BUDGETS AND CUTS: SPENDING PLANS REVEAL MUCH, AS IN PITTSFIELD SCHOOL DEPARTMENT’S CONTINUED FISCAL DECEPTION … IT’s ‘FOR THE CHILDREN,” NOSEWORTHY ACTUALLY HAS THE GALL TO SAY … CIVIC BUDGETS DO NOT HAVE TO KEEP RISING — TWO CASES IN POINT FROM GB & STOCKBRIDGE
By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, THURSDAY, MAY 9, 2013) — Budgets are called “living documents” not because they add oxygen to the air and breathe in carbon dioxide but because they represent “guesstimates” of fiscal things to come. They represent educated guesses subject to change based on how the actual events unfold. A budget, shaped in the present, is based on the past not so much to predict the future but to plan for the future.
A budget reflects the balance or imbalance between an entity’s expected income and its projected expenses. Compared to a personal or household budget, a town or municipal budget has the great disadvantage of being designed by committee. Most of these latter budgets reflect more the political anxieties and prejudices of their authors than any pragmatic fiscal realities, especially when it comes to the see-saw of anticipating income vs. expenses.
Elected officials and the persons who work for them face yearly pressure to increase spending, regardless of the income situation. This, annually, dooms most municipal budgets, especially in burgs with the dysfunctional, inbred politics of the kind routinely practiced in Pittsfield.
The Incessant Wailing of Bleating Stuck Pigs
Don’t believe that? Try imagining what would happen if the politicians and administrators of the city of Pittsfield called for a reduction in school spending. The Bleating Stuck Pigs from the PSD would issue forth their screams, puncturing day and night with “oinky” tales of academic Armageddon. It thus comes as no surprise when a town or city official, compromised in principle as he or she is, acts to appease department heads, especially school department heads, rather than answer to constituents, since public schools have become both the most politically sensitive of municipal departments as well as the most wasteful, as performance gets measured by return on investment.
Maybe you can see where this is going.
Recently, the Pittsfield Public Schools released its FY13 budget proposal. You might have heard the oinking from the PSD, particularly its Texas-hold-em finance director. This budget document will go to the mayor, then the school committee, and then to the council for adoption or other action. The budget figure the school department uses does not include the costs for
(1) Bussing — As you knows, the Pittsfield School Department runs a bus company;
(2) For maintenance — There is the inexplicable and fiscally indefensible duality in Pittsfield of two maintenance departments, one for city side and one for schools;
(3) Benefits — This includes the budget-buster of 85%-15% health insurance, pensions, and other no-pension bennies.
Consequently, right off the bat, in not using the total cost of running the schools in the city, the school department is not being honest with taxpayers. To its “official” $56,762,983 figure, add at least $35 million for the other costs, which are conveniently hidden within the city’s budget. This figure does not include millions of dollars more in taxpayer money that the school department receives from federal sources (usually between $5 million and $10 million).
All told, unless this budget is cut, the actual cost to run the Pittsfield School Department for the upcoming school year will come in at just north of a staggering $100 million!
What’s $100,000,000 Among Friends?
THE PLANET brought up this budget discrepancy of the partial “official” budget and the total actual budget many times early on in this present electoral cycle, and for a while, at least, the school committee and even the school department were including the ancillary costs. When interim superintendent Gordon Noseworthy, however, presented the FY14 figures — $56,762,983 for an increase of 5% — he left out an estimated $42 million in taxpayer obligations. He resorted to the usual budget chicanery of leaving out transportation, maintenance, and benefit costs.
To put the $100 million into perspective, the spending amounts to a per-pupil annual fee to taxpayers of $16,666.66, the number of a beast if we ever saw one. In return, taxpayers receive excessive drop-out rates and too many graduates who lack basic skills.
In presenting this fake “go-for-it” number, Noseworthy actually said this: “My job is to advocate for The Children.” We have not invented this quote. He actually said, it’s “for The Children.” Noseworthy’s is an expert at speaking in safe, faint-hearted sentences that school administrators and other public payroll patriots love to utter, however much that the antiseptic say-nothing words are made of guano and spittoon residue.
MESSAGE TO NOSEWORTHY: Your job, sir, is not “to advocate for The Children.” Your job is to drive academic performance, so that graduates of the Pittsfield Public School system have the required skills needed to become thinkers, to become productive citizens, and to go on to become successes in their lives after high school. You have not done that. Your interim superintendency has kept in place the same miserable but costly con game that we continue to perpetuate in the name of “The Children.” You have failed, miserably, as has your budget czar
GB, STOCKBRIDGE PROVIDE EXAMPLES OF SOUND FISCAL THINKING, PRACTICE
On a related matter, it comes as a great and pleasant surprise — a shock in some cases — when THE PLANET sees towns making serious efforts to reduce expenses. It does occur, though if you are from Pittsfield, you would never know it. In two of Berkshire County’s southern communities, we find examples of enlightened fiscal policy in tune with the needs and obligations of debraggled taxpayers.
In Great Barrington, the town finance committee has proposed reducing or eliminating pay for GB’s Board of Selectmen. Finance committee member Andy Moro has championed this move as sound fiscal policy. THE PLANET agrees with Moro. Naturally, the GOBbed-up vested interests have pushed back with objections as transparently selfish as they are ignorant of taxpayers’ need for relief. Here’s hoping the GB fiance folks stick to their guns and ax the needless expense. Selectman service should be done on a voluntary basis, motivated by a care for the community and a desire for true public service.
No Water on the Brain in this Town
In Stockbridge, the water department has submitted a FY14 budget that is down (voluntarily reduced!!) based on its own excellent stewardship of this most critical of public commodities.
Here are the numbers: FY13, a water budget of $210,429, compared with FY14’s 204,579, for a savings of almost $6,000. That’s not a ton of money in the vast scheme of things, but that’s not the point. The point is that this department (Michael Buffoni, water supt.; Tony Campetti, asst. operator; and Peter Barenski, asst. operator) has not only given the town super service but has done so at a cost reduction. How did Stockbridge do it?
1. Honest management
2. Dedicated, hard-working public servants
3. Routine and regular maintenance of the town’s 25.2 miles of pipe. This practice catches problems before they occur or, if they have manifested, before they grow into big problems. The water rate, incidentally, is $3.55 per 100 cubic feet (Stockbridge has metered water). One hundred cubic feet amounts to 748 gallons. Do the math: Buying a gallon of store water will set you back more than a gallon of gas. Drinking the delicious and clean town water in Stockbridge, as THE PLANET and family does, costs $0.00047 cents per gallon. Compare that to a pint of store-bought bottled water, which will set you back anywhere from one to two bucks.
4. A town culture that insists on accountability from its employees.
5. Savings in the use of electricity
Keep in mind that the reduction comes from a town water budget that has been level funded for the past five years.
Budget reductions for cities and towns? It can (“CAN,” PITTSFIELD) be done.