Wednesday, November 26, 2008

So what happened there?

A few thoughts about the tax level discussion after some reflection:

This was not the first, but was the most recently egregious, example of a huge dissonnance between what happened at a City Council meeting that I attended and the meeting I read about in the next day's Telegram and Gazette. It's pretty clear to me that, after so many meetings and so many years of covering it, getting to the point is really all that we're going to get from the daily. Unfortunately, this leaves out a huge amount of very significant information. Last night, it was the number and the identities of those who were testifying in favor of a single tax rate. They were not, by any means, all weathy business owners. There were homeowners, small business owners, a remarkable mix of people, nearly unanimously in favor of the tax rate. You'd never get that from the paper.

By the same token, you wouldn't have gotten that from listening to the city councilors, either. It's sad that public comment can be so unacknowledged. Thanking people for coming isn't enough.

It's clear that there's still a gap between taxation and services even in the conversation (not to say the minds) of the city councilors. I'd expect any conversation about taxation to talk about where that money goes. While it happened last night, it didn't happen nearly as much as I'd expect.

Brace yourself, folks: last night, Councilor Rosen threw in the first call for city layoffs for next year's budget.

Vote on the tax rate

Vote is 9-2 for lowest residential tax rate, Petty and Rushton opposed

Residential rate will thus be $13.50 per $1000
Commercial rate will be highest possible, $28.72 per $1000

That will be an average homeowner increase of $50 for homeowners (Rushton's motion would have raised it an additional $21 dollars, totaling $71 dollars) and $1600 for business owners

Mayor Lukes on the tax rate

The Mayor gives the chair to Councilor Rushton to address the council

agrees with Councilor Germaine: "last minute, an afterthought"

Will "appoint a task force after the Thanksgiving holiday"
"a real issue about how we deal with businesses...colleges as a cushion"
The Commonwealth "isn't bailing out anyone"
"Since 1984, we've been doomed"

The union reps (in evidence tonight) "aren't here out of love for us...this is where the money is"
Health insurance has been a budget buster
"accommodation is needed"
Vote for LRTR
Setting up task force

Councilor Germaine on the tax rate

Thanks people for coming out tonight
will support LRTR

"disappointed in the process" two weeks for "such an important vote"
urges Council to "start the process months in advance, not one month and take a vote on it"

Councilor Smith on the tax rate

We always get "drawn into the same argument...want to stay away from that"
Expand the tax base...arguments tonight

"I don't think we can compare the city to towns around it...added benefits"

Speaks of foreclosures..."businesses and homeowners are hurting"

He's "open to having a conversation about having a single tax rate over an extended time period..over time, shift the burden"

Vote for LRTR
"doesn't preclude discussion"

Councilor Rosen on the tax rate

"I hope our colleges and universities are watching tonight and that this will motivate them to do their part...but I'm not going to beat them up tonight"

"I wish we had many more businesses...I want businesses to stay here, and I want businesses to come we need more? We certainly do. We as homeowners need more businesses...increase the commercial tax base."

Businesses made a "pretty good point"

Hopes they'll be "more vocal tomorrow...trying to educate the city of Worcester"

This "is not a low rate"

(Here's where it gets interesting, folks!)

Need to ask.."do we have too many people on the payroll?"...need to cut expenses...take at the look at budget next spring...he's sure it will be painful, but it's "the only way out of it"..take a look at the people we have working in the city..."maybe we have too many"

Agrees that this will mean a cut in services, but "I don't know that we can afford this"

vote for LRTR

"Please...(homeowners) do pay plenty...they cannot pay any more. That's not a deal they can afford now.'
Vote for LRTR

Councilor Eddy on the tax rate

Makes some opening remarks about this being his first year doing this...running for office last year was an education...we have wonderful neighborhoods. "I would say those those that say 'no one wants to be here' that they have no idea what they are talking about" about the amentitites offered by the city.

"School system has seen an increase in funding"

"a city on the move, because we are a city of neighborhoods"

People are concerned about where their tax dollars go and if the city is being efficient...(so) he can't say other than the lowest tax rate possible

There are a lot of factors that determine where a business goes other than the tax rate.

"I have no problem with this vote, no problem whatsoever"

Councilor Toomey on the tax rate

Councilor Toomey rises to support the lowest residential tax rate (I'm thinking of abbreviating that: LRTR?!?), but she stresses that she wants to continue the conversation on a single rate.

