SCHOOL COMMITTEE BARELY AVOIDS FLUNKING OUT … CHARTER REVIEW COMMISSION SET; FEUDAL SERFDOM A LIKELY OUTCOME FOR PITTSFIELD’S UNWASHED … LIFE AFTER HERMANN ALEXANDER’s A FAMILY AFFAIR, MASSERY CLAIMS, BUT SO WAS HA WHEN IT FIRST OPENED? … plus … NEW STAGE DIES A QUIET DEATH
By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, FRIDAY, AUG. 24, 2012) — THE PLANET gets a kick out of the ponderous lengths of honor rolls at the Pittsfield Middle Schools, where every kid is a genius and the star of his or her own bumper sticker. It has nothing to do with grade inflation, of course, or the fact that the teachers have lost control of the classrooms and, rather than deal with solipcistic parents, they hand out “A”s they way a flier hawker passes out handbills by the penny. Giving out unearned good grades is also a neat way to help in a bid for tenure.
When it comes to the Pittsfield School Committee, the grade story is far different, at least according to one of its members who, to say the least, remains less than impressed with the job the body has done in the first seven months of the year.
Committeeman Terry Kinnas, a fellow known for speaking his mind and bringing a data- and fact-based form of analysis to issues, sent this report to THE PLANET:
“There may have been some grade inflation …’
“This is a summary of my six-month grading of the Pittsfield School Committee, for there may have been some grade inflation in the D- to D+ range,” Kinnas writes. “The grade was based on
* “The poor superintendent search that was directed by the chairman.
* “The budget process was last minute and did not really evaluate the operational units of the school department.
* The individual schools never presented their individual needs with all the associated costs.
* “Some additional items of concern were/are reorganization of subcommittees, receiving information at the last minute just before the start of the meeting, school department computer problems, etc.
“I have started to present suggestions and proposals before the school committee to correct or improve the overall management process. Briefly, the first proposal gives the entire school committee the right to approve each specific step in the superintendent search process. The second proposal deals with the budget process — that it should be started in September with each operational unit presenting its staffing and associated costs, including benefits, square footage needed, major operational tasks with time and associated cost to each.”
School Committee on Verge of Flunking Out
Kinnas’ grade is a tad higher than THE PLANET’s. Our would be in the F to D- range, based on a range of factors, including:
* The botched superintendent’s search
* Failure to be transparent on many matters
* A lack of interest based on the dated nature of the school department’s web site.
* A failure to advocate for taxpayers at budget time.
* A failure to reel in an out-of-control budget
* Poor negotiations with the teachers’ union
* Failure to address the problem of slovenly dress and the blatant denial of the dress code by students.
* The pitiful performance when they had Larry Kratka before them.
* The failure to address systemic problems with the administration at specific schools.
* The failure to properly handle the $9,000 theft of prom money in 2011, and a host of other performance issues. All in all, it’s the type of report card kids used to dread bringing home to mom and dad.
The blame lies squarely on each member, of course, in varying degrees, with chairman Alf Barbalunga by virtue of his position needing to shoulder most of the blame.
There has been too much secrecy, too much sloppiness, and too little accountability of the school committee under Barbalunga’s leadership. He has also not yet looked comfortable in his role as chairman. There have been too many instances of straying from form, for instance, the tardiness in putting school committee meeting minutes on the website.
Another case in point: the mysterious disappearance of the minutes from the contentious executive session that gave new deputy superintendent of schools N. Tracy Crowe a pay raise of nearly $15,000, a relocation payment, and other sweeteners. In most other towns, that’s the subject of an investigation with heads on the line. In Pittsfield, it’s business as usual. We yawn, and they spawn — ineptitude.
THE PLANET’s individual grades are as follows:
Barbalunga — F; Yon — D-; Amuso, F; Kinnas: A-; Elias: B; Bianchi — C-; Conant— D-. The collective grade, F to D-, is based on the committee’s failure to achieve consensus as a board to drive tangible progress on the many specific areas we have identified.
THE PLANET finds it more than ironic that a board that handles $90 million of a $130 million municipal budget should face so little scrutiny and accountability. The school committee better wise up, or We The People shall have to take action.
This is not a threat. It is a statement of fact.
CHARTER COMMISSION FORMED; TELL US, HOW MUCH CONFIDENCE DO YOU HAVE IN THE PROCESS? or ‘HERE WE GO AGAIN’
Do any of these names have a tired ring to them? Do you feel like it’s deja vu, all over again?
Mike Filpi, Peter Marchetti, David Murphy Jr., Edward LaPointe, “Won’t You Come Home” Bill Barry, Diane Ferraro, Brad Gordon, Arthur Jones, Vicki Kane, Michael McCarthy, Debbie Sadowy.
In the Land of No Accountability, Charter Review Borders on Farce
These 11 people, some of them recycled from past Pittsfield debacles, were unanimously approved by my Right Honorable Friends on the City Council to sit on the Charter Review Commission.
The city that can’t plan a one-car funeral without botching it now wants to take on the grand task of reviewing its rules — the city charter. THE PLANET wonders why, since in the past 20 years or so, the rules have largely been ignored. What difference does the charter make? “They” will go ahead and do whatever they want, won’t they?
Let’s assume not. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that (a) there is honest, capable government in Pittsfield and (b) that the charter review is needed and (c) well intended. Let’s also assume that (d) this commission will be able to do what almost no city commission can accomplish, which is to deliberate honestly, openly, and without secret dealings. In other words, no Big Shots will be dictating terms from behind the scenes. GOB keep out! Has the makings of a Pittsfield fairy tale of the “Once upon a time” variety.
The charter review commission, so we are told, will examine the full charter. This certainly means that most of the members won’t read more than two paragraphs of the lengthy document. That’s how it’s done in Pittsfield, at half mast. We are further told in the press release that the commission will seek the public input. That’s what they call a howler. As we know from past experience, the meaning of this enigmatic phrase is that no ideas from the general public will be taken seriously, especially the ones that make sense.
Window Dressing for GOB Rule
Technically, a city charter is a legal document. In Pittsfield, it’s window dressing for GOB rule. We are instructed not to look behind the curtain. There, we see the likes of Peter Marchetti, a man who could have been good if not great, but he did not have the belief in himself. And so he surrounded himself with flunkies by the name of Colleen and such, and he fated himself to irrelevancy and a bloated type of desperate hanging on. We feel sad because it could have been so different for him.
There are several forms of government available to a city, generally divided into three categories: strong mayor-weak council; strong council-weak mayor; and equal division of power. Tell me, Mary Jane and Joe Kapanski, do you trust this group, or any, for that matter, operating in and under the auspices of Pittsfield city government to get this right?
Time and time again, panels and commissions, boards and agencies set up in the name of We The People have failed in their appointed tasks (the examples are numerous, for instance, the school’s committee’s failed search for a superintendent, the amateurish CEDS application, the master plan process … we could go on and on). Why should we expect this one to be any different?
Burghers and Serfs
This being Pittsfield, all we’ve heard is the repeated claim, which we shall take as fact, that the last structural look at the charter came back in 1932.
We have yet to see articulated the need, at this time, for a charter review. The city has not made the case. That’s not to say a great case isn’t there, just that Pittsfield has failed to spell out why this, why now, and why them.
THE PLANET is betting that by the time the charter commission gets finished monkeying the with system — having had time to digest the orders being given to it from the smoke-filled back room — Pittsfield will resemble a feudal community of the middle ages, with the GOB “burghers” ruling the uneducated “serfs.” When Pittsfield opens up a new “Burgher King,” you know it will mark the beginning of the end.
Nope. No more benefit of the doubt. From now on, with official Pittsfield, THE PLANET is from Missouri, the “show me” state. Any claim, fatuous or otherwise, that’s made as a statement of fact will draw this reply: “Oh yeah? Show me.” Usually, they can’t.
HERMANN ALEXANDER’S SALE SUPPOSEDLY IN THE WORKS
What does it take for a Pittsfield bar to lose its license?
Philosophers have had easier questions with which to contend. The question becomes even more tangled when the bar in question resides on the lower end of the scuz. The joint has a Giant Germ who serves as doorman, and the granular residue of white powder outlines the bodies on the floor. We speak of Hermann Alexander’s, the fun-filled dump on Lyman Street known for its extracurricular activities such as plying patrons — including some of Pittsfield’s finest — with all sorts of exotic items on and off the menu.
Hermann Alexander’s had its three-month suspension of its liquor license lifted by the Pittsfield Licensing Board on condition that owner Mitchell Grossjung sell the establishment. HA remains closed until then, with the city holding the liquor license. Upon sale of the bar, the license will be forwarded to the new owner.
‘Family Oriented,’ Massery Says, but That’s What They Said When HA Opened
This all sound innocuous enough, but what are we to make of landlord Phil Massery’s comments? Massery told Dick Lindsay of the Boring Broadsheet he has a potential buyer lined up. The new enterprise would be “a restaurant, not a bar. It will be family oriented,” Massery told Lindsay. Massery paints a pretty picture, except that it sounds like the famous last words.
We will remind the landlord that when Hermann Alexander’s opened in the early 80s, it did so as a “family-oriented restaurant, not a bar.” It was a respectable joint. We remember treating our employees to a wonderful Christmas dinner party at HA’s in 1982. Over the years, however, Massery stood by as Hermann’s took a long and inexcusable journey over the years into the dregs.
Lindsay reported that Pittsfield Police expect Grossjung to be indicted on drug charges over action at the bar. Police say Grossjung knew about the drug trafficking at his bar. Grossjung’s attorney has denied his client conspired to violate drug laws. Meanwhile, four Pittsfield residents face drug charges on charges of dealing cocaine inside HA’s and in its parking lot. They have denied the charges in court.
Doesn’t a landlord need to know about the operations that take place in his building? It has been one of the longest standing jokes about both the patrons and the alleged trafficking at Hermann’s. Are we to believe that Massery knew nothing about the rumors and stories, when practically everyone else did? Also, based on what happened at HA, should we believe Massery will be any more responsible a landlord with the new establishment? He may be. Perhaps he learned his lesson, but the jury will be out on this one for a while.
A THEATER DIES A QUIET DEATH
You did not notice this. The Boring Broadsheet did not cover this, of course, because it testifies to something not quite working in the “renaissance” of downtown.
The New Stage Performing Arts Center, which never made the radar screen, gave up the ghost. No one noticed. No one was there.
We won’t belabor the point, except to show how, one by one, venues of this sort are unsustainable in a city whose economy consists solely on the recreation and resort crowd. They are the only ones with discretionary income, and they are here for two months out of the year. THE PLANET commends the New Stage folks for trying, but it’s just not going to happen in a city whose main operating mode is contraction (everything except the budget, that is).
RIDDLE: WHOSE CAUSEWAY PARTS THE VALE WITH SHADY ROWS? WHOSE SEATS DO THE WEARY TRAVELERS REPOSE? WHILE YOU PONDER THAT, WE SHALL HEAD INTO THE THICKET OF THE WEEKEND, MACHETE IN HAND, HACKING OUR WAY TO PARADISE. HAVE A GOOD ONE!
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL.