City projected to exceed Net School Spending by $5,694,458 in 2015/2016 Fiscal Year

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Manager Murphy has touted his commitment to education and based on these numbers from the School Department you have to applaud his work along with the City Council!!

We learn in this week’s City Council Packet that according to numbers submitted by the Lowell School Dept. and verified by DESE

The City of Lowell EXCEEDED it’s Net School Spending in 2014/2015 by $1,154,957 and projected by DESE to exceed Net School spending in the 2015/2016 Fiscal year by $5,694,458

In less than 3 years the current administration with the support of the City Council has turned a three million dollar shortfall in the 2013/2014 school year to being projected to exceed the requirement by over $5,000,000 (That’s a $9.5 Million dollar swing)

Someone PLEASE explain to me how based on these numbers there can be a projected $1.1 Million dollar deficit? When the approved Budget was for $155,510,389??

Those of us not familiar with the ins and outs of municipal finances need some explanation and clarification.

Below are the reports submitted by the Lowell School Dept. and verified by DESE…

2014:2015

2015:2016

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Two Council Sub/Committee meetings this week

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School Administration addresses Peer Grading Issue

First, I would URGE any and all parents who have concerns with either Peer Editing , Peer Grading or any issue involving their student, to first address it with the teacher involved and then if you still have concerns, to the school Principal , then up to the Administration. I’ve found most teachers and Principals will be glad to address your concerns. It also shows the school that you are an interested and concerned parent and they may recruit you to be part of the School Site Council.

Thanks to Assistant Superintendent M. Claire Abrams for taking the time to respond to my questions / concerns regarding the issue of Peer Grading.

Dear Mr. Nutter,

As I previously mentioned I did look into the question of “Peer Grading” over the past week with all principals and coordinators in the district. Thank you for allowing me the time to gather information that I believe you will find very helpful.

First and foremost there is NO Peer Grading that takes place in our schools, teachers are the final say on grading of their students. The Coordinator of English Language Arts explained the following. Peer editing is the process that takes place in our schools and many other schools throughout the Commonwealth as it is part of the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks that we embrace in teaching every day. Peer Editing is the process of students looking at each other’s work and making suggestions for how to improve. These might include edits, like punctuation marks, or revisions, like suggestions of adding more details. Students do also sometimes peer evaluate.

This may be what you were referring to as the peer grading part. Students use a rubric to look at each other’s work and provide feedback about how well that piece meets the criteria. This should include some highlights of things that are done well, as some things that might need to be improved upon. One example could be, “You’ve really hooked the reader with a great lead, but you could add more showing details so the reader knows how you feel.” That is a completely hypothetical response. Students might give the piece a grade based on the rubric, but that should never be part of the student’s formal grading by the teacher. The teacher grades the final product her/himself. It is an opportunity to build community and increase student ownership of their work.

The advantage of group/pair peer editing is that learners cooperatively work, and support each other, in other words, collaborate in fulfilling the task together.

I do hope this clarifies the concern, however, please feel free to contact me with any further questions that may arise.

Sincerely,
Claire

M. Claire Abrams
Assistant Superintendent
Lowell Public Schools
Lowell, MA 01852

From MA Curriculum Frameworks 2016
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As you can see, the peer piece begins in grade 2. Those are the writing standards. The speaking and listening standards also suggest collaboration should occur throughout the grades.

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Teacher Contract Settlement no reason to Worry about possible Cuts

Cuts

Some elected officials and former elected officials may cause people to worry about what programs may have to be cut because the present school committee and UTL reached a contract settlement.

I’d caution against over reaction, based on the fact that although the school dept. is looking at a $1.1 Million deficit approved by the last school committee including the 4 members no longer there, they still have around $300,000 in a the FY2015 Salary Surplus account that was set aside for salary increases along with approx. $3.5 million dollars in the School Committee suspense account. (which we learned last night will be used to cover the contract).

If initial radio / news reports are true of what the agreement is for (roughly 2% a year) this money should cover the 2 year period the raises represent.

