STAY THIRSTY, MY FRIENDS: THE PITTSFIELD SCHOOL DEPARTMENT LAYS OUT ITS BUDGET … PLANET EXPOSES THE SHELL GAME … ‘THE SYSTEM’ ONCE AGAIN COUNTING ON WEAK POLITICIANS AND ‘STATUS QUO’ ADMiNISTRATORS TO NAIL TAXPAYERS
By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, FRIDAY, JUNE 7, 2013) — If you are lucky enough to have a job, do you routinely go to your boss every year, demand raises between 4 and 10%, expect to get it, and then threaten dire consequences if you don’t? Likely not.
If you work in the Dreaded Private Sector, this approach to your personal finances gets you a boot in the rump and out on the streets in two seconds flat. If you are the Pittsfield School Department, however, you get your raise. This approach has worked for the schools virtually every single year, at least since (ahem) “Education Reform” became state law in 1993, and probably for a few years prior. That’s at least 20 consecutive years of raises, by our estimation, even though performance by any number of measures has gone down — graduation rates, test scores, attendance, and most importantly what we hear from the colleges and businesses who take our graduates after they get out of high school.
A System that Rewards Failure
In Pittsfield, and to some extent in the country, public education — having been hijacked by teachers’ unions out for every taxpayer buck they can get and school administrators making huge salaries just as long as they keep from rocking the boat — has been a system that rewards failure. The worse your school performs, the more money you say you need. It’s the perfect gig. To make it work to perfection, The System relies on compliant politicians and public officials to do their bidding by giving this money grab the official stamp of approval, “making it all nice and legal, like.”
The PSD passion play plays out every election cycle. The unions scare the politicians. The politicians scare the parents. The parents scare the school administrators. It’s what they call a zero-sum game, except the sum in Pittsfield’s case will cost taxpayers anywhere between $90 and $100 million dollars. Ah, like everything else, the cost of ineptitude isn’t what it used to be.
Presently, the city spends more than $90 million on its public schools. That is roughly four times as much as it spent prior to 1993, even though the city population has dropped by nearly 20,000 and there are half the number of students now as compared to then. To teach this student population that has dropped by 100% over the years, the taxpayers have been forced to hire twice as many teachers as then and three times as many administrators (again, estimates). Where we once had one superintendent, we now have four (the Super, the Deputy Super, the Associate Super, and the Assistant Super), each making on average well over $100,000 a year not counting benefits and not counting this year’s inevitable pay hikes.
Will Someone Out There Stand to End this Madness?
Like fools, once again we hope and pray that someone, somewhere, somehow steps up, speaks out, and ignites a spark that sets off the building discontent from bedraggled taxpayers, who year after year must shell out for the shakedown. The irony is that the vast majority of them have no children in the Pittsfield Public School system, yet pay they must.
We The People, the owners of government, are angry and ready to ignite, and in this condition, when the spark yet again doesn’t come to pass, the anger resolves itself into an even worse condition: apathy. Disgusted with slime-ball politics and an equally moist, slug-trailed school department, they stay away. They don’t attend meetings. They don’t ride their representatives. Worse, they don’t vote. Consequently, the budget savagery comes full circle, and the perfect fiscal storm being run in the name of public education perpetuates another, more expensive version of itself, until the next year, when the cycle repeats.
We detail the art of the crime:
(1) It begins with the school department falsely stating the numbers of its budget. When Asst. Supt. Kristen Behnke presented the proposed school department budget to the school committee, she presented the august figure of $57,472,984 (don’t you just love how she left the last $16 off at the end, to avoid kicking over the for lsat four digits on the right!). That figure represents a 5% increase over last year’s total. But you say, “Gee, PLANET, I thought you said it was more than $90 million?” True, but as the school department always does, it conveniently leaves out a.) the cost of health insurance, pension, and other benefits of school department employees, b.) the cost of running the school maintenance department, and c.) the cost of running the school bus system. Those are every bit school department expenses as teacher salaries, yet the total never makes it on the school spreadsheets. This figure (estimated at more than $40 million) gets buried on the city side accounts. Cute, eh?
2.) The school committee, if it does what it has done in the past, essentially rubber stamps the school department request.
3.) That figure then becomes official at the school committee budget hearing, which this year will be held on June 12 at 6 p.m. at city hall in council chambers. It’s a key meeting that the public will largely ignore and the school department will stack with plenty of teachers, parents, and, of course, The Children, who will be used as human shields against any unwise committee member who might actually, uh, question the numbers and say they need reduction.
3a.) This year, the mayor, as CEO of the city, as as an ex-officio member of the school committee, will “express concern” about the size of the budget increase for which interim Supt. Gordon Noseworthy is asking. Noseworthy, as interim super with a term set to expire on the last day of June, will have no interest in the mayor’s words. As of July 1, The Nose leaves town with a bundle of cash he made as interim, in which he did his job, that is, he did not rock the boat.
4.) But, watch, to show how “reasonable” the administration is, he and Behnke will propose a compromise. Thus, instead of getting the 5% first asked for, the school department “sacrifices” and “settles” for 2.5%. It then boo-hoos about how it took a 100% budget hit for the sake of taxpayers and, of course, The Children. What they mean is that the rate of increase they pretended to want was “reduced” to the increase they actually wanted in the first place.
5.) After the June 12 meeting, Bianchi, as mayor, will recommend an agreed-upon budget (agreed-upon by everyone except Mary Jane and Joe Kapanski, that is), to our Right Honorable Good Friends on the city council. Incidentally, the mayor can change that number. He could unilaterally take the negotiated proposed budget and slash 10% across the board. The message to the school department would be: “Trim the fat and decide between keeping jobs or reducing costs. If you can’t figure out how, I will on your behalf.” That’s how a mayor could become a hero of taxpayers everywhere and in the process actually force the school system to get smarter, leaner, and more productive. If Bianchi did that, we would personally commission and erect his statue for Park Square (all paid in Monopoly money).
6.) The council takes up the school budget. There will be some token opposition to the spending, but once again, our Right Honorable Good Friends will cave in to pressure from the teachers’ union. They will pass the budget, and it will become the taxpayers’ burden.
As Fat as It Is, It’s Not as Fat as It Gets
It’s funny how well-run companies in the Dreaded Private Sector have responded to the tough economy. They reduce cost, increase productivity, and insist on performance. The Pittsfield School Department, year after year, asks for more money, more employees, and doesn’t give a hoot about productivity (sure, it says it does, but in actuality it doesn’t).
Noseworthy spoke the usual inane bromides in discussing the budget: “We need a vision of excellence with a long-term approach to education.”
What does that babble mean? The school department “needs” “a vision of excellence?” It “needs” “a long-term approach?” I thought those were already in place? Read your own school propaganda, Mr. Super, and you’ll see lots of talk from previous years about “vision” and “excellence” and lots of other buzz words that mean crap and have an equal redolence. Your statement contradicts what your department contends.
Among the “highlights” The Nose wants to install in the PSD before he leaves:
* $453,000 toward a bus fleet upgrade.
* $100,000 for “a phase-technology plan,” whatever the heck that is.
* He wants to add the following staff positions (add, mind you, not cut):
* one teacher at Crosby
* two paraprofessionals at Egremont
* two technology teachers for middle school
* an English language teacher for non-English speakers
* three new high school teacher
* a reading “interventionist” (you gotta love that; anyone know what that means?)
* an additional “Float” nurse
* additional volleyball coaches (yes, what the PSD needs is more volleyball coaches! Brilliant!)
* A web manager
Lady Behnke Talks of ‘Surplus’ — Great, only it’s Millions Short of Honesty
Lady Behnke boasted that the school department expects to end FY13 with a surplus of $21,956! Well whoop-de-friggin’-do!! Bring out the dancing girls. Pop the champagne corks!! Call the roller of fat cigars!!
That paltry surplus means the schools budgeted this past FY with an astonishing accuracy rate of 0.00024%. Amazing … and also impossible. No one can budget that accurately with such large sums. What she’s not saying is that the department is hiding millions of dollars on its books, all legal of course, but moral? That’s another question. THE PLANET cannot detail the process here, but trust us, we believe from what we’ve been told that there are millions (our guesstimate: about $3 million) being hidden, legally, in the budget.
First time around with these numbers, our Right Honorable Good Friend, at large council Barry Clairmont, pursued an intriguing line of analysis with the initial school numbers. Clairmont, an account by trade, used his sophisticated expertise to analyze the budget. His conclusion? He found almost $1.5 million squirreled away in the books. Lady Behnke rose to that occasion a few months ago with a lot of doubletalk, essentially fending off the initiative. We wonder, though? Will there be more revelations to come? We have come to know Clairmont as the dogged type, one who won’t give up on a quest where he believes he’s in the right. It will prove to be interesting on June 12, council chambers, 6 p.m.
Stay tuned, and meanwhile, stay thirsty, my friends.
“how could tasting touching hearing seeing / breathing any — lifted from the no / of all nothing — human merely being / doubt unimaginable You?” — e.e. cummings, stanza 3, “I Thank You God for this Most Amazing”
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL.