Thursday, April 16, 2009

Everything You Wanted to Know about Educational Stimulus*

* But were afraid to ask...

Do you think people were using the word "stimulus" in FDR's first 100 days?

Heard this on NPR the other day--lots of anger over teacher layoffs, budget cuts, federal stimulus. It's about Los Angeles not Newburyport, but we've definitely got some angst going on here as well.

I've been hearing from parents about their concerns for school funding and how the Federal stimulus money could and should complement our State and local resources.

I get the little picture since my wife and I have a child in the public schools. But since the mainstream media has been virtually useless on this --- and I haven't found a live knowledgeable human who speaks slowly enough for me to understand --- I did some research to try to understand the big picture.

So consider this my own first stab at comprehension. As someone once said, "If it's not deadly dull, it's not important."

American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) is the entire Federal stimulus bill. The Federal education stimulus chunk of ARRA is described here with the Dept of Education's recovery site.

A frequent theme for all the stimulus funding through the various Federal agencies is avoid the
' funding cliff' effect:
"Invest one-time ARRA funds thoughtfully to minimize the "funding cliff." ARRA represents a historic infusion of funds that is expected to be temporary. Depending on the program, these funds are available for only two to three years. These funds should be invested in ways that do not result in unsustainable continuing commitments after the funding expires."
The overall Massachusetts State guidelines on ARRA for Early Ed, K-12 and Higher Ed are here with a description of the various pots of money: State Fiscal Stabilization Fund, Child Care and Development Block Grant, Head Start and Early Head Start, Title I, IDEA Part B Grants to States, and a whole bunch of other funds. And this site is really the best source of updates

We in Newburyport will get approx $70K in Title I funding. Since we've never gotten much money from Title I and it's a Federal formula and we're not a poor community, I don't think that was a big surprise. The Governor's press release on Title I is here

We are getting $300K or so for IDEA for special ed which is here

The big possibility for us is the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund totalling $813 Million.

To understand this pot of money, you first need to remember how the State funds local schools. I quote here from this website :

"In Massachusetts, the definition of an adequate spending level for a school district is called its “foundation budget.” It is a statistical measure that was developed by a group of superintendents and an economist in the early 1990’s. They developed a “model school budget” which quantified “for the average school district what constitutes an adequate—but not excessive—level of funding1.” The goal of the Chapter 70 formula is to ensure that every district has sufficient resources to meet its foundation budget spending level, through an equitable combination of local property taxes and state aid."
The Governor made an announcement two weeks or so ago about the first allocation of $168 Million to elementary and secondary education basically to get each district up to foundation (with another $162 Million out of the same pot for Higher Ed). You can find an excel of the calculations here and click on the excel symbol which says "State Fiscal Stabilization Fund Calculations." Here's the explanation for those calculations:

Under the Chapter 70 formula, the foundation budget is the minimum level of funding that needs to be provided to each district. Normally this is provided by a combination of local funding and Chapter 70 state aid. Because of the need to level fund Chapter 70 state aid in the Governor's FY10 budget proposal, total funding for some districts fell short of the foundation budget target. These districts received extra funds from the federal stabilization grant to reach the foundation budget target. Those districts that did not receive federal stabilization funds are already receiving enough state funding to reach the foundation budget target.

Despite the incongruities of Newburyport getting zero, Wellesley getting over $1 Million, and the fact that we may not like the outcomes, there is a logic to it. With some exceptions, the communities that did get this first wave of money makes some sense if you go over the excel.

My public school math tells me that there is still another almost $470 Million left in the $813 Million pot. We know some will go to Higher Ed for sure, but this is where the letter writing needs to come in.

Our School Committee is recommending letters like this below. Snail mail to elected officials is the way to go and a follow up phone call doesn't hurt.

Dear Governor Patrick:
As a parent I want to thank you for the support and priority you have given to education in the Commonwealth. Your recent allocation of $165 million to schools in some communities, based on the flawed chapter 70 formula has caused angst and concern in our community. We respectfully request that the Chapter 70 formula not be used in further allocation of ARRA/ESE funds. All communities deserve to receive assistance under Stabilization.
Newburyport has suffered greatly over the past 8 years, facing budget cutbacks and limitations which have cut programs and eliminated over 50 teaching postions. We have recently adopted a five year plan to rebuild the performance of our schools, and our recent progress is at risk if additional state aid is not secured to weather the current economic downturn.

Thank-you for your consideration

You can reach the Governor at:

Office of the Governor
State House, Room 360
Boston, MA 02133

You should also copy:

Senator Steven Baddour
State House, Boston, MA 02133

Representative Michael Costello
State House, Boston, MA 02133

SenatorRobert O' Leary,Co-chair Joint Committe on Education
State House, Boston, MA 02133

Senator Marc Pacheco, Co-Chair of Federal Stimulus Oversight
State House, Boston, MA 02133

Senator Steven Panagiotakos, Senate Committee on Ways and Means
State House, Boston, MA 02133

Representative Martha M. Walz , Co-Chair Joint Committee on Education

State House, Boston, MA 02133

Representative David E. Linsky, Co-Chair of Federal Stimulus Oversight
State House, Boston, MA 02133

Representative Charles Murphy, House Committee on Ways and Means
State House, Boston, MA 02133

So keep writing to the Governor, bugging Mike Costello and Steve Baddour, and don't let your local City officials off the hook either.

Good luck to us all.

Ed Cameron

Comma or Semi-Colon

I got into a discussion with a coworker yesterday about the semi-colon.

He had asked me to double check a letter he was writing to an elected official.

I said, "I don't think you should use a comma here. Use a semi-colon or else make it two sentences."

I couldn't give an eloquent reason for the use of the semi-colon other than I recalled "The Elements of Style" by Strunk and Wagnalls. He had no idea what I was talking about. Maybe being 17 years younger than me has something to do with it.

Anyways, turns out the guide by Strunk and White (hey I was pretty close) turned 50.

For all intensive purposes, this is worth a read:

Monday, April 13, 2009

Senior Center Public Input Meeting

The Senior Center Building Committee is hosting a meeting for public input on Tuesday, April 28 at 6:30PM at the Newburyport Public Library. Working with Court Street Architects, the Committee is looking at several options for the Senior Center at Cushing Park. For the ultimate design to be successful for the entire community, the Committee needs input from seniors, neighbors, and all citizens. For more information, please contact co-chairs Councillor Ed Cameron (at and Councillor Brian Derrivan (at

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Waste Water Treatment Facility

The Council approved a $26.4 Million bond order on Monday night for improvements to our Wastewater Treatment Facility (WWTF). The Daily News story is here and Gillian Swart has posted extensively on her blog here. The comments section in the Daily News article is especially interesting;-).

I used to call it a sewer plant but if you sit through enough presentations and read enough reports eventually WWTF starts to sink in.

This has been an interesting discussion in terms of capabilities, discharge standards, location, new versus proven technologies, and renovation versus a new plant.

A recent presentation by the Sewer Commission to the City Council is here.

There have been basically 4 options for the Sewer Commission, the Council, and ratepayers:
  • Option 1: the $26M renovation, no bells, no whistles, does essentially what it's doing now with better odor control (avg annual additional cost to a residential rate payer is $133)
  • Option 2: the $40M basic renovation plus additional structural and equipment improvements (avg annual additional cost to a residential rate payer is $202)
  • Option 3: the $89M new plant relocated to who-knows-where (avg annual additional cost to a residential rate payer is $452)
  • Option 4: the $42M No Action Plan, fingers crossed, pay for components as they breakdown (avg annual additional cost to a residential rate payer is $192)
My comment at the Council meeting about the "rate being reasonable" was a comparison of $133 to $202, $452, and $192. I wasn't comparing $133 to zero.

I'm not happy about a rate increase either but that's the rationale for it.