By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, TUESDAY, NOV. 12, 2013) — Cleaning out the notebook from Election Day:
* OFF THE CHARTS — In its most recent election, three out of every four of the Pittsfield electorate chose not to participate. In light of this, can anyone refer to a “democratic republic” and keep a straight face? Once again, low turnout, or should we say “suppressed” turnout, gave the election to the Special Interests, who jumped on it in the same reverse proportion to enact the new city charter. The charter shall award a four year term to the mayor, allow for automative salary increases for the mayor and city council, allow for payment of school committee members, and make the recall process more difficult for We the People. Other than that, the city might just as well kept the old one.
* CLASS ACTS — Of all the wons and losses, a couple of class acts stood out. In winning a seat to the school committee, young Josh Cutler acted appropriately excited and subdued at the same time. He celebrated quietly and did not boast or gloat. During the campaign, he eschewed lawn signs. For that alone, Cutler stood out from the pack. He also saved the bedraggled public added eye strain. In losing her bid for an at-large council seat, Donna Todd Rivers accepted the narrow loss with equanimity and grace. It impressed THE PLANET probably more than a win on her part. This kind of healthy perspective of political office is the kind citizens should encourage.
* TEENAGE DAYDREAM — THE PLANET investigated the situation with school committee candidate Brittany Douglas and her lack of appearances during the campaign. The young woman, all of 19, took responsibility for her actions and inactions. First first part of this is an interview we conducted with her. The second part of her statement for The Pittsfield Gazette.
THE PLANET: In fairness to Jim [Therrien of the Berkshire Eagle], he said he (a) called the number you left with the city clerk several times, (b) tried to find a contact, and (c) mailed you a letter (post, it sounds like). He says he also stopped by your address on Center Street. Assuming that Jim did all this, and I would take him at his word, how do you explain not getting any of his attempts to reach you?
PLANET: Was the phone number you provided the city clerk correct? Does it have voice mail? Is your Center Street address correct?
PLANET: Why didn’t you or your campaign manager take a more proactive stance regarding the press during the campaign?
PLANET: To whom would you assign blame for the communications mixup?
PLANET: Do you intend on attending school committee meetings this year?
PLANET: Are you a student?
PLANET: Do you work full time?
PLANET: What high school did you attend?
PLANET: Do you intend to remain in Pittsfield or the area?
PLANET: I would be glad to take anything else you wish to add.
First, we must renew our focus on teaching and learning. “Is it for the children?” is not a legitimate litmus test for educational decision-making. Rather, the essential question should be: “How does this affect what happens in classrooms?” All policies, personnel and programs must show evidence of significant and sustainable positive effect on what happens in classrooms in order to be considered.
Next, we must commit ourselves to fiscal responsibility. We must invest in our future, not spend it. If we bankrupt our city, our graduates will have nothing to stay for. One of the most pressing fiscal issues facing our city is the possibility of a new vocational school. A new vocational school is necessary only if it truly expands opportunity; it is relevant only if it serves as a labor pipeline for our community. Creating a new venue for old programming and/or providing skills to students only to have them employed elsewhere does not serve our community interests. Such concerns must be addressed.
Finally, we must be fully engaged in the mission of educational improvement. While we must celebrate and build upon the good things that are happening in our schools—and there are many, we must also address the fact that one third of our schools are in the bottom 20% of performers statewide. We must work with the larger community to support the formation of systems and structures to address problems such as attendance. In 2012, our school district had two and a half times the state rate of chronic absenteeism. Some of our most needy schools had four and five times the state average. If students are not present, teachers cannot teach them.
As we move forward we must do so with a sense of vision and purpose. I would like to be a part of that. I hope you will consider voting for me on November 5th.
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Douglas impressed THE PLANET on all levels. She shows extraordinary maturity in someone so young. We hope she does as she says: Stays in the area, make her future here, and, more importantly, runs for school committee again, in 2015.
“Get on over here, Mama, tell you everything gonna be alright, alright, alright, alright, alright.” — Steve Mattiott, Humble Pie, “Smokin’, 1972.
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL.