My Goal in Blogging

I started this blog in May of 2008, shortly after my election to the School Committee, because I believed it was very important to both provide the community with an opportunity to share their thoughts with me about our schools and to provide me with an opportunity for me to ask questions and share my thoughts and reasoning. I have found the conversation generated on my blog to be extremely helpful to me in learning community views on many issues. I appreciate the many people who have taken the time to share their views. I believe it is critical to the quality of our public schools to have a public discussion of our community priorities, concerns and aspirations.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Roles and Responsibilities of the School Committee

Following the piece by the acting interim-superintendents in yesterday's Bulletin (, a number of people have noted (on this blog and in my private email) that they were surprised to read about these rules and restrictions of School Committee members. I therefore went through all of the materials I received during my Orientation last summer from the Massachusetts Association of School Committees to clarify the rules and responsiblities of a School Committee member.

Here are a few I found particularly note-worthy:

-Establish and periodically review educational goals and policies for the school in the district. Policies should be reflective of the fact that the School Committee has oversight or and responsibility for the school system, the direction in which the system must go, and establish criteria to determine if its goals and practices are being met.

-Work to ensure that necessaray funds are appropriated for the district and that a balance is maintained between needs and resources in the distribution of available monies.

-Evaluate the performance of the superintendent.

-Review prior to all School Committee meetings the information provided by the Superintendent and when possible communicate any questions or concerns to the superintendent prior to the meeting to provide an opportunity for a response.

This orientation also included helpful information about the responsibility of individual School Committee members. This information included the following statements:

-"You are never required to agree, comply, silence yourself, or follow anyone else's leadership."

-"You do not have to agree with what the School Committee has done on any particular issue. Often spirited dissent is healthy in a democracy."

-School Committee members have all of the same rights that individual citizens have, such as "To speak freely and to be critical; to address the media at any time; to speak to any constituent at any time; to disclose information not legally confidential."

Perhaps most importantly, this orientation provided guidance as to what was expected of me, and all School Committee members, as elected officials: "As a member of a School Committee, you are a public official and a public figure, with rights and responsibilities. Voters elected you to take a stand, argue for public policy, and explain your actions." So, you may agree or disagree with my views on any number of matters, but I believe this blog makes it clear that not only am I taking a stand and explaining my actions, but also that these actions are precisely in line with what is expected of me as a member of School Committee.


JWolfe said...

Thank you Catherine for the post, but what are you doing up at 4:42 AM?

Honestly, I read the Amherst Bulletin piece by the two acting superintendents as a mean spirited attack on you. It wouldn't receive a passing grade as a high school paper on the functions and responsibilities of the School Committee. The article is grounds for firing them considering how incredibly inaccurate and purposely misleading it is.

Whether or not the other SC members agree with you on other matters, they should take a stand to protect the integrity of the committee, our town's elections, and the proper functioning of local democracy.

Neil said...

When I read "Supercolumn: School committee responsibilities" By AL SPRAGUE and HELEN VIVIAN, published on February 13, 2009

I had four reactions to the column;
- Begging the question is an ineffective form of argumentation because it does not declare a clear problem statement,
- there is no factual information in here that I take issue with and it is likely a partial citing of relevant guidelines
- usually supervisors have this conversation with their department members, rather than department members giving their boss the job description
- finally and most importantly, why was it written and published to the public rather than written and submitted to the board to be taken up in executive session?

From my perspective, it was an ineffective and public expression of disapproval of Sanderson's approach to problem solving and communication about the same.

It was ineffective because it does not clearly state a problem or problems, it requires the reader to infer them. It also requires the reader to infer a solution.

Absent these two elements - a problem statement and a solution - the article has the characteristics of an public smack down and not a constructive communication meant to advance the status quo toward as more constructive outcome.

I don't know if Al and Helen have valid concerns but I do know their approach to solving the problem they perceive (SB member goes "off the reservation") is unconstructive.

Maybe I haven't spent enough time in academia but in business, we know the most effective way to solve problems is to take them head on and build a bridge. To that end, I wonder why they did not ask for an executive session and provide a written problem statement and suggested solutions, or if permitted under the rules, a direct communication with Sanderson. Isn't that the way we normally try to solve problems? Directly!

That said, Al and Helen have every right to express their opinion. They must understand however the forum they chose to do it can be as important as the merit of their argument. The forum says something. To me, it says intimidation.

In my opinion, going public rather than raising the concern to the board was poor judgment on their behalf, and also an ineffective first step in correcting a problem (if it is a problem) becuase it does not advance the discussion.

Making it a public conversation between the supers and the school board ups the ante and forces Sanderson to defending her approach rather than seek to understand the supers' concerns and decide on the merit.

Finally, it takes the focus off the discussion about he important decisions that must be made for our school.

I give the supers a gentleman's C- for their letter and pass no judgment on their other work.

Let's get it together people.

Respectfully submitted,
ARHS '76 Go Cains!

Anonymous said...

I'm guessing Catherine can't sleep too well after that terrible and pathetic attack on her by the superintendents. Catherine, it is SO great what you are doing, thank goodness we have you during this difficult time. I hate to think what it would be like otherwise. I hope you send this response to the Gazette/Bulletin so everyone can see it.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I just noticed the time stamp is off on the posts...I posted the previous at 9:52!

Ed said...

As to the time stamp, I think someone forgot that the default on most computer things is California time and you gotta reset it to EST (Zulu -5). Or not - my VCR and microwave work fine regardless of what time they are blinking.

Stan Rosenberg is a man who many of you know. I want to stay out of agreeing or disagreeing with him, only citing him as an elected official, similar to Catherine Sanderson.

Stan speaks in public - a lot. He addresses the UM Faculty Senate (once storming in and interupting a faculty member who was going to speak), he is on the PBS Sunday show, he goes to lots of other venues. And he articulates policy, he says what he thinks the state should do. On one occasion he went after UM President Jack Wilson big time during the tumultious Lombardi departure.

John Oliver mails out letters (at public expense) telling us what he wants to do and see done.

Now these are all identical things with one exception -- there is no opportunity for the other side to respond (as there is here with this blog). When Stan says something I disagree with on the floor of the FacSen, I don't get a chance to disagree; when John Oliver mails out something with which I disagree, I don't get a free mailing to rebut it (nor does his Republican opponent). But I do get that here.

And if you are going to argue that Catherine Sanderson shouldn't have a blog, then you are going to have to muzzle Stan Rosenberg and revoke John Oliver's mailing permit. She is just using a different technology.

The thing I see here is a content-based evaluation of free speech rights. You don't like what issue Larry Kelly was investigating so it was OK to trespass him (but if he had been investigating say an administrator using racial slurs, I wonder how different the response would have been to his exact same actions). You don't like what Catherine Sanderson is saying so you want to silence her too.

You don't like the fact that she is advocating a public policy that you disagree with so you don't want her able to advocate any public policy. Well, folks, that means that no one else can do it either, including those who may agree with you....

The appropriate solution here, boys 'n' girls, is to stop acting like children and to go find some actual rational basis for the public policy decision that you desire. Facts and evidence would help -- she has presented a lot of both and all you (including you two in the supts' office) have done is call her names.

Children, behave....

If a disinterested objective person were to look at this, which side do you think such a person would favor -- that of the woman who has articulated a public policy choice and defended her position with facts -- or the people just shouting insults at her for doing so?

And even if I disagreed with her positions, I would still be defending her right to express them. I just would be looking for any hole in her logic or argument, and I suggest those who do disagree with her might want to take that approach if they want to convince anyone they are more than just adult sized children.

Ed said...

You know, I am not so sure that the sophomoric superintendent's column was actually directed at Catherine.

Is there another member of the school board who might be thinking of publicly taking a position similar to her, and is *that* the person they are trying to scare into silence?

I have seen this happen in academia a LOT -- to totally crucify a person with an unpopular opinion not to silence him or her but because you will be scaring others away from publicly expressing similar opinions.

If Catherine was just one person who had no support, there would be no need to worry about her. Assuming that everyone is a rational actor (which is a very dangerous assumption) there is a rational reason why some aren't ignoring her and that means that...

Inquiring minds are wondering what the other members of the board are thinking -- I don't think that vote to request figures came from just one person, nor that she was the only one upset with the difficulty of getting them....

maryd said...

It is unfortunate that they didn't use that column as an opportunity to discuss our budget fiasco. People want answers about what will happen to our schools and they went in the wrong direction.

I know everyone is worried about MM closing, but I now have a 5th grader who is wondering where she will be next year. I hope we can figure all of this out soon.

Thank you again for blogging.

LarryK4 said...

