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BIANCHI’S CAROUSEL OFFER WELL INTENDED BUT DOESN’T ADD UP … “PLOP PLOP, FIZZ FIZZ” — SOME NAUSEATING NUMBERS OF PITTSFIELD’S DUBIOUS BUDGET TRANSFERS … ANOTHER BUMP IN THE ROAD, or, WHERE HAVE YOU GONE NAT F. AND MARY Z? … REID MIDDLE SCHOOL PUSHES OUT SCHOLARS BUT U.S. IS GETTING DUMBER (NOW HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE??)

By DAN VALENTI

PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary

(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, WEDNESDAY, AUG. 1, 2012) — Welcome to August, a fond adieu to July.

“Will it go round in circles? Will it fly high like a bird up in the sky?” — Billy Preston.

Pinky, one of the horses of the Berkshire Carousel.

Yesterday, the Boring Broadsheet ran a well-done piece by Dick Lindsay about Mayor Dan Bianchi‘s what shall we call it — inducement, incentive, carrot, bribe — of $250,000 if only Pittsfield will locate the Berkshire Carousel in the Land of Benigno Numine. Bianchi doesn’t specify where the quarter of a million would come from, only that it would be a “city grant.” Lindsay apparently didn’t ask the mayor about this critical piece of information, which is a hole in the story.

THE PLANET should like to know how and why $250,000 can so cavalierly be pulled out of the hat and offered to bribe this attraction. Didn’t we just hear during budget time how dollars were tight?

Questions abound:

* Has the city budgeted $250,000 for this purpose?

* From which account would this money come?

* What is the economic justification for this not-piddling amount?

* Where is the data or studies that would suggest this to be an investment rather than an expense for taxpayers?

* Is this the best possible use of a quarter of a million dollars, especially with taxes at such a high level. Keep in mind that the city’s tax rates for both residential and commercial must be seen in the relative sense as a ratio of the community’s “ability to pay,” an equation that takes into account a region’s amount of cash on hand, both discretionary and necessary. That is the calculation that politicians in town never want to reveal, for it shows Pittsfield to be, per capita, the highest taxed community in the Commonwealth.

A Desperation Heave

The quarter million bribe comes off as a desperation move on the part of the city, a Hail Mary pass from your own 38 yard line. Credit Bianchi with trying to reverse an antithetical if not hostile position the city had with Jim Shulman and the Berkshire Carousel when Jimmy Ruberto was mayor.

The move represents Bianchi’s attempt to get the Carousel to the city — a seemingly worthwhile goal. There’s a problem, however. Pittsfield has arrived too late in the game. It has failed to identify a location for the attraction (another critical aspect of the project). It has attached a set of conditions to the $250,000 we can’t imagine either Shulman or the Carousel Board agreeing to accept. Conditions include matching money and acceding to the city a right to sit on the board.

The carousel project has gone this far as an independent effort. That’s been it’s saving grace. Should the Berkshire Carousel accept the city’s offer, it will also invite the city’s poisonous politics into the control room, something it does not want to have.

The other problem is the neglect if not outright hostility Pittsfield has shown this project almost from the beginning. Shulman has told me stories off the record of some of the shenanigans.

The merry-go-round at the Carousel Center, Syracuse, NY.

Actually, the best place for the Carousel is in the Berkshire Mall. The Pyramid Company’s flagship mall is the Carousel Center in Syracuse, NY., a seven-story Supermall located on the shore of Onondaga Lake. The mall, one of the nation’s largest, recently added 800,000 square feet of space, making it the second largest mall in the US.

The dominant feature of the Carousel Mall is a working carousel. The carousel, a stunning work of art, costs one dollar to ride, and it does a magnificent job of getting the parents to the mall. Once there, most will go shopping.

The Berkshire Carousel at the mall would have the advantage of an enclosed structure, so that little separation would actually have to be built, save for the staging. Moreover, the Mall, by providing a rent-free workshop and space, would have the moral and ethical “right of refusal.”

Once again, Pittsfield comes up too late, too short, and too desperate.

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A CLOSER LOOK AT THE BUDGET TRANSFER NUMBERS, or, GET THE ALKA SELTZER READY

Plop, plop ... fizz, fizz

As a follow-up to our piece last week on the rising hit to taxpayers from police and fire disability payments, THE PLANET shares two hard number with you: $96,441 and $207,128. Those are the amounts, respectively, paid by Mary Jane and Joe Kapanski to balance a budget that requires these additional amounts for police and fire injury disability pay and workman’s comp for fire fighters.

The city council approved transferring that money from “free cash” to take care of spiraling compensation time. Cops and fire fighters out on workmen’s comp receive 72% of their gross salary, tax free, as long as they are disabled.

We Know This Much, But Only This Much

The sticky question is this: Which cases are legitimate and which ones are fraudulent? We only know this much:

(a) All of the cases have been vetted by the city process.

(b) The process contains loopholes that serve as invitation for abuse.

(c) Some cases are legitimate.

(d) Some cases are fraudulent.

Wanted: Politicians with Backbone (Don’t Apply All at Once)

Now, what politician in town, mayor or councilor, has the political will to once-and-for-all crackdown on abuse? Which one of my Right Honorable Good Friends wishes to step forward and take this on, Rambo style?

Don’t everyone rush forward at once.

Workman’s Comp fraud provides yet another reason why We the People have a hard time taking any municipal budget talk seriously, especially the one that we hear every cycle, you know, the one about this being “a tough economy” where “dollars are tight.”

One case of fraud is one case too much, and if even one case is our there, it should be ferreted out, the culprits identified, and taxpayers made whole.

Other budget transfer details that you might have missed:

* Fire fighters received a wage adjustment of $84,879.

* Fire lieutenants received a boost of $47,870.

* Some $63,630 added dollars were taken from taxpayers pockets (“free cash”) for fire uniforms. Credit Our Right Honorable Good Friend, Councilor-at-large Barry Clairmont, for at least questioning why (and how) uniform costs have shot up so much. Answer: Acting (aren’t they all?) Chief Bob Czerwinski revealed that the recent contract signed by the city increased the uniform allowance, from $100 a year to $350. They snuck it in when you weren’t looking, People. That’s an increase in one year of 350%. The $63,630 lump sum will address that need. The 350% increase in uniform allowance can be used as Exhibit A of how taxpayers will bleed to death before the city of Pittsfield’s budgetary excesses are addressed.

$20 Grand for Dispatchers’ OT: Warning to Herman Alexander and Botched Up Meredith Nilan Negligent Driving Address Must Have Took Lots of Time

As we reported last week, fire and police overtime continue to be killers. We reported the $236,213 in overtime, but we recently learned that $19,265 is for dispatcher overtime. Must be the extra time needed by dispatchers to warn city personnel who were at the time enjoying the “refreshments” at Herman Alexander‘s of the imminent police raid. We also wonder if money was needed for any possible OT for the dispatcher who reported the wrong address to investigating officers responding to the scene where negligent driver Meredith Nilan, after some hard early-evening partying, ran down and nearly killed Peter Moore. Nilan used the “coincidental” “mix-up” to her advantage, citing the serendipitous miscommunication in her feeble excuses for how one person could leave another critically injured, to die at the scene, while seeking escape from all responsibility.

On a final budget transfer note, we like finance director’s comment to the reasonable question of Our Right Honorable Good Friend, Ward 5′s Jonathan Lothrop. J-Lo asked how the city could possible end up with a $455,000 surplus in the health insurance account. He mentioned health insurance because the city dipped into that account to pay for some of the police and fire overruns.

Sue Carmel answered that the previous year’s FY budget (’12) contained payments that weren’t needed.

Hello? THE PLANET understands that budgets are living documents, estimates that need to be adjusted based on conditions, but how can a budget be that far off for a fixed cost? It suggests the sloppy work being done by Carmel, a finance director who, as John Barrett once said, knows little about finance and would have trouble directing a kindergarten air-trumpet band.

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ANOTHER BUMP IN THE ROAD: “WHERE HAVE YOU GONE, MARY Z and NAT”

Suzanne Bump

The June 26 fund-raising visit to Boston by President Barack Obama rang up huge costs in OT for  extra security. Extra police and other city personnel generated a large bill for taxpayers. How large? We don’t know, because our state’s fearless auditor, Great Barrington’s Suzanne Bump, refused to look into the exact costs.

Paul Craney, executive director of the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance (MFA), had this to say about Bump’s hands-off attitude: “This is a wasted opportunity for the state’s top fiscal watchdog to demonstrate that her bark has bite.”

Bump has had about as much bark as a burned down forest fire and all the bite of a centenarian gumming oatmeal. Voters blew it when they elected Bump to the position over the highly more qualified Mary Connoughton and the highly more independent Nat Fortune.

You may not know about the MFA. We share this information from its landing page as massfiscal.org:

Like many in Massachusetts, the leadership, staff, donors and supporters of Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance are concerned about the direction of our state. We call Massachusetts home and want to see our state improve, become more competitive, transparent and head in the right direction.

Unemployment and underemployed in some areas of the state are at unacceptable levels. Our state spending and burdensome tax levels are out of control, fueled by out of touch leaders on Beacon Hill. Healthy debates on fiscal issues seldom occur. Beacon Hill special interests have monopoly control of the legislative process. We are on the brink of leaving the next generation of Massachusetts residents far less competitive.

Instead of confronting the hard fiscal challenges ahead of us, many on Beacon Hill refuse to offer sustainable solutions. Small businesses and entrepreneurs are suffering, unemployment and underemployment are rising and state spending is unsustainable.

The November 2012 General Election is quickly approaching, now is the time to get involved and demand fiscal responsibility from our elected leaders. It’s time we had leaders in both the State Senate and the House of Representatives that are 100% dedicated to solving the fiscal issues affecting our state.

Massachusetts is always better off when its citizens, small business owners and entrepreneurs get involved and take control of our state’s future from the special interests and out of touch policy makers.

We hope to give Massachusetts residents the tools they need to make the best decisions. As residents of Massachusetts, we are concerned for our Fiscal future. Please join us, an Alliance of concerned fiscally responsible individuals to put our state government back on track.

THE PLANET recommends the MFA site for all people who are interested in information that will help them to become better Citizens. We capitalize “Citizens” here because “Citizen” — not “President” or “Senator,” not “Mayor” or “Councilor” — is the highest title in a democracy. It’s a pity most don’t know it and allow all manner of grifter, salespersons, scallywags, and slicks — collectively known as Politicians — to take over.

THE PLANET remains in favor of wresting the controls out of their hands and putting it back into those of The Citizens.

We counterpose this quote, from Gov. Deval Patrick: “Look, I’m not afarid of the word ‘tax.’ I know that you like to ask people in elective office [about taxes] and watch them squirm when the word is used.” We thank the governor for his honesty, though we cannot at all recommend his ruinous fiscal policies.

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EDUCATION DISCONNECT: WHILE REID MIDDLE SCHOOL TURNS OUT SCHOLARS FROM COOKIE CUTTERS, OBJECTIVE ANALYSIS SHOWS US KIDS ARE DUMB AND GETTING DUMBER

Reid Middle School: Certified Geniuses, Evidently.

Finally, we share this interesting juxtaposition. First, we present the “fact” that 221 students at Reid Middle School made the fourth quarter honor roll in the most recently concluded school year. That’s a remarkable 36% of the entire student body. Sounds a little like Lake Wobegone, where every child is above average.

THE PLANET puts “fact” in quotes to indicate a non-literal use, which is the only way to deal with the grade inflation at Reid that accounts for, probably, more than half of the students on this list.

