Guest Column: Cheshire Override Will Fund Schools
The budget for the coming school year for the Adams-Cheshire Regional School District hangs in the balance as the communities await the results of the Proposition 2 1/2 override vote in the town of Cheshire.
As the date for the vote approaches, I felt the need to respond to a letter written to iBerkshires by Cheshire resident Gary Trudeau that was published on July 30, 2015. During the Cheshire town meeting the school budget for fiscal year 2016 was approved by an overwhelming majority of the voting residents present. It was stated at that meeting by the Cheshire select board that the budget passage was contingent on passage of a Prop 2 1/2 override vote. That override vote failed by a significant margin.
However, only 18 percent of Cheshire's voters turned out for that vote and of those who did more than two-thirds were over the age of 51.
So what are we to make of this? Why did the budget pass so strongly while the override failed? Did the voters simply say they wanted to pass the school budget but not provide added funding to pay for it? Was it voter apathy? Or was it that voters just did not adequately understand that the vote for the override was needed in order to pass and fund the budget?
Due to all of these questions, the School Committee requested that the town hold a second override vote. The town approved that request and the second vote will take place on Aug. 5.
In his letter, Mr. Trudeau makes several assertions and accusations that just need to be responded to. But first it is important to understand just how the school budget is funded.
Roughly two-thirds of the school budget for the Adams-Cheshire Regional School District is funded through Massachusetts Chapter 70 state aid to school districts. A small portion is made up of district revenues such as school-choice funds, fees and gate receipts. The balance is paid for through assessments to the two member towns that make up the district, Adams and Cheshire.
For the past several years Chapter 70 funding has been stagnant. It was flat in FY2010, down 6 percent in FY2011, flat in 2012, up 2.2 percent in FY13, up just .4 percent in each of FY2014 and '15 and is projected to increase just .3 percent for the coming 2016 fiscal year. That .3 percent translates to just about $27,000. In case you are feeling good about that increase, our line item for health insurance increased 15 percent, or roughly $395,000, nearly 15 times the amount of Chapter 70 increase. This increase in insurance is completely beyond our control and is only one of many line items that have increased. Others include salaries, utilities, other insurances, and others.
It is also important to note that despite these increases, the overall school budget as amended and presented is up just 2.7 percent. However, since Chapter 70 is up only a fraction the increases in the form of assessments to the towns are increasing. The assessment to Adams is up 5.3 percent while Cheshire is up 3.6 percent, or roughly $89,000 over last year.
But since Cheshire is so close to its Proposition 2 1/2 levy limit they are seeking an override vote to cover this increase. Without the override vote, Cheshire cannot fund this increase and will also result in the share for Adams to be reduced as well. This will cause the school budget to be cut an additional $360,000 from the budget that was passed which already had cuts to staff and programming.
The assertion by Mr. Trudeau that somehow the school budget is overfunded and out of control is absolutely false. In fact, we have been working year after year with the towns to adequately fund education while keeping increases in assessments at reasonable levels. Quite honestly, this has not been easy and has come at a cost to the students who attend our schools. Aside from the debt exclusion that voters approved to pay for the high school project, the school budget has been increasing in the 1 1/2 to 3 percent range for several years. This is, in fact, the first time that the district has come to the voters seeking an override to pay for education.
Mr. Trudeau also points to the fact that we spend over what the state considers minimum. That is true, we do. However the minimum spending is based on an out-of-date formula that just doesn't take into account the actual costs of running schools, such as insurance, special education placement, unfunded federal and state mandates, transportation costs that have been underfunded by the state for years, and so on. Schools simply could not educate students adequately using the minimum formula and as the name implies, that figure is the minimum amount that towns must spend, not what they should spend.
When compared to schools around the commonwealth, Adams-Cheshire is one of the lowest over minimum spending of all schools.
In his letter, Mr. Trudeau makes certain statements regarding salaries and that one went up 278 percent. If that were a teacher making $50,000 they would jump to $139,000. I really don't think this is the case. The trouble with relying on going to state websites is that you often cannot correctly understand the data as presented. I can tell you no one would get that kind of increase. Sometimes a pay source changes from grant funded to district funded, which is confusing or perhaps someone just received a stipend for a new duty. It is also possible that someone was a new hire late last year so their new salary reflecting a full year is skewed.
At this writing, I could not confirm this information but I can tell you it is just plain not true. All of our union bargaining units received between 1 /2 to 2 percent increased during the last negotiation session.
There have been some years in which no increase was granted not only to teachers but administration as well.
During the last negotiation session, all employees agreed to pay 40 percent of the cost of their health insurance if they elect a POS of PPO plan and 25 percent if they are on HMO.
As a result many are taking home less in their pay than before. They have sacrificed in order to help maintain staff and programs so dear to them throughout the district. For all they do: thank you!
