GIVING AWAY THE STORE: YOU WON’T BELIEVE THE CUSHY DEAL JAKE EBERWEIN III & SCHOOL COMMITTEE GAVE FRANK “FREE HOUSE” COTE … AND EVERY CENT COMES FROM YOUR HARD-EARNED TAX DOLLARS
By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, WEEKEND EDITION, FRIDAY, MARCH 7, 2014) — Despite the fact that the population of city schools has dropped from more than 12,000 to just under 6,000 … despite the fact that the administrative staff has more than quadrupled. Despite the fact that there are double the number of teachers … and despite the fact that the long, gray line of superintendent, assistant superintendent, associate superintendent, deputy superintendent, assistant associate deputy superintendent, ad infinitum ad nauseum — each packing salaries and benefits well in excess of six figures — has helped push the city of Pittsfield closer to the financial edge, there is no sign of halting the mad dash to the cliff.
As they say, watch out for that first step. It’s a doozy.
As a case in point, consider the contract of the assistant superintendent for vocational, workforce, and college readiness. Yes, that’s the actual title, indicating the position is “make work” with more multisyllabic adjectives than accountability. The lottery winner who landed this pact is none other than Frank “Free House” Cote. It was signed by his cozy good bud, the former superintendent Jake Eberwein III — not that they ever got kicked out of a bar around Christmas time. THE PLANET would claim that story whatsoever.
The Hurts Driver’s Seat
Cote has had an illustrious academic career and the stellar credentials to go with it. After his buddy picked him off of the culinary scrap heap, Cote landed in the Hertz driver’s seat as vice principal of Pittsfield High School under the redoubtable Trevor Benson. For taxpayers, the move turned into the Hurts driver’s seat. As you may recall, it was while those two administrators held their positions at PHS that the infamous and never solved or prosecuted theft of $10,000 in prom money from a teacher’s desk occurred.
That incident resulted in Benson resigning to “pursue other opportunities.” Free House got kicked upstairs as assistant superintendent. What a country!
Anyway, THE PLANET has obtained a copy of the contract Cote signed with the Pittsfield School Committee on Sept. 1, 2011. The terms are enlightening, and they provide evidence for the proposition that, in the name of “The Children,” taxpayers are getting hosed. Salaries are up, accountability is down, and there’s no sign the gravy train will be stopping any time soon.
Cote’s contract runs for three years. It will end on June 30, 2014. As a friendly recommendation on behalf of taxpayers, may we recommend to our Right Honorable Good Friends on the PSC that they let Cote become a free agent as of July 1 — you know, let him go Benson’s way to “pursue other career opportunities.” We would secondarily appeal to Mayor Dan Bianchi, since he is (a) a member of the PSC and (b) the man who submits the budget, including the bottom line for the schools. Mr. Mayor, it would be an easy way to save taxpayers $100 grand a year plus bennies.
Of course, we realize that in appealing to Mayor Dolittle, we’ve just guaranteed Cote another three years! We won’t even ask for a kickback.
Let’s look at the particulars, shall we?
Article III. Compensation
“1. The Employee shall be paid a salary of $87,500 for the year July 1, 2011, through June 30, 2012 …”
For the “Salary for July 1, 2012 — June 30, 2014,” the contract says the salary “shall be subject to negotiations.” Then there’s this beauty: “The parties further agree that the salary for the above contract years shall not be less than the prior contract year [THE PLANET's underlines here and later].” Yup, no matter how lousy this guy screws up, he can’t receive a pay cut.
As if the point isn’t clear enough, paragraph three in Article III further states that “The salary of the Employee shall not be reduced during the life of this Agreement.”
Great, isn’t it? With this provision, the school committee, acting on behalf of taxpayers, guarantees that Cote shall never have to take a pay decrease, irrespective of performance! Do you have such a provision in your job? We thought not.
Wait! It gets better.
“4. No provision of this Agreement shall be construed as precluding the award from time to time by the Committee to the Employee of a merit pay cash bonus.” How often is “from time to time.” How many bonuses has Cote received?
