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.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Legislators, Hoover Students, Demographic Study, Tech Plan, Enrollments, and Start Times….

Last Tuesday’s School Committee meeting began with a round table discussion with State Representative Paul Brodeur and State Senator Jason Lewis. We touched on the following in our 45-minute session:

·               Foundation Budget Review Commission has published its final report (which is on the 11/24 Committee agenda). The report is designed to begin a discussion with the governor, although there are no guarantees that the recommendations will be implemented. The special education piece focused on out-of-district expenses and Supt. Taymore noted that those placements for Melrose are declining since we are working to keep more students in-district.
·               9C cuts (mid-year budget cuts sometimes implemented by the governor if revenues are lower than expected) are not being discussed at this time.
·               Charter schools (keeping the cap vs. lifting the cap) – if the legislature were to act, the Senate would take it up first, but that is unlikely and it will likely go to voters as a ballot initiative in 2016. The mayor noted that charter assessments are the only part of the budget that have no checks and balances (since elected reps don’t vote on it).  The money disproportionately goes to districts not at their levy limit; he contended that cities/towns should pay for themselves before asking others for money, and there should be rewards for quality fiscal management. He also asked whether there was discussion around unionizing charter teachers so they could participate in the pension system; there is not. There was also discussion about charging districts quarterly for charter student payments instead of a one-time payment; that would allow the district to save by not paying for an entire year if a student were to return to the district mid-year.
·               Kindergarten grant – the governor will likely put $0 in his budget but it is likely that the legislature will put some money back in. Supt. Taymore commented that our kindergartens are NAEYC certified which requires paraprofessionals in the classrooms but other cities’ K’s aren’t, so the cuts hit us particularly hard.
·               The Supt. is concerned about student data privacy, which will be discussed in the legislature.
·               The public records bill was reported favorably from Committee, which has been sensitive to costs by municipalities. The House will take up the bill next week.

In our regular meeting, the Hoover School was our School Committee Spotlight guest, and three students spoke to the benefits of their Positive Behavioral Intervention Supports (PBIS) system 7 Habits and how it has helped students and the school culture.

Supt. Taymore reported that evacuation drills have gone very well, Melrose Rotary is sponsoring a city-wide 5th grade spelling bee in the spring, the Human Rights Commission will sponsor an essay-writing contest to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and a contract has been signed for the Learning Commons project (the renovated library and technology space at MHS) with construction beginning after Thanksgiving.

The city’s demographic study was presented, showing that average home prices in 2014 were $475.5K and demand far exceeds supply. The number of students in the schools is predicted to grow by about 40 students/year between now and 2026 (from 3726 students to 4171), and will be concentrated in K-8. There are currently 450 students who attend private/parochial schools from K-12, with 17 students home-schooled, 280 students in charter schools, 40 students in out-of-district special education placements, and 23 students choiced-in/tuitioned-in/non-residents. 30% of Melrose households contain individuals under age 18. The percentage of non-white and Hispanic residents between 2000 and 2010 doubled from 6% to 12%.

We are in the process of reviewing all financial policies of the schools, and those recommended for change will be brought forward for a first vote on 11/24.

In the Technology Plan update, Supt. Taymore noted that there is much “back-end” work needed to get all technology up and running effectively (infrastructure, etc.). This work is expected to be complete by 2/1/16. The schools do not have a Director of Instructional Technology, which may handicap our ability to implement the education goals of the technology as well as possible.

Enrollments and class sizes were reported. 2016 race/ethnicity enrollments: 82% white, 6% African American, 4% Asian/Pacific Islander, 0% Native American, 4% Multi-Race, and 4% Hispanic. Other student statistics: 18 homeless, 23 school choice, 1 tuitioned-in special education, 40 out-of-district special education, and 1 foreign exchange student(s). Over 18% of students are considered low income (an increase of 32 students from last year), 33 students are from immigrant families, and 6 students are from military families. 116 students are considered Limited English Proficient (LEP) – the same as last year but greatly increased from the year before. Two elementary schools have over 400 students with only one principal. Some high school classes have over 30 students, but there are many more approaching that number (in the 26-29 student range). The Committee could set a maximum student limit, but that would have financial consequences. Some high school classes have ten or fewer students, but failing to run them could have negative consequences for students. At the elementary level, a 5th grade will need to be added at Winthrop. At Lincoln and Roosevelt, we may need to take the music rooms for classrooms. Discussion was held around re-opening the Beebe and employing modular classrooms. Supt. Taymore said that another way to explore this concept is to look at educational configurations; for example, Billerica is building a high school for grades 8-12, with a grade 5-7 middle school. Supt. Taymore recommended that we consider revitalizing the School Building Committee in order to consider how to address increases in school population. Demographics must be considered in concert with educational intentions (like Competency-Based Learning if we go in that direction). Athletics participation ran between 297-383 students per season in 2015 (31-40% of the student body).

It is a given that later start times favor student health and wellness but the Committee is cognizant of the challenge posed by shifting the time. We voted to recommend that the Start Time Task Force focus next step exploration on the 35 minute time shift, and particularly consider impacts to athletics, METCO, contractual obligations, etc.

The Committee continues to consider what data we need to make decisions and in what format. Ms. Thorp presented a tentative rolling agenda for calendar 2016 for planning and presentation purposes.

Much more detail can be found in the meeting materials (packet documents) that can be found, as always, on the melroseschools.com web site, under School Committee, under Meetings: IQM2 Portal.

Next meeting is Tuesday, 11/24 at 7:00 in the Aldermanic Chamber at City Hall.