School Committee Candidate Chris Roux responds to questions.

Last week I posted that School Committee candidates need to do their homework and in my opinion these questions needed to be answered.

A) How will you address the Teacher’s Contract issue and what is your stance on negotiating?
B) Will you commit to supporting the current Supt. of Schools?
C) Should the High School stay or move out of the Downtown?
D) How will you work with your fellow committee members to insure that the dysfunction and personal animosity among current members doesn’t exist in the next two years?

Challenger Chris Roux who will join us tomorrow morning at 8:30 on WCAP Saturday Morning Live w/ Warren Shaw responds to those questions.

Hi Gerry,
Thank you for the opportunity to respond to the questions you posed last week. These are questions I have been addressing over the past few months while I have been out campaigning. Whether it’s been as I’m knocking on doors getting to know voters, doing interviews on the radio or for the newspaper, or at different public events. These are some of the major issues the City is dealing with and why I decided to run.

A) In regards to the Teacher’s contract and negotiating, I’m not privy to what conversations have already been had, but from the outside I can tell you they have not been very fruitful. From what I understand, they were hung up on negotiating how to negotiate. It seems to me that one/both sides were not very interested in making any real progress. I believe both sides should come to the table with an idea of what they want, what they can accept, and find a common ground that can satisfy both. Like you, I did my research on the current state of where Lowell Teachers ranks amongst the rest of the state and comparable cities. According to the DOE, as of 2012-13, with an average salary of $78,298, Lowell is slightly above the state average of $71,620, and similar to the Greater Lowell Vocational School that sits at $77,445. The UTL says the real average salary is $68,050. It doesn’t matter which figure you use, nothing jumped out at me either. It is my thought that both the School Committee and the Teacher’s Union should start with some goals and a timeline as to when they want this done and stick to them.

B) I have already gone on the record and said that Dr. Jay Lang would have been my choice for Superintendent. His knowledge of the inner workings of the operations and budget made him a great candidate combined with his experience going through the School System himself and now watching his own children progress through it. The person who was ultimately chosen, Dr. Khelfaoui is coming from a District in Winchendon where it is only 1/10 the size of Lowell’s. He is going to need a School Committee that is fully committed to him. Lowell is going on its 4th School Superintendent in the last 7 years. You cannot expect to make any real progress when you’re changing leaders every 2 years. We need Dr. Khelfaoui to succeed if the District is going to succeed. My hope is with his knowledge of the area, previously working in Billerica and now living in Chelmsford he has some idea of what he is coming into. And, with his own experience as an E.L.L. student, he will be able to relate to the students and the challenges they are dealing with. Also, with his background in I.T. I would assume he can really open some doors for us in regards to technology in the classroom. So, I 100% support Dr. Sal Khelfaoui.

C) Should the High School stay in the Downtown or should it be moved, and to where? Depending on who you talk to, a case can be made for both. I recently participated in the Lowell Walks Tour of the High School lead by Headmaster Martin. He made some really great points for keeping it Downtown. If you look at the guidelines for the MSBA, they don’t have a plan for a High School to hold more than around 2,000 students. That means we technically should have 2 High Schools.(I’m not in favor of that) But, it also comes with some other constraints like the size of the auditorium. We currently have a beautiful theater that seats over 1,000 people, but the largest the MSBA will build is for around 600. The other side of the argument says that it would be good for business/economic development for the City to move it and sell the land to a developer who can take advantage of the location. There is also a concern I have for the disruption it would cause the students if we were to renovate and rebuild. Also, do we want to push several successful businesses out of the Downtown to take their land through eminent domain? The MSBA would not reimburse us for that. That cost would be paid for directly by the residents of Lowell. These are just a few of the things that need to be factored into the decision of what to do with the High School. With the feasibility study not complete and Manager Murphy’s recommendations brought forward, I haven’t come down on either side yet.

