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 This is a pretty ugly time to try to keep programming viable when Foundation Budget calculations are 25 years out of date and when cities and towns have little appetite for raising tax revenues.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.

 

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.

School Committee Meeting, 1 February 2017

School Committee Meeting 01 February 2017

IMG_08906 present, 1 absent (S. Gendron) Onoste Omoyeni represented the students during this meeting.

After approval of minutes, SC Gignac requests Lowell HS Subcommittee/Joint Facilities meeting be taken out of order. 

Permissions to Enter

$20,665 in expenses approved, See detail in the Meeting Packet (downloadable PDF) (6 yeas, 1 absent approved)

Motions

Nine motions were presented:

  • 6.I (E. Kennedy): Request that the Superintendent and Administration at Lowell High School provide information regarding how many students walk to Lowell High School and how many students participate in athletic events. (Passes)

Mayor Kennedy is looking for updated information so that any decisions about Lowell High School’s renovation plans reflect that.  Ms. Omoyeni asks School Committee to consider equity in education. The current Lowell High site is centrally located; the impact of other site under consideration for the High School’s building project could have far-reaching impact on students.

  • 6.II (E. Kennedy): Request that the Superintendent and Administration at Lowell High School provide an update on the proposal to institute a STEM curriculum or STEM Academy at Lowell High School. (Passes)
  • 6.III (E. Kennedy): Request to either postpone or cancel the School Committee meeting scheduled for April 19th, which falls during April school vacation. (To be discussed during Reports of Superintendent).
  • 6.IV (E. Kennedy): Request the Superintendent provide a report and update on the school department’s efforts towards recruitment designed to bring diversity to the Lowell High School faculty.

SC Gignac suggests diversity hiring report to include schools all levels, not just Lowell High School.

  • 6.V (E. Kennedy): Request that the Superintendent direct the Lowell High School Administration to take advantage of the free tutoring services offered at the Dharma Center on Merrimack Street.

Mayor Kennedy attended an opening at this Center which is located in the same area as the Curriculum Office. Mayor Kennedy wants to bring this information to the Superintendent’s attention. (Passes)

  • 6.VI (R. Gignac): Request the Superintendent develop and distribute an Organizational Health Survey to all staff and parents throughout the district. (Passed)

SC Gignac would like 2 surveys: one for staff by building; one for parents by building. Focus on Leadership, Teaching Learning, Security, etc. Would like a sense of how each building’s organizational units are functioning and how parents feel. SC Doherty supports the idea as it speaks to the culture in our schools. Asks the Superintendent if LPSD currently doing something like this already (they are). Wonders if an implementation of surveys should consider how this data is collected.  Tim Blake, parent at the Sullivan school (and Leominster teacher) and on site council speaks about a survey the Sullivan Site Council developed. Mr. Blake found the electronic response to surveys increased parent participation.  Ms. Omoyeni advocates for a portion of the survey addressing school climate and comfort level of parent when contacting the school (translators available, cultural norms, etc.). Cautions that multiple language versions are necessary.

Dr. Khelfaoui cites Lowell’s participation in state-wide accountability group and how this type of survey (parent, faculty, student, etc) focuses accountability to include input from all stakeholders in accountability for a school district (part of ESSA, or Every Student Success Act). SC Descoteaux notes the success of the survey can be tied to the brevity of the survey.

  • 6.VII (R. Hoey): Request that the Superintendent send a letter of appreciation to Coach George Bossi, on behalf of the Lowell Public Schools and the Lowell School Committee, in recognition of Coach Bossi’s holiday wrestling tournament, held at the Paul Tsongas Arena annually, and known to bring large crowds into the city. (Passes)
  • 6.VIII (R. Hoey): Request that the Superintendent send a letter of congratulations to Coach Tom Cassidy, on behalf of the Lowell Public Schools and the Lowell School Committee, on Greater Lowell Technical High School Gryphons wrestling team’s recent win over Lowell High School. (Passes)
  • 6.IX (A. Descoteaux):  Have the Superintendent work with the Lowell High School administration to look into adding the IB (International Baccalaureate) program to offer our advanced HS students another opportunity in addition to AP course work. (Passes)

SC Descoteaux would like this offering available to advanced students if it is possible to incorporate such a program into the High School. SC Doherty notices that the program is offered for Elementary and Middle School as well; is this a program that would enhance younger students?  Superintendent Khelfaoui notes that advantages of the program, geared to Grades 11/12 and the preparatory programs (K-10). SC Doherty would like to know more about this as there are costs involved in having educators be certified as Advanced Placement coursework.

Subcommittee Meeting Reports

Finance Subcommittee

The minutes for the January 24 Finance Subcommittee Meeting are found here.  Two Special Education Reserve Fund line item was removed from discussion as there were new regulations regarding carry-over of Special Education Fund. SC Gignac makes motion to create a Special Education Reserve Fund (must go to the City Council). Once the Reserve Fund (currently circuit breaker funds are mandated just to fund outside Special Education placements) is approved, any monies can be expended for Special Education as determined by the Committee. (6 yeas, 1 absent) approved.

Also included during the Finance Subcommittee discussion was a report of transfers by Mr. Cassidy and year-to-date budget expenditures.

Joint Facilities & Lowell High Subcommittee (also 1/24/2017)

Meeting notes can be found here.

Mr. Martin, Head of School, gives a brief presentation  and notes the LHS project is the largest school project in history of MSBA.  Public can access documents and progress through the LHS site on the City of Lowell website (see link here).

The members of the committee visioning this project came from a broad cross-section of stakeholders. The architects will work to refine the resulting parameters for a 21st century Lowell High School. It was interesting to note that the net affect of a transition to a flexible classroom plan is that, even with increased enrollment, the number of classroom spaces will be decreased. Notes this occurs because the rooms will not be assigned to a single staff member, but will be flexibly programmed throughout the day. Presentation Powerpoint is here.

Dr. Amy McLeod presents the Education Program and Programming for the future and how the architects will use this information to plan for a new High School. The visioning group feels that the structure of the school with a separate Freshman Academy is still important, however, including the Freshman Academy as a wing or separate section of a new High School would be more inclusive.

Important updates will address adaptability and flexibility as well as technology needs (creating equitable access to technology) and appropriate science configurations. Another big space is to include teacher planning space. The group feels that clustering classrooms for interdisciplinary studies will allow for advantages where learning crosses the boundaries of a strict, structured curriculum.

Take a look at the last slide on the Powerpoint Presentation. The amount of thoughtful consideration into what Lowell High students need and what is important and valued in the High School, becomes apparent.

MSBA needs document generated by stakeholders can be located here.

Motion to accept this Subcommittee Report (6 yeas, 1 absent), Approved.

Reports of the Superintendent

  • Online Community Resource Guide. Ms. Durkin notes that the resource guide is currently live on the LPSD website.  It is not all-encompassing; however, there is information that can be elaborated on. (Student Support Services); the goal is to update this information quarterly and will include Early Childhood information. The resources will be pushed out to school websites.

This is a valuable resource for everyone working with students in the Lowell School System – parents, students, and educators.  The website is easily accessed from the LPSD website by navigating to Departments-Student Support Services-Community Resources (direct link here)

  • Chapter 70 State Aid The total budget is anticipated to increase by $6.107 million (about a 3.3% increase). About 80% of the funding comes from the Commonwealth and the balance is provided by the City in either cash contribution or in-kind contribution (for example amounts the city “charges” for things like snow removal). The City’s contribution would increase by about $1.1 Million for the 2017-2018 school year making the City’s contribution a bit over $40 million.

Information from City Manager on Wednesday afternoon indicated the non-cash contribution will increase but the cash contribution will decrease by $1 Million. The net effect is a $3.82 increase FY17 and FY18. SC Doherty asked for and received clarification that the cash received from the City would be less even though the Chapter 70 formula indicates an increased City contribution to schools. Several factors contribute to a decrease in cash contribution:

  • non-cash contribution increases and
  • charter school assessment increase of $1.8 Million

SC Doherty also clarifies that Chapter 70 is all state funding, not federal (true). Lowell’s budget has a large proportion of federal grant funding, and, all of those funds are in question pending what may or may not happen with a new administration in Washington.

Foundation Budget Estimates (oh boy). Foundation budgets are – as I understand them – the amounts of funding the state determines necessary for education. This is generated at the state and is based on enrollments and a set of expense categories (here’s DESE link; read it at your own peril).  On the state level, there have been several attempts to update the expense amounts that drive the foundation budget calculations. Some of those expense computations have not be updated in over 20 years; it doesn’t take a degree in finance to understand that 20-year-old numbers are bound to be erroneous. The impact of out-of-date calculation is to underfund education on the state level which of course, trickles down to the local level. 

  • Budget Meeting Dates

The proposed meetings as published in the packed are here and will hopefully be updated to reflect some changes that were approved including: a) date revision for first meeting to 4/12, b) the second meeting (4/26) will be with Finance Subcommitteef and c) location of final budget adoption meetings will be in council chambers so as to allow for broadcast on LTC.

New Business:

A transfer of $500 to create a Coral Supplies account (approved); disposal of surplus supplies (approved)

Convention and Conference Requests were all approved (6 yeas, 1 absent)

Meeting detail and support documentation  can be found here.

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.

Motions:

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, 06 January 2016

6 members present, Jackie Doherty absent


As the first meeting of the year, this was a very quick one (about 25 minutes). Most of tonight’s agenda was routinely dealt with so I’ve only noted points in the meeting whflipoutere there was some discussion.

After the roll call, Mr. Gendron received committee persmission to have LHS students from Generation Citizen address the Committee. If you, like I, were a bit confused about the program, here is a link to a December 30 article in the Lowell Sun by Amelia Pak-Harvey.  This project is a pilot meant to introduce students to civic engagement.

The students present at tonight’s school committee meeting explained their process in determining a need for a financial literacy course and asked for the Committee’s support in implementing a financial literacy program at the High School. After the presentation, Mayor Kennedy suggested that the students’ request be put more fomally on a future meeting’s agenda.

And, as a side-note, Ms. Martin noted a 4-day summer program for high school seniors which is sponsored by CTI. The program, Student Finance 101, is offered for free and is designed to assist seniors navigate financial aide and other financial issues as they move on to college and greater financial independence.

Motions

Mr. Gendron presented the two motions on the agenda tonight. The first motion (2015/506) requested planning and a follow-up report for what has annually been a Community Service Day  throughout the school system each Spring. Last year, my fourth grade students participated in this effort by cleaning and beautifying Lincoln Square Park; throughout the City, students do similar service projects embracing the importance of becoming active in their community. 

The second motion, 2015/507, requested a plan for the handling middle school population explosion anticipated to begin next school year. In addition to modulars (portable, leased classroom spaces), the district needs to consider teaching and support staff expenditures needed. Ms. Martin suggested that along with consideration for modular spaces, the district should also look at the anticipated re-zoning of schools (see Item 7 from the prior meeting on November 18, 2015) – which of course will make this a lot more complicated, but should result in an effective solution to significant increases in the middle school population.

I would agree with Ms. Martin’s suggestion here. Looking at the increased needs at the Middle School level along with the complex issue of creating a neighborhood school approach to student assignments will definitely be a daunting challenge. Rather than patch the immediate need for space with a band-aid, a more thorough analysis of student assignment and school zones will provide a longer-term solution and should result in a more permanent policy.

New Business

Under new business, a budget transfer request (2016/9) to increase the NEASC (New England Association of Schools & Colleges) accreditation budget from $15,000 to $24,000 was questioned by Mr. Gignac.  Mr. Antonelli was not able to identify the origin of the budgeted amount ($15,000) as the budget was developed prior to his tenure (possibly based on an historic figure from prior budgeting the last time LHS was accredited?). The increased amount ($24,000) covers the travel expenses for a Visiting Team of educators participating in the accreditation of Lowell High as well as the report presented to the District (due in Feb. 2016).

During the course of the accredition process, the high school hosts a visit, or peer review, by a  visiting team of  colleagues who observe nearly every aspect of a high school operation. As a result of this on-site visit, a report is made noting strengths and areas where improvement might be needed according to the NEASC guidelines. Here’s a link in case you’d like to read more about this. The travel expenses for this 4-day visit are included in the requested increase of $9,000. 

A side-note to routinely approved Convention and Conference requests was made by Ms. Martin.  The Martha McQuade Adventure Fund (story written by Jen Meyers here) offers scholarships to assist students who would like to participate in international travel opportunities, but find the costs limiting.

Meeting adjourned at 6:56 pm. Record time.