News, schools, and views from a uniquely Lowell perspective

Sharing the fiscal pain

As the Mill City braces to cut $3 million in response to Governor Patrick’s recent reductions in state aid (difficult under any circumstances but especially tough mid-year), Lowell looks to the schools to bear a portion of the burden. The city manager’s plan for the school district’s share of the cuts is based on a 20% ratio: Lowell contributes about 20% of its non-school revenue to its schools, so a 20% cut in that revenue ($604,000 out of $3 million) is what the schools are being asked to cut from their current budget. Keep in mind, this equation does not address Chapter 70 funding, which is state money earmarked for education. In Lowell, Chapter 70 covers about 80% of the district’s total school budget: that’s $118 million in state funding out of $139 million budget in FY09. As part of its contribution under Education Reform, the state expects municipalities to pay their share, a complex amount based on property values, income, and other factors.

As a longtime advocate for the city paying its fair share of the costs of educating our children, I’ve watched as Lowell has missed and lately begun making progress toward meeting the state’s education- spending requirement. In fact, last year, the city’s contribution was only $100,000 shy of the state’s school-spending requirement—the closest it’s been in 12 years. Prior to these mid-year cuts, Lowell was on track to exceed its school-spending requirement in FY09, but as we know, these are not easy times. To weather these difficulties, we must work together for the good of the entire community. It’s especially important that we do not pit one side against the other and work together to make sure important services to our community continue. That said, the Lowell School Committee’s Finance Sub-committee will meet on Monday, Feb. 2, to discuss how to close the $604,000 gap in the current budget.

posted in Education, Money Matters | 0 Comments

What do to about those emails

You know the ones I’m talking about. We’ve all received them: sentimental prose, a prayer, a safety warning, or a petition for some important cause—asking you to sign on, and more importantly, forward the message to 10 of your friends within the next five minutes. Good luck may be offered, or in some cases, you’re warned bad things will happen if you don’t forward the message. I usually delete those messages even if they’re sent by well-meaning family and friends, and request a reply to sender. Check out this site and you’ll see that deleting these messages, rather than forwarding them as asked, is the exact best thing to do. According to Snopes.com, internet petitions and other message-forwarding emails are often scams for access to active email addresses, which are then used in spam emails or sold to other spammers.

posted in Uncategorized | 0 Comments

Lowell teens armed with shovels to help their neighbors

With a forecast of 8-12 inches of snow predicted to start tonight, Lowell High School Jr. ROTC students are ready to launch Project Rosebud, a new community service program to help the elderly that partners the high school, city hall, and the business community. Project Rosebud provided 200 volunteer students with shovels, hats and mittens funded by local businesses so the students could shovel for seniors and disabled residents needing help with snow removal. A growing database of residents—at last count it was up to 50 names—will receive ongoing snow removal this winter by groups of students assigned to shovel in their own neighborhoods. The organized effort divides the city and students into sectors, with an adult responsible for each sector’s activities. Those who follow Lowell’s ROTC program, one of the largest and most respected in the country, know the group typically provides more than 15,000 hours of community service annually—from painting benches downtown to park cleanups and garden plantings. Given the heavy snowfall already, Project Rosebud will help make the city more pedestrian friendly during these difficult winter months, and special thanks to all those involved in this worthy effort. To get your name on the list, contact Lowell’s Neighborhood Services Hotline at 978-970-4035.

posted in Local People, Lowell High, Youth | 0 Comments

Editor needs to join real world to effect reform

While it’s no surprise that a certain editor of our local paper has gone on a recycled rant against the Lowell School Committee (many of today’s accusations are retakes from ad nauseam tirades last summer), the simplistic, unbalanced, and inaccurate nature of the attacks never fail to amaze me. On point: There absolutely needs to be reform at all levels of government spending—the process is painfully slow and wrought with obstacles, many of which are completely out of the school committee’s control. It is, however, false that no progress has been made or that the Lowell School Committee, in particular, is to blame. Lowell school salaries are within range of other districts as well as its benefits, which mirror (or in some cases, fall below) the city’s compensation package. In the real world, most folks get that effective hiring requires market-level compensation. While blaming the board is easy and fits nicely with this editor’s agenda for an appointed school committee, it does little to accurately inform readers or to help achieve what should be our shared goal of continuing to improve the quality of public education despite diminishing resources.

Accuracy has never been at the top of this editor’s priorities, and that alone would be tragedy enough if it weren’t so distracting from the real challenges the schools face, or the reality of how critical it is to our economic survival that all students receive a quality education. The reality is that government today is faced with fiscal challenges that will require substantial cuts to services for all residents, with particular devastation to those most in need. The reality is that as unemployment, homelessness and poverty increase, so does domestic violence, drug and alcohol addiction, and families in crisis—factors that directly impact a child’s readiness to learn. The reality is that reform is desperately needed to control spiraling costs in health insurance, special education, and sick leave buyback, but many obstacles exist well beyond the scope of a local school board. Our future depends on our ability to continue to improve our public schools, despite the fiscal crisis, and to do that we need creative solutions, a new approach to complex issues, and all levels of government working together. Given that reality: simpleminded blame is not only misleading, it’s downright harmful.

posted in Education, In the News, Local Politics, Money Matters, State Concerns, school committee | 0 Comments

Attend summit on advocacy for tough times

With a collective sigh of relief, those concerned about public education learned the governor would not cut Chapter 70 funding for this school year. However, cuts in regional transportation as well as reductions in municipal aid impacts districts to varying degrees, and it doesn’t let us off the hook for next year, where schools have been told to expect as much as a 10% reduction in state funding. For Lowell schools, that represents about $10 million less in revenue. No doubt about it: tough times abound. To learn more about education policy and players, and how you can impact the quality of our schools, attend Stand for Children’s Summit tomorrow at Reading High School. A national organization known for empowering citizen activism with 13 local chapters across the Commonwealth, Stand sponsors this annual event of hands-on workshops and information sessions as a way for folks to gain the knowledge and skills to become effective advocates for kids across Massachusetts. More than 50 communities will be represented at the summit.

posted in Education, Local Groups | 0 Comments

Reprieve from blogosphere ends today

It’s been exactly one month since I last posted, and although I never intended to get away from it for so long, I needed a break. (For those concerned about my family’s health, we’re fine, but we did have a month of daily trips to Boston for radiation treatments that wreaked havoc on our lives and our holidays.) If you’re still out there, I’m ready to get back to writing regularly. In fact, I think I have been writing in my mind all along. I’ve certainly been thinking and reacting to events. The only difference is committing those thoughts to text. Like exercising regularly, writing with consistency takes discipline, and I aim to get back at it.

posted in Just life | 2 Comments

Great start to the New Year at MRT

Richard Dresser is becoming a local favorite and the regional premiere of his latest play, A View of the Harbor at the Merrimack Repertory Theater is not to be missed. Smart, funny and provocative, with clever dialogue and convincing characters, this play will give you plenty to think about as you ponder the motivations and methods on display. We saw Harold Pinter’s Pulitzer Prize winning play, The Homecoming at the MRT a season or two ago (and hated it), but in this play, Dresser seems, in some way, to be paying homage to that work. While funnier and more accessible, it is on some level just as disturbing. Unlike Pinter’s play, this one is also enjoyable.

And by the way, Happy New Year! The blog’s been quiet due to holiday and family commitments, but we’re still here!

posted in Theater | 0 Comments

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