A regular semimonthly meeting of the School Committee on Thursday, May 22, started at 6:00 pm, held in the fifth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. Topics included Driscoll School plans, policy changes, “technology” plans and the state’s PARCC testing.
School expansion plans: Noticeable discord has grown over plans to expand Driscoll School. Some parents are opposed, others skeptical. A Web site appeared to circulate information. The Advisory Committee has reversed its earlier support for a feasibility study, recently recommending that funding for a study be deferred to a fall town meeting.
Perry Stoll, a Driscoll parent, was recently quoted in the Boston Globe, saying, “The permanence of a thousand-plus-person school just pulls at my heart; I can’t stand it…As you keep increasing the size of our schools, you pull apart the connection of its community.”
Committee chair Susan Wolf Ditkoff said a delay in funding a feasibility study for Driscoll would be likely to have a “domino effect,” interfering with “long, multi-year projects. ” Superintendent Lupini appeared troubled, saying “We don’t have a Plan B.” Committee member Rebecca Stone said she hoped the town “still has a long-term plan in place,” speaking of solidarity with the Board of Selectmen.
To an untutored ear, the reactions might sound a little strong–for a proposal currently said to seek six more classrooms at Driscoll. However, as with many past school projects, what could possibly be a straightforward, frugal expansion of school space can–and maybe it already has–become enmeshed in more complex and costly goals.
The discord has an echo from 1973, during previous planning to renovate Devotion School–with quite a twist. The School Department then called for shrinking school capacity–from about 850 to 650 students. History that was recent at the time had seen Devotion with as many as 950 students. The Sperber administration stood by a consultant study that said falling birthrates and smaller family sizes would reduce demand.
The 1970s Devotion project replaced the northwest wing and renovated the entire center section for around $5 million–or about $30 million today, adjusted for inflation. The community might question why another renovation now would need to cost about three times as much, in real dollars.
Policies for community uses and residency: Committee member Abby Cox announced that discussion and voting on proposed changes to “community use” policy would be delayed, “for more community review.” The proposal has already drawn criticism from organizers of after-school programs. It risks looking hostile toward local organizations that sometimes use school rooms for community meetings, as they learn more about it.
One obvious change is a sentence that now says Public Schools of Brookline will make facilities available to the community “at as low a cost as possible.” As proposed, that would instead read “at reasonable cost.” The current policy took form in the early 1970s, as the Sperber administration was pursuing renovations to Pierce, Devotion, Lawrence, Lincoln and Driscoll Schools.
At the time, Brookline was growing around 20 new neighborhood associations and several advocacy groups. The policy probably helped solidify community support for school renovations–strongly controversial at the time. A 1973 referendum brought against the Devotion appropriation failed to reverse it by a margin of only about 200 votes. It took three tries to overcome opposition to building a new Lincoln School on Kennard Rd., which finally opened in 1994.
Discussion of policy on “instruction” veered into of how parents establish residency, proposed to be required at the start of each school year. Committee member Helen Charlupski, who has served since 1992, recalled that parents formerly “signed a card and sent it in…What now?” Superintendent Lupini said parents must now submit “some form of proof.” He named alternatives, all requiring originals of paper documents. Committee vice chair Barbara Scotto asked, “What will happen to the documents?” The question went unanswered.
Controversy over growth: During “public comment,” Sanford Ostroy, a League of Women Voters board member, urged the committee to examine recent assertions from the Override Study. He cited claims that “minority populations” are the source of student population growth over the past 20 years and that METCO students are “the most expensive to educate.” He questioned both accuracy and pertinence.
In his finance report, Peter Rowe, the deputy superintendent, had some answers for Dr. Ostroy. It has been a surge of growth in student populations during about the past seven years, not in previous years, that generated pressure for more space and staff. Mr. Rowe presented a table comparing students in each elementary school at the start of school years in 2004 and 2013.
For years 2004 to 2013: Baker 629 to 754, Devotion 701 to 840, Driscoll 366 to 551, Heath 378 to 518, Lawrence 440 to 658, Lincoln 398 to 565, Pierce 548 to 782, Runkle 426 to 560. Total students grew from 3,886 to 5,228–a difference of 1,324 students or 35 percent. Of those, Mr. Rowe said, no added students came from METCO, and about 40 added students came from town employees through the “materials fee” program.
Plans for “technology”: Dr. Lupini presented his plans for more “technology,” focusing on elementary schools in fiscal 2015–startinng in July–through fiscal 2019. He frankly called it “plumbing,” not “transformational technology.” It is hardware-heavy: more classroom computers, more network support, more digital projectors. Next year has an added $30 thousand for “professional development.”
Goals of the effort, as presented, were all stated in general and vague terms. There were no specifics about what the hardware would used to do, and there were few real-life examples. Although Dr. Lupini expressed concern that current resources are not available outside classrooms, the only concrete proposal that could be found to address that limitation was to put some computers in school libraries.
Testing regimes: Superintendent Lupini announced plans to switch to the state’s new PARCC series of tests in the next school year for most grades. However, he would stay with MCAS for grade 10–that is, English and math tests required for graduation. That would put 9th grade science tests, which have proven the most difficult for Brookline students, into the PARCC camp.
Dr. Lupini said the PARCC regime will allow extra time for special education students and students with limited English proficiency. However, apparently it will otherwise remain strictly timed. That is likely to affect minority students in Brookline, because they probably will not qualify for “accommodations.”
Decades of experience show that strictly timed tests put students from foreign-language and low-income backgrounds at severe disadvantages. With strictly timed tests, those students are placed at well known risks of lower scores. School Committee members sounded distant about risks for Latino and African-American students to perform poorly. However, Dr. Lupini clearly sees his proposal could become a “hot potato.” He intends a public hearing on it June 5–time and place to be announced–followed by another School Committee review June 22.
– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, May 27, 2014
Jaclyn Reiss, Full plate at Brookline Town Meeting: development, Driscoll School work, Boston Globe, May 25, 2014
METCO communities, spring 2014
Source: Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, for fiscal 2014
METCO now has 37 participating communities, organized into 37 partly overlapping school districts. Among the districts, Brookline has the second largest number of students. However, when districts are considered according to METCO students per thousand residents, Brookline is only slightly above average–with 5 METCO students per thousand residents compared to an average of 4. Relative to population, Weston, Lincoln and Wayland make far stronger commitments to METCO than Brookline.
|District||Students||Grant||Per student||Pop., 2010||Student/1000|