Article

TIME ONCE AGAIN TO ‘OUT’ SCHOOL BUDGET FAKERY

By DAN VALENTI

PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary

Fourth in a Four-Part PLANET Exclusive Literary Autopsy on Pittsfield’s FY15 Municipal Budget

(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, WEEKEND EDITION, MAY 30 to JUNE 1, 2014) — THE PLANET could spend from now till financial Doomsday (coming soon to Pittsfield) writing prose poems about the vagaries of the FY15 budget proposed by Mayor Dan Bianchi, more popularly known as The Empty Suit (TES).  You will be pleased to know, however, that we shall not do this. If you haven’t been aroused to action by now, forget it.

Except …

…this final column.

BUDS — Dan Valenti and The Empty Suit, when he was known as Ward 6 Councilor Dan Bianchi, pictured in the studios during a commercial break on “The Dan Valenti Show.” How young we were! (Photo by Bob Shade).

Today, we shall try one more strategy — that of pointing out the hypocrisy and greed buried in the Pittsfield School Department budget. Keep in mind this budget has already been through three of the four possible screens or firewalls that are allegedly there to guard taxpayers’ wallets. First, the superintendent and resident card shark, Jason “JIV” McCandless, sent along his massive request. No help there, taxpayers, as JIV loaded more boulders upon your breaking backs. Second, the 7-0 Pittsfield School Committee, “led” by The Empty High Heels Kathy Yon (TEHH), rubber stamped JIV’s request. The school committee throws so many 7-0 shutouts that THE PLANET will nominate them for this year’s Cy Young Award. Shot down again, People. Third, The Empty Suit took the JIV’s request and saw in it delusions of political grandeur, choosing to leave every penny intact. Great big ballsy yarblockos to you, Mary Jane and Joe Kapanski.

The Final Fire Wall: The Council

The final fire wall between your pocketbook emptying and eventual financial ruin for the municipality is the city council. This motley collection of our Right Honorable Good Friends thus far has shown no interest in coming to your rescue from JIV’s money grab of the mayor’s pipsqueak support of it. For example, when Ward 5 councilor Jonathan Lothrop went on “Good Morning, Pittsfield” Tuesday (5/27), he explained to his council colleague John Krol how much he loved the increase in spending, particularly the multimillion hike for the schools.

Ah, yes: the schools.

Where do we begin? THE PLANET shall focus on three things: (1) The key salaries of the top-heavy the administration, which has more layers than the filo dough in a baclava. (2) The dishonest nature of the school’s budget presentation and the true cost to taxpayers. (3) A look at the school budget under The Empty Suit.

1. ADMINISTRATIVE SALARIES (NOTE: None of the salaries include benefits, which adds about 30% to the listed compensation).

When Pittsfield had twice the number of students and a fraction of the number of staff, one — count him — one superintendent ran the whole show. He had one — count her — one secretary. Today, taxpayers have to pay for the following administrative positions:

* A superintendent making $157,000

* Deputy superintendent, $120,000

* Assistant superintendent, personnel. This apparently is a new position, job currently open, and it will make well north of $100,000. Keep in mind the city also has its own HR stiff.

* 11 secretaries, $443,381

* 10 Lords a Leaping, priceless.

* Director of human resources, $87,500. Again, the city also has a HR director. More duplication.

* Assistant superintendent, vocational, $91,928

* Assistant superintendent, business and finance, $97,500. Sue Carmel holds the same post on city side. Sue Carmel. Is that a name of an imperative sentence? Yet more duplication.

* Assistant business manager, $55,000 (they’re skinning the guy!). More duplication.

* Miscellaneous (legal settlements, legal services, central office, and some other things), $360,100.

——- 000 ——-

The schools will spend a prohibitive $1,603,317 on administration alone. That’s up 5.27% from last year. Add 30% in benefits, and you arrive at $482,217. Total true cost of the PSD administration: $2,089,616

2. THE SHELL GAME

Look at the final budget request for the schools. The city tells you the schools will receive $57,234,399, or 38% percent of the total city budget.

Bullspit.

The true total must add the cost of:

— providing health and other insurances;

— pensions;

— running and maintaining bus service for a fleet of more than 60 vehicles;

— maintenance and other miscellaneous costs.

