 'an excuse' at this time. 
Omicron has made it necessary to upgrade masks for those in spaces with limited circulation and other people (that would be schools), which has set off a mad scramble for parents who can afford to upgrading masks for kids, a handful of districts making their own arrangements, and yet another illustration of health and safety coming back to resources. 
And we simply cannot run schools without people. 

It is the responsibility of both the state and the federal government to provide for the health of its inhabitants. This is absolutely part of promoting the general welfare, as the U.S. Constitution provides, and the Massachusetts Constitution is even more explicit in the commitment: government is: 
to furnish the individuals who compose it with the power of enjoying in safety and tranquility their natural rights, and the blessings of life:

When we are continuing to so poorly fighting a pandemic that has taken the lives of 850,000 Americans, nearly 21,000 of them in Massachusetts, I would assert that we who take an oath to uphold and defend these documents are not doing our jobs.  

While I have perhaps grown accustomed to the lack of care for such issues by the state's executive branch, I confess that I have been puzzled to see what seems a similar attitude by the year-old federal administration. Justin Feldman's analysis of the Biden administration's response to the pandemic, posted last week, gave some much needed perspective. This, together with Daniel Boguslaw's piece in The Prospect looking at the leadership appointed at the federal level, well frames the lacks we have faced as a country. 

The argument has been "districts have plenty of money" due to the three rounds of ESSER funding. I would never wish to be seen as ungrateful, but it is the case that the rounds of federal funding don't provide anything close to the needs. As Jess Gartner of Allovue, among others, has been at pains to note, the total of ESSER funding represents about a 6% supplement to all K-12 spending over the life of the grants:

And even with money, there are things that the over three hundred districts of Massachusetts should not be having to sort out individually.

  • Everyone needs tests, and not just four from the federal government or two for teachers coming back from the state. If we are to base our actions on real knowledge, then anyone needs to be able to test as needed. We know this can be done, as its being done in other countries. The kinds of testing that require staffing--whether that's the public PCR testing or the schools pool testing--cannot be left to current staffing level. More support and access is badly needed.
  • Everyone in buildings needs masks, and they need good masks to protect against omicron. We cannot simply push this cost off to families of staff and students as well. There is no excuse for the back and forth about testing of masks given teachers, and we apparently could have been making them locally, to boot.  
  • The discussion around ventilation has demonstrated an enormous amount of ignorance of school buildings from those who should know better. I would suggest, however, that the state and federal government's substantial buying power could appropriately be applied to portable air filters for any school that doesn't have a system that runs MERV 13 filters already (which I am guessing, given what I know of local buildings, would be nearly anything not built or renovated in the past five years or so). Among other things, that would keep staff and students warmer in a Massachusetts January.
  • The inflexibility around local conditions that leaves superintendents negotiating safety measures with the Commissioner is a massive state overreach, as I have noted in the past, and it should be called out as such. It is simply not safe to have a single arbiter of school safety who has incredibly limited district level experience making the call for every district in the state. 
  • We cannot run schools without staff. We cannot run schools with sick staff. If the federal and state government mean to keep kids in school buildings, then they must live out what we have known from the early days of the pandemic and CLOSE THINGS THAT ARE NOT SCHOOLS. That means, please note, supporting those people who are impacted by closing other things. There is no reason and no virtue in pursuing a 'normalcy' that continues to kill people, do lasting harm to student health, and does not, in the end, actually keep schools open. 
As I said about this pandemic early on, if you had asked me to guess how Massachusetts would do at responding to a pandemic, I would not have dreamed that it would look like this. As a lifelong resident, as a parent, as an elected official, I believe it when I say that we are "a Commonwealth." We are not, now, acting like one. 
Both Massachusetts and the United States can and must be better than this.
Thank you, as always for your attention to this matter.
Tracy O'Connell Novick
Worcester School Committee

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Worcester School Committee standing committees for the 2022-23 term

 Released this afternoon: 

The very first meeting I ever went to for the Worcester Public Schools was what was then called a Business standing committee, chaired by Jack Foley. This has always been Jack's committee, so that's a lot to live up to.
I am beyond thrilled. 

Saturday, January 1, 2022

Most read of 2021

And sometimes the blogging happens at 4:30 am...

I don't spend a lot of time on my analytics on here, but once a year, I pulled them up to see what folks have been reading. Here's the top ten list for 2021:

As per usual, the blog itself is, far and away, the most often landed on, meaning that plenty of you stop by here to see what is new. Overall, this year was by far my smallest number of posts ever, which I will endeavor to do better on for the coming year. 

10. Letters to the Board of Ed ahead of yesterday's meeting, from March: These are the letters I wrote to individual members of the Board of Ed back in March when they were considering the guidance for this past fall's return to school.

9. A real "great divide" from October on the Globe continuing to ignore the elephant in the room around which parents have been behind the push to get kids back in buildings, "as normal" without masks and so forth. For the Globe, which terms its education "The Great Divide" to continue to ignore the role of race in this and other issues misses a major issue in Massachusetts education.

8. Switching to a non-pandemic local one, my comments on Worcester's sex ed vote from May is next. I rarely write out what I am going to say in a School Committee meeting, but for this vote, I did. Certainly among the most important votes that we took this term.

7. Every so often, people come across one of my older posts that has photos from a school and clearly start passing it around, and so it was with my 2015 post on Vernon Hill School. Note the WPA-era murals of Native Americans from the lobby. 

6. I spent a long time putting together a response to a student email I received last January on in-school transmission, so I decided to post it for those who might find it useful. Clearly many did!

5. My notes from the March meeting of the Board of Ed, at which they voted to change the time on learning regulations to force schools to have students in buildings full time are next, for obvious reasons. 

4. My length rebuttal to the Atlantic's article pushing for schools to reopen--one of many pieces in which the Atlantic fumbled the issue--is next. I would also note that the Atlantic piece is one of many this year in which the hyperlinks don't tell the story the text claims.

3. My February letter to the Worcester delegation, pleading with them to act as a co-equal branch of government--something, I'd note, we could still use--is next. I continue to think this:

 Had we started our response there--with Worcester, with Chelsea, with Lawrence--we would have had a very different result. 

And yet, of course, here we are.

2. Something we haven't seen in some time is a charter school application for Worcester; we had one this year (which didn't get sent forward to the next step), and that blog post is next. This is, I think, something which is not going to go away quietly in the coming years, so Worcester needs to be ready for it. 

1. And topping the most read individual posts is my March letter to the delegation questioning the Commissioner's authority, something which I have yet to hear anyone at the state level do. I think that coming out of this era, one of the things with which we need to wrestle is the question of who has what job. The model of everything being left to the local level except when the state decides it doesn't like what you're doing is not a good one. 

And on into 2022! Thanks for reading!