Welcome!

Margaret Raymond Driscoll is a nine-year Melrose School Committee member who is passionate about excellent teaching and learning for all public school students, and considers it a privilege to collaborate with others who share that passion. You can also follow her on Twitter at @MargaretDrisc. Just to be clear - opinions expressed here do not represent those of the Melrose Public Schools, the Melrose School Committee, or the Massachusetts Association of School Business Officials - they are hers alone.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

MHS Senior Internships: Learning Beyond the Walls of Classrooms

Today the Melrose High School Internship Program held its first ever Internship Fair. Over half of the Class of 2015 participated in a 4th quarter internship (which is graded based on successful completion of its respective responsibilities), and the fair was organized to allow students to showcase their experiences to other students, teachers, and visitors.

Students staged themselves at desks in the open area of the MHS Resource Center with printed nametags noting their internship placement or position. Some students had more formal presentations with posters, Powerpoints, work samples, and talking points while others were stream-of-consciousness. The students were enthusiastic, knowledgeable, articulate, and courteous; and it was clear that their employment helped them form some opinions about the working world (including what they might or might not pursue in the future) and offered a few surprises (e.g. police officers spend a lot more time than expected writing reports!). Their experiences were diverse and broad ranging. A few samples:

- A dual-language school in Boston / helping young students draw a self-portrait and write about it in Spanish, along with doing school event publicity;
- A Boston middle school / assisting a new-to-America, limited-English 8th grader in the navigation of American culture and language;
- A nursing home / supporting older adults with engaging activities, and observing distribution of medications, therapies, etc.;
- Local and regional Police Departments / reviewing and editing reports, and experiencing community policing. (Here’s one window into that experience: http://tinyurl.com/n7y9bj8);
- Tattoo studios / learning about the business and cleaning/sanitizing;
- A fish market / learning how the business operates including customer service;
- A real estate office / learning the financial operations end of the business;
- A plastics distributor / experiencing the shipping and handling segment of the work;
- A leadership consulting and training organization / exploring how the business works;
- A physical therapists office / understanding the operation and protocols of the work;
- Melrose elementary schools / exploring the teaching and learning process. Here are panels from a poster made by a Lincoln School intern:




 The internship opportunity provides a thoughtful way to transition students (who can fit it into their schedules) from a more structured learning environment into the broader, post-secondary world. Want to know more? Info for next year’s seniors is on p. 13 in the MHS Program of Studies http://tinyurl.com/mjkb6kc.

Great job Class of 2015!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Foundation Budget Update, and Why We Should All Care

Rep. Alice Peisch, Co-Chair of the state Joint Committee on Education, is also co-chairing the Foundation Budget Review Commission (FBRC). She spoke to the Mass. Association of School Business Officials (MASBO) last Thursday about the Commission’s work and anticipated outcomes and timelines.  (Note: Municipalities and school districts are watching closely as the Foundation Budget builds a key funding source for schools – Chapter 70 money. It’s helpful for parents to know some basics in order to help advocate for fair and equitable funding. School Committee Chair Kristin Thorp wrote a good analysis on how the Foundation Budget and Chapter 70 work (here: http://1i8brn1xoauz1pwsvo1ktb7vb1q.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Chapter-70-Explanation-4.7.15.pdf and you can read the Committee’s March feedback to the FBRC here: http://1i8brn1xoauz1pwsvo1ktb7vb1q.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/030915-FBRC-letter.pdf.)

Rep. Peisch opened her remarks by noting that the limited number of people in school districts who understand the Foundation Budget has been eye-opening. She said that the Commission’s focus has been on two areas: the cost of benefits (especially healthcare), and special education (SPED). The Commission voted to recommend (and their advisory board needs to confirm) that the healthcare percentage be raised to the average GIC amount for municipal members. It will likely also be recommended that it should have its own inflation number (which varies region to region) on an annual basis. That was a relatively easy recommendation based on reports over the years.

There are a couple recommendations regarding in-district SPED: 1. raise the in-district tuition percentage from 3.75 to 4 for most districts (and from 4.75% to 5% for vocational schools); 2. raise assumed out of district (OOD) tuition by about $8000. Rep. Peisch noted that very few OOD placements are within the designated level – most are much more. The intent is that raising the dollar amount and adding the in-district amount will get districts to where circuit breaker kicks in.

The legislation that created the FBRC required that the report be filed by June. There are many other components that could be considered, so the Commission concluded that they should look for a modest extension of time. Many Commission members were concerned that if it goes on too long they will lose focus and implementation could be delayed. (In the past, reports come out and get attention but nothing happens – she wants to focus on what’s doable.) (Note: this is her opinion; others on the Commission want to keep the process going a little longer.)

At the last FBRC meeting Karla Brooks Baehr (former Deputy Commissioner of Education) presented an analysis of the range of spending in districts (high spending / high performance, high spending / low performance and the rest of that quadrant). What are low spending/high performance districts doing and how can that be replicated? At the next meeting on 6/5 they will discuss the use and reallocation of funds to improve outcomes. They will also consider what additional areas other Commission members would like to look at. Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz is planning to file an amendment to the budget to extend the life of the Commission, and the items they might consider if that amendment is approved is to be seen, although they are likely to think about (and possibly make a recommendation about) decentralized funding and decision-making (i.e. requiring that all schools are provided a budget equal to what the foundation budget would be for each school). How money is spent is currently left up to the districts; this approach would target money to schools. There could also be potential adjustments to low income and/or ELL components (although it will be hard to reach consensus).

Questions:

Was there discussion around the % of OOD SPED students? The decision was not to change the % because a recent study shows that the current % is pretty close to reality (slightly +/- 1%).

What about Section 260 – retiree health insurance? The cost of retiree health insurance is significant and is part of the recommendation on healthcare.

Is the Commission considering looking at potentially changing the 10/1 enrollment reporting date? She can’t speak for the Commission since there’s been no group discussion about it. There are plusses and minuses to moving it out – some people want to know early on what the budget can be to plan their Ch. 70 money; moving it further out would make that more difficult. They are considering making it clear that funds appropriated to the pothole account should be available for increases in population from 10/1 through the beginning of the next school year.

How did estimates of circuit breaker impact discussions of FBRC? The Commission is charged with making a recommendation. The issue is probably identified but how the legislation language is crafted could be in the FBRC report or circuit breaker legislation. (MASBO Exec. Director Dave Verdolino who is also a member of the Commission would like the circuit breaker formula held harmless.) Other suggestions regarding circuit breaker that the Education Committee is looking at now include providing incentives for use of collaboratives, in-district programs, etc. which saves money (assuming they are of good quality).

Some of the SPED pieces seem low; what was the thinking around that? The OOD 1% turns out not to be low – it’s fairly accurate. If you take into account what is calculated for that student anyway, this increase would cover the difference between that and when circuit breaker kicks in. On in-district SPED, Superintendents recommended 4%. In the order of magnitude, if the state is limited to just these two items, using FY14 numbers, the increase would be a budget increase of $9.7B to $10.5B and the state’s portion would go up $500M ($800 total). A lot of communities are getting funded at about their target now, so they won’t get anything.  The Commission has not been specific about how legislation will be written. From a political standpoint, there may be pressure to hold all districts harmless (i.e. all districts benefit).

Dave Verdolino commented that there’s a lot of money up for consideration ($500M). The recommendations will go to a joint group and then to the full legislature. Rep. Peisch indicated that when it goes to the legislature, it’s extremely important to reach out to legislators since they are responsible to constituents. (If this report gets filed because there is no advocacy, nothing will happen in this area for a long time.) Looking at the timeframe, once recommendations are made, they would go to a joint committee to “sort out obstacles” and a bill would be filed at the beginning of the next session; that’s when advocacy should start. She cautioned: don’t get caught up in looking for the perfect solution. Support something that is a significant improvement for most districts. Her best guess is that implementation would be phased in over a number of years.

(Note: the Melrose School Committee has tentatively placed the FBRC report as an item on our July 28th agenda.)