Councilor Clancy on the tax rate

Councilor Clancy rises to support the lowest residential tax rate.

ran out of juice

Sorry about that...the laptop runs for two hours on battery power and the City Council ran over. We kept plenty of notes, 'though, and we'll get you the rest now!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Councilor Petty on the tax rate

Rises to support Rushton's motion (!).

(This is huge. It looked like everyone was going for lowest rate last week.)

It's a tough time for the city. "I'm concerned about small business owners and residents of the city."

"What concerns me...we talk about strategic plans every year at the same time...small business owners as well as large business owners"

"You know the city is sort of a livable place."

Councilor Ruston on the tax levy

"renewed interest in a single tax rate...have to work together, not against each other"
"can't happen overnight, but should happen over time"
asking for public participation (neighborhood groups, colleges, businesses"

"no question that people are suffering...I want to hear more about...bringing in jobs, so we can put people to work"

Asking for line 210 (?), slightly higher for residential: change of $21 for households

Work for incentivised proposals

Councilor Palmieri on the tax rate

Thanks people for coming and speaking tonight

"I don't think there's anyone in the city that doesn't say they need lower taxes...everyone would like to see lower taxes."

Speaks of CitySquare...going to help out
Infastructure: commuter rail, "we need 15" (more trains)..."generate more residents, more business..."
"We certainly need our partners...our partners have been marginally weak...we need a stimulus package to enhance..." Stronger partnership with the state and fed
Parking overlays..."setting a trend that will have a dramatic affect on business"
"Business leaving in droves...facts are facts! That's not accurate! At a minimum, we've stabilized...not fact that businesses are leaving this city without businesses coming in."
PILOT: "This council has been very strong...if we are getting monies for the public should happen"
"There is a fairness to be looked at"
"If we had a single tax rate today...increase on the residential side of $25 million...on commerical side would go down from $59 million to $33 community would suggest that this would help immeasurably in bringing in businesses; I don't agree"
(he's pretty wound up about this)

"I'm just hopeful, that in the future, when you compare apples to apples, there's something that we all can agree to...we are not unique, 'though we are in a place that is a lot better than others...very, very good living in Worcester....want to make sure our residents can remain in Worcester"
MOTION: Lowest residential tax rate

Public testimony, part III

Elizabeth St. John (speaking very quietly) has seen the city deteriorate over the past years. Wants to see the city all thrive. Approves of PILOT, too. Would like to see a single rate, and get druggies off the street, as that would also attract business.

We've had several residential property owners arguing in favor of a single tax rate. That's huge. Usually, there's a barrage of homeowners complaining about their high residential taxes, but tonight there's a large number of homeowners speaking in favor of a single rate to attract and retain business.

Public testimony, part II

Richard Kennedy, Worcester Chamber of Commerce, speaks that we need to cut spending, and also bump up the proportion of the commercial tax base. The way to do that, he says, is to go to a single tax rate. "As the commercial business base shrinks, a great proportion falls on the residential" side. "We have to start down that road...begin to make it more equitable." He reads off a list of local rates for surrounding communities. "important from the residents' perspective as well...a five year time frame is something we should set ourselves."

Bill Kelleher (you'll recognize his name from realty signs) passes out a single sheet, says "sometimes we lose track of the bigger picture," and now runs through a comparision of apples and apples: a Worcester restaurant to a West Boylston restaurant (O'Connor's, in fact), drugstores, locksmith,'s a huge difference if those businesses are outside the city. He says that the councilors not only have a leadership role, they also have an education role. They need to explain that when a company goes elsewhere, where does the excise tax go? Where does the property tax go? "Inch away from the low rate tonight, and please help people understand better why it is in the interest of the city to bring us closer to parity"

Gary Vecchio, Shrewsbury Street Neighborhood Association, asking 1) for PILOT, 2) that tax classification be held before the election, 3) asking for the lowest residential property tax rate (he says he's been here for six years in a row). He says that only six times in the last 19 years has the Council voted for the lowest residential property tax rate. He goes on to compare tax bills to the cost of living.

Ed Profield (?), lives here, owns five properties in the city, operates a business here. The current business climate is the worst he's seen...a solution to keep businesses here, rather than have them go one town out. "There has to be a more level playing field." Points out that offering a TIFF package is contrary to the tax rate. Pitting the "rich business owner against the poor homeowner" may get votes, but does not solve the problem. "have the foresight to appoint a committee to level the playing field"

Public testimony, part I

We've got six or more people who want to give public testimony.

First up, Ralph Crowley, a member of the Crowley family (that would be Polar Beverages), who is speaking of the disrespect the Council is showing the business community by having their minds made up ahead of time. He's looking for leadership. He's gone through how many he employs (from 250 up to 1200). He urges the Council to get up with the realities of business.

Sumner Tilton, now, an attorney, speaking, among his many hats, as the chair of "Choose Worcester." This would convince business that are here to stay here, and those that are thinking of being here of locating here. He says, "It's a tough job." The split tax rate does not help. Communities surrounding the city have half the tax rate for business. He speaks of the shrinking business tax levy (from 35% down to 19%; he forecasting that it will go down to 10%).

Roberta Schaefer, chair of the Municipal Research Bureau, speaking of what businesses look for: good schools (including MCAS scores), low taxes, a fair permitting process. She's reading off a list of how local communites fall in friendliness to business, putting Worcester down in the 240's (also chastising the City Councilors who are not paying attention to her). She argues that the other communities are benefitting from Worcester's assets.

Roll call on starting it up

They're taking information first

Taking a few things first

Tax rate is up first, but a few things are coming up before first...

  • Resolution on federal fuel assistance
  • the ongoing Flagg Street sidewalk brewhaha (the sidewalk itself, and the idea of a study first): a pro and a con
  • the mayor just announced that there may be some interruption in the broadcast because Charter is having some difficulties tonight

Liveblogging the City Council on property taxes

Liveblogging the City Council debate on property taxes tonight.

Good to have a record of what everyone said when it, say, comes budget time next fall!

Setting property tax rates

The Worcester City Council will be setting the property tax rates for next year at tonight's meeting.
Let's remember where the money goes! There was a rush to assure everyone that many councilors would never, never consider a hike in residential taxes.

Services don't come free, people.

21st century skills

There was an editorial in yesterday's Boston Globe (which for some reason I cannot turn up online) regarding the Task Force on 21st Century Skills:

This sense of urgency comes from our employers, who say that our graduates don’t have the skills required to attain and remain in today’s jobs. They want employees who can make coherent oral presentations, solve complex problems using either creativity or technology, understand the relationship between the U.S. and the rest of the world, work as part of a team, and have the necessary motivation. Instead, they say, our graduates come to them content-rich, but lacking in most of these skills.

The need to integrate these so-called 21st century skills into our public schools is the focus of recent recommendations presented to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education by the Task Force on 21st Century Skills. Our recommendations include sweeping changes to educator licensure, assessment, accountability and standards, and aim to ensure that students learn academic content in an environment that encourages the use of these and other skills.

Two thoughts:
  • Has it occurred to anyone else that having four years of math would be a basic necessity for the 21st century?
  • The list of skills employers want have largely been bumped out of the curriculum by the last set of "needs" the employers wanted, which led us to the MCAS. The skills are a great list, but if you're spending all of your time drilling on multiple choice tests, you don't have a great deal of time for oral reports.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

If you're wondering...

...what's happening with the new (possibly) superintendent: the School Committee is in contract negotiations. It seems they suggested a salary on the low side of the range they'd been given, and Dr. Boone said no.

That's where we're at.

Friday, November 21, 2008

More on a new Secretary of Education

Here's a bit on Linda Darling-Hammond:

Here is her bio from Stanford

"Bureaucratic solutions to problems of practice will always fail because effective teaching is not routine, students are not passive, and questions of practice are not simple, predictable, or standardized. Consequently, instructional decisions cannot be formulated on high then packaged and handed down to teachers."

- from her award-winning book, The Right to Learn

Linda Darling-Hammond is Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education at Stanford University where she has launched the Stanford Educational Leadership Institute and the School Redesign Network. She has also served as faculty sponsor for the Stanford Teacher Education Program. She is a former president of the American Educational Research Association and member of the National Academy of Education. Her research, teaching, and policy work focus on issues of school restructuring, teacher quality and educational equity. From 1994-2001, she served as executive director of the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, a blue-ribbon panel whose 1996 report, What Matters Most: Teaching for America's Future, led to sweeping policy changes affecting teaching and teacher education. In 2006, this report was named one of the most influential affecting U.S. education and Darling-Hammond was named one of the nation's ten most influential people affecting educational policy over the last decade. Among Darling-Hammond's more than 300 publications are Preparing Teachers for a Changing World: What Teachers Should Learn and be Able to Do (with John Bransford, for the National Academy of Education, winner of the Pomeroy Award from AACTE), Teaching as the Learning Profession: A Handbook of Policy and Practice (Jossey-Bass: 1999) (co-edited with Gary Sykes), which received the National Staff Development Council's Outstanding Book Award for 2000; and The Right to Learn: A Blueprint for Schools that Work, recipient of the American Educational Research Association's Outstanding Book Award for 1998.