Here is a more objective view of the state of American education, from the Huffington Post. In the “Education Olympics,” the US has a poor showing. The sad story:

A report out last week by Harvard University’s Program on Education Policy and Governance found that U.S. studentsaren’t progressing to catch up to their foreign peers.

Students in Latvia, Chile and Brazil are making gains in academics three times faster than American students, while those in Portugal, Hong Kong, Germany, Poland, Liechtenstein, Slovenia, Colombia and Lithuania are improving at twice the rate.

The study’s findings support years of rankings that show foreign students outpacing their American peers academically. Students in Shanghai who recently took international exams for the first time outscored every other school system in the world. In the same test, American students ranked 25th in math, 17th in science and 14th in reading.

Just 6 percent of U.S. students performed at the advanced level on an international exam administered in 56 countries in 2006. That proportion is lower than those achieved by students in 30 other countries.

So what does this all look like visually? The folks at Certification Map has put cross-country comparisons into an “Education Olympics” infographic. Keep in mind, the Soviet Union was excluded from the graph because of its dissolution in 1991, though it ranked second in terms of the most “gold medals” earned.

Mathematics and science rankings were taken from the 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment, which used Shanghai student scores as a proxy for all of China.

We know that the local apologists for the dysfunctional, overpaid, bloated Pittsfield School Department will call us the Bad Guy for delivering the news, but let’s face: Globally, the world is kicking our students in their lazy, dumbed-down, video-gamed academic butts.

We thank our good friend BSAKATFM for bringing the Huffington article to our attention.

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SWEET SPIRIT! SISTER OF THAT ORPHAN ONE, WHOSE EMPIRE IS THE NAME THOU WEEPEST ON, IN MY HEART’S TEMPLE I SUSPEND TO THEE THESE VOTIVE WORDS OF VIBRANT MEMORY.

“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”

LOVE TO ALL.

 

 

31 Responses to “BIANCHI’S CAROUSEL OFFER WELL INTENDED BUT DOESN’T ADD UP … “PLOP PLOP, FIZZ FIZZ” — SOME NAUSEATING NUMBERS OF PITTSFIELD’S DUBIOUS BUDGET TRANSFERS … ANOTHER BUMP IN THE ROAD, or, WHERE HAVE YOU GONE NAT F. AND MARY Z? … REID MIDDLE SCHOOL PUSHES OUT SCHOLARS BUT U.S. IS GETTING DUMBER (NOW HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE??)”

  1. tito
    August 1, 2012 at 7:50 am #

    Apoitical

  2. GMHeller
    August 1, 2012 at 8:05 am #

    Looking forward to how Palookaville’s GOB’s muck-up placement of a carousel.
    Maybe the new attraction should be installed at City Hall in the city council chambers to complement the circus that already performs there weekly.

    • danvalenti
      August 1, 2012 at 10:25 am #

      GMH
      If the Carousel Board is foolish enough to get involved with the city, two things will happen:
      (a) The city will, as you say, muck it up.
      (b) Jim Shulman will rue the day.

  3. Chet Hunter
    August 1, 2012 at 9:09 am #

    Mr Valenti. Check your facts before you write,police and fire aren’t covered by workmanship comp in Ma. Could you get the exact numbers of injury retirements in the last 10 years in both depts so we can see all of the stats ourselves ?

    • danvalenti
      August 1, 2012 at 10:24 am #

      CHET
      Thank you for the information. I would invite you to get the exact numbers from the city to save us the time and effort. Good luck.

  4. taxmano
    August 1, 2012 at 9:27 am #

    It seems like Reid’s principal and former underwear model (I’m not making this up) is a master at fiddling with numbers for maximum spin, like his role model, Jake III. I hear he is never in the building, and many kids do not know who he is.

    • dusty
      August 1, 2012 at 1:32 pm #

      Looks like he is building a resume. Perhaps someone is guiding him up the corporate ladder…to say…maybe…future superintendent?

  5. tito
    August 1, 2012 at 9:34 am #

    So he’s a model, masquerading as a Principal and does disappearing acts. This is the model for leadership, in Palookaville.

  6. taxmano
    August 1, 2012 at 11:09 am #

    Interesting site, the” Educational Olympics.”
    Of course, the other countries test only their best and brightest, tracking out less academically gifted students very early into alternative programs. Only in America do we insist on college for all, and operate under that assumption, including testing all of our students equally.

  7. reallydan?
    August 1, 2012 at 11:28 am #

    19K split over 12 people who make 13 bucks an hour. wow an extra 1600 tacked onto a 27K/yr job. real back breaker!!

  8. reallydan?
    August 1, 2012 at 11:29 am #

    bigger fish to fry dont you think dan?

    • danvalenti
      August 1, 2012 at 1:57 pm #

      RD
      We are an equal opportunity fryer.

    • joetaxpayer
      August 1, 2012 at 5:42 pm #

      Reallydan you sound like a city counclor.Its only a drop in the bucket compared to the entire budget.That is why are taxs go up every year.All of these drops in the bucket add up.If the city would come up with a plan to cut back overtime across the board we could have major savings.I know there is nothing we can do about this years budget,but would hope the Mayor is already trying to come up with a plan with department heads to try too save as much as possible.I doubt it

      • Joe Pinhead
        August 1, 2012 at 8:20 pm #

        I can only wonder if the same line item was cut an equal amount would it be just a drop in the bucket? Or would we hear about the draconian cuts and the terrible impacts on public safety, life and limb.

  9. Ron Kitterman
    August 1, 2012 at 1:26 pm #

    I would have to agree with the planet on the carousel location staying a the Berkshire Mall. Charlie Smith was credited with putting a zoo at Springside Park and the kids killed most of the animals and vandlized the rest of the place. Drive down North Street and west on Columbus Ave to Onota and look at the graffiti along the drive and ask yourself would you seriously locate a carousel in downtown Pittsfield ?

    • Scott
      August 1, 2012 at 6:05 pm #

      I remember that and I remember going there and asking where all the animals were its too bad that’s still a nice little park still to this day even with the old equipment. It makes me think of heritage park in Holyoke beautiful place with lots of history at least it used to be.

  10. dusty
    August 1, 2012 at 1:41 pm #

    Advice to Mr Shulman on the carousel. I think the carousel is a wonderful thing and your efforts deserve much praise. But locating the carousel in Pittsfield these days would eventually break your heart. The people who invented the Civic Authority are still in power behind the scenes and would find a reason to gain control of this venture.

    They took over the Colonial theater and booted out its biggest supporter. They took over the Liechtenstein art gallery and booted its leader. They bent over backwards in a failed attempt to demolish Waconah park. Hope that helps your decision.

  11. Bill Sturgeon
    August 1, 2012 at 1:57 pm #

    Dan:
    I was hoping that you would write something about the passing of Gore Vidal. He mad people mad, but he also made people “Think”.

    • danvalenti
      August 1, 2012 at 2:15 pm #

      BILL
      It’s in the works. Gore Vidal was one of my personal heroes, both from a literary standpoint, an argumentative standpoint, and his clarity and articulateness in conveying his point of view. I shall indeed pay tribute. Look for it upcoming.

  12. Ron Kitterman
    August 1, 2012 at 1:58 pm #

    Let’s just look at the most recent government money $$ they spent on a skateboard park, with rules that ALL must wear a helmet. Well populated with no kid or young adult or person wearing a helmet. I would have to agree with Dusty it would be great to have in Pittsfield, but it would be a mistake.

    • danvalenti
      August 1, 2012 at 2:18 pm #

      That’s the point, Ron. Pittsfield talks a decent game but fumbles every time it gets the ball in its hands. The skateboard park’s rules might as well have been printed on invisible ink, they are so ignored. Moving the Carousel to Pittsfield will be the mistake of Jim Shulman’s life. Fortunately, having talked at length about his project and his dreams for the Merry-Go-Round, we feel comfortable he will reject Mayor Bianchi’s current offer. He might want to counter: $1 million cash, no strings attached, with NO INVOLVEMENT of the city on the BC board.

