MA needs emergency legislation for a safe, sane reopening.

In a pair of decrees Governor Charles D. Baker will allow teachers to sign up for vaccine on the troubled state website starting on March 11. Meanwhile, at his urging, his appointees to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted to direct school districts to begin a full reopening on April 5.

Taking an opposite approach, President Joseph Biden wants every educator, school staff member, and child-care worker to receive at least one shot by the end of the month of March as a precursor to opening schools.

The president’s intent of accelerating the vaccination of educators, in anticipation of reopening school, is in direct conflict with the governor’s push to open school without regard to educators’ ability to obtain a vaccination. The result in Arlington is an anxious staff, hitting refresh on multiple websites, hoping to get at least one shot before the governor forces us to fully reopen our schools. We are now scrambling to cover classes and hire substitutes so teachers can travel across the state if they pounce on the first available appointment.

If the Massachusetts legislature acts quickly, they can take emergency action to extract us from the chaos on the horizon. It requires fast action, and a veto-proof majority, but emergency legislation with two simple provisions will put us on the path to a safer, saner reopening. Here are the two provisions:

* Prohibit the Board of Elementary Education, and the Commissioner, from requiring schools to re-open before April 26, 2021. While April 26 is three weeks later on the calendar, it’s only 10 school days after the April 5 opening date advanced by the Governor.

* Direct the state to provide vaccines for teachers directly to municipal health departments, pharmacies, or other health care providers who can provide on-site vaccinations. This will allow educators to focus on educating children, without the anxiety of missing teaching time while chasing after a shot

This can happen, but only with fast action by the legislature. If you think this two-step legislation for a safer, saner reopening makes sense, share the idea with your friends and contact your legislators!

The 63 “counties” of Massachusetts

Middlesex County, Massachusetts is huge. According to Wikipedia, it has a population of more than 1.6 million people, with 818 square miles of land area. As a governmental entity, Middlesex has been neutered, electing only a small core of officers (district attorney, sheriff, registrars of deeds and probate) to perform functions that are vestigial offices of county government.

Yet, our county retains its geographic identity alongside 3,143 counties and county-equivalents across the United States. Steve Kornacki, a native of Middlesex County, is fond of ignoring it while devoting fond attention to counties with 1% of the population of the county of his youth. The vast size of Middlesex has rendered it useless as a descriptor of much of anything. Extending from Ashby to Holliston, to North Reading, to Cambridge, there’s a whole lot of a whole lot of things happening that defies a meaningful summary.

Those little counties adored by Steve Kornacki are all centered around a county courthouse, and have become units of analysis on all kids of measures. Middlesex has a population greater than 12 states, including four New England states (ME, NH, VT, RI), and like a state it has a dozen district courthouses and corresponding judicial districts; seven of these districts have a population greater than the average US county (104,435).

Eastern Equine Encephalitis in Middlesex County? That’s not very specific. Eastern Equine Encephalitis in the Third Judicial District of Eastern Middlesex County? For the 172,000 residents of the district that includes Arlington, Belmont, and Cambridge, that’s a defining and meaningful geographic region.

Middlesex County
The 12 “counties” of Middlesex.

If you combine the Boston municipal courts into one unit, there are 63 judicial districts in the Commonwealth. the population of the average Massachusetts judicial district (103,930) is slightly smaller than the national average. These 63 districts, if we declared them to be the equivalent of counties, would make our data comparable to the rest of the nation.

This is really a simple fix, a quick and easy way to create more meaningful statistical entities that aligns to national definitions of existing for “administrative or statistical purposes.” Clearly, the judicial districts serve an administrative purpose, and would provide a more specific and granular unit for statistical purposes, so why not just designate them as counties?

If we call the judicial districts counties, what do we do with the existing counties? We find a new name for them, possibly regions. Where county commissions currently exist, they can become regional commissions. Sheriffs, district attorneys, registrars of probate and deeds could serve regions.

Changing counties to regions and judicial districts to counties is a semantic game. Though it would require more complex legal language to enact it, it requires nothing more than clerical accuracy by the folks combing through the law to identify instances in the text and make adjustments to the language therein. There may be some requirements to describe regions, formerly known as counties, when pointing toward the few constitutional provisions related to counties. Again, this is not a functional change, but it does revolve around items such as the drawing of legislative districts to correspond (as much as possible) within county borders.

That said, the real fun in this proposal would be to name the new counties. Counties could be named for famous folks or prominent geographic features attached to the county, with a preference for names not used for an existing county or municipality. For example, O’Neill county could be named for Tip O’Neill, and the county containing the city of Barnstable (and Hyannis Port) could be Kennedy County.

