Department of Education

Nicholson seeks 2nd school committee term

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Cindy Rodriguez and Jianna DeFranzo chat with Jared Nicholson after he announced his bid for a second term.

By GAYLA CAWLEY

LYNN — Jared Nicholson, a member of the School Committee, is running for a second two-year term, and officially kicked off his campaign on Wednesday.

Nicholson, 31, an attorney, laid out his reasons for running for reelection to a crowd of supporters and other elected officials at Rincon Macorisano.

“I plan to raise a family here and I want to send my future kids to great public schools, and I want to be a part of the effort to make sure that our city has great public schools to offer,” he said.

Nicholson said he believes in the potential Lynn has, and in order “for us to reach that potential, we need to make sure that all of our kids reach their potential,” which has to take place in the public schools. He said that would be achieved by getting the kids in schools now the skills they need to thrive, and attracting and retaining families who have a lot to contribute and are looking at the schools and deciding where they want to live.

Barking up the right tree

Nicholson said the district needs to continue to find more opportunities for kids to find their passion after school, highlighting its achievements with the wrestling program at Thurgood Marshall Middle School, the early college program with North Shore Community College, and important programs in IT and healthcare added at Lynn Vocational Technical Institute.

Some challenges the district faces, he said, include the dropout rate (listed as 4.9 percent for all grades in the 2015-2016 Massachusetts Department of Education report), sorting out the budget, and finding the space needed for schools.

Including Nicholson, 13 people have taken out papers to run for school committee, including incumbents, Donna Coppola, John Ford, and Lorraine Gately, and challengers, Jordan Avery, Cherish Casey, Brian Castellanos, Gayle Hearns-Rogers, Sandra Lopez, Natasha Megie-Maddrey, Jessica Murphy, Michael Satterwhite, and Stanley Wotring Jr.

Long-time incumbents, Maria Carrasco and Patricia Capano, vice-chair, are not seeking re-election.


Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.

 

Push for 2nd charter school renewed in Lynn

ITEM FILE PHOTO
Frank DeVito still has to raise about $250,000 for the school to launch.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — The prospect of the city’s second charter school gained traction this week thanks to funding from some big name donors.

While the Equity Lab Charter School has yet to receive state approval, the proposed alternative school received a $215,000 grant from the NewSchools Venture Fund. The California-based foundation boasts a group of wealthy benefactors, including Bill and Melinda Gates, known for Microsoft Corp., and Facebook’s Mark and Chan Zuckerberg, who vowed to fund educators who launch innovative public schools.

“I’m ecstatic,” said Frank DeVito, the school’s founder. “The money will make a huge difference in making this a full time effort, and help pay for staff and consultants to get the school up and running next year.”

The 5-12 school, which would start with 160 fifth and sixth graders, will eventually have 640 students. So far, there’s a waiting list of more than 150 families, DeVito said.

DeVito is a member of Waltham-based Education Development Center’s National Center on Scaling Up Effective Schools team, where he develops, implements and tests new ways to boost effective practices in high schools.

Last year, DeVito and his 22-member team of local educators was one of 50 finalists to win $10 million toward opening the new school in the XQ: Super School Project. Emerson Collective, chaired by Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Apple Inc. founder Steve Jobs, sponsored the $50 million competition.

While DeVito and Equity were chosen among 700 teams from 45 states that submitted applications for new or redesigned high schools, the Lynn proposal lost.

But that hasn’t slowed DeVito. He said the NewSchools cash revitalized the effort to bring another charter school to the city.

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DeVito, a 52-year-old Lynn homeowner and father of two, said he is focused on finding space for the school. He has looked at the former St. Michael’s Church, school and rectory on Summer Street, but can’t ink a deal until his school receives approval from the state Department of Education (DOE). A decision is expected to be made in February. If he gets the green light, the school is expected to open in the fall of 2018.

If his proposal for a new school is accepted by the state, they will provide $800 per student or $128,000 to lease or purchase space. In addition, they would receive $2.1 million from the state or $13,223 per student who switch from the Lynn Public Schools to the charter.

DeVito, a former teacher at Chelsea High School, said he would still have to raise about $250,000 for the school to launch.

“The state really wants the school to open in Lynn,” he said. “They have been very supportive and have offered coaching in order for us to succeed.”

If it does get the go-ahead from DOE, there will be no welcome mat from the city.

While Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy and the City Council have sparred over a number of issues this year, they are united in their fight against any new charter schools. They argue such schools take much needed cash from the public schools.

While proponents insist charter schools are public schools, Lynn’s elected officials say they don’t like the formula for funding because it takes more than $1 million from the regular school budget.

If Equity Lab wins approval, they will face competition from the only other charter school in the city, KIPP Academy.


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

 

Ruggiero denied Peabody superintendent post

ITEM FILE PHOTO
Debra Ruggiero answers questions during an interview for the superintendent position.

By ADAM SWIFT

PEABODY — Interim Superintendent Herb Levine will likely serve one more year as the head of the school district.

The search for a new superintendent came to a temporary end Wednesday night, when the Peabody School Committee voted to request a waiver from the state’s Department of Education allowing Levine to stay on for another year because of a critical shortage of qualified superintendent candidates.

The vote means Debra Ruggiero, the principal of Lynn’s Harrington School and the last finalist standing in the committee’s superintendent search, will not be offered the Peabody position.

Committee members praised Ruggiero, but the members were united in saying they were disappointed there were no candidates brought forward with the kind of central office experience they believe Peabody needs. The two other finalists, John Oteri and Arthur Unobskey, were offered the top school jobs in Malden and Wayland, respectively, and withdrew from consideration in Peabody.

“I think the three finalists we had were excellent people, I just think they lacked the district experience,” said School Committee member Tom Rossignoll. “We want somebody with district experience, and that was not offered to us.”

Several committee members also said they believed the search process, which was overseen by the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, started a little too late this year to bring in enough qualified candidates.

“I think one of the problems with starting a little late is that candidates were scooped up quickly,” said School Committee member Brandi Carpenter. “If we’re going to do it again, we need to start earlier and we need to think outside the box.”

Consider the progress we’ve made, Kennedy says

Carpenter also said she felt Ruggiero was an excellent candidate, but that she and the other finalists lacked the budget and contract negotiation skills needed in such a large district.

“I too, although it was not the fault of the candidates, was disappointed in the pool,” said committee member Jarrod Hochman. “This is a quasi-urban community with over 6,000 students, over 1,000 employees, and a $72 million budget. We had candidates who did not have experience with collective bargaining, and not one candidate had experience formulating a budget beyond the building or department level.”

Committee members noted that the process next year should wrap up by March, rather than April, in an effort to get a jump on the best candidates.

For Levine, the 2017-18 school year will be his third year in a row as interim superintendent in Peabody. The former Salem school chief was also the interim superintendent in Peabody during the 2011-12 school year.

Levine said he is willing to stay on in the interim position for another year, but that he was drawing a line in the sand.

“I’m not going to work beyond that; I’m going to be 70 years old,” he said. “I’m proud to have the privilege to steer the ship for one more year.”

 

School spending ‘thorn in our side,’ mayor says

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — Five months after the state threatened to withhold millions in school funds, the city is on the hook again as they face a spending shortfall, The Item has learned.

On Thursday, the Department of Education is expected to tell Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy that following a review of the city’s finances, school spending is off by about $826,000. As a result, the state may withhold that amount from Lynn’s $11 million monthly allocation of Chapter 70 school payments in June.

Peter Caron, Lynn’s chief financial officer, said the city is again working to get school spending back on track.

“It’s challenging,” he said. “We are trying to guess how much money we will spend on schools, but the state doesn’t do the accounting until six months after the fiscal year is over. It all goes back to the health insurance; we don’t know in May how much we will spend on it. It’s a crap shoot.”

Kennedy said she expects the school spending issue to be resolved, but she’s not sure how.

“Overall, net school spending has been a thorn in our side for a number of years,” she said. “When you increase the number of students in the schools by nearly 20 percent over the last six years, it causes problems on how to pay for it.”

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Lynn is the fifth largest district in the Bay State with more than 16,000 students.

“Until we can slow the increase in school population or look to possible federal assistance, we will not be able to meet the threshold spending for the foreseeable future,” she said.

The city’s finances came into focus last year when the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education told the mayor that the city’s contribution to school funding was short by $7.5 million and the state threatened to withhold its $11 million November payment in school funds until City Hall came up with more cash.

Since then, the school deficit has been reduced to less than $1 million and the state money was released to the city.

John J. Sullivan, DOE’s associate commissioner, declined to comment until the letter is issued to the mayor.


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

 

Lynn school custodians back where they began

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Janitor Don Dube cleans the lunchroom at the Drewicz Elementary school in Lynn.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — A 10-year-old decision to transfer management of the school’s janitors to the city’s Inspectional Services Department (ISD) is about to be reversed.

In a move by Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy designed to capture $1 million in additional school spending and avoid a state penalty, the city’s school janitors and maintenance staff are headed back to the school department.

The controversy erupted in 2006, when former Mayor Edward “Chip” Clancy, shifted the janitors and maintenance staff from the school department to the city. The transfer came, officials said, because the schools were dirty and the janitors lacked supervision.

“The schools weren’t as clean as they are today, I can tell you that from personal experience,” said Michael Donovan, ISD director who took the added responsibility of monitoring the workers.

When Donovan inherited the 166-employee unit in 2007, it included 120 permanent custodians, 20 substitute contract workers who filled-in for absentees and 26 maintenance technicians for 26 schools.

“Since then, we changed the culture,” he said. “People were held accountable, we instituted attendance and timekeeping policies. Employees punched time cards, we tightened vacation rules, moved people if they were not working and outsourced lots of maintenance project work.”

The change also resulted in more of the maintenance crew doing more jobs, Donovan said.  The job descriptions that once consisted of specialized assignments such as painters, glaziers, master carpenters and cabinetmakers were changed to “maintenance craftsmen” so they could do any job as needed, he said.

Today, the department has 57 custodians and a dozen maintenance workers with a budget of $14 million.

While there’s agreement that ISD’s management of the janitors has worked well, Peter Caron, the city’s chief financial officer, said shifting the employees to the school department will add about $1 million to the city’s required school spending.

In a quirk in state law, while salaries for the janitors as city employees counts toward school spending, their health insurance premiums do not. By moving them, the city can add health insurance and reduce the deficit.

Last fall, the state Department of Education threatened to withhold $11 million in school funds until City Hall boosted its net school spending. In a letter to the mayor, the state said a review of the city’s end financial report discovered Lynn was in violation of state law.

“Your plan stated that in fiscal year 2016 through 2019 the city would appropriate $2.2 million in addition to each year’s net school spending requirement … the city did not even meet the fiscal year net school spending requirement and you have not budgeted sufficiently to meet the city’s obligation in fiscal year 2017,”  the state’s letter said.

Caron and Kennedy say moving the janitors to the school department will allow them to include those health care costs in the budget.

“The net school spending issue is a major factor in making this change,” Caron said.  ‘Going forward that money will start counting toward schools.”

While Donovan said he agreed to the change, he expressed concern about what will happen to the schools when they are no longer under ISD’s command.

“My fear is they will be dirty again because there will be no accountability for the employees,” he said.

But Kennedy disagrees.

“It will depend on who the superintendent hires to oversee the custodians,” she said. “Mike has been a good manager and if the superintendent hires the proper candidate, they will be able to run as tight a ship as Mike has.”

Richard Germano, vice president of AFSCME Local 1736 representing the workers, disagreed that the schools were not well-maintained when they were under school department management.

“You can go to any company and find some guys work at one pace, while others work at another pace, you won’t have perfect employees anywhere,” he said. “But we are happy to go back to work for the school department.”

School Superintendent Dr. Catherine Latham declined to comment on the merits of taking on the janitorial staff.

“That’s a policy decision,” she said. “It’s up to the School Committee, the mayor and the City Council. I’ll work with whatever they decide.”

City Councilor-at-Large Brian LaPierre said the switch to the schools has a good chance of passage when it comes to the City Council for a public hearing and a vote on Feb. 14. If approved, the measure will be sent to Beacon Hill lawmakers for final approval.

 

Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.