Superintendent’s Proposed Budget Presentation, 25 April 2016

Superintendent’s Proposed Budget Presentation, April 25, 2016

flipout5 present, Mr. Gendron absent.

There have been many reports that this budget season is going to be a tight one. Although the City has committed to increasing their contribution by $1 million, the school department had recently floated a budget total with an additional $1 million deficit gap.

Dr. Khelfaoui was on record as against making up the $1 million deficit through cuts to classroom teaching staff (link to Lowell Sun Article). Most of the reductions proposed are achieved through retirements and some through combining programs. Mr. Frisch who is LPS’ Chief Financial Officer, cautions that this budget leaves no room for salary increases in 2017.

Budgeting  and Finance Basics

Several terms – and the source of funding – were explained by both Dr. Khelfaoui and Mr. Frisch as they introduced the budget document (link at end). For clarity, I’m including parts of that discussion here.

Foundation Enrollment: the number of students attending public school in the district on October 1 of the previous year. The enrollment figure for the 2017 budget is based on the October 1, 2015 headcount.

Foundation Budget: the amount of money or minimum budget a community is required to spend to ensure a quality education. This is based on the October 1 enrollment from the previous year times the per pupil spending amount, again determined by the Commonwealth.

Required Local Contribution: The amount that the community is expected to contribute to the budget. It is determined through CASH + IN KIND services. In Lowell “in kind” services are such things as technology services (ex: payroll, purchasing) and maintenance (ex: plowing)

Chapter 70 Aid: This is a dollar amount determined by the Commonwealth and is based on a formula that takes into consideration the financial wealth of a community. The actual amount will be an unknown until the Commonwealth’s 2017 budget is set.

The DESE website holds more detail on all school financial terms and calculations.

Simply stated, the formula for the School’s Budget is:

Chapter 70 Aid + Required Local Contribution = Required Net School Spending

October 1 is a significant date in all things education. It is the date on which a school’s headcount is taken (this has been true throughout the 30 years I taught), and it is a significant date for determining not only the minimum budget for a public school district, but also is the basis for charter school assessments (once the headcount is taken in October and the money stays at the school/district no matter where that student may transfer beginning on October 2). 


I am certainly a novice at this, but it seems that if you enjoyed algebra and dealing with unknown variables, you will most likely enjoy budgeting for a school system.  The state contribution through Chapter 70 will be an unknown until the Commonwealth’s budget is in place, the “in kind” portion of the City’s contribution can be estimated, can’t be determined until all of those costs have been tallied (example: how much will plowing out schoolyards in 2016-2017 cost?).  Hence, the back-and-forth between City and School Departments.

The proposed budget from the Superintendent looks like this:

  • Foundation enrollment 15,616 students
  • Times per pupil amount from State*
  • Equals Foundation Budget for 2017 $183,238,362
  • Foundation Budget for 2017 $183,238,362
  • Less Chapter 70 aid (preliminary, best estimate to date) $138,588,381
  • Required City Contribution $  44,649,981

The City contribution is an approximately $1.5 million increase over the 2016 budget.

And now to break out the $44,649,981, because that City Contribution consists of both CASH and IN-KIND contributions. The cost of transportation is broken out separately. For 2017 budgeting, that amount is listed at $7,819,660. City Manager Murphy has committed to a $1 million increase in cash contribution over last year’s cash contribution, making that cash amount $19,856,851.  Breaking away the transportation costs from the cash contribution yields an actual cash contribution of $12,037,191. So,

  • City’s Cash Contribution $ 19,856,851
  • Less Transportation $   7,891,660
  • Net Cash Contribution $ 12,037,191

From here, the City contributes indirectly (in-kind services mentioned above) to a minimum amount of $44,649,981. Those in-kind services could be set higher or end up being more money, but the requirement under state finance is that the City’s contribution is, for now, at least $44,649,981.

When the City exceeds school spending, as it did last year, that’s fine; but when the City does not, the underfunded amount rolls over onto the next year’s contribution. Manager Murphy appears committed to meeting the City’s spending requirements. Historically, Lowell has fallen into both categories. A good discussion of the past spending/budgeting cycles are on the first four pages of the Superintendent’s proposed budget <link here>.

* The per pupil cost is determined based on many factors, including the economy of the community and the demographics of the students served.  My understanding is that this is not just one number applied across the Commonwealth, but specific to each community. Here’s a link ( with more detail for this process.

What are some of the suggestions for closing the gap between an ideal budget and reality?

First and foremost, both Superintendent Khelfaoui and Mr. Frisch stated that this budget is very lean and as efficient as possible. It aligns to the “pillars” of the Superintendent’s Strategic realignment plan (yet to be published, but the references to it throughout the budget are clear). There is no room for raises which should make for interesting bargaining for future negotiations with unions and non-union personnel.

Some proposals for solving the cash crunch might include an increase in cash from the City, bringing increased Special Education services within the district so that students with Special Education Plans requiring resources for out-of-district services (placements can range from $55,000 to $83,000 – and up – per student) can receive education services within the Lowell Schools (presumably at a less expensive rate). Lobbying the Lowell state legislative representatives to increase programming dollars from the state to support English Language Learners (ELLs) and Special Education Students and a suggestion from Mayor Kennedy to add school zones to the district so that transportation costs savings would occur (thought to be about $500,000).

Some cost savings will be achieved through retirements/attrition and consolidation of programs. The consolidation of the BRIDGE program for at-risk middle school students administered through Middlesex Community College with the Cardinal O’Connell program was discussed. Adding two fifth grade classes to the STEM School and two to the Wang to accommodate the bubble population of the incoming Grade 5 students. Cutting down requested increases in personnel (cutting the request for 21 ELL teachers to 5 for example) and consolidating administrative positions (example: 2 math coordinators will become 1 position) were also mentioned.  Dr. Khelfaoui expressed the hope that the personnel who will be losing current positions will apply for and obtain positions elsewhere within Lowell Public Schools.

There will be a need to add some line items in order to achieve the savings expected through consolidations. For example, an Educational Team Chair (ETC) is needed to lessen the case load of Special Education team chairs and 6 certified behavior analysts are needed so that services to students with autism can remain in-district.

The school committee had several questions about the impact of these adjustments to programs and staff and other changes in the proposed budget. Those questions and others voiced last night will be further addressed in detail at the Finance Committee Meeting which follows the regularly scheduled School Committee Meeting on Wednesday, May 2.  At that time, more detail about many of the line item changes will be provided.

A link to Amelia Pak-Harvey’s Lowell Sun story summarizing the meeting can be found here.

The full detail on the proposed budget is on the LPS website.

School Committee Meeting, 06 April 2016

School Committee Meeting: Wednesday, April 06, 2016

12022015ClockAll members present.

The Special Order of Business tonight focused on the Kathryn Stoklosa Knowledge Bowl competition, which has been a yearly academic match-up since 1988.  The 2016 winning Wang Middle School Team was featured along with all participants. Congrats to the Wang Team and their coaches and to all the participating teams from Middle Schools around the City. This is a huge undertaking and Carolyn Rocheleau Feeney who organizes the event received well-deserved praise.

The Wang Knowledge Bowl Team now continues on to a Regional Knowledge Bowl Competition scheduled for June 6-7 at the Stoklosa School.


There were 2 motions on the agenda. The motions included:

  1. 2016/149: A request to explore the possibility of LPS acquiring the Franco American School building (Mr. Gendron). This motion was rolled into the report of the Facilities Subcommittee (Item 12).
  2. 2016/151: A 3-part request to respond to what appears to be an insufficient number of substitute teachers available.  The 3 parts specified inquiries about teacher absentee rates, professional development activities held during the school day, and the substitute pool available. (Ms. Doherty).

This should be an interesting report. As a classroom teacher, and I know many of my colleagues felt similarly, I disliked planning for a substitute teacher. Teaching has changed and unless the substitute has an education background, time away is not very productive. Our curricula are packed. The pressure to keep lessons moving forward in order to keep on target for testing and curricula goals often cannot stand a disruption in the flow of lessons and learning.  Also, given the high level of teaching skills required and differentiation needed to address student needs, keeping students occupied with paperwork and reading from a textbook no longer is a viable option when teacher is out of the classroom. 

As Mr. Descoteaux commented, other school districts around Lowell are also experiencing a shortage of substitute teachers. The reasons for this are no doubt fairly complicated and may not necessarily be tied to money. 


2016/137 Mr. Hoey reported on the Policy Subcommittee meeting of Tuesday, March 15, 2016.  The meeting notes are contained in the packet. This meeting continued discussion and made a recommendation that LPS adhere to state law regarding placement of students in schools.

2016/138 Ms. Doherty reported on the Student Support Services Subcommittee meeting of Tuesday, March 29, 2016.  The meeting notes and extensive documentation regarding the LPS Student Restraint policy are contained in the packet. The policy was voted on and accepted by the full committee.  An item regarding planning for Lowell Career Academy as an Innovation School was accepted as a report of progress.

2016/147 Mr. Gendron reported on the Facilities Subcommittee meeting of Thursday, March 31, 2016 and presented information about Motion 8, 2016/149, a request to further investigation acquiring the Franco American School to address space issues.

Two items from the Subcommittee meeting responded to concerns about open work orders in all schools. Mr. Gendron has a list of prioritized open work orders which should be completed by the end of the school year.  A second item on the subcommittee agenda addressed concerns about transportation safety. John Descoteaux , Family Resource Center Coordinator, requests anyone who observes a bus driver operating unsafely contact him through Central Office so that the issue can be addressed in a timely way.

After learning through Mr. Frisch (Chief Financial Officer) that a 2-classroom modular unit planned for installation at the Wang School would cost over $500,000 (not including set up or break down), the Facilities Subcommittee strongly felt it wise to explore other space options to address the burgeoning student population expected at the Middle Schools starting next year and for several years thereafter.  Two parcels, one at the Polish American Veterans Club in Centralville, and the other being the Franco American School, were considered (the Polish American Veterans Club has since been put under agreement and is therefore unavailable). The motion requests continued exploration as to costs.

One recent report from the Franco American School Board mentioned that any sale would include keeping the Grotto and Stations of the Cross intact.  That could pose of problem for a public school if negotiations were to be successful.  A second consideration – and an expensive one I think – is that, to my best recollection, the Franco lacks ADA compliance, particularly for classroom spaces.  Retrofitting those items might be prohibitive. As was pointed out at last evening’s meeting, there will be little chance of obtaining school building funds from the Commonwealth as the high school project is already in the pipeline.

Reports of the Superintendent

Susan Maze-Rohstein, from Northeastern’s Restorative Justice program reported on the activities and recommendations coming from the program’s interactions with LHS groups following last Fall’s racial incident.  The full report is available in the meeting packet.  Referred to the Lowell High Subcommittee for further discussion of recommendations made by participants.

Carolyn Rocheleau Feeney reported on an extension of the 21st Century Grant to include 2 additional weeks of activities at the Morey and Shaughnessy School Summer programs for 2016.  The program has brought positive gains as seen through reading scores either increasing or through minimizing summer learning loss.  While this program is grant funded and grants only can be stretched so far, it would be wonderful for all of our students if such opportunities existed at every Lowell school.

New Business

  • A grant award for the Wang School was accepted.
  • Aramark, the current food service vendor, recommended to authorize RFP for a 1-year $14.757 million contract (with a $1.7 million revenue share returned to Lowell). The Aramark contract has 2 1-year extensions built in (revenue share would be the same).

The RFP was reviewed by Mr. Frisch, and representation from Human Services, elementary, middle and high school administration.  While Aramark has agreed to be part of a monthly advisory meeting which will include parents, I wonder why no parent representation was present during the RFP process.  As I understand it, several parents have concerns about the quality, sourcing (local?) and food service in general and, in my opinion, would have brought an important viewpoint to the discussions.

Following approval of Convention Requests, the School Committee went into Executive Session to review Collective Bargaining proposals and positions. Meeting adjourned from Executive Session.

The meeting packet can be found here.

The Other Growth Our Students Need

2013fielddaybAbout 10 years ago, I was introduced to the Responsive Classroom, a program that was highly supported in the school in which I worked. There are many principles of Responsive Classroom that not only make for good classroom management, but create an environment of communal trust within a classroom and a school as a whole.

The first principle of a Responsive Classroom has always been important for me, a foundation of my career as a teacher: The social and emotional curriculum is as important as the academic curriculum. 

Recently, Edutopia and other education news sources carried the tale of how student “grit” is a key to student success.  What is grit? Self-perception, the ability to overcome inner obstacles, persistence, resiliency, self-regulation of emotions – in short, as Carol Dweck has written, it is a Growth Mindset.

These ideas are essential to a child’s education. They are the social and emotional curriculum that form the foundation for academic growth. And they are often missing in classrooms jammed with test preparation and curricular standards.

Sandra Dunning, the Principal who introduced me to Responsive Classroom, believed in the importance of developing a community of learners. Each morning, a 30-minute block of time was carved into our schedules for the community-building of Morning Meetings, Greetings, collaborative activities that fostered this development in each student, teacher, and classroom. There was a calm, purposefulness to our classroom in those days, and when things went off the rails, as sometimes happens, our group was able to process together and resolve whatever issues had preceded it.

Sadly, under the guise of “raising the bar” and increasing “rigor”, by the last few years of my teaching career, the daily activities that had created and fed my students’ social and emotional growth were undermined and replaced by time-on-task schedules, test preparation and packed curricula. Most mornings, we could squeeze in a Morning Greeting between breakfast and leaving for Allied Arts classes; some days we could not.

Responsive Classroom Principle 4 reminds us that To be successful academically and socially, children need to learn a set of social and emotional skills: cooperation, assertiveness, responsibility, empathy, and self-control. We are short-changing our students’ education when we can’t attend to emotional and social growth.



Onerous Regulations….

Yesterday’s presentation of the Senate bill proposing a compromise to the Charter School ballot question got a predictable reaction. No one is totally happy, but the unhappiest reactions came from those who advocate lifting the cap on charter schools in Massachusetts – the ones who continue to quote the 34,000 student waiting list even in the face of the State Auditor’s report saying that number is unsubstantiated.

This morning’s Boston Globe article contains a reaction from pro-Charter spokesperson, Mark Kenen of Massachusetts Public Charter School Association (you’ll have to look Dr. Kenen’s credentials up on Linkedin yourself). The quote, from the Boston Globe, is:

Marc Kenen, executive director of the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association, added that “it imposes onerous new regulations that will shackle the operation of existing charter schools.”

Wait a minute, those “onerous” new regulations, those regulations that will “shackle” operations? Some of these regulations are things such as using enforced suspensions of students as a means to create “school safety”.  The reliance on suspension over other less-draconian discipline actions have recently come to light nationwide (see UCLA report on Charter School suspension rates here making note of the 44.7% suspension rate at Roxbury Prep).

And then there are those pesky regulations requiring certification of teachers and representation of parents and teachers on governing boards the same standards required for traditional public schools. (For more on governance, see the Annenberg Report, Whose Schools published yesterday).

Wow, if those things are considered onerous, then why not unshackle traditional public schools as well?

Reference to the act, S2203, is found here.