Here’s a map of the 63 “counties” and their population (2010 census). I think you will agree using these existing districts, served by their very own courthouse, make much more sense for statistical analysis and making decisions based on criteria (such as rates of COVID-19 infection per 100,000 residents).

Playing vaccine roulette

Friday morning, I scored a coveted COVID-19 vaccine appointment at Gillette Stadium using the Massachusetts vaccine website.

Friends have asked how I did it. Here’s my strategy. Your mileage may vary, but it worked for me.

First, you need to view the vaccine sign-up as a poorly designed online ticket website that is not as easy to conquer. If you want tickets for Hamilton or a popular concert, you know that rapidly repeated hits on the refresh button is the key to scoring tickets. Each hit on the refresh button is a low-probability try to land your ticket, but if you make it past the first screen, you have a few minutes to break out your credit card and finalize the transaction.

In the case of the vaccine, making it past the first screen is a digital contest to enter the race through multiple screens before you win an appointment. (Think of it as qualifying for the Boston Marathon.) The probability of success is defined by how fast you can make it through the registration screens compared to other competitors for that appointment.

Before you start, here are the basics. Understand that you can’t sit around and be picky about the date and time. Claim your spot, and once you know the details, be ready to do what you need to do to rearrange your life around the shot. If you make it a couple of pages into the registration process, you will be asked for your health insurance company and policy number. Be ready for this step. Open a text file and type in your policy number before you start your search, so you can cut and paste it into the field when you reach it.

Your adventure begins when you access the start page of the state website, https://www.maimmunizations.org/clinic/search.

You will encounter the Find a Vaccination Clinic screen. Your goal come up with a narrow, relevant set of clinics and dates, as the strategy is to quickly focus on one page of results. (If you are clicking on multiple pages from the same search, your search becomes stale and chances are you are losing vaccine opportunities with the ensuing delay.)
Find a Clinic

My strategy was to Search by Name of Location. I selected Gillette. It’s a mass vaccination site with lots of appointments. Gillette offers Moderna. Fenway offers Pfizer. Gillette has a large parking lot. Fenway parking is more of an adventure.

You can also query with your zip code and distance from home, or search by vaccine brand name.  Use multiple browsers with different search parameters, check out the results, and lean on the most promising one. Wander back to backup browser just to see if

If you run a search that has multiple providers, become familiar with their restrictions.  For example, you might see Tree House Deerfield listed among the options, but in the Additional Information section of the listing you will see they serve eligible populations in Franklin County. If you live elsewhere, look elsewhere. Some of the Additional Information listings are very dense, but they generally repeat themselves in subsequent listings for that site.

Tree House

 

 

 

 

Most or all of these will list their Available Appointments as 0. However, if the vaccine gods are smiling on you, the number will be greater than zero and a little blue button will appear beneath the listing. If you are lucky, hit that button and start to contest to claim your prize.

However, chances are you will need to conduct multiple searches. Get your thumb on your trackpad and get ready for some exercise. It’s time to get down to business, and this is where the speed factor comes in.

The trick is to get into a rapid rhythm; scroll down the page as fast as you can. Don’t slow down to read anything on the page, just fly to the bottom and don’t stop unless you catch a glimpse of a blue button. If you see the blue button beneath the listing, it’s an invitation to attempt to register for the vaccination. Stop scrolling and click on it as fast as you can. If you don’t see a blue button before you reach the bottom of the screen, quickly scroll back to the top, hit the Search button, and repeat the process.

If you click on the blue registration button, the race to the appointment has begun. You are racing against anyone else who has clicked on their blue button for the same appointment. Once you click that blue button, the first set of screens requests your demographic data. As you move through the screens, they will become your friends, because chances are you will need to fill them in multiple times. Hopefully, your browser will autofill most of the fields after the first time through the routine.

Remember, this is a race, and if there is only one appointment, and someone else fills in their screens and gets to the end of the trail faster than you, they will claim the appointment and you will get the consolation screen.

Go back to the beginning

 

 

 

 

 

Do not be discouraged. Every time you fill in data in the registration screens, you gain practice and you can move faster through the screens. It will become second nature as you gain practice. Just keep trying. You never know when someone will cancel their shot and free up an appointment, or when additional appointments are released into the system. It has been reported that a week’s supply of appointments are added Thursday mornings, so plan your playtime accordingly.

The bottom line is the more you play, the greater your probability of winning a cherished appointment. Each click on the Search button could be the winning click. Don’t be discouraged. Search, scroll down, scroll up, rinse, repeat.

Good luck.

Why I’m Sticking with Ed Markey

For friends and neighbors in Arlington, Ed Markey is a familiar face. When he was our congressman, he would find joy in marching in our Patriots’ Day parade. As a school committee member, I enjoyed the opportunity to stroll down the avenue with him. The walk was filled with good humor and stories of his work in Washington.

