Winter 2013 letters

Winter 2013 correspondence

More Lawrence charters needed

Lawrence schools Receiver/Superin­tendent Jeff Riley is to be congratulated for moving away from the top-down model that has characterized most district turnaround efforts (“High-stakes test,” Fall ’12).?But I would argue that the condition of Lawrence’s schools is on a par with a natural disaster such as Hurricane Katrina and requires no less of a response.

For two decades, the Massach­u­setts response to the riddle of Lawrence has been well-intentioned, but not remotely up to the task of giving the city’s 13,000 students access to the schools they deserve. In the late 1990s, two new superintendents took the reins with high hopes of implementing much-needed changes. The second was only recently removed as part of criminal proceedings that led to embezzlement convictions.

Now the Commonwealth has a new man and a new plan. Jeff Riley is capable, and his plan is a good start. But it is just a start.
Much has been made of the sizable roles five charter operators are being given in Lawrence schools. But only 1,000 to 1,500 district students will be served by these operators. The extent of the flexibility granted them is en­sconced in memoranda of understanding, the interpretation of which depends on relations between the local teachers union and the superintendent/receiver.
If we are to again rely on one person to turn around the district, success will also depend on how long Riley stays. We’ve seen this movie before —in New York City with Joel Klein and Washington, DC, with Michelle Rhee. As Riley himself notes, it’s never really been done successfully.

So what’s the right path? Is it to charterize the entire district at once, as happened in New Orleans after Katrina? Five years later, New Orleans students were outperforming Louisi­ana state averages. Or is it DC’s ap­proach, in which 42 percent of students are in charter schools and the number increases every year? That would require making 4,000 Law­rence seats available.

Under either approach, a dozen charter operators would step up to meet the challenge tomorrow. Law­rence is close enough to high-performing Boston charters to take advantage of their existing funding networks and talent pipelines. And the opportunity to do something big is precisely the kind of challenge that energizes charter operators, principals, and teachers. It is hardly a radical idea. It is just a response that is equal to the seriousness of the problem.

Jim Stergios
Executive Director
Pioneer Institute
Boston

Forget the polls

Interesting article on polls. The assumption is that the pollsters’ problems are somehow our problem (“A representative sample,” Poll Vault, Fall ’12). Why not just forget about it? What if no one knew what the voters were thinking until election night? What if candidates have no way of knowing how and where their “talking points” and “ads” are working, and have no choice but to present themselves as well as possible and hope for the best?

Barbara Anderson
Marblehead

AMP it up!

Thank you for mentioning, if not by name, “AMP it up!” You called it the “new promotional campaign to make young people, schools, and families aware of opportunities in manufacturing,” in your lead-in to the excellent interview with Barry Bluestone of Northeastern University and Michael Tamasi of AccuRounds (“Making it in Massachusetts,” Conversation, Fall ’12).

Since your article appeared, Mass­Development has announced matching grants for Massachusetts non-profit, educational, and workforce organizations to hold innovative programs focused on educating students and the adults in their lives about advanced manufacturing careers. The grants represent a significant step forward in the new AMP it up! campaign.

Through the community-based programs and activities that grant recipients will develop, Mass­Develop­ment will work with these organizations to dispel common misconceptions about today’s manufacturing and bolster the prospective employee base for these quality jobs. Interested readers should visit www.ampitupma.com for the latest on this exciting effort.

The campaign complements Mass­Development’s efforts in financing manufacturing projects from the predevelopment stage through permanent financing. MassDevelop­ment has long offered loan guarantees and tax-exempt industrial development bonds that deliver the absolute lowest interest rates on loans to manufacturers for facility and equipment projects. Over the last two years, MassDevelopment has provided $78 million in funding to 58 manufacturing projects, but we need to do more.

Accordingly, MassDevelopment, under the leadership of its board of directors chaired by Gregory Bialecki, the secretary of housing and economic development, has introduced new programs, including planning and implementation loans, as well as reduced interest rates on equipment and real estate loans.

Planning loans pay for manufacturers to engage consultant services to evaluate and improve operations, demand, marketing, and finance and administration. Implementation loans with low rates and terms of up to seven years are available to implement growth strategies recommended by consultants or business owners. Ex­penses financed can include reconfigured operations, upgrades to plant and equipment, product development, and new staff. Finally, equipment and real estate loans help keep Massachu­setts manufacturers competitive by financing their capital investments at preferential interest rates.

MassDevelopment hopes that the AMP it up! campaign will encourage more young people to prepare to be the workers of tomorrow for great Massachusetts companies like Accu­Rounds, which has grown in part by taking advantage of financing offered by MassDevelopment.

Mark S. Sternman
Director of Marketing & Communications
MassDevelopment
Boston