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Pulling voting from Peabody’s schools continues to be a silly, waste-of-time issue

14 Jul

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

As far back as anyone can remember, residents of Peabody have been voting in schools. And as far back as anyone can recall, student safety on Election Day has never been an issue.

VoteBut that can’t stop Brandi Carpenter from wasting more valuable Peabody School Committee time on an issue that just isn’t an issue at all. The School Committee member, after all, is on a quest, a crusade, a hunt for justice and enlightenment.

Since 2008, it has been her primary and defining issue as an elected official:  She wants to move some of the city’s polling places, currently and conveniently located in school gyms, to alternative locations. 

How about supermarkets?

Or the North Shore Mall?

Hey, I have an idea, maybe we can have people walk barefoot, five miles uphill in the snow just to vote. I mean, we have such wonderful voter turnout these days, so inconveniencing people on Election Day couldn’t possibly be a problem. Right?

This “Carpenter Crusade” surfaced again today in a Salem News article by John Castelluccio, who set out to write about the city’s need to temporarily move the Higgins Middle School’s Ward 4 polling place while the new middle school was constructed. But John ended up poking Ms. Carpenter again on one of the silliest issues in recent school committee memory.

“It’s a long uphill battle,” Carpenter told The News of her quest to take voting out of schools, again making us all wonder … when, exactly is another member of the school committee going to ask Ms. Carpenter to move on so they can focus on REAL issues concerning our schools?

Well, the fact is, according to Ms. Carpenter, she and her esteemed school committee colleagues are giving the city’s election commission a little time to work out the current Higgins polling issue, but then … watch out! We’re coming right back at you Peabody election officials on this bigger, more cataclysmic issue.  That’s right, Carpenter says the school committee — with member Beverley Dunne being the only responsible dissenter of the six —  will waste more time next year on trying to force the city to move polling locations to places such as Hannaford Supermarket.

I can just see the wording on the ballot now: Vote for three for school committee, and while you’re at it, make sure you pick up some apples. They’re on sale four for a dollar.

Of course, I am being a little silly about the apples, but then again, a silly issue deserves some silly commentary. And how ironic and silly is it that Ms. Carpenter has suggested that voting be moved from some public schools and into at least two churches and temples that have children onsite for their own preschool programs?

Look, in all seriousness, no one is against safe schools.  If there is a real safety issue in Peabody’s schools, then we should be addressing fixing that problem first and foremost. But if we’re going to say that voting in schools causes a danger, why don’t we just totally give up right now, and lock the little darlings in a bubble in their bedrooms? That’ll keep ‘em safe.

There has never been a safety issue with people voting in Peabody schools, and the odds against there being one in the future are slim and none. And slim just left the building. You could actually argue that Election Day is the safest day of the year in Peabody’s public schools. After all, it’s the only day of the school year where there is at least one police officer onsite, on duty from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

If you have any common sense at all, you come to the quick, frightening  conclusion that those sick vermin who seek to hurt children are not going to wait until Election Day to do so. Early in this debate over taking voting out of Peabody’s schools, the tragedy of Sandy Hook was inappropriately evoked during one debate. Was it a scare tactic? Perhaps. More likely, though, it was an over-reaction by school committee members who need to focus on real issues.

Aren’t maniacs  less likely to strike on a day when there are police officers and lots of law-abiding adults around to potentially stop them?

Is there a true safety issue in our schools that we don’t know about? And if so, why don’t we address that instead of finding bad people amongst Peabody best citizens, who are only trying to conveniently exercise their ultimate right as Americans?

In these days when voter turnout continues to drop at an alarming rate, moving voting from our schools will only further confuse and inconvenience voters. The city’s election commission, including Peabody City Clerk Tim Spanos, is against uprooting voters, and so too are most of the city’s election officials.

It’s time for Ms. Carpenter to drop this silly crusade and move onto more important issues. Maybe the voters will even thank her come her own re-Election Day when they’re not inconvenienced by traffic trying to get to the mall to vote . 

Peabody tax and water bills on rise as city tries to pay for new voke school boondoggle

19 Jun

Mayor calls for $5.4M budget increase; $3M assessed to pay for new voke school

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

If you supported those wasteful, big-spending elected officials – especially State Rep Ted Speliotis — who pushed for Peabody to join in the taxpayer screw job called the new North Shore Technical school, then please, bend over right now and scream out “thank you, sir! May I have another?!”

