Joint Facilities SubCommittee Meeting (School Committee and City Council)
The meeting was requested jointly by the Lowell School Committee and the Municipal Facility Subcommittee. It took place prior to the regularly scheduled School Committee Meeting for the purpose of addressing two agenda items.
Agenda Item 1: Discuss the Superintendent’s plan to address the over-crowding in middle schools in the 20170-2018 school year.
Gary Frisch addresses joint committee. Superintendent & Leadership Team worked together to provide recommendation. Enrollment last year went up 137 students at middle school, 176 total for grades K-12. Additionally, 4 5th-grade classes were added last year. Class size calculated for 2017-18, average 26.3 to 30.5/classroom (predictions of 32 last year) without adding classrooms. SC Gendron notes last year the projection was 28-30 with Rogers/Wang solution in place. Adding classrooms at STEM Academy would reduce class sizes city-wide (4 sections of 5th, 2 sections of 6th – increase 4 new classroom spaces at STEM Academy as students move to next grade level). The plan involves converting two spaces – home ec & TV studio plus conversion of smaller divided instructional spaces. The LPSD would need to promote the STEM Academy as a Middle School option to the Grade 4 students transitioning to Middle School for 2017-18.
The student population at the STEM Academy would increase from 606 to 756 students and would require additional staff and supply resources.
SC Gendron asks about how the proposed plan impacts class size. Mr. Frisch believes these adaptations bring average class size to 26-28. Questioned if the average would be reduced, Mr. Frisch believes the average would be reduced.
SC notes current report states 28 students per class is a “band-aid” and doesn’t like putting a temporary solution in place. What happens if the proposal before the committee is not agreed upon? Mr. Frisch believes the current fifth grade students would be matriculated to 6th grade at STEM. SC Gignac asks if this 2017-18 plan in not in place, what would happen. Mr. Frisch reiterates that 4 fourth-grades at Rogers going to fifth grade plus 2 fifth grades going to 6th grade would mean additional classrooms.
SC Hoey wonders about adding a fifth grade to each PK-4 school. Mr. Frisch says new high school project may provide different space capacity (opening the Freshman Academy). Currently space options are limited as buildings are at capacity. Present time is a space crunch but administration looking at adding space without using modular (not cost-effective and are quite expensive). CC Hoey reiterates that the high school project is about five years off so that makes the impact of the high school project something to consider for the future.
CC Leahy questions STEM Academy capacity proposal (150 students). What additional resources will be needed? Mr. Frisch notes a need for additional teachers, an additional assistant principal, and other resources. CC Leahy states he is not aware that the new high school project might prompt closing of the Freshman Academy. SC Gendron says this is an idea that was “floated” but it is one of several suggestions for configuration of grades after the high school project is completed. CC Leahy still concerned about class size. CC Samaras notes he would like more of the report to look at (much of the report appeared to be delivered verbally) and wonders about the feasibility of an “extended day” (requires agreement of parents, school department, bargaining units). He would prefer to see money spent on teachers over acquiring physical spaces temporarily.
SC Gendron expresses concern that this is a “band-aid”: too late in bid for modulars similar to the solution arrived at last school year. and voices opinion this proposal is a “band-aid on a band-aid.” A reasonable class size needs to be prioritized. SC Gignac would like some consideration given to what happens in 2018-19 with STEM Academy students who will be seventh graders. He suggest that his prior request for an RFP for modulars should have been addressed. He suggests it would be useful to see a comprehensive plan with multiple scenarios.
Mr. Frisch expresses that the goal of 26 students (or less) per average class gives the school Leadership Team a target and is helpful in developing a plan with the Leadership Team. SC Gendron expresses that a lower average class size (20) would be even more preferable.
CC Mercier would have appreciated a written plan at the meeting. Would like a report in the City Council packet by Friday. Mr. Frisch states that a report could be in packet the following Friday. Notes the many costs that are associated with adding classroom (buses, personnel, supplies). SC Hoey notes that the staffing in schools with close to 16,000 students in the schools is an issue to consider; notes 20 years ago, Lowell built many schools to accommodate student population. CC Leahy notes the lowest class size should be what we try for. CC Samaras urges consideration of an extended day. and would like the school department to consider programming that may not be working well. By analyzing the programming, there may be a gain in space. Encourages a study of programs to see if any changes of this nature might be necessary.
Agenda Item 2: Discussion regarding facility maintenance in schools and school grounds.
CC Leahy notes that the purpose of this discussion is to come up with a better plan to maintain Lowell’s schools. Notes that there have been changes in the players. Is there a way to stay ahead of the repairs/work orders? Notes that in his touring of facilities, noted disrepair of the high school building and that some of the issues seem to be ongoing. Especially concerned about the process in getting repairs done; it shouldn’t take a year to make minor repairs. November 1 should not be when broken heating equipment is discovered. We can’t let the high school fall down around us because we’re expecting a new one.
Mr. Frisch notes that the School Department is responsible for cleaning of the building. Proposes a joint administrative committee to work on the maintenance issues and states that deferred maintenance is bad for student learning. Definition of shared responsiblities needs better articulation. Current status is unacceptable.
CC Samaras agrees with frustrations and notes never enough money to do everything we need to do. Asks how school administration/custodial staff and central office staff prioritize the work that needs to be completed. Finding fault should not be the purpose of this review. Focus on the process that will ensure students are in a comfortable and safe situation.
CC Mercier notes 19 schools with a boiler, roof leak or air handler leak problem. How did it get to this point that they are leaking simultaneously? What is the plan to address this? Mr. Frisch agrees the current status is unacceptable. Notes need for urgent plan to address these repairs and that every child needs a healthy learning environment. CC Mercier states that heating and the need for students need to wear coats in a classroom is a concern that needs to be addressed.
CC Leahy notes that new people in place and the need to reorganize and manage this better. SC Hoey asks about the amount for charge-backs from City to School Deparment. SC Gendron reminds joint committee that all the equipment in the schools built 30 years ago are all turning 30 at the same time (and needing major repair/replacement). Requests Mr. Underwood to speak to facilities status. Mr. Underwood suggests that custodial staff could do some of the things that do not require permits; however collective bargaining limits that. Willing to think “outside the box”, but at times limited by what is and is not allowable. Had requested Senior Custodians submit a priority list which joint committee has before them tonight.
Manager Murphy cites unfairness of characterizing DPW as not doing the best they can. All the heating issues were addressed and states we (City) will continue to work as a partnership. DPW is doing best job possible.
CC Samaras expresses a need for more communication between the School Committee and City Council. This is the time to have a paradigm shift. SC Gignac notes that a similar discussion was held four years ago; a rprioritized eport with more information is needed. Collaborative work should happen more frequently.
Report of progress. Motion to adjourn.