Heading into next year , the initial budget from the Governor shows an estimated increase in Chapt. 70 State Aid of around $3,000,000 and that usually tends to increase or at least stay the same ones the legislature presents their budget.

In addition a Foundation Budget Review Committee made up of members of the House made some recommendations that could further increase the amount of state aid if enacted. A few of these would be of immediate help to Lowell

1. Adjust the employee health insurance rate captured in the “Employee Benefits/Fixed Charges” component of the formula to reflect the average 4 Group Insurance Commission (GIC) rate*; ( from the report – Actual spending on employee health insurance far exceeds the current foundation budget allotment for such costs, as noted in several recent studies. Statewide, district spending on “Employee Benefits & Fixed Charges” exceeds the foundation budget allotment by more than 140%.)

2. Increase the assumed in-district special education enrollment rate from 3.75% to 4.00% (for non-vocational students) and 4.75% to 5.00% (for vocational students)
 Current assumption (3.75%) = 15% of students receiving SPED services 25% of the time
 Proposed change (4.00%) = 16% of students receiving SPED services 25% of the time

Convert the ELL increase from a base rate to an increment on the base rate.

Apply the increment to vocational school ELL students as well.

Increase the increment for all grade levels, including high school, to the current effective middle school increment of $2,361. This would increase the range of ELL-only weightings and expand available funds for staff-intensive high school age interventions.

1. Increase the increment for districts with high concentrations of low income students. The Legislature will need to determine specific increments based on further review of data and debate, but based on its review of national literature, practices in other states, and model districts within our own state, the Commission offers the guidance that that weighting should fall within the range of 50%-100% and that multiple concurrent interventions are necessary to effectively close achievement gaps. The final decision should provide high poverty school districts with enough funding to pursue several turnaround strategies at once.

2. Ensure that any new definition of economically disadvantaged (necessitated by districts’ shift away from collection of free and reduced school lunch eligibility data) properly and accurately count all economically needful students.

So call and / or email our State Reps. and ask them to support the recommendations of Foundation Budget Review Committee.

Thomas.Golden@mahouse.gov – Rady.Mom@mahouse.gov – David.Nangle@mahouse.gov

Until we hear from the Superintendent or hear a current School Committee member expressing concerns that programs will be cut, let’s give the administration and new school committee the benefit of the doubt and see what transpires before we start saying he sky is falling or programs are getting cu.

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Highest and best use is continued use of the site !

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DOWNTOWN LOWELL MARKET STUDY.Draft Report

The city of Lowell conducted a “Best Use” study of the current Lowell High School. Many people (or at least a few current downtown business owners and political players) have had fantasies of a Faneuil Hall type business combined with a hotel in that location and are in shock and disbelief over these findings.

The report was compiled by RP Realty Advisors who have been in business since 1992 and are highly respected and regarded. They also did the Hamilton Canal best use study among others.

Hamilton Canal Urban Renewal Area, Lowell, MA – Provided the City of Lowell a series of market valuation reports for an assemblage of 20 separate properties located at the confluence of four canals. The parcels included historic mill buildings, commercial property and vacant land. The City of Lowell envisions redeveloping the Hamilton Canal District into a transit-oriented, mixed-use neighborhood with 1,000 market-rate residential units and attendant retail and commercial space.

I’ve attached the entire report which is 50 pages but have shared the highlights that help them explain their findings.

Downtown Lowell Supply: There are currently 13 development‐ready sites available in Downtown Lowell. All have been actively marketed in recent years with limited interest from private developers.

Four sites are adjacent to Lowell High School and would afford over 1.2 million square feet of development potential.

Nine sites are in the Hamilton Canal District and offer over 1.6 million square feet of potential development area.

In total, development on the almost 18 acres of pad‐ready land would increase the supply of the Downtown market by more than 2.8 million square feet.

Downtown Demand:

Institutional Use: The University of Massachusetts Lowell and Middlesex Community College are among the top five employers in the City of Lowell and major users of Downtown office space. UML expects to add 3,000 more students in the next five years, although most of the growth will occur on the existing campus footprint.

UML joined NCAA Division I Athletics in 2013 and this move will require the University to add basketball capability to the Tsongas Center, make improvements to the North campus Costello facility, and add new playing fields with artificial turf. The University would also like to add another ice rink for practice, although there are no concrete plans at the moment.
The University of Massachusetts Lowell (UML) recently announced the purchase of the 4.85‐acre parcel of land located at 225 Aiken Street and identified as the “Notini site.” UML’s initial plans are to use the site as recreation fields for the East Campus.

While UML does not currently have funding for the needed athletic facilities, it could build them on the Notini site or on the 122,743 square foot site at 152 River Place that it owns if public funding becomes available.

Office Use: The vacancy rate in the subject’s Route 495 North submarket is the highest among all 20 submarkets in the Greater Boston office market, at 23.5%. Year to date absorption was reported as negative (313,361) square feet at the end of the second quarter of 2015.

My same‐building Downtown Lowell rental rate analysis between 2007 and 2015 found that rates are essentially the same and below the level needed to support new construction. There is very little demand for new office space in Lowell or the surrounding market. Thus, office use, while legally allowed, would not be financially feasible.

Retail Use: Commercial and retail uses are also allowed “as of right.” Lowell’s Downtown core has numerous vacant retail spaces. While the many new residential developments in Lowell have brought a changing demographic and the addition of several upscale shops and restaurants, the supply of Downtown retail space currently exceeds the demand created by new residents.

As new market‐rate housing is introduced Downtown and resident’s disposable income increases, the demand for new retail space should grow. At this time Downtown Lowell has not achieved the critical mass of residential housing required to support new retail development.

Residential Use: Lowell’s housing prices have not recovered from the peak in 2005. Median single family home prices are currently 13% below the 2005 price of $274,900. Median condo prices are 15% below the $194,200 median 2005 price.
In spite of the downturn in the sales oriented market, I did not find a corresponding decline in the rental market. My same‐building rental survey of three converted apartment buildings found that rental rates have increased 2% to 5% on average between 2007 and 2015
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Maximally Productive – Simply stated, highest and best use is that use which fully develops the land’s potential. Institutional demand appears speculative at this time. There is only lackluster demand demonstrated for office use in Downtown Lowell. Demand for support retail, restaurant and commercial uses will follow once residential buyers and tenants move to Downtown Lowell.
There is positive demand for residential rental properties but 953 units are under construction or planned in Downtown Lowell, which indicates ample supply.

Conclusion – At this time, there is a surplus of development‐ready sites in Downtown and no market support for redevelopment of the subject site in the near future. Highest and best use is continued use of the site.

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EXCISE TAX Reminder from City Treasurer

Motor vehicle excise tax bills are scheduled to be mailed out on February 24, 2016, and they will be delivered to the same address that appears on your vehicle’s registration. They will be due in 30 days on March 24, 2016.

If you don’t receive a bill by March 14, 2016 please come in or call the Treasurer’s Office. Thank you.

GN – Just a reminder that if you do not pay in 30 days a fee gets added on per State Law , not the City.

A $30 Demand Fee will be added to past due excise bills per MGL CH. 60 sec 15, a fee which cannot be waived. If you have questions regarding payment of your excise please call the Treasurer/Collectors Office at 978-674-4222. Abatement related questions can be directed to the Assessor’s Office at 978-674-4200.

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2014-15 Race/Ethnicity and Gender Staffing Report

The State Website doesn’t have the 2015/2016 current numbers but these are last years numbers 2014/2015 regarding Staff in the Public Schools in Lowell.

Lowell High School doesn’t have a diversity issue – The ENTIRE SCHOOL DISTRICT has a diversity issue! Over 88% of the staff in Lowell is white. This does not come close to reflecting the population of the student body or the city.

According to the available data on DESE (the State) website – Lowell has 1,752.2 full time employees of that

1,576.9 of them are White
87.5 Hispanic
57.3 Asian
21.5 African American
2.0 Native American
4.00 Native Hawaiian / Pacific Islander
3.00 Multi -Race

1,407.4 are Female / 344.8 are Male

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LHS Staff Numbers

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The rest of the numbers by District and Schools

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