Call this horror show The MEGA VOKE that ate the Peabody Taxpayers!

Artists rendering of MEGA VOKE!

Artist rendering of MEGA VOKE!

Because of this opulent and overly ostentatious new voke school in Danvers – which will only serve around 150 of Peabody’s roughly 6,000 students – not only are your property taxes going up in 2015, but get ready for an increase in water and sewer rates too.

 

Mayor Ted Bettencourt submitted his FY2015 city budget to the City Council, and it’s calling for a $5.4 million increase, of which roughly $3 million will go to offset our share of next year’s piece of the North Shore Voke pork pie.

The mayor, in a letter to the city council obtained by The Eye, says that roughly means an average tax increase of $189 per homeowner, and a likely, yet to be determined increase in Peabody’s traditionally reasonable water and sewer rates. For those keeping score, that’s 13 straight years of property tax increases in Peabody.

And … this is just Year 1 of this Disaster in Danvers. This state of the art, $133 million school in Speliotis’ hometown, is the “gift” that will keep on giving for Peabody taxpayers now and forever.

Speliotis, who faces an election year challenge from Peabody Republican Tom Lyons, not only got this Taj Mahal of a school for his hometown of Danvers, but I’m sure he made big labor happy with the building’s bloated construction costs, which are already over budget.

Then there’s the hacks-at-the-trough process they’re using in hiring administrators. The new school’s superintendent, a guy named Daniel O’Connell, will make $197,000/year. That’s about $50K more a year than what we thought was a big contract for Peabody Schools Super Joe Mastrocola. Looks now  like Joe was a huge bargain when you consider that he manages a system with roughly 5,550 more students than will attend O’Connell’s school.

And, it gets ever worse. Not only will Peabody need to pony up millions more to send a handful of students to this new school, but because we’re transferring students from our system to this regional voke system, Peabody is set to lose $504K additional when it comes to state aid.

Next time you complain about the conditions in Peabody’s public schools, think about this: It’s only going to get worse while we as a city figure out a way to pay for a school that will service less than 3% of Peabody’s total student population. And we haven’t even talked about the costs associated with our own much-needed new Higgins Middle School, where huge construction bills are in the mail.

At this point, I should add a disclaimer for those screaming that I’m anti-vocational education. This space supports vocational education as much as the next blog, but we’re just not seeing the practicality or fairness of bilking the taxpayers in this particular situation.

Here are the facts, ladies and gentlemen: An estimated 200 Peabody kids, who we could have given a valuable vocational education had we only – for a lot less cost – re-vamped our on Peabody Vocational High School – are now going to watch helplessly as 150 of their classmates hit the lottery and are allowed to attend this educational palace on the hill in Danvers.

So, please bend over today, and thank Ted Speliotis, and those Peabody City Councilors who voted for this disastrous “gift” that will keep on giving for us the taxpayers.

The case against replacing MCAS with Common Core in Massachusetts

19 May

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

On our recent “You Make the Call” live show, we interviewed Peabody School Committee member David McGeney about the perils of Common Core, a new set of national educational standards that could end up replacing what we already have in Massachusetts for standards testing (MCAS).

Since being adopted following Ed Reform in the early 1990s, MCAS has helped the Commonwealth become No. 1 in public education nationally, and now the Federal government wants to replace it with what many educators feel is an inferior set of Common Core standards.

The following video explains Common Core, and its testing component. If you care about the quality of our public education system, it’s very important viewing.

Poll: How do you feel about taking voting out of the schools

14 Nov

Some members of the Peabody School Committee, citing student safety and disruption of the educational process, would like ban the city from using schools as polling locations on Election Day.

How do you feel about the issue?

Pay increases approved for Mayor, City Councilors and School Commitee

15 Feb

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

I’ll weigh in during the discussion, but for now I just wanted to get our readership’s  reaction to the Peabody City Council last night voting pay raises for the Mayor,  School Committee members,  and City Councilors.

Here are the basic details.  (You can read more in this article from the Peabody Patch.)

The City Council voted 8-2 to hike the Mayor’s pay from $94,933 per year to $105,000 per year (10% increase). It’s the first mayoral raise in 12 years.

Councilors also voted 7-3 to increase their salaries to 9 percent of the mayor’s salary, starting in 2014, and give School Committee members an $1,100 raise. School Committee members will now earn $5,100, while councilors will earn about $9,450 (up from $7,466).

Please give me your thoughts in the comments section. I’ll try to weigh in with my opinion during the discussion.

West School honored for its patriotism, support of troops

5 Feb

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

The flag flies high at the West

The flag flies high and proud at the West School

Although we like to get into the meaty side of the issues here on The Eye, we also like to take time out to celebrate nice accomplishments in our community.

So, today we’re pleased to inform you of a noteworthy honor bestowed upon my Alma mater, the West Memorial School.

This morning, US Department of Defense representatives will be at the Bow Street School to honor those at the West with the  prestigious Seven Seals Award, an acknowledgement the DoD created to recognize American employers for patriotic support for soldiers serving in the National Guard and Reserves, and their families.

Massachusetts National Guard Staff Sgt. David Nicholson, a West parent, started the ball rolling on having the West receive this award when he wrote a letter to the DoD. In the letter, Sgt. Nicholson praised Principal Tom Cornacchio “for his patriotic assemblies, for his attention to the condition of the flag outside of the school, and for his daily recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance over the sound system,”

The students at the West also learn about the Gettysburg Address, have school ceremonies for Patriots Day, Memorial Day and Veterans Day, and are sending care packages to U.S. soldiers overseas.

Sgt. Nicholson, a West School alum, is a former member of the 18th Army Airborne.  He is about to depart on another tour in Afghanistan with the Mass. National Guard.

In these days when some public schools in other communities are cautious about celebrating patriotism for fear it might offend someone, it’s nice to see that Peabody still knows how to celebrate love of country, and appreciate those who protect our freedom.

Congrats to Principal Cornacchio and the entire West Memorial School community. Way to go, Wildcats!

And to Sgt. David Nicholson:  Thank you, sir, for your service.

Right approach to school safety by Peabody superintendent

9 Jan

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

schoolsHis approach makes sense without playing into the hysteria. The recent tragic events at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, have caused Peabody Schools Superintendent Joe Mastrocola to do what commonsense, and not hysteria, dictates.

He’s received approval from the school committee for obtaining an expert to do a safety/security assessment of Peabody’s schools.

There’s no talk here of putting armed guards at all of the doors. No one is panicking people by insisting it could happen here. No knee-jerk reactions.

Just a well-conducted assessment, and action plan to ensure that we’re doing all of the right things to protect the safety of out kids, and school department staff.

“I want to let the community know, and the school committee know, we continue always to make safety our first priority in the school district,” said Mastrocola at Tuesday night’s School Committee meeting, as reported by the Peabody Patch.

Like all school systems,  Peabody currently has comprehensive procedures and protocols designed to protect its students and teachers.  But what this expert will help us learn is where gaps might exist,  and where we can do better.  It might mean replacing locks or altering some protocols, but it won’t be extreme,  and it won’t turn our schools into unwelcoming, intimidating, armed fortresses.

Mastrocola says safety within the city’s schools is a “primary goal” for the district,  along with teaching and learning, and I think that’s right.

It’s a commonsense approach amid national hysteria and suggestions that we should arm our teachers.

So far, so good on a number of fronts for Peabody’s new super.

Tune in tonight to first ‘You Make The Call’ show of 2013

9 Jan

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

You Make The Call co-host Dick Jarvis returns tonight for our first live show of 2013

Happy returns
You Make The Call co-host Dick Jarvis returns tonight for our first live show of 2013

Join us tonight, 8-9 p.m.,  on  Channel 99  as we welcome legendary co-host Dick Jarvis for our first live “You Make The Call” show of 2013.

There’s a lot to talk about tonight, including the special election for State Rep.  Dick and I will also discuss our impressions of Monday night’s State of the City address by Mayor Bettencourt.

Please tune in, and give us a call! Or send us a question through our Facebook page.

High grades in Year 1 for Mayor Bettencourt

28 Dec

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

Among Mayor Bettencourt's accomplishments was the approval of a new middle school

Among Mayor Bettencourt’s accomplishments in his first year was the approval of a new middle school

There are challenges yet to come, but as we prepare for the ball to drop in Peabody Square in a few days (OK, not really), we pause to assess the rookie year for Mayor Ted Bettencourt.  

From where I sit as a taxpayer, I’d sum up the Mayor’s first year performance this way:

It hasn’t been perfect, but it has been very good.

Not an A-plus, but certainly a very high B, bordering on an A-minus. Look folks, even Ted, we feel, would appreciate it if we left in some room here for growth.

So here goes … a look at what just one taxpayer, this taxpayer thinks of Year 1 of the Bettencourt Administration. These are what I feel were his three best and biggest accomplishments:

1. Passing an early challenge on healthcare

With the city stuck in neutral when it comes to revenue growth, the Mayor gets an A-plus for his leadership when it came to reaching an agreement in June with the city’s unions to enter the state’s Group Insurance Commission (GIC). Going the GIC route could end up saving the city between $10 and $15 million over the next four years.

Just months into his first term, it took guts for this rookie mayor to first draw a line in the sand, and then bring all of the city’s unions to the table to work out a smart, commonsense solution. But some of the credit also goes to the unions too. In these days when stories abound about the greediness of some union leaders, Peabody’s unions proved that collective bargaining can be a wonderful thing when neither side acts exclusively in their own self interests.

2.  The Education Mayor

Bettencourt showed leadership again in the spring, getting unanimous support from both the city council and school committee on the construction of a new Higgins Middle School, as the city scraped its original plan for renovating the existing, dilapidated, sprawling facility.  The new school will cost Peabody taxpayers about $45 million after state reimbursement, but it’s definitely much-needed, and for Bettencourt—a young mayor with a young family—it shows that he is intent on becoming the Education Mayor.

Getting new schools built in Peabody the past 20 years has been a huge struggle, but somehow this one seemed easy, and it came with almost universal acceptance from taxpayers. I know it wasn’t all Ted’s doing, but he deserves a lot of the credit here.

 3. The Pro Business Mayor  

Understanding right from the start that Peabody has a revenue problem, Bettencourt made good on a campaign promise to make the city more business friendly in an effort to expand our commercial tax base. If we’re going to get the money we need to pay existing and upcoming bills, and also improve infrastructure and schools, the burden can’t keep landing on residential taxpayers. More businesses, mean more tax dollars. So, with that in mind, Bettencourt did the following in Year 1:

  • Made it known (and even cleaned house somewhat) that he wants those city departments that deal with businesses to make the process for setting up and maintaining shop a lot easier. In 2013 he is also establishing a business liaison position.  to assist businesses in this regard.
  • Established the Economic Development Council, which is looking at bringing business back to Peabody Square and Centennial Park.
  • Got city council approval on a 1.60 tax classification for businesses, meaning businesses will only pay 1.6 times higher than the residential tax rate. In many surrounding communities it’s 1.75.

As for Year 2 …

Not that he’s taking advice from me, but if I were Ted Bettencourt I’d start leveraging some of my “political capital” in 2013, something that I feel will make him unbeatable when it comes to re-election next fall.

What do I mean by that? Well, sometimes I get the impression that the Mayor doesn’t fully realize that there is power in his popularity. We saw this during the spring when he sat on the sidelines during the special election to replace Senator Fred Berry. Meanwhile, Mayor Kim Driscoll got every Salem elected official on board behind Joan Lovely, who is now our State Senator. Suddenly, when it comes to that very influential seat, the power has shifted to Salem.

Love him or not, you have to respect how former Mayor Peter Torigian would have anointed one of the two Peabody candidates, either John Slattery or Mary Ellen Manning, and strongly insisted that every city councilor, every school committee member, light commissioner and library trustee support that candidate to ensure we didn’t lose that seat to Salem.

Ted Bettencourt has earned some tremendous “juice” in Year 1. He is popular in Peabody, and has done the job. Now, will he use that “juice” to take it to the next level, and wield the type of regional clout we saw in the past from politically powerful Mayors Nick Mavroules and Peter Torigian?

Want to let us know how you feel Mayor Bettencourt has fared in his first year? Let us know by taking our poll.

Peabody kids to wear green and white to support Sandy Hook

16 Dec

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

greenJust a quick post to let people know of this very nice tribute tomorrow in Peabody’s Schools to the victims in Newtown, CT.

The Peabody Patch reports that the citywide parent-teacher organization, Peabody PTC, is asking all students, parents, faculty, staff and the community at-large to wear green and white for the day. Green and white are the school colors at Sandy Hook Elementary.

Very nice idea.  Can I also suggest that everyone else wears green to work tomorrow?

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