PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary

(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, WEDNESDAY, JAN. 4, 2012) — The sudden resignation of Pittsfield School Superintendent Howard “Jake” Eberwein certainly has THE PLANET and the town buzzing. It will pre-empt by at least a day our planned coverage of two local theaters — The Barrington Stage and the Colonial — and their two recent examples of being in tune (or not) with the community.

“What’s It All About, Alfiie … and Terry, and Dan, and the Rest of the School Committee”?

THE PLANET has  been in contact in various ways with several people last night and this morning wanting to know “what it all means.” The simple answer to the question is: “No one knows. We don’t have enough information yet to formulate a meaningful equation.”

We can look at several interesting facts:

* His resignation comes one day after Kathy Amuso takes herself out of the running for re-election to the school committee chair.

* His resignation comes one day after Alf Barbalunga takes over as school chairman

* Eberwein, who says he’s been thinking about this move for months, also announced it one day after the awearing in of Mayor Dan Bianchi and the new city council.

How do these facts relate? Your guess is as good as THE PLANET’s. Barbalunga has a GOB pedigree, but in THE PLANET’s experience, he also can show a healthy amount of unorthodoxy. We have found him open and a good listener on topics and concepts where he is not up to speed. That’s a strength. What is Barbalunga’s relationshipo with Bianchi? Good? Bad? Indifferent? Did Jake feel that with Terry Kinnas, Barbalunga, Bianchi, and at least one more vote making four, he would have much rougher going in 2012 and beyond?

A Once-in-A-Lifetime Chance to Get a Runaway School Budget Under Control

The school committee must being again the rigorous process of finding Jake’s successor. This represents an enormous opportunity for the school committee, on behalf of taxpayers, to finally start reining in an out-of-control budget, which takes up $82 million to $89 million of a $120 million city budget, depending on how you count it. That’s minimum of 2/3 to a maximum of 3/4.

In other words, at minimum, the school department eats up two of every three city dollars. For that expense, we turn out kids with high school diplomas that in far too many cases mean little to nothing. Case in point: More than half of incoming students at BCC need remedial writing and/or reading. This is not just a BCC phenomenon. Other colleges and universities report the same dismal reality.

The “solution” for years and years to date has been to throw more money at education. It hasn’t worked. The hiring of a new superintendent, in the dawning days of a new administration and city council, represents a once-in-a-lifetime chance for taxpayers to finally get their money’s worth from the public education budget.

THE PLANET sees one of two ways this can be done:

(1) Do not grant an automatic hike in pay and benefits, as was done while advertising for the job of superintendent the last two times it was open. This represents an opportunity for taxpayers to save money and for the school committee to flex its muscles in the line of financial conservatism.  In FY10, Jake made $133,858.98 in salary plus about $40,000 in benefits. Surely, there’s room for some savings here for a new person coming in and yet to prove him or herself. THE PLANET feels this is a short-term solution.

(2) Advertise at a pay increase, say, $150,000 per year. This will help assure a TOP person will apply and be hired. The question becomes: What will you, New Mr. or Ms. Superintendent, provide in return? Specifically, how much money will you save taxpayers? Correct Answer: “I will institute aggressive operational efficiency.”

The school committee must make the new superintendent’s salary contingent upon an ability to reduce the costs of the department while improving the performance. This is called management, something that has been precious scare in supply. There are staff redundancies that have been built into the bloated budget. Eliminate these. Require the new superintendent to streamline operations to make the department more cost effective. After years of added on waste, this can be done, IF — a big IF — the school committee and Mayor Bianchi don’t blow it. Needful of saying, politics must not play a role in the hiring, as it was in the case of Eberwein.

THE PLANET thinks option (2) is the best way to go, as long as the new hire is given carte blanche to cut spending while boosting performance. There are such people. That’s why we think the new superintendent should not be an academic lifer. We need to get a top person from the private sector.

Search for New Super Should not Start Immediately; What Should Start Now is the Definition of the Job

School committee chairman Alf Barbalunga is incorrect in calling for the search for Eberwein’s successor to begin immediately. What needs to begin immediately is for the school committee, and to an extent the larger community, to finally define the job of superintendent. Simply put, the new job description should be: Lower costs while boosting performance.

This was not done with Jake Eberwein. He’s a “nice guy.” You always have so say that when it comes to criticizing the performance of any Pittsfield office holder. OK. He’s a “nice guy.” Bianchi’s a “nice guy.” Kinnas is a “nice guy.” Barbalunga is a “nice guy.” Everybody in Pittsfield is a “nice guy.” But by several key measurements, Eberwein didn’t do the job:

* Budget: Under Eberwein, the school department’s runaway appetite for dollars continued unabated, without a resultant increase in performance.

* School Choice: Pittsfield schools suffered a let loss of almost $3 millio, with parents opting out of the district.

* Test scores: Flat-lined, at best.

Kinnas: ‘Hire a Professional’

One school committee member understands what’s at stake.

“I’m looking at this an an opportunity,” says Terry Kinnas. “Hiring a superintendent is one of the most important responsibilities of the school committee, other than the budget. The community has to define what we are looking for in a superintendent. The next superintendent shouldn’t be picked by a small group of people. I think we should look for a top-line person, someone maybe not local, that has an extensive technical background, who can work with busineeses well, and can manage an operation professionally. We should go to the private sector and ask the advice of several top business people. We should seek community input. These decision is far too important for just seven people (the school committee) to make unilaterally.”

Kinnas has isolated the missing ingredient. The schools have not had a professional manager. The days of blackboards and chalk are over. Today it’s laptops and gigabtyes. The pace of change is enormous, and the new superintendent needs to be technically superior, Kinnas says. He or she also must know how to manage an $89 million division of a $120 million company.

“Superintendents are not properly trained for their position,” Kinnas notes. “They need to be up on preventive and correctional maintenance, operational expenses and efficiencies, and have a strong understand of how budgets equate to performance. We can’t keep throwing money at the problem.”

Kinnas is correct. Throwing money at the schools is a politician’s response, which taxpayers have unfortunately seen at the city, state, and federal levels all too frequently. The result is a public school system that has become an embarrassment in the global economy.


Here is our original report from last night on Eberwein’s resignation:

(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, TUESDAY EVENING, JAN. 3, 2012) — THE PLANET has learned that Pittsfield Supt. of Schools Howard “Jake” Eberwein has resigned. Eberwein’s resignation was announcement at about 7 p.m. tonight.

THE PLANET had received word this afternoon that “something was up” with the Pittsfield Public Schools. We then found out that Eberwein, new School Committee chairman Alf Barbalunga, and Mayor Dan Bianchi met today, evidently to discuss this sudden and unexpected move. Sources say Eberwein will fill out the remainder of the school year (to June) but will not stay for the remainder of his contract, which runs to 2013. Barbalunga said the school committee will immediately begin the search for a new superintendent.

In a statement, Eberwein didn’t reveal any plans, other than “to reprioitize the work of being a dad,” whatever that means. usually, leaving to “spend more time with the family” is bureaucratese for “I need to get outta here, because the shoe is going to drop.” Ebverwein also said he will look for “new ways to contribute to the work of public education across the Commonwealth.” Likely translation: “I’ve got a job lined up elsewhere in the state.”

Details are sketchy at this point, but consider it confirmed. Eberwein has booked out. More tomorrow.

The resignation comes one day after the swearing in of the new school committee. At that meeting, Kathleen Amuso resigned as chairwoman, and the committee elected Barbalunga.


  1. Steve Wade
    January 3, 2012 at 6:15 pm #

    Ten bucks says he is leaveing for more money and less crap from know it all bloggers.

    • Dave
      January 4, 2012 at 6:08 am #

      Who is Steve Wade?

      • Steve Wade
        January 4, 2012 at 12:21 pm #

        Who is Dave ? What the hell kind of question is that Dave?

  2. ambrose
    January 3, 2012 at 6:16 pm #

    What’s it all about Alfie? Is it just for the moment we live? What;s it all about when you sort it out, Alfie? Joss Stone would have loved Palookaville. Kathy Darlington, we need you! Bob LaFrankie, you still alive? The chamber should promote this as the world’s most exciting city. It don’t get better than this. Can’t balme BLT-TFB – send your kids to chester if you have to

    January 3, 2012 at 6:46 pm #


    • levitan
      January 3, 2012 at 7:01 pm #

      Believer: You’re getting close. Soon you may discover that Dan Valenti has recently acquired supernatural powers and is responsible for sunspots, formerly a power only I enjoyed.

    • geo j
      January 4, 2012 at 9:26 am #

      Then I say, great job, Dan.

  4. joetaxpayer
    January 3, 2012 at 7:07 pm #

    Pitts.B very funny as usual.Pittsfield public school supt. is a very demanding job.Supt. do not last very long before they get burned out.For his own personal reasons Jake has decided to step down.He is a father of 5 and probally would like a job that would not be so time consuming,high profile and time consuming.Really none of are business,wish him the best.

  5. Molly
    January 3, 2012 at 7:11 pm #

    Oh pulllllease!!! This site had really good and open discussions with Dr. Eberwein that were beneficial to all. Dr. Eberwein is a highly intelligent and very capable man who was one of the VERY few leaders around this city to have the guts to “talk with the people” to get their input and suggestions and I, along with many others on here, really appreciated that. With all of that said, I’m sure that Dr. Eberwein has a much better job to go to and it’s a loss to Pittsfield to lose him.

  6. Demitrius T. Gladiator
    January 3, 2012 at 7:14 pm #

    Will someone put out PB’s idiot fever! I recall Dr. Eberwein’s participation in the recent series the Planet did on the Pittsfield schools. Graet stuff and we all learned from it. PB’s tactic is always to try to steer the discussion off track. Why does the Planet let this jerk post. Please, people, ignore the idiot. Let’s have this site be what it is, the most open and smart site going.

  7. dusty
    January 4, 2012 at 2:41 am #

    Wondering how long Jake knew he might make this move. It came right after a powerful GOB was elected to chair the school committee. Perhaps he felt he might have trouble steering his own ship in the direction he might want it to go.

  8. Buster Grey
    January 4, 2012 at 5:20 am #

    I read the Planet everyday. Somedays I agree with DV and somedays I don’t – That’s life. I for one think that Dr. Eberwein has done a good job. As far as the resignation of Mrs. Amuso, that demonstrated to me that the our new Mayor is starting his own gang of GOB’s. Alf, a longtime GOB what a sad choice – a Political Hack/Wantabe.

  9. Unchy
    January 4, 2012 at 5:25 am #

    Surprised he stayed this long. Ebb can make more money with less headache elsewhere.

    • Shakes His Head
      January 4, 2012 at 8:23 am #

      It is always difficult to balance the administrative functions of a super’s role with education reform. Particularly in a house divided.

  10. geo j
    January 4, 2012 at 9:20 am #

    I think Jake was catapulted to his meteoric rise by a different set of GOBs, and he saw the writing on the wall. Jake also probably didn’t look forward to the accountable Mr. Kinnas will demand.

  11. Hilly Billy 2 in Ward 4
    January 4, 2012 at 9:44 am #

    I agree Geo J….I think its mind blowing that he resigns as soon as Terry Kinnas is sworn in.. Coincidence? Me thinks not

  12. Unchy
    January 4, 2012 at 9:49 am #

    To many cooks in the kitchen.

  13. joetaxpayer
    January 4, 2012 at 9:56 am #

    Jake was thinking about stepping down last summer.That is why he took a one year exstention instead of a 3 year contract.

  14. Scott
    January 4, 2012 at 12:25 pm #

    I could care less you can change the manager and reduce spending which I’m for as a tax payer but at the end of the day you can’t change the fact that the majority of kids in public schools have bad role models at home. The quality and cost of education although important as an issue is only half the battle.

  15. ambrose
    January 4, 2012 at 12:44 pm #

    The way to do it is like a business would do it. There would be no need for more than one boss per building and a teacher in each classroom. If a tire store buys 25 tires and one of them is defective, back it goes. The same would work very well with children. If they have emotional problems, learning problems or physical problems, don’t take them. Problem solved. If you read the feel good story about the Richmond School in the Eagle where the cook grills the hamburgs and hot dogs over an open flame you would have learned that of the 160 students in the school over half are from Pittsfield, How many of these little ones do you suppose are discipline problems. You can bet none or Richmond wouldn’t keep them. Just send them back to Pittsfield where they belong. Problem solved. The Richmond School is a wonderful little place where the kids are all clean, well adjusted and happy. Pittsfield could and should do the same thing. If the yougsters show up dirty, not healthy, not smart, not from the ideal home, don’t take them. You would see test score shoot up. Graduation rate would be 99%, just like it is in Lenox, Stockbridge and all the toney towns. The budget could be cut in half as there would be no need for special ed, school nurses or resource people. We could even go a step farther and require that all have blue eyes and blond hair. No Polish or Slavs though. Our troubles would be over. We would have a perfect breed of children and we would save a ton of taxpayers $. Mary and Joe Kapinski’s taxes would go down and all would be well with the world. Their son though (whom I assume is named Jesus) still couldn’t come back to Pittsfield because their ain’t no jobs.

  16. Ray Ovac
    January 4, 2012 at 1:32 pm #

    Now that Jake Eberwein is out the door, it sure would be helpful to have from him some departing grades and evaluations concerning various aspects of the Pittsfield school system, its strengths, weaknesses, areas for improvement, etc..
    Conversely, it would be helpful to have parents of students as well as those in charge of the various school departments give departing grades to Eberwein regarding his management style, strengths, weaknesses, areas for improvement, etc..

    • Steve Wade
      January 4, 2012 at 2:34 pm #

      I give him a “A” Good man Tuff job. Who would want to put up with Terry Kinnas 24/7 besides his wife?

      • Steve Wade
        January 4, 2012 at 2:34 pm #


  17. dusty
    January 4, 2012 at 2:01 pm #

    If we knew the reason the Doctor was leaving it might give us a hint who else might be getting rabbit feet

    and why does he have the Doctor title?

    • Steve Wade
      January 4, 2012 at 2:36 pm #

      He has his Doctorate in Education. DUH!

      • dusty
        January 4, 2012 at 3:02 pm #

        Keep your shirt on Steve…it’s too early in the year to get all worked up

  18. Buster Grey
    January 4, 2012 at 2:59 pm #

    With Alf and Terry on the School committee the meetings will become like episodes of the 2 stooges or Blow Hard and Dumb A_ _.

    ALF is a political hack working for an agency made -up of political hacks and Terry needs to post his resume so that the public can see all of “real” experience.

    Dan, you are such as smart guy, I sometimes think you push these stooges out on your blog to see if you readers will smoke them out.

  19. Bill Sturgeon
    January 4, 2012 at 3:28 pm #

    Dan Valenti will be on the Mid-Day Live Show with Bill Sturgeon –tomorrow 10:30 – Noon. There are so many things to talk about. If you have time and interest listen in at AM1340 – WBRK. I am looking forward to it.

  20. Demitrius T. Gladiator
    January 4, 2012 at 3:36 pm #

    CAn’t wait. Love it when Dan gets back to his radio roots. Hes the best and love your show, Bill S.

  21. Unchy
    January 4, 2012 at 3:39 pm #

    @Dusty…right prescription for the Doctor!

  22. Unchy
    January 4, 2012 at 3:41 pm #

    @ Steve Fade…who would want to put up with Tiki?? We should be happy he is representing the kids instead of the bureaucracy

  23. Unchy
    January 4, 2012 at 3:43 pm #

    I think taxpayers are going to be pleasantly surprised with Tiki! on the S C.

  24. Demitrius T. Gladiator
    January 4, 2012 at 4:56 pm #

    Kinnas is the best thing to happen in Pitts politics in a decade. Or two. His comments here prove he has a grasp of the issues. Blow Hard and Dumb A–: Buster, you just described yourself, judging by the comment.

  25. Molly
    January 4, 2012 at 9:32 pm #

    I respectively disagree with you, Dan. I think Dr. Eberwein did a pretty good job! Most of what you complain about regarding him, is out of his hands, and will be out of the hands of the next Superintendent, too! The Pittsfield Public Schools are required to meet the State regulations regarding SO many aspects of our schools. They dictate that we MUST have certain programs in place. For example, at-risk children fall into many different categories as to why they are “at risk” and we must jump through hoops to accommodate all of them. Those that speak some English but primarily use a different language, and those that don’t speak English at all – we need to provide translators (in how many different languages?) and Special Ed teachers, Counselors, on and on – and that’s just ONE program out of many that they dictate to us. And also Federal Rules & Regulations in order to get our share of “No Child Left Behind” and “Reach To The Top” dollars requires us to spend that money on certain things that they approve of. They don’t just give us the money and the Superintendent gets to spend it, or not, as he sees fit.

    In addition, it’s the School Committee who approves any school budgets and then sends them on to the City Council for them to rubber stamp it. It’s the School Committee that approves and hires all of the Assistant Superintendents, and a separate School Finance person – on and on and on. I agree that there is overlap in too many places and too many Administrators (both at an Ass’t Superintendent level right down to the Secretaries) and I think he could’ve had more input and made changes regarding this. But the School Committee also has a good deal of blame for this.

    Getting a top person from the private sector is not, in this case, the right way to go as we need a Superintendent who knows the ropes on how to obtain, and keep, state and federal educational funding and grants. We need him or her to have an in-depth knowledge of how to educate children — all children, including those who don’t have parents who care in the least about their kids and use our school system as babysitters. We need someone who can create an excellent curriculum for each of the grades. We need an experienced educator to be able to look at what’s working and what’s not and know what to do to change those that are not. And if we want quality, we need to pay for it, too, as otherwise, we won’t be attracting anyone who is capable. How much do you think any of the members on the School Committee know about how to educate children? I’d say they know very little and rely on the Superintendent to know and they take the roll of budgets and new schools, renovation of schools, buying buses, implementing a free breakfast and lunch program, etc. In other words, Spending Our Money!

    And I think that Dr. Eberwein has done a good job of bringing up the state rankings of our schools. I agree that there’s much more work to do, but these kinds of improvements don’t change overnight, either. We can provide the best and the newest schools that are filled with the latest technology, the best teachers, the best curriculum to meet the needs of EVERY student, all the extra help that some kids need, on and on and on. But if a 16 year old kid doesn’t like school and doesn’t get any support for it from home, and can make LOTS of money selling drugs instead, then guess what? You’re not going to be able to do anything to keep that kid in school and meet those state-mandated percentages.

    As for how many dollars we lose with The School Choice Program, that is never going to change as Pittsfield isn’t one of the “rich little towns” like Lenox, Richmond, Stockbridge, etc. We have SO many kids in our schools who’s parents just DO NOT CARE are not involved in their children’s lives at all. Their main focus is where do they get more drugs and “yeah, I know my boyfriend is abusing my kid, but I can’t live without him”. These kids are so screwed up and very often lash out and physically fight with anyone who isn’t like them, and they join gangs, and the result is that our schools have become a very hostile environment. Other than implementing programs such as the JRC (which is a good program), there’s not much that any Superintendent can do – they can’t FORCE the parents to care and to be involved in their children’s lives. And THAT is the biggest reason why parents who are able to, send their children off to other towns to be educated.

    And then there’s the Teacher’s Union and the Administrative Unions to deal with. He can’t just get rid of those teachers that he deems to be inadequate (like a boss in private industry could do) as the Unions don’t allow it. And it’s the School Committee who negotiates with the Unions on their contracts – both pay and benefits along with all the rules and regulations regarding replacing teachers (tenure). The Superintendent’s hands are very tied in SO many aspects. It’s very naive to think that we should just bring in a “super manager” from the private sector and tell him to reduce the budget and improve the schools…

    Dr. Eberwein is a highly intelligent and capable educator, who gave SO much of his time to our schools and had many successes. I believe it is a big loss for Pittsfield to lose him and I would guess that he is just plain burned-out. As for the political aspect, I wouldn’t look to him for that, but to the biggest “Good Ol’ Boy” around – Alf!! I can’t believe that you stood up for Alf Barbalunga, “Mr. No Show”, but are trashing Dr. Eberwein! You got this one very wrong, Dan!

    • ambrose
      January 5, 2012 at 6:01 am #

      You got it right Molly on school choice. The towns have big schools that were built in the days when there were more kids around. They welcome the chance to fill them with Pittsfield people who care enough about their kids and have the where withall to cart them 7 or 8 miles each way every day. It would be interesting to see how may Hispanic children or blacks are being taken in by these lily white schools. As for tenure, its not easy to get rid of a teacher nor should it be. Given the political nature of school systems they need some protection. Gutless administrators pass teachers along the same as kids are passed along.

    January 4, 2012 at 9:52 pm #

    I believe the Superintendent job is a hard one because of all the Federal/State mandates. Then you have the unions. I also think he did a fine job with all the bull______ he must put up with. Get rid of the unions and Federal and State mandates and maybe the schools could do what they should EDUCATE our children. Special needs used to mean just that Special Need students. Now if a student is nothing more that a trouble maker he falls into Special needs. The government and unions have brought down the education in this country. On a side note heard that in 2012 there are 40,000 new laws that went into effect in the USA. Oh boy this country is getting worse and worse thanks to our Government an who is the leader!!!!

    • New to PV
      January 6, 2012 at 10:28 am #

      I agree with the corrosion of education by the numerous state/federal mandates, yet as a society, we have allowed the transfer of responsibility for children from parents/families to schools. Institutionalized liberal ideology within academia played a huge role in this. This isn’t exclusive to the PHS systems, but endemic across the country in public schools, including those small town schools, which Pittsfield families transfer to through school choice.

      I’m not happy with the PHS system, but I believe the cause of concern is again not exclusive to the Pittsfield system. Disruptive children are being catered to at the expense of those who are well behaved and want to learn. This observation has been validated by personal friends who happen to teach in Pittsfield schools.

      I’m not sure how to evaluate Eberwein, as I am not knowledgeable enough on his directives, but it appears as though the increase in performance, at least at the middle school level, has come about through repeated attempts for achievement. I monitor my children’s progress and they are continually given second and third chances to bring up their grades. I assume that the system monitors grades and gives the children repeated attempts at improvement if their initial progress falls short of system goals. I wholeheartedly disagree with this as my children are learning that they don’t have to put in a concerted effort the first time around, as they will be given additional chances for success.

      • danvalenti
        January 6, 2012 at 10:59 am #

        Great points. Welcome to THE PLANET.

  27. Hilly Billy 2 in Ward 4
    January 5, 2012 at 5:52 am #

    Those little rich towns Molly are not so rich after all. Look a t their budgets every yr….barely squeeking by

  28. Molly
    January 5, 2012 at 1:50 pm #

    But the residents who send their children to those schools, are, for the most part (obviously not all) but the majority, come from ‘well to-do families”. Yes, I know — some of these kids have very real problems because they, too, deal with very harsh realities that are “hushed up” within those circles. However, I still say that the majority aren’t dealing with parents who just don’t care about their kids in the least, and the kids get their only meals from the free breakfast & lunch programs because their parents are trading their food stamps for drugs. A big part of the problems within the Pittsfield School System is the lack of parent participation and support.

  29. Hilly Billy 2 in Ward 4
    January 6, 2012 at 5:47 am #