Monday, August 11, 2014

11th Essex State Rep Q&A: Brendan Crighton

Lynn Councilor At-Large Brendan Crighton is one of three candidates running for the 11th Essex District State Representative seat vacated by Steven Walsh (D) this January. The 11th Essex consists of Wards 4-3, 5-1, 5-4, 6 and 7 in Lynn as well as the Town of Nahant. 


Background

Brendan Crighton is a lifelong Lynn resident and product of the Lynn Public Schools. He attended Lincoln-Thomson Elementary School, Breed Junior High, and Classical High School before earning his Bachelor’s Degree in Government from Colby College and Master’s Degree in Public Administration from Suffolk University. Crighton was elected to the Lynn City Council in 2010 as Ward 5 Councilor, which he served for two terms before being elected to Councilor-at-Large in 2014. Crighton has worked for State Senator Tom McGee for the past nine years, the last four as his Chief of Staff. In Senator McGee’s office, he has had the opportunity to work on a number of issues including budgetary and legislative matters, Transportation, Labor and Workforce Development, Public Service and Veterans Affairs Committee work, and most importantly, constituent services. Crighton serves on a number of boards including the Gregg House and My Brother’s Table Boards of Directors, as well as an active member of the Lynn Democratic City Committee, North Shore Young Democrats, Friends of Ward 5, Ancient Order of the Hibernians-Division 10, Friends of Lynn Woods, Friendly Knights of St. Patrick, and Friends of Lynn and Nahant Beach. Crighton currently resides in West Lynn with his wife Andrea. 


Here Brendan answers a few education related questions: 


 What is your understanding of the major education related issues facing Lynn? How does this compare to the issues Nahant is facing?

I believe I am uniquely qualified to be a strong advocate for education issues in the 11th Essex district because of my proven commitment to supporting and strengthening public education during my 9 years working for State Senator Tom McGee and 4.5 years on the Lynn City Council. One major issue facing Lynn is the conditions of the school buildings. I voted to fund the new Marshall Middle School in Lynn and worked hard to make sure it passed a city wide referendum. We need to continue to work with the Massachusetts School Building Authority, and advocate for other Lynn school building upgrades and replacements. Our young people have so much to offer and that is why I started the Lynn Youth Council to give students a voice in their government and to encourage civic participation. Most importantly, I meet regularly with parents and students to hear their ideas on how to improve the public school system based on first hand experiences.

As State Representative, I vow to push for Chapter 70 funding increases so that they continue to be reflective of the student population increases. Two other education related priorities are universal pre-kindergarten and increased after school funding and programming. Children who participate in high-quality early education, develop better language and social skills, test better, and have fewer behavioral problems once they enter school. Currently 80% of children and youth in Massachusetts do not have access to affordable, high quality after school and expanded learning opportunities. I was fortunate enough to be able to take advantage of some of Lynn’s after school programs during my youth, and I believe that every young person should have that same opportunity. Both of these education programs are in high demand and are critical in closing the achievement gap.

In addition to Chapter 70 funding, one of the biggest education issues facing Nahant is reimbursement for circuit breaker special education which has a tremendous impact on their overall budget. For small towns like Nahant, the state needs to provide direct funding for special education to ensure that every student is getting the high quality education services that they deserve.


        
    The current Massachusetts school funding formula was originally developed in 1993. Do you believe the formula to be outdated? In what sense?

As State Representative, I would support legislation to revive the Foundation Budget Review Commission to examine and report on the resources needed for all students to achieve success and identify operating efficiencies that can be made by school districts.


        
    According to the latest Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education reports, there are 1,026 students from Lynn and Nahant that are pre-enrolled in a charter school for school year 2014-15. What is your stance on charter schools? Do they have a place in public education, specifically in Lynn?

I am a proud product of Lynn Public Schools K-12, where I learned so much from the hard working teachers and faculty. I am against raising the cap on charter schools. I do not believe that public tax dollars should be diverted to charter schools because of the adverse impact it has on the students and educators in traditional public schools. Public schools need every dollar of dedicated funding they can get.

      

  In an article titled ‘A fairer test score measure’ Jack Schneider and Massachusetts State Senator Pat Jehlen (D) write: “Standardized test scores, which constitute the lion’s share of how we evaluate school effectiveness, are highly problematic. Standardized tests capture a narrow slice of life in schools and reflect only a fraction of what the public values. …And they are subject to gaming.” What is your opinion on standardized testing and the use of test scores to measure school quality as well as teacher effectiveness?

Though I believe there must be some measurement we use to evaluate our public school system, I have concerns about the use of standardized test scores to primarily measure school quality and teacher effectiveness. Every school district is different and faces unique challenges when it comes to educating students.

Standardized test scores are the tool that is used to measure schools effectiveness, yet it is not always reflective of the progress a student has made year to year. That is why it is important when analyzing our schools’ quality that we don't narrowly focus on test scores for a single year, but rather look at how students have improved year to year. I believe growth model assessments are important in order to comprehend a student’s preparedness and college readiness throughout their school career.

               
  If elected, in what ways will you advocate for better public education for the students and families living the 11th Essex District?

If elected, I will work hard to make sure our communities get the education and special education funding they deserve, along with access to pre-kindergarten and after school programs. I have already fostered relationships with education advocates and agencies through my legislative and budgetary work in Senator McGee’s office. Just recently, I earned the endorsement of the Massachusetts Teachers Association. The future of our state depends on our hard-working teachers and a strong public school system. Education must always be a top priority and I look forward to working hard to make sure the resources are there for our teachers and students.

Thank you for your time in reading this post. To keep up with the campaign, please check out www.brendancrighton.com, find Brendan Crighton for State Representative on Facebook and Twitter. Also, please feel free to email us at info@brendancrighton.com.


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Monday, July 21, 2014

#LynnMA Tweets Pop Up in the Wake of Reports Re: Unaccompanied Minors

In the wake of recent reports regarding an influx of unaccompanied minors mostly from Central America (here, here, here, here, here, here) in Lynn, MA, tweets from both inside and outside the state have popped up on Twitter regarding the situation with the hashtag '#LynnMA.'










With rhetoric like this floating around, is it possible to refocus and work on solutions to this issue?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Thoughts on the Lynn City Council Net School Spending Vote

At last night's Lynn City Council meeting, the Council unanimously voted to support legislative changes to the net school spending (NSS) language which specifically allows state aid penalties associated with deficiencies in meeting NSS requirements to be waived and for the inclusion of retired teacher benefit expenditures in NSS calculations for districts currently not permitted to do so. Lynn Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Peter Caron is quoted as saying
“It...waives penalties for the community, or, rather, it gives the commissioner of education (Mitchell Chester) the ability to waive all penalties for Fiscal (years) 13, 14 and 15.”

Here Caron is referring to Section 260, part b of of the legislation which states:
The commissioner of elementary and secondary education may waive penalties associated with deficiencies in net school spending requirements up to an amount that can be attributed to non-inclusion of health care costs for retired teachers in fiscal years 2013 and 2014.
This legislation is pertinent to Lynn as the city is facing potentially huge losses in state aid, in part, because retired teacher benefits were originally submitted and included in the city's NSS calculation but it was later determined the city was not permitted to include this particular expenditure. The penalties were quoted in the Lynn Item as "...a $300,000 fine and a $7 million reduction in state aid to schools." Both figures quoted here, however, were the original losses in state aid reported in January 2014 for two separate fiscal years (not a fine and then reduction in state aid as noted). Lynn was originally calculated as having met 94.9% of NSS in FY13 which was under the 95% threshold to avoid penalties and resulted in a $300,565 reduction in future state aid; for FY14, the city was calculated as having met 91.9% of NSS which resulted in a further loss of $7,030,507 in state funding. Penalties between FY13 and FY14 cumulatively amounted to $7,311,072 in lost Chapter 70 money. The NSS figures were recently recalculated for FY13 and FY14. As of July 3, 2014, Lynn was reported as having met 94.3% of NSS in FY13 which now amounts to a $1,267,966 loss in state aid; in FY14, Lynn is now reported at 92.1% of NSS which amounts to a $5,622,219 loss. Cumulatively, potential state aid losses are at $6,890,185. The penalty associated with FY13 was not assessed as Caron stated but the Ch. 70 aid loss for that fiscal year was supposed to be spread out over FY14 and FY15. Moreover, while the city CFO did mention FY15 in regard to the waiver, the legislation only mentions FY13 and FY14 at this time so it is unclear whether Lynn will be penalized for further deficiencies in NSS in the current fiscal year (July 2014 - June 2015).

The Item goes on to state that
...the solution allows the city, over the next four years, to start including teacher retiree’s health insurance in net school spending.
According to the legislation, however, the first year that the retired teacher benefits would begin to be phased in is FY16 as the current language states
...the commissioner of elementary and secondary education shall begin a 4-year phase-in of equal increments to include health care costs for retired teachers as part of net school spending for any district which accepts this section by a vote taken pursuant to section 4 and in which such costs were not considered part of net school spending in fiscal year 1994. For fiscal year 2016, 1/4 of the cost shall be included in calculating fulfillment of net school spending requirements... (Section 260, part a)
Thus, it would seem that the 4-year phase-in would not include the current fiscal year (FY15) and would occur over fiscal years 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019. Section (a) also includes the following in regard to being approved for this 4-year phase-in
...provided further, that during the 4-year phase in period authorized under this section, the commissioner may waive penalties associated with deficiencies in net school spending requirements up to an amount that can be attributed to non-inclusion of health care costs for retired teachers if the commissioner approves a schedule submitted by the district to meet the requirements not later than at the end of the 4-year phase in period (FY19); and provided further, that the commissioner shall consider deficiencies in net school spending requirements in fiscal year 2015, if any, when approving such schedule. (Emphasis mine)
This could mean the commissioner could in fact deny the waiver of Lynn's penalties associated with deficiencies in NSS based the specific schedule the city submits to meet future NSS requirements by FY19. Further, any deficiencies in NSS for FY15 will be considered in the approval process. As of right now, the Mayor and Lynn School Committee are looking to at least fund the schools at 95% of NSS to avoid losses in state aid. Additionally, what is not addressed in the legislation is the issue of carryovers when a district fails to meet its NSS requirements. Currently, amounts between 95% and 99.9% of NSS are carried over to the next fiscal year as districts are still required to spend the amounts dictated by law. In FY14, Lynn had a deficit of $14,350,828 between its mandated and actual amounts. Even with the penalties waived, it still appears as though the unspent amounts from previous years will still be carried over requiring Lynn to meet an increasing threshold to get to even 95% of NSS. Lynn's FY15 foundation budget, without carryovers factored in, is $181,764,115. While one aspect of Lynn's school funding dilemma has been potentially addressed, it is not safe to say that the issue has been fully resolved at this point.


Here is the net school spending legislation in its entirety:
SECTION 260. (a) Notwithstanding any general or special law to the contrary, the commissioner of elementary and secondary education shall begin a 4-year phase-in of equal increments to include health care costs for retired teachers as part of net school spending for any district which accepts this section by a vote taken pursuant to section 4 and in which such costs were not considered part of net school spending in fiscal year 1994. For fiscal year 2016, 1/4 of  the cost shall be included in calculating fulfillment of net school spending requirements; provided, however, that in districts currently in level IV or level V status under the commonwealth’s accountability and assistance system, the commissioner may delay or limit the  inclusion of the costs in calculating net school spending until their such district’s status is  lowered to level III or below, at which time the commissioner shall begin or resume a 4-year phase in of the remaining costs; provided further, that during the 4-year phase in period  authorized under this section, the commissioner may waive penalties associated with deficiencies in net school spending requirements up to an amount that can be attributed to non-inclusion of health care costs for retired teachers if the commissioner approves a schedule submitted by the district to meet the requirements not later than at the end of the 4-year phase in period; and provided further, that the commissioner shall consider deficiencies in net school spending requirements in fiscal year 2015, if any, when approving such schedule.
(b) The commissioner of elementary and secondary education may waive penalties associated with deficiencies in net school spending requirements up to an amount that can be  attributed to non-inclusion of health care costs for retired teachers in fiscal years 2013 and 2014.
(c) The commissioner of elementary and secondary education may waive penalties associated with deficiencies in net school spending requirements up to an amount that can be attributed to non-inclusion of health care costs for retired teachers in fiscal year 2015 if the district submits a schedule under this section and the commissioner approves the schedule.
(d) Notwithstanding any general or special law to the contrary, for the period beginning July 1, 2014 and ending June 1, 2015, this section may be accepted in a city having a Plan D or Plan E charter by majority vote of its city council and approval by the manager; in any other city, by a vote of its city council and approval by the mayor; in a town having a town council form of  government, by vote of the town council, subject to charter of such town; in a town, by a vote of the board of selectmen; and in a regional school district, by a vote of the regional district school committee. The vote shall be by approval of all members of the district. Approval of each member shall be given in a city having a Plan D or Plan E charter by majority vote of its city council and approval by the manager; in any other city, by a vote of its city council and approval by the mayor; in a town having a town council form of government, by vote of the town council, subject to the charter of such town; in a town, by a vote of the board of selectmen.
(e) Any school district which accepts this section shall annually certify to the commissioner the treatment of retired teacher health insurance costs to ensure accurate counting of such costs toward required net school spending.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

LPS to Double the Number of School Social Workers in FY15


The Lynn School Department recently released an electronic version of the fiscal year (FY) 2015 (see here). Upon first glance, a major change in the budget is the addition of 9 new school social work positions in FY15 for a total of 17 overall.
 
School
FY14 FTE
FY15 FTE
FY15 Budgeted Amount
Funding Source
Aborn
--
0.5
$33,028
School Dept. Funds
Brickett
--
0.5
$33,028
School Dept. Funds
Callahan
1.0
1.0
$66,055
Sped 240
Cobbet
1.0
1.0
$66,055
Title One
Connery
1.0
1.0
$66,055
Title One
Drewicz
--
1.0
$66,055
School Dept. Funds
Early Childhood Center

1.0

1.0

$66,055

School Dept. Funds
Fallon
--
--
--
--
Ford
--
1.0
$66,055
School Dept. Funds
Harrington
0.5
1.0
$66,055
School Dept. Funds
Hood
--
1.0
$66,055
School Dept. Funds
Ingalls
--
1.0
$66,055
School Dept. Funds
Lincoln-Thomson
--
0.5
$33,028
School Dept. Funds
Lynn Woods
--
--
--
--
Sewell-Anderson
--
0.5
$33,028
School Dept. Funds
Shoemaker
--
--
--
--
Sisson
--
1.0
$66,055
School Dept. Funds
Tracy
--
0.5
$33,028
School Dept. Funds
Washington
--
0.5
$33,028
School Dept. Funds
Breed
0.5
1.0
$66,055
School Dept. Funds
Marshall
1.0
1.0
$66,055
Title One
Pickering
1.0
1.0
$66,055
School Dept. Funds
Lynn Classical
1.0
1.0
$66,055
Title One
Lynn English
--
--
--
--
Lynn Tech
--
--
--
--
Fecteau-Leary
--
--
--
--