‘PV-TV’ OFF TO A ROARING START … SCHOOL BUDGET: A ‘BOOK’ BUT NO ‘BUDGET … JIV PROVIDES ‘INFORMATION,’ NOT ‘DATA’ … Hmmmm, COULD THIS BE AN EFFORT IN OPAQUE GOVERNMENT?
By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, WEEKEND EDITION, MAY 9-11, 2014) — First, allow us a few brief comments on the inaugural edition of PLANET VALENTI TV. We had fun. Yes, some spots were ragged around the edges and we had some of the usual first-show technical issues, but nothing outrageous. In fact, on PV-TV, we aim to demolish “the fourth wall.” We therefore need not hide the fact that none of this is “real.” That’s why they call it a “show.”
If you didn’t see it live, watch it either on re-run or on your computer. The reruns today will be on Ch. 16 at 11:30 a.m., 3 p.m., 6:30 p.m., and 10 p.m. On your computer, go to www.pittsfieldcommunitytv.org. There, hit the “Show Search” link. When the search window comes up, type in “Planet Valenti TV” for the show. If you want to watch back shows I’ve done at PC-TV (guesting on other shows) type in “Dan Valenti.”
Most of all, we had fun. THE PLANET thanks Dave Bubriski for wearing the dual cap of producer-director; Matt Tucker of PCTV for yeoman’s work at technical director and engineer; Bill Sturgeon for handling the phones and sound; Bill’s wife, the lovely Polish Princess, for helping dress the set (we needed a woman’s touch); Terry Kinnas for brain power, feedback, and moral support; and the great job done by our cameramen, Ron Kitterman, Steve Nikitas, and Peter Risatti. A great job was turned in by all.
Given that it was the first time out, we received a healthy number of phone calls. Of course, we worked phones in between our monologues and our satiric interview with TES: The Empty Suit. That segment alone will be worth the viewing. As we suspected and expected, the mayor had his stooges call in to try to throw us off our game. The first caller even sounded suspiciously like the mayor’s wife, who insisted he was in Boston. TES proved her “wrong.”
Uh, we quote Paul Newman in The Hustler: “We don’t rattle, kid.” In fact, we loved it, because it gave us a chance to show who’s boss on THE PLANET. It’s us.
Already, a change in schedule, a good one, actually. After being told May 15 was not available for the time slot, PV-TV learned otherwise today. Thus, our next show will be Thursday the 15th at 7 p.m., taking your phone calls 413-445-4234 and performing the unexpected — PLANET VALENTI Television, Access Pittsfield, Channel 16.
Already, we’ve got “the buzz” going.
* ————————————————- *
School Department Gives us a “Book” but Not a Budget; Taxpayers, Get Ready to Assume ‘The Position’
A show of hands, please: How many of you have gone online to the Pittsfield School Department website to read the school budget? THE PLANET hopes no hands have gone up, because the PSD hasn’t cared to share its proposed budget online. You would have wasted your time. This is, after all, the Amazing Transparent Administration. How do we know that? That’s what Dan Bianchi campaigned upon in 2011.
Now, how many of you have gone online to the same place to read the 2015 budget book? Yes, we said the “budget book.” It’s not the actual budget. Rather, it’s 107 pages of interesting data that requires some no small amount of wading through, muck boots optional. Actually, there’s much useful info there.
So how many read the budget book?
Fear not, though, for THE PLANET presents this digest.
——- 000 ——-
The first item that catches one’s interest is the cover letter of Supt. Jake “JIV” McCandless. After the usual gobbledygook and whoppers about how “deeply committed,” “[hard] working,” and “sensitive and responsive to the larger needs of the City of Pittsfield and its citizens” the school department is, Jake (won’t we ever get a super who isn’t named Jake?) then says something troubling:
He admits to presenting a “short” book “that may appear data-poor.”
These are the superintendent’s words, not ours — an admission right off the bat that you’re going to get a snow job.
Ah, but then he adds this bromide, which he hopes will tranquilize the concerned reader, that is, one that expected a “data-rich” presentation. He claims the book “is in fact information rich. While the book is shorter and takes up less space on the shelf, this presentation allows for easier access to the public and to the policy makers that adopt the budget. The most crucial data remains — that which was simply there without much context or meaning has been removed.”
Whenever The Suits admit to being selective about “data,” hand on to your wallet with both claws.
Here are some bullet points of the most interesting “information” (remember that Jake distinguishes between “data” and “information):
- In the early pages that summarize revenue, the FY15 budget includes no FY15 figures. It only goes up to FY14. Amazing.
- The FY10 to FY14 revenues (that is, taxpayer supplied tribute, not departmental income) showed a budget increase of 17%. Taxpayers faced increases every one of those years. The same shall be true in FY15.
- As for “Bus Fleet Renewal,” Jake tells us “exact figure to be determined.” Well, at least he’s honest. Unbelievable. Even when they presented figures, they hid the overall actual costs, which will be in the neighborhood of $20 million to $25 million for the next five years.
- We learn that the 2014 enrollment of the two high schools is 970 (PHS) plus 855 (THS) = 1,825. The Suits are clamoring for a new high school to service this population — even though there are far less than half the students than when the city only had PHS. Enrollment has dropped every year since 1982. This is Pittsfield, the Bog-only-knows-how-EXPEN$IVE new school isn’t needed, but it will provide lots of money to favored contractors while giving “The Children” a gleaming new academic mausoleum in which to place the dead body of local learning.
- In 2004, 6,637 students were enrolled in the Pittsfield School District; 2,387 — 36% —received free or subsidized lunch. In 2013, there were 5,883 enrolled in the PSD with 3,276 receiving free lunches, or 57%. Today, that rate tops 60%. This is an indication of how poor the city has become. That is an indictment on every Suit, who year after year denies this fact and pretends that all is well.
- Despite what they claim about class sizes being too large, most classes have fewer than 20 students.
- On the financially ruinous and far-too-far distended Special Education program, Jake brags how the Special Ed category, which is expanding to include a ridiculous amount of students, is offered so students can “receive a free and appropriate education.” “Appropriate,” perhaps. “Free,” no way. Ask taxpayers if you don’t believe it. Nowhere does Jake break out the total cost of Special Ed. THE PLANET must assume that was some of the “data” he felt would be too cumbersome. We find later, on page 56, that it costs either $24,958.24 to educate a Special Ed student per year in school. When the Special Ed kid learns out of school, the cost jumps to $26,070.41.
- First languages of students include English, Vietnamese, Urdu, Turkish, Spanish, Russian, Portuguese, “Other Dialects,” Gujarati, French, Haitian, and Chinese. Tower of Babel, anyone?
- The state provides 48% of the PSD budget. Pittsfield taxpayers cough up 44%. Federal grants amount to 7%. School Choice 1%. Distressingly, Jake lists the most recent year as FY13. Remember, this is the FY15 budget book. Nothing fishy going on there.
- In discussing the Pittsfield taxpayers’ share of the budget, Jake implies that they aren’t being taxed enough. Why else would he point out that the city is “$8.5 million below the levy limit.” Let THE PLANET rebut: First, a levy limit of that amount is next-to-nothing compared to the total value of all property in the city (upon which the tax ceiling is based). That total-vlue figure as of 2012 was $3,573,632,100. This means that Pittsfield is taxing at least 99.998% of it limit! Second, it completely ignores the fact that Pittsfield is a poor community. There is no discretionary money. There is nowhere near the ability to pay increased taxes that you will find in so many other Massachusetts communities.
- In what must be a slip-up, Jake admits the PSD runs two sets of books! (page 39). Check it out for yourself. Somehow, that got through the censor.
- Nowhere under “Budget Assumptions” does Jake mention how the PSD lost $4.1 million via school choice. School choice, as are all of the spending and revenue accounts, are discussed verbally, with no FY15 numerals presented. He does include FY15 estimates of state aid. How generous. Only much later do we find school choice numbers. Pittsfield lost 12.5% of its students to school choice in 2013. He doesn’t list the 2014 figures. Jake acknowledges this “substantial — and growing — financial burden for the Pittsfield Public Schools and the City of Pittsfield” but he doesn’t discuss the reason so many parents are opting our of Pittsfield. Simply put, Pittsfield schools are not competitive.
- Pittsfield spends more money per pupil than Greenfield, Malden, Taunton, and Westfield and about the same as Greenfield and New Bedford.
- A “Glossary” at the back misses a few key terms, such as “Taxpayer, n., A group of disparate and dispiritedness people bound together by legalized theft of a malignant entity called “Government.” Here’s another not there: “Administrator, n., A person hired at a six-figure salary to break what is not broken and to make worse what is. And another: “The Children,” n., collective, a fictitious entity invented to perform as human shields and to justify the rape of Mary Jane and Joe Kapanski.” You get the idea. The “Glossary” contains a noticeable lack of verbs principally because the school department doesn’t do much except to get fat while the rest of the city starves.
The last word shall be one of supplication, that somehow, some way, the city council shall undergo a conversion or experience a miracle in the form of throwing the school budget back to the mayor with a simple three-word rejection: “Sharpen the Pencil.”
“The sun shines. The moon it moves the tides to wash me clean.” — adapted from “The Bridge of Sighs” by Robin Trower.
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL.