Today we’re launching a new project. From now on, you can expect newsletter emails from us in your inbox every Friday. The goal of these emails is to give you a quick roundup of news highlights from Lexington this week, in addition to our continued efforts to bring you deep reporting. As with that reporting, we’re starting out this newsletter with a focus on Lexington Public Schools, with the goal of expanding the roundup’s range of content over time.
Week of Oct. 11: LPS News Roundup
COVID Cases; Class Action Grievance at LHS; School Committee Meeting; First Budget Summit for FY2023
COVID-19 Cases at LPS
- As of yesterday, there were 11 students or staff absent who had tested positive for COVID-19 (10 students, 1 staff member), and 37 staff or students quarantined (35 students, 2 staff members) from Lexington Public Schools. These are big jumps compared to last week — when there were 6 staff or students absent who had tested positive, and 9 on quarantine. These are also the highest numbers of quarantines and staff/students absent per week so far this school year — but still low overall.
- Most of the cases and quarantine-related absences were at the elementary school level. Hastings, the largest LPS elementary school, had the most staff and students quarantining (20) and the most cases (8 staff or students who had tested positive). Bridge had the second-highest number of staff or students quarantining (8) but just one staff member or student had tested positive.
- Beyond schools, the overall town case count went up slightly this week. The town recorded 11 cases each in the last two weeks, but today, the case count ticked up to 18 new cases. Still not a huge increase, but worth keeping an eye on.
Why were high school educators wearing blue shirts yesterday? Because they’re protesting being overworked to the point of contract violation, according to a class-action grievance
- Educators at Lexington High School wore blue shirts yesterday to protest being overworked to the point of violating their contracts, and the Lexington Education Association, the local chapter of a state and national union, filed a class-action grievance on behalf of high school educators. They presented the grievance and surrounding issues to the high school principal, Andrew Stephens, yesterday.
- Avon Lewis, President of the Lexington Education Association, explained the impetus for the grievance in an email to LexObserver. Some changes to working conditions “alter workload and caseload for some high school educators in ways that result in high school educators [having] loads that exceed contractual expectations,” she wrote. These changes are “especially concerning to most LHS educators” because on top of ” the increased expectations of this year,” there is a trend throughout the last several years of overextending them to the point that they cannot be fully present for their students. But, Lewis added that the high school principal was receptive to yesterday’s complaints: “We are encouraged by the thoughtful attention of the LHS principal and we hope that we will be able to begin to resolve these issues soon.”
- Principal Stephens also sent a comment to LexObserver commending the LHS staff for their hard work. “While it would be inappropriate of me to comment on anything specific, I will say that it has been a challenging couple of years for everyone. We have a terrific staff at LHS, and we’ll continue to seek ways to support them and honor the great work they do every day with our kids.”
School Committee discusses Diverse Hiring Update, Potential Student Vaccine Mandate, Enrollment Declines
(Note: we always post summaries of School Committee meetings on Twitter the night of the meeting —follow us to get those.)
- Here are the highlights from the Lexington School Committee’s discussions during their meeting Tuesday evening:
- Diverse Hiring Update: Throughout the 2020-21 school year, LPS staff went from 10.5% employees of color and/or Hispanic/Latinx to 13.5%, per the LPS Report on Efforts to Reduce Systemic Barriers.
- For the same year, the state rate was 11.9%. Lexington’s proportion of employees of color is similar to e.g. Newton, higher than some comparable districts e.g. Wellesley + Weston, and lower than Brookline (18.5%). More stats + info in the report.
- SC discussion of this update was wide-ranging, but included reflections on the importance of a number of thoughtful and sometimes innovative hiring tactics to actually attract and retain educators of color.
- The SC also began preliminary discussions of the possibility of mandating a fully FDA-approved vaccine for all eligible students, with Chair Kathleen Lenihan citing Amherst as an example of an MA district that has done this.
- Amherst wrote to their local Board of Health asking them to consider introducing such a mandate so that their SC could then vote on it. Lenihan said that Lexington BOH Chair Wendy Heiger-Bernays is receptive to the same idea. No vote was taken on this measure on Tuesday.
- Testing: LPS state-sponsored pooled testing was fully “unpaused” Oct. 13 after being paused due to QR code mismatches which prevented many test samples from being correctly matched with students.
- Recently, identifying a positive case through this testing helped contain at least one class cluster (with no severe illnesses reported, fortunately), a reminder of its importance, Superintendent Julie Hackett said.
- Enrollment: LPS Oct. 1 enrollment numbers are collected by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE); this year, the preliminary numbers show that, like other districts (e.g. Newton+ Brookline), LPS district enrollment declined for the second year in a row. (We’re currently working on a story about these numbers.)
- The decline last year, concentrated at the elementary and particularly kindergarten level, was well-documented nationally. This year’s LPS data will undergo additional review + refinement throughout this month. More info in this preliminary report.
- These are some key highlights, but if you want to know more, you can always watch the recording on LexMedia, which is now posted, or just read the minutes posted (though not yet officially approved) in the School Committee Folder.
First FY2023 Budget Summit Shows Continuing Impacts of COVID-19
- Finally: Yesterday, the Select Board held the first Financial Summit for FY2023, a joint meeting with the School Committee, Appropriation Committee & Capital Expenditures Committee. This is the first of multiple summits to determine the final town budget for FY2023, which includes the school budget.
- Some odd trends started last year with COVID-19, said Assistant Town Manager for Finance Carolyn Kosnoff in her presentation. At the municipal level, pension funding seems to be one of the greatest area of concern.
- Between COVID-related federal funding packages ESSER I, II, and III, Lexington Public Schools currently have nearly $2M — $1,727,285 — in additional funding at their disposal, said Superintendent Julie Hackett in her presentation. ESSER III funding carries the requirement that 20% be directed toward addressing learning loss. Hackett has said in multiple School Committee meetings that she wants to use some of this money as seed funding to start a World Languages program at the elementary school level, which 74 other public school districts in Massachusetts already have.
- Hackett also presented the school enrollment numbers mentioned in the Tuesday School Committee meeting. Enrollment drops at the elementary and middle school level were slightly offset by a small increase in high school enrollment. Elementary school enrollment declined overall by 83 students, with the dramatically smaller kindergarten class from last year resulting in a smaller first-grade class this year. Middle schools saw an overall drop of 36 students. But, in the already severely overcrowded high school, there were 27 more students. Still, even at the high school level, actual enrollment was well below the original projections.
- Though she stressed that the budget will be difficult to predict, Hackett said the current projected budget for LPS in FY2023 is $128,551,071 — a 4.19% increase compared to last year. This new budget would leave a shortfall upwards of $880,000 for LPS, but some of the revenue + expense gaps are expected to close over time, throughout the budget planning process.
That’s a wrap for today. Was this roundup useful to you? What do you want to see in this email next week? Let us know, and please ask your friends to sign up too. You can also check out and share our website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages. Thanks for reading and have a great weekend.
Nicco Mele, Sophie Culpepper, and Sarah Liu