Sunday Notes May 1 2016

School Supt living up to reputation, low expectations.

Supt. Salah Khelfaoui, Ph.D. came to Lowell with a reputation of being antagonistic towards whatever Town or City Manager he had to work with to get funding for schools. He also has the reputation of shifting blame for shortfalls or personal issue to others. He was and is in my opinion inexperienced in running or preparing a budget for such a large school district.

In his first budget presentation to the City of Lowell School Committee I think he lived up to that expectation / reputation. He had to change the date of the presentation several times, isn’t televising the meetings live for “transparency” or for the public to see and scheduling an Executive Session on the same night the Finance sub-committee is supposed to review the budget.

Go on the School Dept WEBSITE and explain to me how this is going to work:

05/04/16 Wed LOWELL SCHOOL COMMITTEE MEETING 6:30pm – 9:30pm

05/04/16 Wed Finance Subcommittee Meeting 7:30pm – 8:30pm

In the Supt. Budget narrative he seems to be taking shots at the Manager trying to make it seem the City doesn’t exceed Net school spending has they state and insinuates that they do not contribute enough to Net School Spending

It appears to me that he is either playing semantic games or wants a built-in excuse when the money runs out before the year is over.

I think he and the new Business Manager who has no Mass municipal finance experience , wants the City to have the Largest Tax Increase in its history or he wants to run this City into receivership the way Winchendon did when he was Supt there.

He shows in the Budget Narrative –

Screen Shot 2016-04-26 at 10.51.47 AM

then states – The excess of net school spending by the City in FY 2016 is reduced by a budget variance of $1,140,273 funded by a surplus in FY2015. This lowers the City’s contribution for FY2016 excess to $4,554,185.

Then he shows these numbers along with this narration:

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We know he is new but you would think he and the Illinois experienced School Business Manager would look at recent history. When you look at the above lines you see that when Manager Murphy took over (because of savings in going to the GIC & in Utility cost and trash pick up cost) Lowell was UNDER their Net School spending Requirements by $3,729,693.

In each of the years Murphy has been Manager the City exceeded Net School Spending by $1,154,957 and are PROJECTED By DESE (Dept. of Elementary and Secondary Education) to be over this year by $5,694,458 regardless of the semantic games this Supt. seems intent on playing.

That is a swing of over $10,000,000 that the School Dept. is receiving from the City and yet the way I read the budget, this Supt. is ignoring that and taking shots at the Manager.

One of the other things that seems to “bother” this Supt. quiet a bit is the Schedule 19 Agreement or the “Charge Back” items that the State allows under the Education Reform Act and is approved by DESE. I spoke in January / February to both the former Deputy Supt. of Schools who played the biggest role in creating the current version along with the former Lowell CFO and current CFO Connor Baldwin who all told me that this agreement is heavily favored to the School Dept.

Attached is a copy of the Chargeback Agreement and the actual cost between 2011 – 2015.

City of Lowell NSS (FY11 – FY15)

I also questioned these cost but the former CFO couldn’t be more certain that the city is being more than fair in their assessments and so did the former Deputy Supt.

I’m of the opinion that if this School Supt. wants more “cash” the city should take the cost that they have listed in these charge-backs for Gas, Electricity, Police, Trash removal, School Nurses and plowing the school’s parking lots and give the school dept that $5.6 million and let them pay all those cost themselves!

If this budget isn’t “fixed” I’m afraid that mid-year the City could be forced to find funding for the schools because this budget has so many holes and questions. If that happens former Mayor Elliott and the last school committee who hired this Supt. along with this Mayor and current Committee will be held responsible for the destruction of the Lowell School System over petty politics.

It makes me wonder whether there is ever enough money for these “Professional” educators??

Shooting their Mouth Off and ticking off MSBA

Word out of Boston is the Commissioner of Education and the MSBA staff are very annoyed at someone or some group of people who apparently have been telling people in other school districts that the LHS renovation project is a done deal even though it is still in the early stages and the State delegation is getting called on the carpet and being directed to tell whoever is doing this to stop.

Conspiracy of the week #1

Councilor Kennedy was a key vote in the selection of Kevin Murphy for City Manager with a supposed pledge for Kennedy becoming the next Mayor. Only Mayor Elliott wanted to stay and Kennedy had to hustle for enough votes to get the gig.

Remember in his Inauguration speech the backhanded slap he took at Elliott along with Councilors Mercier and Belanger who supported him. Calling out Individual Councilors for achievements in the past term but thanking these three together for “contributing”?

So first he settles the UTL contract right before fact-finding was complete which Mayor Elliott pushed for and over the objection of the City Manager. Then after being somewhat embarrassed and reversed on the Hun Manet visit, there is suddenly talk of giving the Supt. a 3 year contract instead of the open-ended MOU that the Manager has.

