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Monday, February 14, 2011

Lowell School Committee Meeting, 7 Feb 2011

Lowell School Committee Meeting of 7 Feb 2011

I went to the School Committee Meeting on Tuesday evening.  Frankly, I had put forward a suggestion, via EMail, to all the members of the School Committee via EMail.  Thus, I felt invested.  On the other hand, this blog post, which has been blocking all other blog posts, has been a little difficult as I have sorted through this stuff.  Now back to the meeting of the School Committee.

After the preliminaries there was a long, drawn out process, approving the minutes.  A number of errors were pointed out.  I believe this was noted in The Sun’s “The Column” this week.  Sorry, folks, no link.

Then a discussion of money for special education and some memorials.

Then we had comments from the public, starting with Ms Judy Flood, a Guidance Counselor, who talked about her experience at the Molloy Alternative [High] School.  The gist of her presentation to the School Committee was that some students are seriously challenged by life circumstances, and recently some of those slipped through the cracks.  At the end of June 2010 some 40 students were assigned from the Molloy to Lowell High.  21 returned and 11 have dropped out.  Today there are no grade 12 students and only 4 grade 11.  It was a fairly grim picture Ms Flood painted and one wondered about how this would reflect back on her at work.

Mr Edward Rozmiarek—Headmaster—spoke.  He stated that the school system used in-place procedures and worked with the house masters.  They treated each case separately.  He did note that they are discussing new procedures and trying to expand out programs.

Ms Catherine Keane (Principle of the Molloy) spoke and said that all of the procedures were followed.  “Students are our priority.”

Then we move on and Ms Alison Laraba makes a point that text books are falling apart, per a parent.  Mr Lehey asks about a book’s lifespan and notes that his observation is the same?  He asks if we could re-bind the books?  Mr Conway asks about using Kindles, noting that this had showed up in an article in The Sun several months ago.  (Here is an article about such a step down in Clearwater, Florida.  Spoiler alert—I used to live in Clearwater, for a year.) What I wonder about is how Clearwater got around the ADA objections as outlined by DOJ a year ago, as shown here?  The problem is that while the Kindle will read the book to you, the controls to get there are not friendly to the blind or visually impaired.  On the other hand, your average textbook won’t even do that, so what is the issue here?  Mr Jay Lang, Assistant Superintendent, noted that the Kindle is a good idea, but the obstacle is that text book companies not catering to electronic versions.  As market grows, it will be re-examined.  (Which is to say that we will let others break trail for us on this.)

Ms Jackie Doherty, who is also a Lowell Immigration Commission member, asked for help with the adult education issue.

It was suggested, in the form of a motion that Lowell goes with an interim Superintendent.  The rational is that it seems like a tight timeline.  Mr Martin admits the timeline is daunting.  He prefers to move forward, but acknowledges it might not yield us a superintendent at the end of April.  Ms Laraba notes it will buy us time, especially given the budget cycle.  Ms Doherty notes that down the road we always have the option of going to an interim.  Mr Leary wants to see what the market yields.  The motion fails six to one.

Then a motion, a combination of motions, to set a timeline, agree to advertise the position in The Sun, The Boston Globe and Education Weekly.  Also, a Blue Ribbon Commission will be established to assist in the search. The motion passes with six votes.

The next subcommittee is Monday, 14 February.

There was an issue regarding loaning sick days and it was agreed to continue the current procedure but to look into the process.

End of the School Committee notes and the beginning of the analysis, such as it is.

The issue of the Molloy School was taken up by Reporter Jenn Myers in Sunday’s Lowell Sun, found here, for a while.

While Ms Myers presents a balanced view, she leaves us hanging as to a conclusion.  It seems to me that the Molloy School is a serious issue between the School Committee and the School Superintendent.  What we have here is, at best, a failure to communicate.

The Molloy School is the place that those who are having trouble at Lowell High School are assigned in a effort to salvage their high school career and equip them to reenter high school on a path toward graduation.  Apparently, back in August a member of the School Committee moved to shut down the Molloy School as a way of freeing up money for other needs in this tight budget period.  On the advice of the School Administration this motion was voted down, based upon not having a plan in place for such a transition.  But, shortly thereafter (School Committee member Jackie Doherty cites a 24 August EMail) the School Administration starts to shut down the upper grades at the Molloy.

Per the Myers’ article:
Committee member Connie Martin said the transfer rate from five to seven students per year to 44 students per year is a "dramatic change."
Dr Scott says:
No child will be turned away.  We do sincerely believe the work that has been done over the last 12 months was the work the committee expected us to do to provide each student the best education possible.
In moving to reduce the side of the Molloy school Dr Scott got out in front of the School Committee.  That is not necessarily a bad thing—I have always agreed with the management approach that “It is easier to get forgiveness than permission”—but she seems, in the minds of the majority of the members of the School Committee, to have been somewhat parsimonious with the truth regarding this matter.  This, in turn, seems to have led to the School Committee loosing faith in Dr Scott.

How else do we explain six meetings of the School Committee in executive session where it could not bring itself to make a counter-offer to Dr Scott?
  1. 1 Nov 2010—Acknowledgement of Superintendent’s request to negotiate a new contract and agreement on revision of evaluation form.
  2. 10 Nov 2010—Review of the proposed evaluation form and agreement for City Solicitor Christine O’Connor to draw up a draft proposal of an offer for review before she and Mayor Milinazzo present it to Dr Scott.
  3. 12 Dec 2010—Discussion that Mr Galllagher, Dr Scott’s Attorney, wanted a written offer rather than a face to face negotiation.  This was not accepted by the School Committee.  Then there was a proposal to withdrawn the offer of a three year contract, that died three to three with one vote of “present”.
  4. 29 Dec 2010—Here the record is a little confusing, but basically the School Committee voted to rescind a three year offer and discussed a one year offer, but did not agree to it.  The approved motion was “[t]o authorize Mayor James L. Milinazzo and City Solicitor, Christine O’Conner to report to the Superintendent and her attorney that as of yet, there has not been a counter proposal that has gained the support of a majority of its members.”  It was approved.
  5. 6 Jan 2011—There was a discussion of a two year and a one year contract, but no agreement.  It was agreed that the Mayor and Solicitor would be authorized to meet with the Superintendent and her attorney on the 10th of January “to continue negotiations” but it is unclear from the minutes what that means.
  6. 29 Jan 2011—There was a motion “To return to Executive Session, concluding its recess, for the purpose of discussing and deliberating a Successor Control with the Superintendent of Schools, public discussion of which would be detrimental to the Committee’s position”.  But, the minutes suggest that once in Executive Session it was about the School Committee meeting “for the purpose of developing a strategy for taking the next step in the protection of the district as it relates to a search for a new Superintendent of Schools.”  Approved seven to zip.
Regardless of what one thinks of the current School Superintendent, the School Committee was not prepared to offer her a three, two or even one year contract.  This suggests a breakdown in communication between the School Superintendent and the School Committee and, in effect, a vote of no confidence on the part of the School Committee.  It appears that the School Superintendent picked up on that and elected to terminate her pursuit of a new contract. 

One of the things that surprises me is that we have no process in place to deal with this awkwardness.  The Superintendent will remain for half a year, even though she knows the School Committee has, in essence, fired her.  The School Committee will retain as School Superintendent someone in whom they have lost confidence.  Should there not be a process in which the School Committee buys up Dr Scott’s contract and fleets up, for a time, one of the Assistant Superintendents, perhaps with a small pay kicker?

This is not a happy time.

As an aside, one wonders to what degree the "Open Meeting" law has made this more awkward than it needed to be.  Which makes me think of Saturday evening's homily.

Regards  —  Cliff

  Left in Lowell has put up the minutes here.  Thanks, Mimi.

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