SCHOOL DEPARTMENT’s $82 MILLION CHUNK OF PITTSFIELD’s BUDGET YIELDS PRECIOUS LITTLE IN RETURN … PLANET PUTS SPOTLIGHT ON THE CHICANERY … plus … WILL IT GO ‘ROUND and ‘ROUND? MANY HOPE SO FOR THE BERKSHIRE CAROUSEL PROJECT
By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, TUESDAY, NOV. 22, 2011) — How top heavy is the current school department in the city of Pittsfield? Consider this: Today, there are a little more than 6,000 (6,016) students in Pittsfield public schools. A generation ago, there were more than 12,000. Nonetheless, despite having but half the students, today the department employs more than twice as many staff, including teachers and administration.
With half the students but twice the staff, the main job of the schools is to continue their “smoke” campaign to cloud the public — We The People — to keep them in the dark. They need to justify their jobs, which has become the #1 Mission Statement of the Pittsfield public schools.
The game has become: “Help the Underfunded Schools.” It’s a croc. School, Pittsfield schools, are the most OVER-funded part of the city’s budget. You don’t employ hundreds and hundreds of administrators and teachers at phat salaries/benefits without skinning someone. In this case, the schools have the taxpayers, because to insist on fiscal sense for the schools means you’re “against education, against the children.” What bullspit.
Schools East Up 2/3 of the City’s Budget with Little to No Accountability
Something’s wrong with that picture? At $82 million and counting of a $120 million budget, the school department is single-handedly sinking Joe and Mary Jane Kapanski, the beleaguered Pittsfield taxpayer who, as is typical, have no children in the system. They don’t use the services, but they are required to go into hock to pay for them.
Politicians, administrators, and teachers’ unions all have it in for Joe and Mary Jane. They don’t want them to know how much education costs for so little results. For example, the city of Pittsfield lists the costs for running the school department at $52,484,497. They hide $30 million by listing health insurance costs for school department employees and transportation costs for students in the municipal side of the ledger. If you try to do that in your private business, next thing you know, your fancy talking to Da Man at the IRS office.
The also want you to believe in the ridiculous cliche that taxpayers are somehow not properly funding public education. Candidates for office routinely tout how they are “for” adequate funding for schools, as if we don’t already have that. The problem with public schools isn’t money, although we agree that it gives pols, administrators, and other interested parties an excuse for failure: “We need more money. The answer to public schools is more money. Give is more money, and we will fix it.”
There’s enough money. The problem is in how it’s deployed.
The problem isn’t money. The problem is the lack of will to implement low-cost solutions, for example, revamping the school dress code and insisting on adherence. Chinos or khakis and shirts with collars for boys, knee-length skirts and buttoned-up blouses for girls. Better yet, implement uniforms in the public schools. We aren’t saying this will solve all the problems, but it’s a low- to no-cost start at the solution. Another would be the elimination of tenure, which protects too many bad teachers and induces too many good ones into mediocrity.
A Bloated Administration and an Average Teacher Compensation of $72,500 a Year Adds Up to Systemic Failure and the Ripping Off of Taxpayers
Pittsfield schools are overseen by a six-member school board, which is voluntary. They supervise and administration that consists of:
* 1 superintendent at $131,325 a year (* to all salaries, add approximately 25% in benefits; also remember that this is for a 181-day school year)
* 1 deputy superintendent, $102,715
*10 secretaries and clerks, $425,992
* HR director, $75,000
* 3 Information management positions, $232,954
* 1 assistant super, vocational/technical, $94,096
* 1 assistant superintendent, business, $116,755
* 1 Assistant business manager, $55,000
* 1 legal settlements (whatever that is), $10,000
* 1 legal services, $50,000
* Plus about $120,000 for professional development, recruitment, and other miscellaneous administrative expenses.
There are 359 teaching spots (not including hundreds of vocational or special ed personnel) budgeted for $20,856,108 (an average of $58,095 or about $72,500 with benefits). The $72,500 is the average compensation for a teacher in the Pittsfield public school system for a 181-day work year. Pro-rated to a year, this amounts to an annual compensation of $145,000. Never thought of it that way, did you?
What did all that money buy? It bought declining enrollment and a loss to the district of $3,069,376 million in lost school choice. This added $1 to the tax rate that Joe and Mary Jane pay. It bought teachers’ loss of control of the classroom. It bought turning over local control of education to the state and the feds. It brought sub-standard MCAS performance in the high schools.
7 Out of 10 Students fits the definition of ‘Special Education’ or ‘Low Income’
Another scam is the abuse of “special education.” A full 17% of pupils in city school fit some definition of “special education,” with typically is a budget buster. An additional 54.7 percent are low-income students. Instead of expecting such students to raise their performance levels, we set the bar low, almost to the ground, and dumb these kids down into the intellectual ghettoes created by public education.
In short, 7 of every 10 students are in a high-maintenance category that consumes a disproportionate share of the recourses and contributes disproportionately less.
Perhaps we should rethink “the right” to a public education. Education is a privilege taxpayers make available to parents for their children. Only families who want to respect this gift outright should qualify for funding. Families who want to take an active part in the education process by proving a stable home situation should be welcome. Families who wish to sponge off the schools as a free baby-sitting service need to be invited to leave. A “free” public education should be given only to those families who can provide evidence of giving back, either in time, talent, or treasure.
What of those who fall through the cracks? This is a question for philosophers, social scientists, and other thinkers. Not that it’s a new problem: With dropouts rates at staggering levels and the high school diploma no proof of ability, too many of these students slip through the system and choose to ruin their lives.
The solution will arrive once we as a society begin to get serious about public education, as is the rest of the industrial world.
Storefront’s Demise, or, Another Pittsfield Merry Go-Round
When we reported that Storefront Atrtists Project received taxpayer assistance, a commentator called “factual” said no to us, insisting that SAP funded itself through a nebulous collection of individuals, businesses, fairy godmothers, and the like.
We went to the SAP website. There is not a word about funding. No donors are recognized. No contributors are acknowledged. No benefactors are praised as the next Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
We therefore respectfully ask “factual” to provide us with a list of contributors, with amounts, for the past year of operations. Assuming that “factual” is being factual, that should not present a problem.
Has the City Made the Carousel Project Go ‘Round in Circles?
We do find it odd that while the city gushed over this group of artists, it has given little love to the Berkshire Carousel Project. Go to www.berkshirecarousel.com to learn of the majestic art being produced, incredibly, by volunteers as they carve from wood the horses for a classical wooden carousel. The carousel, if all continues well, should be installed and operating in downtown Pittsfield sometime in 2013 — assuming the Mayan calendar has Armageddon wrong.
The project is spearheaded by Jim Shulman, a retired hospital administrator who grew up in Pittsfield and a man who loves his native city with an amorousness that shines through in his words and actions. You can read more at the website. The bottom line, though, is the bottom line. No public funds were available for the group. A city that has for a decade prided itself for cultivating culture has ignored this effort. Have the daughter of a once-famous novelist want the city support for her vanity-press art, and the city is right there.
Berkshire Carousel has been doing it on their own. This is more than about a carousel. It’s about the transformative power of volunteerism to create positive change in a community.
In carving these exquisite ponies (you can visit the workshop in the Berkshire Mall), Shulman has built a community of dedicated volunteers doing it for all the right reasons. Shulman graciously keeps the focus on them and their work. He says he wants to “engage people in ways other than writing big checks or using tax dollars for short-lived or narrow-focused projects. Our country benefitted from people getting involved in community projects after the Depression and during WWII through doing constructive things. Israel was built as a country with kibbutz volunteers working together for a purpose.”
He speaks as an idealist, and THE PLANET says there’s room for ideals in the too-often cut-throat world of 2011, a world in an eternal hurry.
“These are the models that can solve the issues our politicians talk about and do nothing about,” he says. “People can enhance their own self-esteem and enrich their communities by using their energy in constructive ways.”
“It would be great if our leaders thought beyond spending the tax dollar on projects that look good and benefit a few to ones that are ‘self perpetuating’ and can involve many.” He recommended that anyone wanting more information on his plans to contact the executive director of the carousel project, Maria Caccaviello.
Carousel Project Will Feature Museum Dedicated to Pittsfield History, with Private Collections to be Housed
The carousel project will cost city taxpayers zero dollars, says Schulman, but it does need the city’s help in writing and obtaining grants for locating the carousel, plus to house large collections of items pertaining to the history of Pittsfield (from his collection and those of others). Shulman says a vast treasure-load of items will be donated to created a museum that will feature the carousel as the showpiece. Items include one of the city’s first fire trucks and an old city bus that will be restored as part of a working exhibit.
The exhibit hall would ideally be located in downtown Pittsfield, and Berkshire Carousel Inc. says that is the preferred option. It has said other communities have expressed interest.
Shulman says that the carousel project has attracted about 150-200 volunteers: “This was our goal: To be catalysts for positive community change, and it has been working.”
Board members include Frank Bonnevie, owner of Fred Villari’s Studios of Self Defense; Bobbi Cohn, sales manager, Marian Raser Jewelries; Jonathan Denmark, Berkshire Insurance Group; Rocco Shannon DiNicola, owner, Butterfly Sneakers Parking Lot Management and Striping; Jonathan Lothrop, state department of social services and Ward 5 councilor; plus Jim and Jackie Schulman.
To find out more, call Caccaviello at 413-499-0342 or online at firstname.lastname@example.org.
BUTTERBALL’s ARE BASTIN, AND THERE’S NO TIME FOR WASTING. WE ANTICIPATE A GREAT TASTING, AND SO …
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL.