SCHOOL DEPARTMENT REJECTS COUNCIL FINANCE SUBCOMMITTEE’s INVITATION FOR ONE, JOIN BUDGET REVIEW … SCHOOLs’ SLAP-IN-THE-FACE RESPONSE DRIPS WITH DIVISIVENESS, ARROGANCE … EXCHANGE BETWEEN COUNCIL, SCHOOLS REVEALS OFFICIALS ONLY INTERESTED IN POLITICS, POWER PLAYS, WE-THE-PEOPLE BE DAMNED
By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
First of a two-part series
(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, THURSDAY, MARCH 7, 2013) — In January, councilor-at-large Barry
Clairmont sent and invitation to the Pittsfield School Department to attend the Feb. 27 meeting of the city council’s finance subcommittee (Jonathan Lothrop, chair; Melissa Mazzeo, Kevin Morandi, and Clairmont). Clairmont extended the invitation so that citizens, voters, and taxpayers might have a “one stop shopping’ experience in having the entire FY13 city budget reviewed as one — including the school department’s whopping 70% of the $133 million tab.
Makes perfect sense. As you know, there are two budgets: city side and school side. The consolidation makes perfect sense, but this is Pittsfield. Perfect sense rarely adds up.
Before we tell you of the school department’s reply to this reasonable and thoughtful invitation, THE PLANET offers six observations:
1. Neither the city council nor the mayor, for that matter, can order school department officials to attend such a meeting. The city charter makes it clear: the city shall be co-goverened by a mayor and council. The schools shall be ruled by a school board, which appoints a superintendent.
2. One would think the charter review committee would want to take a look at this divisive arrangement, which treats the schools as a separate branch of government. That has created an “us-them” relationship between what has long been referred to in Pittsfield as “city side” and “school side.” The division, more than any single factor, explains what happened in the wake if Clairmont’s seemingly progressive invitation.
3. Let it be noted that his colleagues on the subcommittee supported Clairmont’s initiative.
4. This municipal division has wasted countless dollars in duplication (two purchasing departments, two maintenance departments, etc.). it has continually hampered communications between the city and its most expensive department. It has led to the current state of affairs, where the PPS views itself as an independent kingdom, beyond the review of the people’s representatives.
5. The Pittsfield School Committee, ostensibly We The People‘s safeguard over this type of academic autocracy, has in effect long been compromised. It has been reduced to a puppet of the academic oligarchy set up on the corner of First and Orchard streets. The school committee acts as accomplices in a theft rather than an independent watchdog over what has become robbery in the name of education, using “The Children” as human shields. Only one committeeman has spoken honestly and plainly about this situation. His name is Terry Kinnas.
6. For citizens who do not have children in the public schools but who nonetheless have to pay $15,000 per pupil per year amount for services they themselves do not consume, the idea of a single budget review instead of two separate ones makes a ton of sense. Why should these citizens have to be electronically tortured by watching one of the painful school committee meetings on TV in order to see what’s happening with the school budget?
Guess What: The School Department Didn’t Show (We Know, You’re Shocked)
As you can read in the subhead, the School Department declined Clairmont’s invitation. Anyone who knows Pittsfield politics would have predicted as much. Why should THE PLANET or anyone else, for that matter, expect anything but arrogance from the school-side wastrels, who want taxpayer dollars without having to worry about any meaningful accountability.
Instead of replying directly to Clairmont’s invitation, Rosemarie Blake, recording secretary for the Pittsfield Public Schools, sent Clairmont the following letter. THE PLANET obtained a copy of this letter through sources. It is published for the first time here. One other thing, a mystery. Although the letter is dated Jan. 31, the council subcommittee didn’t receive it until Feb. 14, according to sources. Pony Express isn’t what it used to be.
—– 00 —–
January 31, 2013
Dear Councilor Clairmont
The Pittsfield School Committee voted on January 23, 2013 [this is after Clairmont's invivation] to support Dr. Noseworthy to extend an invitation to the City Council Finance Subcommittee to attend the March 13 School Committee meeting and jointly participate with the School Committee when reviewing Assistant Superintendent Behnke’s 2013 Fiscal Budget Presentation.
The Pittsfield School Committee respectfully requests that if you have any real delineated complicated [sic, requires commas for serial adjectives] questions that you provide them to Dr. Noseworthy of Ms. Behnke a week early to allow her to do the diligence research on your questions.
cc: City Clerk Linda Tyer
—– 00 —–
It’s a damning letter not for what it says but for what it illustrates. Allow THE PLANET to translate.
a.) It’s indicatively damning that interim Supt. Gordon Noseworthy chose not to reply directly to Clairmont and the finance subcommittee. This sets the appropriate, lordly, “It’s beneath us” tone. Would it have ruined some vast, eternal plan for Noseworthy to have composed a reply and sent it himself, as an e-mail? Is the interim super that pressed to time?
b.) This letter illustrates — far better than anything we could say or write — the imperious, bumptious nature of the school department. This battle is all about turf and control. The school department doesn’t want to appear to be going to the representatives of We The People. It wants Mary Jane and Joe Kapanski, through their direct reps on the finance subcommittee, to come crawling to them, “mountain to Mohammed” style. This demonstrates that our Right Honorable Good Friends on the subcommittee have taken the high road here. They come off more interested in the common good than about the petty politics of who comes to whom.
c.) Notice Blake’s neatly ominous last paragraph, which speaks of “real delineated complicated [sic] questions” the subcommittee might have. What one earth can that adjectival trifecta mean? What is a “real” question. What is a “delineated” question. What is a “complicated” question — to say nothing of a “real delineated complicated question.” This would be funny in its embarrassment, except we are talking $90+ million of taxpayer money. Does this straight-jacketed phrase suggest that the subcommittee, should it accept the invitation, should ask only unreal, ill-defined, and simplistic questions? Is this another way for the School Department to tell the councilors, “Don’t ask anything hot or controversial. Keep the pitching to softballs and lilac water.”
d.) By turning the tables on Clairmont, rejecting the subcommittees invitation and extending an invitation of its own, the school department creates a “heads we win, tales they lose” situation. If Clairmont and the subcommittee accept, which they have, they have been politically defeated (see item [e.]). if they didn’t accept, the school depeartment could say, “See, we wanted a joint review, but they refused.”
e.) Accepting the school department’s invitation is a political defeat because of the way it ignores the intent and purpose of Clairmont’s invitation. The idea of having the schools meet with the finance subcommittee was to provide “one-stop shopping” for time-crunched citizens. The school department’s idea would still have two separate meetings, literally on their turf.
f.) Though it is a political defeat for the council, it represents a fiscal victory for taxpayers. THE PLANET loves the idea of the council inserting itself into the line item debate over school money. Come budget time, the mayor and council will have to submit and approve a bottom line figure for the schools. The more line item review by the council, the better than chances for taxpayers of saving some money.
g.) Incidentally, sources tell us that the finance subcommittee has accepted the invitation of the school department. It will be appearing at the March 13 meeting.
The Subcommittee’s Invitation is a 2012-13 Council Highlight
Clairmont’s proactive invitation to the schools will stand as one of the highlights of the 2012-13 council term. Even if Clairmont’s intention was political (that is, sending the invite knowing the school department wouldn’t accept), it nonetheless helps citizens and voters better understand from where the schools are coming. They are coming at the budget (this year’s and next) not with the attitude of community building but with defiant self-preservation.
They aim to preserve their Kingdom.
They aim to keep We The People from meaningful oversight, achieved mainly through a compliant set of administrative captains and lieutenants but mainly through a roll-and-play-dead school committee.
The schools stand alone as Pittsfield most jaundiced department. Godspeed to the incoming superintendent and efforts such as Clairmont’s to try to keep the bums honest. As we shall see tomorrow, there’s big bucks on the line.
Tomorrow, we conclude this series with part two, including publishing of heretofore unpublished correspondence between the interim school superintendent and the chairman of the city council finance subcommittee.
“I stepped from Plank to Plank / A slow and cautious way / The Stars about my Head I felt / About my Feet the Sea. // I knew not but the next / Would be my final inch — / This gave me that precarious gait / Some call Experience.” — Emily Dickenson
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL.