Category Archives: Politics

Sunday Notes August 2nd 2015

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City Auditor Hannah York said Wednesday she is resigning effective Aug. 28, “a personal decision that my family and I made.”

That is all that was needed to start the whispering, snickering , Good Ole Boy bashing buzz to begin in the political bubble that is Lowell Politics. At the known risk of being called a Murphy suck up and defender , I will do exactly that.

Bob Healy was / is one of the most respected City Manager’s in the Country. In the 30 years he was in Cambridge MA. I never once heard any allegation of him “cooking the books”. Why would he come to Lowell and all of a sudden decided that it is fine to “cook the books?”

Kevin Murphy was a State Rep. for 16 years and has been a practicing attorney up until taking the City Manager position. While I’ve pointed out on several occasions that he had taken cases / clients that appeared to me to put him in conflict of interest, I’ve never read where he was under investigation for any criminal wrongdoing. He has been an officer of the court in good standing for many years. Why would he screw that up now?

Many have stated he took this job to “pad” his retirement, so if that was the case, why would he want to jeopardize that retirement by forcing an employee with no Lowell connections to “Cook the Books”?.

Connor Baldwin is a young man who is very bright, has learned from both Tom Moses and Bob Healy , is just starting his professional career and again to my knowledge has never been accused of “cooking the books”.

So I find it to be such a far-fetched, unjustified notion that in this day and age where the State closely watches everything, where the City hires outside accounting firms to audit the books and where you have a man with the reputation and talent of Bob Healy being a major player in the finances of the City, that Kevin Murphy being a longtime honorable officer of the court or anyone in this current Administration would knowingly advocate for anyone to “Cook the Books”.

I find it hard to believe that anyone with common sense would think this women is leaving because she was asked to “cook the books”. It’s Political garbage!

Is it possible that this job was more stressful than she thought? That Healy is a known grumpy, demanding guy or that Murphy is short and arrogant with people at times? SURE..is it also possible that the job is so time consuming and she has a young family that it is putting strain on her and her family? SURE…A lot of things are possible but one I don’t think is possible Is that she is resigning because she was asked or somehow “FORCED” to “cook the books”.

Not the best answer!

Maybe it’s just me but if I’m running for City Council and a radio host, local cable host or Sun reporter ask me if I’m in favor of lowering the commercial tax rate at the expense of raising personal property tax the year after a 3.5% tax increase and increase valuation that gave the average homeowner a 6.5% increased tax bill in the past year..I’d just say NO!

No one would call it off!

Even if Lowell had 19 candidates for City Council (which I’m not sure will happen) I would bet that no member of the current council would bring in a motion to cancel the preliminary election. I believe this Council would want to see in Sept. where they stand and be able to work on getting more votes until November.

Will she or won’t she?

Jackie Doherty pulled papers to run for School Committee but has of 4:00pm Friday had not returned them. She has until Tuesday Aug 4th. Fred Bahou and Patrick Farmer two other candidates that have also pulled papers were I am told busy Saturday collecting signatures but no one I spoke with had heard either way (yay or nay) from Jackie.

Jay Lang isn’t walking through that door

I’m hoping School Committee Candidates will not try to make this election about former Deputy Supt. Jay Lang not getting the Superintendent job. Jay has left Lowell, signed a contract with Chelmsford and isn’t walking through the door.

Jay was one of 3 Asst Supt. in a school district with 14,000 students. Supt. Khelfaoui was one of 8 Asst. Supt. in a School District with over 20,000 students and has experience has a Supt. in a smaller district.

Salah Khelfaoui is the current Superintendent and needs the support of those elected. It is time to move on and look ahead.

What are the issues?

I may not agree with a candidate saying we would be in favor of lowering the Commercial Tax rate at the expense of increasing personal property tax (WCAP interview) Listen to Mr. Gys own words beginning at the 6:18 mark in the interview and that he doesn’t support the shot spotter software purchase but I’ll give him credit for at least speaking of specific issues.

On the School Committee side there are plenty of issues (including why Lowell doesn’t have an understanding of the Community Eligibility Provision program) but what are the issues for a Council candidate to address?

Thanks but We’ll pass..

A big THANK YOU to Jerry Flynn for offering to cover for Saturday Morning Live and this blog this upcoming event at Hampton Beach but We’ll pass. Given the way the SUN has made me look in the past…I want to keep far far away from events like this!

It’s a small world (or city) after all

Lowell even at over 100,000 residents is still a small city where we co-mingle business / personal / political business on a regular basis and it’s not always in a nefarious way. People actually hire and pay people they know to do work for them. I do always appreciate receiving a good political story / whisper to look into but I really don’t see smoke or fire when a contractor who is politically active gets a job for a private citizen who does have (much to the chagrin of many) a strong influence on the political scene, especially if the contractor is getting paid. Things like this occur Daley no matter what Campy you’re in. #LowellbeingLowell

USDA shows August 31st deadline to sign up for CEP

There seems to be confusion by some in the Lowell School Dept. over how the CEP effects Chap..70 and other federal funding. the fact Worcester, Boston, Springfield and New Bedford have all signed up should be a sign that they found out it doesn’t affect them negatively. Maybe IF the Dep. Supt or someone from the business office instead of food service attended the winter seminar they would. have a better understanding.

The deadline according to the USDA Community Eligibility Provision page is August 31, 2015 which seems to me to give Lowell a month.

Maybe if we had stability in the Administration someone would be assigned to look into this from the Business Side.

Here is what is on the USDA has posted.

DATE:March 04, 2015 SP 25- 2015
MEMO CODE: SUBJECT: Extension of the Deadline for Local Educational Agencies to Elect the Community Eligibility Provision for School Year 2015-16
TO:Regional Directors
Special Nutrition Programs All Regions
State Directors
Child Nutrition Programs All States

One important goal of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (HHFKA) is to ensure that children have access to the nutrition they need to grow into healthy adults. The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), as authorized by amendments made in HHFKA Section 11(a)(1)(F), of the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act (NSLA), 42 USC 1759a(a)(1)(F), is a powerful tool to ensure children in low income communities have access to healthy school meals. CEP allows participating schools to offer healthy, free lunches and breakfasts to all students without requiring their families to complete individual applications. First rolled out in pilot states beginning in School Year (SY) 2011-2012, CEP became available for nationwide implementation this school year. As a result, in SY 2014-2015, approximately 14,000 schools in more than 2,000 local educational agencies (LEAs) serving more than 6.4 million children elected to participate in the CEP for its ability to both reduce administrative burden and increase access to school meals for children in low income communities.

A 2014 Department of Agriculture (USDA) study of the CEP implementation in the pilot states recognized several benefits. The study provided strong support for the CEP as an error reduction strategy. Participating schools had significantly fewer certification errors than non-CEP schools. The study also indicated that participating schools demonstrated increased participation in their lunch and breakfast programs, experienced revenue gains and decreased administrative costs.

Participation in CEP is a local decision and one that requires careful consideration of many factors by LEAs. For some LEAs, the decision process to elect to participate depends on the approval of governing bodies with administrative control of the LEA. Additionally, LEAs may seek the support of various partners and stakeholders when considering CEP participation. Pursuant to the amendments made by HHFKA, LEAs have until June 30, 2015, to elect to participate in CEP. Because of the multiple benefits of CEP and in light of the unique decision process involved in electing CEP, the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) is extending the election deadline until August 31, 2015.

School Committee Candidate Chris Roux responds to questions.

Last week I posted that School Committee candidates need to do their homework and in my opinion these questions needed to be answered.

A) How will you address the Teacher’s Contract issue and what is your stance on negotiating?
B) Will you commit to supporting the current Supt. of Schools?
C) Should the High School stay or move out of the Downtown?
D) How will you work with your fellow committee members to insure that the dysfunction and personal animosity among current members doesn’t exist in the next two years?

Challenger Chris Roux who will join us tomorrow morning at 8:30 on WCAP Saturday Morning Live w/ Warren Shaw responds to those questions.

Hi Gerry,
Thank you for the opportunity to respond to the questions you posed last week. These are questions I have been addressing over the past few months while I have been out campaigning. Whether it’s been as I’m knocking on doors getting to know voters, doing interviews on the radio or for the newspaper, or at different public events. These are some of the major issues the City is dealing with and why I decided to run.

A) In regards to the Teacher’s contract and negotiating, I’m not privy to what conversations have already been had, but from the outside I can tell you they have not been very fruitful. From what I understand, they were hung up on negotiating how to negotiate. It seems to me that one/both sides were not very interested in making any real progress. I believe both sides should come to the table with an idea of what they want, what they can accept, and find a common ground that can satisfy both. Like you, I did my research on the current state of where Lowell Teachers ranks amongst the rest of the state and comparable cities. According to the DOE, as of 2012-13, with an average salary of $78,298, Lowell is slightly above the state average of $71,620, and similar to the Greater Lowell Vocational School that sits at $77,445. The UTL says the real average salary is $68,050. It doesn’t matter which figure you use, nothing jumped out at me either. It is my thought that both the School Committee and the Teacher’s Union should start with some goals and a timeline as to when they want this done and stick to them.

B) I have already gone on the record and said that Dr. Jay Lang would have been my choice for Superintendent. His knowledge of the inner workings of the operations and budget made him a great candidate combined with his experience going through the School System himself and now watching his own children progress through it. The person who was ultimately chosen, Dr. Khelfaoui is coming from a District in Winchendon where it is only 1/10 the size of Lowell’s. He is going to need a School Committee that is fully committed to him. Lowell is going on its 4th School Superintendent in the last 7 years. You cannot expect to make any real progress when you’re changing leaders every 2 years. We need Dr. Khelfaoui to succeed if the District is going to succeed. My hope is with his knowledge of the area, previously working in Billerica and now living in Chelmsford he has some idea of what he is coming into. And, with his own experience as an E.L.L. student, he will be able to relate to the students and the challenges they are dealing with. Also, with his background in I.T. I would assume he can really open some doors for us in regards to technology in the classroom. So, I 100% support Dr. Sal Khelfaoui.

C) Should the High School stay in the Downtown or should it be moved, and to where? Depending on who you talk to, a case can be made for both. I recently participated in the Lowell Walks Tour of the High School lead by Headmaster Martin. He made some really great points for keeping it Downtown. If you look at the guidelines for the MSBA, they don’t have a plan for a High School to hold more than around 2,000 students. That means we technically should have 2 High Schools.(I’m not in favor of that) But, it also comes with some other constraints like the size of the auditorium. We currently have a beautiful theater that seats over 1,000 people, but the largest the MSBA will build is for around 600. The other side of the argument says that it would be good for business/economic development for the City to move it and sell the land to a developer who can take advantage of the location. There is also a concern I have for the disruption it would cause the students if we were to renovate and rebuild. Also, do we want to push several successful businesses out of the Downtown to take their land through eminent domain? The MSBA would not reimburse us for that. That cost would be paid for directly by the residents of Lowell. These are just a few of the things that need to be factored into the decision of what to do with the High School. With the feasibility study not complete and Manager Murphy’s recommendations brought forward, I haven’t come down on either side yet.

D) The dysfunction and personal politics on display during decision making processes was one of the major reasons why I decided to run. It was frustrating to watch as Committee Members repeatedly put personal feelings ahead of the children. As a parent who has three children currently in the School System I want what’s best for them and their classmates. For the next few years I will have a child at every level of the School system. My youngest daughter is going into the 3rd grade, my middle daughter is going into the 7th, and my son is going to be a freshman at the High School. No other candidate can say they have as much in the game as I do. It is imperative that this new School Committee works together and supports each other as well as the new Administration. I don’ think it’s possible for all 7 Members to agree on everything all of the time, but if we treat each other respectfully and professionally we should be able to do what’s best for the students.

Thank You,
Christopher Roux

Lang: Lowell is still 1 Year out from joining CEP – Nutter : That Needs to be Re-evaluated NOW

Lang

C.E.P. Reimbursement could still be Windfall for Lowell School Dept.

I respect Jay Lang and his knowledge of finance and especially the Lowell School Dept. budget. However no matter what the former Deputy Supt. stated in his final meeting July 15th, I think Lowell needs to reconsider entering into the CEP for the 2015 /2016 School Year.

I watched the July 15th meeting of the School Committee and
at the 67:20 mark Deputy Supt. Lang states that Lowell has some concerns about the potential loss of Chapt. 70 and entitlement funds and sites Worcester has another city that is not jumping in yet.

However according to the Worcester Telegram: On Thursday July 23rd, the Worcester School Committee was scheduled to refer an administrative inquiry about whether to join the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Community Eligibility Provision to its Finance and Operations Standing Committee, according to Superintendent Melinda J. Boone

According to an explanation published by the state education department, as districts have adopted the USDA program, eliminating the need for them to count their students who are eligible for free- or reduced-price lunches, the state has had to come up with other ways to define low-income students.

The federal program, which pays for lunches for all students in districts that have large low-income populations, has already been adopted in Boston, Lawrence, New Bedford and other major urban centers around the state. Worcester, too, is “learning towards it,” said the district’s nutrition director, Donna Lombardi, “but there are still some details that have to be clarified.”

Chief among them is the state’s new definition of low-income students, which has ramifications for other income-eligible government resources the district relies on, Ms. Lombardi said. “Which is why we’re cautiously evaluating (the Community Eligibility Provision),” she said, with an eye on rolling it out for the start of the upcoming school year, with the School Committee’s approval.

The new definition, which is based on students’ participation in a range of other need-based government services, will affect everything from the size of grants that districts are eligible to receive to the amount of annual education aid they get from the state.

After some careful evaluation, however, Worcester officials “believe (the state’s) database is accurate,” Ms. Lombardi said, and “feel we’re ready to proceed forward” with consideration of the universal free lunch program.(Bold mine)

If Worcester is ready to jump in and Boston, Springfield and New Bedford already belong..why is Lowell dragging its feet?

According to school officials in some other cities that used the Community Eligibility Provision in the last school year, there’s little debate that the program works. “It just seemed like a no-brainer to me,” said Andre R. Ravenelle, superintendent of the Fitchburg schools, which began offering universal free lunch during the 2014-15 school year. “We went with it, and it’s been great.”

One of the program’s main selling points is its simplification of the USDA free lunch system. Participating districts can simply offer free meals to whoever wants them. Previously, school systems had to process individual free- and reduced-price applications, which in addition to creating lots of paperwork led to difficult interactions between administrators and families that were just on the cusp of eligibility, Mr. Ravenelle said. “Many districts have ended up on the other side of a table with parents because of lack of (student meal) payments, and that’s a really sticky place to be,” he said, adding that the USDA’s new program “takes all of that away.”

Azell Cavaan, a spokeswoman for the Springfield schools, which also adopted the Community Eligibility Provision at the start of the last school year, said the program also creates a healthier environment for students. “It levels the playing field,” she said, by eliminating the distinction of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. “There are no more stigmas in the classrooms or lunchrooms.”

Yesterday I showed why the Greater Lowell Tech had concerns about applying for the CEP program. Using this year’s calculations, I’d like to show what would happen (as far has I can tell) if Lowell participated.

From the Lowell School Dept. Website: Children need healthy meals to learn. Lowell Public Schools offers healthy meals every school day
Breakfast costs $ .75; lunch costs $2.05.

According to this chart , reimbursement under C.E.P for this upcoming School year would be between : $3.13 – $3.15 per meal served, depending upon F&R %. Multiply that times meals served daily, then totaled monthly and that is your reimbursement figure received monthly

The .+.06 is for districts who have had their menus certified by the DOE. This means that Nutrition, Health and Safety which oversees nutrition programs for the DOE has certified that the menus and offerings served by LEA’s are compliant with the HHFKA. I would imagine that a company as large as Aramark has done this.

Think about this – Looking ONLY at what Lowell just paid for “Un-Paid” Lunches $153,783, let’s say for sake of this exercise we combine the cost for breakfast and Lunch $2.80 and divide the un-paid lunches by that amount – That would mean in a school district with 14,000 students Approx. 54,922 meals were served that were never paid for or approx. 305 PER DAY!

IF the City was part of the CEP instead of paying the $153,783 the City would have received at a reimbursement rate of $3.13
$165,645.86

So until someone from the Lowell School Department or Lowell School Committee can explain to me the disadvantage of Lowell being part of this program especially now that Worcester is jumping on board, I will continue to say I can’t understand why the City would not want to give EVERY STUDENT IN LOWELL A FREE BREAKFAST AND LUNCH? and keep asking WHY are we not part of the C.E.P.?

Greater Lowell Tech’s Ray Boutin – Tech has Concerns about the C.E.P.

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Interesting and disappointing to me that only one of the present 6 Lowell School Committee members and no challenger, nor anyone from the new Supt.’s administration have stepped up to respond and answer the question of why Lowell does not and may not this year participate in the C.E.P.

Kim Scott remembered that the Committee had a very brief discussion and that former Deputy Lang at the last meeting may have mentioned it but since LTC hasn’t posted the video didn’t recall what was said.

Thankfully, Greater Lowell Technical School Committee member Ray Boutin was curious about the program when he read that the school may qualify and with fellow member Fred Bahou he emailed Business Manager George Garabedian and the Tech. Supt. asking them to look into it.

Mr. Garabedian supplied a very understandable explanation of why that school system hasn’t joined.

Here is his response:

Hi Ray,

Sorry for the delay in responding. We did look at this a year ago when it first was launched. I know it sounds great, but, when we looked closer we had some concerns. We noticed that our reimbursement dollars from the Feds would be lower than currently receive. We would also lose the revenue from paid breakfast and lunches. Using the calculator on the DESE Website the combined annual revenue reduction for the lunch program was approx. $200K. We could not afford that loss. I think part of the problem is that we are on the cusp of qualifying for the program at approx. 41% Direct Certification.

In addition, there are still some concerns about how this program may affect the Chapter 70 funding calculation as the Low Income student figures come from the free and reduce lunch counts which include Direct Certifications as well as from applications. I spoke to a rep. from DESE who indicated that matter still has not been finalized. Also there have been questions about how it may affect Federal Grant Funding.

I believe that these are some of the reasons that other districts are not jumping into the program at this time, i.e. (Lowell, Lynn, Malden, Worcester) to name a few.

We will continue to review this option next year.

I hope that this was helpful. Please let me know if you would like to discuss further.

Sincerely,

George

It would have been nice to see someone from Lowell respond with dollar figures to show what the school dept. collects / spends versus what this program may bring in and to see what the state or Feds say about the funding. Hopefully this isn’t an indication of what we can expect from these candidates and the new Supt.

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