District Rolls out New Bus Routes to Cull Wait Lists

The buses are rolling back to school this week, and this year, redesigned bus routes look to cut down on the waitlist for students looking for a ride to the Mary C. Burke Elementary School Complex.

Over the summer, school district staff redesigned the yellow bus routes to maximize the number of students who have seats on the first day of school and reduce the number on the waitlist, according to Superintendent Mary Bourque.

“This year, we looked at the ridership data and created the bus routes from scratch so that we could get the greatest number of elementary school students into bus seats on the first day of school,” said Bourque.

This year, two buses will start their routes in Prattville, where a large number of students live, and another will begin on Admiral’s Hill.

School officials are looking to reduce traffic congestion, as fewer buses will be crossing paths on the way to pick up students.

Letters have been mailed to families of all students who have assigned seats on the buses. The letters include laminated tags with the student’s first name, bus stop, and bus number. School officials are asking that the tags be attached to students’ backpacks so they can be easily identified as riders.

As of last Thursday night’s School Committee meeting, there were no students on the bus wait list, according to Bourque. In recent years, the waitlist has been as high as 100 students.

“We do have approximately 100 families who still have not brought in proof of address to the Parent Information Center and we strongly encourage them to bring their materials in as quickly as possible so their child can get a seat on the bus,” said Daniel Mojica, Director of the Parent Information Center.

While many of the students may be able to get a bus seat, school officials stated that some routes are filling up faster than others, and some students could end up on a waitlist.

“We are asking parents who have not provided documentation to come in as soon as possible,” said Monica Lamboy, the district finance director.

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School Department Able to Replace Some Budget Cuts With State Budget

The School Department will be able to replace a number of positions and items cut from the original 2019-2020 budget due to an influx of state monies from the final State Budget.

Last Thursday night, the School Committee approved an additional $1.3 million in state Chapter 70 appropriations.

That money will be used to add one attendance officer and a half-time special education clerk in the special education department, increase salary contingencies and health insurance funds across the district, add one social communications teacher and two paraprofessionals and increase funding for substitutes at the Early Learning Center and the elementary schools, add a special education inclusion teachers at the Clarke and Browne middle schools, and correct funding for athletic coaches and increase funding for substitutes at the high school, among other items.

The City Council will now have to approve the additional funding.

“Each year, the Governor’s proposed budget numbers are used by CPS as the foundation for the upcoming year’s budget,” stated Supt. Mary Bourque.

When the state budget is finally adopted after deliberations by the House and Senate and considered by the governor, the budget allocations by school district typically change.

The $1.3 million is separate and apart from any changes to the “pothole” funding which could be finalized by the state in the next several weeks, according to Bourque.

Last year, the Chelsea schools received just under $300,000 in the pothole funding.

“I think it will be something in the same range this year,” said Bourque.

As the schools await the additional funding, Bourque said it’s important for parents and teachers to continue to advocate for a change in the way the state determines the foundational school budget for districts such as Chelsea. Bourque noted that Chelsea’s special education program and benefits are underfunded by approximately $17 million.

“The state legislature is working on a bill to fix the foundation budget,” said Bourque. “We want to make sure it is something we can live with for the next 25 years. We need the City Council to continue to advocate alongside us.”

•In other School Committee business, Bourque updated the board on the superintendent transition plan.

Superintendent-elect Almi Abeyta will be constantly shadowing Bourque through Dec. 1. On Dec. 1, Bourque will take a step back and Abeyta will begin making school district decisions.

Bourque’s last day is Dec. 31, and Jan. 1, 2020 will be Abeyta’s first official day as superintendent.

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New Supt. Abeyta Ready to Take Charge of Chelsea Public Schools

The corner office in City Hall – and the head of the Chelsea Public Schools – will have a new look and some new ideas now that incoming Supt. Almi Abeyta has taken her place as the leader of the schools, ready to welcome faculty and students on Aug. 27 for their – and her – first day of school.

