Sunday Notes – Frustration all around !!

A Prediction that proved accurate !

EDITORIAL
‘Mayor of resistance’ is harming Lowell….” picked up on a blogger’s post referencing language in the mostly defunct 1922 City Charter”

Well actually I was also referring to MA. State Law Chapter 43 Section 34 but I would have been happy had the Sun Editorial at least referred to me by name or has Andy Decouteaux did that night at the School Committee meeting “A challenger”. I’d have even settled for Bob Hoey’s description of me as the Curmudgeon!

I get people are frustrated, so am I. For those who are frustrated with the School Committee get in line behind me. I have spent the last year being critical of the lack of leadership on the School Committee, expressing my frustration with the way the budget is not only presented but closed out for the year and the lack of leadership and respect for the School Committee this Superintendent has shown.

I think you should also be just as frustrated with your City Council and City Manager for mishandling this process. I find it laughable that people would be upset with the school committee for challenging the process but the fact that apparently the City Council also had no clue about the process is okay.

Regina Faticanti was concerned back in the day when they were going to build several schools, that the City Council would be making decisions without the School Committee’s input. Appears she had a right to be concerned!

For those who complain about me supporting the School Committee’s choice to finally do SOMETHING, I remind you it was the City Council who raised my hackles by declaring an open school whose staff included a State Teacher of the year finalist, as surplus property which I firmly believed was the incorrect process. A School Committee and School Dept has to declare it it no longer needed for educational purposes before the city is supposed to declare it surplus.

Allow me 1 simple question and PLEASE IF YOU CAN with documented facts, provide an answer.

Where in the City Ordinance does it say the Council sites a school? If it is so clear cut why hasn’t the City Solicitor shown the language that clearly states it’s the City Council?

I have shown the City Charter Language, I have shown MA. State Law, I have shown what I received from the MSBA Legal Council which shows its a local decision and to me that means the local Charter / Plan E Mass Law and past practice would be the guide.

That process is explained, in detail, on the MSBA website under the heading “Building With Us” where you can find a copy of the MSBA’s Feasibility Study Guidelines (“Guidelines”) under Module 3, Feasibility Study. The Guidelines advise that a “Preliminary Design Program … must be reviewed and approved … in accordance with … local approval procedures and practices [and that] Districts are encouraged to consult with their local counsel to ensure that all applicable requirements are satisfied.” (See Guidelines at Paragraph 3.1.7, Local Actions and Approval).

Please let me know if you require further assistance.

Sincerely,

-Brian

Brian P. Kelley
Associate General Counsel
Massachusetts School Building Authority
40 Broad Street, Suite 500
Boston, MA 02109

Yet not 1 person including any City Councilor can show me a City Ordinance that states it is the City Council who has authority to site a school building.

I’ve shown the facts to support my position, can you? The Solicitor is very good but works for the Manager not the School Committee and supplied her client the answer he wanted. Just remember she has been proven wrong before.

I can understand citizens being frustrated with the process and the School Committee’s lack of action until now. Go back for the last year and read these pages I’ve shown them taking votes and not following them up, I’ve shown them not asking enough fiscal questions, I’ve shown them passing a budget that doesn’t have the funding, I show them approving a transfer that charged $80,000 of the Supt. salary to the Food Service account and I’ve shown them allowing this Supt. to basically do what HE wants when HE wants regardless of what they say.

They passed an unbalanced budget that he brought them! They allowed a longtime employee who was doing two critical jobs to be forced out by not supporting him, yet passed the budget with his salary set, then a week later approved splitting the position and adding another body along with the cost of benefits.

The recommendation is to replace the Family Resource Coordinator position into two new positions, Transportation Manager and Family Resource Coordinator (FRC). The two positions will increase the budget up to $50,000 to $146,638. The budget increase can be funded from a budget transfer of $50,000 from the SPED Summer School budget. After the budget was approved by the school committee, we learned that the SPED Summer School stipends would be paid from a SPED carryover grant allowing up to $50,000 transferring out of this budget line. Therefore these positions will not create a budget shortfall.

There is still no Transportation Manager and that the FRC position which the interim Coordinator resigned from, was just filled in the last few days and is being paid at a salary equal to or more than the previous person who was doing both jobs!! How will you get a qualified transportation Manager for $46,000 – $50,000 to come and work in Lowell? OOPS looks like we are going to need another salary increase for that position!

The School Committee told the Superintendent very clearly at the regular School Committee meeting on August 16th that they did NOT want the Guidance position at LHS cut yet he and his Asst. Supt. for Finance brought it forward this week anyway and the School Committee seemed only a little upset! I would have called him insubordinate!

It is frustrating that with School opening we have NO Transportation Coordinator and just hired a Family Resource Director – busing routes done by very talented clerks being paid an additional stipend – 25% of our School leaders leaving for one reason or another – an unfair Labor practice lawsuit hanging over the city and no contract for the Asst. principals and other administrator’s, a School Committee members saying he violates the law by calling HR and asking to set up interviews, the Supt. and Asst. Supt. admitting they allow Principals to use Library Aides has Para’s in violation of both union contracts and a Supt. who admits he sends the School Committee a copy of the Agenda and packet on Friday’s but withholds it from the public until Monday in violation of the public records law and not one member of the School Committee or School Committee challengers say or do anything !!!

The other School Committee candidates only want to address the location of the High School and don’t say a word about these other issues. There are major problems with communication, finance and respect coming out of the Superintendents office and they say NOTHING but Lowell High belongs at Cawley!

The Asst. Supt. of Finance cost the city money when after the School Committee had approved a busing contract weeks earlier, he asked the Law Dept. for a review and neither the Supt. or Asst. Supt. of Finance EVER INFORMED THE COMMITTEE IT WAS GOING BACK OUT FOR BID!!

It is frustrating to see all of this, TO HIGHLIGHT and comment on all of this and yet the election will be centered on where the High School should go after the law pretty clearly shows the School Committee has the right to answer that but no one wants to hold ALL the elected officials responsible for not knowing the process.

If it was so undeniable that the MSBA rules clearly state it’s the City Councils responsibility then why was the MSBA so concerned with the letter from the bonding Law Firm and why did the MSBA kick it back? If it’s that clear why does the Associate General Counsel of the MSBA say it’s a local decision? Where in the City ordinance is that?

If I have to address location for the next two months fine. I will ! I will do so in a financial reality scenario.

I will remind everyone at every opportunity of the fiscal reality over and over, Lowell doesn’t automatically go up on property tax 2.5% like we could because we know the residents cannot afford it. We know we have other Capital needs like firehouses, DPW center and a police station. We qualify for the C.E.P Program which provides free breakfast and lunch to EVERY Lowell student because we have so many low income and poor residents.

CEP school districts are reimbursed using a formula based on the percentage of students categorically eligible for free meals based on their participation in other specific means-tested programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Look at their figures from their website. 61% of students in Lowell Schools!!!

We know we “borrowed” two million dollars of reserves to fund the operational budget this year and we know we owe the School dept. another $250,000.00 and based on the Auditor’s Report in last week’s City Council Packet Lowell will have $2,223,107.99 in Free Cash! If we have to deduct the encumbrances which I didn’t pay attention to until yesterday, then we have “Free Cash” in the amount of $1,259,749.90 which is closer to what we have had the past few years under Manager Murphy and is leaving Lowell with $990,250.00 less than what the Manager has committed to pay back to reserves and the School Dept.

We know the School Budget because of raises goes up minimally $3,000,000 next year before the additional busing or health cost are even figured in and there is still unsettled contracts and an unfair labor practise charge. We know several city contracts are up and we will have to fund those and next year we will need at least a 3% -4% tax increase just to fund the operational budgets. We know the cost of transportation will increase if we go to Cawley and that cost is all on the City and I will fight to ensure that the Manager breaks the transportation cost out of what he now shows has the cash contribution to the schools to show in actuality it is only half or a little higher because the rest is for transportation which is not part of the city’s net school spending requirements.

If I have to keep addressing and defending a School Committee members rights and responsibilities I will because that is the office I am seeking. Other candidates can chose to not defend the office they seek but I will. In theory you hope the election is about more than one issue.

I’m confident the School Committee has a say and if forced will continue to defend the rights and responsibilities of the office I seek. Instead I hope we can all agree that to try to start the healing after how badly current officials handled this important issue, that we let the citizens of Lowell decide in a binding November vote where to put the High School and candidates and incumbents can be judged and elected on MANY issues not just one!

Lost Connection
The City has also lost the guidance of Sarah Blache-Schwartz the former Senior Project Coordinator for Massachusetts School Building Authority who was working with the City for the MSBA but who left the MSBA on August 11th.

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One thought on “Sunday Notes – Frustration all around !!

  1. C R Krieger

    How can I do my own blog when reading yours takes so much time.

    I have a question to which I can’t find an answer.  How much will it cost us to just fix up the current High School if the MSBA just walks away?  This is not Option 1, but a bare bones effort.

    There is no guarantee the MSBA will hang with us as we sort out this dirty laundry.  Then there is the “ballot question” which could go sideways on the Option 3 folks and the Cawley Crowd.

    So, what is the bare minimum to make the current assortment of buildings acceptable?

    Thanks

    Regards  —  Cliff

    Reply

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