Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Learning the parts of a story through a budget update

 It's undoubtably partly due to it being back to school week in Worcester, but I was reminded of teaching freshman English in reviewing this week's Worcester School Committee agenda and in particular the FY23 budget update.
Did you learn about the parts of a story in English class?

Remember this? 
Exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution

We open our story with the Worcester School Committee passing an FY23 general fund budget of $417,802,152 back in June. That's the beginning.

The rising action is that Governor Baker then signed a final FY23 state budget on July 28 (yes, four weeks into the fiscal year). 

And here's the climax: that budget funds the Worcester Public Schools at $945,067 less than the budget the Worcester School Committee passed in June. 

Let's stop here for a minute at the top of our plot line and talk about why. 

Chapter 70 aid--state aid for K-12 education in Massachusetts--gets allotted by district. So you can pull up a spreadsheet that says "Worcester is getting $316,240,166 in state aid." 
But that same aid is what supports all of the funding for students from Worcester who go to charter schools, and all of the funding that accompanies students who live in Worcester but use school choice to attend a public school in another town. That gets pulled out of Worcester's state aid before it gets to the Worcester Public Schools.
The state runs an updated assessment when they put together the final state budget numbers, and that includes updated enrollment figures and assessments for both charter and school choice. Thus as Mr. Allen explains: 

Charter school tuition assessments increased by $334,788 in the final state budget, primarily due to transportation assessments for the Learning First Charter School that were not included in prior charter school tuition assessments (an increase of $876,567), offset by a decrease in the projected number of 32 charter school students totaling $541,779.

So the number of students enrolled in charter schools is actually down, but the transportation assessment (the Worcester Public Schools has to either transport or fund transportation for all Worcester students attending Worcester schools, charter, private, or parochial) for Learning First came through at the same time at $876,567...quite an increase in the assessment.

Likewise on choice, we have:

School choice tuition assessments increased by $417,217 in large part based on the final school choice assessment from the prior year, and the final FY22 school choice assessment in June was $96,969 higher than the most recent prior estimate from March—not including virtual school students. Pre-enrollment estimates from the two Commonwealth Virtual Schools for the upcoming school year increased from 149 in FY22 to 171 students in FY23.

What's interesting to me here is that the big jump is from the prior year--FY22--not the current one. 

Thus, we're almost a million dollars down in funding from the budget we passed in June. 
Not a comfortable place to be at all/in August/at any point in the year.

However, here's the falling action to the resolution:

The Acting City Manager has agreed that he will recommend that the City Council appropriate anticipated FY22 Free Cash to fully offset this change in the state budget, thus resulting in no change for the Worcester Public Schools FY23 Budget.

 (You have to admire that we get this after the finance charts in the memo).

Note that this will not happen until the city goes to settle free cash in November, thus we're living in this in between period until then. I believe this is why we have the note on the use of ESSER  funds; otherwise, we'd have to vote to cut our budget, as assurance by the executive of the use of free cash isn't enough to make the numbers reconcile. Nonetheless, much appreciation to Acting City Manager Batista for making that commitment. It's certainly a happier resolution than far too many budget memos I've had reason to blog about! 

Thursday, August 25, 2022

August Finance and Operations: facilities

 F&O met on August 15 and reported out at the meeting on the 18th, but I'm still getting questions on things connected, in particular, to the Facilities report, so I'm going to write up my notes here from that. The agenda is here and the presentation we received at that meeting I've shared over here.

First up, please note: like many other sectors, the Facilities department is running short-staff (and there are openings!); as of the 15th, there were 28 custodial vacancies. As Mr. Bedard noted: Realize how this works, incidentally: we don't leave schools entirely uncovered, so this necessarily means shifts happen across the system to ensure every building gets coverage. That does mean, though, that some places don't have all they need as a result. 
The summer work to get schools ready for back to school has been going on, and the field prep for athletics is also ongoing.
ON THIS AND EVERYTHING ELSE: supply chains supply chains supply chains...we can only get things as quickly as we can get them. That matters a lot whether we are cleaning or fixing or replacing things, so please be patient.

Regarding the environmental management of the district: water sampling for testing of lead and copper was competed in the spring, and fixtures are being turned on and off and signage is being updated. Watch for further communication updating that. 
Quarterly PCB inspections are scheduled for Doherty and Burncoat; the asbestos three year inspection are ongoing. 

