Thank you, Arlington

The voters of Arlington elected three school committee members today. I am pleased to have won re-election, and grateful to the voters of Arlington for their support.

Congratulations to Jennifer Susse, who will join us on the committee, and to Bill Hayner who was also re-elected. I am thrilled with the outcome and look forward to working with my colleagues.

School Committee – April 5, 2104: elect 3
Jennifer Susse 3646
Michael Buckley 2268
Paul Schlichtman (i) 3102
Bill Hayner (i) 3131
Write-In 17
Blanks 6154

The results are even more significant when you consider that my campaign raised and spent no money in this election cycle. We didn’t flood mailboxes with postcards, and we didn’t fill lawns with lawn signs. I thought, in this cycle, spending money on children was more important than spending on campaign materials. The voters proved me right.

I am still looking for contributions for the children of my school in Lowell. Please consider sending a contribution to support the children of the Rogers Early Learning Center. Your check, payable to the Lowell K-8 Activity Fund, will make a difference for the Rogers ELC students. Send your check to:
Paul Schlichtman, Principal
Rogers Early Learning Center
43 Highland Street
Lowell, MA 01852

LWV – Vision 2020 candidates night

The League of Women Voters – Vision 2020 candidate debate is available on ACMi Video on Demand! Please take the time to watch it!

Here’s the text of my statements and answers at candidates night:

Opening statement (approximately 0:59):

Thank you, Margaret. Thanks to the League of Women Voters and Vision 2020 for hosting us, and thank you to ACMi TV for bringing this to the living rooms of everybody in Arlington and beyond on cable. I have 31 years in education, as both a teacher, a central office administrator, and a principal. I’ve been involved in Arlington town government since 1993 when I joined Town Meeting, and I’ve been involved ever since. I was appointed to the Minuteman School Committee in 1997, and elected to the Arlington School Committee in 2001 and 2004. I thought I was done in 2007, until Joe Curro became a selectman and I was asked to come onto the committee and fill his vacancy. And now I’m here looking to be re-elected to a three year term. One of the reasons for that, I serve with really remarkable people, and it’s an honor to serve with my six colleagues. And that’s really the prime reason why i want to be re-elected to the school committee, because it’s an honor to serve and solve problems with these folks.
We keep getting better. We’re into continuous improvement Our schools get better every year.
One thing I want you to know is that you’re not going to get a postcard from me this year. I did a calculation last year when I ran for the one year term, and the cost of a postcard to the good voters in Arlington is about the same cost as a field trip for my students in Lowell. I’d rather spend the money on a field trip. And we took our kids from the Rogers Early Learning Center in Lowell to the New England Aquarium last week. Kids went to Boston for the first time. They went to the Imax theater, and it was their first trip to a theater. This was amazing. This is important work we do as educators. That’s who I am. I’m an educator who is involved in public policy and interested in working with you for another three years. Thank you.
Contributions to support the children of the Rogers Early Learning Center would be gratefully accepted. Your check, payable to the Lowell K-8 Activity Fund, will make a difference for the Rogers ELC students. Send your check to:
Paul Schlichtman, Principal
Rogers Early Learning Center
43 Highland Street
Lowell, MA 01852
Question 1 (approximately 1:04): “How would you prioritize the future rebuilding or renovation of Arlington High School and the Minuteman Regional High School?”
Let’s be frank.  Right now, our Minuteman assessment has gone up 61 percent over the past three years, that’s because our share of the school has gone up. We’re now about 38%. The cost to rebuild Minuteman is proportional to our member enrollment. We cannot afford to pay for 40% of Minuteman. We need structural change in the regional agreement at Minuteman in order to be able to afford the reconstruction of that school along with the high school in Arlington, which desperately needs to be rebuilt. So, our priority needs to be pushing forward on Arlington High School and negotiating a new regional agreement with Minuteman that puts our vote at a reasonable share based on our enrollment and our cost. The Minuteman School Committee recently voted to change the regional agreement proposal to us to weaken Arlington’s vote, and if the other towns want us to have a smaller share of the vote, the way to do that: increase their enrollment in the school.
Question 2 (approximately 1:07) What are your top three improvements or goals, small or large, for the Arlington school system?
That’s an easy one. The first, second, and probably third really needs to be in terms of the process of renovating and rebuilding Arlington High School. That said, the other things we really need to do is, we really need to manage our resources well, watch for the increases of enrollment, be proactive in terms of accommodating the increases we are seeing. We’re now over 5000 students. Our enrollment’s increased more than 10% over the past few years, so we have to watch that enrollment increase. And maintaing and improving our quality by maintaining our commitment to continuous improvement within the school system.
Question 3 (approximately 1:13) Would you support a policy that unequivocally funds and sustains the ACE programs at all levels in our schools?
I’m a former gifted coordinator in a past life, so I have a little perspective in this from reality.  In the last decade, in my prior school committee service, we found that 50% of the students at the Ottoson were in the ACE program. And that might be good on one level, but on another level you look at that as that could be a problem with rigor in the schools. I will tell you that we have a limited budget, we have to prioritize, so there’s no such thing as an unequivocal support for one program. We have to look at our priorities. We have to look at our needs. We have to look for the most efficient and best way to advance the needs of our students. We have to look for solutions to our problems, and not accept solutions in search of a problem. So, how do we best educate our kids? We will do it as effectively as we can with technology, with best practices, I’m not going to time myself to any one program.
Question 4 (approximately 1:16): Are you in favor of maintaining the METCO program?
Yes. When I worked in Boston I met many METCO grads and they are all remarkable people. I think its an important program but there’s a real underlying problem in the way the state deals with it. We’re spending 13, 14, 15 thousand dollars on students leaving Boston to charter schools, while we’re getting only a couple of thousand for the METCO students. School choice is at $5000. There’s no equity between the myriad ways to move inter-district within the state. The problems with METCO are a state problem. It needs to be solved, along with the issues of charter school funding and school choice, and other equity issues in terms of inter-district choice.
Question 5 (approximately 1:19): How will you help support our school libraries especially with regard to incorporating new technology?
I think one of the critical issues here is we’ve have had to make some very difficult choices. Back in 2004, when Governor Romney proposed the budget that was enacted that cut our local aid by 20%, that’s when we laid off our elementary librarians. We have not recovered from that damage. There are some trends in education where, in elementary schools, we want to put books in classrooms so all the money out of Arlington’s public budget is going to classroom libraries and not putting books in the libraries, and we’ve been relying on volunteer funds to fund the library. Yes, we need more technology. Yes, it needs to be in our capital plan. Yes, as we move the nature of education, flipping classrooms based on technology, we need the technology to be available in the classroom. And we need to find innovative ways to both fund this and to use this to educate our kids.
Closing statement (approximately 1:23):
Thank you, and it’s a pleasure to go after Mr. Hayner this time and agree with him. One of the reasons why we can agree is, on a regular basis, we come to the public and we talk about the issues of the town. We don’t always agree in the school committee room, but we debate and discuss with respect. I think you can be proud of this school committee. I feel proud to be with these folks on a regular basis. We work hard. We do it well. We try our best to come with reasonable solutions and to advance public education in the Town of Arlington. I would appreciate the opportunity to continue to serve. I want to thank the League of Women Voters, Vision 2020, ACMi TV, and the voters and you who have come out to watch this debate and to become educated about the election. The election is on Saturday, April 5th. I ask for your vote. Thank you very much.

Minuteman Budget Blues

As a former member of the Minuteman Regional School Committee, I know that our relationship with Minuteman is a complicated mix of partnership and competition. We are partners in educating Arlington students, yet we also compete for students. We need Minuteman to provide the specialized and expensive vocational programs that individual towns cannot provide on their own.

In the past three years, our Minuteman assessment has increased from 2.35 million dollars to 3.79 million dollars, a 61 percent increase in just three years. This is unsustainable. The reason for this dramatic increase is our percentage of the member town enrollment increased from 26.7 percent to 38.3 percent, and our assessment is based on the percentage of member town students that come from Arlington.

Minuteman is looking to build a new school, and the local costs are based on the percentage of students from each member town. Our share is rapidly approaching 40%, but we cannot afford to pay 40% of the cost of building a new vocational school. That’s why so we need to take some steps to restore the balance between Arlington and the other member communities.

First, we need to support a new Minuteman regional agreement, which will weigh votes based on the town’s enrollment. Currently, the Town of Dover has one student in the school, one vote on the school committee, and their one vote for a $38,000 assessment is equal to our one vote for a $3.79 million assessment. The new regional agreement will fix this inequity, but we can’t afford to move forward with a new school unless large non-member communities step forward, join the district, and pay their fair share of the costs of a new facility.

Second, we need to retain students in Arlington who are interested in science, technology, and engineering, by expanding our course offerings at Arlington High School. Other towns in the district retain a much higher percentage of their science – technology – engineering students. Right now, we don’t have the ability to effectively compete for these students, because of our lack of technology and adequate science labs, and this needs to change.

The governor’s FY15 budget is disappointing

Before you read on, please think about the amount you need to increase your school budget to maintain level services. Assume a steady enrollment, no new expenditures, just enough to do next year exactly what you are doing this year.