Mr. Trudeau also makes comment on the attitude of the School Committee and administration. I have never met Mr. Trudeau, have never seen him at a School Committee meeting where he could freely ask questions. He has not met with the superintendent, the business manager, or principals to my knowledge. I nor any other School Committee member that I know of has received a phone call from him. It is amazing that he can determine attitudes of people without ever having met them. Is it just easier for him to post rants on websites than to come and confront what he perceives as a problem?
Well the real problem is this: Our schools are in trouble. As demonstrated by the Cheshire select board, the tax rate in Cheshire is amongst the lowest in the county and the average tax bill is also low. Per capita income in the same community is in the upper tier of towns. And yet per-pupil spending in the Adams-Cheshire Regional School District is the lowest of any district in the county and amongst the lowest in the state. At approximately $12,700, we spend roughly $1,600 less than the state average per student. BArT spends almost $1,000 more per student and McCann spends nearly $20,000 each.
And yet somehow the finger is always pointed at your local public school. While we all agree that simply pouring money at any problem will not fix it, I will say that you cannot purchase a good education with a lower school budget. You cannot expect the highest results with the lowest investment.
Underfunding schools will not only hurt the students, it will also affect local property values and will limit our ability to attract new families to the area. No one wants to pay more taxes. However, this override will add about 30 cents to the tax rate in Cheshire. That means that if you have a house valued at $200,000 the increase will be about $60 per year; a bit over a dollar a week.
What we all need to take to heart is that the schools do not belong to the School Committee. They do not belong to the superintendent or the principals. They do not belong to the teachers or the select boards. The schools belong to the taxpayers of the towns. They are your schools and they are there for the benefit of all of the children in the community. The voters of Cheshire will have their say on Aug. 5. Ultimately the towns will get the schools that they are willing to pay for. On behalf of the entire School Committee and the hard-working staff in the Adams-Cheshire Regional School District, I do urge you to vote yes. Thank you.
Paul K. Butler is chairman of the Adams-Cheshire Regional School District.
Pittsfield Offers Community Development Director to Florida Woman
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Janis Akerstrom has been selected to take over as the city's director of community development.
Akerstrom is the current housing and community development manager in Orlando, Fla. She would fill the position left by Douglas Clark, who resigned to return to his engineering business. James McGrath, the city's open space and parks director, is currently serving in the position on a interim basis and served on the committee to find Clark's replacement.
"I am very pleased to be able to bring on board a community development director with Ms. Akerstrom's qualifications," Mayor Daniel Bianchi wrote in a statement. "She brings a great deal of experience managing community block grant programs and a variety of other state and federal grant projects. Her knowledge of city planning and housing along with her strong management experience, will be invaluable to the department and the community."
Akerstrom boasts more than 20 years of experience with the most recent being the housing and community development manager in Orlando.
The City Council will be asked to approve her appointment at its Aug. 11 meeting. She was unanimously chosen by an interview committee consisting McGrath, Shirley Edgerton, cultural proficiency coach; Jesse Cook-Dubin, vice president of Pittsfield Downtown Inc.; Julia Sabourin, director of administrative services; and John DeAngelo, personnel director.
Akerstrom holds holds a bachelor of science degree from Columbia College in Aurora, Colo., and a master's degree in public administration from the University of Illinois. She also studied law at Gonzaga School of Law in Spokane, Wash., though she did not complete the graduate degree. She also studied at the medicine with the Navy in Orlando and business administration at Barnes Business College in Denver.
In 1992, when she was studying law, she took a job in the Spokane County Community Development Division, where she focused on the federal Community Development Block Grant's aquifer protection program that connects homes to water lines. She also has worked on mixed-use and senior housing developments, administered a women and minority business development loan initiative, and oversaw the reconstruction of an above-ground sewer reservoir.
In 1998, she became the senior community development specialist in the Washing County Office of Community Development, in Hillsboro, Ore. There she headed the entire Community Development Block Grant program for the county. A year later, she did the same for Clark County in Washington.
In 2001, she moved to Illinois and was the community development manager and federal grant programs manager for the Village of Oak Park. There she again headed the Community Development Block Grant Program but also an array of other federal programs including receiving $11 million in funds for regional housing collaborative efforts for six cities, and earned her master's degree in 2010.
She took the job in Orlando in March 2013. She managed Orlando's $6 million worth of various federal grants including the Community Development Block Grants and worked with the federal Housing and Urban Development grant funds.
'Southpaw': Winner by a Split Decision
by Michael S. Goldberger
Jake Gyllenhaal steps into the ring to punch out a story told many times before and still lands a KO.
The stark realism of director Antoine Fuqua's emotionally charged "Southpaw" belies the fact that you've seen this classic boxing saga at least a couple dozen times before, if not more. Oh, they get changed up a little bit, depending on the era from whence they emerge, but the plot is inevitably familiar.
The protagonist, usually of little intelligence and bereft of an upbringing that might have prepared him for a more traditional occupation, grapples his way to varying measures of success the only way he knows: with his fists. And it appears to be going along well, until ...
