The School Enrollment Parent Group was formed in 2015 by Arlington parents to inform the community of the challenges posed by our growing student enrollment and to advocate for sensible solutions to address them.

State Senate Candidate Q&A

posted Jun 5, 2017, 8:58 PM by Greg Dennis   [ updated Jun 6, 2017, 3:03 PM ]

The Democratic Primary for the State Senate Special Election is on Tuesday, June 27! The School Enrollment Parent Group asked the three Democratic candidates — Cindy Friedman, Sean Garballey, and Mary Ann Stewart — five questions about education policy, and their responses are linked to below. We thank them for giving voters the opportunity to learn more about their positions on these important issues. While the School Enrollment Parent Group does not endorse candidates, we hope that these questionnaires serve as an informative resource for voters.

Town Meeting Candidate Statements Available

posted Mar 27, 2017, 8:38 AM by Greg Dennis   [ updated Mar 27, 2017, 8:38 AM ]

The Town Meeting candidate statements that were submitted to the School Enrollment Parent Group are now available! Follow the link below to learn more about the candidates in your precinct and their commitment to our schools.

Town Meeting Candidate Statements Requested

posted Mar 23, 2017, 11:13 AM by Greg Dennis   [ updated Mar 23, 2017, 11:14 AM ]

Town Elections will be held on Saturday, April 1. Although the candidates for Board of Selectmen and School Committee are incumbents running unopposed, many precincts have contested races for Town Meeting. If you haven’t already, we encourage you to mark your calendars and learn more about the candidates in your precinct. Town Meeting will vote on many important issues this spring—including two school building projects that are a critical to addressing enrollment growth.

The School Enrollment Parent Group does not endorse candidates for public office. However, in an effort to help voters make informed decisions, we provide candidates with the opportunity to submit statements, which we will make available to the public. All Town Meeting candidates (including write-in candidates) are invited to submit statements using this form. Submissions are limited to 1250 characters.

CANDIDATES:  please use the form below to tell us about yourself and why you would make a committed supporter of our public schools.

Submit Statement Here

Feel free to share this form with candidates who are not a part of this group or who are not on Facebook. The deadline is 5pm on Sunday, March 26.

School Committee Candidate Q&A

posted Mar 14, 2017, 9:34 PM by Greg Dennis   [ updated Jun 5, 2017, 8:57 PM ]

The Annual Town Election is less than three weeks away! We asked the three School Committee incumbents, Bill Hayner, Paul Schlichtman, and Jennifer Susse, who are running unopposed, five questions about our schools and themselves and linked to their responses below. While the School Enrollment Parent Group does not endorse candidates, we hope that this page serves an informative resource for voters to better understand issues facing our schools and how they are being address.

How to Run for Town Meeting

posted Jan 21, 2017, 8:14 PM by Greg Dennis   [ updated Jan 21, 2017, 8:19 PM ]

Are you looking to increase your civic engagement in 2017? Need something to do for the next three years? Want to connect with people from across town? Then being an Arlington Town Meeting member (TMM) might be the gig for you! Every precinct in Arlington has 12 TMMs and they are elected in groups of four every three years. 

Town Meeting meets in April/May on Mondays and Wednesdays from 8-11PM. Last year it took seven sessions to get through the articles. Town Meeting votes on a number of various Warrant Articles. These articles are presented and approved by the various town boards, and can include, but are not limited to, issues such as the town budget, zoning guidelines, and money for our schools and community centers. 

You can find more information in the Town Meeting FAQ.

How do you know what Precinct you are in? Check the precinct map or lookup your address at wheredoivotema.com.

How do you get elected? Pick up papers from Town Hall before Thursday, February 9th. Collect ten signatures from registered voters in your precinct. Return your papers by Monday, February 13th and your name will appear on the ballot. Election day is April 1st. More detailed information is in the town Election Calendar.

If you have questions, please email us at info@arlingtonenrollment.org. 

An Open Letter to the School Committee and Dr. Bodie

posted Jan 13, 2017, 11:16 AM by Moriah Tyrrell   [ updated Jan 21, 2017, 8:48 PM by Greg Dennis ]

Dear Members of the School Committee and Dr. Bodie: 

We are writing this letter to urge you to conduct an open search for the two middle school principal positions, Ottoson and Gibbs, rather than limiting the searches to internal candidates. Our suggestion is based on the following reasons:
  1. An Opportunity to Innovate
    Arlington’s new middle school structure represents an exciting opportunity to rethink our students’ transition to middle school. It’s an opportunity to be innovative with both the curriculum and the physical space of the school building. Although many talented administrators currently work in Arlington’s public school system, by opening up your search we will meet candidates with different backgrounds, ideas, and perspectives. The search process alone could be illuminating and bring forward new ideas. The principal you choose will be instrumental in shaping a vision for this exciting new school, which we expect will be part of our students’ experience for many years to come.

  2. An Opportunity for Diversity
    Hiring and retaining a diverse faculty is a well-documented challenge for our school system. According to the state’s diversity report released in October, 75% of Arlington’s students are white and 84% of the staff is white. In discussing this report at a School Committee meeting, you expressed a desire to close this gap. Every opening is an opportunity to do so, but if you decide to hire from within for this position, the diversity of our faculty will not increase. Little will change if this is the administration’s regular practice.

  3. An Opportunity for Goal Setting
    Naming an internal candidate now so they can spend the 2017-2018 academic year planning for the opening of the new school has the potential to limit the programming at the new school. Let’s not restrict the programming for the new sixth grade to the vision of the first person who is hired to lead. Instead, we propose developing the programs and goals based on what our district and community want to see for our schools and then hiring the best person to lead that vision.
We look forward to hearing more about the Gibbs parent committee because we know parents are excited about the new school and eager to be engaged. Convening the committee is an important step in making the development of the school transparent. We believe this transparency should include the process for hiring new principals. It would be ideal for the parent committee to meet regularly and receive updates on the hiring process. If there are compelling reasons to prefer an internal-only search, those reasons could be articulated clearly and openly and then carefully weighed against the advantages of an open search.

Thank you for considering our request and for the work you do on behalf of our students. 

Sincerely,

The School Enrollment Parent Group

School Enrollment Task Force Meeting 12/21/16

posted Dec 22, 2016, 7:31 AM by Greg Dennis   [ updated Dec 22, 2016, 8:13 AM ]

On Wednesday, December 21, the School Enrollment Task Force met to review an architectural study for expansion of the Hardy School. The study was conducted by HMFH and can be found here. Hardy principal Kristin DeFrancisco attended and answered questions and gave input about Hardy's needs.

The task force adopted a motion to support, in principle, the plan to build a six-classroom addition to open in fall 2018 pending more input from the relevant committees. They need to determine where the money is going to come from but agree that this is the right way to address space needs at Hardy.

The study compared the costs of using four modular classrooms versus a four-classroom or a six-classroom addition. The estimated cost for four modular classrooms is about 1.4 million. Cost for a four-classroom addition is about 1.4-1.6 million, and cost for a 6-classroom addition is about 2.1-2.4 million. (More detail is in the report.)

Forecasts suggest that Hardy would need the additional classroom space for at least six years. Modulars typically can't be used for more than five years before they need to be repaired or replaced. The town would also have to buy them rather than lease them. The break-even point for that is five years.

Charlie Foskett, the Chair of the Capital Planning Committee and the Vice Chair of the Finance Committee, said that looking at the numbers, bricks and mortar makes sense for the town. In the end, we'll have an asset, and since you can't borrow for modulars, the town would need to come up with the money all at once. If we build and bond for 25 years, the town can spread out the cost. The task force was in agreement. Task Force members will take this recommendation back to their respective committees (Finance, Capital Planning, Permanent Town Building, and School) and details of funding will be discussed. The task force will reconvene on Wednesday, February 8 at 6pm.

The proposed addition would add to an existing classroom wing and is relatively easy to do, since the corridors can be extended and the current stairwells and egresses can still be used. The K play structure would need to be moved to the Lake Street side and the new wing would go there. It would be three levels of two classrooms each.

Hardy definitely needs three new classrooms. However, the teachers have given up their planning and lunch space. They are now using a space that's about 1/3 the size of a regular classroom, but it's very challenging, so the larger addition would give them back that space. It's also possible that another ELL classroom will be needed with our growing enrollment. The principal also pointed out that Hardy is currently unable to meet demand for the after school program and additional programming space for that would be very useful.

Because of enrollment growth, Hardy's current playground space is inadequate, and the project will look into developing the lawn on Lake Street for this type of use (kindergartners are already using it sometimes, but the conditions are challenging). The extremely undersized cafeteria is also a major concern that will be looked at more closely in future studies.

The possibility of making the lower level of the addition a more flexible space was also discussed. They can put in a movable wall so the two classrooms could be used together or separately. This is being done with the Thompson addition so it can be used for some gym activities such as yoga.

The idea is that the addition would open for fall 2018, but this is all pending discussion by the relevant committees and dependent on funding.

Arlington School Enrollment Parent Group Opposes Question 2

posted Oct 23, 2016, 9:49 PM by Greg Dennis   [ updated Mar 20, 2017, 11:29 AM ]

The Arlington School Enrollment Parent Group has voted unanimously to oppose Question 2 and keep the existing cap on charter schools. Having advocated on behalf of our public schools for the past 10 months, we felt obligated to study Question 2 in depth. We believe that lifting the cap as the question specifies would hinder Arlington's ability to meet the challenges posed by our growing student population and would be counterproductive toward achieving equitable education for all, both in Arlington and across the Commonwealth.

To dispel a common misconception, a vote against Question 2 would not negatively affect existing charter schools or stop new charter school growth — far from it. The state currently caps the number of charter schools at 120, but with only 80 charter schools in operation statewide, there is still ample room to grow. Additionally, as of 2010, school districts are allowed to create their own "innovation schools", also known as Horace Mann charter schools, outside the 120 cap, and 57 such innovation schools have been established since.

The primary problem with Massachusetts charter schools today isn't the schools themselves, but a funding formula that disadvantages traditional public schools. When a student decides to attend a charter, the district is obligated to pay charter tuition equal to its per-pupil education cost. But while the money always follows the student to a charter school, the costs too often stay behind. Last year, ten students from Arlington chose to attend charter schools, requiring our district to pay $122,380 in charter school tuition. However, our fixed costs remained the same, as we still need to keep the lights on, and we can't eliminate a fraction of a teacher. Current law wisely caps the amount of money an individual district must pay in charter school tuition, but Question 2 would eliminate that very safeguard.

Furthermore, the per-pupil tuition formula ignores any differences in the student population between a charter and a district that pays it tuition. The reality is that charters, with few exceptions, educate fewer students with disabilities, English language learners, and low-income students than the districts they draw from. So while the district and the charter are funded with the same per-pupil amount, the students who remain in the district will cost more on average to educate. The state does partially reimburse tuition payments, but at an ever-shrinking percentage of a district's total tuition payments; and of those already partial reimbursements, only 63% were actually funded and paid last year by the state — a $47 million shortfall.

For these reasons and others, several known charter school supporters, including Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and Senator Elizabeth Warren, have announced their opposition to Question 2. Walsh said it would "wreak havoc" on Boston municipal finances. Warren noted that "Education is about creating opportunity for all our children, not about leaving many behind." They join 111 civic organizations and 168 School Committees, including the Arlington School Committee, in opposing Question 2.

Clearly, this is a divisive ballot question. The School Enrollment Parent Group firmly believes we need to come together and focus on the real solution to high quality, equitable education for all: better funding of public education at the state level. Lifting the cap on charter schools would only move us further from that goal. On November 8, join us in voting "No" on Question 2.

Q&A with 2016 School Committee Candidates

posted Mar 21, 2016, 6:19 PM by Lauren Ledger   [ updated Jan 22, 2017, 5:29 PM by Greg Dennis ]

Town Elections are on April 2nd. Since this group is dedicated to keeping our community informed about our school enrollment and town issues, we wanted to provide you with some information about the candidates running for school-related positions. Our School Enrollment Parent Group asked the 3 candidates running for School Committee the same 5 questions. Please click on the links below to see their answers. And please vote on April 2nd!

Letter to School Department

posted Mar 21, 2016, 6:10 PM by Lauren Ledger   [ updated Oct 23, 2016, 11:43 PM by Greg Dennis ]

We, the School Enrollment Parent Group, urge the Arlington Public School Department to conduct a comprehensive financial analysis of potential solutions to the middle school overcrowding immediately. The Ottoson Middle School was built to educate 1,050 students. The school population is currently 1,127 and is projected to be 1,308 in less than five years. Because of this short time frame, we urge the School Department to initiate that process now.

Arlington values high quality education and neighborhood schools. Our town government should be commended for taking extreme care in managing finances and spending wisely.Overrides in our town typically stretch longer than anticipated and the town has a healthy override stabilization fund. Our challenge is to align our value of conservative spending with our commitment to providing high quality education to the town’s students.

At this time, the  options that seem to be most favored for  solving the overcapacity problem at the middle school are:

  1. Reclaiming the APS-owned Gibbs School Expanding the OMS campus with a permanent addition
  2. Buying modular classrooms for use at the Ottoson Middle School. They would be placed on a staggered basis over the next five years. At the end of the five year period, there would be a total of twenty modular classrooms.

Any solution to this enrollment crisis will cost money and our residents will expect fiscal responsibility in the decision-making process. On behalf of residents, the Finance Committee will require well-documented estimates of the costs associated with any options. Both parents and residents will demand a solution that serves our students, teachers, administrators and neighborhoods well.

In 2010, at the Annual Town Meeting, the town voted to sell some surplus school properties to pay for the scheduled renovations at Thompson Elementary school. This included voting to sell the Crosby School. At this time it was decided to retain the Gibbs building to use in the event of school enrollment growth. We have reached that point now, and it is our responsibility to follow through with these long-term plans.

The decision of whether to reclaim Gibbs is not a referendum on the value of the Arlington Center for the Arts or on any of the other tenants. It is a strategic decision in response to capacity issues at Ottoson Middle School. A feasibility study needs to be done as soon as possible by the town and the school department to determine actual costs and timelines for renovating the Gibbs School. The school would need renovations to bring it into line with the Ottoson Middle School and with state regulations for a public middle school. Once the study is completed, the town can  decide  which population (6-8th grade from East Arlington, 6th grade, or 8th grade) will be housed there. It is not fair to any of the tenants of the building for the town to draw out the decision any longer.

At this point it is unclear how much these Middle School options will cost the town and taxpayers. The School Committee has been working with the assumption that renovating the Gibbs School would cost $25-30 million.  In the February 4th edition of the Arlington Advocate, Jean Flanagan. from the ACA,  is quoted as saying, “The Gibbs School would need something in the range of 24 million dollars to bring it up-to-date.”  However,  the closest real estimate we have for the cost of renovating the school was in the preliminary report, completed by HMFH Architects last summer. After their quick walk-through of the Gibbs School, this architecture firm suggested that a renovation to the Gibbs School could cost between $14-20 million.

It’s our opinion that many of these numbers seem high for a renovation. The complete teardown and rebuild of the state-of-the-art Thompson Elementary School cost $20 million, with some money left over. It is expected to  cost $10 million to completely renovate the 66,000-square-foot Stratton Elementary School, bringing it to parity with the Thompson School.  The Gibbs School, at 60,000 square feet, is smaller than the Stratton School. Although it would need significant upgrades to bring it up-to-date, it must only reach parity with the Ottoson Middle School. It does not need to be a brand new school. It’s hard to believe that this would cost more than the Stratton renovation of $10 million dollars.

The private Lesley Ellis School has occupied the Gibbs School for many years. Tuition for a middle school student is $28,000 per year. If the quality of the building is sufficient to support this tuition, it seems likely that it would be more than adequate to be used for our public school students during this time of our enrollment growth.

If a feasibility study is done to look at all of the options the town is considering to solve enrollment challenges at the middle school, the School Committee can make an educated decision about the best path to choose. If the study shows that the Gibbs School is an economically viable option, it should also be looked at as a long-term investment to the town. In its current state, with four tenants leasing the space for lower than market value, the building generates approximately $30,000 each year for the town. If, in twenty years, our school enrollment declines, the town would have the option of moving all students into one Middle School and renting the Gibbs building out again. The rental income the town would generate from a more recently renovated school would far exceed $30,000 a year and would be a solid long-term investment. If, after the feasibility study, it is decided that the Gibbs School is not the best solution to our enrollment challenges, than it should be assessed to sell in order for the profits to be used during this time of need.

We urge the School Department and town to move forward with funding and carrying out a feasibility study to analyze all of the options that are under consideration to alleviate crowding at Ottoson Middle School. The longer we delay making a decision, the more it will cost the taxpayers in Band-Aid solutions like modular classrooms. The costs of long-term solutions also rise as we wait. Students are already paying for our lack of planning as more programs are cut each year in order to save space. The School Enrollment Parent Group feels that the town must act now in order to preserve educational quality and spend taxpayers’ money wisely.

Arlington School Enrollment Parent Group

1-10 of 14