Saturday, December 30, 2017

The State's FY18 Budget

We're less than halfway through the Fiscal Year (FY18), and, as I was re-reading MassBudget's FY18 budget analysis, I thought it worth noting a few of their key points.

Early Education: Quality early education and care helps prepare our young children for success in K-12 education and allows them to thrive more generally. Early education and care is also a critical work support for parents with young children, by offering safe and reliable care for kids while parents provide for their families. Funding for early education is -22% since 2001.

K-12 Education: Providing an excellent education to all children in Massachusetts supports future generations in the Commonwealth while contributing to our economy over the long term. Chapter 70 education aid is the main program for delivering state support to local districts across Massachusetts, and ensuring that schools have sufficient resources to provide the necessary services to all students.* The current (FY18) budget increased Chapter 70 Aid by $118.9 million (2.6%) to $4.75 billion.^ The FY18 Chapter 70 budget also includes a modest step to implement recommendations made by the Foundation Budget Review Commission (FBRC) in 2015.** The FBRC noted that current underfunding reduces the capacity of schools across the state to provide services to help all children succeed.

Higher Education: Higher education helps the people of our state contribute to their communities and gain the skills to succeed in a knowledge-driven economy. Our public higher education institutions – including the University of Massachusetts (UMass), the state universities, and our community colleges – educate a majority of Massachusetts high school graduates who go on to college. Graduates from public higher education are also more likely to stay in-state after graduation, contributing to our economy over the long term. Higher education funding is -15% since 2001, which has contributed to a doubling of tuition and fees between 2001-2016.

Environment & Recreation: The state budget funds programs that keep our air, water, and land clean, maintain fish and wildlife habitats, and staff and maintain our parks, beaches, pools, and other recreational facilities. The current FY18 budget provides $200.0 million for environment and recreation programs, which is $6.8 million more than in FY 2017. The Governor vetoed $4.8 million from the Legislature’s budget, largely by eliminating funding for specific environment and recreation projects located throughout the state. The Legislature overrode all of these vetoes. Even with this slight increase in funding in FY18, the environment and recreation budget is 35% below FY01 after adjusting for inflation.

Libraries: The state budget supports local libraries; the Boston Public Library, which serves as the primary research and reference service for the Commonwealth; and other library programs in Massachusetts. The current FY18 budget provides $25.5 million for libraries, which is slightly above the FY17 budget. The Governor vetoed $250,000 in funding for libraries, which the Legislature overrode. Even with a slight increase over FY17, funding for public libraries has fallen by 48 percent since FY 2001 after adjusting for inflation.

Unrestricted Local Aid: General local aid helps cities and towns fund vital local services such as police and fire protection, parks, and public works.^^ The current FY18 budget allots $1.06 billion for Unrestricted General Government Local Aid. Also known as UGGA or “general local aid,” the amount is an increase of $39.9 million over FY17 levels. The Commonwealth’s capacity to fund general local aid has been hindered by a series of significant state-level tax cuts during the 1990s and 2000s combined with the Great Recession. While over the past several years, general local aid funding has increased in step with or slightly above inflation, it still remains 40.5 percent below FY 2001 levels, when adjusted for inflation.

Tax Revenue: The budget adopted several “tax modernization” changes that would deliver a mix of both one-time and ongoing revenue. The Legislature did not adopt a number of proposals for additional revenues: higher taxes on flavored cigars, tighter eligibility and salary caps for Film Tax Credits, and extending the room occupancy tax to short-term rentals such as those made through Airbnb. Nor did the Legislature include an earlier proposal for a Tax Expenditure Review Commission to systematically review and make recommendations about many of the tax breaks provided by the Commonwealth. The budget expands the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) by making it easier for married victims of domestic abuse to claim the credit without filing a joint return with their spouses. Along with this change, the budget limits the size of state EITC benefits for part-time residents and eliminates access to the credit for nonresidents. The Legislature also agreed to create a new business tax credit for employers that hire qualified, Massachusetts-based veterans.
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* For further background on the state’s education funding system, see MassBudget's Demystifying the Chapter 70 Formula
This increase is close to the 2.5% ($113.0 million total) increase from FY16 to FY17. 
** Wherein the Commission found that according to the state’s estimate of what it takes to educate children (called the “foundation budget”), school districts are significantly under-resourced.
^^ For more information on general local aid, please see MassBudget's Demystifying General Local Aid in Massachusetts

Wednesday, December 20, 2017


As a longtime activist and Lexington resident, I announce my candidacy for state representative for the 15th Middlesex District.*
We’ve been boldly represented by Jay Kaufman for more than a generation and I heartily thank him for his service. Jay has been an effective leader who has tirelessly stood up for our values. His impact will be felt for many years to come.
The causes Jay supported -- and the issues we face in our district and beyond -- still need a courageous leader who isn't afraid to speak up and make change. I will champion:
  • Fair and adequate education funding for each child
  • Responsible energy policy that protects and sustains our environment and natural resources
  • Improved healthcare for all
  • Social justice and equal opportunity for economically disadvantaged, incarcerated, and vulnerable populations regardless of race, gender, religious identity, place of origin, or sexual orientation
I’ve been called upon to play a leadership role in key areas. Beginning in 2007, I worked on the Revenue Working Group with Progressive Democrats of Massachusetts. After holding office in local, state, and national PTA associations, and on the Lexington School Committee, Governor Deval Patrick appointed me as the parent representative on the state Board of Education. The Raise Up Massachusetts coalition asked me to serve as one of the lead signers of its Fair Share Amendment initiative, which establishes a new “millionaires’ tax” to provide needed funding for education and transportation.
Serving as a state representative will allow me to further extend my leadership on issues of critical importance to our families and our future. I am energized and ready to accept this challenge. With the help of voters in the 15th Middlesex, I can succeed.

For information and updates about the campaign, please visit/like the new facebook page.

* Lexington and Wards 1&7 in Woburn

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Public Hearing: Phoenix Academy Public Charter High School, Lawrence

At least one member of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) attends one public hearing on a pending application for a charter school and reports back to the full BESE. The idea behind the hearings is to provide members of the public an opportunity to voice their opinions on proposed charter schools and to present information for the Department and BESE to consider in deliberations. This year, there were two public hearings -- in Lynn and in Lawrence. (Read this Press Release for more on the process.)

The Phoenix Academy Lawrence (PAL) is an in-district school that the Phoenix Charter Academy Network (PCAN) is contracted to operate. PCAN is proposing to close PAL and open a new, regional  Commonwealth Charter School to be called "Phoenix Academy Public Charter High School, Lawrence" (PAPCHSL). If approved, it would also draw from Haverhill and Methuen Public School systems.

The hearing I attended and presided over was held in the Main Branch of the Lawrence Public Library. It was a lousy weather drive and getting there took much longer than I had accounted for and, so it happened, I arrived with literally one minute to spare. We were in the library's auditorium and there was a full, friendly crowd. And lots of students. At least as many students came out to support this proposal as came out last year to support the MAP Academy Charter School in Plymouth. All of the oral testimony was in support, by the way. No one speaking indicated they were  from Haverhill or Methuen:

  • 14 Students, Alums
  • 9 Teachers, Staff, or Administrators
  • 5 Parents/Guardians
  • 3 Community Members
  • 2 Phoenix Board Members
  • Receiver, Lawrence Public Schools
  • ED, CPSA

Beth Anderson, Chief Executive Officer, Phoenix Charter Academy Network: good work happening in Lawrence and we want to do more, especially with our youth
Student: transferred from a school in NH; Phoenix is a caring community
Jeff Riley, Reciever, Lawrence Public Schools: graduation rate has increased more than 20 points in 6 yrs, but still well below state's average; need options for children; Phoenix has proven to be a great model; need to expand
Lane Glenn, President, Northern Essex Community College: wears many hats in the community; $275K lost with each student dropout; in six years has seen "triple the number of students transitioning from Lawrence High School (LHS) to their local community college"
Student: LHS felt way too big; with Phoenix has a better, more flexible schedule; can complete her work
John Connors, Phoenix Board Chair: students are awesome; students tell their stories; wants to help more students; Phoenix is there to help them; nationally recognized model; wants 11 BESE voting members to support the move to become a Commonwealth Charter School
Student: a 17yo senior; moved from NY; Phoenix has earned her trust; people at the school help a lot; school starts at 9AM is a big help
Teacher: been teaching there since 2013; supporting young moms; expanding means opening up to older moms
Admin: using project-based learning; lots of support and flexibility; majority of students are young men right now; expanding to a regional shool will bring changes; need to get to know Haverhill & Methuen; need to expand ELT program
Alum: now in second year at Brandeis University; had behavior problems at LHS; Phoenix gave her a second chance; gave her support, taught self-advocacy
Alum: "lots of support at Phoenix...looking back, they were the only family I had"
Alum: left LHS because it was too big, no support; dropped out -- has 6 sisters -- "went back to school to graduate to be a role model for them"
Student: "Phoenix has had a positive influence on me"
Parent/Guardian: "don't know if they do magic there or not, but they got it"
Parent/Guardian: "care about my kid's one wants to see their kid fail"; dropped out -- got a GED 25 yrs later; "students need 1:1 attention; they're not perfect, they're kids and each one learns differently"
Staff: is a sister, aunt, cousin, friend; "building relationships is our heart and soul for students"; Phoenix really is a family; home visits and phone calls
Student: went to LHS and did well freshman year; slacked off sophomore year and made "bad 'friends' "; had to go to Phoenix; great relationships with teachers; "Phoenix makes me want to go to school...I've been applying to colleges I've never heard of"
Marianne Paley-Nadel, Owner of Everett Mills: Phoenix is the tenant of her building; building a Lawrence partnership; impact not only on the student, but on family and community, too
Parents/Guardians: 2 children - 1 in college, 1 at Phoenix; were reluctant to send him to Phoenix at first; "he's a smart kid who sometimes steps out of the Phoenix there is love and support"
Student: moved a lot; "schools feel like a business...have always been on the edge, with respect to Phoenix, there's a human connection, as opposed to one that feels more robotic"
Teacher: Phoenix believes students will succeed; "we build trust with our students"; teachers collaborate with each other; "we give them feedback and let them revise their work"
Student: able to be responsive to needs of students; got Ds and Fs at LHS; at Phoenix,  must maintain at least a C average -- lower is not acceptable; "skipped a lot of classes at LHS"; now feels ready for college
Admin: growing up "felt like a statistic because I was failing, a teen mom, and -- on top of all that -- a Latina"; can relate to students at Phoenix
Staff: works in college services at Phoenix; is a Haverhill High School grad; feels that will give him an edge with students when Phoenix expands
Alum: skipped a lot at LHS; had to go to Phoenix; "Phoenix built a foundation for me"; is currently in a bachelor of science nursing program
Student: Phoenix is one big support; "they really care for you...becoming a charter school would be a big step in the right direction"
Student: supports becoming a charter school; "personally, didn't have a lot of problems with school or problems with attendance...Phoenix challenged me and I wanted to do better"
Tim Nicolette, Executive Director, Massachusetts Charter Public School Association: "proud and moved by students and parents"; charter schools are to provide new models; Phoenix is a unique model; "the power of second chances...deep connections in the community build a web of support"
Trisha Perez Kennealy, Phoenix Board Member: shares personal story; parents from Puerto Rico; parents worked hard to give her a good education; knows the value of it and wants all children to have one; believes in the Phoenix model
Teacher: a first year teacher at Phoenix; students here "are the most misunderstood young men and women in the state"
Student: younger, supportive teachers who care; came from CA then KS then MA; in KS he failed courses, had to pay $91 for each class failed; "can you imagine that"; been at Phoenix since September and has a good feeling being there
Parent/Guardian: parent of a student at Phoenix; student was very attracted to LHS; "people said Phoenix was a school for bad kids"; soon came to realize that students had very different needs; Phoenix has heart; students have friends
Gregg Croteau, MSW, Executive Director, UTEC: Phoenix is building a community

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Lexington: Join me in voting YES

I'll be voting YES tomorrow (December 4th) in support of a new Fire Station Headquarters, Hastings Elementary School, and Lexington Children's Place preschool. I hope you will join me.
  • It is well past time to replace the Fire Station Headquarters, built when Harry S. Truman was president (1947). Our modern fire equipment is too heavy for the fire station floor (something akin to the family game, Jenga, provides support under the floor and prevents its collapse). Our first responders need this modern equipment and spaces to train and optimally meet the emergency needs of our community.
  • Dwight D. Eisenhower was president when the Hastings Elementary School was built (1955). Repair is no longer an option. The Town will be reimbursed $16.5 million dollars to replace it, if the debt exclusion vote passes. If we vote no, we jeopardize this reimbursement and also miss the opportunity to expand capacity at the elementary level (by 9 classrooms at this location). It is time to replace.
  • The Lexington Children's Place is a state-mandated program of the Lexington Public Schools that supports preschool children with special needs (ages 2.9 - 5) in an inclusive, least restrictive learning environment. Currently, it's operating near capacity in spaces separated by 600' and two parking lots. If we fail to unify this program and create new capacity, we will soon be forced to send our youngest, most vulnerable students out of district. Some of the placements can cost as much as $100,000 or more per student per year. If passed, this project will also help to alleviate our capacity issue at Harrington Elementary School, by opening up 4 additional classrooms there once the LCP is relocated to its new home.
The Town Manager's and Board of Selectman's goal is to minimize, as much as possible, the residential tax implications of completing these three projects. Their plan is to limit increases to an average increase of 0.5% over what is allowed by Proposition 2 1/2, or an average increase of 3% per year, total; not over and above a more "standard" annual increase of 2.5%. For a median-value home of $831,000, this would translate to a peak increase of $418 for these projects in 2024.

Lexington's paid professionals and volunteer boards and committees continually monitor the Town's capital assets with respect to the condition of our buildings and the evolving needs of the community. Together, these three projects represent the next phase of Lexington's comprehensive capital plan. With our school population growing at a rate of 2.5% per year, capital projects that increase our capacity have become a priority for the communitry. A new Hastings and free-standing LCP meaningfully address this need, yielding 11-13 additional classrooms. Both the Fire Station and Hastings are failing structurally. They need to be replaced.

You may have heard that we can do this work without taking on additional debt, that we can achieve these projects within the limitations of proposition 2 1/2. We cannot. All of the proposals forwarded by the opposition to this debt exclusion have been duly considered and either implemented to the degree that our Town could support, or rejected outright by the elected officials, volunteers, and staff who have been involved with the Town’s master planning efforts for the past decade. Attempting to pay for these projects within the levy will come at the sacrifice of other town services and programs and dramatically reduce the scope of these projects and their potential benefits, if they happen at all. Read this to more fully understand the flaws in the opposing side's arguments. More info is here.

I hope you're convinced of the merits of these projects and will make the commitment to vote to support them tomorrow, Monday, December 4th. We need at least 5,000 votes to see them funded. Please make sure yours is one of them.