Is Kennedy behind the heat the Supt. is putting on the Manager? Is Mayor Ed Kennedy getting his own political payback against the Manager and former Mayor who he supposedly feels betrayed him?

Budget not broken down like last year

One of the first things I noticed was that this budget doesn’t have each individual schools cost broken down has we have seen in the last few years and all information about Grant funded positions where left out. Could the fact that Lowell receives between $15,000,000 – $20,000,000 in Grant funding hurt the Supt.’s message that the City needs to contribute more so it was intentionally left out?

Here is a PDF showing all information for the Greenhalge School in last years budget

Greenhalge School

Here is what is being presented in this years budget


School Budget Questions that need answering

A few observations about the proposed School budget that need addressing

1) If we aren’t offering any new in-house programs for Special education, why is the budget for Out-of-District students that over the past few years has been rising $1,000,000 to $1,500,000 a year submitted at Level funding from last year?

2) If Out-of-District student cost isn’t increasing, why is the Special Ed Transportation cost going up by $550,605?

3) If we are “adding” two classes for 5th graders at the Rogers and Wang and there is a cost increase in the final year of the contract, how and why are we reducing “Regular education” transportation by $30,400

4) Looking at the expected class sizes, are we really going to have 32 students in 5th grade classes? Aside from the 4 classrooms listed above where are the students going?

Class Sizes

5) Is this budget disguising a shortfall that will require the City to have to “find” another $1,000,000 – $3,000,000 in early January to be able to be funded for the entire school year??

Conspiracy of the week #2

One of the former School Committee members who voted for this Supt. saw one of his “favorite people” get promoted to the Asst. HR Director shortly after the Supt. came on board. Now a “new” Asst. Business Manager position was created in this years budget to force the current HR Manager into a new position so that the present aide-de-camp / asst. HR Director can be “promoted” to the full-time HR Position that now also includes PR.

There is also a buzz that the Director of Information, Communication & Technology Services is looking hard to get out and that the current HR asst. who originally wanted that post anyway , would gladly take it if the opening occurs and the School Committee don’t support the new Asst. Business Manager position.

For a guy who proclaimed to the SUN he doesn’t play politics, word is out that if you were considered a friend of the former Supt. or especially the Deputy Supt. you are persona non grata and that some former school Comittee members who elected the Supt. continue to make certain of that.

Protest for Another Principal??

We saw the Charter School Principal resign even after much protest from staff and parents. I’m hearing we could see parents and staff protesting here in Lowell over the supposed “forced” upcoming transferring of a School Principal.

Rumors are that at the urging of a former School Committee member who voted for the current Supt., that Supt. Khelfaoui is going to try to force a move of the well-respected, well liked Pyne School Principal to the Sullivan School claiming that the Sullivan for the past few years has been in a chaotic state and he “needs” her there.

One of the issue at the Sullivan stems from the fact that the Principal was not being able to pick her own vice principal. Word is this again may be the case with the Supt. intent on appointing an asst. based more on nationality than qualification. Supposedly no Principals received evaluations this year so just letting the Sullivan School Principal go isn’t an option and she would be assigned to the Pyne!

On Saturday morning live School Committee member Connie Martin said she has also heard the rumor of the move but school committee members are forbidden by law to get involved.

This is worth watching!!

Parents Left Out (STILL)

Lowell Parents who under Ed reform are supposed to have a strong voice in the schools are again ignored in this budget presentation. Under Ed Reform and the Powers of the School Site Councils you will find this information

What are the main areas of responsibility for school councils?

The law outlines four major areas of responsibility for councils. School councils are to assist principals in:

Adopting educational goals for the school that are consistent with local educational policies and statewide student performance standards

Identifying the educational needs of students attending the school

Reviewing the annual school building budget

Formulating a school improvement plan

It also states: What is the council’s role in the school budget? (BOLD MINE)

The law specifies that the school council “shall assist [the principal] …. in the review of the annual school budget.” This language refers to the school building budget, not to the district budget. “Review” means that the council and the principal read through documents that describe the budget in order to understand the implications for items in the school improvement plan that will be developed by the council. In many communities, the school budget is prepared by mid-year in order to allow for negotiation with other municipal agencies, i.e., finance committee, city council, town meeting. A council’s review of the budget, therefore, enables it to predict better which improvement projects that require funding could be implemented in the next school year under a budget that was constructed in the previous fall. Also, in school districts that encourage building-based budget planning, a school’s improvement plan objectives developed in any given year can guide the development of the school’s budget in the next year. In these cases, the council’s review of the budget helps in the implementation of the previous year’s school improvement plan.

There is NO School Based Budget available and no monies listed for improvements in any of the individual schools. Since many schools still do not have a School Site Council or posted meetings it isn’t surprising that this is still missing even with a Supt. who was supposed to be more encouraging for parental involvement.