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Yep, it seemed like a dream too good to be true for Jake Gyllenhaal's Billy "The Great" Hope, light heavyweight champion of the world. Never mind that his face is a roadmap detailing each of the heretofore undefeated champ's title defenses. He's married to the pretty woman (Rachel McAdams) that grew up with him in a Hell's Kitchen orphanage, has a great little daughter, enjoys a stable of Bentleys and Ferraris, and lives in a mansion overlooking everything. Still, it was always there threatening, the indelibility of his ill-starred origins.
Although Billy prompts the ensuing fall by virtue of his tragic flaw — a rage that doubtless made him so effective in the ring — it's all the fates needed to intervene with a vengeance, as if angry that this lowborn mortal was able to escape from his originally designated circumstances. If he's truly worthy, unlike Sisyphus he'll be able to roll the boulder up the hill once again, without it rolling back this time. In punchfest parlance, such trials and tribulations are called a comeback. Dramatically, the seeking of redemption opens a window into the title pugilist's soul.
This proves tailor made for Gyllenhaal's star turn in a very ambitious, noteworthy portrayal that reaffirms his thespic excellence. If the brass ring proves out of his reach come Oscar time, it can only mean we're going to witness some truly great male performances this year. Otherwise, this is the turning point, the crucible from which he transitions to the Mount Olympus of his chosen career. With just a nudge and bit of indulgence, we believe that Billy Hope is indeed a product of "The System" and a full-fledged member of the brutal environment in which he lives.
Populating this world is a fine supporting cast headed by Forest Whitaker as Tick Wills, the enigmatic, immediately likable former pug-turned-gym owner/trainer and community activist who our man turns to in his hour of need. Whitaker is the two in the one-two punch he and Gyllenhaal bestow the film. Shades of Beery and Cooper in "The Champ" (1931), the tale's devastating blow to the gut comes in the form of Oona Laurence as the precocious, loving daughter, Leila, who suffers her own trial of adversity when things go kablooey for dad.
Truth is, Fuqua, working from a script by Kurt Sutter, has no compunction about borrowing liberally from the library of boxing movies' numerous clichés. The tipping point where Billy loses his temper and sends things crashing is almost an exact stencil of the scene in "Cinderella Man" (2005) in which Max Baer goads Jim Braddock, except without the restraint the latter was able to muster.
But the cross pollination of slugfest DNA works, iterating the fact that, not only are there very few variations on the theme, but that it's practically a genre unto itself. Besides, a focus, let us say, on the anxieties of the boxer's tax accountant, Mort, unless brilliantly written, would hardly garner our interest.
Thus, the only uniqueness one can hope for in virtually any prizefighting opera is the quality of the characterizations and the realism of the fight scenes. Here, making up for those rounds lost to hackneyed story conventions, "Southpaw" scores major points. The ballyhoo regarding Gyllenhaal's extensive and punishing preparation for the role vies in glove-game lore with Robert De Niro's storied weight gain for "Raging Bull" (1980). He's quite the pugilistic example and, when in one grueling moment he bleats to Tick that he's tired, the honesty is chilling.
Furthermore, only 3D-spewed sweat and blood could have made the actual brawling any more believable. Yet, amidst all the bellicosity and angst, what's most remarkable is how Gyllenhaal, playing a man of near Neanderthal sensibilities and intellect, manages to stay within that narrow band of characterization.
Stunning and winning us with the bare-bones humanness he unaffectedly manifests, it's as if we've stumbled upon a survivor of an earlier time, before he took a chomp of that apple, now displaced and tossed into a world of necessary cautions. All of which, aside from gaining our empathy and seat-edged attention, makes us wish we could fend off the predatory blows of inequity foisted upon the metaphor "Southpaw" represents.
"Southpaw," rated R, is a Weinstein Co. release directed by Antoine Fuqua and stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Forest Whitaker and Oona Laurence. Running time: 124 minutes.
Clayton Kershaw's next start for the Los Angeles Dodgers has been bumped to Saturday, and Zack Greinke has been moved up to start Friday night against the Angels. The Dodgers announced the switch about four hours before the Freeway Series opener. The Dodgers also added their recent trade acquisitions to their active roster: left-hander Alex Wood and relievers Jim Johnson and Luis Avilan.
''Rowdy'' Roddy Piper, the kilt wearing trash talker who headlined the first WrestleMania and later found movie stardom, has died, the WWE said Friday. Piper's death also comes days after Hulk Hogan, his biggest rival for decades, was fired by the WWE. Hogan had used racial slurs in a conversation captured on a sex tape.
Yoenis Cespedes put on a scintillating show at Citi Field while winning the 2013 Home Run Derby. Now he has two months to power the New York Mets into the playoffs. Eagerly chasing offense as the clock ticked down on Friday's trade deadline, the Mets landed the big right-handed bat they desperately needed by acquiring Cespedes from Detroit for two minor league pitchers.