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STATE TAKE-OVER OF HOLYOKE SCHOOLS BEARS EERIE SIMILARITY TO PITTSFIELD’S CHUMP DISTRICT … or … HOLYOKE TO PITTSFIELD: TOWN’S RECENT PAST A SHIRE CITY PROLOGUE

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By DAN VALENTI

PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary

(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, WEDNESDAY, JUNE 10, 2015) — Public schools have gotten so bad in Holyoke and school apologists there have refused for so long to take steps to improve the situation that the state will bring in what it calls an “independent education expert” to replace the administration. The town’s school are already under state receivership. Oh, that Pittsfield could have one of then guys to replace its latest “Jake.”

State control began in Holyoke following an 8-3 vote of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on April 28.

Bureaucratic Head-Burying Exacted a Fierce Cost

Those pushing reform of the “chronically underperforming” Level 5 Holyoke public schools were ignored for years as politicians allowed the system to pad its budget, increase the number of employees, and boost salary and benefit packages. Politicians ignored pleas for reform, forcing the state to take action. It is a “chronically underperforming”

The state receiver has the power to force all school district employees to reapply for their jobs. The receiver can also change the conditions of employment pertaining to compensation and benefits. For example, he or she can do away with tenure for teachers. We need one of them in Pittsfield.

Holyoke Public School District has 10 schools, including two high schools, Holyoke High and Dean Technical. The latter school, Holyoke’s newest built a few years ago, was pitched as an “economic engine” that would not only revive school performance but also revitalize the city’s moribund economy. Sound familiar?

Neither promise came true.

Pittsfield: A Parallel Universe

Ladies and gentlemen, do you see an eerie parallel between Holyoke and Pittsfield. Consider that both districts:

  • Ignored calls for reform
  • Drove bigger budgets, salary increases, and more staffing despite a severe drop in quality as measured by testing and student performance.
  • Touted an expensive new vo-tech school as the economic and academic savior despite little evidence for the claim.
  • Shut out voters from key decisions.

Holyoke and Lawrence are the only two state public school districts under state control. Will Pittsfield become the third? We can only hope.

State school commissioner Mitchell Chester has admitted the failure of Holyoke schools and recommend state control after the local board of education and the teachers’ union failed to recognize their complicity in the district’s system-wide default.

In Pittsfield, we have a political hack masquerading as superintendent that the Town of Lee couldn’t wait to palm off on the city. In his tenure as Pittsfield superintendent, Jason “Jake” “JIV” McCandless has done the opposite of Commissioner Chester. McCandless nosed up to The Suits in driving the district’s costs and obligations through the roof. He has become The Special Interests’ lap dog.  His masters include Mayor Dan Bianchi, the school committee, the school building needs commission, city treasurer Sue Carmel, and the city council.

Education Establishment Prefers Circling the Wagons Over True Reform

Back in Holyoke, a clueless coalition of teachers, parents, and students petitioned against state control. They pressured Chester, but he  refused to budge. The Holyoke Teachers Association has pledged to fight the takeover. Sergio Paez, Holyoke superintendent, predicted receivership would have “devastating” consequences.

Right. Pardon me if you’ve heard that one before.

You’ll see a similar display tomorrow nigh when the Pittsfield council “considers” the school budget. The tax-n-spenders will say Pittsfield taxpayers are gypping the school department, and they will pack the chambers with their Priuses and Elizabeth Warren bumper stickers — they’re “progressives, you see! — to put fear front-and-center before our Right Honorable Good Friends.

Points of Reform

In Pittsfield, the avenues of academic reform are clear:

  1. The problem isn’t money. The problem is control. With a budget topping $100 million, the Pittsfield Public School do not need one penny more. Authority over individual schools must be taken away from the superintendent and given to principals and teachers.
  2. The schools must insist on a new “smart” technology policy. This would include banning “smart” phones or severely regulating their use.
  3. Schools must reinstate closed campuses, especially PHS.
  4. All Pittsfield public schools should drop current dress “policies” and go with uniforms.
  5. Pittsfield must stop doctoring student records to artificially boost the graduation rate and stop issuing meaningless diplomas. Graduation today, drug dealing tomorrow.

That’s what SHOULD happen. The reality is, through, that Pittsfield has blocked reform. Not one city councilor, school committee member, school administrator, or the mayor, for example, advocated against the foolish expenditure of $121 million in borrowing for a new school that isn’t needed or wanted by the community. And not one of these “profiles in courage” has advocated regaining control over the out-of-control school budget and its equally out-of-control spending.

No, Pittsfield citizens. Instead, you get Kathy Yon, the creaking school committee chair, calling the revised admission policy for high school vocational programs “a wonderful step forward.” You get interim assistant superintendent Richard Brady  telling you the city wants to “invest” in vocational education, citing the $121 million white elephant.

They’ve stacked the deck, citizens and taxpayers. Until you rise up in massive numbers and take back the government you own, “They” will continue to stick it in.

Soap on a rope, anyone?

—————————————————————————————-

“A breath upon her hand / Muted the night.”Wallace Stevens, from “Peter Quince at the Clavier,” Verse II, (1915).

“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”

LOVE TO ALL.

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Pat
Pat
6 years ago

Great article Dan. Devastating in its comparison of Holyoke to Pittsfield. Pittsfield is in exactly the same circumstances as Holyoke and heading down the same road. Unbelievable that over 100 million goes to the greedy school lunatics and they still want more. Unbelievable that Holyoke also shut the voters out of key decisions. Not a word about this ever appeared in the BB and now I know why. I want to believe we can beat this at the voting booth, but there are so many on the side of the schools…all of the only looking for votes politicians and councilors and of course all of the greedy school people. Receivership may be in Pittsfield’s future and I can’t say I would feel bad about it. They would get what they all deserve.

Kathy Yon, the superintendent, everyone on the school committee are only looking out for the schools and themselves. The city and the rest of the needs of everyone else are not even considered by these people. The one track minded focus of these people is literally destroying a city. Kathy Yon thinks she is a hero and maybe to the greedy school people she is, but to the rest of us she is out of control in her obsession with giving more and more money to the schools. The same can be said of all of the others.

Jonathan Melle
Jonathan Melle
6 years ago

When 2/3rd’s of local students are from welfare families, Pittsfield’s public schools do not stand a chance at success, no matter how much money they receive from taxpayers. Over 600 hundred Pittsfield students choice out of Pittsfield public schools every year. Pittsfield politics finances are unsustainable and on the path to financial insolvency, state government receivership, and bankruptcy. Every single year, Pittsfield politics raises taxes and fees, increases spending, and adds to its massive debts every single year. It doesn’t matter if either Jimmy Ruberto or Danny Bianchi is in the corner office. The vested interests are bleeding the remaining local taxpayers dry.

poor boy
poor boy
6 years ago

Bianchi and those at the top of the pyramid probably already know where this school system scheme is heading. They just don’t care. They probably feel they have some time left. By the time this all catches up, people like Bianchi will be basking in rhe Florida sunshine enjoying all the Pittsfield city taxpayers money they gleaned from all these scams.

Bianchi could not less about the children. He won’t lose one wink of sleep worrying about a school system gone into insolvency and State receivership. Nope because by then, he will have gotten his huge chunk of the pie along with a few other select few.

Its all about money. Greed. Your money. “The children” are used as pawns to accomplish this massive scheme. Theres your economic engine.

Those torward the bottom of this pyramid like teachers with tenure, the teachers union and others who have become dependant on this scam will scream bloody murder. Bianchi and those handling him won’t care about them either. They will continue this cash cow and continue to milk the taxpayers until they collapse it and the State steps in.

What a web of corruption that has become deeply entrenched in Pittsfield politics.

joetaxpayer
joetaxpayer
6 years ago

Pittsfield is so much better than Holyoke. They only have a poultry 125.9 million dollar budget. We here in Pittsfield spend 145.9 . million for 2015. Obviously that makes Pittsfield superior, duh!

joetaxpayer
joetaxpayer
Reply to  joetaxpayer
6 years ago

Sorry 2015 152 million dollar budget

Paul
Paul
6 years ago

I can see future school administrators in Pittsfield coming from the administration officials they dump it Holyoke.

Spider
Spider
6 years ago

You are so right, Dan! Our City Council shouldn’t give our schools one penny more….but they will.

Our School Com. is being stacked with those in the teaching profession…..former teachers, teachers working in other districts, etc. As a matter of fact, a current SC candidate is a principal in another town. Get the message?

And then they migrate over to the CC and bring their agendas with them (Amuso, Cotton) and didn’t Caccamo also work for the school dept.?

And Yon and Cotton were successful in changing the rules so now the CC can ADD to the school budget.

Talk about a take over. This is like the creeping crud!

Waterman
Waterman
6 years ago

ONE of the facts that we who call for fiscal austerity must realize is the fact that we are just a small group who post here daily on the planet. THE Berkshire eagle being so biased has the population in the dark as to what is occurring in this city A few weeks ago I visited jim therrien and told him as much and he pretty much laughed at me. He said THE CAMPAIGN DOESNT START UNTILL AFTER LABOR DAY and I said my campaign has started 14 months ago. IT IS plainly evident that he has no intention of changing things. There was a time when a person announced their candidacy , the press would follow their ideas right up to the election.THIS biased reporting by most of the media around here has lead US to the govt. we have here now. When I visit the senior center, it is very evident that the folks there are in the dark as most of them get their news from thee BB. This is how special interest groups get a foot hold on a community as theY know the press will report one sided news only. THIS is a very serious situation. everyone on this site is a concerned CITIZEN who knows this rot is occurring and we must reach out to everyone we know to get involved and win this upcoming election. WITH ALL THINGS BEING EQUAL, I WOULD BE A LANDSLIDE VICTOR IN THE UPCOMING MAYORAL ELECTION BECAUSE MY COMPETITION IS SO WEAK BUT IF THE MEDIA DOESNT REPORT MY IDEAS, I COULD BE BEAT IN THE ELECTION. THIS is exactly why good candidates don’t run for office here. I knew this was going to be this way.STARTING NEXT WEEK, I WILL SUBMIT PRESS RELEASES OFTEN. NORMALLY WITH HONEST MEDIA THE RELEASES WOULD BE RELEASED TO THE PUBLIC VERBATIM. I WILL SEE HOW THIS GOES. IF THINGS DONT PROCEED FAIRLY, I MAY TAKE LEGAL ACTION AGAINST THE BB NEWS DEPT AS THEY HAVE LIBLED ME ON SEVERAL OCCASSIONS SINCE I HAVE ANNOUNCED FOR MAYOR. SOME TIMES, ONE HAS TO SACRIFICE THEMSELVES TO MAKE THINGS BETTER FOR EVERYONE AND I AM WILLING TO DO WHAT EVER IT TAKES TO MAKE OUR CITY A FAIR CITY TO LIVE IN. EVEN THOUGH IT WILL BE AN UPHILL BATTLE I AM NOT TO WORRIED AS I HAVE ALWAYS HAD TO COME FROM BEHIND IN MY LIFE. I KNOW THE GAME AND I KNOW HOW TO PLAY IY. BACK TO THE JUNGLE SINCERELY CRAIG.

Pat
Pat
Reply to  Waterman
6 years ago

You are sounding very interesting as a candidate. At least we are hearing your ideas which is more than I can say of Linda Tyer who has said nothing. Maybe she thinks she has the election won already and doesn’t need to speak out. Waiting until a month or so before the election is not a good campaign strategy and shortchanges voters who want to know what all of the candidates ideas are and why they should vote for you. Mr. Gaetani (Waterman) is doing a good job of stating his views on this site.

Jimmy Gee
Jimmy Gee
Reply to  Pat
6 years ago

No She is letting Waterman dig his own grave.

nostrodumbass
nostrodumbass
6 years ago

The new high school was the holy grail. They stacked the deck, denied the people a vote, railroaded it through and got it. Now all thats left is the reward.

They will keep this rip off of taxpayer money going but the big prize has been won. Watch now as the “unexpected” costs rise from $121 million to over $200 million, not including the pcb cleanup.

The people of Pittsfield are so gullible. Its like taking candy from a baby. The airport expansion/reconstruction did not include paving the main runway. Now they need another $3.5 million. I can’t believe people fell for this. Let’s see how creative or outright obvious they get with this school project overruns.

MrG8811
MrG8811
6 years ago

I believe some of us here sometimes become a bit blinded by the fervor for reform. 20 years ago teachers were disrespected and underpaid for what they do. The unions have done an excellent job of tipping the scales in the other direction. I think those situations have now been addressed and that the pendulum needs to swing the other way for a while. But I don’t think a drastic “throw ’em all out,” toss the baby with the bathwater approach serves anyone. At the very least, an open, honest, emotion-free discussion needs to occur pronto. We (all Berkshires districts) need to acknowledge the fact of shrinking enrollment to start. Then we need to start thinking about right-sizing the districts, administrations and all other employees. This is not just a Pittsfield problem. A major impediment to progress everywhere around these parts is the parochial approach all towns take to planning instead of planning across the county. It’s the same with transportation, jobs, etc. Each local town is treated as a private fiefdom, schools included. We should start with a collaborative bargaining agreement with all teachers and other school employees county-wide that annual raises AND step raises are no longer automatic. They certainly aren’t in the private sector, and I think teachers have made up enough ground against their private sector analogs that that is now affordable for them. Second, when retirements occur, those positions should not be filled until we reach the appropriate student teacher ratios. Third, performance based evaluation formats MUST be adopted and used immediately. Fourth, and finally for now, administrations must also be right-sized and appropriately salary scaled. For its size, Pittsfield does not need any Associate Assistant vice superintendents. Dan’s other suggested measures to take back the classrooms and put governance back in the hands of the individual schools are also quite compelling.

Waterman
Waterman
Reply to  MrG8811
6 years ago

L DAYS

Waterman
Waterman
Reply to  Waterman
6 years ago

MRG881-MAny of your ideas were discussed by me in my mayoral press conf. of 5-3 15. only DAN and I-berk attended. last week when I was a guest on DANS show I hoped to cover much more than I did but the time flew by. I did have my PC video taped. THE PROGRAM IS 3–HRS LONG’ AND I will release it on PCTV IN ONE hour sessions. I am going to join PCTV and am told I can produce my own shows.I am happy about this as it will be a vehicle to reach the citizens and more importantly to be able to expose the bb news as to what kind of a rag their news dept is in keeping the electorate in the dark, as to what is really happening in this city. I had some time this week to post quite a bit on the planet. It has been fun. BACK TO WORK TOMORROW. KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK ON THE PLANET.SINCERELY CRAIG

joetaxpayer
joetaxpayer
6 years ago

I have no problem with Pittsfield Public schools. Both my children attended k-12, both in college. But as you stated, this is not just a Pittsfield problem, changes must be made. Other districts are making changes, Pittsfield not so much. If we want to keep our 2 high schools we should go 8-12, and 5-7 in the middle schools. Then close 2 to 3 elementary s

Downtown Dweller
Downtown Dweller
6 years ago

Individuals who’ve qualified to be on the ballot so far:

http://pittsfieldgazette.com/index148.htm

Pat
Pat
6 years ago

The sad truth is that despite all of the massive amount of money spent on education in this city the average citizen isn’t that informed about what is going on in the city. There are too many low information people who head to the polls. This is why we keep getting these terrible people in the key positions and they are making lousy decisions for everyone except the school system which is raking in the money. They think they are heroes because they keep pushing all this money toward the schools. They will be the first ones to have the deer in the headlights look when the schools go into receivership. Your average voter in Pittsfield gets their information at the local bar or hot dog ranch and votes for somebody because they are related to somebody’s aunt or because they are friends with their brother. These are not earth shattering reasons to vote for somebody and the result of this stupid type of voting is stupid politicians and stupid people on the school committee and as councilors. They don’t see the big picture of the city and what it needs to be healthy and welcoming to all of the citizens. Only the school department is considered as important which is why the rest of the city is going down the tubes. Don’t get me wrong not all of these politicians are stupid. The ones at the top pulling the strings know what they are doing and are happy keeping the general public ignorant of what is really going on. In this way they get more power, money and influence. The public in this city needs to really wake up!!!!

Jonathan Melle
Jonathan Melle
Reply to  Pat
6 years ago

Pittsfield politics is like China because both Pittsfield and China have a one party political system!

$$$$$

A post by “Eric”, on August 22, 2008:

“The problem with local politics isn’t partisanship. We have a mayor [Jimmy Ruberto] whose brother was DA [the late-Anthony Ruberto]. We have a DA [David Capeless] whose father was Mayor. How many votes did Jerry Doyle Sr. buy [Mayor] Jerry Doyle Jr. with driveway aprons and apartments in public housing?[William] Smitty Pignatelli’s father was County Commissioner.[Chris] Speranzo’s grandfather was a Democrat mover and shaker and union [delegate]. Ben Downing’s father [Gerard Downing] was DA and his father enough of a political hack to have an industrial park named after him.[Andrea] Nuciforo’s [II] father [Andrea Nuciforo I] was a [State] Senator [and then a Judge], Uncle [Tom Wojtkowski] was a State Rep and Aunt a Mayor [Anne E. Wojtkowski].[Kevin] Sherman’s mother is a Del Gallo. The problem around here isn’t partisanship so much as nepotism and incest.”

Jimmy Gee
Jimmy Gee
Reply to  Pat
6 years ago

Run Pat Run

Linda
Linda
6 years ago

I am in total agreement with the specific reforms DV has suggested here, especially school uniforms. It is also a fact that the school dept is run by an ineffective supt. Cut school spending.

Tear Jerker
Tear Jerker
6 years ago

I had the opportunity to index a little leaguer on the North Side back 50 some year ago. The person retrieving the information had said this player hit some 30 home runs for his team and considered him the best player she ever saw, I chuckled at her and said give me the particular year and so on. Even I was amazed, this young man hit three to four a game, multiple five hit games one game it said the score was 22-0. Back then, the Eagle had many in the Sports Department, now just a few. But without seeing Chuck play, maybe he also has a few clippings in the archives.

Waterman
Waterman
6 years ago

0ff topic–HAVE YOU SEEN THE BEAUTIFUL FLOWERS PLANTED ALL OVER THE CITY BY PITTSFIELD BEAUTIFUL? This is a volunteer organization and they will work until the first hard frost I SALUTE ALL YOU VOLUNTEERS AND CAN TELL YOU THAT EVERYBODY IN THE CITY APPRECIATES YOU WORK TO MAKE OUR BELOVED CITY LOOK SO BEAUTIFUL. Thank you for all your hard work. KUDOS TO ALL OF YOU. SINCERELY CRAIG C GAETANI.