North Adams Mayor John Barrett III
"School lawsuit weighed: Mayors irate over cuts to funding"
By Scott Stafford, Berkshire Eagle Staff
Sunday, June 01, 2008
NORTH ADAMS — The mayors of at least three cities are considering suing the Massachusetts Board of Education over net cuts in state funding for their public schools.
According to Mayor John Barrett III and Holyoke Mayor Michael J. Sullivan, cuts in funding have resulted in fewer teacher positions and bigger obstacles to quality education. They maintain that the state is not living up to its constitutional responsibility to fund public education.
They also point to money they are losing when students opt to attend charter schools, saying that the funding formula is unfairly weighted in those schools' favor.
"It's atrocious," Barrett said. "And if the Legislature and the governor don't correct this problem in the next year, I and several other cities are going to join a lawsuit. We're going to have to seek our recourse in the courts. I imagine we should know something by next January, and if not, we're going in."
"Yes, we have been discussing that," Sullivan said, adding that Somerville Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone is participating in the ongoing discussion.
"Everything depends on what the final budget numbers look like later this year," Sullivan said.
In North Adams, where there are 1,691 students in the public schools, budget constraints resulted in the elimination of 7.5 teacher positions and 28 teacher aide positions.
"I don't see the light at the end of the tunnel," Barrett said.
"We received a net negative of $161,000 in state aid from last year. That has an impact. We have been funding the school system very heavily at the local level, while the state has been taking a walk."
In Holyoke, Sullivan said, state funding was up 2 percent from last year but was eaten up by increases in the cost of health insurance for retired teachers.
At the same time, there were negotiated teacher salary increases. The net effect resulted in the elimination of 30 teaching positions — a total layoff of 68 employees. In addition, three of 12 schools were closed. There are about 6,300 students in Holyoke public schools.
"It's clear in the constitution of the commonwealth that the education of our children is the responsibility of the state," Sullivan said. "Over time, some of that responsibility has gotten shifted to the municipalities, and the municipalities have been happy to share some of that investment. But the state has ... for the most part walked away from that responsibility."
Both Sullivan and Barrett say that state funding is just half of the problem. The other half is the lack of action on reforming the formula by which charter schools are funded with local money.
"The most absurd thing is that this charter school" — the Berkshire Arts & Technology Public Charter School in Adams — "is taking roughly $1.5 million next year, and that's up about $400,000 from this year," Barrett said. "What's angering myself and other mayors is the failure of the Patrick administration and the Legislature to address this problem."
He said that, when a North Adams student chooses to attend the BArT school, the North Adams schools pay the charter school $13,500, but that the latter spends only $6,300 in teaching its own students. And when a student chooses to go to a different public school system in Berkshire County, the cost to the North Adams schools is only $5,000.
Barrett said he does not want to close charter schools, "but just don't continue to hurt the public school system."
State Rep. Daniel E. Bosley, D-North Adams, agreed that the funding and charter school compensation formulas are in desperate need of re-evaluation.
"The problem is that we have schools that are losing population out here, but whether you have 12 students or 15 students in a classroom, you still have to heat the classroom and light the classroom, put a teacher in there, and yet you've lost three students' worth of funding," he said. "It's a lousy way to fund it."
J.C. Considine, spokesman for the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, said that the release of a study commissioned by Gov. Deval L. Patrick's administration, slated for June, probably will call for an evaluation of the needs of the state's public school systems. He was unaware of any effort to evaluate the charter school funding formula.
"Our legislators are really going to have to pay attention to this," Barrett said. "There should be a public outcry."
June 2, 2008
I am in 100% agreement with North Adams Mayor John Barrett III about the INEQUITY in state education funding in Massachusetts!
Jonathan Melle is a former resident of North Adams, Massachusetts from July 1, 1997 through August 31, 1998.
"State Initiative Targets High Smoking Rates"
By Jen Thomas - June 08, 2008 - iBerkshires Staff
NORTH ADAMS — With an exceptionally high smoking rate in the county, both local and state officials are coming together to help residents kick the habit.
At a Friday morning press conference in the lobby of North Adams Regional Hospital, members of the Berkshire legislative delegation joined Mayor John Barrett III and officials from the state Department of Public Health to announce the launch of the "Fight 4 Your Life" initiative, a nicotine patch giveaway that will work in cooperation with local smoking cessation programs.
"What does it take to give up the addiction? There are two things together that are likely to be the most successful. One is using a nicotine patch or some other form of nicotine replacement together with individualized counseling or support from other people. If you have those two things in your life than you have a much greater chance of beating tobacco," said John Auerbach, the commissioner of public health.
An estimated 3,454 smokers live in the city. The smoking rate is 30.3 percent, 68 percent higher than the statewide rate of 18.1 percent. Additionally, the rate of smoking during pregnancy is the city is 33.3 percent.
The Fight 4 Your Life campaign will provide two weeks of nicotine patches to smokers who want to quit throughout the month of June. When callers contact the state "Quitline," they will not only receive the patches but also a list of local hospital programs that offer smoking counseling.
Barrett, a reformed smoker, said he was eager to see changes in the smoking habits of city residents.
"I commend the state and our local hospitals for really stepping up and doing something about this because nothing angers me more than seeing some of our young people walking out of school lighting up a cigarette on their way home. Some of them haven't even reached the age of 15 years old. We've got to start doing more," the mayor said.
Past pilot programs in other municipalities — including Lowell, New Bedford, Fall River and Worcester — have proven successful, said Auerbach, with a "high percentage" reporting they are smoke free six months after beginning the program.
"We think this could work," Auerbach said. "We are not going to let the economics of purchasing the nicotine patch be an obstacle to somebody moving ahead with their efforts to give up tobacco."
Local legislators were also on hand to celebrate the initiative's launch.
"Out here, we have gone through some really tough times. We're still fighting some vestiges of losing the manufacturing economy here and people are still struggling for jobs. What's happened is we've seen battles in teen pregnancy, battles in teen smoking, battles with cancer," said Rep. Daniel Bosley, D-North Adams. "We need to change the habits and it's very important for us to take this step."
Jennifer Ciello, the tobacco treatment program coordinator for the Reach Community Health Foundation, said providing the first two weeks of nicotine-patch treatment (typically a 10- to 12-week program) will help put smokers on the right path to beating addiction.
"The idea is to get more and more people to local programs," said Civello. "Quitlines across the state have seen huge jumps using this program."
Public Health Commissioner John Auerbach, left, speaks with Richard Palmisano of NARH.
Katrina Bergman, spokeswoman for the initiative, was inspired to stop smoking by her children Jack, 12, and Emily Banagis, 15 (in orange). Emily's best friend Stacey O'Leary, 13, is at left.
"No new charter schools for Western Massachusetts"
The Associated Press, Monday, September 29, 2008
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (AP) — The state Department of Education has rejected all three proposals for new charter schools in Western Massachusetts.
The Republican newspaper of Springfield reported yesterday that authorities have invited those proposing two charter schools in central and eastern Massachusetts and one statewide charter school to submit final applications.
Backers of three western Massachusetts charter schools were not invited, and will not be considered for approval this year.
They had proposed charter schools in Springfield, Chicopee and Franklin County. Currently, there are 63 charter schools statewide.
The education department's decision was announced last week. The agency invites initial applications and meets with some of the founders before narrowing the list to those asked to submit final applications.
"Where the cutbacks might hurt the most"
By Matt Viser, Boston Globe Staff, October 17, 2008
FITCHBURG - Almost every day, Laura Frost comes to a public housing project in the center of this tired city to make sure that 69-year-old Ernestina Ortiz takes her pills. She prepares meals for Ortiz. She protects her from falling in the shower. She bends to her knees and pulls on Ortiz's shoes.
Asked what would happen without her home care provider, Ortiz just paused and shook her head.
"I'd be lost," she said.
Home care is the kind of crucial social service, viewed up close, that is jeopardized by the $1 billion in budget cuts Governor Deval Patrick announced Wednesday afternoon.
Patrick's cuts targeted services for troubled teenagers, the mentally ill, and the disabled, as well as to local police grants and much, much more. People who could be affected by the cuts can be found all over this economically troubled city, from the elderly strolling past the boarded-up storefronts downtown to the students trying to build careers at local colleges.
"Fitchburg, like all cities and towns, is affected," Patrick said in a brief news conference in the city yesterday after he met with city officials for an hour to discuss the cuts. "The reason I'm here today is to convey to Fitchburg, and the good people who work here - the mayor and her team - that we are in this together."
Calling the cuts painful, he added, "There is a human being behind every one of those dollars."
In the first 24 hours after the governor announced the reductions on Wednesday night, Fitchburg residents began to digest just how painful it could be.
Consider, for one, Katia Figueroa. She is a 17-year-old high school senior who several months ago started coming to an after-school program at Cleghorn Neighborhood Center, which was buzzing yesterday with children and teenagers molding clay, drawing on posters, and doing their homework. Figueroa comes to the center almost every weekday for math tutoring.
"I had a C or D average," Figueroa said yesterday. "This helped me bring it up to a B, which, for me, is a big deal."
A cut to the after-school program would add to the burdens already inflicted on the Cleghorn Center by the faltering economy. The food pantry is virtually under siege by residents; about 80 families came last month, four times more than normal. Staff members are no longer reimbursed for gas mileage as they travel to help families around the community, according to Dolores Thibault-Munoz, the center's executive director.
The impacts of the 1,000 layoffs and $1 billion in budget reductions Patrick announced were still being tallied around the state yesterday. City and town officials were relieved that the governor and Legislature have not yet cut local aid payments to municipal governments.
The biggest cuts statewide, nearly $300 million, will be to Medicaid payments made to healthcare providers, possibly including the 150-bed HealthAlliance Hospital in Leominster that serves Central Massachusetts. Counseling programs, homelessness support services, and adult education courses all will see cuts.
More than $1.6 million is being subtracted from services for the blind. Nearly $1 million is being eliminated from emergency assistance funds for family shelters. More than $1.5 million in HIV/AIDS prevention funds will be cut, along with at least $8.1 million in substance abuse programs. More than $15.2 million will be cut from the Department of Social Services alone.
Communities like Fitchburg, a former manufacturing city that has higher poverty rates and unemployment than state averages, could be hit hard.
The downtown contains multiple consignment shops and boarded-up buildings, but it also has a new bookstore and a martini bar called Destaré. Yesterday, there were well-dressed women pushing strollers and also scraggly men carrying cigarettes.
"We seem to be on the brink of breaking through," said Lisa Wong, who took office in January as the city's first minority mayor. "Here we are, pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps. But there's a lot of uncertainty. We just can't afford any more cuts."
The city's budget was cut 13 percent this year. The library is open only three days a week, and the police and fire forces have thinned.
"Our city lacks structure," said a barber inside Juice Cuts, who declined to give his name. "If it wasn't for the state colleges, we would be in really bad shape."
But those schools, too, will struggle. Despite increased enrollments, they will have to cut budgets by 5 percent.
Mount Wachusett Community College will lose $642,000, out of $12.8 million it had planned to spend. Fitchburg State College will cut $1.4 million out of its $27.8 million budget, instituting a hiring freeze and eliminating overtime. No tuition increases are planned, according to the college president, Robert V. Antonucci, but there may be some layoffs and unfilled positions.
"The last thing we want to do is raise fees," Antonucci said. "We'll reduce student activities."
Margaret Woovis, who runs Montachusett Home Care, a Leominster-based program that provides home care for Ernestina Ortiz and other senior citizens in 21 towns in north-central Massachusetts, said indications are that her budget will be cut by several hundred thousand dollars.
She's contemplating layoffs to her staff of nearly 100, and said the 1,500 seniors in the home care program will have to be reduced by about 60 people per month. That means not taking any new cases and may require cutting back on current ones.
"Epidemic is probably the word," Woovis said. "This is happening to everyone, everywhere."
