COUNCILOR CLAIRMONT’s BB EDITORIAL LAYS OUT CASE in STARK BUT ACCURATE TERMS: IN BATTLE FOR TAXPAYER DOLLARS, PSD CONTINUES TO SCREW ‘THE LITTLE GUY’
By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, WEDNESDAY, JULY 10, 2013) — Did you happen to catch at-large councilor Barry Clairmont‘s editorial in the Boring Broadsheet Monday? If so, you were treated to an informative read, one in which a Pittsfield politician actually dispenses transparency and truth. If you didn’t, you missed a good one.
In the piece, Clairmont explains the 6-5 vote in which five of his colleagues supported his measures to enact a focused cut of $200,000 from the fuel and electricity costs of the Pittsfield School Department. The school department, led by school committee chairman Alf Barbalunga and assorted administrative flacks, immediately threatened the council with what amounted to a pack of lies. These enablers of a blubbery department budget warned of teacher layoffs (Barbalunga) and dire lamentations that “The Children” would be without adequate fuel this winter (Gordon Noseworthy). Their tactic, which typically works on councilors afraid of angering the department, failed to work this time.
A Near Miracle
Given the perfect game the school department has been pitching against taxpayers in years past, this development was practically miraculous. The vote on the $200,000 focused reduction served as a litmus test for the upcoming elections: Were councilors for taxpayers or for a fat-laden school department? Councilors Krol, Sherman, Lothrop, Capitanio, and Cotton showed they would rather stick it to their constituents rather than get the school department peeved. It’s an election year, remember, and these PSD lapdogs rolled over and played dead.
Fortunately, councilors Yon, Morandi, Connell, Simonelli, and Mazzeo supported Clairmont, Mary Jane and Joe Kapanski, and the cause of reform. Simonelli had the greatest single moment of any councilor this year when he lectured Barbalunga after the latter “pulled that same old crap” about the cuts leading to teacher firings. Simonelli phrased it in a more genteel manner, but the message came through with the same amount of guttural force.
THE PLANET isn’t forgetting that the $200,000 “cut” was not a cut at all, since the overall boost in school department funded amounted to nearly $1.7 million. The token cut, though, at least provided a symbolic short-term win for taxpayers. In the long run, this vote might — we only say might — give councilors and school committee members second, third, fourth, and fifth thoughts when the school department comes a calling for more money, for it nothing else, the exercise spurred into action by Clairmont proves what THE PLANET has long contended: The school department’s budget and the line items of that budget are opaque. The PSD hides millions of taxpayer dollars to spend as it wish, without proper oversight or accountability.
Among the Revelations …
Among Clairmont’s revelations in his presentation about the $200K “cut,” we find these nuggets:
* The PSD has been averaging a surplus in just it’s utility account of $422,473 (a staggering $1,689,493 more than the department needed for fuel and electricity over four years). That’s just one account among many.
* Instead of returning the $1,689,493 to the city, which could have applied the savings to serious tax relief, the school department spent the money on copiers, professional development, and special education tuition. Clairmont called this deceptive practice “a shell game.” It’s worse, actually. If the schools had given this money back to the general fund and the mayor and council applied it for tax relief, every senior would have received a tax reduction, not just the eight who will be selected to perform slave labor the for city at minimum wages.
* The school department has 21 “revolving accounts.” These are accounts that generate income. In 2008, the department’s revolving accounts had a balance of $1,470,088. In just four short years, that figure ballooned to $2,358,742. As Clairmont points out, taxes can be lowered if this money gets “consistently applied” to offset the school department’s operating expenses. As we know, that is not done, and the revolving accounts make taxpayers dizzy.
PSD Runs Roughshod Over Bedraggled Taxpayers
Copiers, professional development, and special ed — a trio that beats and flush. Copiers eventually need replacement, but at what frequency? How do taxpayers know that the PSD played this legitimately? In my business, The Media Services Group, we invested in an expensive Canon copier in 1989, and we had that machine until it had become a dinosaur, outdated but still functioning well. Sure, we could have replaced it with a newer model, but, running a business in The Dreaded Private Sector, we didn’t have a built in money tree the way the PSD has bedraggled taxpayers.
As for “professional development,” give us a break. Most of these “development” programs are of the make-work type designed simply to give conferees taxpayer-paid vacations and golf outings at fancy hotels. And “special ed tuition?” That’s already funded — over-funded, actually, by taxpayers who have been hoodwinked into paying for ridiculously expensive “special accommodations” for a growing number of kids who are considered “special” only because the state keeps expanding the definition. We’re all special, aren’t we?
In short, the school department has been playing fast and loose with the utility accounts. Remember, too, that this is what’s going on with just one line item. What’s going on with other school accounts? Fact is, nothing the Pittsfield School Department or its lackey school committee says or does about budgets, finances, and expenses can be trusted.
Clairmont points out in his piece that in 2011, city department returned $1,187,248. The school department, with by far the biggest budget (then nearing $90 million a year), returned a insulting $71 to the taxpayers that year.
Short and Long Terms
THE PLANET hopes Clairmont’s actions embolden the city council to take more aggressive action in the future on the school department’s budget. It’s clear the PSD will try to gouge taxpayers. It’s further clear that the school committee, which should be riding herd over department administrators instead of fetching their pipes and slippers, will continue to screw taxpayers (barring some unforeseen changes in the coming election). Moreover, it’s clear that Mayor Dan Bianchi, as determined by the facts of his track record from the corner office and his performance on the school committee, is content to let taxpayers flail in the financial waters for their very lives.
This all being the case, only the city council stands between taxpayers and doom. Once taxpayers go down for the last time, the city goes with it.
“Unwearied still, lover by lover, / They paddle in the cold / Companionable streams or climb the air; / Their hearts have not grown old; / Passion or conquest, wander where they will, / Attend upon them still.” — W. B. Yeats, from “The Wild Swans at Coole.”
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL.