Here we go… again

IIMG_2565t’s budget time once again in Lowell and if you thought last year’s budget was a squeaker, wait until you see this year’s edition.

I do not envy the Superintendents across Massachusetts. This is a pretty ugly time to try to keep programming viable when Foundation Budget calculations are 25 years out of date and when cities and towns have little appetite for raising tax revenues.

If Lowell’s budget proposal is any indication, most of the options for cutting without affecting direct services to students have been exercised. Now it is going to hurt. And one of those areas of pain seems to be library services.

Like last year, the proposal is that the entirety of school libraries – with the exception of the High School – will be dismantled. I believe the only reason that the certified Library Media Specialist at the High School is retained only because, without this position, the High School could lose certification. Not a good thing.

Historically, all of our schools had library-media specialists (click the link to see those requirements) AND library aides. Why? Because it was unthinkable that a school would not have a library where students learn literacy and research skills that they not only use later in life, but where students could go to be exposed to all manner of materials – video, audio, web-based, and of course print – that enhanced their love of literacy and literacy learning.

When all but a few library media specialists were cut from a very lean budget, the library aides were there to pick up maintaining a welcoming school library. The aides became the last line of defense for school libraries, and a threatened one at that.

Last year, there was a proposal to eliminate library aides, and the school libraries. The positions and the library programs were retained however because of some strong advocacy to increase the City’s contribution to the school budget. And here we stand, a year later, with the same threat to eliminate all library aides across the District and push the school library collections into classrooms. As Yogi Berra once said, it’s like deja vu all over again.

I recently heard an educator equate a classroom library to a school library. That was a shock to me as a classroom library and a school library are two very different entities.

Here is why I think such a statement is impossibly misinformed.  My own classroom library (documented on this very blog) was curated by me, the books in the collection were not only purchased by me – all 2,000 of them. That’s an important point. I am good at a lot of things, but I am not an expert at building a library collection. My book collections had biases – for example, I’m not a fan of science fiction, so I didn’t buy a lot of that genre. If one of my students loved science fiction, those books could be checked out of the school library, a more eclectic and thoroughly curated collection of books.

Last year, this is what I wrote about the value of our school libraries and the wonderful library aides that staff them:

… As a former educator, now retired, I am concerned with the short-sightedness of this action [eliminating library aides]. Library Aides not only check out materials for staff and for students, they maintain the school libraries as a welcoming environment in which to pursue literacy. Books that are in need of repair, are fixed and reshelved. New and replacement materials are added to school libraries. Weekly book exchanges are a time when students can explore new reading genres. The Library Aides also assist students using electronic card catalogues, a research skill that will be necessary as a student moves from grade to grade.  Without the assistance provided by Library Aides will these valuable literacy and library skills still exist in the coming years? I do not think they will and I wonder if in a few years, the School Committee will be decrying the loss of library skills. 

As Paul Begala once said, “a budget is a profoundly moral document” in that we fund what we value.

If we value literacy, if we value fostering our students’ love of literacy, we must also ensure that our school libraries remain and that our Library Aides continue in each and every school. We need to insist that our City funds our schools so that our students are not short-changed.

And if you also think it is incomprehensible that an entire school district would shutter all but the High School’s libraries, please let your elected officials, city council and school committee, know your thinking. Otherwise, what we value might be lost. Forever.

 

Recess: How can we not?

IMG_2565LEJA, a local grassroots collaborative of teachers, parents, students and community allies is hard at work here in Lowell to advocate for consistency in recess allocation across all elementary and middle schools in Lowell. One would think, logically, that fair and equitable recess would be a given, but it is not.

Recess time is a building based decision. Anecdotal evidence shows that in this test-crazed, performance based era of education, it is much too easy for a building administrative team to shave recess minutes away in favor of test preparation. Having recently retired from nearly 10 years as a 3rd and 4th grade teacher, I have personally experienced the pressure put on students and educators at test grades, and the response has generally been to increase test preparation time. That increase comes at a cost; the cost has historically been to reallocate recess minutes to academics and test preparation. When I tell you that more targeted test preparation does not yield higher test scores, you don’t have to believe me, but you should.

I empathize when schools try to carve out more test prep through less recess time. However, that doesn’t make less recess the right thing to do. Research notwithstanding, there should be an expectation that children will a) have recess AND b) have a minimum of 30 minutes to re-set. There is much research that supports the need for recess (LEJA Recess Policy Guideline Proposal) including the impact on a child’s brain and the manner in which children learn and the impact on executive function and social-emotional growth of children.

Here’s a personal story that I hope illustrates that cramming more information in without sufficient break time is a recipe for ineffective teaching:

Some years ago, I attempted to learn Italian. I felt doing so would serve several purposes,  not the least of which would be an experience similar to what the children I taught as ESL learners might experience.  The class was 3 hours long without a break and conducted completely in Italian. By Hour 2, I was no longer able to retain any of the important language learning that the class was engaging in; the instructor’s pace did not slow and mainly what I was hearing was nonsensical droning. By the end of Hour 3 I had a terrific headache and couldn’t tell you what I had been learning. What I can vividly recall is the rush of fresh air as I stepped outside of the building. My brain needed a break not only to refresh and be ready to learn, but also so that synapses could form that would allow the connections to what I already know grow to include new information.

Now apply this experience to a student in an elementary school where from 8:30 to 11:30 (3 hours) you are learning in YOUR second language English. In college we used to call this type of “learning” cramming; it was useful to varying degrees of success for retaining facts just long enough for a major exam. In an elementary or middle school it is just plain cruel.

Children who reach their frustration level often show us that frustration without verbalizing it. Could the impact of a longer recess allowance reduce the number of out-of-compliance incidences in schools and classroom? Eliminating and reducing behavioral interruptions certainly would make time-on-task academics more productive for all the learners in the classroom, would it not?

I challenge our school committee and local policy makers to make increased recess and priority for our children. We need to treat our children like children. When you hear someone say we cannot schedule 30 minutes of recess in our school schedules, ask them HOW can we not?

Interested parents, students, educators, and community members are encouraged to attend a Policy Subcommittee meeting scheduled for April 23, 2018 starting at 6:00 pm in the Public Schools Central Office Fifth Floor Television Studio (notice attached).

17 May 2017: Budget Hearing and Regular School Committee Meeting

12022015ClockAll Members present for both meetings.

Budget Hearing, Part 3

Somehow in the flurry of budget activities over the last week I lost track of last night’s Budget Hearing which preceded the regular School Committee Meeting.  So if you were hoping to add a public comment to the funding proposals, you are out of luck.  The Hearing portion has ended, but there are still revisions and corrections being made to the final document. That will be voted on at the end of the month, sent to City Council and (hopefully) approved.

At the start of the Budget Hearing, Mayor Kennedy announces some positive news: the Senate version of the Commonwealth’s budget includes a $611K increase for Lowell. Additionally, Mayor Kennedy has received word that the City will increase its contribution to the schools by $257K. This additional funding should enable the Schools to restore the library aide positions.

The two positions that had been put in abeyance (a school psychologist and a clerk – both potentially eliminated as personnel retirements which the Schools propose not to replace), were discussed. The essence of these discussions is that, while the School Committee is appreciative of the additional funding by the City, these positions also need to be restored. Ms. Martin brings up the re-classification of the School Resource Officers (SRO). There are 3 SRO positions that are not being eliminated, but the expenses associated with them are be reclassified (for lack of a better term). Under the proposed budget, the expenses associated with 3 of the SROs will shift back to the City in order to maintain consistency.

Ms. Martin reminds the members that she has placed a motion on the upcoming meeting agenda (Item 7.VIII) to requests both City and School Finance Subcommittees meet to discuss the FY18 Budget and also to review Maintenance of Effort and contracts. She advocates for leaving the budget as it sits until the discussion can take place.

Superintendent Khelfaoui brings up 2 corrections to be made to budget proposal. One is a line item correction to a previous calculation and the other is to add $257K addition from the City.

Mr. Gignac makes 2 motions:

  • Amend line item in Account 2300 Library to reinstate Library aides (7 yeas, approved).
  • Amend 5100/5200 Benefits to include the costs benefit restorations for the Library Aide positions. (7 yeas, approved)

Mr. Gignac makes a motion to fund the school psychologist position (placed in abeyance in the previous meeting) by reducing the proposed budget for substitutes (p 18 of budget, Line 207). Lots of discussion here. During the regular school committee meeting which will follow, a Report of the Superintendent details suggested substitute teacher pay increases (Item 9.I), and Ms. Doherty is concerned that the budgeted amount for substitutes in FY18 will not be enough if Mr. Gignac’s motion carries. Mayor Kennedy cautions that the City will not be favorably able to provide the additional $150K (estimated) to restore both the School Psychologist and the Clerk positions currently in abeyance. Mr. Gendron notes the potential for “salary adjustments”. After much discussion, including commentary by school psychologist, Sheela Pyles, the motion does carry. (7 yeas, approved)

Ms. Martin returns to topic of Maintenance of Effort and potential impact on School FY18 Budget. Mayor Kennedy suggests that the discussions with City re Maintenance of Effort will be long and perhaps spill beyond the start of Fiscal 18.  Therefore, waiting for any impact resulting from discussion with the City side about Maintenance of Effort is not advisable.

In the end, amounts in the budget book were adjusted as follows and the Public Hearing closed.

  • Suspense Account increased to include Senate proposal and City increase. I believe that the new amount is $1,000,377 (in Suspense).
  • Page 18: $59,700,560 (reduction in substitute account)
  • Page 29: $4,501,964 (increase of 1 school psychologist)
  • Total on p 11 is now $162,942,846 (7 yeas, approved)

Budget hearing adjourns and regular meeting begins.

Regular Meeting

The discussions during the Regular School Committee Meeting were quickly dispensed with. Three budget-based items to note:

  1. Motion 7.VIII [Connie Martin]: Request that the Mayor facilitate a joint meeting of the Finance Subcommittees of both the Lowell City Council and the Lowell School Committtee for the purpose of discussing the FY18 Budget and the current review of Net School Spending and ongoing contract negotiations. (approved)
  2. Report and Approval of the Minutes of the Meeting of Wednesday, May 8 2017 [Robert Gignac, Chair]. Accepted as a report of progress. Link here.
  3. Report of the Superintendent: Proposed Substitute Salary Increases. After a short disucssion to explain the research Ms. Sheehy conducted to reach the rate increases proposed, the Report was approved (7 yeas).

The agenda and supporting documentation can be found of the Lowell City Agenda and Minutes web page.

10 May 2017: About the Proposed Budget

2013fielddayaIt’s budget time in Lowell and the predictions look a bit grim. I won’t second guess (most) of the reasoning behind proposed budget amounts, but I am dismayed that the belt tightening has been mind numbing. 

As a former educator in Lowell, even without children (or grandchildren) in the City Schools, I feel compelled to speak up. Those are “my” kids who are moving along through a terrific urban district and they deserve as many opportunities as we can provide. Here’s a letter that I sent to our School Committee Members this morning. I plan to attend tonight’s Budget Hearing (Butler School, 6:30 pm), LISTEN and then advocate for them as best I can. I hope many of you will do this as well. Let’s work together to ensure that Lowell Public Schools meet our students’ needs.

Dear School Committee Members,

I am writing to you today in support of one of the budget proposals, and also in hopes of engaging your support of another.

As Mr. Gendron said at the last Committee Meeting, the good news is that the budget is balanced and that there has been a herculean effort to preserve current school department employees.  That being said, there is much to reflect on.

I fully support the effort to create a CSA Day School to accommodate Lowell students needing services as outlined in IEPs. Bringing services that had been contracted through out-of-district placements is not only expensive, but worrisome for parents. Students receiving these services at collaboratives and other placement agencies often are on buses or vans for lengthy rides out of their community. By tapping in to talent and expertise in the area of Autism within our own education community, not only are parents and students able to eliminate long, tiring rides to service agencies, then the schools can ensure that education funding is spent judiciously in support of the children.  In my opinion, the School Committee should support this effort as a long-term solution to meeting the needs of children right here in Lowell.

I am, however, deeply disappointed in the effort to eliminate Library Aides from the K-8 public schools.  As a former educator, now retired, I am concerned with the short-sightedness of this action. Library Aides not only check out materials for staff and for students, they maintain the school libraries as a welcoming environment in which to pursue literacy. Books that are in need of repair, are fixed and reshelved. New and replacement materials are added to school libraries. Weekly book exchanges are a time when students can explore new reading genres. The Library Aides also assist students using electronic card catalogues, a research skill that will be necessary as a student moves from grade to grade.  Without the assistance provided by Library Aides will these valuable literacy and library skills still exist in the coming years? I do not think they will and I wonder if in a few years, the School Committee will be decrying the loss of library skills.

The budget prepared by the School Department has been trimmed, and is a representation of consensus by school administrators as to what can be done with the reduced funds coming from the City.  These fund are not adequate.

I implore the School Committee to engage the City Manager and City Council in a further discussion for funding. While the loss of available funds to a larger-than-anticipated transportation bid is understandable, the loss of monies due to expansion of grade levels at local charter schools is not.

Last evening’s City Council approved funding to fix the roofs at three schools. My questions are: a) will these repairs become part of the City’s in-kind contribution charged back to the school department and b) would these repairs have been needed had the City met Net School Spending amounts in prior years when those repairs may have been minor ones? And finally, c) should our current students “pay” for reduced opportunities at schools because of short-sighted budgeting that occurred in years past.

I urge the School Committee members to meet with the City Council and City Manager and demand increased access to funding for one of the greatest assests in the City of Lowell: our public schools.

03 May 2017: School Committee

2017-Apr-30_WalkingLowell_0676At last night’s meeting, the School Committee met for the first time since the beginning of April. This was the first time the public got a glimpse at the proposed budget (see link within the Meeting Packet here), and the first time the rationale for the budget was shared with the public and the School Committee.

The Superintendent’s Contract was approved by a 5 yea (E. Kennedy, A. Descoteaux, S. Gendron, R. Gignac, R. Hoey) to 2 nay (C. Martin and J. Doherty) vote.

Spotlight on Excellence

The Spotlight on Excellence segment was dedicated to this past Spring’s Knowledge Bowl competition between teams from all Lowell Public School Middle Schools, including first-time entrants from the STEM Academy (the STEM has just this year expanded to include fifth grade).  After a quick presentation by Carolyn Rocheleau, coordinator for this effort, and Liam Skinner, Principal at the Daley School (this year’s winning team), Daley School students impressively and passionately spoke to the Committee about their experiences as Knowledge Bowl participants. To paraphrase one student, the Knowledge Bowl is a time when those students who love trivia and academic trivia in particular can feel the same camaraderie that students in athletic competitions feel.

Public Hearing: School Budget 2017-18

If there is a bright spot in this budget, it is that a) the Superintendent and his leadership team have crafted a balanced budget and b) the positions that are “lost” are due to retirements and not reductions in staff.  That’s the good news.

The proposed budget is posted online and definitely worth a look. This document is, as Paul Begala once said a morally profound document in that we fund what we value. Do we value our schools? Here’s a little background on where some of the numbers come from.

The cash contributed by the City to the school budget is about $3 million lower than the current fiscal year, even though the state has proposed an increase (about $5.4 million) in Chapter 70 funding. The fiscal contribution by the City to the Lowell Public Budget is made up from two parts, Net Cash and Indirect (or in-kind). Anticipated increased expenses that the City provides means that contributions in “cash” toward the School Department’s budget is lower. For example, tuitions to Charter Schools will be increased as the grade levels at one of the Lowell charter schools is expanded next Fall. The transportation bid came in at a “much higher” level (if I understood Mr. Frisch correctly, approximately $1.2 million more), and there is a 4.8% increase in health insurance premiums.

The City is meeting Net School Spending (a requirement from the Commonwealth) at the required level. Many of our neighbors in surrounding cities and towns fund budgets that are significantly higher (thanks to Paul Schlictman for this graphic!) and you may be wondering why. The need to add to the state’s funding is necessitated by the calculations for per pupil costs are old and out of date – 25 years out of date as it turns out. Out of dat calculations lead to artificially lowere state funding (And yes, there was an effort to re-set these calculations to be realistic; however, the bi-partisan proposal to do so was not enacted by the Legislature).

All of this is contributory to the proposals made for 2018 and presented at School Committee. This is a less-than-bare-bones budget and unless the School Committee can advocate for an increase in the cash contribution from the City, there will be a need for some very difficult decisions.

Just a head-up to those interested in how this budget plays out: the next budget hearing will be Wednesday, May 10 at 6:30 pm (I didn’t catch the location, so check the LPSD website for details). There will be a chance for the Public to speak in opposition if so desired.

Library Aide Positions

One of those difficult decisions is the proposed budget is elimination of school library aides. The proposal before the School Committee is to offer paraprofessional open positions to the aides (currently 23 positions of which 3 are long-term subs. Three library aides have decided to retire). Technically, no one will lose a position if they don’t object to assuming a paraprofessional position. The libraries won’t close, but library (sounds like this is just check-in and check-out books?) would be “covered” by other staff. Several Committee members expressed dismay at this development and questioned the logistics of “covering” library services.

The schools have already eliminated all but the High School Librarian (Library Media Specialist). As good as the Aides are and as much as each one goes above and beyond their job descriptions to make a school library a great space for learning important library skills, this has been a detriment. To eliminate the last vestige of a library program in the elementary and middle schools is, in my opinion, a HUGE mistake, just as it was a mistake to eliminate the library media specialists and the instructional technology specialists before that.

Bringing Out-of-District Placements In-District

The Special Education Department has made a concerted effort to be mindful of OOD tuition costs. One of the proposals that has been in development for the last few years is to accommodate students who might be sent out-of-district (OOD) within the Lowell Public Schools.

Those OOD placements often include 6-figure tuition costs and involve transporting children to collaboratives quite a distance from home.  Parents have expressed concern that their children have long bus or van rides and have expressed some preference toward including their child within the Lowell schools.  This would, in the long run, reap a cost-benefit to the School District and an educational benefit to students and their families.

To meet these needs, the proposal is to create four additional Pre-K CSA (autism) classrooms to service an increased number of students district-wide. In addition, there is a proposal to create a Special Education Day School to accommodate students who have been in local CSA classrooms. By committing funds to these two endeavors, an anticipated saving of $1.7 million (in out of district placement tuitions) should result. In other words, by investing in Lowell’s capacity to accommodate these students within the District and with District funding, there will be less need for OOD tuition payments.

Other School Committee Business

While the Budget presentation was the major focus of attention, there were two motions put forward, one of which could have possible implications for Lowell Public School budgets.

7.I (Robert Hoey): Requests the Superintendent establish a task force in collaboration with City Administration to review, revise and recommend a new Maintenance of Efforts Agreement (Indirect Costs).

7.II (Jacqueline Doherty): Request the Superintendent provide the committee with a report that compares the district’s performance on state-required standardized tests over the last 3 years with similar urban communities. The report should highlight Lowell’s areas of particular growth and weakness, as well as specify efforts and goals for improvement.

For the packet which includes the budget, click here and navigate to the School Committee subsection.

05 April 2017: School Committee Meeting

10012015FrenchStSchool Committee Meeting 05 April 2017

7 Members Present, Student representative: Cole Conlin

 

 

Spotlight on Excellence & Permissions to Enter.

  • Science and Engineering Fair.
  • Bartlett Community Partnership School
  • LHS Ice Hockey Team

Public Hearing for Interdistrict Choice: No comments from the public.  2016-17 had 30 open slots, 15 were filled.  Decision to continue the School Choice decision is made annually. Motion to recommend continued participation for grades 9-12 (30 students within grades 9-12). 7 yeas approved.

Motions

There were 8 new motions presented tonight:

  • 7.I. [By Robert Gigac]: Request the Superintendent work with the City Administration to develop a plan and/or update on the capital improvement funds that were allocated for the schools. City RFP process, repairs that were determined will proceed in May.  Mr. Gignac requests looking into roof repairs and AC/Boiler repairs. Motion passes.
  • 7.II. [By Connie Martin]: Requesting an update on the plan for recruiting and hiring a new Head of School for Lowell High School, including a proposed timeline for assembling the interviewing committee and any public sessions that will be part of the process. 

Registered Jonathan Richmond. Begins by speaking about LRTA passes and then proceeds to enumerate his thoughts concerning the hiring requirements and qualifications for new Head of School. Registered speaker Daniel Ouk speaks about suggestions for chosing LHS Head of School.

In my opinion, the acrimonious and abrasive nature of this segment of the meeting was unnecessary and distracting from the importance of the process of selecting a new LHS Head of School. It is worth viewing this for yourself on LTC’s posting of the meeting video when that occurs. Move about 40 minutes in to the video to view this for yourself.

Ms. Martin questions the process and the timeline. Superintendent Khelfaoui clarifies that there is a plan and a timeline and that the taskforce is in process. Should a person be interested in becoming part of this taskforce (approximately 15 members), that person should apply via email or snail mail to either Superintendent Khelfaoui or Anne Sheehy, Director of Human Resources, Personnel & Recruitment. Ms. Doherty is absolutely on point in suggesting the importance of including stakeholders representative of the population of Lowell High School in the taskforce. 

  • 7.III. [By Steve Gendron] Request the Superintendent form a task force to interview Lowell High School Head of School applicants.
  • 7.IV. [By Connie Martin] Requesting an update on the staff plans for Principals and Assistant Principals for the fy17 and fy18.
  • 7.V [By Jacqueline Doherty] Request the Superintendent provide the committee with the DESE School Climate Survey along with recommendations as to whether we should implement the survey or some other instrument. The recommendations should also include timelines for beginning to collect baseline data about school climate, family involvement, or other aspects that address the education of the whole child.

Mitchell Chester (DESE Commissioner) has announced (link here) that, following MCAS 2.0 testing this year, students in Grades 5, 8, and 10 will be asked to complete a survey about school climate. DESE claims that the results will not be disaggregated nor used in any significant manner, so my question is WHY subject students to this “optional” survey right after the completion of a high-stakes and draining academic test? According the Dr. Chester’s update, parents and students can refuse to complete the survey; in fact, some entire districts have already decided not to administer this DESE survey. It doesn’t sound like LPS is going to do that. Also, according to DESE’s update reference above, parents can request that principals and/or superintendent show the survey questions to them.

What was confusing throughout the discussion is that Lowell Public Schools is part of a consortium of school districts developing a more thorough and valid survey of community education stakeholders that will hopefully become part of a more thorough and thoughtful analysis of the public school system.  This consortium survey is in draft form and not yet ready for administration to student from what I understand.

  • 7.VI [By Steve Gendron] Request the Superintendent work with the City and the LRTA to develop a program to provide free bus passes to Lowell High School students based on financial need.
  • 7.VII [By Connie Martin] Requesting that the administration provide the committee with an update on plans to accommodate the middle school bubble for the FY17-18 school year.
  • 7.VIII [By Robert J. Hoey] Request Superintendent conduct a review of safety and security in our schools.

Joint Finance and Student Support Services Subcommittee report on meeting 3/29/17. John Descoteaux presented a draft plan for a 5-zone system (eliminating city-wide). The current desegregation order would stay in place. The issue is complicated by costs for busing (the Cawley option for LHS would need 26 additional buses or a projected $3.2 million plus additional amounts for future years). Start/dismissal times would need adjustment as well. The endeavor needs further study, which was the recommendation from the subcommittees. Mayor Kennedy notes the cost of busing is going to increase substantially over time and that some of the proposed zones will be unfair to 2 neighborhoods. The K-8 model being proposed to accommodate a 5-zone system will necessitate additional teachers. Mayor Kennedy supports a more thorough look at how the schools provide transportation in order to potentially increase efficiency. Motion to accept.

There were 3 Reports from the Superintendent and 2 items under New Business:

  • Report: Tutoring Services offered by Dharma Center
  • Report: Community Service Update
  • Report: Quarterly Report on Motions
  • New Business: Interdistrict Choice (Voted on previously)
  • New Business: Farm to School Research Project

For anyone looking for the full meeting packet and agenda, please navigate to the City of Lowell’s Agenda/Minutes website.

School Committee Meeting, 15 March 2017

10012015FrenchStImagine for a moment that you are 10 years old, speak another language at home, and as kids sometimes do, have heard the adults in your family expressing concern about Immigration returning you and your family to another country where your life had been one filled with violence and poverty.  Worries about being removed from this new place where you had felt safe might naturally fill your waking thoughts. And those worries would, of course, extend to the place where you, a ten-year-old, spends the greater part of each day: your school. Last night, the Lowell School Committee ensured that, at least within the walls of school, a child whose family’s immigration status might be called in to question could know that they would not be forcibly removed from their school and classmates. While the School Committee’s motion and School Department’s response is reassuring for that child during time spent within the school setting, there is no guarantee of protection outside of it. Whether a 10-year-old refugee can differentiate that remains to be seen.

School Committee Meeting 15 March 2017

5 members present (Ms. Martin absent), Student representative: Onoste Omoyeni

Spotlight on Excellence & Permissions to Enter.

Please refer to packet and agenda. LTC neglected to start the broadcast at the beginning of this meeting.

Motions

Six motions :

  • 6.I. [By Jacqueline Doherty]: Request the Superintendent provide the committee with recommendations for increasing the compensation of our Substitute Teachers to be competitive in today’s education market along with the data to support such increases. Request the Superintendent provide the committee with recommendations for increasing the compensation of our Substitute Teachers to be competitive in today’s education market along with the data to support such increases.
  • 6.II. [By Jacqueline Doherty]: Request the Superintendent ensure the LPS website is updated, links to packet reports are working, and each school page provides information on its School Site Council members, meeting times, agendas, and minutes along with other relevant school-specific dates, events and information. THIS IS WHERE THE MEETING COVERAGE BEGINS. 
  • 6.III. [By Steve Gendron] Request the Superintendent develop a class size policy for Lowell Public Schools that includes current status and goals for all grades K- 12.
  • 6.IV. [By Connie Martin And Robert Gignac] Request that the Administration prepare a resolution for consideration by the Lowell School Committee that clearly defines the district’s commitment to protecting our students, regardless of their immigration status and offers all LPS staff a clear procedure for ensuring that no Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials will be granted access to the Lowell Public Schools without the expressed permission of the Superintendent of Schools.

Taking Item 8.7 (resolution) which is the response at the same time. There was mention of a registered speaker, but that person did not materialize. The motion and response found in 8.VII are a response to discussion with Superintendent re families who had received letters from Immigration about their immigration status. Mr. Gignac feels it is imperative that the SC takes a formal position so that students do not feel unsafe or fearful while they are in school.

Mr. Hoey asks Superintendent if this resolution could negatively impact government grants. When the City Council took up the Sanctuary City issue earlier this year, one of the reasons for not supporting such a motion was that the City, highly dependent upon federal funding, could possibly find those funds removed or suspended should Lowell adopt a sanctuary city policy.  Superintendent  states he does not know the definitive answer to this query; however, Dr. Khelfaoui notes that tonight’s policy is reflective of the state policy. Students need to feel safe in schools or they are not learning. Ms. Omoyeni expresses support for this motion on behalf of the students at LHS.  Mr. Gendron also expresses support; Lowell is and continues to be a city of immigrants and we should support them by removing any concerns that these students could potentially be removed forcibly from school during the school day.

Ms. Doherty echoes this sentiment as does Mr. Descoteaux. Superintendent Khelfaoui reiterates that the policy as presented tonight has been in place in the LPSD. It has been vetted by the Police Department and is legally correct.  Dr. Khelfaoui states that this policy is intended to reassure children, some of whom have already received notices from Immigration, that whatever their status, the children can regard their school as a place of safety.

Mr. Gendron reiterates that it is exactly because of the situation at the federal level that Lowell needs to put this policy in writing for peace of mind and safety of students and their families. Ms. Omoyeni also notes anectdotally that there have been some increased absences and it is the moral obligation of our community to ensure that students know they are safe.  Mr. Kennedy notes the difference in the role of the school committee as different from the City Council in creating a sancutary city.  In response to Mr. Hoey’s question about how ICE would know a students’ status, Dr. Khelfaoui responds that there is legal processes in place which prohibit just anyone from accessing students’ school records.

This issue is divisive and complicated and, as I am not a legal expert. I do note that bowing to pressure and threats about loss of funding from the federal government concerns me. Other cities such as Boston – also heavily reliant on federal funds – have taken steps to become sanctuary cities.  Role Call:  5 yeas, 1 abstain, 1 absent – approved

  • 6.V. [Robert J. Hoey]: Request a report from the Superintendent regarding the total cost of security and safety in our schools, including the amount we spend on resource officers, security and security equipment.
  • 6.VI. [By Steve Gendron] Request the Superintendent provide a response to the contract offer from the Lowell School Committee. Referred to Executive Session which follows this meeting.

Policy Subcommittee

Review of Homework Policy and Staff Sick Time.

Ms. Desmond reviews the current policy which is based on number of minutes. She is approaching building leaders to reinforce that homework might be differentiated and evaluated in a more meaningful way.  Mr. Gendron notes that a student has contacted all the Committee members and his wish is that homework is less about quantity and more about making homework a more effective activity. Ms. Omoyeni also speaks to the importance of ensuring that homework is designed to be more than busywork.

The second part of the report was about sick time. This report was intended to provide information to the City. Ms. Doherty noted a motion was made to request Human Resources formalize the policy on staff attendance on purpose. Accepted as a report of progress.

