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.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

School Committee/Supt. FY18 Budget Q & A on March 21st

Prior to our regularly scheduled business meeting on March 21st, Finance and Facilities Chairman Liz DeSelm facilitated an FY18 Budget Q & A with Supt. Taymore. My notes here; official minutes online once the Committee approves them.

Supt. Taymore's presentation:
·      Revised budget process started 3-4 years ago.
·      The budget is not an automatic rollover every year.
·      The Strategic Overview helps make a plan for the coming year; it builds upon itself; it’s an action plan. With input from stakeholders/data/teachers they keep building that.
·      The Committee has worked to make adaptations to non-staffing pieces.
·      Last year, the override loss resulted in a level-service budget but even in that attempt we lost 3 administrators.
·      This year the SC wanted to try something different based on self-reflection and assessment. One of the greatest shifts is the need to build capacity in other areas: SEL, inclusive practices (not just special ed but all kids and technology); shift their emphasis to 50-50 academic-social emotional, meaning we can take .5 step back on academics and 1.5 steps forward on SEL.
o   Added 4th priority after the original three were set: enrollment. We’ve gone from the typical 13 classes to 15 classes last year, and this year fully anticipate 15. Current K enrollment for next year=299. Current ECC enrollment for next year is 304. MHS is 995 this year. MVMMS has an enrollment “trough.” Doing renovations and modules to compensate at the elementary level.
o   9 new positions proposed this year, knowing they can’t all be funded.
o   Working to reallocate, reuse, think about programs (e.g. MVMMS students whose challenges were interfering with their ability to learn. Added 4th school psychologist and created the ACCESS program. This year, the program was added to the Lincoln School.)
o   Hard to understand what’s behind the numbers (PD, supervision & evaluation, etc.)
o   Slimmed down the document since it wasn’t necessarily as user-friendly to all. Always a work in progress. With more data, you see the trends. Now you don’t see the whole picture over time. Other difficulty, how grant programs are applied (Title I or Title III).
o   Conversations about how those monies are used take place twice/month at SC business meetings when principals and other administrators come and speak to programming, etc.
·      Three priorities
o   1. Why conversations about SEL now? As a country/district, swung too far toward accountability. Now better understand the effects of trauma; students can’t attend or learn if they aren’t ready to learn; it’s an uphill battle. Is it the role of the school? “Our job is to serve who’s in front of us.”
o   2. Inclusive practice: it’s our job to help students succeed. It’s like curb cuts originally designed for people with disabilities. Who’s using them? Kids on bikes, skateboards, etc. Education is now the same; it’s a way of thinking about education. A year ago, the state put out excellent guidelines and Melrose incorporated them into what we do, making sure that every teacher is seeking ways for kids to learn.
o   3. Instructional technology: never a substitute for good instruction. Key is still the teacher-student relationship, especially at the elementary level. If students are struggling and have the skill and expertise, find out why they aren’t learning. As much as we use technology, the teacher is still critical. Spend a lot of time on PD for skills to support kids. Other districts often surprised at the amount of progress we’ve made, but we invested the time to do it.
·      This budget: the dilemma is to close the delta to provide the best instruction possible. There will be losses as we struggle to close the gap.

·      What is the district philosophy that drives our goals? Meet the needs of every student with the goal of producing a contributing member of society. One goal of SC is to rewrite the mission. Supt. doesn’t think the philosophy varies much among districts. Supt’s goal is to educate all without labels, to their ability. Education is one of the most highly regulated industries in this country. Within what we have, we can’t cut special education (must “maintain your effort”), Title I grants (must supplement vs. supplant), etc. There are restrictions in the state about what we have to do. Every child: PE, history, high school graduation courses. People surprised that schools can’t have studies/study halls anymore. We try to be as creative as we can be. Blended learning / advance by portfolio / combining high school classes for efficiencies / same schedule for MVMMS + MHS because can share resources. Other efficiencies: all PE teachers must be dual-certified in wellness and also encourages dual in science/math and English/history. Can we use some MS teachers to do one more block at MHS as population is low. Reorganized due to needs at Lincoln – created student support coordinator. Can’t really see these in numbers. May be disagreement with modules vs. 5-8, but redistribute to Winthrop and Hoover (efficiency).
·      Where can we see grant revenue associated with grant expenses? See it in MUNIS reports. Seeing negatives doesn’t necessarily mean we owe money, it’s a function of MUNIS. MAAV grant – on surface it’s on dating violence but additionally, let’s them talk about other things (paying for things like the Coffee House). Our grants are audited every year.
·      Synergies and cost efficiencies: speak to with respect to partnerships with other districts, etc. 1. Middlesex League: 3 years ago agreed they’d work together as a group. Were just awarded $40K as a group by Lahey to write/execute/analyze YRBS; 2. Another: state finally adopted state science standards. Now, 16 communities in consortium working to create curriculum and think about trainings; 3. In our city, joint purchasing with the city. Combined depts. with IT, DPW, attorney; 4. Meeting with Wakefield soon (with legislators). Thinking about on-line courses with them, etc. (Hard because we’re a city and they’re a town.)
·        District priorities of SEL/inclusive practices but narrative focuses on K-5. How will they be applied at MVMMS/MHS? Getting better at naming it and coming up with systems for it. Work started with best instructional practices, and many were inclusive practices. Best instructional practices: small group work, collaboration, etc. Good social emotional learning includes self-regulation, collaboration, responsibility, etc. NOT psychoanalyzing but teaching them to be successful in larger world. Every student has the opportunity to have his/her needs met. Doing the same practices at MVMMS and MHS. The District C Accommodation Plan. Every kid is connected to an adult, and there are many other things implemented. In ed, talk about Tier I, Tier II, and Tier III. Up the training in those areas and we’re beginning to see it play out across K-12.
·      Accountability of teachers? Every teacher, administrator, and the supt. evaluated 24/7. Evaluation rubric is in place. It’s a way of life. The formal system: 2 year cycle. Unannounced visits (biggest difference); no more dog and pony shows. 3 hours of walk-throughs today – doesn’t evaluate teachers but evaluates administrators (e.g. what did you see?). Teachers w>3 yrs experience: End of 1 year: formative / 2nd year: summative. Teachers’ goals are tied to district. New: multiple announced and unannounced visits + mentoring program. Staff has said most valuable for feedback. (Staff says feedback is the most important thing: how can I help you grow as a teacher? Conversations best.) Concerns around SEL and inclusive practices. Has been criticized because she runs about 20% of teachers at Needs Improvement, but new young teachers are developing. Our job is to help them get the supports/feedback they need to get better.
·      WRT increasing enrollment – how is budget impacted? At elementaries, 2 more classroom teachers and also need specials (like art, music, PE, etc.). Teachers need collaborative time (to talk about students and their progress + meet with principal). Strands of 15 classrooms increases by one for every incoming year. Need materials as the bubble rises. At HS, partially depends on student choices. A little bit of movement among teachers every year (some by choice and some not). Teachers are asked for their intent and sometimes that can be accommodated.
·      ECC: 8 % raise: why? 1. 4.4 FTE increase in staffing as opposed to .6; 2. Staff at ECC scheduled differently (some FTE are .9 and other variances); 3. 1 extra position for a special education placement. (FTE’s can be fractions of teachers because ECC doesn’t have full time programs; those teachers generally don’t want to work FT.)
·      To what extent is budget funded by schools vs. city? Schools fund special education for children ages 3-22. It is both cost-effective and cost-avoidant and those students learn with typically developing learners. They come to elementary with much better skills.
·      Itinerants? Staff that travels. Two categories: art, music, PE assigned to 2 schools. Second group in that list are SPED support services (OT, PT, speech) captured in SPED services because they’ll change during the year based on students. They are sometimes not assigned to buildings until June or July. Made sense for budget purposes to have on one page.
·      Teaching & Learning: 4 content directors, etc.? They flow in between MVMMS and MHS. Last year, cut 3 content directors.
·      Expand on instructional materials: increase fro $20K to $140K? One piece: more students. Buy “consumable” books in K-2 so need to be replaced. Pearson books purchased and spread over multiple years. $80K that was a pre-pay (in change log from last year) and may come off if we can pre-pay this year which would bring the line close to what we had last year. Froze the budget last December/January (stopped discretionary spending). In next month, look to see what funds are remaining and will buy against next year – sacrificing during the year in order to plan ahead.
·      Talk about freezing of salaries. Only person being frozen is Cyndy.
·      Why SC line increase? More members are participating in PD plus increase in MASC dues. Victorian Fair booth also comes out of this line.
·      Current document: cut to ELL staff? 150 students now. Recently found not at fault for ELL services so have some flexibility in that line item. Our services are fine.
·      In document: no discussion of sub pay. Proposed to be raised $20K this coming year. No easy answer. Not convinced that we’d get more subs if we paid even $100/day. Constant struggle. Tried advertising / explored working with agency (but that costs). Choices to be made. At HS: 2 permanent subs who can take up to 2 classes each. Teachers required to leave work for students. Piloting same sub program at MVMMS to see if it works. Distinguish: day-to-day subs vs. Long Term Subs. (LTS gets different pay: Bachelor 1 lane in salary schedule and they must be licensed). Why LT absences?: young staff having children, older staff with elderly family members.
·      With 2 new K’s will there be additional paras? Para grant is gone and nothing will bring it back. (This is not unusual; state grants designed to get you started assuming that city/town will absorb the cost later.) Larger Q: what do paras do and how do we use them? This is difficult budget that will reach into personnel.
·      Best practice for PD? PD increased b/c we now do in-house  - learning walk-throughs, mentoring, etc. Pull teachers during the day and review data (who’s doing well? Who’s not? Why?) Teachers learning from teachers is the most effective form of PD. Today’s PD was based on behavioral health challenges to about 40 district  “pioneers.” State changed licensure regulations around SEI/RETELL and students with disabilities. For other PD, the PD Committee  (teachers, SC member, admins) survey teachers: what do they need?). Teacher-requested PD also affects what PD is delivered.
·      MUNIS reports only visible when reported out but public information is in meeting packets under consent agendas. Spirit of question: private grants are not reported in budget; they are small but help teachers and are reported on MEF”s website. They are in quarterly donations report. PTO grants are in donations report. Major grants (Title grants, SPED, Safe and Supportive Schools). 94-142 pays tuitions. Title I only ESL. Title II only PD. Not a lot of leeway on grants. Federal grant review in the fall. Outside auditing in the spring.
·      ECC: is there a way to differentiate teachers at ECC? Schedules change from year to year. ECC registration (3 options): 3 year old, multi-age, pre-K so parents choose. In response to final numbers, Donna Rosso decides on staffing needs. (Efficiency in performance: 3 day people also work 2 day program.)

Wrap up and thank you by Ms. DeSelm.