You ask, why must we add these costs to obtain the true cost of running city schools? Reason: With cooperation of the city, the PSD hides these costs in the “city side” of the spending plan. To extract the figures, one must provide reasonable estimates. THE PLANET has figured conservatively.

*Insurances — $25 million (schools have 85% of the city’s expenses on salary). Remember that 85% of the school department budget goes to compensate staff.

* Pension — $12 million

* Buses — $6 million

* Maintenance and miscellaneous — $1 million

Consequently, a reasonable estimate of hidden costs to run the PSD is $35 million

Total true cost of the PSD to taxpayers: 57,234,399 + $44 million = $102,234,399. This doesn’t count about $7 million in federal money. This is not 38%. This is 70%. This also doesn’t include the loss of almost $4 million from the almost 500 students who have been taken out of the Pittsfield Public Schools to attend another county school through the school-choice program.

3. THREE SCHOOL BUDGETS UNDER MAYOR BIANCHI

The Empty Suit is the only mayor in the past generation (Smith, Wojtkowski, Reilly, Doyle, Hathaway, Ruberto) who has not either cut the overall budget, cut the school budget, or at least level-funded schools. Every other mayor had at least a moment or two of “getting it.” The pipsqueak has only hiked spending.

Bianchi only knows the politics of finances, not the realities of finances — and finances were supposed to be this guy’s area of expertise. When they call in the “experts,” you can expect a hosing. The mayor’s three FY budgets are as follows:

FY13 — $53,806,701

FY14 — $55,524,399

FY15 — $57,234,399.

——- 000 ——-

Notice how the final four digits of the FY14 budget and the FY15 request are the same. This is the “smoking gun” clue that arriving at a school budget is not a matter of matching actual needs with available funds. Rather, it is a game where finance directors Kristen “Tex” Behnke (schools) and Carmel (city) simply plug in % increases from the previous year’s total. If this budget process were actual, the results would never come in the same, with one notable exception: If the school budget were frozen from one year to the next. Sue Carmel. Yes, why don’t we?

Kristen “Tex” Behnke and Sue “The Empty High Heels II” Carmel obviously understand their jobs in a different way than THE PLANET and taxpayers. The latter (us) expect fiscal responsibility. The former (them) expect to don knee pads to please their greedy bosses.

——- 000 ——-

When JLO, The Suits, and the rest of The Special Interests “complain” how taxpayers are cheating the PSD, don’t take it.

Get in their faces. Tell them you vote.

Even if you don’t.

Remember: “It’s for the Children.”

Have a great weekend everybody!

——————————————————————————–

“I don’t try to imagine a personal God; it suffices to stand in awe at the structure of the world, insofar as it allows our inadequate senses to appreciate it.”Albert Einstein

“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”

LOVE TO ALL.

 

26 Responses to “TIME ONCE AGAIN TO ‘OUT’ SCHOOL BUDGET FAKERY”

  1. Empty Suit Salesman
    May 30, 2014 at 8:53 am #

    Dan,

    This highly overpaid and corrupt Mayor and City council can lead the taxpayers to slaughter but they can’t make em think.

  2. Scott
    May 30, 2014 at 9:23 am #

    Thanks Dan, the PSD is top heavy and bloated. I forget exactly how it’s worded but being overweight is a condition of sickness and sickness is a condition of being overweight. Except when it comes to politics in Pittsfield it’s the people making the right choices who are suffering.

  3. anadaWell
    May 30, 2014 at 9:49 am #

    Tex Behnke,really?

    • EddieP
      May 30, 2014 at 3:54 pm #

      The orchestra leader???

