Article

PLANET GIVES YOU THE TRUTH ON UNFUNDED LIABILITIES, HOW THE PROBLEM IS WORSE THAT REPORTED, AND THE SCHOOL DEPARTMENT’s CONNECTION TO THE IMPENDING DISASTER

By DAN VALENTI

PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary

(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, “BLACK FRIDAY” NOV. 25, 2011) — No. We shall not buy a single item today. We choose to keep our souls intact, to stay out of the consumeristic tidal pull, and enjoy a day for itself (and not for what we can buy). We accept the gift, given.

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UNFUNDED LIABILITES: THE PROBLEM IS MUCH WORSE THAN REPORTED

Earlier in the year (Feb. 25, 28, and March 1) we were the first medium locally to put into focus the story of unfunded liabilities city officials agreed to pay municipal unions in the name of you, Mary Jane and Joe Kapanski, the taxpayers.

Using the state’s own figures and those from the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, we told you that:

* Pittsfield is just one of the communities statewide (Lynn, Chelsea) whose unfunded liabilities (promises of future dollars given to public-worker retirees) are funded less than 50%.

* Of the state’s 50 largest cities and towns, Pittsfield is the most seriously underfunded. A full 80% of the $330,725,000 (one third of a BILLION dollars) is under-funded.

* Compounding the red-alert nature of this number are the demographic and economic realities revealed in various studies, including one available on the school department’s website — the population will continue to fall, the tax base is shrinking, welfare and other handouts to the “gimme groups” are increasing, and what jobs are created tend to be minimum-wage, service-oriented positions.

Here’s what’s new. Hold on to your hats, wallets, and take another hit off the Meerschaum.  That $331 million is likely FIVE TIMES WORSE THAN REPORTED.

* Slick, slimy bookkeeping and high discount rates are employed to that $331 million liability (what taxpayers owe public-employee retirees) make the number appear lower than it actually is. A 2010 study by Courtney Collins, assistant professor of economics at the Stetson School of Business at Mercy University, and Andrew Rettenmaier of the National Center for Policy Analysis, examined 153 state and local pension plans. They recalculated the pension numbers using more accurate, more realistic, and less rosy economic assumptions (chiefly, the expected costs of future health care). Their study shows that unfunded pension liabilities typically exceed the numbers reported by states and communities by a factor of five.

UNREALISTIC ASSUMPTIONS ON HEALTH CARE

* Nationwide in 2010, states and towns listed $493 million in unfunded public-employee liabilities. The Mercy study showed the actual number (based on more accurate projections) to be $2.5 trillion. When all benefits are included (not just pensions) the number is $3.5 trillion.

* Pittsfield $331 million liability — again, an obligation taxpayers must pay unless the system is reformed and the rules are changed — is an unrealistically low number, as bad as it sounds. The city assumptions on future health care costs were underestimated. That’s one of the smoking guns here. Pittsfield assumed an annual rise in health care of 5%. The actual increase in Massachusetts for the last five years has been 12%. Pittsfield’s actual health insurance costs recently have been going up at about 15% — TRIPLE the estimates made when they projected future pension and health-care liabilities.

Consequently, the obligation of the Pittsfield taxpayer as the unlucky insurer of this debt is much greater than the $331,000,000 reported by the state. If health care costs continue to rise disproportionate to inflation and the cost of living, the actual number could approach $1 billion.

There is only one solution to this: In the name of poor taxpayers, the city must redefine its benefit obligations for public employees. Without doing so, the city faces a near-certain financial disaster within a few years. Whether it’s as soon as five or as “far off” as 20, it will come. The fiddler will come down from the roof and insist on payment.

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PUBLIC EDUCATION IS THE SINGLE LARGEST CONTRIBUTOR TO TAXPAYERS’ WOES

The Pittsfield School Department is the highest contributor (and worst offender) to the problem of unfunded liability, since it has and will continue to have the largest number of employees and therefore the biggest number of retirees. It is the largest city department. It easts up 2/3 of the city’s budget. The benefits the teachers unions squeezed out of the city these past 25 years, when people stopped paying attention, have been ruinous.

Our earlier analysis (from a couple days ago) showed the average compensation (salary and benefits) for the many hundreds of teachers in the city’ system is $72,000. Pro-rated to a full work year and not the half year they are contracted to work, we pay on average the equivalent of $145,000 a year to each teacher. But it is the future benefits that will ruin the city if something is not done.

DESPERATELY NEEDED: TRANSPARENCY IN THE SCHOOL DEPARTMENT

One would hope for transparency from a department that consumes two of every three dollars extracted from taxpayers. That’s not the case. THE PLANET encourages you to take time roaming about the school department website. We ask you to try and find something meaningful and not fluffy-wuffy, say, Supt. Jake Eberwein’s response to the state’s withering letter to the mayor on Sept. 7 that the school building needs committee presented a poorly written, unspecified, fuzzy plan that completely excluded public input.

We wish you better luck than we had in your search.

We reported on Nov. 14 the contents of state’s letter: The state told the city that its plan was not shared with school department staff, that no public input was sought, that the information was not tied to a labor market analysis, that there was no specific plan for electronic technology, that the city failed to provide relevant data in a number of areas, and the like. To this date, the Boring Broadsheet still has not shared this with the public.

No where on the school department website or on the city’s site, for that matter, is there the slightest indication that the state’s concerns have been addressed.

The members of the school building needs commission have been silent. The mayor’s office has been silent. The school department has been silent. The BB? Fuggitabowdit.

DAN BIANCHI AND SCHOOL COMMITTEE-ELECT: DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT

We challenge Mayor-elect Dan Bianchi to keep his promise of transparency in government. We advise the mayor-to-be to make a clean-up of the school department his TOP priority. (Let us define “cleanup”: More productivity as a lower cost, beginning with a top-to-bottom forensic audit).

We also challenge the incoming school committee to begin to address the causes of the sinking ship. Again, the ship eats two of every three dollars but the product is substandard.

We keep hearing from teachers unions, administrators, and politicians that “the children” need more money. That’s their solution: Give us more money. And despite the fact that this hasn’t worked since the beginning of so-called Ed-Reform in the state (1993), they keep coming for more, and, because apathy keeps so many voters away, the Special Interests rally their core and scare enough other voters to win every time. Until that changes, and until we say no to “more money” and “yes” to smarter policy, Pittsfield’s continued economic decline will continue. No amount of artists or restaurants or theaters will jumpstart THAT economy.

MORE MONEY FOR SCHOOLS ACTUALLY HURTS THE ECONOMY

Speaking of money, President Obama’s Council on Economic Advisors issued a forecast on the effects of $100 billion in economic stimulus money given to the public schools nationwide (each one a dollar stolen from taxpayers).

The $100 billion came (and comes) with a promise from the local school districts NOT TO REDUCE THEIR K-12 SPENDING. The president’s council argues that this money will boost U.S. economic growth. Sounds good, except THE PLANET raises two objections:

(1) This spending and the proviso that the local districts not cut education $$ proves our theory that money doesn’t make a difference after some level of necessary funding. Notice that the President doesn’t make an educational argument for the money but an economic one. In short, Obama’s council wants to employ public education as a delivery system to foment economic gain, not educational performance gain.

(2) The council ignores reality. Throwing more dollars at public schools impeded economic growth. For example, a July 2008 study from the Journal of Policy Sciences shows that “spending more on public schools hurts the U.S. economy.”

How so? That’s tomorrow’s post, plus a discussion of methadone.

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UNTIL THEN, MY DEAR FRIENDS, I BID YOU ADIEU, WITH LOVE AT MY ELBOW, SMILING ALL THE WAY …

“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”

LOVE TO ALL.


63 Responses to “PLANET GIVES YOU THE TRUTH ON UNFUNDED LIABILITIES, HOW THE PROBLEM IS WORSE THAT REPORTED, AND THE SCHOOL DEPARTMENT’s CONNECTION TO THE IMPENDING DISASTER”

  1. beezer
    November 25, 2011 at 1:08 pm #

    Just wanted to thank the Planet for this forum, in a word..Quality!

    • danvalenti
      November 25, 2011 at 3:23 pm #

      BEEZ
      Thanks. We’re trying to produce THE best website with THE most important coverage.

  2. Joe Blow
    November 25, 2011 at 2:40 pm #

    disgusting!

    • danvalenti
      November 25, 2011 at 3:26 pm #

      JOE B
      Yes, it is. The first step to a possible solution is to expose the situation for what it is, instead of ignoring it the way the BB, the GOBs, and the Vested Interests have done. Expose the situation, state the problem accurately, and try to mount pressure on those in power (in our name) to move to a solution.

      • Joe Blow
        November 25, 2011 at 6:15 pm #

        Sunshine is the best disinfectant..keep up the good work!

  3. dusty
    November 25, 2011 at 4:24 pm #

    Hopefully the new mayor will get involved and push to make this more department efficient. Lord knows the current one did not.

    (notice I did not use his name connected to negativity on your blog Dan) Kudos to me

    • danvalenti
      November 26, 2011 at 11:01 am #

      DUSTY
      THE PLANET just shipped a crate of kudos to you. We sent the unfiltered, since we know that’s your brand!

  4. Ray Ovac
    November 25, 2011 at 4:26 pm #

    DV, you write, “There is only one solution to this: In the name of poor taxpayers, the city must redefine its benefit obligations for public employees.” Actually, DV, there’s a more pragmatic response to all this legaliized theft from taxpayers: Move away. Or at least move over the Pittsfield city line to one of the surrounding towns which don’t have anywhere near the long-term unfunded liabilities now faced by Pittsfield’s taxpayers. As it stands now, only Pittsfield’s real-estate owners and residents are legally on the hook for Pittsfield’s extravagances. Let’s be honest: Why should anyone have to deal with such open-ended thievery by public officials and the city employee unions to which city officials always seem to sell out?

    • Ray Ovac
      November 25, 2011 at 4:41 pm #

      It also might behoove each real-estate owner to transfer his/her property to a Limited Liability Company because who knows what scam the city will pursue to hold taxpayers accountable for all those unfunded liabilities and debt.

      • Scott
        November 25, 2011 at 6:34 pm #

        As one property owner to another can you please elaborate further for me.

          • Scott
            November 26, 2011 at 6:50 am #

            I did not know you could incorporate personal property I looked into doing this for my business but not my home I don’t see how it matters if the city want’s more money they’re gonna get it.

        • Ray Ovac
          November 26, 2011 at 11:17 am #

          Scott, except that what’s to prevent a Democrat-controlled Mass. state legislature from somehow passing a law to hold current property owners liable for all unfunded current liabilities regardless of whether or not the property owner sells his property in the future? This is Massachusetts where as you already know ANYTHING is possible. Examples: The Big Dig; Prohibiting a state referendum on same-sex marriage; An organized crime chief running the state senate and state university; A sitting governor using state coffers to subsidize his run for US president (1988); A DUI causes a drowning death and the guy doesn’t even get indicted. Need more examples?

          • CONCERNED
            November 26, 2011 at 5:02 pm #

            Ray your right on with these examples, plus so many more Rep. Studd, Barney Fife and so on and on

      • Rivetor
        November 26, 2011 at 10:53 am #

        I like my home and I don’t want to move. Would rather reform the system. How could it be done? Anyone got an idea? I knew there was debt to retirees but had no idea it was this much or this bad. Tahnk you, Planet, for this expose.

    • The Kraken
      November 25, 2011 at 7:15 pm #

      Ray, if I move to another town I am concerned that I’ll find out that town also has a bunch of unfunded liabilities too but it just has not been publicized yet like Pittsfield. It’s pretty much par for the course with any place run by liberal Dems. And these smaller towns can keep these things a secret for a very long time!

      • Ray Ovac
        November 26, 2011 at 12:02 am #

        TK, Good point!
        Maybe a chart showing each Berkshire municipality’s unfunded liabilities is now in order.
        It might also be informative to divide the respective total liability for each muni by the respective census data for each in order to find the exposure per resident, per household, etc..

  5. Jake Eberwein
    November 25, 2011 at 4:32 pm #

    Dan:

    I will respond to your recent criticisms of the Pittsfield Public Schools. First, I will begin by stating that I am incredibly proud of our school system, and yes I’m very bias having worked in the system for almost twenty years. We have outstanding staff, students, and families who are very committed to advancing children in our school system and city. That said, we are a large organization, one of the biggest employers in Berkshire County, and are certainly not without flaw. We have and will continue to address our gaps – no excuses – and build upon our strengths. I believe we have demonstrated a positive return on investment for the citizens of Pittsfield.

    Performance: You have charged that Pittsfield is an underperforming district and that I am lying to the public about our major performance indicators. You charge that my analysis (comments in general) is fluffy. I will respectfully ask that you read my analysis of our annual student performance, posted on our website and distributed widely. My analysis is based on real numbers and trends presented in a variety of formats. Our performance on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) has risen steadily, the numbers of students scoring in proficient and advanced has climbed, and students in federally defined subgroups have outperformed their peers statewide and are closing the gap between themselves and their aggregate peers. We also are positioned as the highest performing district, in the aggregate, among the urban districts statewide. You offer that our middle is a problem, yet Reid Middle School was commended by the state for the second straight year. Our dropout rate has declined steadily from 8.6% in 2002 to 3.4% in 2010. We have improved graduation rates and attendance rates. Our students head off to college, some of the most competitive in the country, and they are successful. My daughter, who will graduate from PHS in June, has received an outstanding high school education with a talented, highly diverse group of peers. Of course, we still have work to do. We need all kids to graduate, they need to leave better positioned to be successful in college and twenty-first century careers, and we need more kids to earn proficient or higher on the MCAS. I would like to see our SAT participation and scores rise, and more kids in Advanced Placement classes – earning a 3 or higher on the exam – each an indicator of readiness for postsecondary. Like I said, we have work to do but…I’m willing to stack our district against any in the state.

    Accountability and oversight: I would challenge you to find a more regulated industry than public education. We answer to the federal government, the state government, the local government, and external accreditation organizations. We are audited for compliance with federal laws such as civil rights, special education, English language learners, and vocational education – for example. We are audited by the state for program effectiveness, teacher credentials, finances, contact time, improvement plans, professional development, and the application of all state requirements related to the conditions of school effectiveness – to name a few. We also participate in external accreditation for our kindergarten programs and our high schools. Locally, we are part of a very public process that involves program review, data sharing, and the development and adoption of a budget. Finally, we are audited independently, annually, with a report shared with the school committee in public session.

    Finance: You are correct, our school system total budget is $82 million. While we develop and frame the operational budget ($52 million) with the school committee, we have not been secretive about the fact that the City of Pittsfield funds benefits and maintenance for our schools beyond the operational budget. In addition, we also apply for and receive many grants that allow us to provide necessary services to our students. So let’s break apart the $82 million so your readers have a better sense of where the money comes from:

    Operating budget $52 million (of this $37 million is paid by the state through Chapter 70 funding)
    Grants $15 million (this comes from federal, state, and private sources)
    Insurance/Maintenance $15 million

    In addition, the city receives just under an addition $7 million in unrestricted gov’t aid. I won’t argue that this offsets the insurance/maintenance line above but – it is used to offset taxpayer contribution in general. Overall, our per pupil expenditure (all totaled) is $12, 474, which ranks us about the middle of the pack, about 164 of 329 districts.

    I will close out this first post, recognizing that it is hard to summarize all that we do or to respond to every criticism or argument you have offered. We present comprehensive reports to the school committee for their review on each of the many topics I have covered in this short post. That said, I expect that there are certainly other questions that you or those who read and post on PV may have. I have and will continue to be more than willing to answer these to the best of my ability.

    Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.

    Jake

    • danvalenti
      November 26, 2011 at 11:01 am #

      JAKE
      THE PLANET thanks you for your reply in responding to our arguments. You raise pertinent points, and I look forward to the dialogues to come. Best to you and yours, DAN

    • Ray Ovac
      November 26, 2011 at 11:55 am #

      Jake Eberwein, if Pittsfield’s public schools are as outstanding as you say, then why do Pittsfield’s Democrat political insiders feel compelled to enroll their kids elsewhere? The matter of Tricia Farley-Bouvier, recently elected 3rd District rep, comes to mind. TFB has two kids in Lenox public schools. What does TFB know that you aren’t telling us about the quality of education in Pittsfield’s school system and just what do Lenox public schools got that Pittsfield’s do not?

      • Jake Eberwein
        November 26, 2011 at 3:51 pm #

        Ray:

        You would really need to speak with Tricia. Students choice in and out of many districts for a variety of reasons including convenience, perceptions about quality, to connections with family and peers.

        Please keep in mind – all districts have a level of out-migration under the choice program. Based on the choice program only (exclusive of the charter school), we lost 5.4% of our kids while Lenox – this may surprise you – lost 4.9% in 2010. The main difference is that Lenox picks up more kids (more gained than lost).

        In our annual report, which is online at http://www.pittsfield.net, I did an analysis of choice which begins on page 26. It might offer more insight than this short post.

        • Steve Wade
          November 26, 2011 at 4:12 pm #

          Jake these people don’t want a rationial answer. They would rather say everything stinks and blame the democrats for all the problems in the world.

        • Ray Ovac
          November 26, 2011 at 7:43 pm #

          Jake Eberwein, based on the annual report to which you refer above, that Table No. 4 on pg. 27 says it all, showing the number of kids choicing-out for public schools outside the Pittsfield system more than doubling in five years. Also revealing is the survey cited on pg. 28 wherein it was revealed that “quality of classroom instruction” was the No.1 reason “parents gave for leaving the Pittsfield Public Schools”. Also, based on Table No. 4 and on the survey, it’s quite understandable why fewer kids choiced-out to private and parochial schools during the past 5 years. The increasing severity of the Obama Depression has meant that parents are increasingly less able to afford the expensive luxury of sending kids to private and parochial schools. Similarly, fewer parents are opting to home school because that would necessitate at least one parent staying home, and with the rotten economy both parents are obviously needed to work to make ends meet and put food on the table, thereby leaving mommy and daddy no choice but to put the kiddies into the free public schools. Yet, what is also blisteringly apparent is that mommy and daddy aren’t choosing to put those kiddies into the Pittsfield school system when choicing-out to a public school outside the Pittsfield system is available.
          So bottom line, Jake Eberwein, what’s preventing you from changing the “quality of classroom instruction”? Also, what’s preventing you from getting rid of the dead wood in your system’s schools, meaning those specific teachers who seem to be the No. 1 reason your surveyed parents gave for “leaving the Pittsfield Public Schools”? It’s not as if there aren’t high-quality teachers looking to take good-paying steady work. Do you doubt there’d be two hundred resumes in your inbox within five days of placing an ad? So why can’t you change the quality of that classroom instruction? Why can’t you unload the rotten apples who are giving your school system its poor reputation? If it’s not rotten apples on the teaching end, then what is it about the Pittsfield system’s classroom instruction that is in so desperate need of change?

          • Molly
            November 26, 2011 at 9:24 pm #

            “Like” — good post.

          • Ray Ovac
            November 26, 2011 at 10:38 pm #

            Here’s the direct link to the Pittsfield Public Schools 2009-2010 Annual Report to which Jake Eberwein makes reference above. See pg. 27 for Table No. 4 and pg. 28 for the results of the parents survey.
            http://www.pittsfield.net/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Final-annual-report.pdf

          • Molly
            November 27, 2011 at 9:06 pm #

            “Annual Report” – every single taxpayer should read this entire report. My head is now spinning! There is absolutely NO excuse for any student to not graduate with a top-notch education! You just cannot believe the number of programs that there are to assist every type of student. It’s unbelievable! I don’t know what else could possibly be done to help ALL students graduate with proficiency – there is no excuse for them to not.

            Dr. Eberwein – what do you think is the underlying problem? It can’t be that there’s not enough money, or programs, or assistance as there is a lot, at least as far as I’m concerned. To me, at this point, I would have to blame the parents (for the most part) and “we” have no control over them and can’t force them to be a big part of their children’s lives and education. And also the large amount of drugs and kids who belong to gangs, which is a city-wide problem, though it is also a problem within the schools. Things that I’ve stated before many times like “some students having a total lack of respect for anyone in authority, including the teachers” really is a direct reflection of their parents. This is certainly not all kids & parents and not a majority of kids & parents. But it is enough that it is a REAL problem that adversely affects the other kids and their opportunity for an excellent education. Strict discipline is greatly needed. Is there a point where we should say, “the only possible reason for you not graduating with high honors is your own lack of wanting to and, therefore, you have now lost your priviledge of an excellent education”? I honestly don’t know as I can see both sides of that one. What does everyone else think?

            You have spent a great deal of time this weekend “talking” to us and I, for one, really appreciate it. I’m very glad that I participated as I learned a great deal and finally found the “annual report” (which wasn’t easy!). Although I may not agree with you on all points, I now understand a great deal more. Thank You. And Thank You, Dan, for this forum – it truly is excellent and very valuable.

