Lawrence Schools Need to Focus


By: Jamison Tomasek – April, 2011

Jamison TomasekWhile everyone wants to feel good and say nice things, it is hard to feel good or say nice things about what is going on in the Lawrence Schools. Yes, there are successful students there. Yes, there are great teachers, and yes there are good programs and happy parents. People point to these examples frequently whenever criticism is directed at the schools. The problem is that we can’t run the government or the schools on anecdotal stories; it has to serve all the people, and serve them in as effective manner as possible.

Lawrence Schools are not doing a good job serving the needs of the students and their parents. Two other interested groups, the taxpayers, who will be footing the proposed $152 million FY2012 budget, and our state, who will deal with future adults unable to become productive citizens and taxpayers, are not getting value from their investment. In the state MCAS test, the only objective measurement we have, Lawrence ranks one or two from the bottom in a list of all the cities and towns in Massachusetts. It could not get any worse (but you’d never know it from all the “there’s a lot of good things going on,” and “things are improving” comments). But let us not forget the students, who as we know face economic challenges when only achieving a high school education, and must somehow get through college to have a shot at achieving what the readers of this paper would call the good life of family, house, and kids in good schools. We are handicapping them forever and denying most the opportunity for that. Forever.

What is the problem here? According to the president of the union that represents Lawrence teachers, in a recent quote, “There are so many problems the children in Lawrence are facing — immigration, housing, low socioeconomic status. The problem in Lawrence is not the teachers.” In any operation- from why a small business goes down to why General Motors ended up in bankruptcy, it’s hard to assign the blame for failure to any one problem. However something that is almost always true is that “lack of focus” in any business; government or non-profit activity is a problem. One thing that is seldom discussed is the Lawrence Schools’ lack focus on education. Do people realize that the schools serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and even meals during the summer? Social service programs. Teams of psychologists. A health care department with dozens of nurses performing a variety of services and significant bills for professional outside services in areas where professionals are already on staff.

Recently School Committee member Mark Gray came out publicly with a call to eliminate a number of redundant nursing positions within the school district, as part of the an overall cutting of the budget. Mr. Gray is always one to bring issues (particularly budget ones) to the public’s attention. As far as the nurses go a brief investigation reveals that they perform a variety of tasks like immunizations, health assessments, etc. Is not everyone in MA covered by health insurance (this what we are told by the Patrick administration)?

Shouldn’t these children be seeing their own doctors, or is there some other issue?

We pay for the uninsured to have insurance, and then we pay again for the school nurses. In theory if the school nurses are performing services in lieu of state agencies, then the school department should be getting reimbursed. In the crazy world of where the money goes in Lawrence, some wonder if that money is flowing back. As part of his budget proposals Mr. Gray has also advocated a comprehensive audit for the schools. One hopes he gets adequate support for that, remember that the Lawrence Schools are 100% funded by you. Maybe once they figure out where the money is going, the Lawrence schools can focus on education and try to get the schools up from the bottom of the MCAS rankings.