Article

SCHOOL CONSTRUCTION UNNECESSARY, BUT THE SUITS WANT IT, MAKING IT A DONE DEAL; COSTS COULD TOP $200 MILLION … TAXPAYERS, GUESS WHO WILL BE PAYING? GOTTA MIRROR?

By DAN VALENTI

PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary

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(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, WEEKEND EDITION, AUG. 1-3, 2014) — The headline in The Boring Broadsheet said it all: “Committee wants new school: In a 16-1 vote, the School Building Needs Committee chooses the most expensive option.”

The SBNC paid lip services to a “concern for high costs,” but bottom line is that the SBNC caved to The Suits, who are dictating policy.

“This is a new milestone for this commission and the city of Pittsfield,” said Kathy Amuso, co-chair of the SBNC and councilor-at-large. Right. Thus far, the SBNC has been kept away from the power tools. This time, the power saw is plugged in and hovering over the taxpayers’ wallets. The city’s  ”new milestone” is stepping so assuredly toward a financial meltdown.

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New THS Construction Not Justified

The time is long gone to say “no” to the continued, reckless raid on the public’s funds by the “leaders” and policy makers of Pittsfield. The overblown budget was bad enough, with taxes rising another 5%. The proposed “overbuilding” of a “$130 million” campus to replace Taconic High School, however, cannot be justified on the grounds its supporters have presented.

The initial estimated cost is $125.5 million, but after cost overruns, delays, re-dos, and the like, it will likely hit $200 million. That will allow for kickbacks, payoffs, bribes, and other “inducements,” if any, should they be part of the deal, not that such a thing would or could happen in Pittsfield.

Communities more enlightened  than Pittsfield (Pittsburgh, Pa.; Seattle, Wash.; Orange County, Calif.; Great Barrington, Mass.; to name a few) have rejected this raid on the taxpayers’ treasury, the old “let’s go crazy and build schools.”

Supporters of “bilden unerfahren schule” (as we say in German) have framed the argument so that opposition — even the most analytical, accurate, and astute — comes off as a form of child abuse. Remember, its always for “The Children.”

Nonsense.

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In Some Places, Taxpayers Actually Say ‘No’ to ‘The Suits.’

In South County, voters rejected a $50 million renovation of Monument Mountain High School in Great Barrington. In a previous column, THE PLANET wrote about a scandal that has strapped Broward County, Fla., taxpayers. There, school officials in cahoots with local contractors, lobbyists, and government officers borrowed $350 million for excess, unneeded school construction projects. The debt service on the loans are crippling residents.

In Wake County, Georgia, the Raleigh News Observer reports, “leaders of the Wake County Taxpayers Association charged Wednesday that the proposed $810 million school construction bond issue is not needed and will create an excessive tax burden for people.”

Broward County taxpayers are enraged that their school superintendent hired 1,800 new teachers in spite of plunging attendance. It’s part of the game played by cities and communities across America: School Funding Bunco. The Suits (an amalgam of local big shots, elected officials, and other “players”) pick taxpayers dry by seeing that toady school boards and commissions allow the heists. The makeup of such boards and committee, as well as most positions of power, come from a “safe list” of local lap dogs, “community pillars” all. The Suits then use public apathy and private money to rig elections.

At the top of this scheme, you will often find a superintendent with a contract so rich that he or she doesn’t dare challenge why enrollments and academic performance are dropping.

As in Pittsfield, school committees sing unqualified praise for the superintendent in dense, vacuous language sure to snuff out any remaining sparks of citizen interest in the government they own. Here’s an example from an article published on BrowardBeat.com:

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Administrative Gobbledygook

School Board Chair Laurie Rich Levinson read a long list of “achievements” [superintendent] Runcie “accomplished.”  Here is some of them in typical school system gobbledygook:

“Creation of the cadre director model to provide administrative support and mentoring opportunities for our school based leaders; the development of an academics division to align the work of four critical administrative support areas…the establishment of a portfolio services division to comprehensively manage the District’s portfolio of schools and innovative programs, the innovation of new support services department like the Business Support Center; a department centrally servicing the budget and bookkeeping needs….a program management model for the management of the District’s capital construction program….”

Confused?  Here is one Runcie achievement in plain language:

“The District was able to hire approximately 1,890 new teachers in 2012 (The District non-renewed over 1,400 teachers in the year prior to Superintendent Runcie’s appointment)…”

(Don’t you just love that phrase “non-renewed?”)