The ultra crusty Bully editor is also to blame.

While I'm sure these Super-Whatevers don't actually get paid (the old saying "you get what you pay for" springs to mind), they should still be edited and given SOME degree of direction.

Anonymous said...

I'm confused -- do you disagree with the guidelines suggested by the superintendents, and if so, which ones?

For example, in this list?

1) A school committee member in his/her relations with the community should:

* Recognize that his/her basic function is policymaking and not administrative.

* Remember that the chairperson is the public spokesperson for the committee at all times except when this responsibility is specifically delegated to others.

* Be well informed concerning the duties of a committee member on both a local and state level.

* Remember that he/she represents the entire community at all times.

* Accept the office as a committee member as a means of unselfish service with no intent to "play politics," in any sense of the word, or to benefit personally from his/her committee activities.

I understand the controversy about blogging -- difficult issue, but one that seems circumventable by clearly stating that an individual cannot speak for the entire community. But, none of the recommendations of the superintends seem wrong to me.

LarryK4 said...

And for all we know, you ARE one of the Superintendents (cowardly nitwit)

Anonymous said...

I have a question about a different issue. Why don't we require a representative from each school to be on the School Committee? Seems to me that would be the fairest thing to do as to endure each school has equal representation with the policy makers.

Also that each of said parents works with their school's SGC to ensure that each School Improvement Plan is lined up with the Districts. That would ensure continuity between all departments.

Rick said...

What Neil said above:
“…in business, we know the most effective way to solve problems is to take them head on and build a bridge.”
is so true.

Sort of related to that:

School Committee meetings seem to be a terrible way to get things done. Under the eye of cameras and the public, who can be as frank and open as they want to be in discussing things and getting things done. What if every business meeting you had was like that – would you get anything done?

OK here I am going to show my ignorance. Do school committee members have other kinds of meetings where they can really brainstorm, throw out ideas without fear of cameras, and really roll up sleeves and get something done? Or do the open meeting laws prevent that?

Anonymous said...

The guidelines seem fine but I find it hilarious that those people who trumpet Catherine's First Amendment rights want to stifle the free speech of the superintendents. I know that many people asked about blogging and other policies so it was appropriate to post guidelines. I agree that Catherine has a right to blog but free speech rights do have limits and even the most conservative or liberal Supreme Court justices do not believe in limitless free speech rights! And Ed, Tinker v. Des Moines applies to public school students right to free speech (wearing armbands to protest the Vietnam Warand it stated that free speech has limits too!)-it does not apply to this situation. I agree with Anonymous about reps on SC from different schools.

Ed said...

I will answer the First Amendment issue -- there is a very big difference between elected officials who set policy and tenured employees who implement it.

It is the duty (not right, but duty) of the elected board members to set policy. It is at best an ethical violation for the employees to do so, they are only to implement it.

So while I will defend the Superintendents' right of free speech as individuals, for them to use their titles is problematic.

And one other thing, there is a big difference between defending the right of free speech and saying that there are no consequences for speech.

For example - a good example - were Sanderson to have a digital tape recorder hidden in her purse and to record an executive session and then post *that* as a .wav file on the internet, well.....

And the right of free speech is absolute but the concept of liability for what one says also exists...

Anonymous said...

Good Morning Catherine,

While all this back and forth exercise of free speech is all well and good the issue at hand remains one of devastation and turmoil. Because of the decision to close Marks Meadow an undue burden has been placed on many children, families and teachers of our community. This is how oppression works.
How can anyone believe that there is no money?? How can anyone except the fallout of mismanaging money when children are concerned? The money is there.
Just look at all the new buildings at UMass and try and say our commonwealth does not have money. This is how oppression operates.
If one child is suffering isn't the whole community of children at risk? If one family member is sickened and unable to attend meetings where her/his voice needs to be heard aren't we all sickened? This is how oppression flourishes.
I hear words like redistricting, reconfiguration. What about remembering the lives being tossed around in all this?
Please--how can you, in good conscience, enable the system to continue oppressing people like this?
I just don't see you as this kind of person. And falling back on some
other's philosophy or quoting from the MTA's school committee guidelines just doesn't cut it here.
What can you be thinking of the upset in the lives of the people this decision will have?
Once again I thank you for this opportunity.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

OK, here are my responses:

Joel: Thanks, as always, for the support!

