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
--
--
--
--

Monday, June 23, 2014

11th Essex District State Rep Q&A: Charlie Gallo

Current Lynn School Committee member Charlie Gallo announced his candidacy 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:

Charlie Gallo is an attorney and educator who was born and continues to reside in West Lynn. He was elected to the Lynn School Committee in 2011 and re-elected in 2013. Gallo earned his Bachelor’s Degree from Suffolk University in 2005 and his Law Degree in 2009 as an evening student at Suffolk Law School while working during the day. Gallo is employed as an attorney and teaches courses in government as an adjunct instructor at North Shore Community College. He serves on the boards of the Lynn Community Association and Lynn Home for Young Women. Gallo previously served as a member of the Lynn Citizens Advisory Board (2008 – 2012), which reviews grant applications for youth programs, nonprofits, and other community development programs. He also served as an associate member of the Lynn Zoning Board of Appeals (2009 – 2012).  Gallo has volunteered for a number of Democratic political campaigns and has been elected and re-elected as secretary of the Lynn Democratic City Committee since 2004.


Here Charlie 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?

As State Representative, I will prioritize quality public education, including supporting public schools, community colleges, and state universities, as well as advocating for students and educators.  This is because I understand firsthand the importance of a quality education.  I come from a working class West Lynn family and was the first in my family to graduate from college, followed by law school, which I attended at night while working during the day. Shortly thereafter, I returned to the classroom as an adjunct instructor at North Shore Community College.  Elected to the Lynn School Committee in 2011 and re-elected in 2013, my record on public education is strong.

Funding may be the greatest challenge facing the Lynn Public Schools and Johnson Elementary School in Nahant. Without adequate funding, we cannot build or improve schools, ensure smaller class sizes, maintain sufficient numbers of teachers and staff, or provide the programs, services and resources that are needed for a well rounded education

The replacement of outdated schools remains a major educational issue facing the 11th Essex District, and is one that I have been a leader on during my time on the Lynn School Committee.  With parents and educators, I worked on a successful campaign to pass a bond to build a new Marshall Middle School.  I continue to work with the Lynn Teachers Union to advocate for the replacement and repair of outdated school buildings through the Massachusetts School Building Authority.  As State Representative, I would be able to offer not just advocacy, but also legislation, to see to it that outdated schools are repaired and replaced.

Training for jobs also remains a a major educational issue facing the 11th Essex District, and is another issue that I have lead on.  With the North Shore Labor Council, I worked to bring the E-Team machine shop training program back to Lynn Tech in order to train adults and provide skills for them to use in finding employment. The funding for this program is from the state budget and has been cut in the past. As State Representative, it would be a priority of mine to fund this program and others like it.

One of my major long-term goals is in the area of early childhood education. Though challenging to accomplish because of cost and space constraints, it is important that we work to someday make quality all-day pre-kindergarten available to every child.

Presently, as a Lynn School Committee Member, I am fighting for increased funding for the Lynn Public Schools, as the City of Lynn proposes to fall short of its required net school spending amount in its budget for the upcoming fiscal year. This illustrates a stark contrast between my  priorities and the priorities of one of my opponents in this race, Councilor Brendan Crighton.  Earlier this month, the Lynn City Council voted to ask the State Legislature for a pay hike. As State Representative, I would oppose this measure. My opponent, on the other hand, voted to support the pay hike request, including a raise for himself.  He did so at a time when the Lynn Public Schools are being underfunded by millions of dollars, and when public safety, public works, sanitation, veteran services, playgrounds and parks, our public library, and all other city services are being cut.


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

I would like to see a Chapter 70 funding formula that provides more state aid for special needs and English Language Learner populations,and districts that offer vocational education.  Special needs and English Language Learner populations have increased since 1993, and vocational education has become more expensive with new technology. Lynn, Nahant, and other municipalities would benefit from this kind of adjustment to the Chapter 70 funding formula.


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?

As State Representative, I will be a leader on keeping the cap on charter schools. Though I do not begrudge any parent for the choice that he or she makes for the education of his or her child, I do not believe that public tax dollars should be used in a charter school setting. A fully funded and supported public school system open to all school aged children is essential to the future of the City of Lynn and Town of Nahant. Funding diverted to charter schools detrimentally impacts the students and educators.  This is especially true in Lynn, in light of the cost to educate our large special needs and English Language Learner populations as well as the cost of maintaining a vocational high school.

I have been a leader on this issue during my time on the Lynn School Committee. In 2013, I drafted a strong anti-charter school resolution along with my colleague John Ford and passed it through the Lynn School Committee. To my knowledge, this was the boldest effort of any School Committee in the Commonwealth on the issue of charter schools. Further, I joined colleagues on the Lynn School Committee in speaking in opposition to the proposed Fenix Charter School in Lynn in 2013 and submitted a letter to the Commonwealth in opposition to the establishment of a charter school in neighboring Saugus in 2012. This year, I spoke as part of a panel of public education advocates at an event held by the Boston Teachers Union and Citizens for Public Schools in Boston.

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?

I have serious concerns about the use of standardized test scores to measure school quality and teacher effectiveness. Differences from district to district and, in some cases, school to school, in terms of technology, professional development opportunities, classroom sizes, demographics, and socio-economics make it both unreliable and unfair to use standardized test scores as the primary measure of school quality and teacher effectiveness.

Moreover, I am seriously concerned also about over-testing our students and over-burdening our educators with standardized tests. Teaching to the test can cause districts to drop foreign language, civics, arts and music programs, which I believe are essential for a well rounded education.  It also can make it difficult for teachers to be creative in their lesson plans.  In 2014 as a Lynn School Committee Member, I passed a motion to establish a study committee to include, among others, teachers, which will report back to the Lynn School Committee regarding PARCC.

If elected, in what ways will you advocate for better public education for the students and families living the 11th Essex District?
As State Representative, I will advocate for additional state funding to support the Lynn and Nahant school districts, including funding to replace outdated schools, provide job skills and vocational training, and institute universal all-day pre-kindergarten.  I will work to keep public higher education tuition and fees down at North Shore Community College, Salem State University, UMASS, and our other community colleges and state universities. I will also support a more well rounded approach towards education policy that favors teaching over standardized testing and encourages education in vocational trades, foreign languages, civics, the arts, and music. Additionally, I will be careful not to over-burden educators or school districts with unreasonable mandates that all too often shift the focus away from students’ educational needs.

As State Representative, I will continue my practice of having regular personal interactions with parents, teachers, students, and community members.  I will continue returning phone calls, responding to emails and social media, and being available to meet face to face.  I will also continue personally visiting schools throughout the district, and attending many school and community events.  Finally, I will use my position to be an advocate for the reputations of our students and schools, which is important for our students’ future employers and educational institutions.  As a School Committee Member, I have publicized the good that comes out of our schools by calling in stories to local newspapers and using social media.  I will continue to do so as State Representative.

Thank you for your time in reading this post. To keep up with the campaign, please check out www.CharlieGallo.com, find Charlie Gallo for State Representative on Facebook, and follow GalloForRep on Twitter and Instagram. Please also feel free to email Charlie@CharlieGallo.com or call 781-592-9498 with ideas, questions, comments, or concerns.