If corporations are people, this is homicide

 market-basket  coen_bros

Disney-Mickey
Everyone loves a happy ending.

Someone is going to make a movie about the current Market Basket drama. We’ll
have a good idea who makes the movie when this episode plays out. If Arthur T. (Artie T.) Demoulas and the workers prevail, it’s a happy Disney movie. If Arthur S. Demoulas, Felicia Thornton, and Jim Gooch maintain control of the company and continue on the current course, the Coen Brothers should make the film.

coen_brosI am more than puzzled by the actions of the DeMoulas Super Markets (DSM) board, sacking the CEO who turned a supermarket chain into a highly profitable and beloved local institution. By all accounts, the directors represent the majority shareholders of this family owned business, shareholders who could sit back and watch tens of millions of dollars roll into their bank accounts every year because shoppers and employees were extremely loyal to their stores.

I know that being a school board member is a very different kind of experience, but I can’t imagine any board placing their organization into a deliberate death spiral. Yes, school committees are accountable to voters, and the Market Basket board is only accountable to the pocketbooks of the majority shareholders, but it still makes no sense.

220px-Matewan_poster
Matewan

The DSM board has the power to replace Artie T. and the power to take control of their buildings. Of course, this would require a management effort reminiscent of Matewan. Is James Earl Jones a Market Basket store manager?

The problem is that contracted truckers and security guards can force the lettuce into the store, but it can’t force the customers to come in and buy the produce. It certainly won’t trump the goodwill built over the years by the employees and policies put in place by Artie T.

The DSM board will meet again on Friday. They can find common ground, reinstate Artie T., and start to put the pieces back together again. Or they can stand firm, and not let a plethora of workers and customers tell them what to do. If they don’t find a way to bring back Artie T. and the fired employees, I don’t know how they escape the death spiral. The magic will be gone. The fanatically loyal customers will disburse into the land of Hannaford and Stop and Shop. Some large corporation will buy out the business, rebrand the stores, and Market Basket will be nothing more than a fond memory. The folks on the DSM board will walk away with a few less millions in their pocket, but they will walk away with the smug satisfaction that they ran Artie T. and his loyal employees out of the store. Multi-million dollar vengeaartience. I guess they can afford it, but it comes at a very high price.

I hope Artie T. gets his job back and we get the Disney movie of the underdog baggers and cashiers prevailing over the evil corporate directors. Even more important, I hope I can spend a week following Artie T. around as he runs these stores. I want to know how he does it.

Vanishing Arlington?

Our beloved Route 128 is a part of Interstate 95, the main north-south route between Canada and Miami.

I-95
I-95

For the longest time, Arlington has had a presence on I-95, with signs at a couple of exits pointing drivers to our town. North or south, drivers on I-95 encounter this sign at Exit 29 as the way to go to Arlington.

Arlington Exit
Old sign for Arlington’s exit from I-95

There is currently a sign replacement project on I-95, and it looks like the new signs are going to purge Arlington from the highway. The first new sign has removed Arlington and replaced it with Boston.

Boston sign
Boston exit?

The second new sign, one of those supplemental signs which point folks to the second tier cities, lists Acton and Cambridge.

Acton and Cambridge
Acton and Cambridge

The exit for Middlesex Turnpike once listed Arlington and Burlington as destinations, but Arlington was removed when the signs were replaced. Now Arlington’s only mention on I-95 appears to be vanishing completely from the highway.

It’s likely to be a move that creates confusion and unhappiness. Route 2 to Boston? Really? Savvy drivers know that Route 2 may go to Boston, but it’s not really the best way to get downtown. Heading east, it comes to Arlington, hits the former Alewife rotary, and descends into gridlock from there.

So, MassDOT, how come Arlington is vanishing from the highway signs?

Amending the Minuteman Regional Agreement

Tonight’s remarks under Arlington Town Meeting Article 21,
AMENDMENTS TO THE DISTRICT AGREEMENT OF THE MINUTEMAN REGIONAL VOCATIONAL SCHOOL DISTRICT 

As a former member of the Minuteman Regional School Committee, I know that our relationship with Minuteman is a complicated mix of partnership and competition. We are partners in educating Arlington students, yet we also compete for students. We need Minuteman to provide the specialized and expensive vocational programs that individual towns cannot provide on their own.

In the past three years, our Minuteman assessment has increased from 2.4 million dollars to 3.8 million dollars, a 61 percent increase in just three years. This is unsustainable.

