Posted by: Just Jamaal | March 25, 2009

Budget Vote Tonight! Location Change!

Please note to any interested parents who want to attend the Budget Vote, the location has changed. I noticed the change on the BPS website and called to confirm the new location:

Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School
270 Columbia Road
Dorchester, MA 02121

The meeting will start at 6pm. I hope to see you all there.

Also, the Superintendent has released a revised budget with recommendations and a list of layoffs and program cuts.  It was released yesterday, March 24th.  I urge you all to visit this Boston Public Schools link and review it yourselves.

Thanks as always…

Posted by: Just Jamaal | March 17, 2009

State Fiscal Stabilization Fund

Hello to all:

You may or may not have heard about the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund (SFSF) which is part of the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act (ARRA). It is the stimulus package to aid economic recovery. The SFSF are the most flexible dollars that are allocated to states. This means the Governor has the flexibility to help our School budgets with these funds. Below, I have copied the information regarding this fund. Please take a moment to make yourself familiar with it, then contact the Governors Office to strongly urge his office to release these funds to the City Districts in dire need of them…ahem (BOSTON!!!).

I have included the contact info for the Governor, Sec of Ed & Commissioner of Ed at the bottom.

State Fiscal Stabilization Fund
March 7, 2009

arraThe State Fiscal Stabilization Fund (SFSF) program is a new one-time appropriation of $53.6 billion under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). Of the amount appropriated, the U. S. Department of Education will award governors approximately $48.6 billion by formula under the SFSF program in exchange for a commitment to advance essential education reforms to benefit students from early learning through post-secondary education, including: college- and career- ready standards and high-quality, valid and reliable assessments for all students; development and use of pre-K through post-secondary and career data systems; increasing teacher effectiveness and ensuring an equitable distribution of qualified teachers; and turning around the lowest-performing schools.

These funds will help stabilize state and local government budgets in order to minimize and avoid reductions in education and other essential public services. The program will help ensure that local educational agencies (LEAs) and publicly funded institutions of higher education (IHEs) have the resources to avert cuts and retain teachers and professors. The program may also help support the modernization, renovation, and repair of school and college facilities. In addition, the law provides governors with significant resources to support education (including school modernization renovation, and repair), public safety, and other government services. The Department will award the remaining $5 billion competitively under the “Race to the Top” and “Investing in What Works and Innovation” programs.

SFSF is a key element of the ARRA and is guided by the principles of ARRA.

Overview of ARRA

Principles: The overall goals of the ARRA are to stimulate the economy in the short term and invest in education and other essential public services to ensure the long-term economic health of our nation. The success of the education part of the ARRA will depend on the shared commitment and responsibility of students, parents, teachers, principals, superintendents, education boards, college presidents, state school chiefs, governors, local officials, and federal officials. Collectively, we must advance ARRA’s short-term economic goals by investing quickly, and we must support ARRA’s long-term economic goals by investing wisely, using these funds to strengthen education, drive reforms, and improve results for students from early learning through college. Four principles guide the distribution and use of ARRA funds:

a. Spend funds quickly to save and create jobs. ARRA funds will be distributed quickly to states, LEA’s and other entities in order to avert layoffs and create jobs. States and LEAs in turn are urged to move rapidly to develop plans for using funds, consistent with the law’s reporting and accountability requirements, and to promptly begin spending funds to help drive the nation’s economic recovery.

b. Improve student achievement through school improvement and reform. ARRA funds should be used to improve student achievement, and help close the achievement gap. In addition, the SFSF requires progress on four reforms previously authorized under the bipartisan Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the America Competes Act of 2007:

1.  Making progress toward rigorous college- and career-ready standards and high-quality assessments that are valid and reliable for all students, including English language learners and students with disabilities;

2. Establishing pre-K-to college and career data systems that track progress and foster continuous improvement;

3. Making improvements in teacher effectiveness and in the equitable distribution of qualified teachers for all students, particularly students who are most in need;

4. Providing intensive support and effective interventions for the lowest-performing schools

c. Ensure transparency, reporting and accountability. To prevent fraud and abuse, support the most effective uses of ARRA funds, and accurately measure and track results, recipients must publicly report on how funds are used. Due to the unprecedented scope and importance of this investment, ARRA funds are subject to additional and more rigorous reporting requirements than normally apply to grant recipients.

d. Invest one-time ARRA funds thoughtfully to minimize the “funding cliff.” ARRA represents a historic infusion of funds that is expected to be temporary. Depending on the program, these funds are available for only two to three years. These funds should be invested in ways that do not result in unsustainable continuing commitments after the funding expires.

Awarding SFSF Grants

* In order to help alleviate the substantial budget shortfalls that states are facing, the Department has developed a streamlined, user-friendly process for expeditiously providing to states SFSF allocations:

o Sixty-one percent of a state’s allocations will be on the basis of their relative population of individuals aged 5 to 24, and 39 percent will be based on relative shares of total population.

o The Department will award SFSF funds to governors in two phases. To receive its initial SFSF allocation, a state must submit to the Department an application that provides (1) assurances that the state is committed to advancing education reform in four specific areas (described below); (2) baseline data that demonstrates the state’s current status in each of the four education reform areas; and (3) a description of how the state intends to use its stabilization allocation.

o As part of its application for initial funding, the state must assure that it will take actions to: (a) increase teacher effectiveness and address inequities in the distribution of highly qualified teachers; (b) establish and use pre-K-through-college and career data systems to track progress and foster continuous improvement; (c) make progress toward rigorous college- and career-ready standards and high-quality assessments; and (d) support targeted, intensive support and effective interventions to turn around schools identified for corrective action and restructuring.

o Within two weeks of receipt of an approvable SFSF application, the Department will provide a state with 67 percent of its SFSF allocation.

o A state will receive the remaining portion of its SFSF allocation after the Department approves the state’s plan detailing its strategies for addressing the education reform objectives described in the assurances. This plan must also describe how the state is implementing the record-keeping and reporting requirements under ARRA and how SFSF and other funding will be used in a fiscally prudent way that substantially improves teaching and learning.

o In the near future, the Department will issue guidance on the specific requirements that a state must meet to receive its phase two allocation. The Department anticipates that the phase-two funds will be awarded beginning July 1, 2009, on a rolling basis.

* If a state demonstrates that the amount of funds it will receive in phase one (67 percent of its total stabilization allocation) is insufficient to prevent the immediate layoff of personnel by LEAs, state educational agencies, or publicly funded institutions of higher education, the Department will award the state up to 90 percent of its SFSF allocation in phase one. In such cases, the remaining portion of the state’s allocation will be provided after the Department approves the state’s plan.

* Of the amount appropriated for the SFSF, the Department will use at least $4.35 billion to make competitive grants under the “Race to the Top” fund. These grants will help states to drive significant improvement in student achievement, including through making progress toward the four assurances noted above.

* The Department will use up to $650 million to make competitive awards under the “Invest in What Works and Innovation” fund. These awards will reward LEA’s or nonprofit organizations that have made significant gains in closing achievement gaps to serve as models for best practices.

Funds to Restore Support for Education

* States must use 81.8 percent of SFSF funds for the support of public elementary, secondary, and higher education, and, as applicable, early childhood education programs and services.

* States must use their allocations to help restore for FY 2009, 2010, and 2011 support for public elementary, secondary, and postsecondary education to the greater of the FY 2008 or FY 2009 level. The funds needed to restore support for elementary and secondary education must be run through the state’s primary elementary and secondary education funding formulae. The funds for higher education must go to IHEs.

* If any SFSF funds remain after the state has restored state support for elementary and secondary education and higher education, the state must award the funds to LEAs on the basis of the relative Title I shares but not subject to Title I program requirements.

Funds to Support Public Safety and Other Government Services

* States must use 18.2 percent of the SFSF funds for education, public safety, and other government services. This may include assistance for early learning, elementary and secondary education, and IHEs. In addition, states may use these funds for modernization, renovation, or repair of public school and public or private college facilities.

LEA and IHE Uses of Funds

* LEAs and IHEs should use funds consistent with the intent and overall goals of ARRA: to create and save jobs and to advance the education reforms set forth in the assurances section so as to produce lasting results for students from early learning to college. LEAs and IHEs are also encouraged to consider uses of funds that create lasting results without creating unsustainable recurring costs.

* Subject to limited restrictions in ARRA as defined in further guidance LEAs may use their share of 81.8% of the SFSF education funds for any activity authorized under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA) (which includes the modernization, renovation, or repair of public school facilities), the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act (Adult Education Act), or the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006 (Perkins Act).

* Any funds that an LEA receives from the 81.8 percent of the SFSF program (whether distributed through the state’s primary funding formulae or on the basis of their relative Title I, Part A shares) may be used for any activity listed in the above paragraph.

* LEAs may use SFSF to pay salaries to avoid having to lay off teachers and other school employees.

* To the extent LEAs use funds for modernization, renovation or repair, they should consider the use of facilities for early childhood education and for the community and should create “green” buildings.

* Subject to limited restrictions in ARRA, IHEs may use program funds for: (1) education and general expenditures, and in such a way as to mitigate the need to raise tuition and fees for in-state students; or (2) the modernization, renovation, or repair of IHE facilities that are primarily used for instruction, research, or student housing. IHEs may not use funds to increase their endowments.

Fiscal Issues

* The Department strongly encourages governors to award or otherwise commit program funds as soon as possible after receipt of their grant awards. However, funds are available for obligation at the state and local levels until Sept. 30, 2011.

* As part of the state’s application, each governor must include an assurance that the state will maintain the same level of support for elementary, secondary, and postsecondary education in FY 2009 through FY 2011 as it did in FY 2006. However, the statute authorizes the Department to waive this maintenance-of-effort requirement under certain conditions.

* With prior approval from the secretary of education, a state or LEA may count program funds used for elementary or secondary education as non-federal funds to maintain fiscal effort under Department of Education programs that have maintenance-of-effort requirements.

Accountability Principles

* The president and secretary are committed to spending ARRA dollars with an unprecedented level of transparency and accountability. Therefore, states and LEAs that receive SFSF should expect to report on how those funds were spent and the results of those expenditures. The administration will post reports on ARRA expenditures on the http://www.Recovery.gov Web site.

* The SFSF authorization also contains specific reporting requirements to help ensure transparency and accountability for program funds. For example, states must report to the Department on, among other things: (1) the use of funds provided under the SFSF program; (2) the estimated number of jobs created or saved with program funds; (3) estimated tax increases that were averted as a result of program funds; and (4) the state’s progress in the areas covered by the application assurances.

* States must maintain records that will permit the Department to monitor, evaluate, and audit the SFSF effectively.

Additional Information

* In the near future, the Department will make available the SFSF grant application and provide detailed program guidance.

* If you have any questions or concerns, please e-mail them to: State.Fiscal.Fund@ed.gov.

**********

I encourage you to contact those who have discretion on how these funds are used…and when.  Call them, call them all and not only request, but demand action on this.  These funds are ours, they belong to the people the government is meant to serve.  We need action now.  The School Committee votes o the school budget in 8 Days, next Wednesday, March 25th.

Governor Deval Patrick’s  Office, (617) 724-4005

Secretary of Education Paul Reville’s Office, (617) 979-8340

Commissioner of Education Mitchell Chester’s Office, (781) 338-3000

Posted by: Just Jamaal | March 11, 2009

Neighborhood Schools

*Note: The following post is a commentary by one parent. The views expressed do not represent the views of all parents or the views of teachers, staff or administration of the BPS.


I’ve recently become even more immersed in the problems of the Boston Public School System.  Yes, the school system has problems.  It seems as if the only time people speak up is when there are problems, right?   Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had the opportunity to witness many successes in the schools, but allow me the opportunity to tell you about my experiences and how I believe it relates to the proposed Re-Zoning of the districts for fiscal and infrastructure improvements.

I live in Dorchester. For those people that live in Dorchester with me, you understand what I mean when I say there is some pride and some despair in that declaration. Dorchester is at the same time full of hope and apathy. Beautiful and ugly. It was in this environment that my daughter learned at home how to read, how to write, how to count & add and subtract; all before she entered K2 at the John Marshall Elementary School. Her mother and I saw in her curious eyes that reflected the inquisitive mind working behind them, that her potential was limitless. Indeed, this is the view of many parents. We knew it was our responsibility to steward her journey toward the best human being she could possibly be.

It felt like a punch to the gut when the reality of her BPS school career hit us.  We found the conditions at the Marshall not exactly conducive to the learning career she’d already begun.  We thought, perhaps this is just where we live.  It is unfortunate, but can we expect a state of the art school in Dorchester?  Besides, much of her education in a school setting is social.  Perhaps we are over reacting to the shock of a change.  To our dismay, things begun to get worse.  Our little one began picking up some really bad habits from school.  The condition of the building was horrid and as we began researching, we found the school itself failed to meet AYP for years.  The school was under performing.  A school is much like another part of your home.  You form bonds with teachers and staff and parents and other children; they become extended family.  Failing to meet AYP is a problem, but not a deal breaker so long as you know your child receives a quality education.  I was involved with the Parent Council, the School Site Council, understood the budget problems and advocated for a stronger Whole School Improvement Plan.  However, the administration of the school, we found to be less than friendly.  There was an adversarial relationship that developed.  Whenever concerns were raised, we didn’t find allies in the school to help us conquer the problems, we found bureaucracy and obstacles placed before us.  We were soon referred to, affectionately enough, as ‘The Enemy’.

answerIt wasn’t long before we had enough.  We’ve since moved onto the Mather, a great school with welcoming, warm friends that are truly dedicated to my child, almost as much as I am.  However, there is a reason I recall my experiences.  There are certain schools throughout the city that are in dire need of help.  In some cases, the administrations in place have been there far too long and have simply failed generation after generation of students due to lack of courage, leadership and ingenuity.  In other cases, there is a disproportionately low amount of resources available that needs to be corrected.  The point is, the schools need help.

As many of you know, the budget crisis we are facing will potentially cripple many schools.  One proposed solution to correct the inefficiencies in the school system is a re-zoning, from 3 zones to 5 smaller ones.  The proposal is geared at reducing transportation wastes with a return to neighborhood schools.  In essence, your choices will be restricted.

For many parents, this is a major concern.  Students currently attending schools outside of their neighborhoods will be reassigned to schools in their neighborhoods.  The best schools will fill up immediately and the overflow will hit schools already in need of help.  For families in neighborhoods with a disproportionate share of under performing schools, they will be forced to deal with a sub-par education or leave the Boston Public Schools for other options.

I understand the BPS has to free up some money and that means trimming fat where it is found.  However, I believe the BPS is missing the forest for the trees here.    One opinion I’ve heard is that this rezoning will force BPS to fix the under performing schools once and for all.  I don’t agree, I believe first you must fix the schools, then you can speak about rezoning.  If the schools are brought to an appropriate level of quality and service FIRST, then everyone across the city can be guarantee a quality education regardless of what zone they may reside in.  Forcing a generation of our future to suffer the consequence and become casualties of a change to save a few dollars does just that, save dollars…not our children.  In the end, that is what this should be about:  Our Children.

For more information, I encourage you to go to the BPS FY2010 Budget Development Page.

I believe we should take another look at our options and reset our priorities here.  Our goals should be to make this world, including our city, a better place for our children and preparing our children to inherit it.


Posted by: Just Jamaal | March 10, 2009

Call to Action!!!

For all parents interested in helping to improve the conditions at our schools, here is a chance to show that we can collectively make a difference. One strand alone is easily broken, but a million strands together can move mountains.

The City Council says there is nothing they can do short of voting down the City Budget when it is presented to them by the Mayor in April. The Mayor says there is nothing he can do to raise revenue on his own and is looking for money from the Governor’s Office. The Governor’s Office will allocate funds from the Federal Stimulus Package to the Commonwealth as State Stabilization Funding for various infrastructure projects. If the Governor’s Office delays getting the necessary funding to the City, teachers will be laid off and it may be too late.

Most politicians are doubtful of the potential collective power of people uniting for a common cause; mostly because it rarely happens now a days, especially in the impoverished parts of town. We need to prove them wrong in this case.

Now is our chance to bombard our State Representatives & the Governor’s Office with calls, emails & letters to let them know the urgency and potential devastating effects delays can have on us. Below are contact numbers, mailing addresses & email addresses to contact our representatives with:

Massachusetts State House
Office of the Governor
Office of the Lt. Governor
Room 360
Boston, MA 02133
Phone: 617.725.4005
888.870.7770 (in state)
Fax: 617.727.9725
TTY: 617.727.3666

Or email: contact.stimulus@massmail.state.ma.us

Another way parents can help is to show up to the Budget Hearings and make yourselves known.  The next Budget Hearing is scheduled for tonight, 03/10/2009 at the English Hioghschool in Jamaica Plain.

The English High School
144 McBride Street
Jamaica Plain, MA 02130

The more parents we have present at these hearings, the more attention is drawn to the situation.  The more attention that is drawn to the situation, the less those in power are able to ignore it.  Don’t let the problems be ignored!

Posted by: Just Jamaal | March 7, 2009

The Mayor Meets with Parents

Mayor Thomas Menino & Superintendent Carol Johnson met today with parents from different Boston Public Schools to discuss the impact of budget cuts on schools throughout the city.  One by one, parents described how teachers, programs and positions were being eliminated in thier schools to meet the budget criteria mandated by BPS & the City.

2 representatives from the Mather School were present at today’s meeting.  Asia Khan, mother of a 3rd grader at the Mather & I, expressed concerns for the potential loss of our Librarian, Computer Teacher, Para Professionals, Lunch Aides & a huge chunk of our supply budget. The message was received loud and clear.

The Mayor expressed frustration with the looming deficit, sighting the City’s inability to generate revenue on it’s own & reiterating his desires to pass legislation that would allow the city to make money through meals taxes and similar programs.  However, with a $131 million City budget deficit looming and deadlines fast approaching, stop gap measures appear to be the most urgent and pressing issue.  One such measure is the requested 1 year Wage Freeze from all city unions.  Although several unions have already signed onto a wage freeze, the Boston Teacher’s Union (BTU) has not yet accepted such a freeze.  In fact, the BTU has hired a municipal finance specialist to analyze the City’s books, requesting greater transparency*.  Although no promises were made, it appeared apparent that an agreement might be reached if guarantees of no layoffs could be made by the Mayor.  However, even this possible solution may be running out of time, since notifications must soon go out informing teachers of terminations for the upcoming year.  By law, if the teachers are not sent official notice, the city will have to pay them next year regardless of whether they actually work or not.  No one knows what effect this is already having throughout the city, as teachers in tune to the rumor mill may already be searching for new jobs.

Another stop gap measure discussed is expected State Stabilization funding.  Although it is known that funding is coming, it is not clear how much or when the funding will arrive.  Without a hard number to expect, the city cannot factor the funding into the budget to fill gaps.  The Mayor urged parents to contact the Governor’s Office to request the funds be released sooner than later.  If the funding were released in July, our teachers will already have been layed off and lost.  Mayor Menino requested the support of parents in this effort and all parents present agreed to not only inquire, but to urge parent councils and parent networks to inquire as well.

Long term solutions to the school crisis included a re-zoning of the BPS to eliminate transportations wastes.  The proposed re-zoning would bring back neighborhood schools and eliminate much of the choice BPS parents currently have to quality education.  As it stands now, if schools in a parents district are under performing, parents can opt to send thier children outside of the district to a better quality school.  This guarantees acess to quality education for all BPS parents.  This option would be eliminated if the schools are re-zoned as proposed.  Others argue a rezoning would force the administration to devote resources to impoving currently under performing schools throughout the city.

BPS is currently examining infastructure improvements such as re-zoning to make BPS more efficient.

The meeting seemed successful and many left feeling inspired and hopeful that working together, we may be able to close the school budget gap, even if only for the upcoming year.  Many of the parents present are also heavily involved in other parent networks.  Several parents representing different schools refered us to BPS Parents as a way of staying up to date on organizing efforts and upcoming events.  Also, a representative from BPON (Boston Parent Organizing Network) was present & we were able to network with most of the participants with a promise to stay in touch & keep each other informed.  All left with a committment to communicate in order to tackle the tough obstacles all parents face with these looming budget cuts.

Most are now focused on contacting the Governor and State Rep’s to stress the quick release of Stabilization funding, as well as turning attention to the upcoming budget hearings; the first of which will occur this Tuesday, March 10th at English High in Jamaica Plain from 6pm to 8pm.  For more information, refer to this page or contact us at MatherParent@yahoo.com.

*Source: Boston Globe

Posted by: Just Jamaal | February 26, 2009

The First & The Finest

The Mather School is the first free public school in North America. The school is home to nearly 600 students from different cultures that foster an environment for growth by learning from each other. The teaching staff is truly dedicated to the task of guiding and teaching our children; preparing them for success by equipping them with the tools needed to engage and embrace a world in need of their wide eyed imaginations and unique abilities to see the solutions that we cannot.

The school was established in 1639, 370 years ago this year. Through vigilance, care and proper attention, the school has thrived through the years. Unfortunately, due in part to the current economic climate, budget cuts threaten to cripple the school. The Mather is facing nearly $600K in budget cuts which will result in the loss of many essential teachers & staff, as well as over 50% of the supply budget.

The parents of the Mather are frustrated and enraged over these proposed cuts. In response, many of the parents have mobilized efforts to fill the gaps. The last parent council meeting held last night at the school saw many new faces join the efforts to not only fill the gap, but to continue the work of improvement at the school. However, $600,000 is not a small void to fill and the new fiscal year is approaching fast.

The parents are in the process of finalizing a rather ambitious action plan to combat the effects these cuts will have on the school.

Please stay tuned for more information as it becomes available. If you are interested in getting involved, you can email the Parent Council at:
matherparent@yahoo.com

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