D) The dysfunction and personal politics on display during decision making processes was one of the major reasons why I decided to run. It was frustrating to watch as Committee Members repeatedly put personal feelings ahead of the children. As a parent who has three children currently in the School System I want what’s best for them and their classmates. For the next few years I will have a child at every level of the School system. My youngest daughter is going into the 3rd grade, my middle daughter is going into the 7th, and my son is going to be a freshman at the High School. No other candidate can say they have as much in the game as I do. It is imperative that this new School Committee works together and supports each other as well as the new Administration. I don’ think it’s possible for all 7 Members to agree on everything all of the time, but if we treat each other respectfully and professionally we should be able to do what’s best for the students.

Thank You,
Christopher Roux

Lang: Lowell is still 1 Year out from joining CEP – Nutter : That Needs to be Re-evaluated NOW

Lang

C.E.P. Reimbursement could still be Windfall for Lowell School Dept.

I respect Jay Lang and his knowledge of finance and especially the Lowell School Dept. budget. However no matter what the former Deputy Supt. stated in his final meeting July 15th, I think Lowell needs to reconsider entering into the CEP for the 2015 /2016 School Year.

I watched the July 15th meeting of the School Committee and
at the 67:20 mark Deputy Supt. Lang states that Lowell has some concerns about the potential loss of Chapt. 70 and entitlement funds and sites Worcester has another city that is not jumping in yet.

However according to the Worcester Telegram: On Thursday July 23rd, the Worcester School Committee was scheduled to refer an administrative inquiry about whether to join the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Community Eligibility Provision to its Finance and Operations Standing Committee, according to Superintendent Melinda J. Boone

According to an explanation published by the state education department, as districts have adopted the USDA program, eliminating the need for them to count their students who are eligible for free- or reduced-price lunches, the state has had to come up with other ways to define low-income students.

The federal program, which pays for lunches for all students in districts that have large low-income populations, has already been adopted in Boston, Lawrence, New Bedford and other major urban centers around the state. Worcester, too, is “learning towards it,” said the district’s nutrition director, Donna Lombardi, “but there are still some details that have to be clarified.”

Chief among them is the state’s new definition of low-income students, which has ramifications for other income-eligible government resources the district relies on, Ms. Lombardi said. “Which is why we’re cautiously evaluating (the Community Eligibility Provision),” she said, with an eye on rolling it out for the start of the upcoming school year, with the School Committee’s approval.

The new definition, which is based on students’ participation in a range of other need-based government services, will affect everything from the size of grants that districts are eligible to receive to the amount of annual education aid they get from the state.

After some careful evaluation, however, Worcester officials “believe (the state’s) database is accurate,” Ms. Lombardi said, and “feel we’re ready to proceed forward” with consideration of the universal free lunch program.(Bold mine)

If Worcester is ready to jump in and Boston, Springfield and New Bedford already belong..why is Lowell dragging its feet?

According to school officials in some other cities that used the Community Eligibility Provision in the last school year, there’s little debate that the program works. “It just seemed like a no-brainer to me,” said Andre R. Ravenelle, superintendent of the Fitchburg schools, which began offering universal free lunch during the 2014-15 school year. “We went with it, and it’s been great.”

One of the program’s main selling points is its simplification of the USDA free lunch system. Participating districts can simply offer free meals to whoever wants them. Previously, school systems had to process individual free- and reduced-price applications, which in addition to creating lots of paperwork led to difficult interactions between administrators and families that were just on the cusp of eligibility, Mr. Ravenelle said. “Many districts have ended up on the other side of a table with parents because of lack of (student meal) payments, and that’s a really sticky place to be,” he said, adding that the USDA’s new program “takes all of that away.”

Azell Cavaan, a spokeswoman for the Springfield schools, which also adopted the Community Eligibility Provision at the start of the last school year, said the program also creates a healthier environment for students. “It levels the playing field,” she said, by eliminating the distinction of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. “There are no more stigmas in the classrooms or lunchrooms.”

Yesterday I showed why the Greater Lowell Tech had concerns about applying for the CEP program. Using this year’s calculations, I’d like to show what would happen (as far has I can tell) if Lowell participated.