The $150,000 water bottle filling grant (!) was accepted at the August 18 meeting. That state grant provides for bottle filling stations (under very particular parameters) at the following places: 

If your school isn't on here, either it's among the newer schools that may already have them OR it didn't fit the parameters of the grant. We are doing some planning for additional such stations, though, through federal funding.
We have only now received the funding for this: please note that these now have to go through procurement and planning and installation (don't look for them next week; they're not there yet!).

Please join me in being unsettled by the lack of boiler in this space 
(note there is one next to it)

There are boiler replacement projects at Belmont, Chandler Magnet, City View, and Goddard; a boiler replacement is in the planning stages at Vernon Hill. Note that most of our boiler replacements in recent years have been at least partly funded through MSBA (through the accelerated repair program), but we can't always wait to go through the process (boilers are a necessary thing). With fifty buildings (most of which have more than one boiler) that have had underfunded facilities needs for decades now, there's a significant amount of need. 

The BIG project this summer is the Worcester Arts Magnet roof (which is an MSBA Accelerated repair project): 
My photo of the new WAMS roof going in.
The roof will be done this summer; the ADA upgrades (triggered by the cost of the roof) will be done next summer.

There are new hot water heaters going in at Burncoat High and Middle Schools (that's abbreviated DHM for domestic hot water, which is a thing that I learned for this meeting). 
Also at Burncoat High: bleachers in the gym! The bleachers were just going to be pull-out bleachers, but the company has told us that they, given the weight at the size, need to be motorized for safety. Those then are needing some more planning before replacement. 
Also at Burncoat High: the new window blinds are being produced!

GENERAL BURNCOAT STATEMENT: Please note that two things are true at Burncoat:
  1. It continues to be next one being voted by the Worcester School Committee and Worcester City Council for major renovation or repair. Eleven years ago, we opened new North; last year, we opened a new South; new Doherty is under construction. We have had a very strong relationship with the Mass School Building Authority, where we have--unusually!--been able to have two major projects going at the same time. With South now open, fingers crossed on getting Burncoat in.
  2. Burncoat High is undergoing its every-ten-year NEASC reaccreditation. As part of that process, the reaccreditation committee has come back with a report on the facilities, with their concerns. That's in the process of being reviewed and sent out for further study. Even as we plan to replace the building, it's obviously still being used as a school, and so those two things need to be held in balance. 
Claremont locker repairs are being scheduled.
The Elm Park gym floor is being torn up (may be completely up now!) before the layers of waterproofing and other underfloor prep happen before the new one can go in. This is going to take some time
Greendale Head Start has a new parking lot.
The walk-in refrigerator at Norrback is in the engineering stage.
The fire alarms are being replaced at West Tatnuck (it won't be done before school starts, but the old ones weren't taken out yet, so the school has them).
Grafton Street's cafeteria ceiling work will be done before school starts. 

A word on elevators: the Vernon Hill freight elevator was raised at the meeting, but I have been asked about others; we do have several elevators where the issue is beyond waiting for a part (which has been a thing, certainly), and is into questions of replacement (which is very expensive). Thus some of those are much longer term discussions. 

Finally, watch for updates in the future (probably our next F&O meeting on September 8) on the Honeywell and Nault Siemens review of our HVAC systems for upgrades through ESSER funding. Because that is a capital expense, it had to be reviewed and approved by DESE. 

As always, if you have questions, comment or get in touch! 

Friday, August 19, 2022

Last night at Worcester School Committee

As always, this summary is me and mine, so take with that.

We heard a report on summer learning at both the elementary and secondary school levels over the summer. In total, we had about 11% of the student population served, in programs ranging from the extended year for some students who have IEPs, to a summer camp option, to multilingual programs, to a Generation Teach program, and to an early college option.
The final slide, I think, pulls together where we are going forward: 

For any like me with their eyes on ESSER, I did mention last night that I'd like an update on where we are with the 20% set aside for learning loss from ESSER III.

We approved a SLEW of grants (and if you have questions, can I recommend looking at the report? They're useful!):
  •  $85,000 for social emotional support for out of school time mental health support. I should note, by the way, that there is major work coming on mental health for students and for staff. Thus here and later on, if it seems as if we're punting a few things, it's because we know that work is going on.  
  • And everybody's favorite: the $150,000 SWIG (how clever are they on the acronym?) grant for water bottle fillers. Because I have gotten some questions on this: please note that the grant program has strict outlines as to which schools can get grants, so if your school is not on this list on page 107, it isn't that you're being ignored. There has been discussion about additional efforts on this for other schools through ESSER funding, so stay tuned.

We did report out from Finance and Operations...I will try to do a separate writeup of that.you can find that here.

We got an update on COVID, which is going to continue to be part of school committee meetings this year. The state, as I think has been well covered, is offering no new guidance for this school year; the management of the district COVID response is now shifting to the Deb McGovern, the head of nursing. There are no state supplies at all. Worcester is keeping the medical waiting rooms, staffed by CNA's. However, there is no test and stay; the district will have tests which they can send home with symptomatic students, and students who are symptomatic will be sent home with instructions to isolate, but there will be no contact tracing this year. 
Thus students, staff, and families will have no idea if they have been exposed at school. I will offer my opinion that people should then proceed accordingly.

We had an update on how Chromebooks will be provisioned and handled in schools this year. Last year's order of over 23,000 Chromebooks has put us in good shape for this year. Every student grades 1-12 will be assigned a specific Chromebook; if it needs repair, they'll sign out a loaner, but then get the same Chromebook back after repair. We do have spares at every school in the system now, and there's essentially a weekly cycle of schools among the IT professionals assigned. 

If you haven't reviewed the latest broadband report from the Worcester Regional Research Bureau, it's what came in from the municipal broadband committee

On Jermaine Johnson's motion, we voted to send Sue Mailman as our delegate and Laura Clancey as the alternate to the annual Delegate Assembly of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees in November.
Relatedly, we also changed our November 3 meeting to November 10 (four of us plus the superintendent will be at the Joint MASC/MASS Conference in Hyannis that week).

We then had a length discussion, which may have been a little hard to follow if you're not up on how Worcester School Committee functions: when there's a motion at a Committee meeting, for the most part, they can go two places: to one of our subcommittees, or to administration. Now, if they're on a subcommittee agenda, the chair of those subcommittees works with administration on what items end up on a meeting agenda. If it goes to administration, it pretty much is there until administration decides to bring it back.
And so they can, and they have, build up. 
I filed an item for this agenda to look at all outstanding administrative items and decide if we still needed them. Some of them are just old (and never got responses). Some, though, as I said at the meeting, were a response on the Committee side to managerial inaction; if you can't get an answer or a response from administration offline--and we should be forwarding requests for information offline!--a Committee member may well file an item. We also might, in the face of administrative inaction on something that is managerial, file an item seeking action.
That isn't best practice. It isn't what's supposed to happen. When it does, something is broken; in Worcester, something has been. 
So as a means of clearing the decks and moving forward with a new administration that has, clearly, every intention of being responsive (and frankly, already is), we reviewed the outstanding administrative items and we filed (which means they're gone) a LOT of them. 

We voted in favor of the administration's recommendation that we increase the day-to-day sub rate from $85 to $110. Note that this also includes the following information: 

The Administration intends to use the funding for up to 50 day-by-day substitutes to supplement the 70 full-time building substitute positions included in the FY23 budget, for a total of 120 available substitutes. During the last school year, the average daily absences of teachers (in positions that require a substitute) was 120.4 (with a high of 200 absent on January 6, 2022, and a low of 25 absent on August 30, 2021).
Although the FY23 Budget did not include funding for day-by-day substitutes, the cost for this year will be funded through available ESSER carry-forward funding (unexpended summer and after-school funds during FY22). It is expected that the total cost to be $990,000. The effectiveness of the additional substitutes will be discussed with building principals during the course of the year and evaluated as part of the FY24 resource allocation process.

...which, as someone who was very concerned that there was no provision for day-by-day subs in the FY23 budget, is very reassuring. We're also sending the policy on subs to Governance, as we're concerned by how often paraprofessionals are being pulled off their assigned duties to sub.

We also approved the removal of the bar on all backpacks in school except those made of clear plastic or mesh. Thus, yes, students in school may carry backpacks this year.

And finally, I am happy to say, we approved for execution the contracts of Brian Allen as Deputy Superintendent, Chief Financial Officer, Chief Operating Officer; and Marie Morse as Assistant Superintendent of Teaching & Learning. Those contracts were signed last night after we adjourned. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

A note on WPS student discipline

 Passing along from Dr. Monárrez's weekly update to School Committee members the following:

As we develop a long-term strategy for addressing student discipline processes, long-term suspension and incorporating a restorative approach to student discipline, we will be shifting student discipline oversight to the Assistant Superintendent, Teaching and Learning division. For the immediate all long term suspension hearings will be conducted by our retired quadrant manager, Dr. Mary Montaque. This is a short term action until additional quadrant managers are hired. Then quadrant managers will take on the role of working with schools to ensure restorative approaches are being utilized before long-term suspension is recommended. This model will stay in place while I complete my entry plan and we finalize the strategic planning process.

The School Safety officer, which had led long-term suspension, will be focusing on building safety and emergency management.  

Monday, August 15, 2022

August Board of Elementary and Secondary Education : public comment and MCAS

 This is the "one on the MCAS" though note that updating the state's accountability regs is also on today's agenda, as is a bullying regulation change, and an update on the budget. Because this was not a regularly scheduled meeting, I will not be liveblogging it all, but will catch up later. 

Posting as we go once the meeting starts...jumping in mid-public testimony
Interesting: the livestream missed this, but as the first panel was being introduced, there was a member of the public yelling about "no child is safe" though it was unclear on exactly what.

Sunday, August 14, 2022

WPS summer reading on governance

Sent to the Worcester School Committee this Friday in our weekly update was a link to what district leadership read as part of their work when they met this week:

The piece is called "Fighting Fires in Educational Administration" by Karl E. Weick; I found a non-paywalled version here. 

First, I just want to note that I appreciate getting homework from administration to keep us on the same page. This linked immediately in my mind to something Dr. Monárrez said to us in her interview regarding the role of administration: 

I could write paragraphs about this, but suffice for now to say that's a frame of governance that we've needed badly. 

I recommend reading the whole piece (especially if you work in/ think about organizational governance). The above, though, is also effectively proposition 4 from the article: effective firefighting occurs when people strive to manage issues rather than to solve problems. As Weick writes:
The things that come across the desk of an educational administrator can be labeled problems to be solved or as issues to be managed. When the interruption is labeled a problem, there is the expectation that people will hit it hard, that it can be solved, and that once it is solved it will stay solved. However, when an interruption is labeled an issue, once expects that it will be managed rather than solved, that it will take different forms over time, and that endurance and persistence will be needed to keep it under control. 

And of course, endurance and persistence are badly needed in education, in any case! 

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Let's talk about city budget reporting

 Tonight, the Worcester City Council agenda has a report on FY22; remember, that's the fiscal year that ended June 30. As City CFO Tim McGourthy notes, "while FY22 has ended, there are still year end transactions being processed that will change the final year-end financials from the attached reports." So we don't yet have the full picture here of where the city ended up for the full year.

I've always found the city's financial reports a little...opaque(?), so I thought I'd do a smidge of a post here on what you can see here of the Worcester Public Schools' financials. In order to do this, I cross-referenced this against the FY22 WPS budget financial section and the September (2021) budget update.

(Did you know that our budget updates have their own page? I use it a lot!)

As noted in the memo, the reason there's a difference between the adopted and actual (for the school lines) is the adopted budget (in June) was on the Governor's budget, and last year (like many years, though not this one!), the Legislature's conference committee budget increased (in particular) education. This is why both the School Committee and the City Council passed updated budgets later in the year.

For spending, you'll see the report looks like this:

So we have the adopted and actual as in the revenues, but why are there these divisions?
The answer is on page 124 of the FY22 budget:

(It's actually MGL Ch. 44, sec. 32)
So the city does that, and then replicates it again for the parts of our budget that don't "count" towards the city's required spending (the bulk of that is transportation).

Now, while the cost centers we pass the budget with cite those, so you can go through our budget and make this work, this isn't necessarily all that useful a way to think about our budget. This is really about all the City Council gets on their side when it comes to the city budget, though, which makes, I think, it more difficult to see where the money goes. That's how the municipal reporting works, though.

Tellingly (I'd say), the law itself says:
The foregoing shall not prevent any city, upon recommendation of the mayor and with the approval of the council, from adopting additional classifications and designations.