      • ambrose
        November 27, 2011 at 10:18 am #

        Tricia Farley-Bouvier is an elitest – she thinks she doesn’t have to spray the mist before she leaves the bathroom. She’s never going to tell you why – If Jake would district out Lincoln St. and parts of the west side from Herberg M.S. her kids would be right down there.

    • Mom in Pittsfield
      November 26, 2011 at 2:33 pm #

      My two children, students now at PHS, have received a very good and sometimes excellent education in the Pittsfield Public Schools. My son recently got a perfect score on the MCAS, and my daughter won an academic achievement award at a prep school she attended this summer with smart kids from all over the world. The Pittsfield schools must be doing something right. They are not perfect, no school, public or private, is perfect. A few years ago I explored sending my kids to Lenox (and they got in). Yet after much thought I decided to keep them in Pittsfield. I wanted them to go to school with kids of different colors and socio-economic class. I also wanted them to be able to take the many AP classes at PHS. I am glad I kept them in Pittsfield. Yes, I think more needs to be done to help kids get better SAT scores (kids from poorer districts all across the country score worse than kids from affluent districts), and some class sizes are high, but all in all, it is a very good school district.

    • Richard
      November 26, 2011 at 7:11 pm #

      Why is it with all that money going to education that teachers are spending their own money and asking parents to spend more on supply’s for kids.

      • danvalenti
        November 26, 2011 at 8:36 pm #

        This is a great tactic employed by the educational establishment. Remember, the average teachers’ compensation for 181 days of work (that’ constitutes a year of work for them) is $72,000 in Pittsfield. Salaries and benefits for teachers and administrators gobbles up probably 85% of the money. There’s not enough money left to buy supplies, so they say. Teachers buying supplies from their own pockets is actually still coming from the same money pool, but it makes a great pitch during budget time, when they ask for, right, more money. Fact is, America is last in the industrialized world for the proportion of educational dollars making it into the classroom. In short, Richard, this is another ploy for the “More Money” push.

    • Molly
      November 26, 2011 at 9:03 pm #

      Thank you, Dr. Eberwein, for your excellent response. I did find your analysis of our annual student performance on the PPS website. Please allow me to first congratulate you on our school district being the highest performing district, in the aggregate, among urban districts statewide.

      However, I think that it’s also important to point out:
      - Nine of our twelve schools have missed their targets, an increase of 2 over 2010
      - Pittsfield has been labeled as a “Level 3” district
      - In 2009 and 2010, Pittsfield was also labeled as a Level 3 district
      - We are also listed as a district in “NCLB” (No Child Left Behind) status and we remain in “corrective action” for math.
      - We earned an improvement rating of “Improved – below target” for ELA (English Language Arts) and of “No Change” for math.
      - AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress): Out of 48 indicators:
      – 11 met AYP in the aggregate
      – 9 met AYP for subgroups
      – 13 did not attain AYP in the aggregate
      – 15 did not attain AYP for subgroups
      - Performance Rating – based on CPI performance:
      ELA (English Language Arts)
      - 4 schools = Very High (up from 2 in 2010)
      - 5 schools = High (down from 8 in 2010)
      - 3 schools = Moderate (up from 2 in 2010)
      MATH
      - 3 schools = Very High (up from 1 in 2010)
      - 4 schools = High (down from 6 in 2010)
      - 4 schools = Moderate (same as 2010)
      - 1 school = Low
      - Improvement Rating
      ELA
      Above Target = 1 school
      On Target = 4 schools
      Improved, but below target = 1 school
      No Change = 5 schools
      Decline = 1 school
      MATH
      Above target = 0
      On Target = 3 schools
      No Change = 8 schools
      Decline = 1 school
      Dr. Eberwein, from a “non-ed professional” tax payer, I thought that I could spin statistics pretty well when I needed to, but you are an expert at it! With your kind of spin, you don’t need excuses! These stats, to me, just don’t look very good at all!! And if we’re truly leading the state, as a state tax payer, that scares me even more.

      I am also quite concerned about your “improvement plan” and the apparent number of teachers, courses, and overall effort that is being put into ESL (English as a Second Language) – Really? Limited English Proficiency, ‘sheltering strategies’ (basically, dual language education) – Really? Offerings of native language clarification of math concepts and vocabulary, LETRS, provide Levels 1 and 2 English Language Learner students a “team teaching approach” (An English Language teacher and a content area teacher to deliver instruction. “Developing a holistic ‘SHELTERED’ curriculum’, “Incorporate SHELTERING strategies that are aligned with core instruction”, on and on and on AND ON! This must be costing us a fortune! Are the majority of these students residing here legally – are they citizens? I would really like to know the answer to that question…

      Thank you again for your response as I really did enjoy hearing your perspective. I hope that you listen to my perspective as well.

      • Jake Eberwein
        November 26, 2011 at 10:06 pm #

        Molly:

        The data you cite in your post is absolutely correct and – in fact – I choose to include it in the report to offer the public a comprehensive and complete summary. That said, most of the numbers in this section refer to federal No Child Left Behind indicators, which 82% of all schools in Massachusetts have missed (in Pittsfield 75% missed…so we are a bit better than the state number). As you may know NCLB, passed in 2001, set targets for 2014 that all students would be proficient. However, the measure of “proficient” was left to each state to determine. Thus, what passes for proficient in one state might be failing in another. Massachusetts continues to set the highest bar in the nation, as evidenced by the fact that our students score highest in a national exam that is administered every two years. What’s interesting, however, is that Mass also leads in the number (percent) of schools that have failed to meet its own standard. Other states, such as several in the southeast US, have all schools and kids meeting their state standards – but, their kids perform horribly on the national exam.

        Given the fact that NCLB is overdue for reauthorization and Congress is busy working on more pressing economic issues, the US Secretary of Education, Arnie Duncan, announced this summer that he is allowing states to file waivers from the NCLB (federal) standard. Massachusetts, again with 82% of schools not meeting target, is planning to file an appeal.

        As far as levels which you cite in your post, this is part of a recently passed (2010) state reform act that identifies districts on a scale of 1 (highest performing) to 5 (lowest performing). Districts are placed into a level based on the (single) lowest performing school. In Pittsfield, we had six level 1 schools, three level 2 schools, and three level 3 schools. I will note that last year we had four level 3 schools but Morningside did well this past year and was advanced to level 2. I will add that every urban district in Mass is at level 3 with some at level 4. So…all that said – as I mentioned yesterday, we have work still to do to move more kids into proficient and advanced and – in doing so – advance our level 2 and 3 schools.

        As far as the improvement plan, it is – again – somewhat formulaic and must include elements that are defined by federal and state targets/audits. As far as reference to English Language Learners in our plan, I would offer that we take on the full responsibility of educating all students, regardless of how they arrive at school. There are many strategies and programs developed to support all children based on their unique needs and talents, ELL students being just one group. I believe that Pittsfield’s diverse student body makes us a stronger school district as we represent the world and nation within which we live.

        Thanks for your comments and questions.

    • Molly
      November 26, 2011 at 9:22 pm #

      So then the total school budget is NOT $82 milion, but it is $89 million! Where can I see a line-item budget? Does each department, in each school, still have their own supplies budget and order their own supplies? Dr. Eberwein, we just cannot afford that kind of money any longer. Can you tell us exactly where you plan to cut costs – with a budget of $89 million dollars of taxpayer money, we know that there is a LARGE amount of waste included. I, for one, would like to know what your plans are for eliminating that waste.

      Thank you.

      • Jake Eberwein
        November 26, 2011 at 10:26 pm #

        Ray:

        What’s interesting about the choice surveys is that parents also cited, among the top 5, that instructional quality is why they choice in. Academics and programs is another example that is confusing in that parents choosing in and parents choosing out cite this as one of the top 5 reasons. I also appreciate that you mention the change in public out choice as compared to private/parochial. Again, the total out migration of students in Pittsfield has not changed in the last six years, in fact, more students left Pittsfield in 2005 (13.4%) than in 2010 (12.4%). However, less are choosing private/parochial and more are choosing public options. Again, there are many theories about why this may be happening – and your comment about affordability/economics is certainly one. Another is the fact that with No Child Left Behind, parents have become more aware of options – particularly when the choice program became more widely known. All said, the total number of kids attending school in Pittsfield from Pittsfield, is about 88%. And nationally, the percent of kids attending public schools is…88%.

        In terms of instruction, we have many absolutely fantastic teachers in Pittsfield and we continue to build improvement systems through professional development, coaching, and mentoring to improve efficacy across the system. Just recently, the state board of education passed new regulations on teacher evaluation (and principal and superintendent also), which must be adopted within the next year. This new system will be another element in supporting improvements across the public system.

        • Ray Ovac
          November 27, 2011 at 3:57 am #

          Jake Eberwein, it’s plainly not the “absolutely fantastic teachers” who are causing parents to cite “quality of classroom instruction” as the No.1 reason “for leaving the Pittsfield Public Schools”. Indeed, it’s those fantastic teachers who are the ones whom the school system needs to keep, to encourage, and to reward.
          But returning to the results of the survey, when it red flags “quality of classroom instruction”, just what then does that signify to you?
          If you are alleging here that the problem is not on the teaching end, then just what is it that is in need of change?

      • Jake Eberwein
        November 26, 2011 at 10:38 pm #

        Molly:

        It’s $82 ($52, $15, $15). Our line budget is distributed as part of the budget adoption process and we provide updates to the school committee throughout the year. You are more than welcome to contact my office at 499-9512 on Monday and I will get you a copy. As you might imagine, most of our budget is personnel and we continue to look at ways to save money through all sorts of strategies such as cooperative purchasing, energy saving strategies, etc. We even conducted enrollment projections and building use/capacity studies last year. I was also very conservative with our federal money, holding it back so that we could limit the impact to the local taxpayers this fiscal year. That said, this is a people business and we need qualified staff in the classroom and in supporting roles to ensure our kids succeed.

        • Molly
          November 27, 2011 at 9:24 am #

          Your statement of: “In addition, the city receives just under an additional $7 million in unrestricted gov’t aid” brings the TOTAL budget to $89 million (52, 15, 15, 7). Is this Federal government aid? Regardless, we are still paying for it and the School Committee is still spending it. Or is there something that I’m missing here?

          Thank you – I will contact your office to obtain a copy of the budget. Is there a reason that it’s not put on the PPS website after it’s been approved so that all tax payers can see it? And since you’re looking into “cooperative purchasing”, that answered my question on this and the answer is “no – we haven’t been doing that” but are looking into doing it now. I’ve been yelling about this for over 20 years now and all I’ve ever gotten is, “good idea – we’ll look into it”. 20+ years! It’s way past time, Dr. Eberwein, that our tax money be used more wisely – any successful business would’ve grabbed this “low lying fruit” soon after starting their business. And it DOES add up to be quite a large sum of money.

          Thank you for your time in responding to each of us – I may not agree with everything you have to say, but I sure do appreciate your taking the time to say itl

          • Joe Pinhead
            November 27, 2011 at 2:58 pm #

            Mr. Eberwein,
            I sincerely thank you for engaging the community in this forum and at this time of year with the hustle and bustle of the holidays and the amount of people who are travelling etc. It Speaks volumes to the level of commitment you have to the community and its school age children.
            I did take the time this weekend to read the reports on the schools website and both Molly and Mr. Ovac addressed most of my concerns and thoughts, however I was left with a few that I thought you could help me out with.
            1. Berkshire County through its planning commission recently completed its Comprehensive Economic Development (CEDS) planning session as mandated by EDA. Did the school District participate in this process? Should they have participated?
            2. Could this information been forwarded unto the MSBA in part to support the labor market study to help support the direction a new school would be going?

            Molly raised a concern regarding purchasing and how we might all save as taxpayers. I am that since you have been involved in the public sector for over twenty years that group purchasing is a great way for all those agencies etc to save. To that end when county government was disbanded a group purchasing program was set up to ensure the good citizens of Berkshire County would maximize the use of their hard earned tax dollars. The link below should direct you to the program if the schools do not currently participate.

            http://www.berkshireplanning.org/regional/GroupPurchasingProgram.html

            I also took you up on your challenge: “I would challenge you to find a more regulated industry than public education. We answer to the federal government, the state government, the local government, and external accreditation organizations.”
            It would appear as if the most heavily regulated industries are: Aviation, Healthcare, Finance and Nuclear power. The point is I submit that a CEO of any $90 million entity has to assure compliance with an equal number of regulations, outside auditing firms and accreditations.

            Once again I thank you for taking the time out of a holiday weekend to answer some great questions. I hope to see more insight and input in the future, this discussion is needed now more than ever.

          • Jake Eberwein
            November 27, 2011 at 7:02 pm #

            Molly:

            The aid figures I cite ($37 million in chapter 70 and $7 million in unrestricted government aid) is from the state. The $7 million dollars is not part of our budget, but the city side budget. But as Dan pointed out, the city does fund our employee benefits and maintenance, which is why I included the aid figure – in that this offsets the required local contribution. And yes…this is all still taxpayers money. The grants we receive are a combination of state, federal (also taxpayers money) and private. We have a complete section in our budget book on all of our grants.

            Your suggestion regarding putting the budget online is a good one and I will follow up.

            Finally, we have been and will continue to be involved in cooperative purchasing. Fuel, paper, milk are all examples of current good being purchased this way. That said, we’re always looking for other ways to trim our costs, for example installing low energy fixtures in our schools.

            Take care.

    • Leona
      November 27, 2011 at 4:46 pm #

      Thank you for taking the time to offer the other side of Dan’s argument. I feel that we are, like Lake Wobegon, above average now.

      • Jake Eberwein
        November 27, 2011 at 7:17 pm #

        Joe:

        The word “regulated” may have been a less than perfect choice. As my wife is in health care, your examples of other industries hit close to home. Possibly what I wanted to communicate is that we answer to many competing interests that each have their own set of expectations, rules and regulations. At the risk of sounding whiney – public schools answer to the feds, the state, external auditors, local city gov’t, school committees, parents, taxpayers, unions…..you get my drift. Add into the mix business and other private foundations that direct curriculum and policy – it makes for very interesting work.

        I figure my job is to wade through it all in order to stay a focused as possible on moving kids forward so they are prepared when they exit our system.

        We did not participate in the CEDS but I will review the report. The goal is to capture all the data that we can about economic trends (without the benefit of a crystal ball) in order to build programs that make sense for our kids and our community. I expect this will be very useful.

        Thanks for the input and questions.

  6. eric vincelette
    November 26, 2011 at 7:02 am #

    Great blog DV….most towns in MA and the Country face large unfunded liabilities, some worse than others to be sure, but no matter where you are living , you will find them…In Lenox, the finance committee but up a motion to start an OPEB (Other Post Employment Benefit) trust fund at town meeting, which was approved, we then funded it with $100k as a starter…instead of the $500k a yr it needs, our plan is to educate voters on the realitites of the situation and then give them choices….

  7. Scott
    November 26, 2011 at 8:41 am #

    we’re in over our head on a federal level to the tune of 61.6 TRILLION dollars so it seems ALL government needs to be looked at by the people I mean it is our money after all and they do work for us.

  8. PITTSFIELD BELIEVER
    November 26, 2011 at 1:38 pm #

    Valenti’s fiction about public schools belies the great job done by Jake Eberwein and his capable staff.

    [REMAINDER OF MESSAGE IS REDACTED FOR HAVING NO BASIS IN TRUTH]

    • Joetaxpayer
      November 26, 2011 at 2:50 pm #

      I had pizzia and a few beers PITT B.Dined with my wife,just so you know

    • Scott
      November 26, 2011 at 7:27 pm #

      you just don’t like it cause he’s showing how crooked politicians are. it don’t take much to quiet him down look at steroidgate where’d that go? I’m sure this will fade in time too but at least people are informed one person can’t change everything but they can get the ball rolling I don’t give a shit where he eats or with who good for him

    • Jeffrey Turner
      November 28, 2011 at 9:07 pm #

      How would Valenti or his braying asses, like Ovac, know truth from fiction? Can’t tell from reading this blog.

  9. Pompey
    November 26, 2011 at 2:42 pm #

    Pittsfield B –R U serious? What does this have to do with anything? You sound like a frustrated gob whose been found out or who feels his says are numbered. Mayor Bianchi got you scared?

    • Scott
      November 26, 2011 at 7:27 pm #

      right I agree.

  10. beezer
    November 26, 2011 at 3:19 pm #

    Fudge the books and Terrible Terry will call you out.

  11. CONCERNED
    November 26, 2011 at 5:15 pm #

    I appreciate Mr. Eberwein addressing this blog. One thing Mr. Eberwein how do you get anything done with all the stupid agencies from the federal to the locals you have to answer to. I know these agencies handcuff you in many ways with some of these idiot rules you must comply with. I know there are cuts that can and must be made. Also I have been to some of the schools on occasions, you must get some disciple back. However I know some rules they put on you make that sometimes impossible.

  12. Shakes His Head
    November 26, 2011 at 5:52 pm #

    I’m a member of two different pension systems and admittedly I have worked within 6 different ones during my career. The ‘underfunded’ portion of ongoing healthcare costs are strictly an estimate and each system has a different set of responsibilities for how to address it. That said, shouldn’t we consider how the Federal and State governments address the uninsured rather than jumping to conclusions as to whether existing balances and future contributions address the underfunding of long term health care for public employee retirees? The system is broken everywhere and I think that the public sector should consider how the private sector, including union contracts, succeed or fail at overcoming the problem.

    • Scott
      November 26, 2011 at 7:30 pm #

      the free market works when companies compete for your business you get a better product. When the gov’t get’s involved it just screws things up prove me wrong.

      • Jeffrey Turner
        November 28, 2011 at 9:10 pm #

        Better insurance product? Then how come the rest of the world pays far less for health care than the USA? But I can’t disprove your religious position.

        • Joe Pinhead
          November 28, 2011 at 9:21 pm #

          Please include both quality and availibility of care as well. Price is but one measurement of any product. Its a fool who purchase anything based soley upon one factor. Did you buy your based soley upon the price? Or did you consider safety, fuel consumption,styling etc?
          Just sayin

          • Jeffrey Turner
            November 30, 2011 at 8:44 pm #

            “The World Health Report 2000, Health Systems: Improving Performance, ranked the U.S. health care system 37th in the world”

            It is hard to ignore that in 2006, the United States was number 1 in terms of health care spending per capita but ranked 39th for infant mortality, 43rd for adult female mortality, 42nd for adult male mortality, and 36th for life expectancy.

            Comparisons also reveal that the United States is falling farther behind each year (see graphProbability of Death for Boys and Men 15 to 60 Years of Age in Sweden, Australia, and the United States, 1970–2007.). In 1974, mortality among boys and men 15 to 60 years of age was nearly the same in Australia and the United States and was one third lower in Sweden. Every year since 1974, the rate of death decreased more in Australia than it did in the United States, and in 2006, Australia’s rate dipped lower than Sweden’s and was 40% lower than the U.S. rate.

            But the comparison makes clear that U.S. performance not only is poor at any given moment but also is improving much more slowly than that of other countries over time.

            http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp0910064

  13. tito
    November 27, 2011 at 7:39 am #

    There are a couple of reasons while parents send kids out of the district. Why beat around the bush, lets hear them, parents, students…

    • Scott
      November 27, 2011 at 4:34 pm #

      #1 my child has already been affected and polluted by corrupt lazy teachers, administrators and other kids with behavior problems.

      #2 drugs, gangs an violence.

      #3 poor nutritional influence.

      #4 I believe public education is a scam before I even read this or saw the documentary recommended by another poster.

      #5 there is also a serious lack of parental involvement in the public school system.

  14. dusty
    November 27, 2011 at 8:09 am #

    I would like to hear from some of the PHS students as to the learning environment they find themselves in. i.e. Are the classrooms quiet and orderly during lesson time? Do they feel safe and not intimidated moving around the campus?

  15. tito
    November 27, 2011 at 10:50 am #

    Don’t like the fact that Mr. Eberwein lives in Dalton either.

    • Joetaxpayer
      November 27, 2011 at 11:14 am #

      Really don’t care where Mr.Eberwein lives,only care about the job he is doing.I think he is doing a very good job turning things around in Pittsfield.Is there need for improvement you bet, but really think there going in the right direction.

  16. Joe Pinhead
    November 27, 2011 at 3:08 pm #

    Dan, Mr.Eberwein, Mr. Ovac, Molly and others Thanks for the vast amount of great info over the past few days. I thought the forum and the tone was outstanding and wanted to let those that maintained the high ground and discussed the issues like adults how I for one felt.
    Pittsfield Believer Please grow up if Dan or anyone else ate turkey with the Pope or whoever how would it change what’s going on here in the city? Stop being so petty and find a way to get educated as to what’s going on in our community.
    Just sayin

  17. Pompey
    November 27, 2011 at 5:12 pm #

    I agree with Joe Pinhed. So what if Dan ate with the governor or is frineds with James Taylor, like that is relevant to anyhting. As Joe says he has introduced an important line of communication (discussionO here, one that has helped us all understand wahts going on in the city. Dan probably ate at home tonight … or ate with the Pope. Who cares?