  13. GEE Whiz
    August 1, 2012 at 3:58 pm #

    As your post points out there’s a huge disparity: the Pittsfield public schools, administrators insist, are doing great. Yet the kids we are turing out are woefully unprepared for wither college, employment, or trade training. The Ed Olympics and every other way of measureing show US in horrible shape in education. Great piece, DV.

    • 2010 Taconic Grad
      August 2, 2012 at 12:12 pm #

      I cannot diagree with you more. Believe it or not, the system is what you put into it. They’re not going to hold your hand in the school system. If you go out of your way to take the harder class, then you are doing yourself a favor. Some kids are not cut out for college. It’s as simple as that. The “Ed Olympics” are clearly skewed from anyone who has taken statistics. The MEASURING***** (making fun of education… irony) that takes place here is compared to countries like Luxembourg. New York City itself is twice as big as that. Where was this sample taken from anyways? If Shanghai is being tested in China, why don’t our test results come from an upper echelon part of the country? Speculate all you want. The system is not flawed. Students in the system would literally be too far gone in any system. I made out more than prepared at my college (RIT). So please don’t generalize more than this article already does.

      • danvalenti
        August 2, 2012 at 2:37 pm #

        TACONIC GRAD
        Thank you for your input. Well done. My nephew went to RIT and graduated about 10 years ago. He’s knowing doing well in the IT field. Like you, he grabbed opportunity. We agree on that: the opportunity is there for those who want to excel.

  14. tito
    August 1, 2012 at 5:02 pm #

    Speaking of fryer, anyone know what’s going on with Burger King.

  15. Evian
    August 1, 2012 at 5:25 pm #

    I voted for Nat Fortune for state auditor in ’11. Mary Z looked good too, but I liked NFs independence and intelligence. Bump has been a joke as “auditor.” She audits nothing that has to do with all the real corruption thats going on in Mass.

  16. Joe Blow
    August 1, 2012 at 5:35 pm #

    I could care less where the merry go round goes,just keep tax dollars out of it. I’m still trying to figure out how a merry go round is gonna cost 2.5 million.

  17. Former Pittsfield Resident
    August 1, 2012 at 6:54 pm #

    Riding along on a carousel, trying to catch up to you Riding along on a carousel, will I catch up to you? Horses chasing ’cause they’re racing So near yet so far

    On a carousel, on a carousel

    Nearer and nearer by changing horses, still so far away People fighting for their places just get in my way Soon you’ll leave and then I’ll lose you Still we’re going round

    As she leaves, she drops the presents that she won before Pulling ducks out of the water, got the highest score Now’s my chance and I must take it A case of do or die………………………………………………………………….

    At least it will something that ALL the people of Pittsfield will benefit from unlike the runway at the airport.
    Something you can take your kids to. Something they might remember as a kid growing up in Pittsfield.

  18. Joe Pinhead
    August 1, 2012 at 8:26 pm #

    Bringing the carousel to Pittsfield would be a huge mistake, Why would anyone with as much time and talent invested as those who have worked so hard to put the horses on the carousel allow them to be converted to asses in no time flat?

  19. Former Pittsfield Resident
    August 2, 2012 at 4:08 am #

    People asking questions lost in confusion,
    Well I tell them there’s no problem,
    Only solutions,
    Well they shake their heads and they look at me as if I’ve lost my mind,
    I tell them there’s no hurry…
    I’m just sitting here doing time,

    I’m just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round,
    I really love to watch them roll,
    No longer riding on the merry-go-round
    ——John Lennon

    I just had to let it go.

  20. Rivetor
    August 2, 2012 at 6:22 am #

    Joe Pinhead with refernce to converting carousel horses into asses if Pittsfield gets the carousel, and Former Pittsfield resident, with his musical references: Right on!