Patrick touts Readiness Project at Framingham State
More than 100 people turned out at Framingham State College on Monday night for Gov. Deval Patrick's final public forum as part of his Readiness Project to revamp public education statewide.
The forum was one of dozens Patrick has held throughout the state in the last 18 months, aimed at soliciting ideas and concerns from students, parents, teachers, administrators and legislators on ways to improve education.
With the project's recommendations expected to come by the end of this month, Patrick said, the hard work of putting them into action will now have to begin.
“What we want is a transformation in public education,” he said. “This is about smaller class size, especially in the early years. This is about more learning time. We want a greater emphasis on science and math, particularly in high school.
“We want to figure out how to provide a pre-K through 16 public education. That means unfettered access to public and community colleges, and, if you aren't college-bound, an opportunity to learn a trade.”
Monday night's forum offered those concerned about education a chance to put last-minute questions to Patrick, and one of the toughest came from the audience's youngest member.
Brandis Haugabrook, 9, a fourth-grader at Framingham's Barbieri Elementary School, asked Patrick if he was aware of the budget cuts the school faced this year, and what he thought of the situation, prompting a huge round of applause from the more than 100 people in attendance.
“It's true of just about every town in the commonwealth now,” Patrick said of the district's budget woes. “I put four ideas on the table so local communities can have another source to raise money other than property taxes, and none of those ideas have moved yet. This is one where we're aware (of the problem) but we don't have a solution.”
Other questions included whether Patrick's plan to remake public education would also include a change in the foundation budget for schools.
“I personally think it's broken,” Patrick said. “It seems to me the way to repair it is to do what we've been doing. I think we've got to get less reliant on property taxes for a whole host of reasons.”
Other audience members emphasized to Patrick the need for expanded ESL and adult education options, the importance of school nurses and librarians and the need for more professional development for teachers.
Not everyone who attended last night's forum, though, was there to offer suggestions on Patrick's plan.
More than a dozen members of two higher education unions protested outside the meeting, urging Patrick to begin negotiations with the unions before their contract expires at the end of the month.
“We've been at the bargaining table since February,” Massachusetts State College Association President Christopher J. O'Donnell said. “The governor has not authorized the employers to make a financial offer.”
While the union, which represents faculty and librarians at most state colleges and universities, including Framingham State College, negotiates with the Board of Higher Education, it is up to Patrick to instruct the board on how much the state will offer in any contract.
“We thought things were going to change with a new administration,” O'Donnell said. “The Readiness Project is about getting the best education possible, which you can't do without the best faculty and best librarians.”
Patrick acknowledged the protesters' concerns last night, and offered to meet with union members following the forum.
The reality, Patrick warned, is reforming education won't be an easy - or quick - process.
“If we don't have the magic bullet right now for more ESL or a zero to 3 (years old) strategy ... that doesn't mean it isn't absolutely critical to put the issue on the table and try to tease out some ideas.
“We can't do what we usually do. We can't say it's too big, it's too expensive, and do nothing, or do little. If you're after instant solution, this is the wrong place for you. Let us not run from hard issues.”
Peter Reuell can be reached at 508-626-4428, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.