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Secretary Peyser's Education Plans

State Education Secretary James Peyser provided remarks on goals for, and approaches to, education by the new administration and took some questions at the Mass. Association of School Business Officials Conference this past Thursday. Here’s my take on what was said:

Public education is where the rubber hits the road (starting with central administration). Local level decisions make meaningful and lasting improvements in education quality. Governor Baker’s administration is proposing a framework for the months ahead. 2015 is a good time to begin this conversation (and evaluate the status quo), with a new Senate President, Higher Education Commissioner, Governor, and UMass President. 

Goals of administration (a framework around education finance):
·      Making the whole greater than the sum of its parts. Results are now underwhelming in efficiency and outcomes. We have to break down silos in all sectors and look for opportunities to align education and workforce skills.
·      Valuing results over compliance; the latter are obstacles to common sense and sound judgment. They are freezing all regulations that were in process when the Governor took office. There is a new initiative to review all regulations. Needed are clear outcome goals and metrics for each department to streamline and hold all accountable. In terms of the budget, we need not just take action on line items, but pay for performance.
·      Encouraging innovation and customer service. It’s easy to do what we’ve always done’ but that doesn’t recognize new ways of doing things. In public education, we need to recognize the unique needs of students and then identify things they are accomplishing. Both students and families are customers of schools; taxpayers are customers too. The state must share information and help solve problems. We have to respond quickly to questions and collaborate.
·      Transparency, predictability, sustainability. The volatility of funding from one year to the next is frustrating. We have to commit to core funding streams.

How to approach:
·      Greater alignment between early education and college. We must incorporate the Foundation budget (per pupil formulas). K-12 doesn’t have all the answers. There need to be incentives instead of consequences for higher standards and better outcomes – expand what works.
·      Affordability of the whole, not just the parts. Skeptical that we can afford it all, but use resources smarter, even though there will still be trade-offs. Need new funding plans., otherwise, it will remain first-come first-serve since it rewards who can get legislation in the fastest.
·      Rethinking teaching and learning. Can’t layer costs on existing base and can’t use the same educational model. Technology is not the solution to all problems. We’re still barely touching how to be additive vs. transformative. Need to use that information to inform reducing costs.
·      Allocate state grant funding; it’s not supposed to support ongoing initiatives. Districts have been using money to advocate for the status quo instead of using it to make change that the grants were intended for. “Doing good is just not good enough.” The proposed Competitive Grant Fund in the Governor’s budget combines grants. They encourage school/community clusters in districts (e.g. 4th grade pairing with early education or expansion of technical high schools and and pairing them with local employers. The fund supports those initiatives. We need ideas to make this reform happen.

He ended by noting that reforms require our participation and he looks forward to working with us.

Questions (underlined with responses following):

Speak about mandates: The state is going through every regulation on the books, which will be complete by the end of the calendar year.

View on expansion of charter schools. Need more charter schools - they are producing great results for students they serve – particularly in low income/urban districts. Must make progress for students in those communities. Can’t leave children behind. Next question will be  how to effectively manage.

What about the needs of other public schools? Right now, the money should follow the child. Districts should allocate more to the school level (not district-wide overhead) and restructure resources to address shrinking enrollment. That requires more communication between the state and charter schools.

Mandates? Some truth to the fact that mandates (designed by legislators alone) can be bad. Concerned that there are successes at the school level but if we don’t have practitioners involved, then we can’t offer perspective – that makes it policymakers “reviewing their own stuff.” Collective wisdom and experience in this room that can inform that process.  Would like advice on how to receive that information in order to engage effectively.

Not a proponent of charter schools – Holyoke experienced middle class “white flight” and poor students were left in district in Holyoke public schools. Why doesn’t charter funding work like school choice? Don’t agree on “white flight” comment but will give thought to school choice model.

Reference to pay for performance. Have teachers union been involved? Conceptually, we should think about (through formula or grant funding) providing some preference or incentive to districts/schools, with incremental dollars based on an index of growth. There are a lot of details that would make it easier or harder to do. Scale up what’s working. He recognizes that student assessment is not for teacher evaluation (but he’d like to see that implemented).

