Article

IN APPLYING FOR FREE SLAVE LABOR FROM THS CARPENTRY STUDENTS, DID LYNN WHITNEY ‘SIT RIGHT DOWN AND WRITE HERSELF A LETTER?’ … PITTSFIELD CITY COUNCIL FACES WATERSHED MOMENT IN UPCOMING ACTIONS ON WHITNEY-COTE-SCHOOLS PACT … WHAT ARE THE PREDICTORS OF STUDENT SUCCESS … plus … LEE HIGH SCHOOL IS NOT ‘ADVANCING’ WITH AP PROGRAM

By DAN VALENTI

PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary

(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, TUESDAY, OCT. 2, 2012) — Do you remember the Fats Waller tune, “I’m Going to Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter,” done also by many other songsters. THE PLANET wonder is this might be one of Lynn Whitney‘s favorites.

FATS WALLER: “I’m Going to Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter.”

Whitney, secretary to vocational director and assistant superintendent of Pittsfield Public Schools Frank Cote, “won” the bid to receive free construction  of her home, courtesy of slave labor provided by carpentry students at Taconic High School. The evidence so far unearthed suggests the contract was rigged to assure this outcome.

Two New Developments in the Case

There are several new developments that add to the circumstantial case against Cote and Whitney.

First, a close examination of the letter of application Whitney sent to Cote, dated April 25, shows an amazing thing. In this letter, keep in mind that Whitney is answering an ad placed in the Boring Broadsheet by Cote, her boss (!!). That’s bad enough, right? It gets better.

At the bottom left-hand corner of the letter is a hand-written notation: “4-25-12 — rec’d — LW”. This is written in Whitney’s hand, and those are her initials. This means that in sending the letter to Cote, she — as his secretary — sent it to herself!

The letter was typed and received the  same day. That rules out postal delivery. The letter is also typed out as a letter and not an e-mail, and rules out the Internet. So how did Whitney deliver the letter she typed?

Here’s what it looks like: She typed out this letter, likely in her office in the school administration building on First and Orchard streets, printed it out, and simply initialed it as received as both applicant and secretary to the person to whom she is applying. What did she do then? Did she yell into the next room, “Frank, my applications is in”? This adds more evidence that strongly suggests that the Fix Was In all the way on this “application” and “won” bid.

Whitney needs to explain: Where and when did she type this letter? On her own time or on taxpayers’ time? Also, how did she send it to Cote? In the manner THE PLANET has just suggested?

The second new development: THE PLANET has learned that asst. supt. Cote never went through the purchasing department in placing the ad for the THS carpentry work in the Boring Broadsheet in mid-April. Kristen Behnke, the school business administrator who is also a certified purchasing agent, says Cote never went through her office to place the ad. Do you see what this opens up? It opens up the question: How long has the school department allowed this type of unilateral purchasing? How many times has this been done? Is Frank Cote the first person in the school department to make what appears to be an unauthorized purchase?

Time to Stop This in Its Tracks

Ladies and gentlemen, this matter, the school committee had a chance to stop this in its tracks on Aug. 22. It whiffed, actually approving the deal by a 5-1 vote (Mayor Dan Bianchi did not vote). Chairman Alf Barbalunga, Kathy Yon, Dan Elias, Jim Conant, and Kathy Amuso thought this was a great deal. Only Terry Kinnas had a problem with the matter, noting that while Cote’s original ad said “no roofing,” the first requirement of the contract under which Taconic High School carpenters would work listed, in bold, “Roofing.” At that point, Kinnas didn’t know Whitney was Cote’s secretary.

The very next day, Kinnas visited city solicitor Kathy Degnan as to the legality of the contract not conforming to the ad specs. The eventual end result of this was essentially to invalidate the school committee’s vote, rewrite the contract, and send this to my Right Honorable Friends on the Pittsfield City Council, who filed the motion at its last meeting. There is now a third version of the contract between taxpayers, masquerading as the Pittsfield School Department, and Lynn Whitney.

The council will presumably deal with the third contract matter at their meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 9. It could probably kill this silently, if council president Kevin Sherman refuses to put the matter on the agenda. THE PLANET hopes Sherman doesn’t back door this. We would like to see a roll-call vote on the validity of the contract, for it would tell us where individual councilors stand: for We The People or for the GOB. Mary Jane and Joe Kapanski are watching this one closely, and a vote in favor of an unethical deal will come back to haunt councilors in November 2013.

All eyes then will be on the council on Oct. 9. This city council under Sherman’s leadership will define its character in how it deals with this rotten contract. The city council must do the right thing here, or every member who votes to validate this phony deal will be ousted in 2013. That’s not a threat. That’s a guarantee.

Actually, there are any number of parties that could void this deal:

1.) Cote and Whitney could regain a bit of lost respect by voluntarily withdrawing from the deal.

2.) Mayor Bianchi, as CEO, could void the deal.

3.) City solicitor Kathy Degnan could rule the contract invalid.

4.) Gordon Noseworthy, acting superintendent of schools, could assert himself, void the contract, and say, “Not on my watch.”

5.) The city council could cancel the agreement.

Perhaps this sort of “inside trading” has been ripping off taxpayers for years. That’s over. The Cote-Whitney contract, though, is NOW. It exemplifies the corruption that has been allowed to make camp in Pittsfield and calcify, hardening into “ho-hum, business as usual.” It provides the perfect case -in-point for a new Pittsfield to make a stand, that this sort of thing will not be tolerated from here on out.

TOMORROW: THE PLANET IS HOT ON THE TRAIL OF MORE DOCUMENTS PERTAINING TO THIS CASE. CHECK FOR OUR EXCLUSIVE THEN! THE PLANET GOT A LOOK AT A LETTER STAMPED “CONFIDENTIAL” SENT TO WHITNEY BY THE STATE ETHICS COMMISSION. IN THE SEPT. 4 LETTER, THE STATE SAYS WHITNEY MUST MEET FIVE CRITERIA TO BE ELIGIBLE FOR THIS CONTRACT. SHE ONLY MEETS ONE. DETAILS TOMORROW. 

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WHAT ARE THE THREE KEY PREDICTORS TAHT TELL US IF KIDS WILL SUCCEED OR NOT?

Speaking of performance in the public schools, what are the predictors of student success? Academically, the answer, though simple, has largely been abandoned: Heavy emphasis on reading, writing, and math; study of economics, civics, and home economics; a set of rules that will be enforced and high expectations that come with expectations; an enforced dress code. Successful schools worry less about “self-esteem” and “making learning fun” than in teaching children how to think.

In this regard, THE PLANET beings to your attention a new study by researchers at the Brookings Institute. You may have missed this first time around. This is a story by Annie Lowery, published recently in the NY TImes.

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A new study by researchers at the Brookings Institution shows that about two in three Americans achieves a middle-class lifestyle by middle age – and delves deeply into who makes it there and how.

Isabel V. Sawhill, Scott Winship,and Kerry Searle Grannis tackled the question of why some children make it to the middle class and others do not, studying criteria that tend to be indicative of later economic success and examining how race, gender and family income come into play.

The study breaks life down into stages (for instance, adolescence) and gives benchmarks for each of those stages (in that case, graduation from high school with a grade-point average above 2.5, no criminal convictions and no involvement in a teenage pregnancy).

They then studied children over time, analyzing whether they met those benchmarks and projecting whether they would make it to the middle class – defined as the top three quintiles of income – by age 40.

Unsurprisingly, the researchers found that success seems to beget success – meeting each benchmark makes one more likely to meet the next. Moreover, the effect accumulates. A child who meets all the criteria from birth to adulthood has an 81 percent chance of being middle class. A child who meets none has only a 24 percent chance.

(Notably, at each stage of life, a person who failed to meet the given criteria had as high as a 59 percent chance of meeting them in the next round.)

The researchers also found that a number of other factors significantly influenced a person’s likelihood of making it to the middle class.

Family wealth, for instance, matters a lot. The researchers show that children born to rich families have a 75 percent chance of being middle income or better by the time they reach their 40s. For children born to poor families, the chance is just 40 percent.

Children from disadvantaged families are less likely to be ready for school at age 5, less likely to be competent elementary-school students, less likely to graduate from high school without a criminal record or a child, and so on.

Race matters as well. About two in five black adolescents met the benchmark of graduating from high school with a decent grade point average, no children and no criminal record by the age of 19. About two in three white adolescents did.

The researchers also compared boys’ and girls’ outcomes. They found that girls are more likely to meet the given benchmarks through childhood, but they lose ground later in life. Boys become as likely to meet the benchmarks as girls do by the time they are in their late 20s, and pull ahead by their 40s.

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THE PLANET has often advised to young people on achieving success. Here are our guidelines:

1. Stay in school

2. Don’t have sex before marriage.

3. Get a job when you turn of job age at 16.

4. Learn how money works.

5. Unplug thyself.

6. Question everything.

7. Show up on time.

8. Keep your word.

9. Accept responsibility for your actions.

10. Work hard at everything you do, even at play.

You can add all the fancy bells and whistles to the public school curriculum (for example, the current love affair with providing kids with “free” laptops and iPads or, as Lee Middle and High School just did, expand Advanced Placement course offerings, as you will read below), but if you do it by sacrificing the basics, the local public school system will continue to turn out far too many kids unprepared for adulthood.

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AP PROGRAM AT LEE HIGH SCHOOL SOUNDS GOOD BUT IS IT, ACTUALLY?

The case at Lee Middle and High School to offer more AP courses proves instruction.

The first thing you notice is how school officials use buzz words and cliches to justify the action. Keep in mind that bureaucrats have but one job: creating the perception that they are doing something to improve the organization. It doesn’t so much matter if it works, just so long as they appear to be taking action.

LMHS principal Joe Turmel told Catherine Krummey of the Berkshire Beacon, “[Expanding the AP program] is the first step — a gigantic step — in changing the academic culture of this building.”

This about that for a moment. Turmel might just as well have admitted: “Without taking dramatic action, the academic culture of this building stinks.” Mary Jane and Joe Kapanski of Lee might well ask, “Well, Joe, what the heck have you been doing with our money for the past years, if the culture is that bad?” Bureaucrats, however, count on such complaints being scarce. They know in this time of political apathy, they can get away with whatever they wish and dismiss those who act like they own the government — you know, We The People — as cranks.

Lee Supt. Jason McCandless said, “We have struggled for years in how to empower our AP programs.”

“Empower.” Superintendents love words like “empower.” Students don’t need “empowering.” They need to buckle down, hit the books, and be given a set of expectations to meet.

Anyway, it’s all part of a statewide focus on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Notice how reading and writing don’t make the cut, and math not only comes in last, but it’s the type of math done on calculators and computers.

Anyone for a pencil and a scatch pad to work out the Final Digit of Pi?

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SWIFT AS IT MOUNTS, ALL FOLLOW WITH THEIR EYES. STILL, HAPPY IMPUDENCE OBTAINS THE PRIZE.

“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”

LOVE TO ALL.

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23 Responses to “IN APPLYING FOR FREE SLAVE LABOR FROM THS CARPENTRY STUDENTS, DID LYNN WHITNEY ‘SIT RIGHT DOWN AND WRITE HERSELF A LETTER?’ … PITTSFIELD CITY COUNCIL FACES WATERSHED MOMENT IN UPCOMING ACTIONS ON WHITNEY-COTE-SCHOOLS PACT … WHAT ARE THE PREDICTORS OF STUDENT SUCCESS … plus … LEE HIGH SCHOOL IS NOT ‘ADVANCING’ WITH AP PROGRAM”

  1. Still wondering
    October 2, 2012 at 7:30 am #

    Great work here, Dan.
    One hopes that actions to nullify the house building contract happen locally. If not, the state ethics committee is our last line of defense.

  2. Stevo
    October 2, 2012 at 8:18 am #

    It’s not hard to believe that this subject is not addressed in any way by the BB. I relocated to the Berkshires in the summer of 2011 and as a novice political junkie consider myself reasonably well informed of the local and national scene. The slimy “business as usual” approach taken by the school board and the city council continue to amaze me. The blatant corruption in the court/probation departments is actually frightening. The Nilan/Moore fiasco stands out only because of the shear audacity of the GOB’s in denying Mr. Moore justice. I hope he finds some relief in the civil courts. When we moved here two years ago to assist in the care of my elderly parents we came with an open mind about making the move permanent. That won’t be the case. My kids are the most eager to leave. The area has a very limited appeal to the the young. My oldest attended a Berkshire Young Professionals mixer not long ago and was amused at the collection of ” name dropping douchebags” he was honored to meet. All in all Dan this is a sick little city, ill served by those in positions of authority. Keep shining the light on the cockroaches, you do make a difference.

    • danvalenti
      October 2, 2012 at 12:36 pm #

      Excellent posting, STEVO. Your testimony is objective and compelling at the same time.

    • Pat
      October 2, 2012 at 1:58 pm #

      I love your comments Stevo as it sums up the area so well. Many shallow people who are just so superficial. Don’t get me wrong, I have lived here my entire life and have watched the quality of people go downhill. It wasn’t this bad thirty five or so years ago. I love the beauty of the Berkshires, it’s just too bad that many of the people make it so unpleasant to live here.

    • acheshirecat
      October 2, 2012 at 6:01 pm #

      Well put Stevo! This is the main reason no businesses want to locate here. Not the roads, not the lack parks, not because there is nothing to do.. We have all those things but still no real businesses. Its the slimy people who are all part of the GOB’s. I moved from Pittsfield for those reasons. Too much crime and too many slimy people at the top. You can say its the same everywhere, but in Pittsfield its right in your face and no one (except Mr. Kinnas) has the gravitas to do anything about it. Wish he would run against TFB, would love him representing us.

  3. tito
    October 2, 2012 at 8:36 am #

    Agree with Stevo, WBRK light is talking about beer making and Jazz the last couple of days. bring Sturgeon back, and hire Jonathan Levine at he Eagle.

  4. tito
    October 2, 2012 at 9:05 am #

    Planet, one of Fats hits was, ain’t misbehaving’.. how ironic!

  5. Berkshire Ex-Pat
    October 2, 2012 at 9:18 am #

    Stevo- great post. Pittsfield is a miniature version of Detroit and other dead shells of once-great cities. When industries die or depart, the most educated and capable go with them. Promising young graduates leave and never come back. After a generation or two, the most powerful scavengers (GOB’s) pick the carcass clean at the expense of the benighted remnants of the general population.

    • joetaxpayer
      October 2, 2012 at 6:46 pm #

      You might want to go to Detroit.No doubt Pittsfield has it’s problems, but not even close to Detroit, miniature or other wise.

      • Berkshire Ex-Pat
        October 2, 2012 at 7:42 pm #

        Hey there joetaxpayer-
        I was just driving through the rotting bowels of Motown last week. Thought for a moment that I was on North Street where great stores once thrived.

        • joetaxpayer
          October 3, 2012 at 3:47 am #

          20,000 stray dogs in mo-town, one of the mostt crime ridden cities in this country.Only reason crime is not higher is because people are fleeing the decaaying city.Sorrry really don’t see the comparision.As far as downtowns go Pittsfields is doing better than most.Times have change and most stores are on the outskirts of cities.

  6. layla Lady Lay
    October 2, 2012 at 10:18 am #

    Great story, I am counting on the city council to stop this contract.DV alone continues to shine the light where the GOB doesn’t want us to look and see. WBRK Light hasn’t been same since Dan left. Levine does good job at Gazette but he’s too limited in staff and resources. That paper’s going downhill too has you noticed the amount of typos lately.

  7. Kevin
    October 2, 2012 at 11:28 am #

    Dan, What’s to say all the Bids very even considered?

    • danvalenti
      October 2, 2012 at 12:35 pm #

      Good point. There was only one other bid. It came from OCD in city hall. It suggests how much “They” tried to walk the fine line: Fulfill the technical requirements of public bidding but don’t let the general public know about free carpentry work to be done by THS students.

    • Scott
      October 3, 2012 at 4:28 am #

      When you work for a radio station you or immediate family can’t even claim a prize these people should hold themselves to an even higher standard. If there were only two then the other person assuming they are not affiliated with the school depart. should have gotten it.

      • danvalenti
        October 3, 2012 at 6:29 am #

        Yes, good point. When I worked in radio, that was ALWAYS the policy. Employees or agents of the station were not eligible to compete for even the smallest prize. In the Pittsfield School Department, however, they see no ethical or legal problem with Contractgate.

  8. tito
    October 2, 2012 at 11:51 am #

    Mr. Kinnas certainly affirmed his allegiance to the Kapansky family for his single no vote on this subject, way to go!

    • danvalenti
      October 2, 2012 at 12:24 pm #

      No question about that.

  9. Larry
    October 2, 2012 at 5:04 pm #

    Hey DV…. With all of the “cockroach shakin” you been doing on your wonderful expose’s…. It’s a wonder that one of these irascible pests hasn’t bitten back at you! Actually, now that I think of it; that cockroach that attempted to drive a car did!

    Keep up the great work! As Stevo stated in his bullseye statement…. You ARE making a difference! I can assure you the scabs are thinking twice before they attempt this type of BS!

  10. PITTSFIELD BELIEVER
    October 2, 2012 at 5:16 pm #

    [REDACTED — PER WEBMASTER]

  11. Sott
    October 2, 2012 at 5:30 pm #

    There is no shame around here with “those” people.

    • Scott
      October 3, 2012 at 4:26 am #

      Dan, I figured you’d correct the misspelling of my name before you approved the post.

      • danvalenti
        October 3, 2012 at 6:29 am #

        No, those are left alone.