Franklin (MA) School Committee Blog

The pieces below represent the views of the individual authors, not the committee as a whole.

Archive for July, 2008

SnagFilms privides free access to independent films

Posted by Jeffrey Roy on July 27, 2008

A new website which hosts independent films was featured in today’s paper.  At SnagFilms.com, you can watch full-length documentary films for free, but they also make it easy for you to take the films with you and put them anywhere on the web.  When you embed a widget on your web site, you open a virtual movie theater and become a “Filmanthropist.”  With a library of 225 documentaries, you are bound to find films that resonate with your interests.  There is a widget for EVERY film, so any film you like can be snagged.

Washington Capitals majority owner Ted Leonsis has successfully produced two documentary films in recent years.  Snagfilms is his latest a Web company which will distribute such films online for free, creating an outlet for moviemakers who have difficulty getting their films shown in cinemas.  SnagFilms aims to generate revenue through advertising, which will be split evenly between Leonsis’s company and the filmmakers.  To view the Washington post article on the site and company, click here.

To get you started, below you will see that I have snagged a film called Paperclips for you to watch. It’s 82 minutes and it details how the students at Whitwell Middle School in rural Tennessee met Holocaust survivors from around the world and how the experience transformed them and their community.  Struggling to grasp the concept of six-million Holocaust victims, the students decide to collect six-million paper clips to better understand the extent of this crime against humanity.  It’s a great story of the transformative nature of education.

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Thoughts on the school funding conundrum

Posted by Jeffrey Roy on July 17, 2008

Several weeks ago, Paul Schlictman a colleague from and Past President of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, distributed an e-mail which spoke to what is happening in communities throughout Massachusetts. It highlighted the problems associated with continuous budget cuts, which conflict with our need to provide a sound education. He gave me his permission to publish it here:

At this point in time, we are coming to an understanding of the economic high-stakes tied to a quality education. The jobs that required lots of heart but little education are gone, and our national economic survival is tied to ensuring that all our children receive a quality education. Combined with a national sense of urgency, we have made considerable progress in learning how to improve our schools, and how to deliver an education that will prepare our children for the economy of the future. We now have some amazing technology that serves as both a tool for differentiating instruction, as well as the platform for most of the work that will be done in a digital age.

Meanwhile, what are we doing? Managing cuts and imposing fees to prevent further deterioration of the status quo. While the rest of the world is passing us by, we are sitting at the side of the road placing patches atop previous patches of the baloney-skin tires that we can’t afford to upgrade.

Can we place a fee on the Fi, the Fo, or the Fum? Our daily search for enough duct tape to keep things running is a day we don’t talk about improving curriculum, instruction, and student achievement. Every layoff cycle is a blow to the recruitment and retention of quality teachers. We fail to provide the level of support for teachers (professional development, coaching, supervision and evaluation) that is necessary to foster growth in professional practice. My iPhone has more computing power than some of the 20th century antiques sitting in our classrooms.

Proposition 2.5 frames the question, shall we raise taxes? There can be no more disadvantageous question to ask, as the question does not tie taxes to services or value received. There are many states in which school budgets are tied to local referendums; in New York state the school budget is voted with the following question (this referendum question is from Bay Shore, Long Island): “Shall the proposed budget of the Board of Education of the Bay Shore Union Free School District, Bay Shore, New York for the fiscal year of 2007-2008 totaling $124,453,656 be adopted, and shall such sum be raised by taxation on the taxable property of said district, less the sum received from the public monies?” (To see the actual ballot, click here).

To provide some context, here’s a little description of the district from their website: “The Bay Shore School District sets high expectations for both students and staff. Five elementary schools, a middle school and a high school provide a caring, creative learning environment for the 5,842 students who attend each day. Our mission remains to provide opportunities for all our students to learn, to grow and to achieve their maximum potential. We encourage and enjoy the strong commitment of the families living within our school district to help us reach our goals.” (To view the website, click here).

Bay Shore is a fairly typical Long Island district, and it has a relatively strong commercial tax base (shopping malls along Sunrise Highway). In New York, school districts are independent of towns, and often cross town lines (or encompass only a portion of a town). The Bay Shore district is located inside the Town of Islip (population 322,782 – 2000 Census), and there are 12 school districts either partially or totally located in the town (Four of these school districts contain parts of two or more towns.)

Here’s what happens when the budget is adopted. Once the bottom line is voted, the district waits for the perpetually late state aid number. Once the state aid and other revenue is determined, the remainder is sent out as a line item on the town tax bill. In the case of Bay Shore, they received $34.9 million (28%) in state aid and raised $79 million (64%) from the property tax. If the local aid numbers come in higher, the property tax goes down. If the local aid numbers come in lower, the property tax goes up. The bottom line budget number is set by the referendum; the school board and the community (through the referendum process) determines how much is spent, and the state legislature (through the local aid formula) determines how much will be raised through the property tax.

Massachusetts has one of the most disadvantageous funding structures for public education. Unless we find some way to secure adequate funding for public schools, we will be spending our time thinking up new and better fees. Perhaps we will go back to the old days when parents were required to provide enough wood for the classroom stove in order to heat the classroom.

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Young people still have great expectations

Posted by Jeffrey Roy on July 16, 2008

Despite the importance of young adults, there has been little work that investigates their views and priorities. A wide-ranging survey of 801 people released by MassINC, a nonpartisan public policy think tank, fills that gap. The report, entitled Great Expectations, offers a window into the thinking of a key pool of citizens whose success will largely determine the state’s economic future. The survey paints a comprehensive and fascinating picture of their views, both on their personal lives and on public policy issues. Through their words, clear messages to policymakers and other civic leaders emerge about steps that they can take to make the state more appealing.

This survey reveals that, overall, young adults strongly believe in the American Dream. They see a bright future for themselves and also for future generations. Only 4 percent think that their incomes will go down over the next five years, and only 7 percent of parents think that their children will be worse off than they are financially.

Their optimism about their own lives, however, does not carry over to their views about government. Instead, the majority of young adults lack confidence in government’s effectiveness. In fact, only 4 percent are very confident that state and local government can improve the policy area that they believe should be government’s highest priority. We uncover the connection between their views on taxes and their confidence in government. Of those adults who have a lot or some confidence in state government, 52 percent think that taxes are either about right or too low. Conversely, among those who have either not too much or no confidence in government, only 21 percent believe that taxes are about right or too low.

In sharp contrast to their views about the public sector, young adults are overwhelmingly positive about their jobs and current employers. A substantial majority of the employed reports being satisfied with their jobs. In addition, the importance of working for a socially responsible employer is a clear priority, perhaps in the same way in which job stability might have defined earlier generations. Nearly three-quarters of young adults believe that it is very important to work for an employer who is respectful of ethical values, people, communities, and the environment. Remarkably, nearly 90 percent think that their current employers meet that test.

Finances are the biggest problem facing young adults and their families, with 30 percent saying that personal finances, paying bills, not having enough money, and making ends meet is their biggest problem. Another 20 percent call the high cost of living and housing their biggest problem. Most young adults say they have experienced financial strain in the past five years with 32 percent admitting to taking on more debt than they can handle. Four in 10 (41%) young adults report that they have $10,000 or more in total debt, including all debt from credit cards, loans, and medical bills but not including a mortgage.

The survey identifies three specific subgroups of young adults: those who moved to Massachusetts as adults (Imports); those who grew up in Massachusetts (Homegrowns); and those who grew up in Massachusetts and lived outside the state as adults for at least a year and returned (Boomerangs). There are key demographic differences between these subgroups. For instance, 60 percent of Imports have a college degree compared with 32 percent of Homegrowns. Jobs, education and skills are more of a concern for Homegrowns. Among Imports who are concentrated in Greater Boston, housing and cost of living are key issues.

To view the Boston Globe report on this research, click here. For a copy of the complete report, click here.

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