Districts are ravaged by charters. Extended Learning Time offered, not union, work rules different. Questioner believes in fair play but public schools don’t have a chance to compete. What thoughts are there around a level playing field? Don’t disagree – need to address concerns to have flexibility in public schools. Receivership allows relaxation of constraints. Let’s let parents decide.

Cape has a charter high school. K-8 students are in traditional public school, then kids go to charter high school and that charter gets the kudos, but the reason they do well at the charter is because their parents are involved and they have a good foundation from the public schools. Also, the traditional publics got slapped for a bad school lunch review – that is symptomatic of unfair playing field. Finally, grants are a huge administrative nightmare for districts. Baker wants to reduce burdens, but we want to be aggressive about things we do control.

Charter school funding – Holyoke loses $11m to charter schools. Just because it costs $10k to educate at charters, the district doesn’t save that $10K by having those students leave. (Publics can’t change staffing based on that.) Reimbursement doesn’t cover costs because overall staffing is not affected. That’s a legitimate argument in that if you lose handful of students, you can’t resize. When charter has been around awhile, they can restructure. In Holyoke, the reimbursement is very generous. But it does create pain and people lose their jobs.

One of the excellent things DESE has done is Edwin (the now defunct data collection and analysis system) since that kind of work can be a game-changer. We should continue to support that work. That’s an underappreciated asset right now – it was a tremendous platform with incredible potential. The extent to which it’s being used is tremendous.

The local high school that’s a charter (Sturgis) has history of serving free and reduced lunch students but the ELL population is never served. Is that a problem? There is no evidence of discrimination/screening/counseling out. If there are structural barriers (ELL, sped) from gaining access to a school, we need to be proactive about addressing. Overall, charters serve a higher proportion of low income students than a district itself (Boston). The charter population is representative of those whom they serve.

Friday, May 15, 2015

School Committee Meeting of 5/12

This year’s cohort of MHS National Honor Society is the largest ever, with 100 members. There is an increasing focus on community service (especially group projects) and some of the students spoke to their efforts at our 6:30 pre-meeting:
-       “Reach Out and Read,” a Children’s Hospital Boston program, provides new or gently used books for primary care doctors to provide children. The collection goal was 350 books, and 1589 books were collected and delivered over February vacation.
-       Since toiletries are not covered by food stamps, students set up donation boxes and provided the Servants Heart Food Pantry with 1000 items.
-       A military movie service drive was conducted that involved placing donation bins in six locations around the city. This effort was undertaken last year, and 150 movies were collected and matched by a donor for a total of 300 movies. This year, 300 movies were collected and matched for a total of 600 movies donated.
-       Clothing was collected for donation to families who might be in need. The initial goal was 20 bags, with 35 ultimately received and delivered.
-       Groups of students joined together on May 3d to remove rubbish and leaves/brush from local parks.
-       High school tutoring is taking on enhanced life in the form of e-mail addresses by subject area so younger students can ask questions of tutors for personalized help.

At our regular, 7:00 meeting, the following topics were addressed:

-       Elections for student representatives to the Committee will be held in late May.
-       Education Stations has submitted an application to participate in Harvard University’s Community Action Partners (CAP) program, which provides non-profit organizations consulting in order to address a specific concern. Ed. Stations’ concern is that they have grown substantially and would like a review of their business model.
-       Four MVMMS students have qualified for the National History Bee in Louisville later in May.
-       Four construction projects (Hoover, Lincoln, Roosevelt, and Winthrop schools) were discussed and timelines presented.
-       The consent agenda included: * three field trips (Roosevelt 2nd grade to the Seacoast Science Center in Rye, NH in June; MHS iRaiders to Merrimack, NH in June; and MHS band, orchestra, and chorus to perform on a cruise to the Bahamas in Feb., 2016); * 2nd vote on Policy JC: Elementary School Assignment and Class Size; * Report on maintenance projects completed during April vacation; * Personnel Report; * Monthly Budget Report for April; * warrants (bills the district pays). All items were approved.
-       Anticipated enrollments for the 2015-2016 school year (which don’t account for students who choose a private setting for high school) by school and grade.
-       Summer academic plans, including high school credit recovery and middle school support.
-       The FY14 End-of-Year independent financial audit of the schools. There was one minor finding and that was addressed immediately with no follow-up needed.
-       A request for feedback on this year’s budget process in order to make it more effective next year. Comments can be sent for review any time and Committee comments can be formally submitted by or at the 5/26 meeting.
-       Committee over-arching goals were re-affirmed and preliminary work was begun on next year’s SMART goals, with further work happening on SMART goals and action items on 5/26 and in June.
-       Advocacy efforts continue, with the Committee giving the Chair approval to send a follow-up letter to legislators regarding challenges faced by the district that can be improved by legislation.
-       A clarification that there have been no legal settlements in the district since at least 2012 (the last year that was researched).