The reason for this dramatic increase is our percentage of the member town enrollment increased from 27 percent to 38 percent, and our assessment is based on the percentage of member town students from Arlington.

Minuteman is looking to build a new school, and the local costs are based on the percentage of students from each member town. Our share is rapidly approaching 40%, but we cannot afford to pay 40% of the cost of building a new vocational school.

The operative term here is member town.

According to the state, about 40% of the students at Minuteman come from outside the district. They don’t pay for the capital costs of the district. They don’t pay for a new building.

When you count all the students, member town and out-of-district, Arlington sends somewhere in the neighborhood of 21 to 23 percent of the students. I submit to you that Arlington can afford to live in that neighborhood. We can afford to pay for 21 to 23 percent of the local share of a school, but we can’t afford to pay a third to 40% of the cost.

That’s why so we need to take some steps to restore the balance between Arlington, the other member communities, and the non-member towns that send significant numbers of students to Minuteman.

First, we need to support a new regional agreement, which will weigh votes based on the town’s enrollment. Currently, Dover has one student in the school, one vote on the school committee, and their one vote for a $38,000 assessment is equal to our one vote for a $3.8 million assessment.

The agreement before us tonight will begin to fix this inequity, but it doesn’t go far enough. Last January, the Minuteman school committee voted to dilute the proposed weighting system, for the purpose of shifting votes away from the big town and retaining more power in the tiny towns. Instead of a vote that reflects our share of the cost of the district, the agreement was changed to cut proportional voting in half. Half of the vote will be proportional, half of the vote will be allocated equally to each town.

The new agreement also exempts key financial decisions from weighted voting, so little towns will still be able to combine to pass a budget that adversely impacts Arlington.

Minuteman had a major discussion about how to write an unweighted supermajority into the new agreement. Would it be a two-thirds vote or a three-quarters vote? It was a big argument that didn’t make a dime’s worth of difference.

A two-thirds unweighted vote requires 11 towns. This can be achieved with the combined votes of the 11 smallest towns that, combined, send 29% of the students to the school.

A three quarters unweighted vote requires just one more town, and can be achieved with the combined votes of the 12 smallest towns representing 35% of the district. Arlington, remember, is now 38% of the district.

In reverse, the five smallest towns can block an action that requires an unweighted ¾ vote supermajority. The five smallest towns have a combined enrollment of 31 students, or 4% of the district. That’s one heck of a veto.

Should we be bound by a financial obligation imposed by an alleged supermajority of 35%?

Should we grant veto power to 4% of the district?

More important, if you are a large non-member municipality, would you join a district where a collection of tiny towns can impose a multi-million dollar assessment on your city or town?

We are required by law to use one town – one vote of each town meeting or city council, to approve the budget. Shouldn’t the other step, at the school committee level, be weighted by enrollment?

Shouldn’t it be like the Connecticut Compromise in our Constitution, where half of the decisions were based on the population and the other half were apportioned equally among states?

The current Minuteman agreement worked when it was written in 1970, but that was long before Proposition 2 ½ gave towns the right to reject regional school budgets.

That was long before the 1993 Education Reform act reallocated Chapter 70 funding within regional school districts.

Times change, circumstances change, and we must construct a new agreement that aligns with our current reality.

I urge your support for this new agreement, because it is better than what we have now. I cannot, in the future, support a new building under the terms of the agreement before us tonight.

It does not go far enough to align votes with the fiscal impact of the project. It does nothing to attract new cities or towns. It does not bring our cost of any new school down to a reasonable share.

What’s reasonable? I want 20%. I can live with 25%. Don’t ask me to go much higher.

Half of the towns, 8 towns, combined send a total of 54 students to the school. That’s 12.5% of the member town enrollment. Towns that send a half-dozen students to the school shouldn’t expect to have a bloated share of the decision making power in the district. We should allow them to leave the district and cap their non-member enrollment at current levels, particularly if the change in governance makes the district more attractive to the large non-member communities.

We shouldn’t let one small town delay the ratification process until they become the last town to ratify this agreement, which is why I enthusiastically support Mr. Foskett’s sunset provision.

We shouldn’t be afraid to insist on a price tag, and a vote proportionate to our enrollment, before we agree to build a new vocational school.

We shouldn’t be surprised if the Minuteman towns, acting on their own, cannot come to terms with an agreement that will allow for a new school without intervention from the state.

We know that the state can use a variety of sticks and carrots to bring some very large non-member cities, like Watertown and Waltham, into the district.

Those chapters of the Minuteman story, however, remain to be written. They are for another time. What is before us tonight is a proposal to take one step forward. It is a small, incremental improvement. We should take this step. Please support Mr. Foskett’s amendment and the revised regional agreement with your YES vote.

Thank you, Arlington

The voters of Arlington elected three school committee members today. I am pleased to have won re-election, and grateful to the voters of Arlington for their support.

Congratulations to Jennifer Susse, who will join us on the committee, and to Bill Hayner who was also re-elected. I am thrilled with the outcome and look forward to working with my colleagues.

School Committee – April 5, 2104: elect 3
Jennifer Susse 3646
Michael Buckley 2268
Paul Schlichtman (i) 3102
Bill Hayner (i) 3131
Write-In 17
Blanks 6154

The results are even more significant when you consider that my campaign raised and spent no money in this election cycle. We didn’t flood mailboxes with postcards, and we didn’t fill lawns with lawn signs. I thought, in this cycle, spending money on children was more important than spending on campaign materials. The voters proved me right.

I am still looking for contributions for the children of my school in Lowell. Please consider sending a contribution to support the children of the Rogers Early Learning Center. Your check, payable to the Lowell K-8 Activity Fund, will make a difference for the Rogers ELC students. Send your check to:
Paul Schlichtman, Principal
Rogers Early Learning Center
43 Highland Street
Lowell, MA 01852

LWV – Vision 2020 candidates night

The League of Women Voters – Vision 2020 candidate debate is available on ACMi Video on Demand! Please take the time to watch it!

Here’s the text of my statements and answers at candidates night:

Opening statement (approximately 0:59):

