Sunday Notes March 15th 2015

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Lowell High School presents “Beauty and the Beast”
Friday, March 27th and Saturday, March 28th at 7:00 pm in the Cyrus W. Irish Auditorium. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for students and can be purchased at the door. For more information contact Sharon Clark, Fine Arts Department Chair (978) 446-7321

The Warning Signs have been Issued..another Tax increase ahead..

Make no mistake, like our surrounding communities that are struggling with funding the continuing increase in education cost and health care cost, Lowell is facing the same issues and it isn’t the fault of the Manager or Council. Unlike the surrounding communities, Lowell has plenty of excess tax levy capacity (room) to increase your taxes…the warning signs have been issued.

Thursday March 5th in the Lowell Sun – Among other challenges, the school district has forecasted a fiscal 2016 budget deficit of potentially $3 million. Lowell also expects a 9 percent increase, or about $2.5 million, in its employee health-care costs next year. and Pension and contractual obligations are also expected to rise.

Wednesday March 11th in the SUN – The average household would pay an extra $99 a year on its property-tax bill if Lowell were to build a new high school, according to a report presented to the City Council Tuesday. “We’d love to see a new high school, there’s no two ways about it,” Councilor Corey Belanger said. “It would be great for the kids and for the city. But can we afford it?”

GN:(Really? the State is going to meet on this in 2 weeks and the guy who first wanted it OUT of the downtown now wants to question if we can afford it? Where the hell have you been the last year this has been discussed? Didn’t think of asking that before proclaiming it belonged at the South Common? ?? OH WAIT! It’s an ELECTION YEAR! he woke up!)

In this week’s Council Packet we find out that the City with a “level service” budget is looking at appox. a $10 Million dollar shortfall for 2016. There is a great explanation by CFO Conor Baldwin about the challenges ahead, some lower funding from the State and how much Lowell depends on State Aid including this.

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Lowell taxes were kept low under the former Council and Administration, one reason was that the former administration was able to find HUGE Savings in Energy, Trash Cost and Health Insurance and the Council then found it difficult to ask taxpayers in a very depressed economy to raise taxes while the city was putting large amounts of funds into a reserve account.

The Council may have had good intentions but the end result was the taxpayer got lulled into thinking Lowell didn’t have to increase like other communities, even when the Manager at that time in his final budget presentation stated we could not continue this trend of not having minimal increases.

Lowell went up 2.2% this year (don’t be confused by the higher valuation that caused your bill to increase higher than that, that is separate from the actual tax increase itself) and based on the early numbers, I’d say Lowell is looking at an Increase between 2.5% and 3.5% this year…..and it really can’t be helped.

Here’s a radical thought for using existing funds for other uses that I am sure will cause many to be upset. As some of you may know, 5% of your cable bill is sent to the City for their use. Lowell Telecommunications Corporation (LTC) gets 2% and the City gets 3%. LTC uses those funds to operate the facility on Market Street and provide Public Access television to the Community.

The City uses its portion to provide funding for Channel 22, the Lowell school’s cable television station, pay for the Municipal Programming (broadcasting all those meetings), and to pay for the costs absorbed by the City IT Department.

What if the city STOPPED funding LTC and used that 2% for other services? Looking at the LTC Audit,it cost over $400,000 for public access. While I understand that a small group of people host and produce shows and that another group of people pay a minimal membership fee, how many total people use this service? How many of the people who pay for cable actually watch or participate in any of these public access shows? In a city of over 100,000 are we supporting even 5000 with LTC public access? With the ability of digital cameras and recorders and YouTube channels to post to, do we still need to fund public access?

I realize it’s an election year and that some people will accuse him of grandstanding but I applaud the Mayor for bringing in the motion to have the City explain the cost of a new or renovated high school. Conor Baldwin, Bob Healy and staff did a great job and made it clear enough that even a guy like me could understand the cost and reasons why.

The Mayor stated it should not be overlooked that this project would take away from the City doing other major capital projects (Police Station) or that it would hamper increasing middle school space which the School Administration and Committee have pointed out will be needed in the coming years. Mayor Elliott also explained that there is no reimbursement for land acquisition which has been talked about. The Medical building that is next to the “New wing” has been mentioned but I haven’t heard anyone mention the Bank building that is across from the High School Auditorium, is already for sale. If the city pays market value, there would be no need for a long drawn out eminent domain fight.

From what I hear, the School Committee hasn’t had a lot of parents (who aren’t teacher’s) apply for the advisory board for the Supt. search committee or from the general public. Parents need to be involved and while many teacher’s do have students in the school system, it appears to me that having them pick their own boss is a little bit of a conflict. I’d volunteer if I didn’t think a few committee members and the Mayor would have an issue with it. I’ve been known to criticize some and some often get upset. However, I am a parent with a student who will be entering High School, have been involved in the PTA and graduated from the system myself. Plus I pay attention, have hired people in the past and am concerned with making sure Lowell gets the best people possible for the Committee to interview and hire the person they feel they can work with to continue to improve the school system.
PLEASE if you are a parent or a business person, the school department needs your help.

Parent representatives will serve on an advisory committee which will be narrow the semi-finalist field to five finalists. These five finalist will be interviewed by the Lowell School Committee. This difficult task will require that the parent representatives to commit to five evening meetings on March 25 and April 6, 7, 8, and 9, 2015. If you are interested, I recommend sending a formal letter of interest to Lowell School Committee through this email account MCassidy@lowell.k12.ma.us

For some reason the School Committee Agenda and Packet are on-line only at the School Dept. Website and NOT the City website. WHY? Here’s some information from the packey I felt was worth sharing.

Anyway, after a really bad winter, the school dept. surveyed parents about the school calendar. Surprisingly very few bothered to respond. In fact only 1,217 people responded and has a result the calendar will remain the same.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015 First Day of School – Grades 1‐12
Thursday, December 24, 2015 * Christmas Eve – No School ‐ Holiday Break 
Friday, December 25, 2015 * Christmas Day ‐[Holiday Break: Wednesday, December 24th – Friday, January 2, 2015]
Monday, February 15, 2016 * President’s Day ‐[Mid‐Winter Vacation:Monday, February 15 –Friday, February 19, 2016]
Patriot’s Day ‐ [Spring Break: Monday, April 18th – Friday, April 22, 2016]
Wednesday, June 16, 2016 180th School Day
Wednesday, June 23, 2016 185th School Day  [Includes five (5) Snow Days]

Barring an unexpected emergency that causes schools to be closed, the last day of school this year is: Monday, June 23, 2015

2015 Graduation Dates: Lowell High School Wednesday June 3rd @ 6:00 PM Tsongas Arena Speakers: Mayor Rodney Elliott – School Committee Representative – Arthur Anton Commencement Speaker

Adult Education Friday June 5th @ 7:00 PM Lowell High School Cyrus W. Irish Auditorium Speakers: Mayor Rodney Elliott – School Committee Representative

We also find out that the Lowell Dept will team with a group that assist “homeless” or couch students. These are kids who either are kicked out, leave or are abandoned from their home and live at family or friends or in some cases on the street.

Youth Harbors Rediscovery offers a continuum of services to unaccompanied, homeless high school students and youth who are aging out of foster care, in order to ensure their successful transition to adulthood. Although it is difficult to conclude an exact figure of how many students are homeless unaccompanied youth, LHS House Office staff estimate that there are approximately 60-70 students Youth Harbors could serve on a yearly basis.

Good Luck in whatever the next step in business or work life is to Fred Bahou, who I heard on City Life is in the process of selling the Windsor Shoppe. Being a business owner is tough, especially in these times, it takes a lot of time and puts a lot of stress on the owner and his family. It must have been a tough decision for Fred because he is a 2nd generation owner. God Bless and Good Luck in whatever comes next.

Same to Corey Belanger who I hear is also in the process of selling some or all of his business. The winter has been tough on small business and the restaurant/bar business is especially tough. I may have political differences with the Councilor but no one who has run or tried to run a business deserves anything but best wishes and hope that he lands on his feet.

Next Friday continue your St. Patrick’s day celebration and join the Friends of Gage Field at the East End Club to help raise money to build a new playground. Doors open at Six donations are $10

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