Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Compromise Bill Contains No Changes to Net School Spending Language

In a previous post (Lynn School Finance FY13 & FY14) we looked at Lynn school finance information for past two fiscal years including the current one, FY14. It was noted that Lynn spent approximately $8.5 million under the state mandated net school spending (NSS) figure in FY13 and that this figure has ballooned to about $15.7 million for the current fiscal year. The state does allow some wiggle room in terms of cities and towns spending under the required amount up to a 95% threshold. Amounts not spent up to 95% are carried over to the next fiscal year which accounts for some of Lynn's increasing net school spending over its foundation budget. For the past two fiscal years, however, Lynn has been under the 95% threshold (94.9% in FY13, 91.9% projected for FY14) which according to state guidelines can result in a number of penalties including "non-approval of a municipality's tax rate, enforcement action by the Attorney General, or loss of state aid." Because Lynn spent less than 95% of the NSS amount for school year 2012-2013, Lynn saw a loss of $300,565 in state aid for the current school year; if the projected numbers hold, the loss will be $7,030,507 for school year 2014-2015. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education does allow for the repayment schedule to be spread over a two-year period as opposed to one which could potentially mean a reduction in Chapter 70 money for both fiscal years 2015 and 2016 instead of seeing that loss all in FY15.

While there are other districts that spent under the required amount in the current fiscal year, Lynn's case is unique in that a December audit revealed that certain budget allocations were being counted toward the NSS amount that should not have been. Lynn had been previously counting retiree insurance costs toward the net school spending amounts but a letter dated February 14, 2014 from Massachusetts Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester noted that Lynn is not permitted to count these costs towards its NSS. Per the state budget (pg. 36, 1661-1669), "Insurance for Retired School Employees...will count toward the net school spending requirement only if it was reported on the FY92 End of Year Report Schedule 19 for FY93." This rule apparently did not apply to Lynn which means that the city cannot count retiree insurance costs towards its NSS at this time. The town of Palmer found itself in an identical situation this year as well. A July 2013 report lists Lynn's underage amount in NSS for FY13 as $460,855; after the discrepancy had been noted and the audit complete, this figure increased to the $8.5 million dollar figure previously mentioned. 

On February 14th, the Daily Item reported Lynn Mayor Judith Kennedy as saying that she was "working closely with officials at DESE [Department of Elementary and Secondary Education], our financial departments and the state delegation,” and that “We are steadily moving toward a resolution.” Two weeks later the Item also reported that according to State Representative Robert Fennell (D-Lynn) the State Senate was reviewing legislation that would resolve Lynn's school spending issue by allowing a 4 year phase-in of retirees' insurance costs (Bill S.2011, Section 24). Specifically the bill states:
For fiscal year 2014, 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 in which the costs were not considered part of net school spending in fiscal year 1994. For fiscal year 2014, 1/4 of the cost shall be included in calculating fulfillment of net school spending requirements...
...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.
The net school spending language included in the Senate bill was among one of the differences between the House and Senate supplemental budgets. On March 11th, the conference committee on this issue agreed to compromise bill H3947 which did not include any changes to law regarding net school spending. A separate report indicates that the net school spending language was "held" in committee. There is also a second bill, S.1957, that has been proposed by sponsors Stephen Brewer (D-Barre) and Todd Smola (R-Palmer) which more simply states:
...the commissioner of elementary and secondary education shall not include deficiencies in net school spending requirements attributed to the non-inclusion of health care costs for retired teachers when calculating state school aid distribution reductions under section 11 of chapter 70 of the General Laws in fiscal year 2014.
According to the bill's history, there was a hearing held on the matter on February 3, 2014 but nothing reported after that date. Fiscal year 2014 ends on June 30, 2014. 

Aside from a legislative intervention, in order to avoid the $7 million penalty, the city would have to, at a minimum, meet the 95% threshold by spending $172,954,698.15 instead of the currently budgeted $166,338,461 school spending amount. Discussion of this issue is on the agenda for the School Committee meeting scheduled for tomorrow, March 27th at 7pm.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Massachusetts Schools - Drug/Alcohol Related Suspensions

Starting with the 2012-13 school year, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education began reporting both in- and out-of-school suspensions by offense type. One of the categories listed was 'Illegal Substances' which included sub-categories that covered offenses such as tobacco use, sale of illegal drugs and alcohol possession among a few others. Here we look at some of the data around this for districts statewide. The total Massachusetts student population for this information was 979,613.

In 2012-13, there were 1,177 students suspended statewide for marijuana possession; this accounted for just 0.12% of the state's student population.
Of the state total, Boston had the highest percentage of students suspended for marijuana possession at 100, but these students made up just 0.17% of BPS's student population overall.

Statewide, 318 students were disciplined for alcohol possession.

607 students were disciplined for alcohol use.

319 students were disciplined for possession of other illegal substances.

When all drug/alcohol related categories are combined, only 0.43% of the state's student population was disciplined for this type of offense in 2012-13.
  • 54.8% students suspended for illegal substance related offenses were Low Income
  • 73.8% were Male
  • 64.8% were White

All data taken from: 

Monday, March 17, 2014

Some Districts, Schools Reporting High Suspension Rates for Students with Disabilities

Here we looked at the new student discipline regulations expected to be enacted into law starting on July 1, 2014. There is particular concern regarding suspension rates in regard to students with disabilities. According to published reports, the Department of Education found that students with disabilities, particularly black children with disabilities, were nearly twice as likely to be suspended as non-disabled students

In Massachusetts there are some districts that suspended students with disabilities at disproportionate rates. Below are the districts with the ten highest suspension rates for students with disabilities during the 2012-13 school year. Statewide, the out-of-school suspension rate was 4.3%.

 *The Spirit of Knowledge Charter School voted to surrender its charter on October 29, 2013.

Below are the top ten individual schools with the highest out-of-suspension rates for students with disabilities.

Roxbury Preparatory Charter had the highest suspension rate in this category at both the district and individual school levels.

All data taken from:

Lynn Suspension Data 2012-13

On Tuesday, March 25th, the Massachusetts Board of Education will vote on new student discipline regulations (603 CMR 53.00). These regulations stem from the student discipline law passed by the Massachusetts state legislature An Act Relative to Student Access to Educational Services and Exclusion from School which will go into effect July 1, 2014. The purpose of the regulations, which would apply to all public elementary and secondary schools including charter schools, is to set forth:
"...the minimum procedural requirements applicable to the suspension of a student for a disciplinary offense other than: a) possession of a dangerous weapon; b) possession of a controlled substance; c) assault on a member of the school staff; and d) a felony charge or felony delinquency complaint or conviction, or adjudication or admission of guilt with respect to such felony, that is followed by a principal’s determination that the student’s continued presence in school would have a substantial detrimental effect on the general welfare of the school, as provided in G.L. c. 71, §§37H or 37H ½;
b) the minimum requirements and procedures necessary to ensure that all students who have been suspended or expelled, regardless of the type of offense, have an opportunity to make academic progress during their period of suspension"
These regulations also state that a principal cannot impose suspension as a consequence without providing the parent written and oral notice; there also has to be an opportunity for a hearing on the issue to be held. In order to conduct a hearing without the parent present, the principal has to be able to document reasonable efforts were made to include the parent. Notifications regarding hearings have to be provided in the parents' native language if it is one other than English. It should be noted that according to the regulations: "The principal shall determine the extent of the rights to be afforded the student at a disciplinary hearing based on the anticipated consequences for the disciplinary offense."

In regard to the academic changes to the law around suspensions/expulsions:
"Any student who is serving an in-school suspension, short-term suspension, or long-term suspension shall have the opportunity to make up assignments, tests, papers, and other school work as needed to make academic progress during the period of his or her removal from the classroom or school. The principal shall inform the student and parent of this opportunity when the suspension is imposed.
(2) Any student who is expelled or suspended from school for more than ten (10) consecutive days, whether in school or out of school, shall have an opportunity to receive education services that will enable the student to make academic progress toward meeting state and local requirements, through the school-wide education service plan."
The proposed amendments to the regulations were developed in part due to the growing body of research suggesting the negative effects of harsh disciplinary practices. Specifically, it has been documented that discipline disparities for marginalized youth result in negative outcomes such as lower school commitment, lower academic engagement and higher dropout rates. Additionally, suspensions and expulsions have been linked to a higher rate of later criminal activity. Further, this paper notes that stringent discipline policies do not always make school safer; it states that "researchers have identified examples in which schools with similar student bodies that suspended and expelled students at higher rates did no better on key school performance measures than those schools that had fewer suspensions and expulsions." The new regulations offer alternatives to suspension which include detention, a loss of privileges, a student contract or probation.

Below is the suspension related data for the Lynn public school system. 
Lynn's overall out-of-school suspension rate in 2012-13 was 12.7%, down from 17.4% the previous school year; the in-school suspension was down 0.7% from the previous year. Suspension rates at the individual school level varied with Fallon, Fecteau-Leary and Lynn English posting the highest out-of-school suspension rates. Lynn Classical, Lynn Tech and Pickering had the highest in-school suspension rates. Out-of school suspension rates ranged from 0% to 57.6% while in-school suspensions ranged from 0% to 24.5%.

Males in LPS posted both a higher in-school and out-of-school suspension rate than females and the district average.

This mirrored the state trends as 5.9% of male students in Massachusetts were suspended in 2012-13 compared to just 2.6% of female students.

African-American/Black students had the highest in-school and out-of-school suspension rates.

Finally, students with disabilities had a much higher out-of-school suspension rate than the district average (21.2% compared to 127%).

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education also reports student discipline by the type of offense. In 2012-13, 2,321 students were disciplined with most of the infractions (83.8%) falling into the 'non-drug, non-violent, or non-criminal-related offense' category.

All data taken from: