NEW-TO-BE PITTSFIELD SCHOOL SUPT. PULLS A ‘RAZZ-MA-TAZZ’ IN LEE; SCHOOL BOARD, ADMINISTRATORS, AND TEACHERS LOVE IT, BUT TAXPAYERS ARE GETTING SICK … plus … POLITICAL CBDG PROGRAM WELL PAST THE ‘DO NOT USE’ DATE
By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, MONDAY, MARCH 25, 2013) — The incoming superintendent of the Pittsfield Public Schools, Jason McCandless, recently appeared before the Lee school committee with his budget review for FY13, much as Pittsfield did recently in the “Dueling Banjos” performance featuring our Right Honorable Good Friends from the city council’s finance subcommittee and the Pittsfield school committee.
When it comes to public schools, one thing stands certain as crocuses in late March: The budget will always go up. Taxpayers’ investment, as well as their spirits, will go down.
McCandless told the Lee committee that this year’s fiscal spending plan for administration and teachers in the town showed a 7% increase over the budgeted amount. Then, just like that, Mr. McC pulled the joke-shop rabbit out of the fedora, declaring that the 7% has been reduced to 3.25%. That’s a neat little trick not even Houdini thought of, let alone the two Davids, Copperfield and Blaine. No one pressed on how that could occur.
The effect of this conjuring sent the Lee school committee into a rapturous, deep, and restful sleep, as they used to say in the Sominex ads. In an instant, McCandless could “factually” (truthfully is another matter) claim he had reduced the projected overspending by more than 100%. Our hero.
It’s for ‘The Children’
If this is the sort of financial razz-ma-tazz we can expect from the new super, Pittsfield taxpayers might want to check between the attic floorboards and behind the sofa cushions for any loose change. The Pittsfield school department will be needing every cent you have. It’s for “The Children.” No wonder the Pittsfield school committee fell in love with the new “Jake.” Of course, neither THE PLANET nor anyone else knows for sure how the new “Jake” will shake out. He’s not Christine Canning Wilson, and neither is he Jake Eberwein III.
For those keeping score at home, the Lee school committee “deliberates” on the public school budget tomorrow night at 7 p.m. in the school district offices. A public budget hearing will be conducted at 7 p.m. April 9 in the cafeteria of Lee elementary school. You can be sure the all those riding high on the public school gravy train will be there to testify that any movement in favor of bedraggled taxpayers will mean the end of the world as we know it.
The same tired routine will also be playing in Pittsfield at a date coming soon. THE PLANET recommends that Pittsfield follow Lee’s example and conduct the hearing in the cafeteria. The resulting upchucks can be scooped up, fried, and served the following week as “Noseworthy’s Marvelous Mystery Meat.”
CDGB: A WORN OUT ACT THAN HAS LOST ITS PURPOSE
Acting community development director Bonnie Gallant says federal community development block grant funds must benefit low-income residents. CDGB funds, lest we forget, were the brainchild of Watergate hero and Ike running mate Richard Nixon. Nixon’s flunky and successor as president, Gerald Ford, signed the CDGB program into law in 1974. Ford, as you recall, had three claims to fame: He played football for Michigan without wearing a helmet, something Tom Brady had the foresight not to do; he bumped his head many times on overhands of presidential helicopters, and he served as a unwitting stooge for the fictional Warren Commission, also known as the Greatest Whitewash in U.S. History.
The CBDG program began with noble purposes, but after 39 years of drifting, it needs either a massive overhaul or, better yet, axing altogether.
CDGB grants are unusual in that the feds don’t dictate how they must be spent, whereas most grants come with stipulations of purpose and use. This well-intentioned characteristic has, in the nearly two-score years of the program — in Pittsfield, at any rate — degenerated into a politicized handout attracting legitimate needy as well as the “gimme groups.” It has proven more difficult over the years to tell one from the other.
The seeds of this misemployment were planted in fertile soil at birth, since the program involves participation at all three levels of government. That guaranteed the entanglement of bureaucracy and the intrusion of politics. At the local and state levels, that has proven disastrous for taxpayers wanting intelligent investment of their hard earned dollars. Bottom line, it means that if your group has courted the right favor with the right politicians, you get money. If not, guess what, councilor, your sidewalks don’t get fixed. Ask former Ward 7 councilor Joe Nichols how it works.
Whoopee Dang Do, Pittsfield is an ‘Entitlement Community.’
Is Gallant’s claim substantiated? Yes and no. True, low-income people figure prominently in the program, but so to folks and those of moderate incomes such as Mary Jane and Joe Kapanski — theoretically, at least. The intent of the program is to send federal money to address “urgent” local needs. Pittsfield is considered an “entitlement community” for CDGB purposes. It’s no prize. Translated on the raw, the designation simply means the city on its own has been going into the dumps.
The groups that get CDGB money must hold public hearings and, according to the program, ensure that the proposed projects are aligned with the community’s most pressing needs. Given that Pittsfield has no structural cohesiveness (lack of strategic budgeting goals, for example, or a non-existent cohesive, inclusive master plan), there’s actually no way of knowing what the city’s “most urgent needs” entail.
This year, for example, at the public meeting, substance abuse education for young people came in as an “urgent need.” Think about how much time and money Pittsfield has spent over the years on “substance abuse education for young people,” from D.A.R.E. to in-school presentations, to the showing of “Reefer Madness.” How did that work out? Drug use in the city appears to be an anecdotal all-time high. Talk to any kid at PHS or Taconic and ask them if they find it easy or difficult to buy drugs. Ask them how many drug transactions they witness each week on city and school property. After they are finished laughing in your face, they will blow sweet smoke in your eyes.
Drug Education Such as D.A.R.E. Doesn’t Work
Fact is, these “feel good” programs don’t work. Drug education, made fun in grammar school through the D.A.R.E program, enthralls kids with free T-shirts and games. Come middle- and high school, though, it becomes apparent that “substance abuse education” is essentially a croc dreamed up by frustrated administrators, overreaching social engineers, and PR-conscious politicians to justify their own positions. The photo-ops look as good as the results are terrible.
Gail Krmpholz, a participant at the Pittsfield CDGB meeting, said she was “thrilled with the comments about programming with you and substance abuse. … It’s amazing to see people in this room so concerned about youth.” We disagree. It’s not amazing. Rather, it’s an example of the inability of government and officious programs to program the human heart while pretending they can.
Kids and adults abuse drugs, cigarettes, and alcohol because they make a decision to do so. The majority of them take these avenues as the easy way out of stress. They make free-will decisions to make a mess of their lives. That part of it is cool, since this is allegedly a free country, and if they would take responsibility afterward, we would have no quarrel. In reality, though, too many of these people them expect Big Brother to come in with taxpayer money and clean up after their mess. They play the “Victim Game” with expertise, using duplicitous strategies to pry “free” money our of the government.
A Problem of the Human Heart
The key to preventing young people from getting hooked on drugs (of booze or smokes) is to raise strong, self-reliant individuals who possess critical thinking skills and an activated capacity to learn. We are not doing that. Too many parents have walked out on their responsibilities. It begins there. Society has become too tolerant and encouraging of single-parent, female households. Somewhere along the way, having three kids by three different dads lost its stigma. We would rather keep these broods on the public gravy train to breed more in the next generation rather than declaring that society has no further obligation to a person who refuses to help him- or herself.
Pittsfield long ago reached a tipping point ushered in by too many teen pregnancies, too few good jobs, and a lot of other social factors (not the least of which is technology that has far eclipsed the ability of stupid people to use intelligently). That was the moment that social needs overwhelmed the ability of society to keep up. As long as people continue to make bad choices for themselves, no amount of taxpayer funds will make a bit of difference.
Incidentally, if Gallant’s statement about CDGB money being only for the poor is true, why did Ron Marcella appear at the meeting to argue for sidewalk repairs on behalf of the Tyler Street Business Group? As far as THE PLANET can determine, the Tyler Street group is not poor or low income. The answer is that Gallant’s statement is not true, or she would have ruled Marcella out of order. She didn’t, and she would have been out of order if she did so. Marcella actually made an good point about the condition of sidewalks and the health of small businesses. Think about it. If Gallant was speaking the truth about “low income only,” why would we put a penny into sidewalks? What, only poor people use them?
Tied Up in Institutional Knots
Such inconsistencies keep official Pittsfield tied in knots. It also doesn’t help to have “acting” or “interim” department heads, a concept that Mayor Dan Bianchi has apparently fallen in love with, as we have “acting” or “interim” heads of community development, police department, fire department, and the school department. At least the latter will be getting a “permanent” head if not ahead (see first item in today’s column) on July 1.
In May, there will be a public hearing for the Pittsfield CDGB giveaway, this year expected to be about $1 million. Close to $10 billion are given away nationally each year. It would be refreshing if, just for once, the city could look at the giveaway of these funds in a non-political, rational manner. It might be surprised at the view.
Tad DeHaven, in a white paper from June 2009 for the Downsizing Government web site of The Cato Institute, writes:
While CDBG funds are initially handed out to state and local governments, the ultimate beneficiaries are usually private businesses and organizations working on particular projects, such as shopping malls, parking lots, museums, colleges, theaters, swimming pools, and auditoriums. Here is a small sampling of projects funded in 2008:10
- $588,000 for a marina in Alexandria, Lousiana
- $245,000 for the expansion of an art museum in Allentown, Pennsylvania
- $147,000 for a canopy walk at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens in Georgia
- $196,000 for expanding the Calvin Coolidge State historic site in Vermont
- $294,000 for a community recreational facility in New Haven, Connecticut
- $196,000 for the construction of an auditorium in Casper, Wyoming
- $441,000 to replace a county exposition center in Umatilla, Oregon
- $98,000 for the Pearl Fincher Museum of Fine Arts in Spring, Texas
- $245,000 for renovations to awnings at a historical market in Roanoke, Virginia
- $294,000 for the development of an educational program at the Houston Zoo in Texas
All these activities are purely local in nature, and there is no national interest in funding them. CDBG funding runs completely counter to the federalist model of American government. [PLANET’s underline].
It’s time that this HUD giveaway to the gimme groups goes the way of Nixon, Ford, and, eventually, all men and women: to the grave.
Another Quarter Mill of GE Funds Out the Door
P.S., speaking of grant money: Why did Pittsfield give away $250,000 from the GE Consent Agreement Fund to Hancock Shaker Village? The fund was intended for tax relief and economic development. Where’s the economic development here? Shaker Village is a non-profit and pays no taxes. Why is that a better use of the quarter of a million than pumping all of it into tax relief for households and businesses?
“Out of the lost orchard is life that needs the orchard no more.” — Edgar Lee Masters
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL.