School Committee Meeting, 17 August 2016
This was a lengthy (2-3/4 hours) meeting due to not only the summer schedule of monthly meetings, but the financial topics that became the focus of discussion. Apologies in advance for the delay in getting notes out; I also presented information about First Book to the Committee (separate post to follow).
Permissions to Enter
Contract ratifications for the Superintendent and Assistant Superintendents were deferred to Executive Session, which followed the public portion this meeting.
Mr. Gendron shared findings from the Facilities Subcommittee meeting of 8/11. The recommendation, followed by full School Committee approval, to name the Butler School Auditorium in honor of former administrator Mary Alice Foley was made. (Approved). Additionally Skanska, the Project Manager for the Lowell High School Building Project, presented a quarterly report of the work thus far and listed deadlines and timeline for the projected planning work needed to be accomplished ahead of a May 31, 2017 Mass. School Building Deadline.
While I understood this to be a huge construction project for the City of Lowell, I was unaware that the LHS Building Project is the largest school building project in the Commonwealth. There is a need to get the design “right” (sustainable with adaptability for future needs projected 20-30 years out) and to ensure that the costs are under control throughout all phases of the project. The Project Manager, Skanska, is charged with this task and will work with the design team. To view the timeline for the work that is envisioned, Sanska has provided details beginning around page 73 of the School Committee Packet.
Reports of the Superintendent
The Superintendent offered 12 reports to the Committee. The ones receiving the closest scrutiny were financial in nature, but attention also was given to a facilities report by Mr. Rick Underwood. The Doors Open Lowell Public Schools announcement has been covered in detail by both Amelia Pak-Harvey of the Lowell Sun and through the LPS Website. I was also wearing my “other hat”, co-coordinator of the Lowell First Book Truck Event in October, and will detail that event this week as we kick-off efforts to bring 40,000 free books to our Lowell Public Schools families. Sharon LaGasse and Kristina Webber presented an end-of-year report on Food Services and the CEP program in Lowell.
The Purchase Order Report (2016/311), received extended discussion as it addressed some of the expenditures and encumbrances made at the end of the fiscal year. Mr. Gignac requested clarification some June 30 Purchase Orders including rental of the Tsongas Center (graduation) as well as hardware (Apple Laptops and carts).
Further in the discussion was the proposal for how to make up the last-minute loss of Kindergarten Grant Funding. The Kindergarten Grant in Lowell is used in part or in whole to support the services of instructional paraprofessionals at the Kindergartens across the City. On July 17, Governor Baker’s veto during the Commonwealth’s Budget process created a loss of funding for the Kindergarten Grant – and other budget items as well. The Lowell School Administration in attempting to find ways to maintain the paraprofessional positions, has resorted to what I liken to rearranging the deck chairs. LPS had a budget surplus which seems to have some connection to the “fifth” quarterly circuit breaker payment accounted for in the 2015-16 budget of $2.8 million. The carryover to 2016-17 is restricted by law to $2.3 million which leaves $548,000 to be returned to the City of Lowell.
Noting the amount needed to make up for the loss of funds triggered by the Governor’s veto, the LPS would request $527,642 once the books are certified by the Commonwealth (December 2016?). The City Manager had been alerted that there might be need for up to $600,000 in supplemental requests to make up for the loss. The trail of transactions as I understand it, would be this:
- Funds in excess of $2.3 Million returned to City (approximately $547,000)
- School Committee will request $527,642 supplemental from City Council
- $527,642 will be placed by City in a Suspense Account (and eventually transferred to the line item needed to pay the salaries of Kindergarten paraprofessionals).
While there is an aversion to using one-time funding sources/payments for on-going expenditures, the Superintendent posited that these transactions will give the LPS a year to plan for how to fund the monies lost by the Governor’s veto on a more permanent basis. In the end the Committee approved both the motion to request supplemental funding from the City Council and to place such funds in a Suspense Account (6 yeas, 1 absent – Mayor Kennedy).
In a related report, the update to Purchasing Policy (2016/321), an effort to bring the language in the current LPS Purchasing Policy in alignment with both City and DESE/State practice, was referred to the Finance Subcommittee for review.
The updated Hiring Policies (2016/331) giving qualified and certified Lowell residents an interview was passed.
A report on the status of Facilities (2016/326) was made by Mr. Rick Underwood,. The enormity of maintaining facilities and the near-term end of lifecycle for building components of those schools built during the 1991-1993 school building boom is something for which the LPSD needs to plan. Many of the HVAC plants are reaching the end of life expectancy and are becoming difficult to keep in service. The custodial staff has an enormous amount of work to complete throughout the summer: thoroughly cleaning buildings, floors, and performing other maintenance tasks (often with community programs in the building AND when temperatures are extremely hot) that are needed while the students and teachers are out of the building. During crunch times, the outside of the building – the landscaping – may not receive the same level of attention.
Mainly what I learned through this discussion is that the custodial staff have performed yeoman’s work to get all the facilities clean and ready for a new academic year. I know that in the past, when I returned to set up my own classroom, the floors had been stripped, waxed, minor repairs performed – sometimes a new coat of paint, the the overhead lights cleaned. Any surface I didn’t have covered with packed boxes of materials was wiped down. The lockers outside the classroom were cleaned, the halls stripped and waxed and the community spaces maintained as well.
Maintaining the grounds at schools is also a huge undertaking, and of course, the grounds are what the neighbors and public see as they drive by a school building. Adding landscaping to a custodian’s punch list is sometimes impossible, yet the grounds do need to be taken care of. Mr. Underwood seems quite open to seeking outside-the-box solutions for this, perhaps involving local landscapers in regular maintenance for a courtesy sign or involving community service groups as suggested by Mr. Gendron.
Before moving to Motions, Mayor Kennedy requested an update on when to expect reports for four motions submitted during the July 2016 School Committee meeting. A Report on Graduation Rates and one on the STEM Program, specific to the High School is expected at the first meeting in September. The LHS Curriculum Review in light of the building project is expected before December and the Suspension/Expulsion Policy is pending input and action by DESE.
There were four items under New Business:
- 2016/310: Update on Business Office Reorganization & District Hiring. Mr. Frisch confirms that the number of bodies remains the same; however, report was very difficult to follow. An Organizational Chart with names would go a long way to clarify what positions are filled and which remain unfilled.
- 2016/318 Accept a grant award of $2,000 for Wang School
- 2016/322 Expenditure transfer request (see page 165-172 of Meeting Packet)
- 2016/325 Budget Transfers (see page 172-211 of Meeting packet). These appear to be the detailed transfers of monies to balance accounts from 2015-16.
Meeting adjourned from Executive Session. Meeting Packet can be found here.