Neil: I whole-heartedly agree that if the Supers had/have any concerns about me, a more constructive approach would have been to approach me directly. I wish they had chosen to do so.

Anonymous: Thanks for the support (and ummm, yes, I fixed the timestamp!).

Ed: Great example of other elected officials communicating opinions -- thanks! And I think it is a fair assumption that the column was not intended ONLY for me. As you note, the entire School Committee unanimously requested data (twice) and did not receive it when requested.

MaryD: Thanks for the support. I too have a 5th grader and would like to have a sense of timing of all of this. I had hoped we would have discussed that more directly at the last meeting, but the emotions seemed to change the intended plan of the meeting.

Larry: My understanding was that the Superintendents' column was to answer questions raised by the community about the schools. Obviously they get many questions so one would assume they choose the most pressing/urgent. I remain skeptical that THIS question is the single most important issue the community wanted to hear their thoughts on.

Anonymous: I have two responses to this -- first, I don't have any particular issue with the guidelines you specifically quote, but again, why in the world does stating these help the community in any way? It is more of an issue, for me, of WHY would they choose to write about this topic as opposed to more pressing concerns (does it bother them that our schools hae such an inequitable distribution of kids? How do they suggest solving the budget crisis? What is their philosophical view of 6th grade in the middle school?). Second, I think other statements in this piece were specifically designed to be intimidating -- the phrase "dismantling the quality programs that Amherst-Pelham schools have worked so hard to develop is imminent" comes to mind. And finally, the entire tenure of the piece together I believe is designed to have people in the community assume that I have violated ethics.

Anonymous: All School Committee members are elected, and anyone who is legally able to run CAN win. So, right now, of the five members on the School Committee, two don't have kids in our schools (their kids are out of school). Voters can certainly take into account who is running in order to try to create balance, but there is no such rule. But I think in all honesty, it is not that all the parents at a given school would feel the same way, meaning that that person isn't representing "the views of their school." I certainly do NOT feel that I have a special responsibility to the parents of Fort River when I take positions or make a vote. I feel I have a responsibility to ALL kids!

Rick: Good question -- and one that I didn't know the answer to a year ago. First, NO we can NOT talk in private -- that's a violation of Open Meeting law. Second, even with the TVs, and in public, I think the meetings could have a more active and productive feel. I'd love to see 30 minutes or so at each meeting in which we discuss some topic and share views (perhaps someone would have provided data/information/reading beforehand), even in front of the camera/audience. I've heard from others in different communities that School Board meetings CAN be quite active, productive, and vigorous, and I'd love to see us go in this direction.

Anonymous: I think the issue many people have had is that superintendent's piece is (a) not just guidelines, (b) clearly designed to portray my behavior in a negative light, and (c) just not that relevant in the midst of all that is facing our schools right now. And I've already answered the question about members of the SC being from different schools.

Ed: Thanks for pointing out the difference between free speech by an elected official -- who is elected to have opinions and act on them -- and people who are hired to do a job.

Anonymous: Thank you for your comment. I have a few thoughts. First, I just don't think the money is there. U Mass may have money but they are laying off people. And the reality is, the school budget depends on money from the state, and the state has less money because we are in a state of economic turmoil. So, there is just not enough money to maintain our current system. I think this is factually true.

Second, I think that when we are in a state of fiscal crisis, we need to make decisions to protect our kids as best as we can. I know that some families can't attend meetings, don't have their voices heard, etc. So, that is why we need to think about ALL kids. And the reality is, in my opinion, closing Marks Meadow is the best way to preserve what we love about the Amherst schools -- including instrumental music, small class sizes, appropriate intervention services for kids in need and so on. My last posting, in fact, talked about my need to listen NOT to just the loud voices (saying save Marks Meadow and save instrumental music) but rather to focus on the voices I'm not hearing (the families who have kids who use intervention services that will be cut if we keep Marks Meadow open). I don't see the Marks Meadow kids in this scenario as the oppressed ones -- I just don't. I see kids who are in need of intervention services (special ed, ELL, reading/math) as the oppressed, and the kids at Crocker Farm as the oppressed (who are at a school that has more than TWICE as many kids on free/reduced lunch than our district average). My view is that we should close a school to use limited funds more wisely (not on administrative support) and redistrict to create equity -- this is the best way I see to helping all kids, including the oppressed. But for the record, a decision has NOT been made, and again, this is just my view -- I have NO IDEA how any other member of the School Committee feels and how they will vote.

Ed said...

Three things:

First, the use of free/reduced lunches gives Marks' Meadow an artificial appearance of poverty. You have a lot of graduate students in the sciences who come from wealthy families (often the top 5-10% of SES in their home countries) and are acting on the presumption that they will be making lots of money in 10 years, even if they aren't now. So their lifestyle is not that of the traditional low income family which means that Crocker Farm is even more oppressed than it looks.

Second, there are only two legal ways to elect school committee members: townwide or by district. The problem with the latter would be a larger example of the problem of town meeting and the fact that half the adults in Amherst are UM students not interested in town affairs. So what you would wind up with is the School Committee member from Southwest who is only there for resume glorification and doesn't even show up to meetings.

The third thing about UMass is that what used to be a $5000/year education became a $10,000/year and will become a $20,000/year education next year. Massive costs being shifted onto the children and the next generation.

Amherst could gold-plate the schools but what you would have to do is shift future costs onto the very children you are trying to help. It is like meth, short term gain and long term costs.

There are other, less toxic drugs that could be used to pull a 36-hour "all nighter" (forget the quality of the learning done, I am talking about staying awake) and one could take them *once* with no consequences. I am not advocating doing this, and yes there is always the undetected heart problem and the like, but I am trying to make a point here.

You could do speed once without trouble, the problem is when you do it ever day. I suggest that there are a lot of people, including our current President, who are doing the same thing with money.

We can argue priorities and we can argue exactly where the tipping point is, but at some point Amherst could overtax its property owners to the point where doing business in Amherst becomes too expensive and the bubble bursts.

Read Steinbeck's _Cannery Row_ sometime -- one year the herring didn't come. And a UMass that has gone from $5000 to $20,000 in a decade could eventually see a fall when the students didn't come. And the consequences of *that* to this town are things that many need to consider.

What would Amherst be with a couple thousand unemployed families in town???

Rick said...

In response to Anonymous (February 15, 2009 5:46 AM ):

You said “the money is there”. It isn’t there. Perhaps you meant to say is that “the money should be there”. Yes it should be.

Then you seem to go on to blame Catherine for the fact that money is not there. (“Please--how can you, in good conscience, enable the system to continue oppressing people like this?”). Catherine has nothing to do with the money not being there. It’s the other way around. She worked on the override committee in 2007 to get more money (

If you want to blame somebody for there being no money (which I don’t recommend) you can blame “us” meaning:

A. Us voters who moved Massachusetts in a more conservative direction, cutting income taxes in 2002, and then turning around and cutting aid to towns.

B. Us voters who did not vote for the override in 2007 (2,383 did vote for it, 2,650 did not, a difference of only 267).

C. Us voters who voted for Bush and the federal income tax cuts he enacted and huge deficits he ran up.

But don’t point fingers at anyone. Just recognize the facts of why money is not there.

In response to Ed:

You say a lot of good things I agree with. But I just don’t agree with the assertion that we are overtaxed, or close to being so.

Did we really need to do the state income tax cut of 2002? Would it really be that terrible to restore the rates to where they were before that, so the there would be more money for everything from UMass to aid to towns?

And surely we need more than a 2.5% average increase in property taxes each year. It is 3.5% with “new growth” added, but new growth is an increase in buildings and population, so a bigger town needs a bigger budget in theory. I am not saying we need 5 or 6%, just an extra .5%-1% would have made a huge deference over the years and would have been reasonable. Sometimes I think we should just pass a very small override every year. Passing a big one every so often is a big problem.

This “cut-taxes-and-everything-will-be-better” mentally started of course with Reagan, (who I unfortunately believed in and voted for). But he and Arthur Laffer were wrong – we were not on the side of the Laffer curve that they said we were. And cutting taxes is not the right way to cut spending. Cutting spending is the right way of cutting spending.

Clinton raised taxes early in his term and we had great growth in the 90’s. Yes there were many other things going for him in the 90s, but the point is that other things way beyond government control drive growth, not so much tax policy. The tax cut part of the federal stimulus plan is going to do absolutely nothing, except increase the federal debt even more.

The problem at hand is what to cut, not what I discuss above. So sorry, I just felt I needed to say this in response.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

As always, Ed and Rick have thought-provoking comments -- albeit some that are a bit beyond an area in which I feel fully able to comment!

Let say one quick thing: as Rick notes, I did work hard on the override campaign (with Rick and many others), and if that campaign had passed we would have more money now to work with. But right now, we have to deal with the reality of where we are -- and that is with a limited pile of money. I feel my job as a member of School Committee is to make sure that money (however much or little there is) is used in the best way possible to reach the goal of having the Amherst Public Schools create a truly excellent education for ALL kids. And I hope that by accomplishing this goal, we may actually bring MORE money in -- as fewer families leave for charter schools, private schools, and School Choice.

Anonymous said...

I am wondering if you could clarify what a 2 1/2 Tax Override exactly is? How long it lasts for?

Anonymous said...

I have a question and more so, a request about redistricting. If we were to redistrict, is the plan to take the open enrollment option off the table? I would request this to happen, because if we were not to do that, then we could be looking at "white flight" from the "new" CF district. (not including the children who would need to be in specific schools for specific services)

Anonymous said...

The question about each school having a parent on the School Committee is based more of the sharing of information between the SC and each school. Not about the SC member speaking for all parents in their school. They can report what they have been told by their school's SGC about the direction their school is heading and the SC member can make sure the School Improvement Plan is in sync with the districts.

By doing this, it would ensure that each school is on the same track and it could also encourage more collaboration between the schools. Sounds like a win-win to me, regardless of budget issues.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous: An override can be written in any number of different ways - for different amounts of money and for different numbers of years. So, that would be up to the planners of the override to see what they wanted to ask for.

Anonymous: If redistricting occurs, it would be done to create districts that are quite equal in terms of % of kids on free/reduced lunch -- so I think in this case, you would not get flight from Crocker (which now happens because the school is so heavily low income). I think some open enrollment makes sense, such as when a family moves from one district to another within Amherst (to keep their kids in the same school), but yes, we'd have to carefully monitor the reasons used for such movement (and perhaps restrict it to very specific cases, as you suggest).

Anonymous: Even as a member of School Committee, I honestly have no idea what the Fort River School Council is proposing, the direction of their school improvement plan, etc. But each School Council comes to School Committee to present the school improvement plan, so that information is being presented now to ALL School Committee members. Technically that type of district-wide coordination (which I agree is important) comes from the Superintendent to the Principals to the School Councils, which then reports to the School Committee. I do agree that communication is good, as is consistency between the schools -- I just don't think having a representative of each school on School Committee is necessary to have this occur, or, as others have noted, feasible given our structure in which people run for School Committee and are or are not elected (particularly given that it is not a requirement that you even have kids in the schools in order to run).

Anonymous said...

This the link to a wonderful story by ABC news about a district in Maine raising money to save workers. It made go, "hmmm..."

Ed said...

Fact: "white flight" is not going to be prevented. It has never been prevented before and you are not going to prevent it now -- although having schools that are identical enough to each other that there is no advantage in transferring from one to the other might tend to abate it.

Look at Boston, the schools are more segregated now than they were 35 years ago when Garrity started handing down orders. We live in a mobile society and people can always sell houses...

Or go to a charter school, or start another charter school, or go to Pelham, Shutesbury or Hadley.

So, respectfully, you are going to be making a big mistake if you try to end open assignment to facilitate a better distribution of the rich white kids. That is not going to happen - and what you need to be more worried about is the equal distribution of the low income non-UM-grad-student kids.

Besides, do you folk honestly think that any parent with money isn't going to be able to find a psychologist to write a letter saying that the child has to be assigned to a specific school because of something or another -- I once saw a letter that said that a tenant (who wasn't paying her rent) couldn't be evicted because that would be "stressful" to her....

Ed said...

My response to Rick:

First, I never voted for Reagan. I think I was still a registered Democrat when I arrived out here in the valley. (I am *not* now....)

Second, increasing property taxes beyond the rate of inflation constitutes an inexerable shift of property ownership from the owner to the town. Word is that people's property taxes DOUBLED in the decade of late '90s/early '00s and that was largely due to increased evaluations.

Third, Michael Dukakas instituted a TEMPORARY income increase from %5 to 5.75% with a schedule for it to be reduced. Well, words mean things and "temporary" means TEMPORARY...

Fourth, anyone who wants to do so can pay the higher rate. Did you?

Fifth, if we want to talk about taxing more, we should then be talking about taxing the principal (not interest) of trust funds, flat taxes that tax shelters, etc.