After a public process last spring, Abeyta was chosen by the School Committee after a close vote, but in deciding fashion, and she reported to work on Aug. 12. This week, with former Supt. Mary Bourque still on the job to help with the transition, Abeyta has been meeting with staff and learning all about Chelsea after having left her position this summer at Somerville High School.

New Supt. Almi Abeyta with outgoing Supt. Mary Bourque on Monday during a professional development session at the Early Learning Center. Abeyta took the reigns officially on Aug. 12 and is ramping up to full speed for the coming school year, which starts on Aug.27.

“I’ve just been listening a lot so far – getting to know people,” she said. “It’s one thing to read about a district – a plan – but it’s a whole other thing to see it in action. What I was reading about online and hearing about in the interview process – now I’m seeing it play out and it’s refreshing to see there is alignment between the two. In education, there is theory in action and theory in use. I’m seeing both working together in Chelsea Public Schools.”

That was a refreshing take from the new leader of the schools as she accompanied Bourque around the district – meeting with teachers on Monday for professional development sessions at the Early Learning Center.

Abeyta comes to the district with a great deal of experience in and around Chelsea, living in Revere and having taught in leadership positions at East Boston and Somerville.

“This process was for me a long time coming,” she said in a recent interview. “I just couldn’t pass up Chelsea. I drove through Chelsea every day to Somerville from Revere. I really wanted to serve a community like Chelsea. When I saw it was open, I said I have to do this. I felt it was a perfect step for me professionally and personally…Having been in East Boston, Chelsea felt like home to me. It is me. It feels right and where I am supposed to be.”

Abeyta grew up mostly in New Mexico in a military family, having spent time in various places around the world before settling there. After attending public schools all her life, she eventually made her way to the East Coast and went to graduate school at Harvard University. During that process, she had interned at the Donald McKay Elementary in Eastie. Intending to move on after that, she was heavily recruited by the Boston Public Schools (BPS) to take the principal job at the McKay – and she served there for four years before taking a role in the central administration of the BPS.

“I took the job because I fell in love with the people of East Boston, and I just really liked that neighborhood,” she said. “I was happy in Boston and everything I wanted to do professionally I was doing. Then I got a call out of the blue.”

That call came from Sante Fe, New Mexico, where her hometown was recruiting her to come back and be a key deputy superintendent during a transition time in the system.

That was a job she couldn’t pass up, she said, having wanted to be home for such a long time. However, Boston was calling her, and she soon accepted a job as deputy superintendent at the Somerville Public Schools – which is where she has been.

Abeyta has been a rising star in the education world in Boston and New Mexico for several years, but said she has not taken the step for superintendent before due to her family obligations. This year, her daughter graduated from school in New Mexico and is headed to Boston to go to college. Abeyta said she had never wanted to take on the demanding role of superintendent until her daughter was in college.

“To be superintendent, I feel like you have to be completely committed,” she said. “I always said I’d be ready for that step in my career when my daughter went to college and I was more of an empty-nester.”

Coming into the district – and able to keep a pretty good conversation in Spanish – Abeyta said she feels like she can take the system to the next level.

“I see a district where there are already systems and structures in place,” she said. “People are working hard on instruction. There is so much energy. That’s exciting and attracted me when I applied. It was a great place where I didn’t have to go in and rebuild. That’s a gift…There are a lot of good things happening already. My role is to build on those great things and take them to the next level. That next step will depend on what I hear and see in the data. I will take that next step with the community.”

School starts in Chelsea on Weds., Aug. 27, for students across the school system.

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Bourque Named Daoulas Award Winner; Announced as Legislative Leader for MASS

In their annual conference this month, the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents (MASS) announced that Chelsea outgoing Supt. Mary Bourque would be working with them on legislative issues at the State House.

The meeting, held in Mashpee, was also a time to highlight school leaders from across the state, and Bourque – who is a past president of MASS – was recognized for her career in Chelsea with the Daoulas Award. The association’s highest award is the Daoulas Award, and it is named after former Dracut Supt. Christos Daoulas.

Paul Andrews, MASS, and Eric Conti, Superintendent Burlington Public Schools, with Chelsea Supt. Mary Bourque

It was presented to her by Eric Conti, past president and superintendent of the Burlington Public Schools.

“Mary is a fierce, fierce, and tenacious supporter of her community and of the students of her community,” Conti said. “She is an extreme collaborator, leader of the 5 District Partnership and Urban Superintendents. She is a champion of students first arriving in our country…the motto of Chelsea is, ‘We Welcome and We Educate.’”

She is one of only three women to ever win the award.

Bourque, who is retiring at the end of this year and will be taking on a mentor role Aug. 1 to the new superintendent, was also announced as taking on a legislative position for MASS.

“I am humbled, and I am proud,” she said. “I am proud of my family; I am proud of my community of Chelsea; I am proud of my State – the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; and I am proud to be a public school kid.” Added Conti, “She will take the same tenacity for her community and apply it to all our communities.”

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School Committee Chair Rich Maronski Resigns from His Seat Cites Frustrations with Committee Attendance

School Committee Chair Rich Maronski Resigns from His Seat Cites Frustrations with Committee Attendance

School Committee Chair Rich Maronski announced on Tuesday that he will be resigning from the Committee as of May 3 – citing that the frustrations with attendance at the meetings was getting in the way of his family life.

Maronski has been on the Committee for four years, and was appointed at the time. He previously served on the City Council, but said his experience on the School Committee was much more frustrating – leading him to decide it was time to move on.

“I believe the taxpayers aren’t getting their money’s worth and the kids are paying the penalty,” he said. “It needs to change. Our School Committee needs to go back the old way or they need to be appointed. It’s the only job I know where you don’t have to show up, don’t have to call in and don’t get fired. I hope our City leaders take a deep look at this and make some changes.”

Maronski was elected chair this year in his fourth year, and he was accompanied as vice chair by Julio Hernandez, who also resigned last week.

While Hernandez cited family and school complications, he also said he left frustrated by the sparse attendance of some members of the Committee.

“I loved working in the School Committee, but it also made me angry to see some members not show up to meetings, not ask questions, and not have thorough discussions regarding our students’ education,” he said in a statement last week. “…I now believe School Committee Members should be appointed, because our students’ education is no joke.”

Maronski said things started off bad from day one, when he showed up to take his appointed seat but not enough School Committee members showed up to form a quorum and have an official meeting.

“I had to come back another night when there were enough members there to have a meeting,” he said.

He also said he became severely frustrated two years ago when the Committee was faced with voting on a $1.1 million grant that would help save jobs for teachers that had been cut.

The Committee only had to show up in enough numbers for a formality vote that accepted the grant.

“We didn’t have enough members for a quorum and we couldn’t vote on a measure that was going to save teacher jobs,” he said. “There are no phone calls and people just don’t show up…It’s been going on for years.”

More recently, he said the Committee wasn’t able to get enough people to vote on the Superintendent’s Job Description, so the Search Committee had to work for a month with only an unapproved draft until they could get enough members at a meeting to vote.

“My well-being and my family’s well-being come first,” he said. “I was taking this home with me. I’m getting married soon and it wasn’t fair. The reason why I chose to resign is because maybe I could bring light to our City leaders that this situation has to change…We do have some very good School Committee members that give their time, but a lot don’t.”

He said the Committee also plays an important role for supporting the kids in the schools. He said he would love to see a Committee where members are active and involved, supporting the kids at reading events, sporting events and concerts.

“We live in a City where there are a lot of single parent homes and so it’s even more important the School Committee members show up to these kids’ events to support them,” he added.

Maronski said he had all the respect in the world for the Central Office, the principals, the teachers and the buildings/grounds crews.

He also said Supt. Mary Bourque has done a great job in a hard job.

“Mary Bourque has the toughest job in the city,” he said. “We had our differences, but 90 percent of the time we agreed and only 10 percent we didn’t.”

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Student Exodus – Young People, Families Leaving for the North Shore Due to Higher Rent

Student Exodus – Young People, Families Leaving for  the North Shore Due to Higher Rent

Supt. Mary Bourque said that for the first time in decades, more students are leaving the Chelsea Public Schools (CPS) than are coming in – an exodus of students that seems to be heading mostly to Lynn.

“We’ve always had more students coming in from certain communities than students leaving Chelsea for those communities,” said Bourque this week. “Since July, we’re seeing the inverse. We have more going out to the four communities of Lynn, Revere, Everett and Boston…A few years ago, we were seeing an influx of students from outside of the country. We’re seeing the reverse. We’re not seeing that influx from out of the country, and we’re actually seeing the exodus of our families more to the North Shore communities. The movement is more to the North Shore. I think it’s linked to housing and affordability.”

According to CPS data, from July 1, 2019 through February 14 – 257 Chelsea students left for other communities in Massachusetts. Of the 257, the largest pattern saw 29 going to Boston; 35 going to Everett; 44 going to Lynn; and 34 going to Revere. Those are places that, historically, Bourque said usually leak more students to Chelsea than Chelsea loses to them. That trend has changed now.

The root cause could come for multiple reasons, but Bourque said she firmly believes it all comes down to the drastic rise in rents and housing costs in Chelsea.

“I do believe it’s the rising rental properties around the community,” she said. “Right now, Chelsea is experiencing it just like, if not more so, than other communities. We’re losing many, many families. I’m seeing documents of many, many families going to Lynn in particular. Lynn seems to be the most popular destination for families being able to find rental properties. Secondarily, they are going to Revere, Everett and Boston.”

Bourque, who has studied student mobility in depth during her career, said many studies have indicated over the years that student population is a bellwether for the changes that are coming to a community.

In Chelsea, she said she believes this latest trend in student population could be sounding an alarm for the community to try to take action.

“This is definitely something we have to pay attention to,” she said. “The demographics in our schools are telling of what is coming to the community at-large. We’re the canary in the coal mine for community shift. I see it as a positive though because we can look at it and get out in front so we can be prepared to meet the needs of that shift.

A consequence of that loss is that the CPS budget is likely going to shrink due to the smaller enrollments.

“We already have an issue with the Foundation Budget at the state level being broken, and it still needs to be fixed,” she said. “We still need to advocate for that. At the same time, we have a confounding situation where we’re losing student enrollment that results in a natural decrease in staffing and resources due to that lower student enrollment. The challenge will be keeping those two budgetary issues separate and not allowing them to blend together. They are two different issues.”

Bourque said the situation reminds her of what Somerville Public Schools went through some years ago as it gentrified on the back of Cambridge’s successes. At one point, she said she recalled they had somewhere around 6,000 students enrolled in the public schools, but as that City changed, the numbers dwindled down to around 4,000. She said Chelsea should fight to keep that from happening here.

Looking for a wave from Venezuela, Brazil

Chelsea has always had a reputation and a practice of having open arms to refugees and new immigrant populations.

Now, as new immigrant families seem to be migrating a bit towards the North Shore, Supt. Mary Bourque said they are keeping an eye on Brazil and Venezuela as potential sources of incoming students.

Bourque said immigrant groups from crisis areas of the world typically begin showing up in Chelsea schools about 10 to 15 months after the crisis in their countries.

With the recent political upheaval in Venezuela with its leadership, she said the federal government is considering giving Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Venezuelans. That, she said, could result in more students arriving from that country soon.

“It will be interesting to wait and see if we get an influx from Venezuela,” she said. “It usually happens 15 to 18 months after a crisis. We’ll watch to see if this summer enrollments begin to come in from that country.”

In Brazil, she said a down economy has already brought a trickling of new Brazilian students to the district.

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Supt. Bourque Says Governor’s Budget Increases Still Aren’t Enough

Supt. Bourque Says Governor’s Budget Increases Still Aren’t Enough

Gov. Charlie Baker brought a short smile to the face of many when he unveiled an increase in education funding in his State Budget proposal two weeks ago, but this week Supt. Mary Bourque said the proposal needs to go further for cities like Chelsea.

“Although a step in the right direction for public education and in particular gateway cities, the Governor’s FY20 budget does not go nearly far enough,” she wrote in a letter on Feb. 6.

Bourque said the Chelsea Public Schools are facing another year where they will likely – as it stands now – have to cut another $2 million from their budget. That falls upon multiple years of cuts that have weighed cumulatively on the schools and taken away core services from students.

One of the problems is that salaries, health insurance and special education costs are rising so quickly. This year, she said, they are looking at increases in those areas of $5.2 million.

Gov. Baker’s budget proposal steers an increase of $3.2 million to Chelsea over last year, but in the face of rising costs, that still leaves the schools in the red.

It’s yet another year of advocacy for the schools to fix the Foundation Formula – an exercise that has seemingly played out without any success for at least five years.

“Once again we are facing another year of painful budget cuts because the foundation formula used to calculate aid to our schools is broken,” she wrote. “The formula from 1993 has not kept up with inflation, changing demographics or increased student needs. I am however, encouraged this year that all leaders at the State level have acknowledged that the formula is broken, including for the first time the Governor.”

Bourque also spelled out the complex nature of the Chelsea Schools, including numerous factors that are contributing to the reduction in funding.

One of the most startling situations is that there are fewer kids, and with education funding based on numbers of kids, that translates to even less money for the schools.

Bourque said this year they have begun to identify a downward trend in enrollment for the first time in years. She said fewer kids are coming in from outside the U.S. and families are leaving Chelsea for areas with lower rents and costs of living.

“In addition to the foundation formula undercounting critical costs, a significant portion of this year’s $2 million dollar gap is due to student demographic shifts taking place in our schools,” she wrote. “We are seeing a downward trend in student enrollment…This year we have noted fewer students entering our schools from outside the United States as well as a number of students and families moving from Chelsea due to the high cost of living in the Boston area.” The Chelsea Public Schools under the City Charter have until April 1 to submit their balanced budget. Bourque said they plan to lobby members of the House of Representatives and the Senate in the meantime to fix the funding gaps that now exist.

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Collins Center Lays Out Roadmap for New Superintendent Search

Collins Center Lays Out Roadmap for New Superintendent Search

It’s been so long since Chelsea has sought out a new superintendent that there isn’t even a current job description.

For so many years, Boston University (BU) appointed a superintendent as it ran the public schools for decades, and when current Supt. Mary Bourque came into the role, it was long-decided that she would succeed former Supt. Tom Kingston – the last BU appointee.

Now, for the first time in 30 or 40 years, the School Committee will be tasked with finding a new leader for the public schools.

“This is all new to all of us,” said Chair Rich Maronski. “It’s even new to the School Department. They don’t even have a job description for superintendent. They have to create one now, which tells you how long it’s been.”

Bourque said the Collins Center was most recently used by the schools to hire Monica Lamboy, the business administrator who took the place of Gerry McCue. She said it was also used to hire City Manager Tom Ambrosino and former City Manager Jay Ash.

“The first couple of steps will go slowly, but from the middle of February to May it will be intense,” she said. “I can’t be involved in it then. I’ll be more of the logistics part. There is a lot of community input, but it’s a School Committee decision. Chelsea hasn’t had a search since before BU…One interesting point is we don’t have any internal candidates. In Revere, Supt. Paul Dakin was succeeded by an internal candidate, Dianne Kelly. None of our internal candidates feel they are ready to move up. Because of that, it’s going to be an outside candidate.”

Maronski, Supt. Bourque and the rest of the Committee met with the Collins Center last Thursday, Jan. 10, to go over the timelines and parameters of the upcoming search.

“It’s all structured by the Collins Center,” he said. “They are looking at the May 2 School Committee meeting for us to vote on this. That would be the first Thursday in May. I believe they will want to get it done by June because that’s a very busy month for us. I think the Collins Center is pretty good. They had all the dates worked out and structured for us. That helps.”

The notice of a job opening will go out on Feb. 8, and focus groups of teachers, staff, parents and community groups will form about the same time. They will be charged with coming up with a candidate profile that will be used by a Screening Committee to review all of the applicants.

