School Committee Meeting, 21 September 2016

2016-Mar-01_0051School Committee Meeting, 21 September 2016

6 present, Mr. Gendron Absent

The items on tonight’s agenda were mostly routine. Business completed in just a few minutes beyond the one-hour mark. 

Permissions to Enter

Three contracts approved for total of $120,200.

Motions

While four motions were listed originally on the agenda for tonight’s meeting, only one was considered due to Mr. Gendron’s absence. Mr. Gendron requested the 3 motions he submitted be considered at the next meeting (October 5, 2016).

2016/365 Mr.Gignac requested coordination between the City and LPSD in dedicating a POW/MIA chair. This coordination of efforts is already underway so that the dedication can take place during Lowell High School Homecoming.

Reports of the Superintendent

There were 5 reports from the Superintendent in response to requests and motions.  The first 3 items were accepted as Reports of Progress; the last 2 were approved on roll call.

2016/367 Monthly Budget Report. Mr. Gignac questions and receives confirmation that the amount attributed to a Budget Analyst was in reality a temporary holding account (reminds the body that the Budget Analyst position had not been budgeted for). The amount charged in the account in question is zeroed out on a monthly basis as grant funds allocated for the position (grant manager?) are expended.  Ms. Martin reiterates her request for an Organizational Chart for Central Administrative positions. This request was put into the form of a motion. Report detail starts on p 39 in packet.

2016/375 STEM curriculum at Lowell High School. Martha Cohn and Paula Bransfield walked the committee through the STEM activities beginning with Kindergarten and percolating through Grades 10-12.  Several successes were highlighted: Project Lead the Way, Idea Camp, STEM clubs. The District has received quite a number of grants and been awarded funds and support from both the business and academic world.

This would have been a terrific Powerpoint to include in the packet.  Ms. Cohn and Ms. Bransfield highlighted the cross-curricular activities that have been developed, particularly at early grades. The activities and explorations used to develop engineering skills and process are inquiry based. That is certainly something that has been lacking in recent years and I am excited to see it return.  In using inquiry, students are presented with a problem and possibly some criteria for its solution. Through critical thinking and scientific process, they find solutions without the instructor telling exactly what to do – the words “no-tell zone” describe this perfectly. The instructor becomes more a facilitator and less of a lecturer. Good to see this returning to education!

2016/379 Opioid Abuse Prevention and Awareness. Mr. Gignac expressed some disappointment with the University’s feasibility study associated with this report as it lacked detail for effective awareness. Given the current crisis of opioid abuse, there is an urgency in this area for recommendations to impress upon students (children) the gravity of opioid addiction. While the partnerships cited are a step in the right direction, the progress toward addressing this issue throughout the grades is taking too long. Ms. Durkin offered that the report contained in the packet was an excerpt and that there is a meeting scheduled for Thursday, 10/22 with the University. At that time, Ms. Durkin hopes to have some of the questions about the feasibility study answered and receive some more specific recommendations for moving forward.

2016/380 Bullying Prevention and Intervention Plan Revision and 2016/376 Home Education both passed on roll call.

New Business

There were five items under New Business:

  • 2016/362: Approval of an Educational Research Request. Ms. Martin requests further information (would like to see the survey instrument). Passes (1 absent, 5 yea, 1 present-Ms. Martin).
  • 2016/364: Vote to accept Grant award of $2,000 to Bridge Program (1 absent, 6 yea)
  • 2016/373: Approval of Expenditure Transfer. See p 92-93 of Meeting Packet (transfer to make year-end correction for FY2016. (1 absent, 6 yea)
  • 2016/377:  Reclassification of Position. See p 95-97 of Meeting Packet. Substitute Motion made by Ms. Doherty to delay until next meeting in order to receive further description of the position and update the position description. (1 absent, 2 no-Mr. Hoey & Mr. Descoteaux, 4 yea).
  • 2016/381: Vote to Approve Title Change. DESE requires a School Business Administrator to hold license in school administration; when a replacement for the prior business administrator was being sought, there was an effort to (locally) use the title CFO in order to attract strong business administrators who may be from out-of-state. Mr. Frisch, current holder of this position, applied for and received all the requisite licenses; the SBA title can be restored without changing salary or job description. The School Business Administrator is the title to which DESE refers. (1 absent, 5 yea)

Convention and Conference Requests (3) were all approved.

Meeting Packet can be found here.

The $100,000 Question

Massachusetts, one of the highest regarded public education systems world-wide, is embroiled in a ballot initiative, Question 2.  Question 2 proponents want to raise the current cap on charter schools to include 12 new charter school each year. Opponents – and full disclosure, I land in that category for a number of reasons – want to keep charter schools capped at current levels.

One would think that the state governing boards making decisions about which charter schools to approve and how many might try to maintain neutrality in such a debate. But here in Massachusetts, one would be wrong.

Paul Sagan, the appointed Chair of the Commonwealth Board of Education (by Governor Baker who is an advocate for charter schools and lifting the cap) is one of those who gives thumbs-up or thumbs-down to charter schools in Massachusetts. Paul Sagan, it was recently revealed, donated $100,000 of his own money toward the campaign tasked with tasked with getting Massachusetts voters to vote Yes on 2. Does that seem wrong to anyone else?

Mr. Sagan, who sits on a number of Boards of Directors, used to serve as an executive in a company called Akamai. Mr. Sagan, it was revealed yesterday, also deeded over some of his stock to a family fund supporting charter schools.

How, I ask you, is this allowed to stand? Why is there not more outcry for Mr. Sagan to resign from the Board of Education?

Mr. Sagan’s boss, Governor Baker, apparently thinks this is a big “nothingburger“. Yes, that is indeed the terminology Mr. Baker used to describe these ethically questionable donations when asked about it. Nothing to see here, move along.

Even if one were to swallow the spin that Mr. Sagan’s monetary support for lifting the cap on charter schools is perfectly allowable, there is an aura of cronyism here. Instead, of neutrality and impartiality when making decisions about charter school approval, it appears that the “fix” is in.

Political appointees are certainly well within their right to donate and support whatever makes them politically happy. However, when your appointed position on a very high-level board making decisions about how many and which charter applications receive approvals will be impacted by whether or not a ballot initiative passes, that is not a “nothingburger”.

That is the real deal, and a raw one at that.

07 September 2016: School Committee Meeting

IMG_0794School Committee Meeting, 7 August 2016

6 present, Ms. Martin Absent

Tonight’s meeting, the first after the start of the academic year, is the beginning of the regular twice-a-month meeting schedule.  The agenda was short and to the point – under 1 hour. Some of the Superintendent’s remarks were lost due to a faulty microphone. However, from what I could surmise, the topic will be revisited at a future meeting.  

Permissions to Enter

Contracts for both Deputy Superintendent Jeannine Durkin and Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum Robin Desmond were approved.  $56,000 to SEEN collaborative for out-of-district Special Education service was also approved.

Public Participation

Jonathan Richmond,  Chief Executive and Founder of the charitable organization Takeoff Space spoke to the School Committee regarding the decision process and communication resulting from a proposal he had brought to Lowell High administration, and ultimately, to the School Committee. The program, Takeoff Space, is meant to encourage and mentor top performing disadvantaged students to matriculate to top tier colleges. Mr. Richmond formally registered a complaint that his program was dismissed without due consideration. The High School made the decision not to participate in Mr. Richmond’s program because this need was being addressed through another previously established initiative.

Subcommittee Reports:

  1. Facilities Subcommittee: Approval of Meeting of August 11, 2016. The content had be discussed at the August 17 meeting. Minutes accepted as report of progress.
  2. Finance Subcommittee:  3 topics were on the agenda:
    1. Fiscal 2016 year end financials (including Apple hardware purchases and transfers to make up for loss of state funding for Kindergarten grant (paraprofessionals))
    2. Schedule/timeline for independent audit
    3. Fiscal 2017 year to date financials.  A motion was made and approved to develop a timeline for dealing with year-end surpluses so that the School Committee can decide how to allocate such funds.

3.  Lowell High Subcommittee meeting to discuss 4 motions by Mayor Kennedy.

Reports of the Superintendent

There were 12 reports from the Superintendent in response to requests and motions.  Two of these prompted short discussion:

2016/338 Lowell High School Graduates Attending College.  During this report, most of the discussion could not be heard because of a faulty microphone.  The District provided a report stating that 83.5% of Lowell High graduates are attending either a 2-year or 4-year college this Fall.  That compares favorably across the state.  The Committee had a couple of lingering questions. One of these was the data presented show that many students are attending either a 2-year school such as Middlesex Community College or a state 4-year college (University of Lowell).  There was a question from Ms. Doherty as to whether students are receiving sufficient guidance and encouragement to apply for “reach” schools, such as the Ivy Leagues.

I attended state schools through post-masters work and have never for one moment thought that I didn’t get a superior education. It was “on me” to take advantage of classes and study, the value of my degrees came from the hard work I put into school, not from the name on the front gate. I also understand, on a parental level, what a financial burden attending a private university poses. Attending post-high school is a decision that only the student and his/her family can make, and while I would hope that Lowell High students are given information about grants and opportunities to attend their school of choice, I would hope the value of a public college or university will not be lost.

2016/346 Bullying Prevention and Intervention Plan Revision. There has been significant revision to this plan due to new regulations implemented by the Commonwealth. One new feature is that the incident report will be available online and includes drop-down selections which will make reporting more efficient.  Ms. Doherty suggested that some clarification is needed regarding the timeline of responses. The Plan was approved and changes to include more precise language will be added at the next meeting.

New Business

There were four items under New Business:

  • 2016/340: Permission to Post: PALS Program Head Coach. As explained by Ms. Durkin, the PALS program is funded through the university. University students provide mentor support for high school students.
  • 2016/341 Permission to Post: Preschool Expansion Grant (PEG) Data Manager
  • 2016/342 Permission to Post: PALS Program Assistant Head Coach
  • 2016/353 Approval of a Study Grant

All passed.

There was no Executive Session and the meeting adjourned at 7:27 pm (noted by Mayor Kennedy). Meeting Packet can be found here.

Follow the money

DSCN0465With the election about 8 weeks away, there’s a lot of available “information”, and I use that term lightly, about Ballot Question 2 (Balletopedia website for detailed text and Pro/Con Arguments). For anyone who may have missed it, Ballot Question 2 favors lifting the current cap on charter schools allowing up to an additional 12 new charter schools each year.

I was having a discussion about this with a family member from a different state who pointed out that the “No On 2” people are not making their case strongly enough. The advertising on the “Yes” or lift-the-cap side is much slicker and more abundant. I don’t think that’s something that can be denied what with the MILLIONS of dollars being poured into innocuous sounding Question 2 proponent groups – groups with names like Great Schools Massachusetts, Families for Excellent Schools, and Democrats for Education Reform (DFER).

The names of these groups are engineered to lull voters into thinking these groups are something they are not, because who in their right mind would not want a GREAT school in Massachusetts; which family members would want their child in an EXCELLENT school?  In reality, thanks to diligent and tireless reporting – not from the fourth estate, but from ordinary citizens who have sensed such groups had something more than greatness and excellence in mind, one finds that the funding behind those slick and prolific ads urging voters to vote “YES” on Question 2 more than a bit misleading.

Here are three links to recent stories that all voters should read before deciding how to vote.

Ask yourself, what is the return on investment that will make shelling out thousands or millions of dollars towards lifting the charter school cap worthwhile for out-of-state investors and hedge fund managers? That is the $18 million dollar question.