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Left In Lowell » Education

Left In Lowell

Member of the reality-based community of progressive (not anonymous) Massachusetts blogs

2013 Candidate Questionnaire Responses!

May 2, 2014

UML: Wrong Priorities?

by at 10:55 am.

I was in my car a lot yesterday, so of course I was listening to WBUR. And they had an excellent piece about colleges which are taking a different path from most of the nation’s private and public universities…cutting back on sports, frills, and unnecessary services and getting back to spending their budget on professors and keeping their costs as low as possible for students so they don’t graduate with crushing debt.

It really hit home, because the trend of development at UMass Lowell for last 5-10 years have been right up there with the “conventional wisdom.” Renovate sports arenas, move your teams to Division 1, and chase sports prestige; build, or buy and renovate, grand new buildings (some academic, some not)…all to attract students with shiny amenities that may not really actually help them learn, or serve the goal of education. And of course, none of that is free, so the “fees” at UMass have gone up exponentially. Currently, in-state tuition, fees, room and board and meal plan all together costs $23,340. If you manage to graduate in four years (something else that is an issue), that’s almost $100,000 for a state university.

You can listen to the show or read the whole transcript - it was a worthy discussion on Morning Edition with the presidents of two different colleges which are heading in a very different direction. But here are some highlights worth mentioning:

Theobald: We eliminated five varsity sports. We are trying to reallocate our funds toward our student body, what goes on in the classroom, what goes on in the lab, so we scaled back by five sports. But it was incredibly difficult.

O’Shea: We don’t have any varsity sports. We are a very lean organization. We invest in faculty. It’s about a 10:1 student-faculty ratio. … Only 40 percent graduate with debt, and of those who have debt, the average debt is a little under $18,000. We invest in faculty instead of sports and even some student services.

Theobald: You’ve got to set priorities. There is an arms race for spending. And so a university needs to know who they are, who their students are and what their mission is. We need to focus on getting them in, getting them a course of study, making sure courses are available when they need them and getting them out in four years. That’s the priority for our students.

O’Shea: I think what is going to stop being a major driver is student expectation. I think the worry about cost is outstripping the desire for … huge facilities and things like that.

I recommend listening to the whole thing though, as they have a lot to say about what is happening to our higher education both public and private.

This is not to single out UMass Lowell or question all of its many buildouts and changes. A lot of new businesses and inventions and ideas are going to be incubated from what the University is doing here, and I think in many cases UML is keeping an eye on costs and developing in such a way as to offset some of them. (For instance, there are many acts coming to the Tsongas which are probably big money makers.)

However, as a Commonwealth, and as a nation, we need to stop and take a look at the direction our higher ed is going, because like the housing bubble, the student debt bubble could help take down an entire economy. A student who graduates with $30-100K in debt from a public university, or a student who drops out or does bother to attend college, is going to have a delayed start to their adult life; and miss out on reaching their full potential which, in turn, suppresses their whole lifelong economic contribution to society.

Some states are also ahead of us on this issue; discussing free higher education at state colleges and universities. Imagine what that will do for the economy of those states? But here in Massachusetts, the public university prices just keep going up and up. For all the wrong reasons.

April 16, 2014

Game of Postpones

by at 10:39 am.

Who here is a fan of the HBO series, Game of Thrones? The world of the books/series revolves around the utter instability and chaos, war, and madness that is brought about by Westeros’ sudden and not-quite-accidental regime change. King Baratheon might not have been the smartest or the best king ever, but his demise heralds the end of the relative peace of the Seven Kingdoms, with his queen’s non-Baratheon bastard children vying with other contenders for the Iron Throne, and the whole countryside erupting in war. Other families take advantage of the chaos to carve out and reclaim their little kingdoms which had been absorbed long ago. Still others just like to party by judicious use of castration and torture, mostly for fun.

Well, folks, take away the castration and violence (but not the drinking) and you have Lowell city politics right now.

Every decision made in the last seven years by past City Councils and the former CM is up for grabs, apparently. No matter how stringent the public involvement in deciding on plans for various projects in the city, be that the very preliminary, not-our-goddamned-decision high school reno or rebuild, or the much-lauded plans for the historic South Common, or any Master Plan element of bike paths or city street realignment or other projects already in the works.

I wouldn’t be surprised at this point if this City Council wanted a redo on the Appleton Mill artist lofts or the Early garage. I mean, hey, we could tear down or repurpose those things and hand them over to your buddies, right?

Supposedly, we have high level experts on the Council now on economic development. What I want to know, is how running a dive bar makes one qualified to build a high school? Or decide that street parking should have less turnover by not enforcing the meters? To me, every word that comes out of Corey Belanger’s mouth showcases a total and absolute lack of understanding of economic development and municipal management. Far be it for experts to have an opinion; Corey is on the job now, so Lowell is gonna make a turnaround. A renaissance. All of the downtown vacancies will be filled by the time his first term is over!

Or, wait. Businesses - small ones, and large ones - like stability when they make their business decisions. They like to know that the plans that were carefully made by transparent and open means, by a crew of amazing (now mostly fled) Planning and Development officials, will be carried out in a timely fashion. It’s no big secret that a lot of plans in Lowell were on hold during the Cox era and were put back on the front burner by the Lynch administration. Now, we’re going to reverse years worth of planning, public participation, and decision making because Corey Belanger wasn’t fucking paying attention during all of that?

Plans can change. Don’t get me wrong. We should be flexible. And I do not have a horse in the very silly race about the high school staying in or moving from downtown. There are merits on both sides. However, my understanding of the process as outlined by a state agency called Massachusetts School Building Authority is that they are the entity that gets to weigh all the factors. What the local idiots on Council can do, by waffling, is take us off the shortlist, which we cannot afford. The high school is in need of either rebuilding or renovating, soon. And “soon” is relative, since getting on the MSBA’s short list means it’ll still take years to go through final decision making. And oh yeah, they, not us, make that final determination about renovation vs. building a new building elsewhere. Based - GASP! - NOT on whatever private developer wants to build something (god knows what, they have yet to say) on the existing high school site, BUT…based on what is best for the students and their education.

I know, shocking.

So who wins in this Game of Postpones? Well, not the students, if Corey Belanger gets his way as an apparently honorary member of the School Committee and of the MSBA. PS - apparently, Mistah Mayah also has an extremely short memory, since all of this planning and participation and discussion happened while he was a City Councilor. So, either he’s dumb and doesn’t remember, or he never really paid any attention to what was going on in the city for the last seven years. Neither explanation is encouraging.

September 22, 2013

Candidate Answers to LiL Questionnaire

by at 8:01 am.

screenshot of tableSo here it is folks. The pièce de résistance. Official Left in Lowell candidate questionnaire answers! They are on their own web page, which you can find here.

On a side note, I really REALLY like this format. Comparing lots of apples to lots of other apples, and a few places for candidates to show off their knowledge. This could be the format going forward. Also, lots and lots of props to my wonderful husband who whipped the submitted answers into a format that I could literally copy and paste into the page for the data table. Love you hon!!!

Thanks also to our amazing readers for a very large chunk of the questions. Crowd sourcing works!

I am considering reopening up for submissions after the preliminary, since my timeframe was crushed a bit leading up to next Tuesday’s election. The unfair part is that anyone submitting answers after publication is getting an advantage of seeing what everyone else said; but if I were to notate who passed answers in after the prelim, would you want to see more answers from more candidates? Honest question. I’m good either way.

August 9, 2013

Doing Your Job ≠ Harrassment (Updated)

by at 10:44 am.

Despite the crappiness that appears to be the Lowell Sun’s new website (the sidebar ads are covering half the content, they have the worst, most pixelized photo of Gitschier imaginable…they must have pulled it off Google…and the layout of Santoro’s picture is whacked and the photo overly ginormous) we finally find out the results of the internal investigation of the claim by former Superintendent and current golden parachute retiree Mary Jo Santoro, that School Committee member Eric Gitschier “harassed” her by making too many motions asking for accountability.

That result? No there there. Move along folks.


July 10, 2013

The “G” in GLTHS Stands for “Gentlemen”

by at 9:26 pm.

Update: Feedback is coming in on my observation of O’Hare indicating the option to run for the 2 year seat. Note the similarity of handwriting for the O’Hare and Bahou entries. Did the same person jot “GLTHS School Comm” down in the book?

