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.


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, find Charlie Gallo for State Representative on Facebook, and follow GalloForRep on Twitter and Instagram. Please also feel free to email or call 781-592-9498 with ideas, questions, comments, or concerns.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

UPDATED: Lynn School Finance FY13 & FY14

In January, I reported Lynn school finance information for FY13 and FY14 according to Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education reports. These reports were updated as of June 9, 2014; here's a look at the most recent figures. 

According to the June reports, Lynn's required net school spending (NSS) and foundation budgets have not changed compared to the January figures. What has changed, however, is the actual NSS total.

In January, Lynn's actual spending was reported as $159,747,443; as of June, this figure had decreased to $158,780,042. The change in actual net school spending compared to the required net school spending had repercussions in terms of the loss in Chapter 70 funding. In January, the loss was reported as $300,565; it has currently increased to $1,267,966.

Similar to fiscal year 2013, the required NSS and foundation budget amounts for FY14 did not change from the January to the June reports. The actual net school spending for FY14 did increase by approximately $2.4 million.

The increase in spending changed Lynn's spending as a percentage of the required amount from 91.4% to 92.7%. As a result, the loss in state aid related to FY14 spending also changed; the loss was originally over $7 million but has now decreased to $4,561,856.

Given the changes in spending, the amount under the required NSS has been updated. 

For FY13, the amount under has increased from $8,585,956 to $9,553,357; the amount under for FY14 has decreased from $15,703,157 to $13,250,465. 

There is currently legislation included in both the Massachusetts Senate and House budgets related to NSS that could potentially alleviate the Chapter 70 funding losses Lynn is facing. Most notably: 
SECTION 111. 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 pertains to Lynn as much of gap between Lynn's actual NSS and the required amounts can be attributed to the fact that city had reportedly been including retired teacher benefits in its NSS totals despite the city's exclusion from doing so under the law.  A December 2013 revealed that Lynn had been including these benefits in its NSS figures when it should not have been which originally changed the city's NSS deficit from approximately $450,000 to over $8.5 million (July 2013 report compared to January 2014 report). Additionally, the Senate and House budgets contain the following: 
SECTION 112. 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 section 110 and the commissioner approves such schedule.
The budget is currently in the 'Conference Committee' stage and has not been finalized yet. Governor Deval Patrick is expected to sign the finished budget by the end of the month given that the new fiscal year begins on July 1, 2014. Given these potential legislative changes, Lynn's net school spending information is subject to change again in the coming months for FY13 and FY14.

All data taken from: