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, 04 January 2017

2017-jan-03_walkinglowell_0187School Committee Meeting 04 January 2017

All members present.

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

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

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

Permissions to Enter

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

Motions

Three motions were presented

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

Reports of the Superintendent

There were seven items under Reports of the Superintendent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Business

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

Convention and Conference Requests were all approved.

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

Meeting Packet can be found here.

Joint Facilities Subcommittee Meeting, 02 November 2016

IMG_0891Joint Facilities SubCommittee Meeting (School Committee and City Council)

Six present

The meeting was requested jointly by the Lowell School Committee and the Municipal Facility Subcommittee. It took place prior to the regularly scheduled School Committee Meeting for the purpose of addressing two agenda items.

Agenda Item 1: Discuss the Superintendent’s plan to address the over-crowding in middle schools in the 20170-2018 school year.

Gary Frisch addresses joint committee. Superintendent & Leadership Team worked together to provide recommendation. Enrollment last year went up 137 students at middle school, 176 total for grades K-12. Additionally,  4 5th-grade classes were added last year.  Class size calculated for 2017-18, average 26.3 to 30.5/classroom (predictions of 32 last year) without adding classrooms. SC Gendron notes last year the projection was 28-30 with Rogers/Wang solution in place.  Adding classrooms at STEM Academy would reduce class sizes city-wide (4 sections of 5th, 2 sections of 6th – increase 4 new classroom spaces at STEM Academy as students move to next grade level).  The plan involves converting two spaces – home ec & TV studio plus conversion of smaller divided instructional spaces. The LPSD would need to promote the STEM Academy as a Middle School option to the Grade 4 students transitioning to Middle School for 2017-18.

The student population at the STEM Academy would increase from 606 to 756 students and would require additional staff and supply resources.

SC Gendron asks about how the proposed plan impacts class size.  Mr. Frisch believes these adaptations bring average class size to 26-28.  Questioned if the average would be reduced, Mr. Frisch believes the average would be reduced.

SC notes current report states 28 students per class is a “band-aid” and doesn’t like putting a temporary solution in place. What happens if the proposal before the committee is not agreed upon? Mr. Frisch believes the current fifth grade students would be matriculated to 6th grade at STEM.  SC Gignac asks if this 2017-18 plan in not in place, what would happen.  Mr. Frisch reiterates that 4 fourth-grades at Rogers going to fifth grade plus 2 fifth grades going to 6th grade would mean additional classrooms.

SC Hoey wonders about adding a fifth grade to each PK-4 school. Mr. Frisch says new high school project may provide different space capacity (opening the Freshman Academy).  Currently space options are limited as buildings are at capacity. Present time is a space crunch but administration looking at adding space without using modular (not cost-effective and are quite expensive). CC Hoey reiterates that the high school project is about five years off so that makes the impact of the high school project something to consider for the future.

CC Leahy questions STEM Academy capacity proposal (150 students). What additional resources will be needed? Mr. Frisch notes a need for additional teachers, an additional assistant principal, and other resources. CC Leahy states he is not aware that the new high school project might prompt closing of the Freshman Academy. SC Gendron says this is an idea that was “floated” but it is one of several suggestions for configuration of grades after the high school project is completed.  CC Leahy still concerned about class size. CC Samaras notes he would like more of the report to look at (much of the report appeared to be delivered verbally) and wonders about the feasibility of an “extended day” (requires agreement of parents, school department, bargaining units).  He would prefer to see money spent on teachers over acquiring physical spaces temporarily.

SC Gendron expresses concern that this is a “band-aid”: too late in bid for modulars similar to the solution arrived at last school year. and voices opinion this proposal is a “band-aid on a band-aid.” A reasonable class size needs to be prioritized. SC Gignac would like some consideration given to what happens in 2018-19 with STEM Academy students who will be seventh graders.  He suggest that his prior request for an RFP for modulars should have been addressed. He suggests it would be useful to see a comprehensive plan with multiple scenarios.

Mr. Frisch expresses that the goal of 26 students (or less) per average class gives the school Leadership Team a target and is helpful in developing a plan with the Leadership Team. SC Gendron expresses that a lower average class size (20) would be even more preferable.

