Committing $3,200,000 for Transportation strong message from Council

Next Tuesday when the City Council votes for the Cawley Site, they are committing a minimum of $3.2 Million dollars (or a 2.25 % Tax Increase) to fund High School busing at the Cawley Site. They are sending a strong message that they believe that Lowell with a Sixteen Million Dollar Excess Tax Levy can fund the High School and the transportation cost.

It will be up to the elected School Committee to hold them to their commitment.

I went to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to look at information on transportation and restructuring start times and I also found strong references for my belief that we need to develop and improve our School Site Councils.

Looking at the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Transportation Guide page it is clear that the School District and School Committee should come up with a strong written policy to ensure transportation will indeed be supplied and funded. That has to be a top priority of any new School Committee. We need to pledge to ALL parents that we will get their student to Lowell Hight at Cawley and that we are committed to extend equal educational opportunities to all children.

DESE suggest that we do so in writing for several reasons and I agree including

It eliminates the need to make a decision in recurring situations.
It provides a legal foundation upon which to build a program.
It gives citizens an understanding of objectives and school activity.
It could clearly define the need in Establishing different beginning and closing hours for elementary middle and high school (which would permit school buses to make multiple runs) to help reduce cost
It needs to clearly Outline the availability and use of late buses both in the am and pm to get students back and forth
It needs to clearly show a way to transport students into the downtown after school for needed services at various locations (CTI-Girls Inc- City Library- UTEC-Lowell Community Health – Greater Lowell Family Y- etc.)

and I’d want the City Council to be included in signing that policy since they are the approving funding source. They believe in the site and believe we can fund transportation without ever saying that they would cut funding levels to pay for it. The School Committee needs to make sure they keep this commitment.

The DESE Transportation Policy Guide shows that the Superintendent has a strong say on any busing policy.

This Superintendent has made it very clear in his 2 Budget presentations that TRANSPORTATION is a CITY not School Dept Cost and has broken it out in his budget presentations.

So you can be sure any additional transportation cost will be paid for by the City and as an elected school committee member I will support him 100% in making sure that is the case. That is why they School Committee needs to get the Council to agree to a Written Transportation Policy that includes funding.

That will be my first motion if elected to the School Committee.

This Superintendent has a 4 year contract so he has job security, the School Committee can adopt a policy to provide High School Busing and recommend rezoning and realigning start times but the Supt. has a strong say on that based on educational practices. Remember there is a Mass Bill suggesting High School start time should be later than the present start time of 8:00 am and under the Transportation alternative presented it would require Lowell High to start earlier at 7:15 am.

In my view there has to be at least 4 School Committee members (including myself hopefully) who will commit to actively looking at the effects of rezoning, restructuring start times and the cost of busing as soon as possible and recommend doing so if educationally sound and in the best interest of all Lowell students. The longer the committee waits or drags its feet the tougher it could be when it is time to implement.

The City Councilors have to be ready TODAY (or next Tuesday at the latest) to pledge to the parents that by choosing the Cawley site, they are 100% committed in making sure the city fully funds the cost of transportation which is NOT part of Net School Spending and that they will make sure the Manager whoever it is, will NOT cut the Cash Contribution to the School Dept in order to fund the increase in transportation cost.

According to recent stories the proposed cut in Federal money for Education is about 13%

If Lowell loses Federal funding, the school system may have to eliminate programs or find monies to fund it in-house. The possible added cost of $3.2 million when a new Cawley site opens makes funding tighter on both the City and School side.

Based on the proposals from 3 of the other school committee candidates, they would also be asking the City for an increase in transportation of $1.4 Million dollars to take effect in the 2018/2019 School Year as they want to start busing to the current Lowell High School site.

That would be an additional approx. 1.25% tax increase just for busing beginning next year using the current 2017 numbers. To be honest, I’d be opposed to that. The present School Committee recently lauded the administration for an increased attendance and lower drop out rate. The present means of High School students getting to school seems to be working fine. I see no need to add additional taxes and funding to transportation when we can use that funding for programs.

Lowell will be facing very tough financial times until we have more economic development. We heard last night not to expect much happening in the Hamilton Canal until 2020. Fortunately contrary to the statement by one school committee candidate that we are not building homes in “our zip codes“, Lowell has many housing units and new properties being developed. I will showcase those Friday. They will help to generate some additional “New Growth” when they come on-line creating more revenue for the city to be able to fund the schools.

When I was searching the DESE site for information on busing and restructuring start times, I found several items that highlight my belief in the need to educate our parents on the strong role they have in their child’s education. DESE points out a number of items that should but I doubt presently do, happen involving School site councils.

This is why I urge BOTH the Downtown and Cawley parents to stay active and get involved in your child’s school, including the High School.

Some examples of the need for a strong involved School Site Council is highlighted by DESE when discussing the role of the School Committee, Superintendent and School Site Councils.

I. Educational Goals & Policies; Management & Leadership (Bold Mine)
State law:The school committee establishes educational goals and policies for the schools in the district, consistent with the requirements of law and the statewide goals and standards established by the Board of Education. (G.L. c. 71,[[section]] 37) The school committee’s status as the “employer” for collective bargaining purposes remains unaltered by Education Reform. (G.L. c. 150E, [[section]] 1)

The superintendent employed by the school committee shall manage the system in a fashion consistent with state law and the policy determinations of the school committee. (G.L. c. 71, [[section]] 52)

The line between educational policy (the school committee’s domain) and administrative operations (the superintendent’s responsibility) is sometimes clear. Several statutes specify policy decisions to be made by the school committee. For example, G.L. c. 76, [[section]] 12B, the school choice law, requires the committee to vote (after holding a public hearing), if the district is not going to admit non resident students, and permits the committee to establish terms for accepting non-resident students if it is participating in choice.

Another example of a school committee policy decision concerns the length of the school day and school year. Under the Student Learning Time Regulations (603 CMR 27.00), the school committee establishes the school year schedules for the schools in the district, consistent with the state standards and guided by the student learning time plan recommended by the school council at each school.

Similarly, the school committee is responsible for adopting general disciplinary policies for students in the district, in consultation with the superintendent. However, it is appropriate for the committee to delegate to the superintendent, principals and school councils the authority to define detailed rules of student conduct applicable to specific schools. In fact, at the high school level, state law makes this school-based responsibility explicit. By statute, in every school containing grades 9 through 12, the principal and school council annually prepare and publish the student handbook, within the framework of the general policies adopted by the school committee. (See G.L. c. 71, [[section]][[section]] 37H and 59C.)

Broad, system-wide curriculum or school restructuring issues, such as whether the district should establish a French immersion program for grades K-6, or whether to switch from a junior high to a middle school structure, concern educational goals and policies for the district. As policy issues, these matters are for the school committee to decide, after seeking advice and recommendation from the superintendent.

There will tough times in reorganizing our school district and will need leaders who are not afraid to go out and advocate the need to do this. Please keep me in mind to be one of those leaders.