From the Lowell School Dept. Website: Children need healthy meals to learn. Lowell Public Schools offers healthy meals every school day
Breakfast costs $ .75; lunch costs $2.05.

According to this chart , reimbursement under C.E.P for this upcoming School year would be between : $3.13 – $3.15 per meal served, depending upon F&R %. Multiply that times meals served daily, then totaled monthly and that is your reimbursement figure received monthly

The .+.06 is for districts who have had their menus certified by the DOE. This means that Nutrition, Health and Safety which oversees nutrition programs for the DOE has certified that the menus and offerings served by LEA’s are compliant with the HHFKA. I would imagine that a company as large as Aramark has done this.

Think about this – Looking ONLY at what Lowell just paid for “Un-Paid” Lunches $153,783, let’s say for sake of this exercise we combine the cost for breakfast and Lunch $2.80 and divide the un-paid lunches by that amount – That would mean in a school district with 14,000 students Approx. 54,922 meals were served that were never paid for or approx. 305 PER DAY!

IF the City was part of the CEP instead of paying the $153,783 the City would have received at a reimbursement rate of $3.13
$165,645.86

So until someone from the Lowell School Department or Lowell School Committee can explain to me the disadvantage of Lowell being part of this program especially now that Worcester is jumping on board, I will continue to say I can’t understand why the City would not want to give EVERY STUDENT IN LOWELL A FREE BREAKFAST AND LUNCH? and keep asking WHY are we not part of the C.E.P.?

Greater Lowell Tech’s Ray Boutin – Tech has Concerns about the C.E.P.

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Interesting and disappointing to me that only one of the present 6 Lowell School Committee members and no challenger, nor anyone from the new Supt.’s administration have stepped up to respond and answer the question of why Lowell does not and may not this year participate in the C.E.P.

Kim Scott remembered that the Committee had a very brief discussion and that former Deputy Lang at the last meeting may have mentioned it but since LTC hasn’t posted the video didn’t recall what was said.

Thankfully, Greater Lowell Technical School Committee member Ray Boutin was curious about the program when he read that the school may qualify and with fellow member Fred Bahou he emailed Business Manager George Garabedian and the Tech. Supt. asking them to look into it.

Mr. Garabedian supplied a very understandable explanation of why that school system hasn’t joined.

Here is his response:

Hi Ray,

Sorry for the delay in responding. We did look at this a year ago when it first was launched. I know it sounds great, but, when we looked closer we had some concerns. We noticed that our reimbursement dollars from the Feds would be lower than currently receive. We would also lose the revenue from paid breakfast and lunches. Using the calculator on the DESE Website the combined annual revenue reduction for the lunch program was approx. $200K. We could not afford that loss. I think part of the problem is that we are on the cusp of qualifying for the program at approx. 41% Direct Certification.

In addition, there are still some concerns about how this program may affect the Chapter 70 funding calculation as the Low Income student figures come from the free and reduce lunch counts which include Direct Certifications as well as from applications. I spoke to a rep. from DESE who indicated that matter still has not been finalized. Also there have been questions about how it may affect Federal Grant Funding.

I believe that these are some of the reasons that other districts are not jumping into the program at this time, i.e. (Lowell, Lynn, Malden, Worcester) to name a few.

We will continue to review this option next year.

I hope that this was helpful. Please let me know if you would like to discuss further.

Sincerely,

George

It would have been nice to see someone from Lowell respond with dollar figures to show what the school dept. collects / spends versus what this program may bring in and to see what the state or Feds say about the funding. Hopefully this isn’t an indication of what we can expect from these candidates and the new Supt.

The School Committee Paid $153,783 to cover unpaid meals left for fiscal year 2015.

In their July 15th meeting the School Committee voted to spend $153,783 to pay for lunches that had been given in the 2014/2015 school year and NOT paid for.

According to the Lowell Sun: Officials acknowledged the need to find other options to cover or collect on unpaid school meals. “This is not an effort to try and chase down or in any way to hold students in a difficult position over a school lunch,” said member Connie Martin.

WHY spend even that amount when you could be providing FREE LUNCH to EVERY STUDENT? Wouldn’t that $153,783 have bought some much needed hands on Science Kits or textbooks?

