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School Committee votes to express sense of urgency about enrollment moves

UPDATED, March 27: Three days after selectmen voted to defer decisions about a debt exclusion to the Long Range Planning Committee, the School Committee moved to express a sense of urgency about issues related to enrollment.

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As some selectmen felt better about waiting until fall for ballot question, the majority of the School Committee turned up the heat and appeared to favor deciding sooner rather than later. The vote was 6-0-1, with Jennifer Susse abstaining.

School leaders made clear that, whatever they decide, they also wanted to get it right.

The next key step in the process is expected at the School Enrollment Task Force meeting Tuesday, March 29, when Cambridge architect HMFH plan to make public an interim report detailing the costs of expanding Ottoson and Thompson as well as the renovation of the former Gibbs School. The meeting is set for 6 p.m. in the School Committee room, sixth floor, Arlington High School.

Expressing that urgency was Cindy Starks, who said that the schoolside must start now to make a list of the factors all need to know related to options for Ottoson and the former Gibbs.

Curriculum subcommittee to work on list

Starks moved to have the curriculum, instruction and assessment subcommittee start the listing process. Among the questions they will seek to answer is whether to have one grade or three grades at the former Gibbs.

The subcommittee aims to meet in next 10 days.

Superintendent Kathleen Bodie said she preferred that leaders come to decision about a debt exclusion before June.

During discussion of the ongoing enrollment issues, Kirsi Allison-Ampe raised a fresh suggestion: Consider placing modular units on the parking area and basketball court next to the Center for the Arts for housing tenants.

Bill Hayner said the idea should probably be passed along to Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine.

Allison-Ampe was among those joining the urgency. "Putting off [the decision] off to fall wastes money, because modular classrooms will be used," she said.

Quote bar, red
"Does the School Committee itself want to express sense of urgency?"
      -- Paul Schlichtman

Discussion momentarily snagged on a difference about the cost of design.

Bodie said a rule of thumb is that such cost is 20 percent of renovation costs -- or, for example, $3 million on a cost of $15 million. Allison-Ampe said the design costs she saw on a listing from John Cole, chair of the town building committee, was $750,000.

Chair Paul Schlichtman reminded members to focus on educational issues, not on construction details.

"Does the School Committee itself want to express sense of urgency?" he asked.

Susse holds off supporting

Jud Pierce said he wanted to see the process move forward in a way that ensures an opening of affected schools in September 2018.

Susse said she could not support the motion, unless all could make sure "we get things right."

Hayner and Allison-Ampe agreed with this but voted to back the motion.

Jeff Thielman said noted risk if there is no ballot vote this spring. "We need to keep our feet on the ground," he added.

Schlichtman said he shares a sense of urgency. A wait-and-see approach makes him nervous, he said. "We're down to two choices." he said, referring to Ottoson or Gibbs options.

2014 suspension claims addressed

In other business, the committee voted unanimously to accept the report of the joint school/Human Right committees about alleged bias in school suspensions.

The matter was raised by Stephen Harrington during public participation at the Oct. 23, 2014, School Committee meeting. He claimed that an African-American student is 11 times more likely than a white student to suffer an out-of-school suspension in the Arlington Public Schools.

He presented federal statistics from 2011, provided by Arlington's the school administration, supporting his case.

That led to five meetings of the joint committee, which pored over the details, Susse said.

In the end, both sides decided the issues bore watching and that the schools had instituted measures that resulted in cuts to the initially reported rates.

The joint statement also said: " ... while there is a higher rate of suspension for students of color than white students, it is similar to the rates seen in comparable communities." See full statement below.

The School Committee also voted unanimously to disband the joint committee, which the rights commission had recommended March 16.

Harrington was asked to comment March 26. He has not responded.

Harrington did speak to a WickedLocal reporter on March 26. He said he was disappointed to see the process and conclusion reached on this issue.

"They didn’t do really anything," he is quoted as says. "I’m disappointed because they had an opportunity to make a difference, and they waited 18 months to exonerate themselves of a serious issue."

Charter school cap supported

The committee also voted, 7-0, to adopt a resolution to support not raising the cap on the number of charter schools in the state. The wording came from the Agawam School Committee, and it is included below.

Summary of Arlington School Committee/Arlington Human Rights Commission Joint Subcommittee

Discussed and approved March 3, 2016

The Joint Subcommittee of the Arlington School Committee and Arlington Human Rights Commission agree that the work to look at whether there is disproportionality in the rates of suspension experienced by students of color in the Arlington Public Schools has been concluded. While the Subcommittee discussed many other issues over the course of our work together, we agreed that the goal of the Subcommittee needed to be our only focus.

After meeting five times our conclusion is that, while there is a higher rate of suspension for students of color than white students, it is similar to the rates seen in comparable communities.

Our examination of the number of students from group homes located in Arlington that were suspended contributed to the higher proportion of suspended students of color. The Arlington Public Schools has in place a program that supports and educates students from group homes in their transition to Arlington High School. Since the implementation of the program, the number of out of school suspensions has decreased. As we know, these students come to us with serious social and emotional needs.

We would like to thank the School Administration for the sharing of data and anecdotal information, and participation in this process. While we believe there is more work to be done to make sure all students’ needs are addressed and to make the Arlington Public Schools a more welcoming environment for all students, much has already occurred and we expect that this work will continue.


WHEREAS, Commonwealth Charter Schools educate different students with disabilities than district schools with at least 85% of Charter School students with disabilities receiving services through full inclusion, as against 65% of district school students with disabilities in full inclusion, and

WHEREAS, Commonwealth Charter Schools educate fewer English Language Learners than district schools, with the increases of such students in Charter Schools eclipsed by the increases statewide in district schools, and

WHEREAS, Commonwealth Charter Schools “lack of comparability between Charter Schools and sending districts presents significant barriers to any attempt to determine whether the higher Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System performance at certain Charter Schools is attributable to demographic differences or whether innovative practices have produced positive outcomes,” per Massachusetts Auditor Bump’s findings of December 2014, and

WHEREAS, Commonwealth charter Schools have serious enrollment problems, with significant losses by both number and percentage of students from initial enrollment through the final academic year of the school, and

WHEREAS, Commonwealth Charter Schools fail to fill empty seats from waitlist, despite the requirement of the Act Relative to the Achievement Gap of 2010, and

WHEREAS, the Department of Elementary & Secondary Education has failed to require or to disseminate adequate documentation of innovative programs, best practices, and models within Commonwealth
Charter Schools for replications in public schools, per Massachusetts Auditor Bump’s findings, and

WHEREAS, the Department of Elementary & Secondary Education has been “inconsistent in its decisions regarding whether to impose conditions for some school charter renewals,” per Massachusetts Auditor
Bump’s findings, and

WHEREAS, the Commonwealth’s reimbursement to districts has failed to be fully funded, seeing funding of 63% in
FY14; 55% in FY15; and 69% in FY16, and

WHEREAS, Governor Baker’s proposed reform of charter reimbursement neither fully funds reimbursement nor equitably treats sending districts.

NOW, therefore, be it resolved that the Agawam School Committee opposes any lift to the cap on Charter Schools in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

March 22, 2016: Long Range Planning faces debt-exclusion decisions

March 9, 2016: Task force hopes interim cost data for school options ready in a month

Nov. 15, 2014: Racism? Bodie says updated numbers show decline in out-of-school suspensions

This news summary was published Saturday, March 26, 2016, and updated March 27, to add reported comment.

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