Sixth, Carla Howell raised the point (in '02) that we could eliminate the state income tax and Massachusetts would have more money (in real dollars) than it did in 1990.

And seventh, unless I am wrong, the recently-passed "stimulus" bill has a price tag that is equal to all of the federal income tax paid in a year, as well as something like a third to half of the GDP of China.

We can't keep spending like this...

Rick said...

Response to Ed:

I guess it’s not a good idea for us to turn this blog into a debate on taxation as it is taking up too much space that is not directly the subject of this blog; we’ll just have to agree to disagree. But one correction I feel is important to make is on what you said here:

“Word is that people's property taxes DOUBLED in the decade of late '90s/early '00s and that was largely due to increased evaluations.”

Any rise in TOTAL property taxes that occur has nothing to do with revaluation. Every year the tax rate is determined simply by this:

Last year’s total taxes + 2.5%* / Total value of all property = tax rate.

*the Proposition 2-1/2 limit.

…plus taxes on any new property built, or improvements done to existing property (called “new growth”), which usually (past 10 years) results in an increase in total property tax revenue of 3.5% (without an override). (I have argued that extra 1% is “normal” because the town physically grew by that amount, but whatever…)

If “Total value of all property” changes due to revaluation, it affects the tax rate, but not the total tax raised, which by law cannot exceed 2.5%, and not the average property tax bill, which will go up 2.5% (without an override).

Revaluation can shift taxes from one property to another, like from commercial to residential or from Joe’s house to Mary’s house, if the market value of those properties have changed; maybe that is what you meant. But again revaluation has no effect on TOTAL tax revenue raised. Anyone who wants to check this out can ask John Musante or anyone on the Finance Committee.

Ed said...

The Mark's Meadow Cooperative District/Charter School.

There are two types of charter schools - the one that exists around here in the Chinese Immersion and PVPA schools, and a different type that is officially part of the local school district.

I believe it would be possible for the school district to set a price per child that the town is going to pay for educating children in the other 3 schools. And then to go to a cooperative of Mark's Meadow and say that "we will give you the same amount and you somehow make up the rest."

One of two things would happen - either the Mark's Meadow Fan Club would raise the extra couple thousand dollars per child and/or everyone who works there would get paid less. (All union contracts go out the window - and the cooperative agreement would replace the union contract and pay scale for the district.)

You would likely find that the employees of Mark's Meadow would either be paid less or working more hours than teachers elsewhere in the district. (This is almost always true for charter school teachers.)

Now if you truly love something, you will sacrifice for it. If there truly are all those people who so truly love Mark's Meadow as much as we are told, they won't mind having teachers there earning 5%/10% less than those elsewhere in town. Or we will have community volunteers in the school - a couple of retired nurses instead of a paid school nurse, parents on weekends rather than a janitor, etc.

If you really want to save Mark's Meadow, this is how.

Ed said...

One other way to "save" Mark's Meadow is to pressure UMass to start an elementary teacher certification program on the undergraduate level. I am told by BoE people that there is nothing in the Ed Reform law that says you can't do this, as long as your program is certified by the state. (Colleges make more requiring this be done on the graduate student level because of the financial aid rules....)

This is what the building was built for, and if it was run as a true laboratory school, the personnel costs to the district would be lower because (a) you would need fewer teachers and (b) the professors in the certification program would further replace teachers.

The economics of this essentially shifts some of the school labor costs from the school over to the college students wishing to be certified in that their volunteer labor and the professors their tuition dollars are paying for replace the labor of district teachers and aides.

This makes the school cheaper (to the town) to run, and brings it back to the economics it was built upon. Or, in other words, Mark's Meadow is prohibitivly expensive to run *because* there isn't an attached K-6 certification program.

Ed said...

One other thing:

School Committee members represent the TOWN as a whole and neither just those parents with children nor just those who pay taxes.

To say that they should all have children in the schools is to say that everyone involved in collecting child support should be a noncustodial father paying it. To say that everyone who works for the housing authority currently live in a subsidized apartment. To say that only convicted criminals can be police officers...

The flip side, of course, is the old property requirement rule where you had to own a certain amount of real estate (and be paying a certain amount in property taxes) in order to vote. This evolved into the "poll tax" and that was thrown out with the civil rights reforms of the '60s.

The school committee reflects the entire town, not just one neighborhood nor just one group of people (parents, non-parents, property owners, renters, etc.).