Sunday Notes January 24th 2016

Mayor Jim

Could Milinazzo be moving on? Can a Housing Executive Director hold an elected office in another city?

Those are questions circulating in the bubble and have had people asking about since Chris Scotts Column Blog mentioned Friday that Council Milinazzo, The former executive director of the Lowell Housing Authority gets the same position in the Revere Housing Authority where he supposedly is one of three finalist.

Unless Revere makes it a condition of employment I don’t see anything that would prevent JIm from becoming an executive director in revere while maintaining his elected position in a different community. There is no regulation that I am aware of that would prohibit him.

During he Patrick administration there were several Housing Authority issues including an attempt by former Dracut Selectman John Zimini and then Chelsea Housing Authority Director Mike McLaughlin to oust the Dracut Housing Director with an appointment of Zimini pal Brian Bond. That resulted in an investigation that concluded with he resignation of Lt. Governor Tim Murray, McLaughlin being sent to jail, Zimini not running for re-election and moving out of Dracut and Bond not being reappointed to the Housing Authority and unelectable in Dracut.

Patrick proposed and installed some changes to Housing Authorities and Exexutive Directors but nothing that would prohibit Milanazzo from at least finishing his Council term.

School Committee shows support for Supt. Khelfaoui

After some really good questioning by many Committee members and impute from several Principals the Lowell School Committee showed strong support for the Superintendent by voting to support both the creation of a part-time position and to switch to PARCC testing.

Connie Martin and Steve Gendron both supported the Supt.on the PARCC testing even after Martin disagreed on the need for the part-time position. The Committee has a whole showed they could ask tough questions, disagree but not be disagreeable or hold onto old grudges. A good start for this group.

How long will Council / Manager play with F *I*R*E ?

A two alarm fire on Pratt Ave. yesterday that required rescue by ladders. Good thing the closes ladder truck on Branch St. wasn’t closed like the ladder on Lawrence St.

Will it take the loss of life in a Branch or Bridge St. like tragedy to get all 13 stations fully staffed?

In a city of over 130,000 packed into 14 1/2 square miles, is lighting up Lucy Larkham really a bigger priority than fully funding public safety?

Vocational Education and Charter Schools feel the love

This week we heard Governor Baker extolling Charter Schools during his State of the State address followed by his announcement of an additional $83.5 million for vocational education Friday, including a $75 million five-year capital program in a jobs bill set to be filed next week.

The governor’s proposed $75 million in capital money would finance grants for school equipment and expansion, while the $8.5 million proposed for the budget would fund grants for “school-to-career connecting activities,” and $1 million in technical partnership grants supported by federal Perkins Act grants.

Lowell was listed in a study released Friday in conjunction with the Governor’s event that stated there was a waiting lists of 3,200 applicants for vocational schools with the longest lists in Brockton, Fall River, Fitchburg, Lawrence, Lowell, New Bedford, Peabody, Salem, Springfield and Worcester, and reported that one-third of the state’s cities and towns are not served by vocational education.

Not sure where they got their information but when I looked into it I found out that Greater Lowell Tech receives approx. 850 applicants each year from Lowell students and accepted 550. Which looks like a wait list of 300 students.

However what many people (including a few elected Lowell officials) don’t realize is that approximately 200 students declined their acceptance each year leaving between 86 and 178 on the wait list. This year the Tech accepted 560 Freshman students and there are currently 86 students on a wait list who did not get accepted.

Vocational and or Technical education is a great thing. My two sons went to Vocational schools to be Electricians and my oldest is doing exactly that while my younger ones love for Motorcycles finds him succeeding at the Harley High Octane shop in Billerica where he is a Parts salesman and headed for parts Manager.

Will Governor or Legislature show any support to Public Schools?

The Governor made no reference to them in his address and a Saturday report says Chapt. 70 will see only a 1.6% increase in this years budget. That’s a lower % than the City Manager received this year without a public evaluation or Council vote.

Will our State Delegation fight for our Public Schools? Will they demand and support the recommendations in the Foundation Budget Review that was led by Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz, Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Education and Representative Alice H. Peisch, House Chair of the Joint Committee on Education?

Will the Governor and the Legislature at the very least follow these recommendations that the Foundation Budget Review Commission published last October to address some large flaws in the foundation budget and at least give Gateway Communities some much needed funds?

They show the cost and admit that even if they phrase this in over a 4 year period, it means additional state money is needed. If the Governor wants vocational money, the legislature should support more money for their hometown public school systems.

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Among the suggestions:

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. Add a new category for “Retired Employee Health Insurance” to the foundation budget; and

3. Establish a separate health care cost inflation adjustor for the employee health insurance portion of the “Employee Benefits/Fixed Charges” component of the formula, based on the change in the GIC rates

1. 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

2. Increase the out-of-district special education cost rate to capture the total costs that districts bear before circuit breaker reimbursement is triggered. One example of how this might be done is to increase the out-of- district special education cost rate by an amount equal to the following:

[4 x statewide foundation budget per-pupil amount] – [statewide foundation budget per-pupil amount** + out- of-district special education cost rate]*** (From the REPORT – districts spend far more on special education tuition for out-of-district placements than what is allocated through the foundation budget. In FY13, actual costs were 59% higher than the foundation budget rate of $25,454.7)

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.

1. Establish a data collection and reporting system that tracks funding allocated for ELL and Low Income students to ensure that spending is targeted to the intended populations, and to provide a better data source to future Foundation Budget Review Commissions about the accuracy and adequacy of the low income and ELL increments.

2. Establish a data collection and reporting system that allows for greater access to school-level expenditures and data across all districts to increase the understanding of state level policy makes about effective school- level interventions and investments, and which connects that data to student achievement data so more informed decisions can be made about the productivity, efficiency , and effectiveness of state expenditures.

Lowell like many Communities with large ELL students and high concentrations of low income students faces a tough budget ahead. The C.E.P program which supplies Breakfast and Lunch ISN’T DESIGNED TO HURT COMMUNITIES AND SHOULD NOT HAVE A NEGATIVE AFFECT ON CHAPT. 70 funding. a fact the Commission made sure to highlight.

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.

In the City Council Packet this week the Manager has a response to Councilor Jim Leary’s motion on Newcomer Student Funding including the following information:

Members of the City Manager’s office attended a meeting on January 21, 2016 at the Lowell School Administration building. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the ongoing challenges of absorbing “newcomer” students. Those in attendance included the LPS Superintendent, school administrators, school committee members, as well as representatives for Senator Markey, Senator Warren, and Congresswoman Tsongas.

Newcomer and ELL students require significant resources to educate and not just from a language standpoint. Many are refugees arriving to Lowell from countries experiencing war and civil unrest; many require social services above and beyond educational resources. They also can lack age-appropriate literacy skills. These issues are then compounded by the language barrier. At the high school, for example, over 60 foreign countries are represented in these programs. Often times the school must rely on another student to translate while other times there is no way to translate at all.

Funding for these students is a growing concern. In the past two weeks alone, LPS has received an additional 32 “newcomer” students from grades K-8. Once again, they require specialized educators and support services. Meanwhile, grant funding for these programs is shrinking each year. The School Department will continue to engage with our Federal and State representatives to secure funding and the City will continue to communicate with the School Administration to assist in these efforts.

Attached please find information that was provided at today’s meeting. Additional data on the costs associated with each newcomer student as well as the rate in which grant funding is decreasing will be provided to the Council as it becomes available.

The attachments show the large numbers coming into our system and th need for not only Federal funding but the need for our State delegation to push hard for additional Chap 70 funds and the need to support the suggested changes offered in the Foundation Budget Review.