Thank you, Margaret. Thanks to the League of Women Voters and Vision 2020 for hosting us, and thank you to ACMi TV for bringing this to the living rooms of everybody in Arlington and beyond on cable. I have 31 years in education, as both a teacher, a central office administrator, and a principal. I’ve been involved in Arlington town government since 1993 when I joined Town Meeting, and I’ve been involved ever since. I was appointed to the Minuteman School Committee in 1997, and elected to the Arlington School Committee in 2001 and 2004. I thought I was done in 2007, until Joe Curro became a selectman and I was asked to come onto the committee and fill his vacancy. And now I’m here looking to be re-elected to a three year term. One of the reasons for that, I serve with really remarkable people, and it’s an honor to serve with my six colleagues. And that’s really the prime reason why i want to be re-elected to the school committee, because it’s an honor to serve and solve problems with these folks.
We keep getting better. We’re into continuous improvement Our schools get better every year.
One thing I want you to know is that you’re not going to get a postcard from me this year. I did a calculation last year when I ran for the one year term, and the cost of a postcard to the good voters in Arlington is about the same cost as a field trip for my students in Lowell. I’d rather spend the money on a field trip. And we took our kids from the Rogers Early Learning Center in Lowell to the New England Aquarium last week. Kids went to Boston for the first time. They went to the Imax theater, and it was their first trip to a theater. This was amazing. This is important work we do as educators. That’s who I am. I’m an educator who is involved in public policy and interested in working with you for another three years. Thank you.
Contributions to support the children of the Rogers Early Learning Center would be gratefully accepted. Your check, payable to the Lowell K-8 Activity Fund, will make a difference for the Rogers ELC students. Send your check to:
Paul Schlichtman, Principal
Rogers Early Learning Center
43 Highland Street
Lowell, MA 01852
Question 1 (approximately 1:04): “How would you prioritize the future rebuilding or renovation of Arlington High School and the Minuteman Regional High School?”
Let’s be frank.  Right now, our Minuteman assessment has gone up 61 percent over the past three years, that’s because our share of the school has gone up. We’re now about 38%. The cost to rebuild Minuteman is proportional to our member enrollment. We cannot afford to pay for 40% of Minuteman. We need structural change in the regional agreement at Minuteman in order to be able to afford the reconstruction of that school along with the high school in Arlington, which desperately needs to be rebuilt. So, our priority needs to be pushing forward on Arlington High School and negotiating a new regional agreement with Minuteman that puts our vote at a reasonable share based on our enrollment and our cost. The Minuteman School Committee recently voted to change the regional agreement proposal to us to weaken Arlington’s vote, and if the other towns want us to have a smaller share of the vote, the way to do that: increase their enrollment in the school.
Question 2 (approximately 1:07) What are your top three improvements or goals, small or large, for the Arlington school system?
That’s an easy one. The first, second, and probably third really needs to be in terms of the process of renovating and rebuilding Arlington High School. That said, the other things we really need to do is, we really need to manage our resources well, watch for the increases of enrollment, be proactive in terms of accommodating the increases we are seeing. We’re now over 5000 students. Our enrollment’s increased more than 10% over the past few years, so we have to watch that enrollment increase. And maintaing and improving our quality by maintaining our commitment to continuous improvement within the school system.
Question 3 (approximately 1:13) Would you support a policy that unequivocally funds and sustains the ACE programs at all levels in our schools?
I’m a former gifted coordinator in a past life, so I have a little perspective in this from reality.  In the last decade, in my prior school committee service, we found that 50% of the students at the Ottoson were in the ACE program. And that might be good on one level, but on another level you look at that as that could be a problem with rigor in the schools. I will tell you that we have a limited budget, we have to prioritize, so there’s no such thing as an unequivocal support for one program. We have to look at our priorities. We have to look at our needs. We have to look for the most efficient and best way to advance the needs of our students. We have to look for solutions to our problems, and not accept solutions in search of a problem. So, how do we best educate our kids? We will do it as effectively as we can with technology, with best practices, I’m not going to time myself to any one program.
Question 4 (approximately 1:16): Are you in favor of maintaining the METCO program?
Yes. When I worked in Boston I met many METCO grads and they are all remarkable people. I think its an important program but there’s a real underlying problem in the way the state deals with it. We’re spending 13, 14, 15 thousand dollars on students leaving Boston to charter schools, while we’re getting only a couple of thousand for the METCO students. School choice is at $5000. There’s no equity between the myriad ways to move inter-district within the state. The problems with METCO are a state problem. It needs to be solved, along with the issues of charter school funding and school choice, and other equity issues in terms of inter-district choice.
Question 5 (approximately 1:19): How will you help support our school libraries especially with regard to incorporating new technology?
I think one of the critical issues here is we’ve have had to make some very difficult choices. Back in 2004, when Governor Romney proposed the budget that was enacted that cut our local aid by 20%, that’s when we laid off our elementary librarians. We have not recovered from that damage. There are some trends in education where, in elementary schools, we want to put books in classrooms so all the money out of Arlington’s public budget is going to classroom libraries and not putting books in the libraries, and we’ve been relying on volunteer funds to fund the library. Yes, we need more technology. Yes, it needs to be in our capital plan. Yes, as we move the nature of education, flipping classrooms based on technology, we need the technology to be available in the classroom. And we need to find innovative ways to both fund this and to use this to educate our kids.
Closing statement (approximately 1:23):
Thank you, and it’s a pleasure to go after Mr. Hayner this time and agree with him. One of the reasons why we can agree is, on a regular basis, we come to the public and we talk about the issues of the town. We don’t always agree in the school committee room, but we debate and discuss with respect. I think you can be proud of this school committee. I feel proud to be with these folks on a regular basis. We work hard. We do it well. We try our best to come with reasonable solutions and to advance public education in the Town of Arlington. I would appreciate the opportunity to continue to serve. I want to thank the League of Women Voters, Vision 2020, ACMi TV, and the voters and you who have come out to watch this debate and to become educated about the election. The election is on Saturday, April 5th. I ask for your vote. Thank you very much.

Minuteman Budget Blues

As a former member of the Minuteman Regional School Committee, I know that our relationship with Minuteman is a complicated mix of partnership and competition. We are partners in educating Arlington students, yet we also compete for students. We need Minuteman to provide the specialized and expensive vocational programs that individual towns cannot provide on their own.

In the past three years, our Minuteman assessment has increased from 2.35 million dollars to 3.79 million dollars, a 61 percent increase in just three years. This is unsustainable. The reason for this dramatic increase is our percentage of the member town enrollment increased from 26.7 percent to 38.3 percent, and our assessment is based on the percentage of member town students that come from Arlington.

Minuteman is looking to build a new school, and the local costs are based on the percentage of students from each member town. Our share is rapidly approaching 40%, but we cannot afford to pay 40% of the cost of building a new vocational school. That’s why so we need to take some steps to restore the balance between Arlington and the other member communities.

First, we need to support a new Minuteman regional agreement, which will weigh votes based on the town’s enrollment. Currently, the Town of Dover has one student in the school, one vote on the school committee, and their one vote for a $38,000 assessment is equal to our one vote for a $3.79 million assessment. The new regional agreement will fix this inequity, but we can’t afford to move forward with a new school unless large non-member communities step forward, join the district, and pay their fair share of the costs of a new facility.

Second, we need to retain students in Arlington who are interested in science, technology, and engineering, by expanding our course offerings at Arlington High School. Other towns in the district retain a much higher percentage of their science – technology – engineering students. Right now, we don’t have the ability to effectively compete for these students, because of our lack of technology and adequate science labs, and this needs to change.

The governor’s FY15 budget is disappointing

Before you read on, please think about the amount you need to increase your school budget to maintain level services. Assume a steady enrollment, no new expenditures, just enough to do next year exactly what you are doing this year.

Chances are the number is somewhat north of 1.32%

Sadly, this is the inflation rate built into the FY15 foundation budget under the governor’s proposal released this morning. The foundation budget, the amount defined under education reform as the minimum funding required to provide an adequate education, is a key factor in determining Chapter 70 aid.
After the state calculates the foundation budget, it calculates the amount a municipality can afford to spend based on a community’s wealth, which becomes the minimum local contribution. The state is obliged to contribute the difference between the minimum local contribution and the foundation budget, which is defined as Chapter 70 aid.
This is an oversimplified description, as there are some other calculations that govern the minimum local contribution, but it describes the system accurately enough to engage in a conversation about statewide trends.
Compared to FY 2014, the FY 2015 budget is based on:
  •  A 0.34% increase in statewide enrollment, from 937,604 to 940,831.
  • A 1.67% increase in the statewide foundation budget, from $9.704 billion to $9.866 billion.
  • A 1.32% increase in the statewide per pupil foundation budget, from $10,350 to $10,486
  • A 1.20% increase in the statewide minimum local contribution, from $5.748 billion to $5.818 billion.
  • A 0.86% increase in the statewide per pupil minimum local contribution, from $6,131 to $6,183..
  • A 2.30% increase in the statewide Chapter 70 aid, from $4.301 billion to $4.400 billion.
  • A 1.95% increase in the statewide per pupil Chapter 70 aid, from $4,587 to $4.677.
We have been raising fees, raising local property taxes, and cutting services since the inception of education reform because the foundation budget has not risen proportionate to the increased costs of providing an adequate public education. This year’s paltry proposed 1.32% increase in the per pupil foundation is just another year that Massachusetts public school students will lose ground.
What’s the incentive for the state to under-inflate the foundation budget? Let’s assume the local contribution does not increase (because it is capped), which means that a larger increase in the foundation budget would need to be funded through Chapter 70 aid. A conservative 2.5% increase in the per pupil foundation budget, along with no increase in the minimum local contribution, would require a 4.62% increase in the Chapter 70 line item. Instead of a $90 increase in per pupil Chapter 70 aid, it would require a $212 increase in per-pupil aid, and it would cost the state an additional $52.3 million over the governor’s proposal.
We haven’t even talked about special education, or the increased need for technology that wasn’t anticipated when the foundation budget was devised in 1993. But there are other line items that fund special education and needy students. How are these line items funded in the governor’s budget?
  • Regional School Transportation: $51,521,000 (level funded)
  • Non-Resident Pupil Transportation: $3,000,000 funding zeroed out in FY15.
  • Homeless Student Transportation: $7,350,000 (level funded)
  • Charter School Reimbursement: $75,000,000 (level funded)
  • Circuit Breaker: FY 2014: $252,489,224. FY 2015: $252,513,276. This is a $24,052 (0.01%) increase.
  • METCO: $18,642,582 (level funded)
Don’t think the municipal side of the budget will have any spare change for the schools. Unrestricted General Government aid for FY 2015: $920,230,293 is level funded.
All is not bleak in the education budget.
  • Innovation Schools get a 360% increase, from $1,000,000 to $4,604,123.
  • The combined spending for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Executive Office of Education increases by 2.87% from $15,226,375 to $15,663,792.
  • Extended Learning Time Grants get a 28% increase, from $14,168,030 to $18,168,067
Look on the bright side. After all the cuts precipitated by the paltry Chapter 70 increase and all the other level funded line items, you can get extra money to provide an increased quantity of diminished product.
Time to call our members of the Great and General Court.