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

School Buildings, Summer, Kindergarten, Evaluating Teachers, and Individualized Learning

At yesterday’s Citywide PTO meeting (organized monthly by Bridge Coordinator Jennifer McAllister, where representatives from all schools meet to share information and ask questions of the Superintendent), the following issues were discussed:

Buildings: * Twice a year, in order to keep our school buildings as well-maintained as possible, the Supt. hops into DPW Chief John Scenna’s truck and they tour all school buildings (listing – as they go - needed maintenance and setting priorities). They tour once in the spring for summer work and once in the winter for Feb/April vacations; * next building project: renovation of computer lab space at Roosevelt and Lincoln to allow classroom shifts for confirmed/potential Kindergarten classrooms. (Note: classrooms shift because Kindergarten classrooms are generally on the first floor of buildings.); * prep for the MHS Learning Commons project begins in summer, with library print materials being weeded and the balance stored; music practice spaces potentially shifted to the middle school; and moves of an Italian teacher, METCO Director, TV studio, and special ed. classes. Moving earlier than the originally planned December date allows more time for abatement, and also means that schematics and construction drawings can be done earlier. First floor office suites are planned for renovation in Summer, 2016; * Hoover windows and frontage work is scheduled for Summer, 2016; * +/- six bathrooms have been renovated at MHS and the work continues over vacations; * in the long term and in the interest of teaching and learning in an environment that is now considered to be educationally appropriate (not rows of desks, etc.), Supt. Taymore plans to explore how to combine some of the triangular classrooms at the high school.

Summer: * The Campus Kids program will be held at Lincoln this year (alternating yearly with Roosevelt so each can be thoroughly cleaned in an off year); * new this year to Campus Kids is a pilot of skill enrichment (like IXL) as an opt-in program; * Summer Institute is professional development for teachers during the summer and this year’s offerings are extensive, including 2-2day sessions entitled “Googlerama” to support learning around Google for Education. (More here: http://melrosecityma.iqm2.com/Citizens/FileOpen.aspx?Type=1&ID=2409&Inline=True pp. 37-65)

Kindergarten placement: * Supt. Taymore’s practice has never been to call parents of children who did not receive their first-choice school but she has asked her principals to reach out this year since there were more families than ever before who are on wait-lists; * principals will be sending letters inviting incoming families to each school’s spring events; * MPS Administration won’t know how many students will not report in the fall (families move or make other school choices that they forget to report to the MPS) so classes may have fewer students than anticipated, but knowing how many and at which schools is impossible to predict; * if the Lincoln classroom ultimately opens, it will be filled by students who requested Lincoln but did not receive their first choice, followed by new registrants. This classroom will not be opened in order to decrease class sizes in other schools.

Evaluating Teachers: * The district (as part of state regulations on educator evaluation) will begin employing student surveys. In Melrose, it will be one method of helping teachers reflect on their teaching practices and setting goals for enhancing those practices. The state is backing off on using parent surveys and test data as elements of evaluations; * unlike in the past, Supt. Taymore indicated that now “teachers are evaluated 24/7,” including classroom observations, providing artifacts, participating in meetings, professional collaboration, and family outreach.

Individual Learning Plans (ILP’s): Since the education of today involves students assuming much greater responsibility for their own learning, ILP’s are being incorporated into all grades. It helps every child think about longer-term planning. (More here: http://melrosecityma.iqm2.com/Citizens/FileOpen.aspx?Type=1&ID=2409&Inline=True pp. 3-4.)