Who decides on the bonuses? We learn that “such a cash bonus shall be awarded on a basis an in a sum the determination of which shall be solely at the discretion of the Superintendent.” Yes, Free House’s best bud, Jake, was given sole privilege to give money away. Note that there are no provisions or criteria upon which such a “cash bonus” would be awarded.
The next clause of the contract awards full benefits: “health insurance, term life insurance, withholding to tax-sheltered annuity contributions, and all other benefits that are available to other employees of the Pittsfield Public Schools.”
After specifying in Article V that Free House’s work year “shall be a full year,” Article VI has this incredible qualification: “The length of the Employee’s work day shall be whatever time is necessary for the Employee to perform satisfactorily the duties and responsibilities of the position …” In other words, under the contract, Cote can work as long or as little as he chooses! If he’s of such vast brilliance that he can get his work done in 10 minutes, that’s his work day!
As for accountability, Article VII specifies that Cote “shall be evaluated at least annually by …” Guess who? ” … by the Superintendent.” Yes, his buddy Jake again.
And the hits just keep coming. Article VIII addresses “Leave.” Under the deal, Cote receives 25 paid vacation days each year, 20 paid sick leave days, paid bereavement and jury-duty leave, and an unspecified (therefore, unlimited) number of “personal leave days.” These personal days shall be given “as the Employee shall reasonably require and as shall be granted by the Superintendent.” The word “reasonably” is not defined.
Have $$, Will Travel
Cote gets reimbursed “for all professional travel,” travel not covered by stipend and “all other reasonable expenses” associated with his job. I”Reasonable expenses” are not defined. In addition, Cote gets “a mileage stipend of One Hundred Twenty Five Dollars and No Cents ($125.00) per month for each month” of his employment. The purpose of that giveaway “shall be to compensate the Employee for routine travel within the boundaries of the City of Pittsfield in the performance of her/his duties.” In this politically correct age of LBTG & Elemenopee, we shall leave the “her/his” without comment, except to say we read it as contractual boilerplate. Oh yeah: Cote also gets reimbursed for all “in-service or professional development programs” he may take.
In the case “the Employee’s” actions result in “financial loss from any proceeding, claim, suit, or judgment by reason of alleged negligence or other conduct resulting in bodily or other injury to any person, of damage to the property of any person” while Free House is on the job, taxpayers (through the school committee) “shall provide legal counsel and shall indemnify the Employee.”
Folks, re-read this clause. And we though that only James Bond and Sean Connery had a license to kill.
Article XIII. Other Work
The contract allows Free House to “undertake other work, with … remuneration, as long as such activities do not interfere, in the opinion of the Superintendent, with the full and faithful discharge of the Employee’s responsibilities and duties as specified herein.”
” … in the opinion of the Superintendent.” That’s a bit subjective, isn’t it?
The remainder of the contract includes the usual boilerplate, but it does have a gem or two. If Cote wishes to leave his job, resign, or retire and he gives the Superintendent “early notice,” the school committee — faithful guardians of the public’s money — agrees to pay him $5,750. The contract them say that if this $5,750 payout is given, it “shall be irrevocable.”
THE PLANET shall spare you any further distress or suffering, but at least now you are armed. You know the type of work the school committee has done to rob out of your rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in the city of Pittsfield — for that’s exactly what overtaxation without competent representation represents.
Please spread the word, and when budget time comes around, how ’bout We The People matching 2-for-1 the parade when the Vested Interests organize their masses — including The Children as human shields — to pack the rooms when the school committee and city council take up the budget.
The gravy train must be derailed, or The Suits will run Pittsfield right off the edge of the cliff.
They will, of course, by that time have gotten theirs.
“Well I think it’s fine, building jumbo trains. Taking a ride, on a cosmic train. I know we’ve come a long ways, with changes from day to day, but tell me, where will The Children play?” — Cat Stevens, Where Will the Children Play,” 1972.
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL.