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.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Joint Melrose / Wakefield School Committee Meeting with Legislators

This past Wednesday, April 5th, the Melrose and Wakefield School Committees partnered to hear Senator Jason Lewis and Representatives Paul Brodeur and Donald Wong speak to education related legislative topics that impact both communities.

Big picture since Ed Reform was passed in 1993:

·               There is growing understanding and buy-in that we may need another “grand bargain.”
·               The achievement gap is just as large as 1993 so we haven’t achieved the goal of educational equity.
·               There remains a divisive debate around charter schools.
·               The Foundation Budget Review Commission Report has spurred a growing appetite in the House and Senate for education funding reform. It would likely be a multi-year effort.

The FY18 Governor’s Budget and education funding:

·               There remains a large structural deficit ($800M-$1B) and we’re not bringing in enough revenue to cover it.
·               We’ve been in recovery for many years, but inherent problems like legislatively mandated reductions in income tax, sensitivity of sales tax revenue (with more purchases being made online), and the fact that products vs. services like Airbnb are taxed, overshadow opportunities to improve the spending outlook.
·               The legislature may be willing to provide more than the $20 year-over-year per student addition that the Governor’s budget contains.
·               The budget must be balanced vs. the federal government, which can borrow.
·               Wakefield has received better Ch. 70 funding this year but they started from a worse position. Melrose is the opposite.
·               Impacting the charter school reimbursement line will take “brute force advocacy.”
·               It’s important to be mindful of other budget lines that impact schools (e.g. early intervention).
·               Mass. School Building Authority (MSBA) funding is flat while construction costs rapidly escalate.
·               The unemployment rate is very low and there is a skills gap. Vocational skills are needed to fill some of the jobs that remain unfilled and vocational schools play an important role in that.
·               Students need more access to AP classes, both the opportunity to take them and the opportunity to excel in them. (MA leads the nation in AP test scores of 3 and above.)
·               Is there a potential for cost sharing (construction, athletic fields, etc.) between the Northeast Voc and Wakefield High School?
·               It may take another lawsuit (like Hancock in 1993) to fundamentally increase education funding again, although the “Millionaire’s Tax” slated for the FY18 ballot would help that funding if passed.

Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA):

·               DESE has just submitted their plan although there was criticism from the Mass. Teachers’ Association (MTA).
·               It encompasses elements of education outside of core academics (like the arts; social emotional learning; and school culture and climate).
·               Senator Pat Jehlen is Vice Chair of the Education Committee and Chair of the Special Senate Subcommittee on Innovative and Alternate Education. She is a “fierce opponent” of accountability measures and may support the doors that ESSA opens up in that area.
·               There are concerns that DESE will try to measure social emotional learning in schools, which is a concern because it would actually be a measure of students’ mental health and students are in schools for only six hours per day (i.e. schools would be held responsible).
·               One positive element is that ESSA values access to coursework and there would be an emphasis on Grade 9.
·               State accountability measures are suspended next year.

Another Issue:

·               The new calculation for disadvantaged students has negatively impacted grants (e.g. Melrose is losing $90K in Title I money next year). Vocational schools are also significantly impacted (meaning a potentially greater burden on sending districts). Last year, the temporary fix was to freeze reimbursement levels.

The legislators asked for help from both Committees to understand the prospective impacts of the federal government’s lower funding.

Next steps:

·               At the next meeting of both the Wakefield and Melrose School Committees, members are expected to reflect on the session and bring forward themes from the session.
·               From those themes, Chairmen of both Committees will draft an advocacy letter reflecting recommendations that will be presented at the meetings immediately following (for discussion and potential approval).
·               The letter will be sent jointly to legislators immediately following.