Sunday Notes January 22nd 2017

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Struck a Nerve!

Did you catch the School Committee meeting Wednesday night? I’ve talked about how I feel this Superintendent has a negative attitude and what I perceive as his distaste in having to answer to School Committee members who dare question him.

If you watched the meeting the Supt. was very snappy and terse responding to Connie Martin’s motion and comments:

7.I. [By Connie Martin]: Requesting that the Administration, including all members who are cited as School Committee Representatives, provide the Lowell School Committee with a complete report on the history and current status of the charge filed by the LSAA regarding parking for Central Administration LSAA union members. This report should include:

the legal language differentiating a “charge” vs a “grievance” and notification protocols required by each,
a timeline of past meetings with Union leadership and
all associated documents and minutes from those meetings

She seems to have struck a nerve! He claimed he didn’t read the LSAA Unions letter to the Editor, if that is true, shame on him for NOT doing so. He’s paid $185,000 to pay attention to issues. Good for Connie telling him he should have!!

Sadly, if you watched you would also have seen what is way to common with this committee, the fact that the rest of the Committee members said NOTHING! Aside from Bob Hoey seconding the motion no one else had the nerve to ask for an explanation why they weren’t informed by the man who works for them. Under Ed Reform the School Committee has very few direct reports the Superintendent is the main one and in my view holding back that information is alarming.

This is by biggest frustration with this committee in general, they don’t challenge or ask enough questions.

I think the individual members of the school committee are good, decent people with good intentions but you weren’t elected to just yes the Supt. to death week after week and not ask questions or file motions.

How can you be in office for a little over 1 year and only file 1 joint motion? and that’s about School Site Councils! One of the current Committee members holds that distinction.

I understand there is a learning curve and there is a lot to learn but to attend all but 1 meeting and not file 1 motion requesting the Supt. or Administration to do anything seems a bit much.

I hate to call out the committee because I understand after watching these officials closely for the past 8 years it’s a tough situation. No matter what, you end up upsetting someone or a group of people. You put in many hours and you do what you think is best.

However to watch this Superintendent get little to no questions on financial matters and for the committee to allow a lack of clear communication from the Superintendent without questioning or comment isn’t what you are elected to do either.

My concern is with the chaos of the end of year closing, the budget hearings that were rescheduled, The Sept. vote asking the City for over $500,000 in additional funds and no follow up by anyone on this committee, the transfers that allowed the School Supt. to at one point charge $80,000 of his Salary to the Food Service Account again without anyone questioning that at a School Committee meeting and the Sept. transfers to undo that but still allow the Supt. to charge $5,500 of his Salary plus some of the CFO and HR Salary without asking for a Legal Opinion. It dumbfounds me.

The Fiasco that was the meeting for the Supt’s contract and the language that was included in that contract and the need to even have to give him a contract instead of asking questions frustrates me.

Allowing the Supt. to mis-lead and mis-state facts without questioning drives me crazy. To allow him to go on WCAP and State that having a contract was a Massachusetts State Law only to find out from DESE (Dept. of Elementary and Secondary Education) that it isn’t without anyone on the Committee addressing it, makes me wonder what these people are doing?

“The beauty of me in all of this is you can go ahead and fire me any time you want. I’m ready to retire, so I don’t really care about any of the politics.”

For a guy who supposedly doesn’t care about the politics it is befuddling to many that the Lowell Public Schools Office of Human Resources, Personnel & Recruitment is now run by two people who come from strong Lowell political families.

Ann Sheehy gets bumped up last year to Asst HR Director and de facto Chief of Staff for the Superintendent and this year gets promoted to HR Director (longtime Director gets bumped to Asst. Business Manager) and then April Rourke, City Councilor Danny Rourke’s better (and brighter) half gets the job after another nation/state/city-wide search.

To be honest I could care less especially if they are qualified, I was a vocal opponent to the Nepotism Rules the last School Committee put into effect but looking at this from an outsiders view or a rank and file teachers view, it looks like politics as usual with this Superintendent.

No matter how qualified either of them are this looks bad!

Power Flexing!

If the Sun thinks Officer Dave Pender’s pals are pressuring Murphy, imagine the voters, campaign donors, pressure residents of Douglas Road, Clark Road and Andover St (along with neighboring streets) are applying to not just the Manager but to all the City Councilors over the High School Issue.

Belvidere Parents getting organized

There are a group of Belvidere residents who have school aged students who are in favor of locating a new High School at Cawley and are gathering signatures stating that. In addition I’m hearing they have reached out to various Councilor’s to express their view and have asked to meet with the Mayor who so far hasn’t responded.

Whose going to run?

Look for more names to start surfacing for the City Council, especially those intent to keep the High School in the downtown and/or out of Belvidere.

Bubble is relatively quiet so far on the Council race only names I’ve heard are Steve Gendron and Steve Conant. Names like Dennis Mercier, Erik Gitschier and my own have started floating around for the School Committee.

Instead of criticizing the School Committee for inaction should I instead put my name on the ballot and put myself in the position to have to make decisions instead of just critiquing them?

I’d have to give up blogging and my Facebook postings, give up my highly compensated Saturday Morning Live gig but I’m almost frustrated enough to jump in right now.

The actions and inactions of this committee and Superintendent and in my view the lack of fiscal understanding and follow through by the current committee is a major concern.

Let me be clear about one thing from the beginning if I were going to run “JAY LANG ISN’T WALKING THROUGH THAT DOOR”!

I would not be suggesting or advocating that the current Superintendent be fired or let go.

I’d be saying he needs to be held more accountable in the financial aspects and be more communicative and respectful to the School Committee, the City Manager, Council and City department heads and that he needs to live under the MOU he agreed to.

I have pointed out ad nauseam of the way the past fiscal school year was closed without the School Committee ever receiving a final amount of “Free Cash” to see what was available and allow the committee to decide what to do with it.

Instead we saw transfer after transfer done to allow the administration to keep “free cash” away from the city side and to spend it on technology purchases the administration wanted.

Here is a transfer notice from Sept. reducing the June transfer that charged $80,000 of the Supt’s salary to the Food Service account along with other administrative salaries.

I’m not sure once the final audits are completed if the FEDS and State will even allow the 3% of the Supt’s salary he is charging to Food Service, you can be sure that not one member of this committee even bothered to ask that question when this transfer was presented.

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Getting blindsided with the announcement of the unfair labor practice charge is inexcusable!

Communication has to be improved whether he likes or respects the committee members or not and based on just the action of not informing the Committee by this Superintendent, there is no way this Committee should give him a term based contract.

If the LSAA union wins, the school dept. could be looking at anywhere from a quarter to a half million dollars owed to their members.

I’m no great fiscal expert, have stated that many times, but I’d campaign for more fiscal over-site by this committee, including using the Munis system for all financial reporting and advocate for a quarterly report from the Auditor. I would want School based budgeting.

I’d find a way to work with parents and PTO’S to educate them on the power they have under Ed Reform. School Site Councils have a big role to play if they are properly created and given and explained their duties and responsibilities. I’m thrilled to see Belvidere parents stepping up and fighting for their children.

I’ve championed the C.E.P program for the city that allows free breakfast and lunch for all of Lowell students, I helped bring a pulse back to the Citywide Parent Council, I have a child in the system and I have an annoying habit of asking questions to better understand municipal finance and why we do things the way we do them. Like me or not I try very hard to do my homework and research.

I don’t mind saying I don’t know but I also have no problem asking the people who do and should know for an answer and sharing that answer.

I say what I think probably way to often and to my own detriment.

I’m 100% in for a new LHS! where depends on the cost.

I do know it could be roughly $174 a year increase in taxes for 20 or so years if the City’s 30% is around $100,000,000 and that it probably will end up closer to $200 since the cost in my view will be around $330,000,00 not including some SITE work the state doesn’t cover but the city would be foolish to let the State walk away with $200,000,000 for another City. Lowell won’t get another chance at 70% reimbursement and the cost to replace or renovate the existing High School will only go higher.

I understand the positives of keeping it downtown and the real worry about what will happen to the downtown and to the main buildings if LHS is vacant. It has taken a long time to get anything in the Hamilton Canal site, even now there is no signed private companies guaranteeing they will come. There are 2 who have expressed solid interest but still nothing committed.

What make anyone think these buildings would fill up with anything but more housing?

If you recall the City did a best use study and even though 1 or possibly 2 of the sites available to build in the downtown area which are mentioned in this report have construction going on, there are still other available places to build.

downtown-lowell-market-study-draft-report

The other main issue is the disruption factor. Do you do split shifts? and what do you do about Phys Ed and construction disruption? Is there room enough in the pre-1980’s buildings for the 2,300 students since you have the almost 1,000 Freshman already in a separate building?

After their annoyance with UMASS Lowell for taking the Perkins building, does anyone really expect these Councilors to turn around and take the Dentist Office?

Cawley is a good location, I’m sure the LRTA would be able to work in some shuttles and the School Central Offices could move into the Freshman Academy Building PERMANENTLY freeing up almost $500,000 in rent to allow some free and reduced fares.

There would be no disruption of students during construction.

I also understand that there will be a huge negative traffic impact on Andover, Rogers, Nesmith, Clark and Douglas Roads!

However, many of us in this City have had to deal with traffic for many many years. I’ve lived through traffic problems when the Aiken and Bridge St bridges were under repair and the University Ave bridge was closed.

The people in Pawt. have lived with traffic and bridge issues, the people in the Acre have lived with the School St. bridge and other issues and most of us in this city will have no choice but to live with the BIG FILL on Thorndike St. so while it isn’t optimal and it will cause delays and disruption in what you are used to, it’s part of the cost of living in an inner city!

Later this week the Governor will unveil his preliminary State budget, early reports are he will increase state aid. I worry about what this Committee will do with the budget after doing and asking very little last year. The Superintendent presented a budget that flagged transportation cost yet no one on the School Committee asked for a clear explanation.

Under Ed Reform transportation does not count towards net school spending. DESE informs me it still is common to see it in school budget presentations but the Superintendent should either be clear as to what he is trying to convey and the Manager’s budget should clearly identify the money the city contributes to cover transportation cost.

Cuts may have to be made, hard choices are ahead for this year and the next few fees, contracts with the teachers unions and other unions need to be settled fairly for all sides, especially if a new High School has to come on-line.

School Committee members will need to be vocal leaders and lobbyist for the New High School regardless where it is located. They will have to work with the Manager and Council to see what reasonably can be worked out with the city for funding and someone on the School Committee will have to push the City Manager and Council for the creation of a yearly school by school maintenance program for all of the city schools.

With or without me ..Election season will be interesting!

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