Of course, no mention of why the school system needed 1,800 more teachers since the enrollment has been dropping.  The Sun-Sentinel reported September 11 that the “district-run schools saw a drop of 2,500” students this year, while charter schools gained 4,300.

“With the outcome of the bond issue to be decided on Oct. 8, leaders of the anti-tax group said they were “laying out all their guns” Wednesday to urge the public to reject the measure. Opponents of the bond issue attacked the academic performance of the school district while charging that enrollment projections are inflated and that there are thousands of empty seats in the district.”

“It seems to us the school board consistently overestimates student needs, growth projections, student achievement and their financial wants to justify new and extravagant spending,” said Ed Jones, chairman of the taxpayers association, in a video produced by the group. “And they consistently ignore the impact of ever higher and higher taxes on the people of Wake County. That must change.”

Early voting has begun on a bond measure that would pay for most of a $939.9 million construction program that includes 16 new schools, six major renovation projects, smaller repairs at 79 schools and other projects.

With the election less than two weeks away, both sides are becoming more active. On Tuesday, supporters of the bonds held a news conference at Garner High School to drum up support, saying passage would help Wake keep up with projections that show that enrollment could grow by as many as 20,000 students by 2018, to more than 170,000.”

That was in September 2013. Voters rejected the measure.

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Costs ‘Unknown,” State Reimbursement Uncertain

At a recent meeting of the SBNC, Carl Franceschi of DRA Architects presented this gem: Franceschi said final costs would be 25% higher than the construction estimates. The SBNC let the remark passed unchallenged. Franceschi repeated the “warning” again this week.

The state is “expected” to cover 80% of the construction costs. Actual reimbursement, however, could be far less than that since the Commonwealth’s formula for reimbursement changes based on “rules and standards” no one locally seems to understand. This was repeated again on Monday. Franchesechi said the state would not cover the maximum of 80% of the costs.

For example, the state only covers about 8% of site work. Also, the state allows a maximum of $287/sq. ft. in reimbursement for building a new school. Franceschi said Pittsfield costs would be $360/sq/ft.,  per square foot. The consultant admitted the state’s reimbursement figures “lag reality.”

“I’m a little nervous that if we pick one of the [design] options, we won’t know the costs down the road,” Franceschi said.

He’s a “little nervous.” The SBNC, the school superintendent, the school committee, the city council, and the mayor aren’t nervous at all, since they have made up their minds to build the THS albatross, regardless of the cost or the community’s ability to pay.

Comforting thought, eh?

———————————————————————

“Freedom is an illusion.” — Voice of supercomputer Colossus (voiced by Paul Frees), Colossus: The Forbin Project, (1971).

“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”

LOVE TO ALL.

33 Responses to “SCHOOL CONSTRUCTION UNNECESSARY, BUT THE SUITS WANT IT, MAKING IT A DONE DEAL; COSTS COULD TOP $200 MILLION … TAXPAYERS, GUESS WHO WILL BE PAYING? GOTTA MIRROR?”

  1. William Pitt II
    August 1, 2014 at 3:53 am #

    Here it is.
    The Mother load.
    The crowning jewel.
    The Holy Grail.

    Both the Mayor and the City Council have proven beyond any shadow of any doubt that they don’t care about what the taxpayers can afford. The people be damned.

    Taxpayers, their children, their grandchildren and great grandchildren will be strapped with this debt.

    Remember Madame Mazzeo saying when speaking about raising taxes a few years ago on the people: “We have to.”

    If you don’t pack your bags and leave Pittsfield you will be there when the certain to come bankruptcy sets in.

    Pittsfield already has two high schools which they cannot afford the upkeep on. Not all taxpaying citizens have children in school. They need a new high school like a hole in the head.

    Remember, if you don’t pay your taxes, the city will take your house. The elderly on a fixed income pay the bulk of the taxes. Many of whom raised their children already and paid their taxes all their lives. Taxpayers cannot afford this and they should not have to.

    Both the Mayor and every single member of the city council should be recalled and outed. The entire school department should be shut down. The indoctrination of “the children” should stop now. People who have children should educate their own children. Stop this out of control madness.

  2. Ron Kitterman
    August 1, 2014 at 3:53 am #

    “ Franceshchi gave more specific information for the first time on the likely level of state funding for the entire project some of which would not qualify for 80% reimbursement. He said typically such a project would receive in the neighborhood of 65 -70% of the total cost from the state. “
    Translation, Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em….

  3. BOC
    August 1, 2014 at 5:54 am #

    I am sure the majority of Pittsfield residents, the ones who actually pay taxes that is, are against the building of the new school. That of course, ensures it will go through with no problem.
    Just wait until the request for more teachers and administrators comes about, you know, in order for the new school to function properly.

  4. Spider
    August 1, 2014 at 8:01 am #

    Speaking of the taxpayers money, can anyone tell us what the actual total amount that exists in the so called “free cash” fund that the mayor is dipping into.

    We sure could use some of that for our hideous roads.

  5. Kate Dempsey
    August 1, 2014 at 8:29 am #

    Dan, if TES doesn’t get his super-school, how will the students of Pittsfield learn the three “R’s” that they will need after graduation….OK, prior to them dropping out in 10th grade? You know: Robbing, Raping, and Rolling Blunts?

  6. Jonathan Melle
    August 1, 2014 at 11:04 am #

    Pittsfield politics is not a financially rational entity! Pittsfield politics spends more and more money every year, while thousands of people flee the area to escape all of Pittsfield’s problems, such as very high taxes, a dangerous downtown with violence, drugs, gangs, and poverty, poorly performing public schools, high per capita welfare caseloads, scarce economic opportunities, and the like.
    Pittsfield politics’ finances are unsustainable!

  7. donna walto
    August 1, 2014 at 11:19 am #

    Like The Clark, the City of Pittsfield needs to consult with architects who are the tops in their field and are able to look forward with art and architecture transforming the current Taconic High School into a forward thinking rendition of the current building. This high school was built when this city was flourishing. One year of double sessions at PHS will not hurt our students. In the 1960′s with almost 900 students in my class we had 24 National Merit Semi-finalists. I have hope and faith in the City of Pittsfield however, the spending of millions of dollars in a city that is on the eve o f economic destruction can not continue. This City is still supported on the aging pensions of the retires of “THE G.E.”. In a few years, when this generation is no longer with us we will be another Detroit or Youngstown. With no strong leadership in economic development this city unfortunately is doomed. We need leadership that understands entrepreneurial spirit and leadership. This city flourished when the businessmen of Pittsfield invested in the idea of William Stanley. While we call the PEDA site William Stanley Business Park, no economic leadership has been evident in the last 15 years. We again tor down historic buildings that could have catapulted our economic industry, that contained no PCB’s but like Plunkett School out with the old in with the new dunkin donuts. The new idea from the “corner office” to move public offices from our city hall to private property is not prudent and not wise. Peter Arlos, “THE GREEK GOD” , “if they are all eating from the public trough” what economic development engine like “THE G.E.” will be here to support this community. John Fitzgerald Kennedy said and I quote, “We need to celebrate the past to awaken the future”. Let us heed his words.

    • Dave
      August 1, 2014 at 3:36 pm #

      Donna, with all due respect, “we” didn’t tear down the old Plunkett school. The people who bought this property(at least 2 different owners since the sale by the city) decided that it would be more economically sound to tear down and build new instead of renovate. SOUND F@@@ING FAMILIAR!!!SBNC!!!!!!! If the city still owned the property it would probably still be demolished but be the site of a new state of the art one of a king elementary school that would bring in yutes from far and wide. The new spray park that will be in the new Common would be classified as an economic engine for drawing students that want a better recess!

    • C. J.
      August 2, 2014 at 4:33 am #

      Councilman Nick Caccamo, the youngest city councilor was discussing Pittsfield’s economic status on talk radio and when asked about the workforce sustainabilty of his younger generation, he said they have found goog jobs as teachers, police officers, and firemen. Hello! Public trough. Taxpayers.

    • downtown dweller
      August 3, 2014 at 4:09 pm #

      You had almost 900 students in your class?! That sounds really
      high. Twenty four National Merit Semi-finalists is nice but it’s only 2.66% of 900 students. How do the two city high schools rank in that regard today?

      I do agree with everyone else that the move out of city hall is not the best use of city money. Use it to fix the roads. If you’re trying to entice business to come here, having them greeted by crappy roads isn’t going to do it. I think this move allows the mayor to spend more time at his non-city job and is essentially givivg the finger to the residents of Pittsfield and to the city councilors who rejected his budget.

      I’m willing to bet more people use city roads than go to city hall looking for permits. Get your priorities straight Mr. Mayor.

  8. dusty
    August 1, 2014 at 12:11 pm #

    Dan, you say that the SBNC caved to the suits. They did not “cave” at all. 90% of them were hand picked because they would vote as told to. Elsewise they would not have even been asked to be on that committee. I am saying that the whole thing was rigged from the time someone dreamed up the project. It is boilerplate Massachsettes politics. The overrun costs will cover the kickbacks and graft and will be in the tens of millions just like for the Colonial and the Pittsfield airport.

    If the city had a respectable newspaper this kind of fraud would be highlighted and the citizens would be up in arms. But the local paper may be controlled much the same as puppet politicians with promises of gratuity. Why else would they be so hush hush about otherwise juicy stories that normal newspapers generally chase down with their tongues hanging out?

  9. B Scofo
    August 1, 2014 at 12:26 pm #

    My question is, why wasn’t Taconic built soundly in the first place? PHS hasn’t asked for an entire new school — it’s beautiful and well-organized (although, renovations do need to be made inside, perhaps over the summer. Not a complete overhaul, but some things) and doesn’t need to be demolished.

    How do citizens show their dismay over this until election day? Can we organize a protest? DV, can you rally people, mark a time and place? We all talk amongst ourselves here, but it would be nice to actually, physically meet up and show our attention.

    • Wilson
      August 1, 2014 at 5:21 pm #

      Apparently the major problem with Taconic is that the shops with their loud power tools are not closer to the classrooms. It’s all BS, the roof leaks, and possibly the furnace is worn out, that’s normal wear-and-tear and Bianchi could probably “find” the money under the cushion of his chair. Wait and see, once the construction companies have pocketed this money, there will suddenly be an urgent need to build something else, they’ve already laid the groundwork for a new police station, Collingwood is dreaming up water projects larger than the Hoover Dam, “streetscaping” is on course to be a 100-year project, and god knows what nonsense will be erected at William Stanley

      • Sticker Shock
        August 2, 2014 at 4:00 am #

        This will not stop with a new high school. These projects will be endless. They will keep chipping away at your money until they get it all or until the city goes bankrupt whichever comes first: or both.

        You can choose to just ignore this as it seems most people have. I believe it was Charles Trzcinka on here who once said, “you can choose to ignore the government but the government will not ignore you.”

        The figures for the new coming tax rate have been estimated to rise 5% but the fact is, it has not been set yet. This unbridled uncontrolled spending will just go on and on and on. The money the mayor seeming came up with out of thin air in actuality did not. Its your money. To spend it on moving government offices to a private landlord is money that has to be taken away from something else. Remember the councilmen have said there is no money to fix the roads.

        Raising taxes and fees and borrowing is the the only way the city gets its money. It all comes from “we the people”. At some point, the people have to rise up and say “enough” already. Apparently we have not reached that point yet.

    • BOC
      August 2, 2014 at 6:10 pm #

      Taconic was built soundly. It was not built ‘to last 30 years’ like TFB and others have said. It’s all a bunch of BS from lying politicians (as if there are any other kind).

  10. B Scofo
    August 1, 2014 at 12:35 pm #

    In addition: the BUILDING doesn’t make a school — the TEACHERS do. If you have good, qualified, PROVEN teachers who make a difference in these kids lives, and are shown to actually be suited for the job, the school will flourish. Kids aren’t stupid. At the end of the year, if many complain, chances are the teachers is bad. The majority of kids will recognize that a teacher is doing their job if they’re doing their job. It’s not about the building. Ditch MCAS, ditch these awful forms of standardized testing and let the teachers TEACH. Keep the good ones, ditch the bad. It’s obvious, just not politically correct , to identify awful “teachers.” A lot of those awful teachers that the administration, students, fellow teachers, and yes, parents CONSISTENTLY complain about end up trying to pull one over on the school district by chalking their firing up to “discrimination.” A few come to mind, just do a quick google search.

    To sum it up: the teachers make the school, not the building.

  11. Nota
    August 1, 2014 at 1:29 pm #

    5th inning Fern Creek 3….Force 0

  12. Kevin
    August 1, 2014 at 3:00 pm #

    Relentless…and right. That’s how I describe this website. Thanks DV. At least someone has the courage to tell it like it is.

    • Dave
      August 1, 2014 at 6:49 pm #

      Allie Hunt may be the best softball player from Pittsfield ever !

      • T-bone
        August 2, 2014 at 3:07 pm #

        For a girl you mean. Right?

  13. dusty
    August 2, 2014 at 3:41 am #

    What did they say was going t happen to the old Taconic? Will it be torn down or sold cheap to a friend of the mayor? Can Stanley get it and turn it into another free movie theater?

  14. Scott
    August 2, 2014 at 3:48 am #

    I think we should invest in education
    And out youth But it’s clear with them dropping technology and entertainment it’s not what’s in the best interest of our future generations it’s inly in their wallets.

  15. MrG1188
    August 2, 2014 at 6:52 am #

    How soon they forget! Allie Hunt’s a fine player but Brittany Breault was really good, actually played D1. Kara Nilan was an excellent pitcher. The McNiece girl from a few years ago was an amazing talent, and Karen Nailor (I think that’s the name…memory fogs) was a catcher from 8-10 years ago who was incredible.

  16. Tito
    August 2, 2014 at 7:30 am #

    Agree Dave. You’re also right on the announcers, accusing the opposing player of using a foreign substance after a meeting on the mound and saying she could get kicked out of the game? I think the reason for the mound conference was a timeout that was called by the batter and the pitcher stoping in the middle of the throw. To say the pitcher was using something from her thigh is ludicrous. The camera work was awful also, Allie hit some long ones and you couldn’t even follow the play. I went down there, some gentleman from the opposing team gave me some boiled peanuts, they were delicious.

  17. Tom Sakshaug
    August 2, 2014 at 1:13 pm #

    I’m OK with a new school if most of what we are being told regarding build vs. renovation costs and reimbursement rates is true…but we really don’t need two high schools in this town.
    Build a new one on the Taconic campus, convert PHS into a new City Hall with plenty of room for all the departmental offices and plenty of parking, and be done with it. If our population miraculously increases in the future, build another high school or add to the new one.

    The only reason I can imagine that we still have two schools is emotional clinging to the past. I’ve also heard the sports team opportunity concept, but I don’t buy it. Oh…I suppose there is always the employment of duplicate staffs. It’s time to downsize to match the existing and projected student population.

    And yeah, I pay plenty of taxes in Pittsfield.

    • ShirleyKnutz
      August 3, 2014 at 7:18 am #

      At least going to one High School would help pay for the new school. The whole problem with our education system is they are still stuck in the 1920′s. It would be nice for them to advance a little in their thinking because believe it or not there has been some progress since then.

    • levitan
      August 3, 2014 at 2:08 pm #

      Tip ‘o the hat to you, sir. One school, one administration (and smaller than current) and we should be a model to the nation. Who in the ’40′s talked about ‘student deans’, Dean’s deans, student coaches, mentors, and more positions designed to prove the infinite range of dividing things by two.

      Just fire the lot and discover how much one secretary can (could) handle.

  18. levitan
    August 2, 2014 at 1:14 pm #

    Was not surprised that the letter detailing ‘successes’ did not mention the students in any form. Success should be measured by student success, but that success cannot be established in these days where there is no longer a philosophy to teaching. Some notion known as X Core has replaced an older philosophy of teaching that concerned the entire student mind. Consider questions of civics, science, athletics, classic literature that may in generations to come no longer be quotable since no one remembers them.

    Aim a cannon full of grape shot at the Nation’s assembled schools, public or private, and the odds that you’ll hit even one whose adminstration considers the above makes for a poor gamble.

  19. amandaWell
    August 2, 2014 at 2:41 pm #

    The Stockley girl was some player.

  20. Sillence Dogood
    August 2, 2014 at 5:12 pm #

    I suspect TES has gotten his hands on plans for a Hamas style terror tunnel from the corner office to 100 North St…..a TES tunnel.

  21. Ron Kitterman
    August 2, 2014 at 6:33 pm #

    I don’t know handing over a blank check book to a probable lame duck mayor just doesn’t seem to make sense to me

  22. dusty
    August 3, 2014 at 1:31 am #

    Sometimes when there is a disaster warning some people want to stay behind and wait it out. Forest fires burning homes in California. Hurricanes in North Carolina. Floods along the Mississippi.

    The people of Pittsfield are being warned of how they are and will continue to be, fleeced of their hard earned money by the people who run their city, both in front and behind the scenes. It is a very real issue and one that is very unlikely to get better any time soon. Not everyone has the where with all to be able to leave. But many of the smart ones see the hand writing on the wall and have already left or are making serious plans to do so. A few years from now many of those who decided to ride it out will deeply regret it.

  23. PopKornSutton
    August 3, 2014 at 3:15 pm #

    Hope the girls do well. But Softball is like watching paint dry.