Could this be a clerical error and I only made it worse by running it up the flagpole?

Update 2: I’m told that there was a miscommunication and that George O’Hare has made it understood that he intends to run for the full, four year term that he currently holds. So, read the rest of this diary with an awkward eye.

I’ll toss my crystal ball and take out the handy dandy ‘Magic 8 Ball.’


July 6, 2013

Hogwash over School Hiring

by at 9:06 pm.

It would not strike me as odd, should you click away from ANOTHER one of my ‘Blog of Record’ rants. But here goes, and I think this one is a keeper.

Part I: Sabotage

Kim Scott wants to stop the gravy train of family hiring in the Lowell Public School System, especially for administrative staff.

She says there’s an epidemic of nepotism when it comes to hiring decisions in the schools. Job candidates should be treated equally, says Scott, and no one should get a leg up because of political or school connections.

On the face of it, it’s a well-intentioned idea from the Lowell School Committee member.

The way Scott sees it — and we do, too — there is a growing concentration of power among a few people who are charged with making important hiring decisions affecting the education of the city’s 14,800 students.

Suffice to say, The Sun editorial has hijacked Kim Scott’s effort and intent with the developing motion to place procedural safeguards to diminish the practice and /or perception of the practice of nepotism and other facsimiles, thereof. The words blockquoted above, ALL belong to the ghost writer. They try to frame Kim’s mindset to appear simpatico with their breathy, hyperventilating panics. But, Kim doesn’t need to sell newspapers. Campi does.

To read more of Kim’s direct comments on this matter, and the speculation whirling around it, please check out these links:

This episode, around the Lowell Public School District, is one of The Sun’s most reprehensible.

But, WHY has the Sun descended so low? Let’s dig in a little deeper. Please, hold your nose.

June 27, 2013

All In The Family

by at 9:30 pm.

Sometimes I feel like Edith Bunker, bewildered and confused…at how the blindingly obvious problems in our city are a shock, a SHOCK! to everyone.

The appearance of nepotism - no matter the circumstances, or whether there real nepotism exists, whether or not qualified candidates have been passed over for family members of people in power - must be addressed, especially when taxpayer dollars are at stake…don’t you agree? Apparently, this is controversial, if you listen to the always-angling Lowell Sun’s “blog” page (I use that term very loosely) or certain other bloggers.

In case you don’t care to donate a pity click to either the Lowell Sun or to that other blogger (and in either case, who can blame you? we do the dirty work so you don’t have to…), School Committee member Kim Scott (and yes, a friend of ours) is raising the issue as a future motion, after a second close relative of a person in power in the Lowell School system managed, somehow, to be the best candidate for supervisory roles above up to 40 other candidates. (Specifically, in this case, the sister of Jay Lang, Deputy Superintendent, became the high school’s Director of the Freshman Academy. This after wife Lori Lang became the Assistant Principal at Pyne Arts last year.)

If this is not the definition of “appearance of impropriety”, I don’t know what could possibly qualify. (Of course, the same people lamenting that this is somehow not at least appearing improper also complain about one of a gazillion non-related campaign workers of the Governor’s becoming a part of his administration. Funny that.)

Gerry’s absolutely immature take is that “Lowellians need not apply.” Like Scott’s motion is somehow to ban Lowell residents from becoming staff members at the school. I won’t even *facepalm* that one, it’s so bad.

Here’s what the Sun managed not to report on their “blog,” which I got from Kim, both from her comments on the BTSNBN’ed (points for working out that acronym), and from her directly tonight, when we both attended Fred Bahou’s fundraiser for GLTHSC (another management clusterfuck if there ever was one): Kim Scott is not aiming at any particular member of the leadership of the school department. She is addressing an issue which is so blindingly obvious, Edith Bunker herself would be able to see it. If certain people in the administration see this as aiming at them…well, maybe said persons are defensive for a reason. Perhaps they have actions that require defending?

Runon sentences and parentheticals aside, the ridiculousness of the Sun’s “reporting” (that this is directed at Jay Lang) and the jumping to redonkulous conclusions from that other link, defy all reality. Honestly, it’s enough to make this very busy girl start blogging regularly again.