CC Mercier would have appreciated a written plan at the meeting. Would like a report in the City Council packet by Friday. Mr. Frisch states that a report could be in packet the following Friday. Notes the many costs that are associated with adding classroom (buses, personnel, supplies).  SC Hoey notes that the staffing in schools with close to 16,000 students in the schools is an issue to consider; notes 20 years ago, Lowell built many schools to accommodate student population.  CC Leahy notes the lowest class size should be what we try for. CC Samaras urges consideration of an extended day. and would like the school department to consider programming that may not be working well. By analyzing the programming, there may be a gain in space. Encourages a study of programs to see if any changes of this nature might be necessary.

Agenda Item 2: Discussion regarding facility maintenance in schools and school grounds.

CC Leahy notes that the purpose of this discussion is to come up with a better plan to maintain Lowell’s schools.  Notes that there have been changes in the players.  Is there a way to stay ahead of the repairs/work orders? Notes that in his touring of facilities, noted disrepair of the high school building and that some of the issues seem to be ongoing.  Especially concerned about the process in getting repairs done; it shouldn’t take a year to make minor repairs. November 1 should not be when broken heating equipment is discovered. We can’t let the high school fall down around us because we’re expecting a new one.

Mr. Frisch notes that the School Department is responsible for cleaning of the building. Proposes a joint administrative committee to work on the maintenance issues and states that deferred maintenance is bad for student learning. Definition of shared responsiblities needs better articulation. Current status is unacceptable.

CC Samaras agrees with frustrations and notes never enough money to do everything we need to do.  Asks how school administration/custodial staff and central office staff prioritize the work that needs to be completed. Finding fault should not be the purpose of this review. Focus on the process that will ensure students are in a comfortable and safe situation.

CC Mercier notes 19 schools with a boiler, roof leak or air handler leak problem. How did it get to this point that they are leaking simultaneously? What is the plan to address this? Mr. Frisch agrees the current status is unacceptable.  Notes need for urgent plan to address these repairs and that every child needs a healthy learning environment.  CC Mercier states that heating and the need for students need to wear coats in a classroom is a concern that needs to be addressed.

CC Leahy notes that new people in place and the need to reorganize and manage this better. SC Hoey asks about the amount for charge-backs from City to School Deparment.  SC Gendron reminds joint committee that all the equipment in the schools built 30 years ago are all turning 30 at the same time (and needing major repair/replacement). Requests Mr. Underwood to speak to facilities status.  Mr. Underwood suggests that custodial staff could do some of the things that do not require permits; however collective bargaining limits that.  Willing to think “outside the box”, but at times limited by what is and is not allowable. Had requested Senior Custodians submit a priority list which joint committee has before them tonight.

Manager Murphy cites unfairness of characterizing DPW as not doing the best they can. All the heating issues were addressed and states we (City) will continue to work as a partnership. DPW is doing best job possible.

CC Samaras expresses a need for more communication between the School Committee and City Council. This is the time to have a paradigm shift. SC Gignac notes that a similar discussion was held four years ago; a rprioritized eport with more information is needed. Collaborative work should happen more frequently.

Report of progress. Motion to adjourn.

School Committee Meeting, 05 October 2016

2016-sep-22_btubooks2School Committee Meeting, 05 October 2016

All present

Spotlight on Excellence

The focus on this meeting’s Spotlight was on the Summer Reading Program. A record 27,453 books were read and recorded by students across the Lowell Public Schools, representing an increase of 9,400 books over the previous year.  Congratulations to all students and their parents participating in this vital program over the summer. For a list of recognized students by school, see page 10 in the Meeting Packet.

This is one of my favorite events to observe as the excitement of the students and their families is so contagious. Special thanks to the school administrators and staff who also attended last night’s ceremony.

Permissions to Enter

Several contract approvals totalling $849,542. See detail on p 30-31 of the Meeting Packet.

Unfinished Business

2016/391: Business Office Reorganization. Net reduction of staff was 1. Cost savings about $12.2K. Proposal by Mr. Frisch to apply a majority portion of this cost savings to the Facilities Director’s salary as this person is being asked to assume the duties of one of the eliminated positions (Energy Management) and has significant added responsibilities as the High School Building Project gets underway.  Questions regarding the reporting structure, particularly why the Assistant Superintendent for Business was not a direct-report to Mr. Frisch. Suggestion to send the salary portion of this report to Personnel Subcommittee (with request from Ms. Martin for formalized job description noting the increased duties for the Facilities Director), while accepting the reorganization. 7 yeas.

2016/403 Approval of Reclassification of Position. Central Administration completed the requested revision of this person’s job description to reflect reality of the responsibilities. 7 yeas.

Motions

  • 2016/397 District-wide Technology Plan (Mr. Gignac). This is a requirement from DESE. The currently posted plan (2015-2018 update found on the LPSD website’s technology page is based on survey and analysis of district needs and the state of each building’s technology inventory.  With the state requirement for electronic test administration (starting Spring 2017), ensuring that technology needs are reflected in the plan are important as well as the analysis that will drive technology updates/upgrades at the High School during the High School Building Project.  For more information about state-required technology reporting and requirements, see DESE’s Office of Digital Learning website.

The next 3 motions were postponed from the previous meeting. During the discussion of the Superintendent’s Evaluation, the Mayor’s microphone cut out.

  • 2016/398 Community Service Learning Program (Mr. Gendron)
  • 2016/400 Superintendent’s Evaluation Process (Mr. Gendron)
  • 2016/399 Report to Facilities Subcommittee on plans to address the middle school population bubble. (Mr. Gendron)

Reports of the Superintendent

2016/390 2016 Student Assessment and Accountability Lowell’s testing results recently released by DESE show 7 Level 1 schools (highest category), 7 Level 2 schools, and 7 Level 3 schools. This is outstanding news, particularly since, despite expectation that switching from MCAS to PARCC last year would cause an expected drop in test scores (hence the state’s offer to hold schools & districts “harmless” from test ramifications).  Lowell seems to have defied all the odds by actually doing better on a brand new test instrument. Superintendent Khelfaoui attributes some of this to the schools’ focus on teaching to standards, not teaching to the test.

School Committee suggests that this news is celebrated in both the schools and perhaps a future school committee meeting. The Committee also requests a deeper evaluation to ensure that any achievement gaps are continuing to close. The report begins on p 51 of the Meeting Packet.

2016/393 Homeless Liaison.  Appointment of Jane Mosher-Canty to replace Fred McOsker who is serving as an Assistant Principal of the Morey School.

Three additional reports, 2016/394 Personnel Report details resignations, retirements, and hiring, 2016/395 List of Eligible Teachers, and 2016/402 Home Education were presented.

New Business

There were three items under New Business:

  • 2016/387 MCAS 2.0 Computer Base Testing. Recommendation from the Superintendent that all testing for all grade levels participating in state-wide assessment be done online (MA DESE requirement is only for Grades 4 and 8 this year, with rolling inclusion of additional grades each year).  When asked if the District was ready, Superintendent Khelfaoui replied yes.
  • 2016/389 Acceptance of $75.00 donation to BRIDGE program
  • 2016/392 Budget transfer to support Community Based Organizations at elementary and middle schools (see p 83 of Meeting Packet).

Convention and Conference Requests (3) were all approved.

Meeting Packet can be found here.

First Days

IMG_1586 (1)It is back-to-school time here in the City in which I taught for nearly 30 years. You can sense the anticipation in the  breezes that flow down the Merrimack. There is  an almost unidentifiable change to the air. We are changing seasons; we are changing routines.

I loved the first day of school when I was teaching. Make no mistake about it, those first days – and oftentimes weeks – are exhausting as teachers and their new students work to find common ground and to build a community. The first day, the day when everyone wears a little vulnerability in anticipation of new things, the first day is special. And for every teacher who starts rebuilding a new community of learners today, I wish you the best.

My mind floods with the memories of some of those wonderfully special students who made the 30 first days that I was privileged to be part of special. So many unique personalities! You kids have enriched my life in ways I could never have imagined.

In 1990, I was returning to the classroom after a summer of health crises. I remember the exhaustion that year was not from teaching, but from treatments. Dragging my sorry self into a classroom filled with second graders was not only teacher-exhausting, it was physically and mentally exhausting. Yet every single morning, one of my bubbly, precious second graders, Anita, would throw her arms into the air and tell me “Mrs. Bisson, you look mahvelous today!” Now I know the reality was, I didn’t look even close to passable most days. Some mornings, Anita’s greeting was the one thing that kept me moving forward. A few years later, this special girl lost her own battle with cancer – and took a piece of my heart with her to heaven.

All of “my” kids whether you are grown with your own children or still in the middle of schooling, I am grateful to every single one of you. You challenged me to do better, to figure it out, and yet, every day you taught me something about making the most of our time here in our classroom community and on this earth. All those times when you thought I was teaching you, you were really teaching me.

Students are meeting their teachers once again today. May you all have a year filled with precious moments and memory-making. Cherish each moment as you build a lifetime of memories.

School Committee Meeting, 17 August 2016

School Committee Meeting, 17 August 2016

IMG_0794All present

This was a lengthy (2-3/4 hours) meeting due to not only the summer schedule of monthly meetings, but the financial topics that became the focus of discussion. Apologies in advance for the delay in getting notes out; I also presented information about First Book to the Committee (separate post to follow).

Permissions to Enter

Contract ratifications for the Superintendent and Assistant Superintendents were deferred to Executive Session, which followed the public portion this meeting.

Subcommittee Reports:

Mr. Gendron shared findings from the Facilities Subcommittee meeting of 8/11. The recommendation, followed by full School Committee approval, to name the Butler School Auditorium in honor of former administrator Mary Alice Foley was made. (Approved). Additionally Skanska, the Project Manager for the Lowell High School Building Project, presented a quarterly report of the work thus far and listed deadlines and timeline for the projected planning work needed to be accomplished ahead of a May 31, 2017 Mass. School Building Deadline.

While I understood this to be a huge construction project for the City of Lowell, I was unaware that the LHS Building Project is the largest school building project in the Commonwealth. There is a need to get the design “right” (sustainable with adaptability for future needs projected 20-30 years out) and to ensure that the costs are under control throughout all phases of the project.  The Project Manager, Skanska, is charged with this task and will work with the design team.  To view the timeline for the work that is envisioned, Sanska has provided details beginning around page 73 of the School Committee Packet.

Reports of the Superintendent

The Superintendent offered 12 reports to the Committee.  The ones receiving the closest scrutiny were financial in nature, but attention also was given to a facilities report by Mr. Rick Underwood. The Doors Open Lowell Public Schools announcement has been covered in detail by both Amelia Pak-Harvey of the Lowell Sun and through the LPS Website.  I was also wearing my “other hat”, co-coordinator of the Lowell First Book Truck Event in October, and will detail that event this week as we kick-off efforts to bring 40,000 free books to our Lowell Public Schools families.  Sharon LaGasse and Kristina Webber presented an end-of-year report on Food Services and the CEP program in Lowell.

The Purchase Order Report (2016/311), received extended discussion as it addressed some of the expenditures and encumbrances made at the end of the fiscal year. Mr. Gignac requested clarification some June 30 Purchase Orders including rental of the Tsongas Center (graduation) as well as hardware (Apple Laptops and carts).

Further in the discussion was the proposal for how to make up the last-minute loss of Kindergarten Grant Funding.  The Kindergarten Grant in Lowell is used in part or in whole to support the services of instructional paraprofessionals at the Kindergartens across the City.  On July 17, Governor Baker’s veto during the Commonwealth’s Budget process created a loss of funding for the Kindergarten Grant – and other budget items as well.  The Lowell School Administration  in attempting to find ways to maintain the paraprofessional positions, has resorted to what I liken to rearranging the deck chairs.  LPS had a budget surplus which seems to have some connection to the “fifth” quarterly circuit breaker payment accounted for in the 2015-16 budget of $2.8 million.  The carryover to 2016-17 is restricted by law to $2.3 million which leaves $548,000 to be returned to the City of Lowell.

Noting the amount needed to make up for the loss of funds triggered by the Governor’s veto, the LPS would request $527,642 once the books are certified by the Commonwealth (December 2016?). The City Manager had been alerted that there might be need for up to $600,000 in supplemental requests to make up for the loss. The trail of transactions as I understand it, would be this:

  • Funds in excess of $2.3 Million returned to City (approximately $547,000)
  • School Committee will request $527,642 supplemental from City Council
  • $527,642 will be placed by City in a Suspense Account (and eventually transferred to the line item needed to pay the salaries of Kindergarten paraprofessionals).

