School Committee Meeting, 04 January 2017

2017-jan-03_walkinglowell_0187School Committee Meeting 04 January 2017

All members present.

Prior to the beginning of the regular agenda, there was a Special Meeting of the School Committee in order to discuss a contract offer for the Superintendent of Schools.  SC Hoey made a motion to accept the last contract offer from the Superintendent; however the most recent offer – the one presented to the Committee at this meeting – had been through some contract revisions suggested by both parties and the Law Department. 

SC Gendron makes a substitute motion to go into Executive Session in order to discuss the changes being presented tonight (passes 6 yeas, 1 nay). The Committee then went into Executive Session for the purpose of discussing the most recent iteration of the Superintendent’s contract. The Executive Session seems to have ended around 7:08 pm without approval of a Superintendent’s contract. 

The regular School Committee Meeting begins at 7:18 pm.

Permissions to Enter

$361,751 in expenses approved, See detail in the Meeting Packet on p 25-26.  (7 yeas, approved)

Motions

Three motions were presented

  • 2016/497 (R. Hoey): Request that the Superintendent direct Human Resources to provide a sick time report indicating how sick time is tracked and reviewed across the district. SC Hoey mentions the Sick Leave buy-back at the time of retirement and that this should be celebrated. (accepted)
  • 2016/498 (R. Hoey): Request that the Superintendent direct Human Resources to provide a report on the percentage of male and female teachers and paraprofessionals to inform our diversity in hiring efforts. After SC Hoey presents the motion, SC Descoteaux adds that at the elementary level, the pool of candidates traditionally has more female candidates. (accepted)
  • 2016/505 (J. Doherty): Request the Superintendent provide the committee with a comprehensive update on the Lowell High School Latin Lyceum program, including any changes since 2014 related to admission standards, enrollment, and curriculum, as well as plans relative to LHS designation as a participant in School Choice. Report should include information as to how the Latin Lyceum is marketed to colleges, including copy of letter sent along with student transcripts. SC Doherty would also like to see the job description for the lead teacher. (approved)

Reports of the Superintendent

There were seven items under Reports of the Superintendent.

  • 2016 /478 Special Education 2016-2017 Year to Date Report Jennifer McCrystal shared a presentation on the current state of Special Education. Of the 2,402 students receiving SPED services, 13% have an autism diagnosis, which is a higher percentage than all other urban districts and surrounding districts. A comment during this part of the presentation makes me wonder: How many students from surrounding districts come to Lowell having been “counseled” by another school district to move within district in order to receive services? 

There were some unpredicted increases in Autism students who have entered the Lowell schools and are receiving services in substantially separate classrooms and also a large increase in students (10 additional students) who receive Out Of District (OOD) services. The Special Education Department added key positions last year and that has assisted the LPS in keeping students in-district where in prior times, students would have been placed out of district. Building capacity within the Lowell School District is a significant cost saving for the schools and taxpayers as out-of-district placements can be in the tens of thousands of dollars. Take a close look at the Permissions to Enter that are listed for each meeting to get a glimpse into the costs associated with out of district placements.

As Ms. McCrystal pointed out, because of unanticipated placements, the Special Education Department needs to either find out-of-district (OOD) placements or increase LPS capacity to keep these children within the LPSD. Therefore, there are requests for 3 new teachers and 9 new paraprofessionals to be hired in phases starting immediately through  April 3.

One student with Autism is an average cost of $100,000 with a total of $1.26 million for the remaining time left in this academic year. By investing in LPS in-district capacity, there would be an ultimate saving of about $1,000,000. SC Gendron asks where the funding for out of district placements would come from. As Superintendent Khelfaoui notes, the decision is not going to be whether or not to spend, it will be how much to spend and the LPSD will be obligated to find the funds to honor the individual education plans (IEPs) developed for the identified students (including use of Circuit Breaker funds).

SC Gendron makes motion to move ahead with finding the funding and hire staff/find space to accommodate these students in-district. SC Gignac offers an amended motion to fund Phases 1 and 2 of the proposed motion with a referral of Phase 3 to the Finance Subcommittee.

SC Hoey spoke with some staff who made suggestions to the kinds of therapists that would possibly save money. Ms. McCrystal notes that the Special Education Department is working with the Mayor and City to find a location for a possible day school which would allow the LPSD to keep more out of district placements in district. See Meeting Packet p 37-46.