The Screening Committee will be selected by the School Committee on March 7, and it will be made up of appointed members, including City Manager Tom Ambrosino, parents and teachers.

They will conduct private interviews of candidates in April, and they will forward a public list of finalists to the Committee around April 4. Community forums and public interviews will take place from April 22 to 25.

A contract is proposed to be signed by May 10.

Bourque said she will remain on through December 2019 so that she can mentor the new person and help transition them into the “Chelsea way.” Since it will be an outside candidate, she said that will be critical. “Chelsea has a very strong reputation and coming in with a solid transition plan with the exiting superintendent to help them is something people will like,” she said. “At the same time, it is an urban district and it is a complex district. Some people don’t like that, others do.”

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Equitable Access:Chelsea School Leaders Demand Educational Equity for All Students at Malden Forum

Equitable Access:Chelsea School Leaders Demand Educational Equity for All Students at Malden Forum

Chelsea School Superintendent
Mary Bourque and Chelsea City Manager Thomas Ambrosino were two panelists
Tuesday night at Malden High School discussing school budget funding.

Chelsea School Superintendent Mary Bourque and Chelsea City Manager Thomas Ambrosino were two panelists Tuesday night at Malden High School during a forum calling on legislators to overhaul the state’s current educational funding model to ensure equity for all students, especially those in low-income areas.

During the state’s last legislative session a bill by State Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz (D-Jamaica Plain) would have recalculated the cost to educate each student in public school districts known as the ‘foundation budget’ and poured millions of dollars into school over the next several years.

However that bill failed and educators like Bourque are calling this mechanism the state uses to provide students with equitable access to educational opportunities ‘obsolete’ and must be revised to meet the expectations of today’s economy.

Because the state has not updated its education funding formula since 1993 to reflect districts’ real health insurance and special education costs, the amount of aid being provided to cover those costs is too small.

To compensate, many districts like Chelsea end up using money that would otherwise have supported core education programs—including Regular Ed. Teachers, Materials & Technology, and Professional Development. This also results in dramatic cuts in other areas of education.

“The time is now because we have no more time left,” said Bourque at Tuesday night’s meeting. “There will be more cuts because we don’t know where the money will come from. We cut all of our after school programs…elementary (afterschool) programs two years ago and middle school after school programs last year. It’s time to make changes to the formula and we need to make the formula work for us. It is time to save the futures of our students and open those doors to the future. We can not afford to have our students go through another year of cuts in their school system.”

The problem for low income school districts like Chelsea is there is a growing equity gap between schools in Chelsea and schools in more affluent areas of the state. When faced with such shortfalls, high-wealth districts can often draw on additional, local revenue. Lower-wealth districts like Chelsea, however, are generally unable to do so and the consequence is that they spend less on resources that are critically important to the quality of education students receive.

“I do think there a lot of school systems in a financial crisis my expectation is that if this is not addressed in this legislative session we are going to have a lot of tough decisions to make like Brockton did where they had to lay off a significant amount of teachers,” said Ambrosino. “We are living in good economic times. State revenues have been running above estimates for quite some time so it’s time for the legislature to use this good fortune and make education a priority once again and invest in education. This is not easy and requires a lot of money so I don’t envy any legislators that have to work on this but budgets are all about priorities. A budget, simply put, is a policy statement on your (the legislation’s) priorities and the legislature once again has to make education a priority. If it doesn’t there will be too many ‘have nots’ in the Commonwealth once again.”

Estimates by lawmakers to fix the budget formula could be as high as $1 billion with Gov. Charlie Baker vowing to put forth his own proposal to fix the broken system after the House and Senate couldn’t agree on a solution last year.

However, Bourque said something has to be done and done soon because Chelsea is running a $7.4 million school budget gap between what the state covers for education and what the Chelsea School District is actually spending to educate students.

“Morally obligated to meet our students needs and provide for them so they can be successful and have futures,” said Bourque. “Sometimes, as a superintendent, I feel like we’ve been living on a ‘fixed budget’ since 1993 and that fixed income is not working. The result is that we are stretched too thin.”

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