Monday, December 17, 2007

Budget 2008/2009- Ground Zero

Tonight, at the School Committee meeting (6:30 PM, Room 118, High School), the Superintendent will be presenting two different budgets.

After scouring the current budget for any additional efficiencies, the Superintendent will present a level services budget. Although some have expressed a preference that the budget be constructed in a zero-based format, I've gone over in previous postings several reasons why we are dealing with purely semantical distinctions when we talk about zero-based budgeting in schools.

We start with zero; then add in those statutory and regulatory requirements, and zoom, quicker than mercury, you are suddenly looking at expenses that amount to about 80% of the budget. The rest is "discretionary spending"- like raises, heating, books, computers, classroom supplies.

You know, after thinking a lot about it; I might actually be willing to bring in a consultant and put together a zero-based budget with two stipulations. First that it is consistent with our vision and goals of promoting student achievement; and second if the City would agree to fund the differential between what we are operating the schools on now, and what it will really cost to comply with statutory regulations and meet our goals of promoting student achievement using best practices; which of course, would be the desired outcome of a zero-based budget practice. Spend more efficiently, get better results. Cut an explore teacher at the middle school, and you can then efficiently serve 102 kids in a gym class three or four times a week.

Because "zero-based" budgeting for this school system at this time is a red herring that prevents the community from looking honestly at the issues it faces, and the choices it has to make.

The Superintendent will then present a "value-added budget", which will consist of baseline recommendations that need to be met this budget year, in some cases restructuring last year's cuts, in other cases making critical building modifications to make the buildings more secure.

We will be presented both budgets tonite; we will then begin the process of reconciling them, which will involve numerous community hearings. The two documents, in the opinion of this particular School Committee member, and completely interlocking; they cannot be considered independently of each other.

Although we will not specifically be dealing with the revenue side of the budget tonite, we are expecting Mayor Moak to briefly discuss the city-side contributions to the next school budget.

The Mayor has asked the Revenue Task Force to hold off on giving an update to the community at this meeting.

This is the beginning of the discussion.
Then starts the wild rumpus.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Steroids Make You Stupid & Shrink Your Testicles

We bad.

Very bad.

Disappointed a lot of kids, even if they were Yankee fans.

But hey, we made a lot of money. And the most amazing thing of all? Dan Duquette was probably right. Maybe the Rocket was spent when he went to Toronto. I guess nobody figured a couple of bucks premium was all he'd need to augment his career.

This is a terrible time for baseball. Over fifty players were outed in the Mitchell report for steroid and HGH use; many because they wrote personal checks as payment for the goods. I told you that steroids make you stupid. At least none of the checks I've seen reproduced have the work "steroids" in the left hand memo line.

This is my solution to the whole era's problems.

Find some mechanism that would allow you to ask, under oath, the following question:

"Have you ever used, or are you currently using steroid XYZ, or HGH." Then round up everyone who has ever played baseball at the major league level since 1990, and ask them.

For everyone who says yes (not knowing whether you have evidence on them or not), I would simply put an asterisk next to their record. Simple. We don't know which of these achievements occurred through natural talent, or were enhanced, so we'll put an asterisk next to your name and records, your career stats.

That way, future voters for the Hall of Fame can make an informed choice.

Sure, some of the cheaters will get away. Blame their teammates for adopting the code of silence; by refusing to turn in the people whose enhanced gifts helped win games for you, or in many cases resulted in your replacement. Blame the owners for looking the other way, because the cash incentives for the team made doing the wrong thing a salve for the conscience. Blame the Union for somehow believing that protecting the rights of players translated into allowing them to ingest substances that enhanced their performance, but also killed some of them (probably Darryl Kile, Steve Bechsler, etc.)

Blame Bud Selig, who replaced Fay Vincent as baseball Commissioner. An owner appointed by other owners to ensure that their interests were protected. Selig is a guy who apparently believed that it was better to let juiced players swat at baseballs, than risk a strike by a union defending on privacy grounds the right of it's members to cheat. Yeah, that would've been a winning argument, don't you think? That would have been quite a risk, Bud. Heck, they could have stayed out on strike for a full three days trying to sell that crap to America, before they realized it lacked, hmm. Resonance. Yeah, resonance. But I'll tell you, it would have been the best thing you could have done for the kids in the Pioneer League.

Then, a representative from each of the above-named constituencies can explain to my son and daughter why the homer hit by Brian Roberts on July 31st, (Roberts made the Mitchell list for keeping a tab as a patron of the Juice Bar) beating Josh Beckett, should count. It was the first professional baseball game for one of the kids.

Perhaps one or two adults who could tell the difference between right and wrong, who could see through the collective fog of denial that this particular gathering of clans kept wrapped around themselves like a funeral shroud could have made a difference. I've misjudged the current Commissioner of baseball; I thought his legacy was going to be pandering and general incompetence. But for sheer cowardice and rooted self-interest, no one will be able to hold a candle to Bud. My hat's off to you. And I think when the Veteran's Committee places you into the Hall of Fame, you'll fit right up there with greedy, racist, cheap miserable SOB's already enshrined.

If you keep Shoeless Joe out of the Hall of Fame because he took money, returned it, and played his butt off; if you ban Buck Weaver because he attended two meetings of the Black Sox to argue how wrong it was, never took a dime, and played his heart out; then mocking this game by cheating deserves some sort of consequence.

An asterisk should suffice. It captures the exact measure of surprise and suspicion that should forever be attached to the records of these players. They cheated; maybe their entire career, maybe for two years, you just don't know since not a single one of the named players who wasn't indicted accepted the offer of the Mitchell Commission to come in and talk about the evidence and the allegations.

They cheated; they lied, and they lacked the testicles to own up to what they had done, and have been doing.

See? Steroids make you stupid and makes your testicles shrink.

Whether this particular generation of greedy bastards sees themselves as role models or not, they are.

Student athletes, gaze upon the faces of greed and arrogance in the picture accompanying this posting.

That isn't the thrill of competing at your highest level you see in their eyes. The dulled vacancy you see means that they have shed just enough of their moral core to take money for cheating, to take jobs from others who wouldn't otherwise have lost them; and to kick a game I grew up loving, warts and all, a few feet farther into the gutter.

Asterisk. Simple. Elegant. And just to be kind, we can let each of the players choose the color of the asterisk. Then, they can delude themselves into thinking it isn't an asterisk, it's a gold star.

That's the ticket.

Setting the Agenda for the Next Year

Summary: In which Menin briefly covers what the next several months will look like, from the perspective of the School Committee.

A lot of work. Like trying to juggle flaming torches while balanced ten feet above the ground on a pole with your stomach on a bed of nails.

But first some updates.

The Revenue Task Force

The presentation of the Task Force on Revenue, scheduled for the upcoming School Committee meeting on December 17th, has been canceled, at the request of the Mayor. Mayor Moak will be joining the Task Force at it's next scheduled meeting, Wednesday, January 9th at 7 PM (Superintendent's Conference Room, at the Nock) to respond to any questions we might have.

I anticipate that we will still try to hold to our time-frame for issuing a final report, which will identify the issues we face financially as a community, and explore the wide range of options that could potentially address institutional issues on a long term and short term basis.

I take the Mayor at his word, that his offer to attend the meeting is lend us his municipal experience, and not to change the substance of the report and options we identify, regardless of his previously expressed opinion.

The community is very welcome to join us; we should have a pretty good idea of what our options will be, and have some preliminary estimates of potential revenue.

Two Meetings, One Day

Nick and Stephanie have had a 'new members' orientation through the auspices of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees; I think the plan is that we will all have another session with MASC in January, sort of a refresher course. My recollection from previous trainings is that there a lot more "don'ts" than "do's".

The Inauguaration is scheduled for 10 AM Monday, January 7th at City Hall, y'all come on down. TheSC holds an organizational meeting immediately following swearing to identify a Vice Chair, vote on the rules for the coming year, and make Committee Assignments. Coincidentally, our first formal meeting is that night at the High School.

The Challenges, The Challenges

A tour meeting on December 17th, (next Monday), will set a tall agenda for the next year. The Superintendent will propose a budget designed to provide services at a level that will maintain the status quo; which effectively means that we will be losing ground (to cost increases in every area- from contracted services to utilities). Remember that the level services budget is a tool; in creating it, the Superintendent, staff and parents have had to accommodate any new statutory requirements, and have scoured each budget category and item for efficiencies. Utilizing the EQA report, and Dr. Lyons entry report, the Superintendent will then present a second budget, one we have called "the value added budget". The purpose of the second budget is to identify and prioritize critical needs in the current school system to improve student achievement; a long and short term goal of the system.

Thus begins the wild rumpus. We then begin the process of looking at each item in public session , encouraging feedback from the community in a further search for efficiencies that will not continue to compromise student achievement.

This is the earliest, by a good 2.5 months, that the Committee and the community have been presented with the prospective expenses. With regard to revenues, the state has projected no increase in local funding; the City did generate $300,000 more revenue through growth than projected.

Oh, Yeah

We have received notice from the Newburyport Teachers Association that are ready to begin the Collective Bargaining process; the SC will identify it's negotiating team and prepare for negotiations as early into the New Year as possible.

I believe that while the year has been painfully difficult for the entire community, the teachers have been extraordinarily adaptive, have created classrooms that are comfortable, and have fully embraced, and are deeply engaged in the focus on student achievement. We will all need to be flexible, but there is a tremendous opportunity to collaborate with teachers to reinvent our schools in a win-win framework.

Final Words

As we gear up, expect postings to be faster and more furious. Please keep in mind that anything that appears on these pages directly reflects the views of a single School Committee
Member; me. It is not intended to reflect the views of the Committee as a whole; often, it may not even represent my position on an issue, but rather a "devil's advocacy" posting.

Saturday, December 8, 2007



I can tell you exactly what I was doing 27 years ago tonight.

A close friend, living not far from The Dakota Building called me up to tell me that John Lennon had been murdered. I got the news from him about fifteen minutes before it hit the airwaves. For fifteen minutes, I hoped that my friend was wrong. He was right.

I didn't agree with everything John Lennon said and did; but I passionately believed in his right to say it. He challenged us to reshape our world and our community, to rethink our relationships; I listen to his music now, and I can't shake the sense that he was entering a new, incredibly thoughtful and productive place on his journey.

One can only imagine.
Over the past several days, an e-mail from Yoko Ono has been making the rounds. I offer it here as a posting. We are a nation at war with other nations, at war with itself; we are a nation that once was a beacon in a dark world, of freedom, of rights; and now we torture mentally ill "terrorists" to produce intelligence that is utterly useless. Suddenly, after all these years, we quibble over the definition of torture.

Lennon knew we could be so much better than that; he challenged us to be. And we can; we must.

On December 8th, 11.15pm (your local time) remember John by taking a moment of quiet reflection. If you would like to play or sing the song "Imagine" and imagine a world of peace, just know that we are all together at that moment in every time zone, as IMAGINE PEACE makes its way around the world - every hour for 24 hours. Send in stories & photos of what you did on December 8th to for us, the family of Peace and Love, to tell us and tell us of your experiences. That would be lovely!

With deepest love
Yoko Ono Lennon

Imagine there's no Heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world

You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one

John Lennon December 9, 1940 - December 8, 1980
Rest in Peace John.

Image courtesy of University of California, Irvine, Film and Video Center

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Holiday Greetings Worth Hearing

Some of you may remember an earlier post about a friend of mine, (October 15th, to be more exact), in which I mentioned how the sweet and the bitter sometimes entwine; how on the first anniversary of our marriage, one of my best friends died from AIDS. Charlie could do and be anything he wanted, and he was and did a lot of things- theater, film, writing. He was eloquent and self-deprecating, sentimental and compassionate. In a very short time in the field he eventually chose, Meeting Planning, he succeeded brilliantly, serving for a year as the President of the Meeting Professionals International Greater New York Chapter. In that capacity, he wrote a holiday message to the membership in 1989; at his passing, the MPI felt compelled to reprint it when the next holiday season rolled around.

Charlie Stramiello (1989-1990)

Editors note: Because of Charlie’s untimely death, we have chosen an excerpt from his Metrolines “President’s Message” December ‘89/January ’90 issue which we feel best exemplifies the compassion and sincerity he had for life and for all those who knew him. RR

Below me lives a ninety-year-old German woman who fled to America after having lost her entire family during the War. For the past fifty odd years, she’s lived alone, surviving on little more than a fixed income, memories of her deceased husband and son, and memories of her native homeland.

Whenever I visit her (which admittedly isn’t often enough), I’m shamefully reminded how insignificant and inconsequential many of my personal “swipes at life” are, especially as they pertain to career, finances or self-aggrandizement.

With 1989 behind us now, I hope that you – our valued MPI member – will take a moment to give thanks for all the comforts you enjoy, and to carry the feelings of charity with

you in the days ahead.

Whether it’s through your continued involvement with an MPI-endorsed charity (such as City Harvest) or event (such as the “Cruise for Caring”), or through your personal support of a charity of choice, please do not forget those who are less fortunate than yourself.

Wishing you a happy and healthy New Year, all year, every year. Peace on Earth. Good will to all.

Written by Charlie when his personal health was long gone. The sentiments prevail, though. As we move into the next year, I find Charlie, as ever, setting a higher bar- for compassion, for gratitude, and for the ability to laugh.

From the MPI-GNY website.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Cow Pies and Sharing the Pain

Sorry about the little vacation. I've actually been quite busy over the past two weeks; much of it having to do with the School Committee, and the Revenue Task Force.