I saw the more serious side of Ed Markey when I went to Washington, lobbying with a group of Massachusetts school committee members. Ed always had the best legislative aides, all deeply immersed in public policy. Ed, himself, is the type of legislator who grabs hold of critical, under the radar issues, and masters the details in order to move public policy.

Because he is a workhorse, Ed is not as well-known as other statewide figures. This places our senator vulnerable to a challenge from an unremarkable congressman with a well-known and highly respected family name.

The Kennedy name could have fueled a progressive challenge to Governor Charlie Baker in 2018. The Kennedy name could have overcome the governor’s popularity veneer, and Governor Joseph P. Kennedy III could have moved a more progressive agenda through our mostly inert state legislature. Sadly, Joe Kennedy chose to bypass the challenge of replacing a Republican governor, but was compelled to challenge a progressive leader in the United States Senate. Why?

In a year we urgently need to focus on removing Donald Trump and his Republican enablers in the United States Senate, Joe Kennedy’s primary challenge is consuming millions of dollars and countless volunteer hours for a primary that won’t flip a seat or change control of the senate. We still don’t have the answer to the critical question at the center of Kennedy’s campaign. Why?

Since Democrats took control of the House of Representatives, we have seen talented legislators using their platforms to move public opinion and public policy. We have seen newcomers Katie Porter, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Ayanna Pressley emerge as bold, effective legislators and advocates. Joe Kennedy? Not so much.

Joe Kennedy hasn’t earned a promotion, and there’s no compelling case for him to replace Ed Markey. Ed Markey is the visionary, hard-working senator we need and deserve, especially if we gain a Democratic majority in the United States Senate. His passion for public policy, and attention to detail, will be tremendous assets as we restore our democracy and repair the damage inflicted by the Trump administration.

Please join me in re-electing Senator Ed Markey in the Democratic primary. Vote by mail or in person. Your primary ballot is due in the clerk’s office Tuesday, September 1.

Please vote for Martha Coakley, Tuesday, September 9

paul_martha
Paul with Martha Coakley

The September 9 Democratic primary offers the choice of three outstanding candidates for governor. I genuinely like all three candidates. I am impressed by the work of Martha Coakley and Steve Grossman as constitutional officers, and Don Berwick’s passion for progressive politics tugs on my heartstrings. However, as much as I like all three candidates, I find it obvious that Martha Coakley needs to be our nominee and needs to be elected governor in November.

Those who know me also know of my passion for K-12 education and local governance. The governor has extraordinary influence over cities and towns, particularly with the appointment powers for a powerful state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. Much of the governor’s work is in the weeds of regulations and funding formulas, but this work makes a big deal of difference in our ability to deliver quality services at the local level.

Martha Coakley will be a thoughtful and effective partner for local governments and school districts.

In my conversations with Martha Coakley, I find that she speaks with clarity and specificity on issues of concern, particularly those raised by educators and municipal officials. The reason is obvious. I first met Martha Coakley before she was elected Middlesex D.A., when she lived on Rawson Road. I remember when she visited Town Meeting as she prepared to run for District Attorney, engaging in thoughtful conversations about the office with everyone she met. Ever since she won her first election, she impressed me with her willingness to listen to folks at the local level, to ask questions, to engage in partnerships. She has earned a reputation as an outstanding leader and manager.

Martha Coakley has never been the kind of top down official who would use the power of her office to force thoughtless and arbitrary mandates onto cities and towns. In sharp contrast, Charlie Baker has a longstanding record of disdain for K-12 school districts, and a track record of supporting widespread privatization of local services. His work as a founder of the Pioneer Institute, and his record as a member of the Board of Elementary & Secondary Education, give us significant warning that Charlie Baker would bring us right back to the Pioneer playbook that did so much damage to Arlington during the Romney years.

Charlie Baker is a huge risk to progressive, pragmatic, and sound local governance. I want to elect the candidate who is best able to counter Charlie Baker’s privatization agenda. I know that Martha Coakley is best able to present and support sound, pragmatic arguments that will resonate with Massachusetts voters. Martha Coakley best expresses my values, and is our best hope for taking our commonwealth in a pragmatically progressive direction that supports excellence at the local level.

Please join with me in supporting Martha Coakley for governor in the Democratic primary, Tuesday, September 9.

How to get away with murder

viola-davis-image
Viola Davis

Note: Since this was posted, The Boston Globe is reporting that the parent company of Hannaford is bidding for Market Basket. Are they trying to buy themselves into the boycott?

If corporations are people, perhaps Professor Annalise Keating has been consulting with some miscreant in the assault on Market Basket. The good professor, played by Viola Davis, is the lead character in the new TV series, How to Get Away with Murder.

We are watching the crime right before our eyes. The stores are on life support. No produce. No customers, except for the few who venture in to get a box of corn flakes or a can of tuna.

I am sure that Professor Keating could talk about motive and opportunity, which all seem to point to Arthur S. and his family’s 51% share of the corporate votes. Plenty of opportunity, and the intra-family animosity would seem to provide significant motive for a crime of this nature.

The evidence also suggests that Arthur S. and his side of the family wants to sell the chain, and they don’t want Artie T. to be the successful buyer.

Market Basket may have been an attractive takeover target a couple of weeks ago, but that’s not the case when customers are entrenched in a boycott unless Artie T. prevails in the current dispute. Not very attractive if Piggly Wiggly wants to expand into New England, because your entire local operation would be a collection of stores that nobody will want to visit.

The customer abandonment of Market Basket brings joy to the owners of Hannaford’s, Stop & Shop, and Shaws. They are probably praying for this dispute to linger into eternity. Might even be worth a billion or two to buy the chain and kill it off. A couple of weeks ago, this may have been a good strategy for one of the competitors, but every day customers are becoming more stubborn supporters of Artie T and the Market Basket workers.  A complicated buyout might have flown under the radar, but if an active competitor buys Market Basket, that competitor would also become a target of the boycott. Thus, we have this interesting triangle in which:

  • Hannaford would be thrilled to see Stop & Shop or Shaws publicly buying Market Basket, with the boycott expanding to their stores.
  • Stop & Shop would be thrilled to see Hannaford or Shaws publicly buying Market Basket, with the boycott expanding to their stores.
  • Shaws would be thrilled to see Stop & Shop or Hannaford publicly buying Market Basket, with the boycott expanding to their stores.

If a mysterious buyer appears and wins Market Basket, one would need to wonder who is behind a Blissful Supermarket Trust, why they would want to buy Market Basket, and why a majority of the board would rather put it in the hands of this outside party instead of a group headed by Arthur T.

Clearly, with the customer boycott in full force and former Radio Shack CEO Jim Gooch at the helm, Market Basket’s death under new ownership could be quicker than an Oklahoma execution. Why would an outside bidder come in to kill Market Basket, and why would the Board of Directors push the chain into a rapid and painful death? We will probably need Professor Annalise Keating to supervise the autopsy and unravel all the details of the crime. Let’s hope it doesn’t come down to that.

If corporations are people, this is homicide

 market-basket  coen_bros

Disney-Mickey
Everyone loves a happy ending.

Someone is going to make a movie about the current Market Basket drama. We’ll
have a good idea who makes the movie when this episode plays out. If Arthur T. (Artie T.) Demoulas and the workers prevail, it’s a happy Disney movie. If Arthur S. Demoulas, Felicia Thornton, and Jim Gooch maintain control of the company and continue on the current course, the Coen Brothers should make the film.

coen_brosI am more than puzzled by the actions of the DeMoulas Super Markets (DSM) board, sacking the CEO who turned a supermarket chain into a highly profitable and beloved local institution. By all accounts, the directors represent the majority shareholders of this family owned business, shareholders who could sit back and watch tens of millions of dollars roll into their bank accounts every year because shoppers and employees were extremely loyal to their stores.

I know that being a school board member is a very different kind of experience, but I can’t imagine any board placing their organization into a deliberate death spiral. Yes, school committees are accountable to voters, and the Market Basket board is only accountable to the pocketbooks of the majority shareholders, but it still makes no sense.

220px-Matewan_poster
Matewan

The DSM board has the power to replace Artie T. and the power to take control of their buildings. Of course, this would require a management effort reminiscent of Matewan. Is James Earl Jones a Market Basket store manager?

The problem is that contracted truckers and security guards can force the lettuce into the store, but it can’t force the customers to come in and buy the produce. It certainly won’t trump the goodwill built over the years by the employees and policies put in place by Artie T.

The DSM board will meet again on Friday. They can find common ground, reinstate Artie T., and start to put the pieces back together again. Or they can stand firm, and not let a plethora of workers and customers tell them what to do. If they don’t find a way to bring back Artie T. and the fired employees, I don’t know how they escape the death spiral. The magic will be gone. The fanatically loyal customers will disburse into the land of Hannaford and Stop and Shop. Some large corporation will buy out the business, rebrand the stores, and Market Basket will be nothing more than a fond memory. The folks on the DSM board will walk away with a few less millions in their pocket, but they will walk away with the smug satisfaction that they ran Artie T. and his loyal employees out of the store. Multi-million dollar vengeaartience. I guess they can afford it, but it comes at a very high price.

I hope Artie T. gets his job back and we get the Disney movie of the underdog baggers and cashiers prevailing over the evil corporate directors. Even more important, I hope I can spend a week following Artie T. around as he runs these stores. I want to know how he does it.

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.