  4. Jonathan Melle
    May 30, 2014 at 3:33 pm #

    I don’t know the law and policies about municipal budgeting. But my guess is that if the city government included all of the related items in the school budget, then it would impact the amount of Chapter 70 state aid the municipality receives for its public school district. By low-balling the school budget, Pittsfield may get more Chapter 70 state aid. It may be a strategy to get as much state aid as possible to keep taxes from being raised even higher on the local level.
    So why the budget gimmicks in Pittsfield politics?
    If an organization has multiple sources of revenues like the city of Pittsfield does, the budget can take money from one pot of gold and put it into another pot. It is called “complementing” funds. Pittsfield can take some of the Chapter 70 state aid dollars for its public schools and spend it on, say, Downtown Revitalization for the arts on North Street. State dollars for roads may be diverted to tax credits for a business like Spice.
    This is what happened to Social Security. The federal government took the surplus funds from Social Security and spent it on everything else under the Sun since the times of FDR through Obama.
    Pittsfield is presenting a phony budget to get as much revenue as possible from the federal and state government. Pittsfield doesn’t care about its public schools as much as its municipal coffers.

  5. Jonathan Melle
    May 30, 2014 at 3:55 pm #

    Pittsfield politics does NOT care about:
    * the People who pay taxes
    * Senior Citizens who live on a fixed income
    * Young adults who rely on welfare
    * the working poor, the under-employed, and the unemployed
    * its unsafe streets, violence, crime, drugs, and gangs
    * its poorly performing public school system

    Pittsfield politics takes care of:
    * the Good Old Boy network
    * the Vested Interests
    * the Arts in the Downtown area
    * its phony budgets
    * citizen and voter apathy

  6. Lenny
    May 30, 2014 at 5:13 pm #

    @ Jonathan

    Massachusetts has a formula for determining Chapter 70 funds. Here it is in its most simple form, I’m leaving out a few extras that add to the calculations slightly.

    1) MA calculates the “Foundation Budget” what the state considers the minimum spending required to provide an adequate education.

    2) MA calculates the “Required Local Contribution” which is the community’s ability to based on local property value and local income level. The state uses a multiplier for example in FY14, 0.355 x property valuation + 1.54 x income level.

    3) Chapter 70 aid is the difference between 1 & 2 to fill the “gap”.

    For FY2014 Pittsfield, the state calculated:
    1) Foundation Budget of $67,796,004
    2) Municipal Contribution of $28,757,787
    3) Chapter 70 aid of $39,290,438
    Adding in the few extras of $252,229, the state mandated that Pittsfield spends no less than $68,048,225 for FY14.

    http://www.doe.mass.edu/finance/chapter70/chapter_cal.pdf

    In summary, a community can spend more, but will not get more state aid.

    • Jonathan Melle
      May 30, 2014 at 5:46 pm #

      Thank you for the information. Pittsfield receives a lot of money for its municipal budget from state aid. I wish it would make a difference in its educational performance results.

  7. downtown dweller
    May 30, 2014 at 7:12 pm #

    Why is there an assistant superintendent for personnel and a
    separate HR director. In most businesses aren’t they pretty much
    the same thing?

    • joetaxpayer
      May 31, 2014 at 8:08 am #

      Why is there even a position called Dean of Students. Give me a break you already have a Principal and a Vice Principal.

      • Teecha teecha
        June 2, 2014 at 7:15 am #

        Principal does outside business, vice principal runs the internal business type stuff. E.g. Staff. Dean of students is the disciplinarian. At the middle and high school levels it’s necessary at this point because of common cores, MCAS and all the bureaucratic junk the Principal has no time for dealing with punks.

  8. Jonathan Melle
    May 30, 2014 at 8:22 pm #

    NEWS ARTICLE –

    “Pittsfield mayor rolls out ‘level-services’ budget; spending up 2.66 percent”
    By Jim Therrien, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 5/30/2014

    PITTSFIELD — Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi has submitted to the City Council a $141.2 million fiscal 2015 budget plan he termed a “maintenance budget or a level-services budget.”

    The total reflects a $3.65 million, or 2.66 percent increase over the current city budget for the July-to-June fiscal year.

    As proposed, the budget would require a 4.54 percent increase in the tax levy, which at $73.5 million is up by $3.1 million over the current year.

    Broken down, the municipal budget is proposed at $75.9 million, or 3.63 percent higher, and the school budget is proposed at $56.5 million, a 1.8 percent increase.

    “This fiscally sound budget is developed to prepare the city of Pittsfield to be able to lay the foundation for important initiatives in the future development of Pittsfield,” Bianchi said.

    He said a significant factor in the city tax levy increase was the comparatively small state aid increase of 0.91 percent. Projected aid to the city totals $49.2 million.

    A section of the document also estimates that if all property were taxed at a single rate, that rate would be $22 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, compared to the same single rate for this year of $21.03 per $1,000 valuation.

    He said the budget includes allocations for downtown parking management, continued downtown streetscape improvements and toward construction of a new public works garage to replace the facility damaged in a 2012 fire.

    The mayor unveiled a $10.8 million capital spending plan for next year, listing several investments he said will streamline city operations for greater efficiencies going forward.

    Among the capital proposals, Bianchi listed a reorganization plan to locate all inspection services personnel together to make those easier for contractors and residents to access; the purchase of computer software to allow an online format for applying for city permits, which now can require visits to more than one office; and purchase of five smaller first-response vehicles for the fire department (costing $270,000) to reduce the need for initially responding with a larger vehicle.

    The mayor also noted that he has asked the city’s Ambulance Review Committee to examine the feasibility of “dispatching ambulance services from fire stations to enhance critical response time.”

    The council will begin its section-by-section review of the city budget on Saturday, June 7, and conclude with an evening session on Thursday, June 12, on the school portion of the budget.

    Bianchi listed as key drivers of the budget increase a $700,000 hike for public safety expenditures for personnel overtime, a $450,000 increase in city employee pension-related costs, and a $1.2 million increase in debt service related to several city projects in recent years.

    Councilors referred the mayor’s budget requests to the Committee of the Whole, or the entire council, which will review the proposal.

    Ward 5 City Councilor Jonathan Lothrop, reached after the short noontime meeting, said his initial thought is that the Bianchi’s plan “really is a maintenance budget.”

    However, Lothrop said he will be asking specific questions about a number of budget items, such as what percentage of project costs will be reimbursed through state or federal aid or grants and what percentage the city will pay.

    Lothrop said about $5.5 million in priority work on streets and roads has been identified, and he would want to know how much of that will be included in the next budget.

    Other aspects of the mayor’s proposed budget include $200,000 toward a planned turf field at Berkshire Community College, $39,005 for a crime scene vehicle, $500,000 toward downtown parking management improvements; $100,000 for improvements at Wahconah Park, and $100,000 toward radio replacement for the Police Department.

    Link:
    http://www.berkshireeagle.com/news/ci_25867639/pittsfield-mayor-rolls-out-lsquo-level-services-rsquo

  9. billy
    May 31, 2014 at 3:18 am #

    watch more for sale signs go up. These guys are clueless.Last one out shut the lights off.

  10. dusty
    May 31, 2014 at 3:49 am #

    The bottom line is that Pittsfield is a bad investment for a young couple starting out their lives , family and future. You cannot get ahead financially when you wallet is bleeding from a huge hole in it in the form of govt taxes and fees. It would be one thing if this tax money was being spent to better your live in a significant manner but fancy pocket parks and self watering planters are not really the answer. And do you want to send your child to school in Pittsfield? Before you answer perhaps you should talk to the parents who have decided to send their children elsewhere. And these parents by the way include teachers and administrators in the very school system they oversee.

    This is a city whose roads you might not want to take your horse and buggy over lest your horse twist an ankle. This is a city who has been wrestling with their North street parking problem for 30 years and is still hiring consultants to state the obvious.

    This is a city whose city council has members elected with the help of special interests and whom work diligently for them and not the tax paying citizens they vowed to honorably represent.

    This is a city in debt which continues to spiral wildly out of control and if you own a home or business and are not on the discounted, friend of the govt list, you will bleed cash trying to prop it up.

    If you are a senior without a closet full of old money it is just a matter of time be fore you cannot afford to pay these taxes and your home will be taken.

    People should include in their disaster planning just what their options are should the city of Pittsfield swallow them up. Obviously many are, as the wiser of them have or are making plans to try their luck elsewhere. Do your homework people and don’t wait till it is too late. You owe it to your family not to bog them down in a low percentage future.

    This is a public service message..of sorts

    • A clockwork orange
      May 31, 2014 at 8:27 am #

      Good points Dusty

      The whole logistics of Pittsfield politics amounts to legal larceny.
      “Vote them out” sounds good on paper but the reality is that election after election, years after years, the bleeding goes on. It does not matter what a candidate promises when running because once they get elected, they tow the line.

