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BUS VOTE 2 TONIGHT … SCHOOL DEPARTMENT BUDGET: A CALCULUS OF CYNICISM AND LIES

By DAN VALENTI

PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary

ADD 1: We are posting this a half hour before tonight’s city council meeting is gaveled to order. We just got a phone call from a source who says he heard from another party who talked to Ward 1 councilor Lisa Tully. It’s third-hand, but the sources are good, so balance those two opposing interests and make of this what you will: Lisa Tully will be flip-flopping tonight. THE PLANET also heard she spent several hours with School Department bag lady Kristen Behnke. Put 2 + 2 together. In Pittsfield, the answer is 5.

Tonight, our Right Honorable Good Friends on the city council take one of their most important and revealing votes, the redux of the administration’s fiscally and operationally suspect request to add to the taxpayer’s burden. Will Nick Caccamo vote on the request for nearly $3 million in new borrowing for school buses? If so, on whose authority? Will any of the councilor’s change their vote? Will there be another Charter Objection? The soap opera will be worth viewing. Another less important but as politically interesting item will be the council’s vote on Bianchi’s mutated selection of Julia Berkowitz Sabourin as his “director of administrative services.” THE PLANET told you Bianchi would give her the job, uncontested, on March 31. It happened exactly as we predicted. Berkowitz Sabourin (the two unhypenated names fit her perfectly) is up for her reward after serving as ax lady for the Bianchi-orchestrated Scopes Monkey Trial (the persecution of Terry Kinnas for the crime of sticking up for taxpayers and Little Guys). 

(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, TUESDAY, APRIL 22, 2014) — While other school districts have thrown their department budgets back to the administration for belt tightening, the city of Pittsfield has — for the umpteenth budget cycle — resorted to cynicism and lies to inflate a figure that already consumes well more than 70% of a $134 million budget.

We’ve recently gone through the exercise of the money proposed for the school buses. Mayor Dan Bianchi‘s request to borrow $2.76 million, actualized,  comes to about $23 million, once you figure in all the expenses over five years. Today, to help out the school bus request in context, let’s look at the school budget in general.

The First Lie: Two Sets of Books

The first lie associated with the money it takes to run the Pittsfield Public School system can be found in the accounting, specifically the use of two sets of books. Have you noticed how in any official reference to the PSD budget, they use a figure in the mid-50s (these are millions we’re talking about). That’s the figure listed in the school department books. That’s a lie, because they never mention the second set of books. That second set includes all the accounting for all the other city departments. There, the PSD hides $50 million that goes to the schools but doesn’t show up on the Mercer Street books:

(1) The cost to provides ever-escalating benefits to the more than 1,000 department employees,

(2) The cost of purchasing, maintaining, parking, and running busses, and

(3) The cost of the school department maintenance crew.

This says nothing of federal and state grant money, it too taxpayer supplied, for which the taxpayer is ultimately on the hook.

What Pittsfield Had Better Realize … and Soon

School districts in Berkshire County as well as across the country are beginning to realize the urgency in putting to halt a decades-long, unchecked trend that has routinely boosted school spending even as quality and performance plummet. This was done because of the foolish notion, perpetuated by politicians who wanted to make it look like they were doing something to address the public concern over failing schools, that the problem with public schools was not enough money. Countless trillions of dollars later, America’s public schools have been left in the dust among the nations of the world. Improving schools wasn’t, isn’t, and will never be about the money. The spending spree over the past 20 years has proven that.

School districts not wanting to face the fate of Detroit, San Bernardino, and a host of other bankrupt cities have been fighting back. Once example should suffice. The superintendent of schools in Fairfax County, Va., Karen Garza, submitted a departmental budget that included $96 million in cuts that would eliminate 730 staff positions. The plan is meant to help solve a $130 million budget shortfall.

Garza’s proposal eliminates dozens of administrative posts, including assistant and associate superintendent as well as numerous “assistant principles.” She also advocates charging parents with children in school, not homeowners or businesses through property taxes, for testing fees. Most of those property owners do not have children in the public schools. That will raise $4.2 million in new revenue.

In another example, the school superintendent in Philadelphia, Pa., facing a $304 million budget gap due to excessive union contracts in previous years, has laid off nearly 4,000 school department employees, closed 24 buildings, and eliminated administrative administrative layers. You can also check out what the mayor in Chicago has done. Or Cleveland, which wants to cut $21 million from its school budget.

Keep in mind that all things being equal, no one wants to cut, but all things are not equal. Cuts have become necessary because of the year-after-year of crumbling on the part of wimp politicians before the political power of teachers unions and the administrators, with whom they are in cahoots. The same is true in Pittsfield.

The Second Lie: The ‘Shell Game’ Budget

The PSD’s second lie can be seen in the shell-game manners that proceed the official formulation of the school budget by the department and school committee. Long before the process started, the superintendent of schools, Jake McCandless, said he wanted $2 million for add staff positions as well as nearly $1 million in new spending for hardware, software, and equipment. Then, as he reminded us, just to remain even with last year, taxpayers would have to cough up $1.5 million in negotiated pay raises. That totals north of $4.5 million more.

As the budget process got closer to hard numbers, school Supt. Jake McCandless withdrew the $2 million for new hires. That leaves him at $2.5 million.

Then Bianchi played his part as stooge in the push to get the school department more money while portraying it as a “cut.” Bianchi lamely offered a $1 million increase, saying the school department “request” was $200,000 too much. Remember, at that point, that no official request had been made, proving that Bianchi and JIV were play acting.

Also, note how the numbers get mighty slippery as you move further along in the budget scenario.  Be further aware that neither the superintendent nor the mayor seems to be including the $1.5 million in negotiated pay hikes in their mentions of the PSD budget request. THE PLANET won’t mention the bus dough.

Purposeful Confusion

What does all this purposeful confusion on the part of the superintendent and mayor mean? It means that Bianchi has promised Jake “only” $1 million in new money. By not mentioning the $1.5 million in pay hike, which in true accounting must be included, this actually means $2.5 million. THE PLANET won’t mention the bus dough.

Thus, here’s the plan, spilled:

* The superintendent agree to the $1 million hike. He will subtract that from his $4.5 million total and will portray this as a $3.5 million “sacrifice” or “cut” or some such. Don’t fall for it.

* The mayor will then brag about how tough he got with the schools and try to pretend he stood up for the taxpayers. This could change, but if the school committee and school department follow their histories going back a generation, they will end up approving the mayor’s additional $2.5 million for the schools. The Suits will portray the heist as a “reduction,” a “cut,” a “retrenching,” a “downsizing” or some other misleading term. THE PLANET repeats: Don’t fall for it.

When The Suits bleat how the state intends to “slash” local school aid, tell them that you know otherwise. Tell them that the governor, the state house, and the state senate have in their respective budget proposals for FY15 called for an increase — an increase — in school spending for Pittsfield.

The current figure for state aid to Pittsfield public schools is $39,447,163. The governor wants to give Pittsfield schools $40,372,416. The proposed number for total state aid to the city in the governor’s proposed budget is $48,865,021. All these figures represent increases to the city.

It’s also interesting to note that the school department in Pittsfield eats up more than 80% of all state aid coming to the city. This illustrates how the schools have fattened themselves at the expense of all other city departments — police, fire, maintenance, highway, parks, and the rest of them. They have done this while still turning out an inferior product, with far too many pupils either dropping out or graduating without the skills necessary for them to successfully compete in college or in the marketplace.

Yes, THE PLANET has taken up this topic numerous times this year and in previous years. We shall continue to hammer away, trying to arm We The People with information.

When The Suits mischaracterize what’s going on with the school budget, don’t fall for it. It’s not a “sacrifice.” It’s not a “cut.” And it for sure is not for “The Children,” who continue to get ripped off by the adults who are running the public schools.

When the apologists who want to keep the gravy train going pack the council chambers, don’t fall for it.

Rather, take action. Consider packing the school committee and council chambers with your own. Communicate with mayor, the superintendent, and, more importantly, the school committee and city council. Share your upset and anger. Demand they begin to address fiscal reality rather than continue to live in the unsustainable Fiscal Fairyland they have created.

People, it’s time to reclaim your government from the so-called “experts.”

————————————————————————————–

“God have mercy on the sinner / Who must write with no dinner, // No gravy and no grub, / No pewter and no pub, // No belly and no bowels, / Only consonants and vowels.”John Crowe Ransom, from “Survey of Literature.”

“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”

LOVE TO ALL.

 

 

24 Responses to “BUS VOTE 2 TONIGHT … SCHOOL DEPARTMENT BUDGET: A CALCULUS OF CYNICISM AND LIES”

  1. Thomas More
    April 22, 2014 at 5:20 am #

    The Planet loves to compare Pittsfield to cities that20 times its size. Cleveland, 400,000, Phily – 1.5 million, Fairfax County – 1.1 million. Why don’t you dig up cities the size of Pittsfield.

    • C. J.
      April 22, 2014 at 5:34 am #

      Check the plight of a New England city half the size of Pittsfield, Central Falls, RI. Unfunded liabilities and a weaked economic base forced this community into a Chapter 9 bankruptcy.
      http://www.articles.latimes.com/2013/aug/03/nation/la-na-adv-central falls-20130804
      Municipal union negotiators and increased spending advocates may consider the Federal Court ruling in this cause. Municipal pensions were cut by 55%. A compromise was reached and they were only cut by 25% for the first 5 years ,then 55% kicks in.
      This appears to be a microcosim of Pittsfield’s fiscal preparedness.

    • Johnny 2 Shoes
      April 22, 2014 at 8:09 am #

      The common denominator is, the same problems are causing the same fiscal mess in large and small cities alike.

  2. Rafael
    April 22, 2014 at 5:52 am #

    Excellent article, Dan. This ridiculous school budget will come to a head some day. But that is what happens when a departments trends towards its employees doing less and less work, but getting more and more pay and benefits over several decades.

  3. Pat
    April 22, 2014 at 9:53 am #

    The BE has an article in today’s on-line site that despite the large number of people who lost their jobs from the closing of NARH the unemployment numbers for the area have gone down. I find this hard to believe. I know so many who are unemployed right now including NARH people. In addition the supposed 7.1 unemployment is nothing to brag about. This number does not include people who no longer collect unemployment, but are still unable to find a job. That number would be extremely high.

    • Evian
      April 22, 2014 at 10:26 am #

      Yes Pat and that number also doesn’t include people who are underemployed. The numbers also count the number of jobs so if your take three people and they each hold two jobs(to make ends meet) that counts as six jobs. Those figures to use’ DV’s term are also lies.

      • Bull Durham
        April 22, 2014 at 11:38 am #

        The hospital closed on March 28th… those who lost their jobs didn’t file for unemployment until the following week, which was April. The numbers being reported were for the month of March. NARH won’t show up until next month when they release the April figures.

  4. Spider
    April 22, 2014 at 11:58 am #

    I’m still putting my money on Tully for tonight.

    As I said before, she won’t let her “mentor”, the mayor, down again. This time she will be a good soldier.

  5. dusty
    April 22, 2014 at 12:41 pm #

    Well, her whole ward is watching. There may be a bunch of locked doors the next time she comes a knocking if she betrays us.

    I hope she is true to her own beliefs and leaves politics out of it. She may surprise us. Bianchi won’t be mayor or be able to help her get reelected next time because he is already history, but if she is good to her ward we will elect her as long as she wants to stay.

  6. Ron Kitterman
    April 22, 2014 at 1:21 pm #

    Spider’s prediction is the surest bet.

  7. Bill Sturgeon
    April 22, 2014 at 1:33 pm #

    Has anyone noticed that the mayor dan is not bringing any names forward to be appointed by the Council at tonight’s meeting. I believe that there is a section of the Charter that states they appointments have to be made by April.

  8. amandaWell
    April 22, 2014 at 5:07 pm #

    Tonights Council Grades

    Connell F-
    Lothrop D
    Caccamo 0
    Clairmont A
    Krol A
    Mazzeo A
    Morandi A
    Amuso D
    Cotton C
    Simonelli A+
    Tully U

  9. sonny
    April 22, 2014 at 5:11 pm #

    I guess Mrs Tully did not understand her job description. Do not
    vote against anything That Bianchi wants jammed down the tax
    payers throat. Do not use your own mind. Do as your told.

  10. Nota
    April 22, 2014 at 5:26 pm #

    OK I give, what is U,Mandy?

    • dusty
      April 23, 2014 at 12:55 am #

      Unbelievable

  11. amandaWell
    April 22, 2014 at 5:40 pm #

    Not acceptable. Unaceptable

  12. Dave
    April 22, 2014 at 5:54 pm #

    Well, now that the new buses are a definite, how about minimizing the burden of the taxpayer by finally having advertising on the buses! Have the bus maker add some sliders on the sides of the buses that will fit magnetic signs that can be sold to suitable companies for advertising purposes. Heck, maybe we could even get some of the non-profit advertising dollars-they will not willingly give the city anything. Unsold spots sold at a reduced price to PTO’s or sport booster clubs for honor student or student athlete of the month. Maybe the vocational students in a particular field could design and make the signs. I could go on but now I want to figure out what the heck councilor Jelly actually said. I think it was something to the effect “I really didn’t think any of my votes really mattered, so I don’t really pay attention or really do any research, but then I was told by some pretty important people that sometimes I should read what they wrote… I mean pay attention”

    • levitan
      April 22, 2014 at 6:05 pm #

      Here’s the problem with name-calling and ad hominem attacks. Who’s ‘Councilor Jelly?’

      Please update me as to who voted for shiny new buses and why. Did Tully change her vote? Why? Was her last week vote impulsive and an aberration? If so, can we declare the latest vote, if different, ‘the real thing?

      • Dave
        April 22, 2014 at 6:33 pm #

        “infallible or wishy-washy”–ring a bell Charlie Brown?

        • levitan
          April 22, 2014 at 6:48 pm #

          Who’s Councilor Jelly, and what actually happened for crissakes. Use your bleedin’ yankee noodle.

          • Dave
            April 23, 2014 at 12:54 am #

            Tully, guess I didn’t speak clearly into the mic and didn’t proof read so well,

          • levitan
            April 23, 2014 at 9:43 am #

            Aha! 4 am clarity explains it – ‘wishy-washy/infallible’ ties to Tully.

      • danvalenti
        April 22, 2014 at 7:53 pm #

        Tully changed her vote.

  13. Nota
    April 22, 2014 at 7:39 pm #

    Jive and Jelly! Nice