* EdD (Urban Education),with Highest Distinction, Temple University, 1978
* BA, magna cum laude, Yale University, 1973.

There is a petition being circulated in her favor.

In addition, the National Network of Teacher Activist Groups has a petition outlining the sort of Secretary they'd like to see, mentioning no names:
...Our vision of educational justice, access, opportunity, and equity includes having a Department of Education whose officials embrace the idea of a quality education as part of the common good. We wish to turn away from a corporate model of education that claims that teaching and learning can only improve by imposing market perspectives and processes onto our public
education system. Education should be a fundamental human right, not subject to privatization by firms whose primary concern is a profit motive and the bottom line. We have all witnessed the failures of this free market system in recent months and do not support this model for our key member of Mr. Obama's education team. We want a person who is a professional, experienced, and knowledgeable educator, not a corporate executive such as New York City's Education Chancellor Joel Klein or Chicago CEO Arne Duncan, who have demonstrated their vision of privatized, corporatized, and anti-democratic schools.

Over the last 20 years in the U.S., education is becoming the business of education, and we emphatically reject that model. We call upon the President-elect to choose someone who will embrace the ideas of civic involvement and public participation. We look forward to
collaborating with that person, as well as with students, parents, and the broader public, in developing a truly meaningful and just education for all students in the U.S.

Monday, November 17, 2008

No back burner for education

I'm only catching up to my national column reading today. I wanted to recommend this column by Nicholas Kristof, on why the new president should not put education on a back burner. He writes:

Quick, what's the source of American's greatness?...a fair amount of evidence suggests that the crucial factor is our school system--which, for most of our history, was the best in the world...The message for Mr. Obama is that improving schools must be on the front burner.

New Education Secretary

Among the many things people are weighing in on through is the new Education Secretary. NCLB gave us all a good look at exactly how much power the federal government has (for good or ill) in our schools. The new federal Secretary of Education needs a good hard look as we move forward.

Among the names floated have been Joel Klein, who heads the New York City schools. For those who think this would be a disastrous appointment, you can sign a petition against that appointment.

There is also a petition supporting the appointment of Linda Darling-Hammond, who has served as an education advisor to President-elect Obama.

I wonder if Joanthan Kozol would do it?

I know that there are other names floating around; as I hear them, I'll post more. If you've got a thought on this, though, send it in! Let them hear it!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


A big cheer today for those who went in and voted to keep the Massachusetts income tax. I'm proud of us! Good for us for knowing that our tax dollars go to support real programs that would have been devastated without the income tax. Way to go!

And, in getting back to our regularly scheduled programming, the town of Sharon is continuing their discussion about the focus of education in town:

Salomons has submitted a proposal that seeks community support for allowing
teachers to avoid tailoring their lessons to the MCAS. Instead, she would
like to see teachers directed to instruct students on skills the district
has deemed necessary for survival in the 21st century, including critical
thinking, invention, problem-solving, and multicultural collaboration.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Thinking of those who can't vote

Jeff at Wormtown Taxi did a nice job with this one today, so I will only add a bit.

I have a sticker on my car right now that says "Kids Don't Vote; Moms Do!" (I got it from MomsRising.) I know that I am hardly original in keeping in very close mind what would be the best outcome for my kids in voting (thus my opposition to Question 1, for example). I also think about other people's kids (even more opposition to 1 there, but also thoughts on health insurance, day care, a clean environment, etc.).

But what about non-American kids?

What about the kids in Dafur?
What about the kids on Pacific islands who are already losing their homes due to rising ocean levels?
What about the kids who had to flee their homes in Georgia when Russia invaded?
What about the kids in China whose parents can't buy food that says something other than "Made in China" on it, and are being poisoned as a result?

This is just my list, off the top of my head, and it could go on. But I do feel some sort of global parent responsibility since I've become a parent. It's the same thing that makes you keep an eye on that toddler that isn't yours when he's just a bit too close to the curb. You've got a sense on kids.

Use it when you vote today. For everybody's kids.