Jenny's Update on the After School Wage issues and the MHS Vision Committee
Updated: Mar 30, 2020
We held a Committee of the Whole dedicated to understanding wage issues, brought to our attention by high school workers at our after school programs, and to tour Medford High School on March 4th. The tour was helpful and the committee agreed that we would hold a Committee of the Whole meeting to further define the assignment of the Medford High Vision Committee. Mayor Lungo-Koehn announced her selection of the members of the Vision Committee earlier that day and we expect the group will begin work soon. In our upcoming Committee of the Whole we will be discussing the specific assignment, what reporting the School Committee requires from the Vision Committee, and how the Vision Committee will function. Stay tuned for that!
The other component of the meeting addressed wage concerns for staff across our district who do not currently make minimum wage. By way of background, some organizations are exempted from the Massachusetts minimum wage including municipal employees some non-profits if appropriate waivers are on file. As a school system, we are indeed eligible and have exemptions in place. On January 1, 2020 the Massachusetts minimum wage increased to $12.75. Here is a helpful link with more information about exemptions like this.
After hearing from students on this issue, we asked that a full analysis of the impacted positions be conducted and presented to the School Committee. On Wednesday, we received that report and voted unanimously to bring the salaries of our high school after school assistants to align to the state minimum wage effective 1/1/2020. The change does not impact only this group. We have 71 people on staff in various positions that were affected (26 in the after school program). The change also impacts our lunch attendants, pool staff, and others. The change is, of course, the right thing to do!
I want to be sure to mention that the right thing is not always easy. As a committee, we discussed many implications of the decision that we will anticipate in the future. This quite likely could result in a budget reduction elsewhere, or an increase in fees in some programs like after school, community schools programming, and our school lunch program. That's the honest truth and I think it's important that our entire community understand that. I don’t take any of this lightly. Affordability of our programs is important to me and to all our working families.
Should we be in this position? Should we need after school funds to pay for staff elsewhere (as an aside this is not just happening in Medford)? No. Absolutely not. As a city, we should not face these kinds of issues. But here we are, and we'll need to all be committed to working hard going forward to address the root cause of this. Our schools are severely underfunded. And they have been for decades. I'd imagine you could name 5 things right off the top of your head that we could trace back to underfunding.
So what can we do? From my seat on the Committee, I will continue to talk plainly about what our schools need. Right now all our department directors are working on their budget requests for next year. Our budget historically increases annually by only 2-4% Once you pay for salary increases and increases in the costs of services, that leaves next to nothing for new staff, equipment, maintenance, and programming. This year though, we are asking our department heads to tell us, beyond their budget asks, to "Identify 3-5 items, initiatives, personnel, or costs that, if prioritized during the budget process, would positively impact student achievement that are in addition to the requested budget presented. List a brief description and estimated cost for each. Think big or small. Nothing is off the table in this section." When I see the things coming in on that list, I'm glad that we are talking about this, but also shocked at some of the things being listed in this section. There will likely be a large portion of this list that is frankly NOT an extra. The first step though is to make sure that we are all on the same page about what we have and what we don't. I'll continue to push on this. Sadly, the Student Opportunity Act will not be our savior this year. We are slated to receive only about $135K additional dollars according to the Governor’s budget. The House and Senate will take up the budget in April, which is right around the corner. It is possible that the equation that drives the Student Opportunity Act funding will change. Notably, our charter school bill will increase next year by more than $500K.
I say all of this because I want you to know that I remain committed to doing the right thing, even when it's hard. Through this budget season, I do expect it to get even harder. I will continue to think about how the community can engage in the process so that our students, teachers, and administrators have what they need to be successful. Our high school workers handled their concerns with professionalism and grace. May we all be so successful when facing adversity. In the face of all the challenges I've just laid out, it's important to remember that they are a product of our schools and the education we provide. We are clearly doing something right!
Your call to action: Consider reaching out to your representative and asking them to work on increasing the funding to support low-income students to align with the other funding areas of special education, english learners, and healthcare costs, and social emotional support. All areas are funded at 14% of the target (1/7 to align with the number of years it will take to reach full funding) EXCEPT support of low-income families which was funded at only 4% of the target.