Events: * The Melrose Education Foundation is holding a birthday barbeque on June 14th (more here: http://www.melroseeducationfoundation.org/); * the Melrose Firefighters are holding a 5k run on June 21st (more here: http://www.mfd5k.com/).

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Mayor Dolan Presents FY16 Budget and Override Proposals: May 11th

At last night’s mandatory annual joint meeting of the Melrose Board of Aldermen and School Committee, Mayor Dolan formally presented his FY16 budget for consideration by the Board. Funding highlights in the area of education are as follows:

-       Continuing renovation of MHS, including renovation of the Resource Center into a “21st century Learning Commons that will benefit our students and the entire community.”
-       Implementing a comprehensive plan to address technology challenges across the district and across the city.
-       Replacing the Hoover School windows and renovating its entryway; and reconfiguring areas of the Winthrop School to move the principal’s office and add a classroom.
-       Partnering with ECC families to renovate the playground.
-       Rebuilding the Lyons tennis courts. (Note: it’s the traditional home of the MHS Girls’ Tennis Team.)
-       Undertaking a demographic study to explore trends in increasing school enrollments.
-       Adding two Kindergarten teachers and two elementary teachers (Note: A full-time Academic Facilitator is also added.)

Mayor Dolan also recommended that the Board approve placing a question on the November ballot asking citizens whether they support a tax override in the amount of $240/year ($20/month). According to the Mayor, “It will fund much-needed educator positions at all levels: 5.5 elementary teachers, 6 secondary teachers, and one district-wide educator for technology integration.  In addition, this investment in our community will eliminate the structural deficit in our public schools, increase vital line items for professional development and materials, and allow us to hire two additional police officers, which we absolutely need to enhance our public safety and reduce overtime costs.” He added: “I propose [the override] measure in order to advance public education, to advance public safety, as well as to sustain the successful financial foundation we have built over the last decade, even during the hardest economy since the Great Depression, for our time now and for decades to come. This is not an easy thing to propose, but in my opinion it is necessary.”  The Mayor shared that this override proposal is different from others he has witnessed in Melrose in that the city is currently financially stable and strong, but our ability to raise new money is capped. State and federal funding is decreasing and 94% of our community is residential so we have very limited commercial tax revenue. Our tax base is lower than a significant number of local and similar communities but our housing market is seeing substantial demand resulting in a large influx of students to our schools.

The Mayor believes that a different avenue for investing in our community is needed and that the time is now. He noted: “We are a stable and well managed community, but we are not able to devote one more dollar to operate our public schools in future years. In fact, we needed a supplemental budget of over $700,000 to balance the current school budget, and we will need to do so again next year. There is little or nothing left for other city departments and no flexibility to deal with unexpected situations. Being such a desirable community in which to live brings additional costs as the population changes. We can no longer count on Washington or Boston or hope or short-term fixes to get us through the next decade. This is a structural problem that is not going away…” He added: “Every citizen is going to have to make up their own mind [about the override]. I am simply offering a proposal that I believe is necessary. That is my job. It is your job to make the decision.”

To watch Mayor Dolan deliver his remarks, click here: http://www.mmtv3.org/index.php?categoryid=28. His remarks span from 3:30 minutes-26:00 minutes.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Kindergarten Placement Follow-Up Information

This year, the Melrose Public Schools received an unprecedented number of Kindergarten registrations, 312 students to-date, well over the 276 students enrolled in the 2014-2015 class. (More info on that here: http://profiles.doe.mass.edu/profiles/student.aspx?orgcode=01780000&orgtypecode=5&.) In the past, 95% or more students received their first school choice, but this year that was not the case and administrators are working very hard to address this happy challenge. On Wednesday, May 5th, Supt. Taymore crafted and sent a letter to families whose children have been placed on the wait list for admission to Kindergarten in a school other than their first-choice school. This information may also provide insight to families who received their first choice school. Her highlights are as follows:

-       Melrose does not draw school district boundaries nor designate neutral zones and has not done so in ten+ years (since the closing of Ripley and Beebe) in an effort to balance class sizes.
-       There is no mathematical formula for ranking or weighting placement criteria. The top priority is English Language and Special Education programming.
-       After the special programs, siblings have a priority but it’s important that families register on time.
-       92.2% of parents registered on-time; siblings made up 38.2% of the population; and 6.5% of students needed special placements.
-       There are 25 students in each general education classroom except Roosevelt, which has 23. Each integrated classroom is at its cap of 18 students.
-       Of the 38 families who didn’t receive their first choice, all but one received their second choice, and families on the wait list for their first choice school will be placed there before any new registrants.
-       The wait list is by school, and families will be contacted as openings occur.
-       Wait list placements will be begin to be revisited in mid-May.
-       For families that incur a hardship based on their school assignment, an appeals process is available.
-       There are usually additional registrants prior to September and a 15th K class will be opened (at Lincoln) as needed.
-       A team of administrators (not a computer program or one person) makes the placements and they evaluate every student’s needs and every family’s choice to the very best of their ability.
-     Due to laws around student confidentiality details of placements are not public, so administrators can't respond to information a family may hear from a friend or neighbor to address a specific placement. Comparing year-over-year first choice placement percentages is difficult since there is a different set of circumstances every year, e.g. some schools are requested more often in some years (so a fewer number might receive first choice there). In order to give most students their 1st or 2nd choice, sometimes more families will receive 2nd choice so that all receive some choice. Committee policies are always followed.

The full letter can be found here: http://tinyurl.com/mvsy2rv and it is posted with the relevant School Committee policy as well as a copy of district procedures. Should you have questions regarding any of this information, please contact Supt. Taymore’s office at ctaymore@melroseschools.com or 781.662.2000.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

School Committee Meeting of 5/5

 Last night, the Committee’s task was to deliberate and vote on the FY16 budget and fees.

We approved the fees (without change to those charged in FY15) as noted here: 
- MHS Athletics: from 4/7 discussion 
 - Elementary Music Fees: from 4/7 discussion
 - MHS Transcript and Photography Class Fees: from 3/31 discussion

Supt. Taymore spoke to her balanced budget recommendation (see her memo at the bottom of this document: http://tinyurl.com/owz49vo). To our current staff, it adds two kindergarten teachers (at Lincoln and Roosevelt), a 4th grade teacher (at Winthrop), a 5th grade teacher (at Lincoln), and an Academic Interventionist at the Horace Mann School (where Title I funds that had paid for this academic support position were not granted for the coming year by the federal government). In order to add these positions, we were in a negative financial position of $329K and made cuts to a variety of line items. Supt. Taymore indicated that she favors budgeting conservatively, but has had to employ so much rainy-day type funding that she knows she has very little wiggle room if there is unexpected expense and this is cause for concern.

We voted salary and non-salary items as two distinct parts of the balanced budget for FY16 for a total amount of $28,125,696. (It can be found here: http://tinyurl.com/nubbqw9). We also voted to draft and send a summary memo to the Board of Aldermen that recommends this budget. In her memo, Supt. Taymore indicated: “At this point in the school year, the balanced budget appears to enable us to preserve the current teaching level we have and add prioritized classroom and direct service positions for next year.”

Supt. Taymore then spoke the growth budget, that includes the items she could not fund in the balanced budget, including 12.5 educators (across all levels and at Administration); and increases in technology (software and licenses), special education, curriculum materials, and professional development totaling $1.065M. The Committee voted that “Should money become available, it is recommended for use as noted in the growth budget, as those items represent the priorities considered necessary for the growth and improvement of teaching and learning in the Melrose Public Schools.”

We finished our meeting with an Executive Session to approve prior Executive Session minutes and hear about on-going negotiations. When we came out of Executive Session, it was reported that we had approved a three-year contract with our special education transportation drivers.

Next meeting is Tuesday, May 12th in the Aldermanic Chamber at 7:00. We plan to discuss summer school, summer enrichment, and summer expectations; the FY14 Audit Report; the 2016 school calendar; election of next year’s student representatives; the ECC and Kindergarten placement report; Committee goals for the coming year; and liaison reports.