 Reports of the Superintendent

There were 9 items under Reports of the Superintendent.

8.I. Food Service Presentation At Satellite Sites & Food Truck Approval Documents

The food truck purchase would be (partially) reimbursed through the distribution of summer meals. The vehicle would also be used during the school year to transport meals to satellite schools (those without food prep kitchens).

Mr. Gignac clarifies that $14K is returned to Aramark for meals served; $45K costs include personnel in the Food Service Department working through the summer. Questions re re-serving food that has been stored in the (refriegerated) truck. Leaving food in a truck, even if refrigerated is a concern (break-ins). Expresses the opinion that we should fix what we currently have and does not feel that the $14K in administrative fees turned back to Aramark is problematic.

Mr. Hoey asks who is paying for the truck; Dr. Khelfaoui confirms the truck is paid from the “revolving account”, which is also used for other direct costs for the food program. The money originates from the federal government. Mr. Hoey also notes that cafeteria staff is hired to work 3.5 hours daily. Advocates for a 5 hour day.

Ms. Doherty notes the reality of poverty in Massachusetts and in Lowell. Being able to feed students throughout the summer and taking the food to where the children play/are, will lead to a positive outcome.

Regarding food quality, Mr. Gignac notes positive improvements in food quality in a short amount of time.

Providing meals to children throughout the summer is something Lowell should support. When the Commonwealth calculates the “Economically Disadvantaged” student percentage in Lowell at 55%, it is an understatement of reality borne by fuzzy mathematical computation. I taught in several schools where the actual number of students in poverty was over 90%. Those kids are hungry and school meals, as well as food provided by organizations like Merrimack Valley Food Bank, might be the only nutrition they receive.  

In my opinion, expanding food distribution throughout the summer is a moral obligation to help children in need. What I am having difficulty understanding is the fact that the School Department is being asked to purchase a new truck for Aramark. This new truck would be used for summer food distribution as well as delivery of meals to satellite schools during the school year (satellite schools are schools without food preparation facilities). The “administrative” costs for the summer food program is $14,000, which is the cost Aramark assesses for what I understand is overhead at the corporate level.

The new truck will ostensibly be purchased to distribute meals to students “where they are” during the summer months. Those places include program sites, playgrounds, etc.  The new truck will be used to replace 3 smaller vehicles currently in use for school-year meal delivery to satellite schools. Because the truck is bigger and has a refrigeration feature (no warming option), only 2 food service employees will be needed to staff it, eliminating need for one food service employee for 2017-18.  

Roll call to send truck request to bid (4 yeas, 2 nay, 1 absent). Approved. Report accepted as a report of progress.

8.II. Dropout Prevention And Recovery Documents LHS dropout rate reflects the hard work and coordination of efforts PreK-Grade 12.  LHS Dropout rate is 1.8% (below the Massachusetts state average) for 2 years in a row.

8.III. Extracurricular Activities Update Documents

8.IV. K-12 Student Population By Zip Code Documents Ms. Doherty requests the report be referred to Finance/Student Services Subcommittee.

8.V. Management Letter Documents: Mr. Gignac asks about some funds that had been returned to DESE, but then returned to LPS and used for a summer SpEd program.

8.VI. Response To Mayor Kennedy’s Motion Of 02/01/17 Regarding STEM Academy At LHS Documents 

8.VII. Rights Of Undocumented Students And Protocols For ICE Access In Schools

Documents Taken previously

8.VIII. Monthly Financial Report Documents Referred to next Finance Subcommittee Meeting.

8.IX. Response To Robert Hoey’s Motion Of 01/04/17 Regarding Diversity Hiring Efforts

Documents Mr. Hoey requests Anne Sheehy’s explanation of Paraprofessional cohort and the opportunity to obtain teaching licensure. Lowell has applied to offer licensure through a program in the district which would in turn create a pool of diverse candidates for teaching positions. Ms. Doherty spoke to encouragement of students in High School who would be candidates for paraprofessional positions and who might go on to a career as an educator. Mr. Gignac reminds that there is state aid/assistance for tuition through EEC (Early Education & Care).

All approved 6 yeas, 1 absent

All conference requests were also approved.

Following adjournment, the Committee went into Executive Session.

Meeting detail and support documentation  can be found here.