Where are the freaking adults? Do they still exist? Since when do we let our taxpayer dollars go unwatched? Suddenly, this kind of stuff is all right? I’m flabbergasted.

I’m sick and flippin’ tired of the whole “hire Lowellians” phraseology, which is simply a euphemism for “hire my friends and relatives.” But when someone hires someone else’s friends and relatives, oh, ho! All of a sudden, that’s bad!

Um, no. It’s always bad. This is why I support people like Kim, who operate under rules of fairness, not what they can get out of it for them and theirs. It’s how I pick my friends…by their honesty and above board behavior. I know I won’t be embarrassed by my friends. I know that when we disagree, it’s on the merits, and when we support each other, it’s also on the merits. And when hiring practices look sketchy - whether they are actually sketchy or not - I am glad that they are there to ask the right questions.

And you thought the School Committee race was gonna be boring this summer…

June 19, 2013

“Mary Jo” Just Won’t Go

by at 7:13 am.

So, as the cliché goes, ‘the emperor has no clothes.”

The deadlocked didn’t break.

The political stunt by the Boutin faction of the GLTHS school committee lays bare the shallowness of the Gitschier cabal.

My apologizes to soon to be former Supt. Santoro, for drumming up her name with my old mantra. But, it is clear, Cassin style politics is not being forced out of that school. Same shit. Different spoon.

And, to top it off, Mike Hayden pulled papers to run for a seat. Is he running for one of the 4 year seats, occupied by O’Hare & Bahou? Or, is he going to try and snipe Boutin off of the balance of Lenzi’s term?

June 5, 2013

Young Bucks at GLTHS

by at 11:13 pm.

I’ve been hoping that Erik Gitschier & Ray Boutin could lead the dysfunctional GLTHS School Committee through the troubled waters of selecting their next Supt.

It seems I’m a bit of a naïve optimist:

(h/t Julia Malakie)

Note: Boutin loses his cool, no argument. But, please keep in mind, Gitschier has a way of getting under your skin. He takes pride in it.

Maybe, it is supposed to be about the kids? That is, at least, a cute campaign slogan. But, it is also about the admin, staff & teachers that live out there for 20+ years. They matter, in my mind, as much as the kids. Also, it is about the school committee. But, in a different way.

Maybe, it is my military background? I spent about 3 years in Arlington National Cemetery, performing honor duty for fallen soldiers. I say that to say, I believe in the sanctity of institutions, oaths & ceremony. I believe that the School Committee is a body that deserves respect by earning respect.

To be blunt, I favour Paul Schlictman in this kerfuffle. Though, after reading the slimy hit jobs that the Lowell Sun has slammed Dave Norkiewicz with, I’ve lost my appetite to pull for Paul. He’s got some friends that are the worst kind to have. They are not above pulling the same kind of stunts that Chris Scott wants to assign to Gitschier & Fallon. When we get to the point of kettles finger pointing at each other’s blackness, it is time for me to step back.

We are dealing with damaged goods, all around. But, none are more damaged than the reputation of the GLTHS SC. After a fairly decent approach to culling through candidates, one that was noted favourably by those watching; this silly, petty, ego driven clan members have pissed their good names away.

Unfortunately, they are the best we are gonna get out there. Who really cares what the hell happens out there in the woods? How else could Mike Hayden get re-elected, repeatedly? Oddly, they aren’t paying the high salaries in monopoly money. They can still invent jobs like ‘public relations’ or whatever title Mike McGovern has. They can still hire in an incestuous manner that would make a West Virginia moonshiner tip his jug.

Ultimately, they are completely fucked out there. They know it. We know it. And, on it goes. Unabashed.

May 20, 2013

A Love Letter, Shady Lowell Style

by at 10:05 pm.

Found this note in my Facebook messages. The author is known to me.

Keep me off your trashy blog.

I do not want my name appearing in print on that piece of shit blog you write.

Out of respect, I will limit my future entries, with regards to the offended, to only passages from the Blog of Record. While I won’t argue the “Eye of the Beholder” aspect of my blogging being a ‘piece of shit,’ I do take exception to the notion that the Sunday Column is any less so.

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