Chances are the number is somewhat north of 1.32%

Sadly, this is the inflation rate built into the FY15 foundation budget under the governor’s proposal released this morning. The foundation budget, the amount defined under education reform as the minimum funding required to provide an adequate education, is a key factor in determining Chapter 70 aid.
After the state calculates the foundation budget, it calculates the amount a municipality can afford to spend based on a community’s wealth, which becomes the minimum local contribution. The state is obliged to contribute the difference between the minimum local contribution and the foundation budget, which is defined as Chapter 70 aid.
This is an oversimplified description, as there are some other calculations that govern the minimum local contribution, but it describes the system accurately enough to engage in a conversation about statewide trends.
Compared to FY 2014, the FY 2015 budget is based on:
  •  A 0.34% increase in statewide enrollment, from 937,604 to 940,831.
  • A 1.67% increase in the statewide foundation budget, from $9.704 billion to $9.866 billion.
  • A 1.32% increase in the statewide per pupil foundation budget, from $10,350 to $10,486
  • A 1.20% increase in the statewide minimum local contribution, from $5.748 billion to $5.818 billion.
  • A 0.86% increase in the statewide per pupil minimum local contribution, from $6,131 to $6,183..
  • A 2.30% increase in the statewide Chapter 70 aid, from $4.301 billion to $4.400 billion.
  • A 1.95% increase in the statewide per pupil Chapter 70 aid, from $4,587 to $4.677.
We have been raising fees, raising local property taxes, and cutting services since the inception of education reform because the foundation budget has not risen proportionate to the increased costs of providing an adequate public education. This year’s paltry proposed 1.32% increase in the per pupil foundation is just another year that Massachusetts public school students will lose ground.
What’s the incentive for the state to under-inflate the foundation budget? Let’s assume the local contribution does not increase (because it is capped), which means that a larger increase in the foundation budget would need to be funded through Chapter 70 aid. A conservative 2.5% increase in the per pupil foundation budget, along with no increase in the minimum local contribution, would require a 4.62% increase in the Chapter 70 line item. Instead of a $90 increase in per pupil Chapter 70 aid, it would require a $212 increase in per-pupil aid, and it would cost the state an additional $52.3 million over the governor’s proposal.
We haven’t even talked about special education, or the increased need for technology that wasn’t anticipated when the foundation budget was devised in 1993. But there are other line items that fund special education and needy students. How are these line items funded in the governor’s budget?
  • Regional School Transportation: $51,521,000 (level funded)
  • Non-Resident Pupil Transportation: $3,000,000 funding zeroed out in FY15.
  • Homeless Student Transportation: $7,350,000 (level funded)
  • Charter School Reimbursement: $75,000,000 (level funded)
  • Circuit Breaker: FY 2014: $252,489,224. FY 2015: $252,513,276. This is a $24,052 (0.01%) increase.
  • METCO: $18,642,582 (level funded)
Don’t think the municipal side of the budget will have any spare change for the schools. Unrestricted General Government aid for FY 2015: $920,230,293 is level funded.
All is not bleak in the education budget.
  • Innovation Schools get a 360% increase, from $1,000,000 to $4,604,123.
  • The combined spending for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Executive Office of Education increases by 2.87% from $15,226,375 to $15,663,792.
  • Extended Learning Time Grants get a 28% increase, from $14,168,030 to $18,168,067
Look on the bright side. After all the cuts precipitated by the paltry Chapter 70 increase and all the other level funded line items, you can get extra money to provide an increased quantity of diminished product.
Time to call our members of the Great and General Court.

Troubling repercussions from the Boston decision on teacher evaluations

The new teacher evaluation system, adopted in Massachusetts, is an important tool in our efforts to improve the quality of teaching and learning in our public schools. We have long needed to replace the cursory system of checking a few boxes labeled “satisfactory,” replacing it with a thoughtful series of rubrics based on essential components of high-quality instruction.

As an evaluator, I have worked very hard to build trust and understanding on the part of my staff. I have encouraged them to set ambitious goals for themselves and their students. I have set high expectations, including the understanding that not everyone is proficient in all aspects of the art of teaching.

Unfortunately, all of this hard work is in jeopardy, as the Supervisor of Records in the Secretary of State’s office has ruled that the Boston Public Schools must release teacher ratings aggregated by school. The Boston Globe requested the data, and intends to publish it as a measure of the quality of a school.

This ruling is laced with unintended and harmful consequences. As the principal of a small school, I know that one or two ratings of less than proficient would certainly lead to speculation as to which teacher received the low rating. It would be impossible to give a single teacher an unsatisfactory rating without that lone rating pointing to the teacher who received that evaluation, a disclosure that would undermine the confidentiality of individual evaluations, a confidentiality that is protected under the public records law.

Publishing aggregate scores will lead to the possibility that evaluators will be influenced by the publication of scores. Will evaluators inflate the results in order to give the appearance of a better school? Would there be an incentive to rate educators more harshly in order to give the appearance of holding staff to higher standards? Evaluators need to be insulated from external pressures that would potentially undermine the validity of the evaluation.

It is particularly troubling that Boston, with a plethora of small schools, isn’t challenging the Secretary of State’s decision through the courts. By releasing the school-by-school ratings, Boston would be setting a precedent that makes it more difficult for other districts to resist.

Releasing aggregate ratings at the school level was never a goal of the teacher evaluation system. It is not an effective metric for the quality of a school, a measure that is effectively reported through the state’s school accountability system.  It will not benefit any public purpose, but would interfere with an evaluator’s efforts to promote continuous improvement among educators.

As an educator, and not an attorney, I don’t know what we need to do to overturn this ill-conceived ruling by the Secretary of State. I don’t know if the Boston Teachers’ Union has the standing or ability to request judicial review of this decision. However, as the finding is based on an interpretation of the public records law, one solution is legislative. I intend to contact my state representative and state senator in the morning, asking for legislative action that would block the release of school-level aggregate evaluation scores, and would allow us to implement the new evaluation system in a rigorous and trusting context.

Did you know?

The Arlington Public Schools enrolls 4,903 students (October 1, 2012). Our students are 77% white, 10.7% Asian, 5.1% Hispanic, 3.2% African-American, 3.8% multiracial. 11.5% of our students have a first language that is not English, and 5.0% are classified as Limited English Proficient.
100% of Arlington high school graduates complete the MassCore curriculum.
98.2% of Arlington’s core academic classes are taught by highly qualified teachers.
• Arlington’s per pupil spending of $12,942 (2011) is $419 less than the state average of $13,361
• Arlington’s education spending as a percentage of total municipal expenditures (2011) is 43.8%, significantly below the state average of 48.1%.
• Arlington is a high achieving, high growth district. Arlington’s Median Student Growth Percentile is 54.0 (English Language Arts), 57.0 (Mathematics), significantly above the state median of 50.
Arlington is a diverse, fiscally prudent, high-achieving district.

Sandy Hook

Sandy Hook Elementary School did all the right things to secure their building. Locks, buzzer, lock-down drills. There was no police officer, but that would have also been a minor obstacle for a mass murderer with multiple military weapons.

The NRA solution of more guns in schools is no solution at all, and would only succeed in making things worse. Gunmen who want to create massive carnage before they exit the world in a hail of bullets will not be deterred by additional guns in and around their target when the gunmen plans for his death as part of the rampage.

It is painfully obvious that we cannot solve this problem at the local level. The solution to this constant stream of semi-automatic gunmen is to separate the unstable civilian gunmen from military weapons. Can we do this while we preserve our second amendment rights?

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

For those who view the constitution most conservatively, looking at original intent, it’s clear the founding fathers were talking about the citizenry’s right to muskets. Specifically, they were informed by the British regulars marching through Menotomy and Lexington on a mission to remove muskets and powder secured for the Concord militia. A central power that could disarm the local militia was a threat to a free State, and a well regulated Militia was a clear balance to the potential of a powerful federal government.

I doubt the founding fathers wanted the village idiot wandering around the common with a musket or two, and the amendment was certainly not written for the purpose of guaranteeing gun rights to the village idiot or any one individual.

We already place significant limits on civilian ownership of weapons. The second amendment doesn’t guarantee civilian ownership of nuclear weapons. You can’t park a fully-operational tank on your front lawn. You can’t ride around with rockets and mortars in the back of your pickup truck.

There’s a line. We just need to find a place where that line should be drawn to preserve reasonable rights and public safety.

Automatic and semi-automatic weapons are military weapons. They have no legitimate civilian use, and we should prohibit civilian use of these weapons. Similarly, high-capacity ammunition is necessary for our military, but its only civilian purpose is mass murder.

The words “well regulated” should also bring us to the point where we can regulate the licensure of gun owners and register guns. Again, under the village idiot in the town common interpretation, licensure and registration should be required for firearms. Because the amendment declares it “necessary to the security of a free State,” let the states register weapons and license users, much as we allow the states to register cars and license drivers.

It is also clear that mental health services are woefully inadequate. If we are to live in a safe society, we need view treatment of mental health issues as a critical public health issue. We need adequate resources so folks get the treatment they need, to protect themselves and their neighbors.

Again, this is nothing we can solve on a local level. This requires significant courage and resolve from our federal legislators, in the face of a powerful lobbying industry that wants to flood our nation with even more military weapons.

A solution delayed is a solution deferred. Our national leaders need to take action now.