On the SC side, I have working through several iterations of the School Committee Goals for the coming year, which will be voted on at our next meeting, December 17th. The agenda for that meeting will be fat and sassy, and will include the goals, two budget presentations- the level services budget for '08/'09 and the Superintendent's Value-Added recommendations to that budget, essentially, what we need to do to improve our schools that would add costs to or require additional cuts to the Level Services budget. As well, we will go into Executive Session during the meeting for the purpose of finalizing the negotiated contracts with the Superintendent and the Assistant Superintendent, negotiated by Andrea Jones, Gordy Bechtel and myself; we will come out of that session to vote publicly and go over the specifics for the community.

And before you go much further, I should explain that I have been pursuing my task as assigned for the Revenue Task Force, looking at the City budget; I've met with several City Councilors, and will probably meet with several more. I confess that I am somewhat frustrated; if I had a buck for every shrug I've gotten in those meetings when I've raised a question about budgeted expenses, we could bring foreign language back to the middle school next year. So if the tone of this post drifts into smarminess, or lets the occasional sarcastic inference creep into the text, mea culpa. I'm sorry in advance.

Three Simple Rules

For those paying attention, what we've learned from our recent budget history can be boiled down to three essential elements:

YOU CAN'T START EARLY ENOUGH- This year's budget process began four months ahead of last year's; and for the first time in a long time, possibly ever, the estimated level services budget (no changes in the level of services from this year to the next) will be delivered before December 20th. Past practice would put this into the hands of the Community and the SC around late February. We will also be receiving a second, "value-added" set of budget recommendations from the Superintendent that would identify additional spending that would immediately impact student achievement this coming year. And one more point to make, for all those aficionados of Zero-Based budgeting- both the level services and the value-added budget are adjusted to account for new regulatory conditions we face.

KEEP THE COMMUNITY INFORMED, AND THE MESSAGE COGENT- In every way, the SC will work with every constituency in the City to ensure that information is accurately disseminated, everyone is on the same page, and the entire community has every question answered.


Salem is Slipping...

For the second time in 3 years, the City of Salem has had a deficit in the School budget. Three years ago, an unexpected rise in fuel costs forced the City to lay off teachers in the middle of the School year. The deficit this year has already reached $1.8 million, with 6 months left to go.

Mayor Kim Driscoll of Salem has issued a statement along the lines of "everything is on the table; the schools cannot bear the full brunt of this deficit."

Wow. You mean other City Departments will be asked to share the burden of re-directing revenue to the Schools, because Salem has suddenly realized that Schools have an intrinsic value to the community? I mean times are tight for every community in the Commonwealth, but to put everything on the table to ensure the Schools survive. Gutsy. Salem, which has a crime rate proportionately much worse than Newburyport (compare the 2005 statistics, and note that the formula used by the feds allows for the population disparity between the two cities).

In 2007, "The city (of Salem) spent $7.2 million funding the retirement system last year - more than what it cost to pay for the city's 83-member Police Department.

Compared to Newburyport

The City of Newburyport, with a police force of 38 (?), last year was budgeted at nearly $3,000,000. When you compare the crime rates between Salem and Newburyport, and then realize that they are funded proportionately about the same, you can only come to one inescapable conclusion.

You Can Always Find A Policeman in Newburyport When You Need One

The Police in Newburyport are clearly better at controlling crime than those of Salem. I mean, the numbers bear that out. The police overtime alone in the 2007 budget cost us more than it would have to keep foreign language in the Middle School for this year; but if you want a safe, peaceful community, you have to pay the piper. Really, when you look at the crime rates between Salem and Newburyport, you can only wring your hands in despair that the School Budget crisis might require every Department in the City to give up something.

I'm Not Listening

And to all of you people in Wards 4, 5, and 6 who told me you voted against the override because you think the City-side of the budget has become a pasture for sacred cows to graze, the Mayor disagrees. He said so tonight at the School Committee meeting.

I just wanted you to know, I've done what you've asked; delivered the message. The Mayor just disagrees with it.

Clearly, what we have here is a failure to communicate.
I'm not sure we can expect the Mayor to take a stand like Mayor Driscoll, although hope springs eternal.

Before we cut DPW again, let's make sure that we order more grass seed; unless things change dramatically and for the better, those sacred cows will still need their feed. As for the kids, well...

I remember the words of Benjamin Franklin, when, finally, he, and John Hancock, Jefferson and Adams had managed to pass the Declaration of Independence. In considering the magnitude of the deed, Franklin spoke eloquently.

"And so, my friends, we must all hang together now, for if we do not, we will most assuredly hang separately."

Community. A community that binds itself together is willing to make the sacrifices it needs to, to accomplish goals that it finds of great and future value.

There is a lot more to talk about folks, regarding the need for some sort of municipal response to the community crisis. Keep tuned.

Thanks to you, I'll be on the air here for at least four more years.