SCHOOL MINUTES OUT OF DATE … LITTLE WIN ON SCHOOL DEPARTMENT BUDGET SMALL CONSOLATION FOR BEDRAGGLED TAXPAYERS … EBERWEIN ADMITS TO USING FEDERAL FUNDS TO BALANCE SPENDING … MEANWHILE, TEACHERS UNION WILL SQUEEZE THE LITTLE GUY FOR $1.25 MILLION IN RAISES AND COST-OF-LIVING ALLOWANCES in FY13
By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, TUESDAY, MAY 15, 2012) — Before we begin, THE PLANET let’s you know that the school committee meeting minutes have not been posted for April 11, 25, and May 9. Is it too much to ask from a department taking $90 million of a $130 million budget to post minutes in a timely manner. Would it, as Tevye asks, “spoil some vast, eternal plan?”
A Blade of Grass Grows, and Once in a while We Can Enjoy a Tiny Victory
Incremental progress can seem infuriating, maddened as we often find ourselves by the eternal hurry of life, a condition brought on by screened devices that divide time into nanoseconds. Nonetheless, when we take the position of a blade of grass, we can view progress differently. Slow growth indicates the progression of a process.
Thus, THE PLANET read with satisfaction the admission of outgoing Pittsfield School Supt. Jake Eberwein of the true nature of the school budget. For years, the superintendent’s office has only mentioned the operating budget when discussing the budget. The Boring Broadsheet still refers to the operating budget as the school department’s cost to taxpayers, perpetuating the lie that had, prior to THE PLANET’s steady hammering, been accepted as truth. The school budget, of course, includes not just the operating costs ($54.3 million for FY12) but ancillary spending for employee health insurance benefits, maintenance, and transportation costs ($28.4 million). The school department budget, therefore, is $82.7 million, not $54.3 million).
Truth in Advertising, or, Taxpayers Get Kicked in the Ass
That’s the figure Eberwein used in presenting to the school committee at the April 25. He called the $28.4 million the “back side” costs of running the department. We use the same language, differently phrased: These costs assure taxpayers of getting kicked in the ass.
“We know the insurance costs and pension costs are real burdens,” Eberwein said to committee members. Indeed, the unfunded mandates due to such benefits amount to a staggering amount for city taxpayers (roughly $400 million). What Jake didn’t say, however, and perhaps what Dr. Reza Namin would have taken on (though we can only dream), is that both pension reform and insurance re-negotiations could trim millions from the budget, (a) leaving school department employees still with benefits that those in the Dreaded Private Sector and (b) giving bedraggled taxpayers critical relief.
It won’t happen now. Doctor Namin isn’t going to be walking through the door anytime soon, and the GOB who control the schools will make sure come budget time to bleat, whine, and tell us that their raises will be for “the children.”
Eberwein’s admission went without fanfare and little public notice, though it represented a small victory for We the People. Let’s keep our heads, though, and realize the only reason Jake came clean, finally, about the budget is that he’s on his way out, and this type of “honesty” will look good in his new position (rumored to be as director of education at Hillcrest School for wayward juveniles).
Framing School Department Money Matters Matters
How we frame the money discussion is critical, as one of the posters on yesterday’s stories indicated between the lines. The commentator made the point that in any school issue, including the hiring of personnel (and especially the hiring of a superintendent) is about money, specifically, protecting the nearly $100 million jackpot. School committee, superintendent, senior administrative and union posts boil down to control of 2/3 to 70% of the entire city budget, depending on whose figures you use. That type of power goes to the heads of far too many amateurs, who have, over the years, constructed an unassailable and unaccountable fiefdom.
That’s what rattled five members of the school committee into looking further into the promising candidacy of Dr. Namin. As committeeman Terry Kinnas pointed out, the committee vote wasn’t to hire, but to explore further a man with a track record of achivement and cost consolidation, the Golden Combination. Mayor Dan Bianchi, who serves on the school committee, agreed with Kinnas, whose star continues to shine in his stellar performance in committee meetings.
Yet these qualities rattled chairman Alf Barbalunga, Kathy Yon, Jim Conant, Dan Elias, and Kathy Amuso, who conveyed in words, actions, and body language to Dr. Namin that he had been set up and didn’t stand a chance.
You Didn’t Have to Draw Dr. Namin a Map
Namin showed brilliance in picking up on the committee’s language first and withdrawing his candidacy before Barbalunga announced the vote. The BB misreported the story as the committee rejecting Namin. Nothing could be more non-factual. Namin read the tea leaves and said, “I’m outta here.” In THE PLANET’s book, that independence alone should have given him the job.
The question is why the committee invited Namin before them in the first place, if the majority knew he didn’t stand a chance. Speculations, Mr. Spock, and anyone else?
Using Unreliable Federal Funds to Plug Budget Gap Would Get a CEO Fired in Dreaded Private Sector … or … But this is the School Department!
To give you a glimpse into how irresponsible school budgeting has been, last year, they could only balance the budget by using $1.3 million of federal “EdJobs” dollars: “Federal money ha[s] been used to cover the [budget] gap.” How shaky is that, given that federal dollars cannot be relied upon year after year. Do that as a CEO in the Dreaded Private Sector, and you’re soon pushing up daisies in the unemployment line.
There are problems with using federal grant money for plug bad budgeting include:
* That money won’t be available this year.
* It wasn’t meant to be used for budget balancing.
* Therefore, it did the school system no good.
* It adds another million dollar+ to the $83.7 million department budget.
If you added other federal grants plus the millions Pittsfield schools will lose to school choice, the de facto school department budget tops $90 million.
Teacher Pay Raises, Cost-of-Living Increases, will Soak Taxpayers $1.25 million for not One Drop of Added Benefit
Of course, this being Pittsfield, you know the teachers’ union squeezed out more dollars from Mary Jane and Joe Kapanski. The United Educators of Pittsfield, also known to taxpayers as Murder Inc., will receive $750,000 in step raises. Another $500,000 (approximately) will be tacked on for cost-of-living increases that the teachers have in their contract. Grand total to taxpayers: Cough up at least $1.25 million in extra money for not one bit of extra benefit.
School department business manger Kristen Behnke, who along with Eberwein fronts this budget disaster in the making, has to date shown no sign of wanting to institute reform. Rather, she has shown an only-too-eager willingness to take last year’s numbers, add a percentage increase, and call that a budget.
In Pittsfield, the average teacher salary for the latest year reported by the state, the 09-10 school year, is $53,707 + .30 added for benefits, or $16,112. This totals $69,819. Add three years of raises, including the FY13 year, and the average compensation is well over $70,000. That’s for a work day of 183 days and summers off. In the long-run, as the unfunded liabilities show, this spells financial ruin for the city if the trend is left unchecked.
Behind all this is the overall city budget, which Bianchi has not yet released.