I’m astonished that in July 2015 this past Administration didn’t have facts and figures on the C.E.P. (Community eligibility Provision) to review with the School Committee and instead the Committee passed a motion that said: Request an update on standards for free and reduced lunch programs to see how that might impact the district’s state funding formula

If I’m understanding the “formula” for C.E.P correctly, let’s say Lowell has 70% of the 14,000 students eligible as “Low Income” that would be 9,800 students. They multiply that by 1.6 which would make it 15,680 eligible but since Lowell only has 14,000 all would receive free breakfast and Lunch and the FEDS would pay for it all and it doesn’t affect anything else negatively.

What that does to Aramark? Not sure…not sure that isn’t part of the reason Lowell didn’t participate. I understand they “guarantee” the School Dept. $700K annually but at what cost to the parents? Especially if the School Dept. has to pay an additional $153K?

The State of Mass Office of Secondary and Elementary Education sent this information out to all school districts in MAY of 2015.

Nutrition, Health and Safety
Districts and Schools Eligible and Potentially Eligible to participate in Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) in 2015-16 school year

To: Local Educational Agencies (LEAs)
School Food Service Directors
School Business Managers
From: Kathleen C. Millett, Executive Director
Office for Nutrition, Health and Safety Programs
Date: May 1, 2015

CEP-AnnualNotification (2)

It included a breakdown by each school giving the % of students in that school who would be eligible. ONLY 2 Schools in the entire School District are listed has having under 50% of the students eligible

Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 2.36.00 PM

Lowell was notified of all of the Schools that qualified. Was the Administration which was winding down and caught up in a political Supt. fight to busy or distracted to follow up on this?

The next School Committee meeting isn’t until August 19th which would leave only 8 business days for the School Department to apply and fill out the required paperwork. Is that fair to the new Superintendent ? Is Lowell going to just let another year pass by without applying?

Will any current School Committee member ask the Mayor to call a Special Meeting to address this issue?

The Lowell School Dept. knew about this program in 2014 but did NOT participate…WHY?

Nutrition, Health and Safety

Potentially Eligible Community Eligibility Provision LEAs and Schools

To: Local Educational Agencies (LEAs)
School Food Service Directors
School Business Managers
From: Kathleen C. Millett, Executive Director
Office for Nutrition, Health and Safety Programs
Date: April 30, 2014

Attached you will find an updated list of Local Educational Agencies (LEAs) and schools that have been determined to be potentially eligible to participate in Community Eligibility Provision for school year 2014-2015.
If you have any questions, please contact Jheanell West or Diane Sylvia of the Office for Nutrition, Health and Safety Programs staff by email at jwest@doe.mass.edu or dsylvia@doe.mass.edu or by telephone at 781-338-6480.

Attachment:2014 Notification of Eligibility

In addition to the meals , Lowell might be able to take advantage of another item tied into this program:

New Policy Makes It Easier for Community Eligibility Schools to Participate in E-Rate Program
By Zoë Neuberger and Becca Segal

A new Federal Communications Commission (FCC) policy will make it easier for school districts adopting the Community Eligibility Provision — through which they can serve meals at no charge to all students — to apply for discounted telecommunications services and Internet access through the E-rate program.1 The new E-rate policy streamlines the discount calculation process for community eligibility schools so that they do not face any additional burdens relative to other schools.

E-RateCEPPolicy

Hopefully this issue gets addressed and acted upon sooner rather than later.

C.E.P Program – Providing TWO FREE Meals for ALL Lowell Students

Why isn’t Lowell already in? Why isn’t Greater Lowell Tech in? We have the oppertunity to feed ALL Lowell students two FREE meals, why are we NOT doing that?

This program has been available for the past year and the State held a training seminar this past winter. Did anyone from the Lowell School Dept. attend and are we participating this school year? Is the Greater Lowell Tech participating? If not, why not?

This is all pretty straightforward. As I stated yesterday, communities need 40% eligible under direct certification (some form of Gov’t assistance, SNAP for example) which should not be an issue if the total of Lowell students is 75% has this chart shows.

Screen Shot 2015-07-23 at 10.10.12 AM

Even if Lowell is at 53% which this State Eligibilty form shows, Lowell should be participating and so should the Greater Lowell Tech.

This would streamline paperwork and lunch lines, which I believe ( from listening to my daughter and her friends) is an issue for the kids and an issue from a scheduling standpoint in some schools. Can’t seem to see much “downside” for a system the size of Lowell.

A paid school lunch every day for two kids is $630 a year! If Lowell can save families that money, What possible reason would you Not try to do that? Especially for those families that just are over the low income level. There is no need to get reduced meals for some and full cost meals for others when you surely qualify for FREE meals for EVERYONE!

If I understand correctly the way this program works, The bonus of Lowell joining this is that we would get the entire federal reimbursement on the remaining 25% or 47% if the other Eligibilty list is correct of students NOT classified as Low Income instead of .26 per meal. How is that not A “win” for the City or the Tech?

What seems odd to me is that most School Districts and School Committees typically trip over themselves implementing these programs, trying to gain funds and positive press for the politicians. This is looking them right in the face and they seem to be ill – informed about it. I just don’t think the school dept or school committee understand it.

Are they too busy with the petty personal infighting to ask questions?
Does the fact we outsource the lunch program to Aaramark have something to do with not joining this program? Did the administration just not really understand how this program work. Did the Administration think participating put other grants in jeopardy and what specific grants were they concerned about? Did the administration get to caught up on the politics that they lost sight of doing something that served ALL STUDENTS?

The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) provides an alternative approach for offering school meals to local educational agencies (LEAs) and schools in low income areas, instead of collecting individual applications for free and reduced price meals.

The CEP allows schools that predominantly serve low-income children to offer free, nutritious school meals to all students through the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs. The CEP uses information from other programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Temporary Assistance Program for Needy Families (TANF) instead of traditional paper applications.

To be eligible, LEAs and/or schools must: meet a minimum level (40%) of identified students for free meals in the year prior to implementing the CEP; agree to serve free lunches and breakfasts to all students; not collect free and reduced price applications from households in participating schools; and agree to cover with non-Federal funds any costs of providing free meals to all students above amounts provided in Federal assistance.

Here is a link that explains the program FAQ.

Here is an overview of the program.

I’ve emailed the new Supt. requesting he look into why Lowell isn’t participating and if they sent anyone to the State run meeting this past winter. He was kind enough to respond on a Sunday and promises to get back to me.

I’ve also found this about the 2015 School Year and this program.

Applications have been extended until August 31st 2015 to participate this year. Lowell and the Greater Lowell Tech still have time to get EVERY STUDENT two free meals a day. Why would we not do this?

We are encouraged by the remarkable CEP uptake among eligible school districts, and appreciate that about 50% of eligible schools are participating. However, there are still many eligible LEAs and schools that can benefit from CEP participation. FNS is extending the deadline to allow LEAs ample time to determine if CEP is a viable option in their schools. A similar deadline extension for SY 2014-15 facilitated a 22 percent overall increase in CEP elections, significantly increasing children’s access to nutritious meals in high need schools.
FNS is committed to serving as a resource to State agencies as LEAs and schools consider CEP in the upcoming months. FNS will continue to support States and LEAs by providing timely guidance, technical assistance, and other resources, including webinars, panel discussions, and outreach sessions to facilitate best practice sharing and address barriers to implementation. FNS encourages LEAs considering CEP to review resources available on the FNS website (http://www.fns.usda.gov/school-meals/community-eligibility-provision), including the Department of Education Title I Guidance, Questions and Answer guidance, and an Estimator tool designed to help LEAs with grouping and reimbursement estimates.
State agencies should distribute this memorandum to their LEAs as soon as possible. State agencies may direct any questions concerning this guidance to the appropriate FNS Regional Office. We look forward to working with you in partnership as we strive to reach our common goal to increase access to healthy school meals for our Nation’s children.

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