While there is an aversion to using one-time funding sources/payments for on-going expenditures, the Superintendent posited that these transactions will give the LPS a year to plan for how to fund the monies lost by the Governor’s veto on a more permanent basis.  In the end the Committee approved both the motion to request supplemental funding from the City Council and to place such funds in a Suspense Account (6 yeas, 1 absent – Mayor Kennedy).

In a related report, the update to Purchasing Policy (2016/321), an effort to bring the language in the current LPS Purchasing Policy in alignment with both City and DESE/State practice, was referred to the Finance Subcommittee for review.

The updated Hiring Policies (2016/331) giving qualified and certified Lowell residents an interview was passed.

A report on the status of Facilities (2016/326) was made by Mr. Rick Underwood,.  The enormity of maintaining facilities and the near-term end of lifecycle for building components of those schools built during the 1991-1993 school building boom is something for which the LPSD needs to plan. Many of the HVAC plants are reaching the end of life expectancy and are becoming difficult to keep in service. The custodial staff has an enormous amount of work to complete throughout the summer:  thoroughly cleaning buildings, floors, and performing other maintenance tasks (often with community programs in the building AND when temperatures are extremely hot) that are needed while the students and teachers are out of the building. During crunch times, the outside of the building – the landscaping – may not receive the same level of attention.

Mainly what I learned through this discussion is that the custodial staff have performed yeoman’s work to get all the facilities clean and ready for a new academic year. I know that  in the past, when I returned to set up my own classroom, the floors had been stripped, waxed, minor repairs performed – sometimes a new coat of paint, the the overhead lights cleaned. Any surface I didn’t have covered with packed boxes of materials was wiped down. The lockers outside the classroom were cleaned, the halls stripped and waxed and the community spaces maintained as well.

Maintaining the grounds at schools is also a huge undertaking, and of course, the grounds are what the neighbors and public see as they drive by a school building.  Adding landscaping to a custodian’s punch list is sometimes impossible, yet the grounds do need to be taken care of. Mr. Underwood seems quite open to seeking outside-the-box solutions for this, perhaps involving local landscapers in regular maintenance for a courtesy sign or involving community service groups as suggested by Mr. Gendron.

Before moving to Motions, Mayor Kennedy requested an update on when to expect reports for four motions submitted during the July 2016 School Committee meeting. A Report on Graduation Rates  and one on the STEM Program, specific to the High School is expected at the first meeting in September.  The LHS Curriculum Review in light of the building project is expected before December and the Suspension/Expulsion Policy is pending input and action by DESE.

New Business

There were four items under New Business:

  • 2016/310: Update on Business Office Reorganization & District HiringMr. Frisch confirms that the number of bodies remains the same; however, report was very difficult to follow. An Organizational Chart with names would go a long way to clarify what positions are filled and which remain unfilled.
  • 2016/318 Accept a grant award of $2,000 for Wang School
  • 2016/322 Expenditure transfer request (see page 165-172 of Meeting Packet)
  • 2016/325 Budget Transfers (see page 172-211  of Meeting packet). These appear to be the detailed transfers of monies to balance accounts from 2015-16.

All passed.

Meeting adjourned from Executive Session. Meeting Packet can be found here.

LFF 2016: The View From Here

Fans of music and festivals know to keep the last weekend of July free for the Lowell Folk Festival. This year marked the 30th year for this stellar event and, for me, it was one of the best in recent memory. The weather was outstanding and the performances a treat. Did I mention the food?  If you’ve missed this annual free (!) festival, block out the last weekend in July on next year’s calendar. You won’t be disappointed.

The diversity of Lowell is always a driving theme to the folk festival. Where else could you couple Cape Breton fiddling with rock-a-billy and Inuit throat singing? So many of Lowell’s great photographers are out and about capturing the crowds and music and excitement – I have nothing to add to that.  But I do have a bit of another perspective on the folk festival, here’s my Walking Lowell homage to this year’s festival. Click the image below to go to the video.

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