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NINE EASY (AND NOT SO EASY) STEPS TO IMPROVE CITY SCHOOLS WHILE CUTTING COSTS

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BY DAN VALENTI

PLANET VALENTI NEWS AND COMMENTARY

(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, TUESDAY, FEB. 9, 2016) — Yesterday we outlined the simple mechanics behind Pittsfield’s looming financial meltdown. The main culprit? The school department, which consumes between 70% and 75% of the entire municipal budget. Despite the cash glut, each year sees the PSD with declining performance and quality, measured in one of many ways by the $5 million loss to the city because of school choice.

Clearly, if Mayor Linda Tyer doesn’t put the reins of the near-out-of-control fiscal spiraling, Pittsfield citizens can start now learning how to play “Aloha” on the steel guitar.

Some Solutions to a Tractable Problem

Today, we offer solutions. All can be implemented with enough political will from the mayor and the council. Forget about the Pittsfield School Committee, with Lady Boots Yon walking all over taxpayers. In the 2017 municipal elections, voters must clean house at the PSC starting with Yon and elect a slate of school board candidates who will restore restraints on spending and drive quality in the classroom.

With that, THE PLANET offers several solutions to the cost-quality conundrum of the city’s public schools. This is by no means an exhaustive list. The savings are incalculable.

(1) School Uniforms — Students in the city’s two high schools and middle schools would be required to wear unis. The benefits would be immediate: Elimination of dress-related hazing, cost breaks for parents, easy identification of students, improved classroom performance, and higher morale. More than 15 million public school children in America now wear uniforms, and the data supports all of these benefits.

(2) End Open Campus at PHS — There is no benefit to academics and many costs letting students wander off campus for lunch.

(3) Health Insurance Split — Raise the contributions of the PSD’s 1,200 employees from the present 15% to — pick a number. A still-generous 60-40%, with taxpayers still picking the larger portion, would save millions of dollars.

(4) More Charter Schools — One only need look at the BART school in Adams to see what such a school can do for education. Charter schools generally result in an increase in academic performance for a much lower cost. It does this by freeing the school from the heavy hands of both administrative and iron-fisted union iron. Administrators have more freedom to implement policies that work, and teachers can be more creative in their lesson planning.

(5) Consolidation — Kill the new THS construction, remodel the current campus on Valentine Road at a fraction of the cost, consolidate all high school students there, and renovate the PHS Dome into a comprehensive city hall space the way Stockbridge did with its elementary school.

(6) Privatize Busing — What does the city of Pittsfield know about running a bus company? Next to nothing. Nonetheless, it insists on owning and running its own fleet for school children. It’s easy to see why. This allows the PSD to control more jobs, yielding more political clout. School busing in Pittsfield is all about politics, not about transportation. Privatizing busing would put the business of getting kids to school in the hands of professionals at lower costs to taxpayers.

(7) Reduce Overhead — The PSD administrative ranks are bloated. Cut at least half of the associates, assistants, deputies, assistant deputies, and assistant deputy associates. What do the “directors/supervisors” listed under “INSTRUCTION” in the PSD budget actually do? Why did the number go from 3 positions in FY12 ($256,242) to 2.35 in FY16 with the costs jumping to $388,964? With 12 principals ($1,092,349), why does the city need 8 “Dean of Students/Vice Principals” ($730,981)? Does the department actually need 45 “Paraprofessionals” at ($878,964 — up from 34.2/$566,560 in FY12)? Does it need 119 Special Ed Paraprofessionals ($2,624,662)? You get the drift. Cut, cut, cut.

(8) Cap Pensions – Pension reform is mandatory if the city is to avoid a financial meltdown. There’s no reason why pensions can’t be capped at 35% of a worker’s top three salary years. That’s how it used to be until the city council uncapped pensions in the 1980s. Today, it’s 80%. The pension liability of in the hundreds of millions. Without pension reform, this will break the city’s back.

(9) A New School Board — Despite controlling up to 75% of the city budget, each election the school committee gets in under the radar. That’s going to change in ’17. Steps will be taken to lift this race above all others. Under the spotlight, any current member who wishes re-election is going to have to sing for his or her supper. There will be a slate of fresh, intelligent, and forward thinking candidates who will have two things in mind: first, improve the performance of the schools; second, protect the taxpayers’ interests.

——– 000 ——–

There, Mayor Tyer, city council, PSC, and everyone else. That’s just some of how you get it done. Any questions?

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“The capacity to learn is a gift. The ability to learn is a skill. The willingness to learn is a choice.”Brian Herbert.

“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLE.”

LOVE TO ALL.

The views expressed in the comment section or opinions published within the text other than those of PLANET VALENTI are not those of PLANET VALENTI or endorsed in any way by PLANET VALENTI; this website reserves the right to remove any comment which violates its Rules of Conduct, and it is not liable for the consequences of any posted comment as provided in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and PLANET VALENTI’s terms of service.

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mi
mi
5 years ago

Talk about nailing it. Bravo Planet! Sure there are more ideas.

Nota
Nota
5 years ago

You have to figure a way to get kids back in the district, easy to say, especially when the biggest proponent of the school opted hers out of town. YOU CAN Make it up, but you’d be lyin. There are more messed up equations in this City, it’s impossible to remedy. Sort of like a Shakespearean tragedy.

Pat
Pat
5 years ago

An unbelievable amount of paraprofessionals. They just make things easy for the teachers. The teachers need to stop depending so much on paraprofessionals. Less vacation time and personal time off for all school personnel should also be added and they would have more time to do their work. They get long summer vacations not to mention snow days and numerous holidays throughout the year. There are fewer students in the schools than ever before and yet more and more school personnel are being hired than ever before. School performance is not good despite all the money given to the schools. The need for more and more school personnel just doesn’t make any sense.

LoneGunMan
LoneGunMan
Reply to  Pat
5 years ago

Paraprofessionals do NOT always make things easier. If anything they interrupt classes, contradict teachers in front of students, talk to each other during lessons and cause drama. While certain students DO need a 1:1; the number of paraprofessionals is astounding. They cause more problems than anything. Especially since most are bored housewives who think they should be teaching despite not having the degree or education to do so.

Pat
Pat
Reply to  LoneGunMan
5 years ago

The last thing we need is bored housewives in the Pittsfield schools. They should do volunteer work if they’re that bored and save the city a bundle.

Shakes His Head
Shakes His Head
5 years ago

How about dropping the degree requirements for teachers and paying all the laid off retail and restaurant workers minimum wage to instruct the urchins. The PCB brain damage ensures only a handful will make it to college anyways.

Johnny Dingo
Johnny Dingo
5 years ago

All excellent points and ideas Dan. It is ironic that the very people who were hired and elected to build and execute the education mission in Pittsfield are the ones who have destroyed it. Can you just imagine if they were in charge of a 100 million dollar business?

You simply cannot have friends and family running a business if they have no talent or desire to do the right thing. Or if they would like to do the right thing but are afraid to speak up. The Pittsfield school system is set up to fail. SET UP TO FAIL

My guess is that the numbers would be shocking if you could find out how many students who have parents connected with the school system, have opted out of that system. A good question for Yon should she peek her head out from under the bed.

Mr. X
Mr. X
5 years ago

Albany high school is up for a renovation decision…$62.7 million paid for by taxpayers with an extra $117 million coming from the state…it will go to a vote by the people today…great concept

Jaxur
Jaxur
Reply to  Mr. X
5 years ago

Yes a “renovation” decision, not a “completely new high school” decision. Letting the people vote what a novel concept. NExt time on your show ask mayor tyer if they people should have been allowed a vote on building a new ths.

joetaxpayer
joetaxpayer
Reply to  Mr. X
5 years ago

I believe this is the 2nd time Albany is voting on this. The first time it was voted down. The people with the power will continue the voting until they get the results they want. Reminds me of the Chesire school budget vote.

Southeast
Southeast
5 years ago

I agree with everything – and have just one question: I thought the 80% pension was part of a State law, so legally – can the PSC cap them at 35%? If it can be done, I’m all in. I have the same question about the 60/40 health split – I thought that the State dictated a split more generous (75/25?), but even still – isn’t this a negotiated item?

If both of these are negotiated items, then I am in favor of two other things: A State takeover of the City schools to bring an outsider in who has the power to override the PSC and maybe to return Pittsfield to the control of an overseer.

Both would bring fresh, outside eyes to loom at the operations of City Government with the power to modify or tear up excessive union contracts.

Shakes His Head
Shakes His Head
Reply to  Southeast
5 years ago

The pensions are paid by the system and insured federally instead of the employees participating in Social Security. This distinction is important. The System could switch to a defined contribution instead of a defined benefit. The Massachusetts state pension board is a whole other discussion. Honestly, this whole list is regurgitated nonsense. I expected something a little more thought provoking with today’s headline.

A Better Way
A Better Way
5 years ago

How about eliminating the entire school system? Reduce taxes to 25% of what they are now. Find ways of funding the city that eliminate the property tax so that people truly own their home.

Home school. Volunteer tutors. Nowhere in the US Constitution or Bill of Rights does it say government must educate the children. Those who have children should be the ones responsible to educate them. It will reach this point anyway when the US collapses.

Make GE cleanup their mess no matter what it costs them.

Get rid of the city charter. Get rid of the city council.
Let the people decide.
Make Pittsfield great again.

MrG1188
MrG1188
Reply to  A Better Way
5 years ago

Oooo…an anarchist in our midst!

Thomas More
Thomas More
5 years ago

Teachers are under the Mass teachers retirement system. As for changing the school committee it ain’t gonna happen no matter what Dan says. Your only hope there is to go back to ward representation. To run at large you have to blanket the city from Cheshire Road to Barker Road. It takes a ton of money and donations are nil. We have some very intelligent ideas already here today. How do these people run? Pat has some brilliant ideas and Shakes plan is refreshing. While you can’t just toss out the teachers we now have we can when they retire replace them with the laid off employees from Old Country at one fifth the cost.

Sixties and Twirling
Sixties and Twirling
5 years ago

Is there a Council Meeting tonight? I’dlike to hear some kind of a strategic jobs plan for the City. Nucleus was our only hope. Or Nucalea? Nucleus, Nuclaya, Nuclea?

Distressed Cat
Distressed Cat
Reply to  Sixties and Twirling
5 years ago

yeah that’s not how it works

Jonathan Melle
Jonathan Melle
5 years ago

I keep posting that the public school budgets are decided by federal and state administered economic formulas. Dan Valenti should post the economic formula used to determine Pittsfield’s public school budget. How does Pittsfield’s 70% poverty rate impact how much federal and state administered dollars Pittsfield’s public schools receive? Why do all K – 6 Pittsfield public school students receive free lunches? How much poverty is there in Pittsfield?
– Jonathan Melle

Dave
Dave
5 years ago

Why hasn’t the School Committee or one of it’s sub-committees ever invited any of the local officials who have opted their children out of the PPS to a meeting to ask them the reasons they did so. These are parents who should know the state of the schools better than just what their kids tell them and posing some questions to these officials could give some insight into some of the reasons. This won’t happen so how about doing the dirty work Dan and invite them on your show and inquire.

Johnny Dingo
Johnny Dingo
Reply to  Dave
5 years ago

Perhaps because it would be a lineup of teachers and Mercer building employees who know from the inside out how dysfunctional the system is. And if they spoke what they know it would be utter humiliation for the city. And then they might find themselves laid off or demoted or otherwise ostracized. If you work for the system in Pittsfield you better toe the line and keep your big trap shut.

Wilson
Wilson
5 years ago

It’s a joke that a “bare bones” school budget includes $600,000 for librarians. Also all the millions in psychological and health services should be billed to the kids’ health insurance, of course in this city that would be Medicaid.

Shakes His Head
Shakes His Head
5 years ago

Close Berkshire Community College too. That place is a dump that wastes money and looks like a bombed out communist prison.

Donna M
Donna M
Reply to  Shakes His Head
5 years ago

BCC is a fine place. I graduated from the nursing program and I have a good job now.

Dave
Dave
Reply to  Shakes His Head
5 years ago

Put a Kennedy out of a job!!! Won’t happen… plus it’s probably a mill for the younger Pittsfield Democrat voting block.

Shakes His Head
Shakes His Head
Reply to  danvalenti
5 years ago

I was being sarcastic about running around cutting funding everywhere. I do believe, however we, that having the campus so far from people without access to vehicles is folly and is an intentional slight to hinder upward economic mobility.

Henry LaMere'
Henry LaMere'
5 years ago

We are still living with the incompetence of the Bianchi/Mazzeo administration.

How could they give the PSD 12%-15% raises?

How about a wage freeze that includes the teachers step raises…

Hugh G Rection
Hugh G Rection
5 years ago

Dan

How come no mention on the Stockbridge Police Chief who is a finalist in another town for Police Chief after just signing a 3 year contract with the town?

If this was happening in Pittsfield you would be all over the chief?

Why the double standards?

Hugh G Rection
Hugh G Rection
5 years ago

How much money would we save if we closed 1 or 2 even 3 elementary schools?

Free Bird
Free Bird
5 years ago

Teachers and most administrators come under the state pension system not the city’s. The lower paid employees come under the city pension, such as secretaries and custodians. Since they aren’t eligible for social security they couldn’t possibly retire at 35 percent. A more practical way to save money would be to consolidate schools as was done in the 80’s.

southeast
southeast
Reply to  Free Bird
5 years ago

so the hidden gem of the pension system should be that it would ultimate be cheaper to the taxpayer if we put all public employees into the Social Security and Medicare systems, paying the 7.65% payroll tax each pay day. We could also contribute a match to 403B accounts (government’s version of the 401K). the match could be set by law to reflect the average private sector contribution – and not be allowed to be negotiated higher. Basically, the public employee pension systems – which are not fully funded anywhere in this country are a guarantee of a percentage of the retiree’s last paycheck – until they die.

The system, if it were fully funded and fully invested may very well be sustainable – but since it is not, it is essentially backstopped by the taxpayer.

And to Shakes who thinks the system is insured – it is, by us.

That would remove two very large OPEB drivers – pensions and retiree healthcare. Those of us who did not work for the government figure it out – and these folks can too. the pensions can be converted tomorrow based on employee age and their opportunity to recover the remainder funding – in the private sector, it’s called a cash balance conversion.

this is what we should do. Not just this City, but the entire Government.

Shakes His Head
Shakes His Head
Reply to  southeast
5 years ago

I didn’t say it wasn’t self insured by the Federal government. But why is it okay to bailout AIG for rigging the system, but not okay to help the tens of thousands of retirees that are getting benefits slashed because their companies declared bankruptcy and the democrats abandoned them with OPEB?

Discreet Cat
Discreet Cat
5 years ago

Teachers should be paid by performance not tenure.Send the rest down the road.

spagirl
spagirl
Reply to  Discreet Cat
5 years ago

Yes they should.

Jonathan Melle
Jonathan Melle
5 years ago

There is no “creative economy”! Pittsfield needs a living wage economy instead of a welfare economy.
http://businesswest.com/blog/mayor-linda-tyer-embarks-on-first-term-in-pittsfield/