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Budget Farce Being Perpetrated by Administration

From the this week's Free Press:

"Among the tools available to the School Committee is the option to raise fees. On Tuesday, the committee voted to increase tuition at the Franklin Early Childhood Center by 8 percent, a move projected to bring in roughly $112,000 in additional revenue.
The committee also began discussing increasing fees for music, sports and after-school activities across the district.
'We have to take a hard look at our fees,' Picone said. “We need to reduce that requested amount from the city.”
The budget also includes a 3 percent raise for Taymore from $174,836 to $180,081.
Dolan will be the first to tell Melrosians the city is financially healthy.
Melrose closed the last fiscal year with a record $3.4 million in free cash, $1.7 million in its stabilization fund and more than $400,000 in water and sewer fund reserves.
...'Is the city in strong financial position? Of course we are,' Dolan said.
...Last year, as part of a bid for a $2.25 million property tax override, the mayor called for an annual appropriation of $750,000 to eliminate the practice of using free cash to balance the school budget.
The override failed — and Dolan refuses to dip any further into the city’s reserves.
'I cannot overburden our reserves...'"

What a fraud they are perpetrating. $3.4 million in "free cash" left over from the same budget cycle during which they called for a $2.25 million override, that the overwhelming majority of voters saw right through and refused to fund.

So either there is some sort of giant amount promised to the young parents that no one's talking about (causing RD to run scared) and/or this is about padding the already overflowing Enterprise Funds for RD's schemes to buy votes by promising more goodies for preschool and kindergarten parents, the ed foundation hand-outs/"grants" (that aren't actual grants but just re-gifting tax dollars), Messina "grants" (that aren't actual grants but just re-gifting tax dollars), and making sure to provide administrators their "pot" of salary padding that occurs when everyone goes to the beach in June.

This same bunch is in the middle of negotiations with the teacher's union (Driscoll, Taymore, Dolan) and 3 years ago brought forward a contract they voted on 3 times without even a document to read. (A 6-1 vote shoved it through anyway, "due diligence" and "fiduciary responsibility" mostly a mere fiction in the way both the SC and BOA observe their oaths of office.) That crack negotiating team negotiated a contract that left MHS parents with no parent-teacher night, minus any teeth for enforcing requirements of teachers to communicate on Aspen (or requirements of IT to make sure its systems were functional and reasonable), or countless other provisions that any responsible school district would have in place (but doesn't in large part due to the incompetent legal counsel it persists in using, along with the generally horrible administrators Melrose has hired the last decade or so, who only advocate for themselves and their plentiful contract provisions). Other districts manage to cover basic necessities for teachers and students alike (including adequate pay for substitutes). Melrose has neglected its fiduciary responsibilities for so many years (incl. responsible replacement schedules for textbooks and technology) that it acts like these things are somehow extraordinary when it suddenly finds itself so far behind the eightball that it has to go out for tax bonds to pay for these things that are supposed to be covered within the annual budget.

Naturally no one fiscally responsible in the public (including those who voted NO and will continue to VOTE NO) wants to strip away all "reserves" but that really isn't the issue anyway. It's just the fraud being propagandized.

So now they voted to raise Early Childhood Center (preschool) fees by a whopping 8 percent! (How many parents got 8 percent raises last year?)

Why hasn't anyone really analyzed why parents in Melrose are so willing to buy into stated rationale for why its ECC costs so much? There is nothing in the rules that require a public school district to run a preschool, let alone one that is so heavily stacked for SPED as Melrose's is. In the past there were one or two classrooms in the city dedicated to those special needs toddlers who by law are entitled to special education services, not a whole building crammed with specialists and special toys (like SmartTables for toddlers, that require $350 apiece light bulbs!). But to hear the SC and administrators gush, you'd think it was a "mandate" that Melrose runs a Boutique ECC, which it most certainly is not. (Kindergarten in some form, half or full day, is a mandate, but preschool is not--yet at least.) Why hasn't the SC considered placing overflowing kindergarten as a whole in the Franklin, since they are wringing their hands in woe about the "temporary" bubble in K enrollment?

Next comes a significant increase to arts fees (with the lame rationale that the school committee didn't raise them last year (but did 2 years ago) so it's okay to do it this year, even though many school districts appropriately don't charge any at all for those classes taught during the school day that Melrose now charges $225 for). And of course the manipulative and manipulated (by RD and his CFO) dimwits (SC and school administration/CT) putting this forward are acting like they have done appropriate due diligence and know something about the topic, neither of which is true. (The bumbling deer-in-headlights department chair they paraded in front of the SC to advocate for increased arts fees is the same one now responsible for multiple OCR cases because she wrote up the now-fired arts teacher for failing to "separate the students of color," among other of her disastrous actions that are now threatening the entire program.)

When all else fails, they start the collective whine and propaganda about the cost of the charter and voke schools, failing to mention that if the district did its job properly, there wouldn't be 225 students maxxing the cap going to Mystic Valley or 500+ students whose parents are fully paying taxes here but also paying for private/parochial school for their children (costing the district in Chapter 70 reimbursement and costing families hugely in more ways than just tuition & transportation). Most parents would happily keep their children in-district normally, but these politicians skirt that fact and skip straight to the whining.

And then there's the continuous parade of hired consultants that both the SC and BOA are using, not even talking about the hidden settlements resulting from all the catastrophically illegal actions mismanaged by the various attorneys both sides continue to use.

Meanwhile the police headquarters is a complete neglected disgrace, the regular employees of the city/schools continue to be shafted in so many ways (not even talking about lousy almost nonexistent morale), BOA members continue to be offered GIC (which is a burgeoning mess in and of itself and should never have been the choice for the city), and so many other continuing messes.

But sure, keep the pipeline going of the naïve elementary parents coming forward with their scripted hand-wringing and "non-negotiable" demands, and watch the "Together/Yes" movement as it mounts (it's only "positioning" right now) another expensive and divisive campaign that is bound to fail even more spectacularly as each remaining shred of public trust is squandered with the lies and aggressive propaganda.

Re: Budget Farce Being Perpetrated by Administration

I don't know how you are, Senior Citizen, but based on what you just wrote - you are wise beyond your years! Every thing that you have stated is truthful - and should disgrace those who think that we have a great school system - it dysfunctional something that Gerry Mroz and others on this message board have been saying for many years. This school admin and the Mayor have been wasting and the public money needlessly.

This "boutique" early childhood school needs to go and to use this space for some of our over-crowded elementary classes.

Eventually, the "house of cards" built by this Mayor his cohorts will collapse due to incompetence.

Re: Budget Farce Being Perpetrated by Administration

There are many apt buildings and condos being built in this town,. Not everyone owns their own home. There will be young couples that will have a child that will enter our school system.

Re: Budget Farce Being Perpetrated by Administration

There are many apt buildings and condos being built in this town,. Not everyone owns their own home. There will be young couples that will have a child that will enter our school system.

And those who can't afford to buy a home will not send their children to the EEC. They don't have the resources. The EEC and its funding formula is not fair and contributes to income inequality. More fuzzy Math. i wonder how it will be reflected in the "virtual" budget!

Re: Budget Farce Being Perpetrated by Administration

There is much talk among school committee members, the mayor and the superintendent about raising fees for children and parents for just about every possible school activity under the sun. And exactly why should parents and children have to bear the cost of the selfish, unethical, and illegal actions of the superintendent, assistant superintendent, city solicitor and school committee chair? Did the district have to spend hundreds and thousands of dollars in legal fees to stubbornly defend their unethical actions against a child and an arts teacher who were forced to file Civil Rights complaints against the district because these "leaders" stubbornly refused to take the actions necessary to make things right, and instead illegally retaliated against these victims in the local press through their city legal counsel? No.

Likewise, did the school district have to spend thousands of dollars in legal fees attempting to illegally block access to public records and thwarting open meeting law requirements to prevent certain school committee members and the Melrose community at large from finding out about the Office of Civil Rights investigations? No. Did the city solicitor and the school committee chair have to spend thousands of dollars in legal fees hiring legal consultants in an attempt to intimidate and harass our former SC member CKK and their attempt to defend the McCarthyist "Norms" whose only purpose is to circumvent Democracy, State Law MGL Chapter 71, Sec 37 and Roberts Rules?

Was it necessary to spend thousands of dollars over the last several years for "pots of money" for school administrator bonuses, approved in mysterious deep summer sessions of the school committee? No. But again this summer, you will see the same self-serving raises doled out by the SC chair and her school committee to the same administrators that have brought this district to it's current sad state of affairs over the last three years.

We are an embarrassment throughout the Commonwealth for letting this happen and we all now have to share the burden of this embarrassment as a community for letting this school committee and it's chair(s) to willingly permit corrupt administrators to run amuck of the last several years.

Re: Budget Farce Being Perpetrated by Administration

Well said! This should be required reading for MEF, SC, the Mayor, the BOA, and Melrose citizens!

Oh no - I feel another award will soon be bestowed upon Superintendent Taymore - "Most Outstanding National Educator of the Year", abbreviated "MONEY"!

Yep - she deserves the award - fleecing us all!

Re: Budget Farce Being Perpetrated by Administration

Here's the BS letter "to the community" from the retooled Yes group as published in the MFP (how many ways can you spell W-R-O-N-G?):

March 28. 2016 12:46PM
An open letter to the Melrose community

Editor’s note: The following was submitted on behalf of a group of Melrose residents involved in the public schools. Their names appear at the end of the column.

In the midst of the real challenges facing Melrose and our public schools, a vocal handful of residents has been calling for the superintendent to resign. As a result, some members of our community are asking why. We are too.

As activists and leaders of PTOs, community organizations and local foundations, as people who have chosen to work in informed and productive ways to make our system of public education better, we propose a new frame through which to view the challenges we face.

In March of 2012, after a highly visible selection process that allowed ample opportunity for community input, Cyndy Taymore, who was then assistant superintendent with the Bedford Public Schools, was the candidate favored by the vast majority of the Melrose School Committee to be the next superintendent of the Melrose Public Schools. In a roll call vote preceding her appointment, one committee member voted for a different candidate. This now ex-committee member has been at the forefront of calls for Ms. Taymore to resign.

In today’s media environment, coverage of bad news tends to trump that of quiet, steady, day-to-day good news. And to be sure, there are problems facing our district.

This spring, the School Committee must determine how to bridge a funding gap (reported to be upwards of $1 million) to cover contractually and legally obligated costs and level-service needs in the district’s Fiscal Year 2017 budget request. At a time of increasing enrollment and constrained resources, the School Committee will need to make tough choices. The debate is not “if” but where and how potential budget cuts and fee increases will affect our students, our schools and our city.

At the same time, our community continues to process the aftermath of a racial discrimination incident at the middle school and the subsequent investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. Many join us in concern for the student, the family, our schools and the city, and hope that, irrespective of the legal course of action, a wider conversation about racism in our community will continue.

However, under Ms. Taymore’s leadership, our district has achieved much ongoing, positive change, much of which has flown under the community radar. These accomplishments include:

· Building a leadership team that shares a vision for a district that benefits all children. Superintendent Taymore, with input from the community, has built a strong and dedicated administration team, including a highly dedicated and knowledgeable Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning, new principals at nearly every school in the district and a high-functioning group of department chairs for grades 6-12, among others;

· Increasing student achievement throughout Melrose Public Schools;

· Five out of seven schools in the district earned the highest performance classification score (Level 1) in the most recent round of state testing;

· Melrose is the only community in the Commonwealth with three “commended” schools in the same district (Lincoln, Hoover and Winthrop elementary schools);

· The number of students taking Advanced Placement (AP) exams at MHS has skyrocketed from 305 just four years ago to 540 last year, with 378 of these students scoring a 3, 4, or 5. Students earning these scores have a better chance of being admitted to college and receiving college credit for their AP exams;

· Equipping our schools and our students with the tools required for a 21st century education. Desktop computers, networks, mobile devices: none of this existed when many of us were in school. Today, technology is not merely an offshoot, it is an integral part of the lives of students, and it will only play a larger role in the future. Technology is no longer a “nice to have,” it’s a “must have” in a 21st century economy.

Superintendent Taymore and the Melrose School Committee have met this reality head-on. Following a much-needed technology audit, the City of Melrose, with support from our elected officials and grant funding, is supporting a $1.5 million technology upgrade throughout the district and a state-of-the-art Learning Commons, including a makerspace for project-based learning, at Melrose High School. These much-needed investments will better equip our students to become productive workers and lifelong learners;

· Providing ongoing educator training. Melrose has become a regional leader in providing high-quality, in-house professional development for its educational team. As annoying as those “professional development” days and 1/2 days off may be for parents’ schedules, they are proving highly useful in putting our educators at the leading edge of the rapidly changing world of pedagogy and practice. And, in a district that pays substantially less than neighboring communities in the Middlesex League, our district’s commitment to professional development is an essential component in hiring and retaining good teachers;

· Adaptability to meet the needs of all of our students in the midst of extensive change, including:

· Successfully absorbing 320 new Kindergarten students last year by opening two new classrooms at the Lincoln (2015 National Blue Ribbon School) and Roosevelt Elementary Schools. Just five years ago, only 252 new Kindergarten students entered the district.

· Re-aligning schedules at the high school and middle school to allow students to benefit from more course offerings while also saving money.

· Providing more services for English Language Learners (ELLs), who were 1.3 percent of our student population 10 years ago and who now comprise 3.5 percent, and for students whose First Language is Not English (FLNE), 3.1 percent of our students 10 years ago and now 8.6 percent;

· Providing services to our Special Education students that are mandated — but often not funded — by the federal and state governments. Legal obligations aside, our community has a moral responsibility to provide a high-quality education to all students, and an opportunity to take a stand for the intrinsic value of inclusive education;

· Continuing to work closely with community partners to meet a diverse range of needs. Our students benefit from the support of local businesses, organizations like the Bridge, the Melrose Alliance Against Violence (MAAV) and other key partners.

These are just some examples of the positive changes that have occurred at all levels of education in our district since 2012.

While we do not deny that there’s work to be done, and that challenges remain, we want the community to recognize and celebrate the many successes and opportunities in our district, as well. We pledge to build on the progress that has been made, to communicate information grounded in facts, and to remain involved in a constructive and respectful manner. We ask you to do the same.

This is a not just a call to action, but to productive action. We call for less grandstanding, less verbal bomb-throwing, less vitriol and the elimination of unsubstantiated claims, whether they are made anonymously online or in public meetings. Let’s pledge to get informed before sharing views that are often grounded in rumor, anger, and spite. Let’s develop our own ideas before we denounce everyone else’s. Let’s volunteer and serve before we criticize. Let’s stop cementing our feet in the concrete of a “principled stance,” afraid to take even one step forward in compromise because we might inadvertently concede some ground to our sworn enemies. And, by all means, please let’s not cut and run when things get hard.

We issue this call to our fellow residents and to our elected officials. The hallmark of effective governance at the local level should be collaboration and consensus-building on the range of issues and challenges that we face. This is not a time for the digging in of heels, or worse, the abdication of responsibility. At this time when we face difficult choices, we should engage in civil, fact-based discussion with the common goal of doing what’s best for our students and our community.

We promise to do this—do you?

— Submitted by Christina and Gabe Gagliano, Upland Road; Nancy and Frank Brincheiro, Geneva Road; Martha Grover and Jim Donohue, Gooch Street; Melissa Lucas, Slayton Road; Lisa Lewis, Pine Street; Jen and Dave McAndrew, Sears Avenue; Amy Swan and Marty Hergert, Clifton Park; Jen Grigoraitis and William Kreamer, Lebanon Street; Sarah and Brian Timm, East Wyoming Avenue; Kim and Dave LaFontana, Pilgrim Road; Ani and Jeff Breay, Ardsmoor Road.

Re: Budget Farce Being Perpetrated by Administration

In that letter, they state, "· The number of students taking Advanced Placement (AP) exams at MHS has skyrocketed from 305 just four years ago to 540 last year, with 378 of these students scoring a 3, 4, or 5. Students earning these scores have a better chance of being admitted to college and receiving college credit for their AP exams;"

I am wondering if there is a more specific breakdown of scores. In my school district, a score of 3 is not even reported in the AP data each year, because most colleges do not accept a 3 on an AP exam for college credit. Many universities don't even accept a 4, and there are some elite colleges that don't give college credit even if you get a 5. I am just wondering what percentage of the students got 3s, because, in my mind, that tells me something about the greater number of students taking the AP classes.
Does anyone know where I can see a breakdown?

Re: Budget Farce Being Perpetrated by Administration

To get a breakdown of all the College Board tests that Melrose students take, request the Integrated Summary from the superintendent. She is obligated to provide it (it is not protected by confidentiality).

You are correct in your statements about how AP test scores are viewed by colleges.

While the district will claim all sorts of things, there are plenty of reasons to question everything they put out there to make it all seem exalted.

FYI, there was no improvement in many of the MHS AP tests, esp. Foreign Language, which continues to be a disaster.

Science and Math scores next year (in the absence of Dr. P now) will most certainly not be at the improved level they are this one blip of a year (thanks to Dr. P's before- and after-school and Saturday teaching last year).

Ask around and you will find out that many of the school's supposed top performers did not gain acceptance even to the state schools like UMASS this year, in unprecedented numbers of rejections. Ask around and you will also find out that this year's SATs and ACTS were probably the worst the district has ever seen (and they were already terrible, and when asked, guidance has said they are doing basically nothing to help students prepare for the new tests now being administered).

There are a lot of very dejected and demoralized seniors this year, to say nothing of the numbers of them from the past couple of years who were forced to take remedial math and English upon entering college straight out of MHS.

So believe it all at your kids' peril.

Re: Budget Farce Being Perpetrated by Administration

Thanks for the information. I will request the report. And, yes, I am now questioning everything that is put out there. It is exhausting to try see through the BS that they publicize.

Re: Budget Farce Being Perpetrated by Administration

Oh yes, it is most definitely exhausting and not for the faint of heart. The BS is non-stop and one thing they manage to do and with aggression. I guess we should give them credit for doing this so consistently.

Re: Budget Farce Being Perpetrated by Administration

If 540 students took AP tests and 348 scored a 3, 4 or 5, that also means 162 students scored a 2, 1 or a zero. It is disturbing that parents and citizens read this 540 statistic and think this is a good thing for Melrose.

In most school districts with high test scores (both AP and SAT) there are a select number of students that take AP tests. These are typically juniors and seniors. In a school the size of MHS, 540 either means 1/2 the student body is taking AP tests beginning at the freshman level or almost every junior and senior in the school is taking them.

And, how many tests were taken? Are all students scores reported? So Sally scored a "3" on Biology - but only a 2 on English. She gets reported as a student that scored a "3".

An even more important question to ask is has the average score on AP tests improved in the same period that more students have taken the test? This answer was not included in the letter statistics so it is likely no. More students taking the test but performing worse is terrible! You must ask for the breakdown to understand the results. If you receive would be helpful to share here for us.