  • 2016 /487 Response to Connie Martin’s Motion of 12/07/16 Regarding Science and Engineering Fair Opportunities. SC Martin notes that the work in Science and Engineering Fairs has been growing over time and would like to hear about future potential for partnering with the University and/or potential for state-wide/national expansion. While there continues to be work done to develop the Science and Engineering curricula, he development of a robust science curriculum is manifesting itself and an increase in opportunities for students in science and engineering projects will continue as the programs grow. See Meeting Packet p 48.
  • 2016 /506 Lease for Central Office Space SC Gendron inquires as to whether a vote is needed (Response: just looking to make SC members aware of a possible future RFP which could save the City money as well as consolidate central offices. Currently the offices are in both 155 and 144 Merrimack Street).

Mr. Frisch notes that ideally it would be better to have all staff in a single location. SC Gendron remarks that the central location on Merrimack St. benefits the City and expresses his confusion in the School Department exploring the possibility of leaving. Superintendent Khelfaoui notes that this is really an exploration ahead of renewing or renegotiating a lease. SC Gignac notes Central Office is looking to increase square footage and questions whether there is a need for that sized footprint.  Mr. Frisch notes that there does seem to be a need for conference space (needs survey).

SC Hoey notes the impact on businesses of keeping the school department downtown. Mr. Frisch states that there could be some savings could may include, for example, using LPSD resources clean the space for a savings of $36,000. SC Hoey brings up parking which was in the original RFP and will be in the 2017 RFP as well. SC Gignac mentions parking and clarifies that the landlord is expected to pay for parking.

SC Gendron cautions that the RFP should be for gathering information and not about parking. Mayor Kennedy notes that the current RFP did give preference to Downtown and that he would not look favorably on moving out of Downtown. See Meeting Packet p. 77-78

  • 2016 489 Quarterly Report on Motions and  2016/507 Personnel Report (approved)
  • 2016 /501 Home Education (7 yeas, approved)

New Business

  • Acceptance of $42,000 award to Robinson School (Yellowstone Park trip) (approved)
  • Career Academy 501(c)(3) status (approved)
  • Permission to post positions Early Childhood Specialist 6 yeas, 1 absent approved
  • Permission to Post Data Analyst (grant funded) 6 yeas, 1 absent, approved
  • Permission to Post Sales Associate (increase in number of hours) 7 yeas, approved
  • Permission to Post LHS Graduation Mentor 7 yeas, approved
  • Acceptance of Grant of $2,500 to Murkland School 7 yeas approved

Convention and Conference Requests were all approved.

SC Gendron supports the trip, but questions the extension of the trips into academic time. SC Doherty notes that there has been a policy (previously developed) discouraging travel opportunities and overnight trips requiring substitute teachers for chaperones/students missing academics.

Meeting Packet can be found here.

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4 thoughts on “School Committee Meeting, 04 January 2017

  1. The problem isn’t that the school department is downtown it’s that it’s located in prime restaurant and retail shop space. Parents go there as a destination so it doesn’t need to be at ground level. People generally don’t stroll by when window shopping and pop in.

    The problem is that the city doesn’t properly price parking to retain high end shops and stores. Boston just upped on- street parking rates in the Back Bay and Seaport District to encourage turnover and help businesses. Merrimack, Middle, and Market St is our “Back Bay”.

    Keep them downtown but on upper levels. If the city gets it act together the school department won’t have to be in the economic development business.

    1. I was having this very conversation with someone this morning and I do agree with you Brian. Want to know what a city looks like when social services abound on the ground levels of spaces in what should be an economic area? Take a look at Lawrence and/or Fitchburg.

      The subject of using the former Indigo Spa or Bishops space came up in passing last night as a solution to consolidating Central Office space at 155 Merrimack. That would, in my opinion, be a travesty and I would hope that idea gets nixed immediately. Both of those spaces are practically ready-to-go for a spa/salon and restaurant respectively. To configure those areas as office space – ridiculous!

  2. Amy,
    Who was the Nay vote to Steve Gendron’s motion for Executive session on the Superintent? I want to support them more.

    SC Gendron makes a substitute motion to go into Executive Session in order to discuss the changes being presented tonight (passes 6 yeas, 1 nay). The

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