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.

Friday, May 6, 2016

RISEAct Advocacy: Testimony to House Ways and Means

On April 26th, the Committee voted to send the following letter in support of consideration of the RISEAct.

Dear Members of House Ways and Means:

As you know, on Thursday, April 7th, the Massachusetts Senate discussed S. 2203: an Act Enhancing Reform, Innovation and Success in Education (also known as the RISE Act) which was passed to be engrossed, now read as S. 2220. As the bill now rests with House Ways and Means, the Melrose School Committee urges you to consider its merits, and vote its passage.

While we don’t disagree that parents should have educational options for their children, we believe that charter schools should be held to the same high standards to which traditional public schools are held. We also believe that all public schools should be funded in a manner that rewards student success regardless of the building in which the student learns. The City of Melrose loses well over $2M per year to the Mystic Valley Regional Charter School, leading to our examination and assessment of this bill. Although it’s not perfect, there are many reasons we believe it to be fair and thoughtful legislation. Those reasons include the following:

·               It requires development of an implementation schedule for the Foundation Budget Review Commission recommendations, which are critical to providing resources to students as mandated by state law and regulation.
·               It addresses significant concerns around lack of transparency into charter school practices, including lack of posted meeting minutes, public release of contracts, etc. The public deserves to see how its monies are being discussed and spent.
·               It incorporates local elected officials into a variety of charter governance areas on behalf of their sending district students. In addition, it adds a step in future charter application processes requiring local approval (with an overridden provision by the board), and subsequently requires that charters disallowed locally but approved by the board will be funded at the state level (with corresponding reductions in Ch. 70 funding). These elements of the bill speak to taxation without representation concerns.
·               It applies provisions of the State Ethics Code to Charter Boards of Trustees/immediate family and prohibits nepotism in hiring. This requirement is consistent with standards placed on local municipal employees who are also funded by taxpayer dollars.
·               It supports an opt-out process, which addresses the concern that only parents with the opportunity and resources to know and understand the opt-in process may apply for a seat (i.e. self-selection of one demographic over another in a public school).
·               It requires recording of the reasons for student attrition, broken down by demographic subgroups, allowing for aggregation and comparison and made public on the DESE web site. This component provides transparency around why students leave the schools and why, which allows a window into the potential for unacceptable dismissal (while traditional publics enroll and educate all students).
·               It requires that charter schools provide “an analysis of student and subgroup achievement gaps, including English language learners and students receiving special education.” This requirement allows parents a greater comparison mechanism in order to make an educated school choice for their child(ren).

We appreciate the difficult work you do to improve the education of students in the Commonwealth, and urge to you to take up this bill and approve it.


Margaret Driscoll, Chairman
On behalf of the Melrose School Committee (as approved on 4/26/16)

cc: Cyndy Taymore, Superintendent