      The mass exodus requires that you sell your home and transfer the burden to someone else. Who really owns your home?
      Don’t pay your taxes and you will find out.

      The elderly who have made Pittsfield their home all their lives are in essence trapped as the task of pulling up stakes and moving onto greener pastures can be quite daunting. If the city does not take their property, the cost of health care and nursing homes surely will.

      The young people with half a brain have already left or are in the process of leaving. The tax base is running on fumes of what money is left from General Electric’s presence.

      The Mayor and city council truly do not care about the people of Pittsfield. I don’t think anyone will be able to say “didn’t see that coming” once the city of Pittsfeld files bankruptcy.

    • Phil
      May 31, 2014 at 3:27 pm #

      Great message Dusty I agree fully.

  11. Nota
    May 31, 2014 at 6:13 am #

    A 700,000 increase for personel overtime? Nice!

  12. EddieP
    May 31, 2014 at 7:21 am #

    $200,000 for a turf field at BCC? Where’s that money really going? $39,000 for a crime scene vehicle? They already have one and it’s parked on Columbus Ave. Half a million for parking management improvements? Another consultant found the end of a rainbow. What else can you do to Wahconah Park to improve it that will make a difference? It still floods and unless they mitigate this problem, they are just wasting money.
    I see a lot of PORK here Questions need to be asked.

  13. joetaxpayer
    May 31, 2014 at 8:13 am #

    Eddie,funny thing about the 200,000 for turf field is at least the kids will get to use it, unlike Devalporktrics multi million dollar spending on the Common.

  14. Mad Trapper
    May 31, 2014 at 1:39 pm #

    Dear Dan,

    This budget morASS is in every city and town.

    ASSminidaTRIATORS making way too much , while producing NADA.

    NOT a bit of teaching and just HUGE LEACHES.

    Disgusted in Lenox,

    MT

  15. levitan
    May 31, 2014 at 7:13 pm #

    Archie Bunker for mayor. Otherwise, Dusty, most all cities, towns, villages, and households are run by special interests.

    Family in a nearby NYS village dislodged their cronies/crooks from the local government and brought in their own clean slate.

    Now, they are looking to find a way to give them the boot, but all ingrown toenails are hard to extirpate.

  16. billy
    June 1, 2014 at 2:36 am #

    City manger,every town has on in the county except North Adams and Pittsfield.North Adams went broke and were on our way to going broke.

  17. billy
    June 1, 2014 at 2:45 am #

    The mayors staff is jumping ship at city hall, I don’t know who is left other than the solicitor.

  18. dusty
    June 1, 2014 at 2:50 am #

    Levitan, I would agree that almost all municipalities are at least partly run by special interests. It is the inevitable nature of men and power. And I could probably accept and live with some degree of that. But at some point the greed and nepotism and folly of creating no show jobs for friends that suck up taxpayer dollars destroys moral.
    The spending of huge amounts of dollars to “beautify” the downtown is a joke. It is simply a way for special interests to get their hands on large amounts of taxpayer dollars and I would guess a fair amount of that is siphoned off for “administrative costs”. (Notice I did not use either of the words graft or kickbacks.)

    Didja hear about the new $200 million dollar school the city is going to build? Do you really think Johnny and Bethany are going to come out of that school any better educated than the kids from PHS? Do you think either anyone on the school committee or mayor believe that ? No they do not!

    So I can accept a certain amount of inevitable special interest control of a city. But when you pile greed on top of greed on top of greed it kind of melts the bonding that is necessary to hold a city together. When the special interests become the insatiable parasites that feed on the hard worker taxpayer people need to find their own way out from under.

    One thing for sure is that Bianchi is not going to be the solution because he is obviously a large part of the problem.
    By the way is it in the new city charter that any future mayors will take the mayors job seriously enough to give up their other jobs? If it is not we should amend the amendment.

  19. Gene
    June 1, 2014 at 6:30 pm #

    Bianchi = Bust
    Planet = Truth

    • danvalenti
      June 2, 2014 at 6:16 pm #

      I like the math.