School Committee Meeting, 04 May 2016

School Committee Meeting, 04 May 2016

Finance Subcommittee Meeting, 04 May 2016

All members present

12022015ClockThis was a marathon session, especially for School Committee members present for both the regular meeting and finance subcommittee Q&A session, as well as the school department personnel.  An executive session was sandwiched in between the two public meetings – three and a half hours. 

Meeting opened with recognition for the LHS Air Force Junior ROTC Drill Team (AFJROTC).

Public Participation

Stephanie Sodre, Daley School teacher and parent of a preschool student, spoke in advocacy for Motion 2016/172, policy for placement of students within Lowell Schools for school personnel residing out of district.

Paul Georges, President of United Teachers of Lowell (UTL), speaks on two motions to be presented: 2016/180 (career pathways for paraprofessionals) and 2016/186 (offering a contract to Dr. Khelfaoui).  In the first instance, Mr. Georges reminds the school committee of the successful paraprofessional program which resulted in training and hiring new Special Education Teachers. This opportunity has been in existence for a number of years. He respectfully suggests that the new motion consider amending the language to include other school personnel who may wish to pursue licensure such as the custodians and/or cafeteria staff.

Mr. Georges also spoke in support of offering the Superintendent a contract as opposed to the current Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). He reminds the school committee that the position of Superintendent was originally advertised as having a 3-year contract, but at the time of final interviews, the candidates were publicly asked if they would work “without a contract”. Mr. Georges reminds the committee that to do so was not only unfair, but ethically questionable and may, in the future, result in fewer candidates for advertised administrators such as superintendents.


There were five motions presented; one, the motion to offer the Superintendent a 3-year contract, generated the longest discussion.

  • 2016/160 (Ms. Doherty) – request for information/report on the Lowell School’s civics curriculum.
  • 2016/180 (Ms. Doherty) – career path for paraprofessions (See notes following)
  • 2016/185 (Mr. Hoey) – policy mandating that Lowell residents are guaranteed interviews when applying for positions.
  • 2016/186 (Mr. Hoey) – negotiation of a 3-year contract for the Superintendent
  • 2016/187 (Ms. Martin) – report to full committee regarding evaluations (in aggregate) of LPS principals and staff using the Massachusetts Evaluation system protocols.

Ms. Doherty’s second motion (2016/180) re-emphasized and expanded on a valuable resource within the Lowell Schools – the paraprofessional staff (see Public Participation comment by Mr. Georges suggesting that this benefit should be extended to include other support staff).  This motion asks the the administration continue to tap into that resource by developing a diverse teaching staff through a partnership with Middlesex Community College, University of Massachusetts Lowell and Lowell Public Schools. It expands on this idea by including potential for development from our high school students considering education as a career and Middlesex Community College students enrolled in one of MCC’s education programs (Early Childhood Education, Early Childhood Education Transfer, and Elementary Education Transfer majors).

Developing future educators by identifying students in high school who may be interested in a career in education, and encouraging those students in community college programs such as ones offered by Middlesex Community College, seems like a terrific idea for recruiting locally committed people to a career in education. While University of Massachusetts Lowell’s College of Education has offered Masters Degree level programming, Ms. Doherty suggested that a Bachelor’s education degree program is under consideration for the future.  If so, that would complete the Initial Certification pathway for Lowell residents starting with Pre-K through Grade 12, to Associates degree (MCC) to Bachelor’s degree (UML).  An additional enticement for potential education majors is that Middlesex Community will participate in the tuition-rebate program announced last week by Governor Baker. (link here)

To clarify, however, our current paraprofessionals are highly qualified and must meet some exacting credentials already (2010 No Child Left Behind Highly Qualified).  These include:

  • a high school diploma or equivalent AND
  • an Associates Degree OR 48 credit hours at an institute of higher learning OR successful completion of the Para-Pro or WorkKeys test

Ms. Doherty’s motion will need to include the above requirements mandated by NCLB; however, it is both interesting and creative and should help Lowell continue to locate and hire quality candidates for teaching.

The motion receiving the longest discussion was Mr. Hoey’s suggestion that the Mayor enter into negotiation with Dr. Khelfaoui. Some clarification was offered that made the language and intent of the motion fit better with negotiation process, namely, to replace the wording so that the full School Committee, and not just the Mayor, would participate in negotiations (as is their obligation and duty) and to replace the specifics of number of years with a more flexible term, “multi-year”.  By way of clarification, Dr. Khelfaoui repeated last night that contract or no contract really made no real impact on his superintendency – he was more interested in doing his job well.

It seemed to come as a surprise to some Committee members that the Superintendent of Schools also has a regulated/mandated evaluation cycle (see the whole complicated Massachusetts Educator Evaluation on DESE website) just as teachers and principals do.  The cycle is a two-year cycle. 

Section II of the Educator Evaluation Framework applies to Superintendents and can be found in this link which includes the rubric to be applied. Throughout year 1 of the cycle, the superintendent collects evidence toward his/her goals; those goals were developed at the start of the cycle in conjunction with the School Committee.  At the end of year 1, a formative assessment of the Superintendent is made listing areas where goals have been met, are on the way to being met, or need additional work. This gives the superintendent (or educator, as teachers are subject to the same process) time to make mid-cycle corrections as needed.

During year 2, the Superintendent continues to work toward goals and collect evidence of reaching them. At the end of year 2 a summative evaluation report of performance is made by the School Committee using the Educator Evaluation Framework rubric. Continuation of service or contracts are thought to be a natural fit at this point.  Currently in year 1 of his evaluation cycle, Dr. Khelfaoui suggested that contract negotiations might be better served if tied to the Evaluation process mandated by the Commonwealth.

Reports of the Superintendent

There were five reports from the Superintendent’s office:

  • 2016/172 Policy for Admission of Non-Resident School Employees (see packet). Referred to Policy Subcommittee. There was some discussion during the meeting about the legalities of requiring Special Education services to become out-of-pocket expenses paid by the employee should the sending district not pay (whether or not a sending district pays for student is tied to School Choice, currently proposed only for Grades 9-12).
  • 2016/178 Response to 7/15/15 motion for Lincoln School Community Garden
  • 2016/182 Community Service Day projects. Accepted as Report of Progress.
  • 2016/183 STEM Update. Ongoing meetings have taken place in order to extend STEM programs through High School. Community resources are being included (such as Makerspace). Training for LHS personnel will take place over summer in anticipation of roll-out to incoming Freshmen in Fall 2016.
  • 2016/174 Personnel Report. To date, 29 retirees, 11 resignations, 1 new hire (Mr. Frisch).

New Business

2016/136, District School Choice: Dr. Khelfaoui is proposing School Choice be in effect for high school grades 9-12 only in 2016-17. 30 seats possibly available. Public Hearing on 5/18 at 6:30 pm . The date would indicate this discussion will be included in the May 18 regular School Committee meeting.

2016/184, Permission to post Coordinator of Early Childhood Education

After approval of Convention/Conference Requests and Professional Personnel requests, the Committee went into Executive Session.

Regular School Committee Meeting adjourned from Executive Session. Finance Subcommittee followed.

Meeting packet for regular School Committee is here.

Finance Subcommittee Meeting (begins at approximately 9 pm)

Members: Robert Gignac (chair), Jackie Doherty, Steve Gendron

The School Committee had made several requests for additional budget information during the Superintendent’s Budget Presentation of April 25. A copy of the proposed budget is found here.

Jeannine Durkin (Asst. Superintendet Student Support Services) and Jennifer McCrystal (Director of Special Education) clarified and explained their thinking in generating the budget amount for both out-of-district student SpED placements and the consolidation plan for bringing more out-of-district placed Special Education students within Lowell Schools.  The concept of the state’s Circuit Breaker  accounting and contribution was explained. Ms. McCrystal also provided a detailed explanation of the need and request to fund additional Behavioral Analysts (1 currently serves 296 students; this is way beyond reasonable and the proposal is for a certified Behavioral Analyst or BCBA to be shared between an elementary-middle school.)

Consideration of revising the Organizational Chart to reflect the responsibilities of an Assistant Business Manager as more complex than supervision of payroll personnel was made by Mr. Gignac. There were also questions about including Public Relations duties in the position of Assistant Human Resources Manager.

The consolidation of the Bridge Program (alternative education for at-risk Middle School-aged students currently administered by Middlesex Community College) and the Alternative Education program at the Cardinal O’Connell has been modified in the revised budget to include a one-year transition. The slower roll-out is highly recommended so that a transition period for students, staff and families can be made.

The impact of losing teachers at Lowell High (due to unreplaced retirements) was discussed relative to changes in class sizes.

CBOs (Community Based Organizations such as CTI or YMCA) was explained as minimal costs incurred due to pass-through contributions.

Handling the impact of the 2016-17 Grade 5 bubble was discussed. Once the budget is approved, there will be an effort to “recruit” families to fill two Grade 5 classrooms at the STEM school; Wang (2 additional classrooms) will be no problem to fill. John Descoteaux from Central Office offers that there will be minimal impact on bus costs. The rest of the bubble class will be absorbed (class sizes will range between 27 and 32).

Meeting adjourned. Next budget hearing and discussion, with opportunity for Public Input, is scheduled for MONDAY, May 9 at 7:15 pm, Rogers School Television Studio. Final Budget Meeting (adoption) is scheduled for WEDNESDAY, May 11 at 7:15 pm, Rogers School Television Studio

Link to Amelia Pak-Harvey’s coverage is here.

School Committee Meeting, 02 December 2015

School Committee Meeting: Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Five members present, Mr. Gendron was absent.

This meeting again featured a public portion and an Executive Session. Most of the agenda items were dealt with quickly with little discussion.

Leveled Library


There were two new motions, both made by Mayor Elliott.  Agenda Item 5 (2015/453) addressed some concerns that LHS students appeared uninformed about a Voice of Democracy scholarship opportunity. Concerns were expressed to both Mayor Elliott and Councilor Mercier, and a request for a report on what transpired leading to the lack of LHS participation was requested.

Agenda Item 7 (2015/454) sparked some discussion/questions. This motion requested a vote to release the Executive Session minutes relative to updates to the UTL collective bargaining negotiations and grievance/litigation updates. While Ms. Martin expressed that releasing the Executive Session minutes (which are not public) was premature, Mr. Elliott contended that the release of this information is needed to keep taxpayers and teachers/paraprofessionals up-to-date.  The motion to release the minutes passed with Mr. Elliott, Ms. Scott, Ms. Ross-Sitcawich and Mr. Conway voting in favor (Ms. Martin and Mr. Leary voted no, Mr. Gendron was absent).

I’m going to refrain from commenting here as a former UTL member. However, I would comment that releasing Executive Minutes could possibly be a limiting factor in reaching agreement during contract negotiations. It seems to me that discussion of issues and proposed solutions might be less forthright and/or there might be less willingness to compromise or seek creative resolution when the parties know that whatever is said will go through the filter of public opinion. 

Subcommittee Meeting Notes

Three subcommittee meetings were on the agenda.  Ms. Martin reported on the Curriculum Subcommittee Meeting of Nov. 17 which highlighted current and future collaborative efforts between the University of Lowell Graduate College of Education and several Lowell Schools.  See Meeting Packet for details.  As the Personnel Subcommittee Meeting reflected a discussion regarding the CFO position, that discussion was combined with Item 15, later in the meeting.

Ms. Scott reported on the Policy Subcommittee meeting during which refinements to the Weather Cancellation Policy (school cancellations and the 2-hour delay proposal) were discussed.

Reports of the Superintendent

  • Item 10 (2015/440) – LRTA schedule. Mr. Antonelli (Interim Superintendent for Finance) reported that conversations with LRTA resulted in increased service; however, Ms. Ross-Sitcawich reports parents contacted her regarding overcrowded buses in the afternoon. Mr. Antonelli will investigate further.
  • Item 11 (2015/441) – LHS had recently committed to a violence prevention program (Mentor Violence Prevention or MVP). LHS has identified students who, along with faculty advisors, will receive this free training  via Northeastern University. The SWEAR program, referenced in Mr. Conway’s motion on 9/16, will be included in a program assessment at the end of the school year.
  • Item 12 (2015/442) Ms. Durkin explained the yearly process LPS engages in regarding review of bullying prevention and intervention. Although this is mandated every 2 years, LPS does this every year and updates manuals as needed.
  • Item 13 (2015/445) Mr. Curley (LPS Maintenance) met with city-side counterparts to ensure reponsibilities for efficient removal of snow. A concern is that the snow accumulated at bus stops makes waiting for buses unsafe. Ms. Ross-Sitcawich requests that school committee and LPS administrators monitor the bus stop safety issue throughout the upcoming winter.

New Business

A new CFO (Chief Finance Officer) contract was developed through the Superintendent’s office.  The most significant changes include the removal of the sick-leave buyback provision and the addition of earned vacation time (25 vacation days, 12 sick days, 2 personal days). The vacation time earning process is similar to that of private sector companies where a portion of the maximum vacation time is earned every pay period. 

The District went through a series of interviews and have selected the successor to Jay Lang for a the newly-renamed CFO position. Of the 18 applicants, Kevin McHugh, former Lowell School Committee Member and currently Lynn Public School Business Manager was the successful candidiate.

The vote for the contract was 5 yeas (Martin, Leary, Conway, Scott, Ross-Sitcawich), 1 nay (Mayor Elliott) and 1 absent (Mr. Gendron) Here the discussion got a little muddy as to whether the Committee was approving just the contract wording or a revision that would include Mr. McHugh’s name as CFO. However, Amelia Pak-Harvey (Lowell Sun) is reporting that Mr. McHugh was the successful candidate and has received a contracted salary of $145,000 beginning on January 1, 2016. Link here to the Lowell Sun article.

The revisions to the 2-hour delay policy (Agenda Item 17 2015/450) were presented. Those revisions include

  • using ConnectEd to telephone families,
  • the addition of local cable access TV show as an official means of communication,
  • outlining which employees would report as usual upon a school delay (cafeteria and custodial staff), and
  • cancellation of before school programs in the event of a cancellation or delay.

This item passed (6 yeas, 1 absent) and Dr. Khelfaoui will update the current written policy (dated 2004) and disseminate.

The discussion regarding establishing an Accountability Office was deferred until next meeting.

Prior to Executive Session and Adjournment, Ms. Martin requested that the incoming School Committee members are invited to the next meeting (December 16). Dr. Khelfaoui reported that his office had already reached out to the future school committee members through a introductory coffee meeting.

Following the open meeting, the Committee went into Executive Session to discuss updates to the UTL contract negotiations, litigation and grievances.

The link to the meeting packet can be found here.

There Are Consequences

We teach students that there are consequences for their actions and choices. Well, there should be consequences for the INaction of adults as well.

Teachers, paraprofessionals, cafeteria workers and custodial workers have been without a contract in Lowell for over 450 days. My understanding – as I am recently retired, I no longer attend union informational meetings – is that this is driven by several factors. Included in the list of factors would be cancelled and perpetually postponed meetings of the negotiating teams. That in itself surely does not indicate that contracts are of high – or actually any – priority.

I’ve heard the reports of concessions, not the specifics. However, it is an election year; it would not be unreasonablefrontboard1 to think some who are negotiating the contracts with the Unions would like to make a grand political statement.

With tight municipal budgets, no one is expecting exorbitant monetary increases, like the 15% pay raise I learned of for a first-year hire at a private corporation. And just as a point of interest, even retirees (not from this past June, but all prior retirees) received a cost of living raise of 3% from the Commonwealth’s Teacher Retirement Board.  (The details and the history of which are found here.)

I am concerned by the reports of demands in the negotiations. No, I don’t know specifics, but asking for additional time (longer days? less preparation? longer school years?), giving back previously negotiated benefits, those things represent a disrespect for the talented people who make this school system one of the best achieving urban districts in Massachusetts.

One financial impact of this is that, hard-earned pensions are calculated based upon a salary rate that has not changed for 450 days. For those who may not know, pension benefits are based on a formula which includes an average of three highest years of earning (for most teachers, that would be the last 3 years of service). Thus, the pension that recent retirees have earned will be impacted for the rest of their lives. That’s not insignificant. Nor is it fair.

The consequence?  I am a registered voter who is doing due diligence. I am watching the field of candidates for school and city offices. The consequence of inaction, will indeed be action.