At the Montachusett Opportunity Council - a Fitchburg-based agency that provides job training, youth programs, and support for the homeless - nearly one-third of the $17 million budget comes from state funding. The council's executive director, Kathleen McDermott, is still trying to figure out how the governor's budget cuts will affect her agency, which serves 20,000 residents. "The thing I worry about is, is this just the beginning?" she asked.
Matt Viser can be reached at email@example.com.
North Adams, Massachusetts
"Gas prices dip below $2 per gallon"
By Ryan Hutton, (The Berkshire Eagle), New England Newspapers, Friday, November 21, 2008
NORTH ADAMS — Gas prices may be dropping faster than a lead zeppelin, but Mayor John Barrett III says more needs to be done to keep North Berkshire on par with everywhere else.
"Well, they're falling, but we're still 15 cents behind other areas in Western Mass., like Westfield, Williamsburg — and we're much closer to prices in the Boston area," he said. "The lowest price I saw was $1.84."
Barrett said the constant competition from lower prices in places in Adams has brought local prices down — with Xtra-Mart on Ashland Street selling unleaded regular for $1.97 per gallon Thursday and Cumberland Farms just down the street selling it for $1.99. He pointed out that there is a big difference just between the two Cumberland Farms stores in North Adams and the one in Williamstown, where gas is selling at $2.05 per gallon.
"I'm thrilled that they're down, but it was slow coming, and it should still be at least 15 cents a gallon less than it is," he said.
"We're not talking places that are far away. The old excuse is it costs more for places that are far away. Then how come Charlemont, in the middle of the Mohawk Trail, as isolated as you can get, no competition, and it was 14 cents a gallon cheaper than North Adams?"
He also said the sudden, overnight drop in North Adams, from roughly $2.13 to $1.99, shows vendors do not operate on a gradual scale based on supply and demand.
"It's great, but how long it's going to last, I don't know," he said of the prices dropping. "What I'm really concerned about is that home heating oil has not followed the same path. I did talk to the attorney general's office two weeks ago, even though the prices were going down, because I believe they have to do what the governor of Connecticut did — they have to subpoena the records of the Cumberland Farms and Citgos because while North Adams was at $2.13 earlier this week, the one gas station in Charlemont was at $2."
Oil is currently selling for less than $50 per barrel. Barrett said the last time that happened, home heating oil was priced at $1.75 per gallon. Now it sits at anywhere from $2.84 to $3.05.
"Why hasn't that dropped, too?" the mayor asked. "A step further than that is, why haven't the food prices gone back down? They went up because of the fuel and transportation costs.
"Maybe the new (Barack Obama) administration can change this, but right now, everyone is so concerned about bailing out the big banks, there's no bailout for Middle America. All we want is a fair shake with these prices because it's going to get bad out there."
He said the problem lies in Washington, D.C., and politicians need to "get off their duffs" and concentrate on helping the average person.
"We as local officials can rant and rave all we want, but that's the problem, right in Washington, D.C." he said.
"I believe in the free enterprise system, but you know what? When things aren't regulated and watched closely, you end up with the mess we have on Wall Street. If they want to regulate the banks better, they have to start looking at some of these other things, too."
"Barrett bites the budget: In a tough economy, the Mayor of North Adams prepares for funding cuts and eyes school revenues"
By Scott Stafford, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Tuesday, December 02, 2008
NORTH ADAMS — Budget time doesn't come for another six months, but North Adams Mayor John Barrett III is already driving city employees crazy by reminding them to turn off the lights and reduce the amount of salt used during storms, he said, in anticipation of a $500,000 to $1 million loss in revenue for the coming budget year.
"The state depends on certain areas of revenue, but their sales tax is down, their income tax revenues are down, and the capital gains tax — I don't know anyone that made money on the stock market this year," Barrett said. "So that's going to take a serious hit. And (Gov. Deval L. Patrick) has already made significant cuts."
Locally, Barrett is already anticipating significantly less revenue from the hotel/motel tax, the excise tax and overall property taxes.
"And North Adams is already receiving $1 million less in state aid than we did four years ago," he said. "We've had to make cuts because of it."
A local legislator and a spokesperson for the governor said these budgetary concerns are being worked on.
Having been in a budget reduction mode for six years now, Barrett says there is not much left to cut anywhere but in the school department.
"I've had discussions with the superintendent, and the school department is the only place that has been relatively untouched," he said. "What else have I got left?"
He said the city is down to about 20 firefighters, 15 or 16 workers in the city yard, about 22 police officers, "and look around city hall — it's like a bowling alley sometimes, there's just not many people left here."
In addition, the firefighters and teachers unions are looking for increases
In Barrett's view, three factors must be addressed to resolve the ongoing budget crisis: resolving disparity in the charter school funding formula, finding new sources of income and pension funding reform.
"Until a few cities and towns in the commonwealth file bankruptcy or go into receivership, and its coming, then maybe the legislature will get the message — there have to be new sources of revenue," he said.
He mentioned a tax on utility poles and an increase in the hotel/motel tax.
Rep. Daniel E. Bosley, D-North Adams, said that with a $40 million fund recently passed to aid the construction of infrastructure for broadband Internet service in Western Massachusetts, a tax on utility poles and switches would be hard to justify.
"I'm loathe to say we're giving it to you with one hand and taking it away with the other hand, but by the same token, pretty much every other state does that and we need to take a look at it," he said.
The major hurdle, Barrett noted, is the funding of charter schools using city revenue.
"The only way it's going to get done, at number one, is charter school reimbursement," Barrett said. "It is totally absurd when we have charter schools sitting on surpluses and we're making cuts. And for whatever reason, legislators and the executive branch refuse to address the issue of charter school funding. Unless they address that, I see nothing on the horizon."
Bosley said political realities preclude quick action on the funding formula for charter schools.
"I understand his frustration," Bosley said, "but I don't know that it is going to change any time soon. That's something that we work on every year. It's not about whether the charter schools are doing a good job; it's about how we fund them. You shouldn't ask the cities and towns to do that."
He added that revenue streams for the state have been decreasing, but that more solid estimates would be ascertained in January and February as the new budget process gets started.
"In October, Governor Patrick outlined a Fiscal Action Plan to responsibly address a $1.4 billion budget deficit created in large part by the national economic downturn," said Kimberly A. Haberlin, deputy press secretary for Gov. Patrick. "Throughout this budget reduction process, Governor Patrick worked to ensure cities and towns were held harmless and, as a result, local aid and Chapter 70 funding were protected. As we continue to prepare for the Fiscal Year 2010 budget, the Governor remains mindful of the economic pressures on cities and towns and will make every effort during these difficult times to protect them."
"I just don't know what's going to happen," Barrett said, "but the last thing I'm going to do is cut teaching positions. Down the road, though, we may have to close a school."
To reach Scott Stafford: firstname.lastname@example.org or (413) 664-4995.
North Adams, Massachusetts
"Cancer patients offered 'new hope': Oncology practice is first in area with technology"
By Jennifer Huberdeau, Berkshire Eagle, New England Newspapers, Friday, January 09, 2009
NORTH ADAMS - With less than an ounce of blood, doctors at Berkshire Hematology Oncology now will be able to track the success of a cancer patient's treatment and progress — and eliminate unnecessary treatments.
The private practice is the first in New England and New York to acquire the CellSearch Circulating Tumor Cell Test, which was unveiled Thursday by Drs. Spyros Triantos and Paul Rosenthaul at the Eileen Barrett Cancer Center.
"This technology presents new hope for cancer patients," Rosenthaul said. "Up until now, we have relied on physical examination, blood tests and biomarkers to determine if a patient is responding to treatment. It would take several months to tell if a treatment was working — this procedure will regulate that time period to mere weeks. It detects actual cancer cells and can be done rapidly and often. We receive a real-time snapshot of what is happening, which gives us many more choices."
The test can be used for the three most common cancers — colorectal, breast and prostate - detecting if the cancer cells are metastasizing to other parts of the body.
"The addition of this cutting-edge technology will allow us a true advantage in the fight to prevent and treat cancer," he said.
Until now, doctors would have to wait up to three months to see changes in the radiological scans of patients with metastasizing cancers.
"A majority of our patients require treatment such as radiation and chemotherapy, which can cause serious side effects and are costly procedures," Rosenthaul said. "This technology can detect one cancer tumor cell among millions of blood cells. We can accurately predict the state of a patient's cancer by the number of cancer cells in the samples and whether or not a patient is benefiting from treatment."
To complete the testing, which has a turn-around time of three hours, a 7.5 milliliter sample of blood is injected with reagents and stains to determine the difference between a white blood cell and a cancerous cell.
"The tumor cells are marked with iron," said Lauren Wick, the practice's lab manager. "The blood than goes through a wash cycle that strips away the majority of white blood cells. It's then put into a magnetized cartridge that is read by microscope and camera in the analyzer."
Digital images of the cells are transferred to a nearby computer, where Wick is then able to determine if the cells are cancerous.
"They're labeled by anti-bodies and the iron marker," she said.
Wick, a medical technician, spent an intensive week training to read the difference between the four different projected wavelength signatures — cytoplasm, nucleus, white blood cells and "junk" — displayed on the screen.
"All of this was done manually before," she said. "By doing it that way, you lose a lot of precision and accuracy."
Triantos said there is hope that as the technology receives further review by the federal government, that it will eventually be used for other forms of cancers and perhaps screenings. But having the technology is huge advantage in fighting cancer, he said.
"One question that always stands out as the most important is, 'Is this treatment working? Do we need to stop, continue or make changes?" Triantos said. "The CellSearch technology will now allow us to make informed decisions in terms of treatment for those patients — and much earlier than was previously possible."
Mayor John Barrett III, who lost his wife, Eileen, to breast cancer 19 years ago, said he was happy to know such advanced technology would be available at North Adams Regional Hospital, and in the unit named for his wife.
"She said to me, if I don't survive this, make sure afterward that you make it better for others," he said. "If this technology had been available at that time, maybe Eileen would still be here today."
Rosenthaul said the practice is leasing the equipment, which retails for $205,000. Berkshire Hematology Oncology has offices in North Adams, Pittsfield and Great Barrington.
"Concerns raised on charter changes: Gov. Patrick's proposal draws mixed reviews from supporters and opponents of the schools."
By Jennifer Huberdeau, New England Newspapers, Thursday, January 29, 2009
NORTH ADAMS — Gov. Deval Patrick's proposals to raise the cap on charter schools in underperforming districts, impose quotas on student demographics and move a key portion of charter school funding into a budget line item was met with mixed reviews by both advocates and proponents on Wednesday.
"I'm very disappointed the governor failed to address the issue of charter school funding formulas," Mayor John Barrett III said. "We cannot continue to ignore this growing problem during financial hardship. It has to be dealt with."
Currently, charter school funding from the state is incorporated into Chapter 70 education aid to local public school districts. The districts then pay charter schools at the beginning of the school year, based on projected charter enrollments. Should enrollments at the charter schools not be as high as anticipated, the school districts are reimbursed later in the year. For the first three years, local school districts receive Chapter 70 reimbursement from the state — 100 percent in the first year, 60 percent in the second year and 40 percent in the third year.
Patrick's proposal, which is aimed at bringing more transparency to charter school budgets, would make the funding, which has been insulated in Chapter 70 aid, a line item in the state budget. The line item could then be reduced by the state Legislature or the governor, in the same way Chapter 70 funds for local districts are cut. The move would require approval by the Legislature.
"We all understand that the charter schools are here," Barrett said. "But they have to be put in the budget as a line item. I have to cut $1.5 million from my school budget, but they don't have to cut a dime. They have to be treated in the same manner — dollar for dollar."
He said the current funding structure, which requires local districts to send the same amount they spend per pupil to the charter schools, actually penalizes municipalities that fund their schools above their mandated minimum school spending, called foundation levels.
"If they want to fund them through Chapter 70, then it should be based on foundation levels," Barrett said.
According to Marc Kenen, executive director of the Massachusetts Charter Public Schools Association, the proposal to make the funding a line item would make the schools vulnerable to the will of the state Legislature.
"It could cause a serious negative impact," he said. "Right now, the formula is set up so the same amount of money is spent on every child coming from the same school district pool. If the Legislature is able to reduce the amount of funding going to a charter school, then it will lessen the amount of money being spent on the pupil's education."
Julia Bowen, executive director of the Berkshire Arts and Technology Charter Public School in Adams, said she finds the idea of placing a portion of charter school funding at the mercy of the Legislature a "scary thing."
"It's when we are in tight budget times that line items begin to get cut," she said. "I couldn't support that. It would put a lot of programming in jeopardy."
Patrick also called for the lifting the cap on net school spending on charter schools from 9 percent to 12 percent, which would encourage existing school to expand or new charter schools to be started with the promise of state funding. The new cap would only apply to the bottom 15 percent of lowest performing school systems in the state, including districts in Worcester, Fall River, Boston and Lowell and North Adams.
"North Adams might have been one of the places this could be put into place, but in reality I don't think we need another charter school in Berkshire County," Bowen said. "The community isn't large enough to sustain another school. However, I think urban areas across the state could benefit from the cap being lifted.
"A recent study by the Boston Foundation showed the success of charters in urban areas is indisputable, but we don't have the same population in number or demographics as Boston, Lawrence or Lowell. I don't see the concept of raising the cap having an impact on regional charter schools like us."
Barrett also said he didn't think raising the cap would have a major impact in the area.
"They haven't met their quota at the charter school yet," he said. "I'm just bitterly disappointed with the governor and the secretary of education for buying into this propaganda."
Kenen said he did not know of anyone looking to start a second charter school in the Berkshires, but believes South County could support one.
"Certainly, the Berkshires could sustain another charter school," he said. "Charter schools can do extremely well in a region that is not focused on drawing students from a particular district."
He did acknowledge that the Berkshire Arts and Technology Charter Public School had just slightly under 200 open slots available.
Another sticking point for charter school advocates is Patrick's push to close the achievement gap among low-income and special needs students.
"Our concern is that he wants to mandate that 80 percent of our students are a combination of low-income (receive free or reduced lunch), special education or speak English as a second language," Kenen said. "He also wants to mandate that our student population contain 5 percent more special education students than the local districts. Certainly we share his goal, but our enrollments are done by a lottery system to ensure every student who applies has an equal chance at enrollment."
"Mayor calls on community"
By Jennifer Huberdeau, North Adams Transcript, Wednesday, February 11, 2009
NORTH ADAMS -- While Pittsfield's city fathers approved a number of spending cuts to close a $1 million budget shortfall on Tuesday night, Mayor John Barrett III announced during Tuesday night's City Council meeting that he'll seek input from both his employees and residents before slashing departmental budgets any further.
"I was lying in bed awake at 3:30 this morning worrying about how I was going to afford to cut the grass at Alcombright field this summer," Barrett said. "I was thinking that we could put together a volunteer group -- a weedwhacker brigade -- to take care of the fields. It's going take a community effort to get through this."
Meetings with city employees for suggestions on how to cut costs without cutting positions are scheduled for Thursday morning, he said, in addition to a series of "City Hall" meetings that will take place in local neighborhoods to discuss cost saving measures and plans to restructure the school district by closing Silvio O. Conte Middle School and converting to a K to 7 and 8 to 12 school model.
"If people want to keep their jobs, I'm willing to listen to their suggestions on how best to save money," Barrett said. "It's also not a question of if a school will close, but which one."
The city faces a shortfall of $2.4 million, which was created last month when Gov. Deval L. Patrick slashed the state's budget by $128 million and cut local aid by 9.7 percent.
"When I was here a few months ago, in October, to cut $300,000 from the budget because of the warning signs I was seeing, a lot of people thought I was being an alarmist," Barrett said. "At that time, we were preparing for a cut of about 10 percent, but we didn't think that would happen for another year. We didn't anticipate the cuts happening in the last two quarters of this year as well."
The cut in state aid stripped an additional $550,000 from this fiscal year, he said. Another $1.3 million has also been cut from fiscal 2010.
"When you add the $850,000 from this year and $1.3 million from next year, we're seeing a loss of $2 million from July to July," he said. "And there's more to come. The governor has figured in a 2 percent hotel/motel tax and a 1 percent meals tax on the state side for revenue. He's not going to get that. We'll see it on the city and town side, but not on that end. The Legislature will most likely approve a raise to the sales tax as well."
But Barrett said he isn't banking on unapproved tax revenues to balance his budget.
"We're doing an inventory of available property that we own in the city to see what might sell," he said. "I think we'll make it. I don't want to be an alarmist, but I have to be the bearer of bad news.
"I will say one way we are not going to do this is by cutting programs, raising fees or raising property taxes. Any community that thinks it can go and raise fees and taxes isn't going to make it. This is a recession and I think it's very quickly moving towards becoming a depression. What we need to do is figure out how to provide programs as more and more of our neighbors get laid off and still be able to provide city services."
Last week, the city's School Committee announced it was considering closing the middle school as part of a plan to strip between $1.2 million to $1.4 million from its annual budget, which was about $16 million for fiscal 2009.
"The closing of the middle school has been in the works for about 18 months, but the preferred plans were a K to 6 model or a K to 8 model," Barrett said. "We wish we had more time to figure this out. We don't know exactly how many teaching jobs will be affected just yet, but if we leave the system the way it is, we'd lose 25 to 30 teachers system wide."
He said there are some bright patches in the future -- the continued development of the Lowe's home improvement store on Curran Highway and the adjacent gravel pit property and the refurbishment of the downtown, which will be done with money committed by state and federal grants several years ago.
"We're not going to stop living because of this," he said.
To reach Jennifer Huberdeau, e-mail email@example.com.
"Audit: Massachusetts charter schools flush with cash"
By Steve LeBlanc, Associated Press Writer, boston.com, February 19, 2009
BOSTON --Most charter schools in Massachusetts are in strong fiscal shape, with the majority reporting cash surpluses at the end of each fiscal year, according to a report released Thursday by state Auditor Joseph DeNucci.
The audit found that in the 2006 fiscal year, 46 of 57 charter schools, which rely in large part on tax dollars, reported surpluses ranging from $398 to $2.3 million -- an average of $365,000 per school, or 8 percent of their revenue.
The report also found that as of June 30, 2007, charter schools in Massachusetts had combined net assets -- not including buildings, durable equipment and other assets that could not easily be turned into cash -- of $91.5 million, an average of $1.6 million per school.
DeNucci's office is still compiling information for the 2008 fiscal year.
Critics of charter schools -- public schools that operate independently of local school committees -- seized on the report.
Glenn Koocher, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, said the report shows charter schools are "stockpiling large reserves" when other public schools are struggling to make ends meet.
"It cries out for reform of the charter school funding system," Koocher said. "If they've got money to give back, why don't they give it back to the people they took it from."
But defenders of charter schools say it's misleading to suggest they are rolling in cash. They say that, unlike traditional public schools, charter schools are barred from accepting money from the state's School Building Assistance fund.
Since they have to rent or lease their buildings, charter schools operators say they need to keep extra money in the bank from year to year.
"It's almost a necessity for a successful charter school to run a surplus," said Marc Kenen, executive director of the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association. "We took this report as a very favorable report about how charter schools are managing their finances."
While about 80 percent of funding for charter schools comes from the taxpayers, they can also accept private donations and grants.
According to DeNucci's report, charter schools have been steadily increasing their assets.
In the 2003 fiscal year, charter schools reported average cumulative net assets (including buildings and durable equipment) of $1.2 million each. Four years later, those average cumulative net assets had increased to $2.3 million each.
The wrangling over charter schools is heating up as the state's economy sinks.
Gov. Deval Patrick decided against cutting funding for public schools in the current year's budget, but has proposed level funding school spending in the fiscal year that begins July 1 -- a move that would likely force some cuts.
Patrick has also proposed a series of changes to the charter school system, including a plan to revise the way the schools receive state funds.
Currently, money for charter schools is funneled through local school districts based on a charter school's projected enrollment. If that enrollment falls short, the additional money isn't reimbursed to the districts until near the end of the fiscal year.
Under Patrick's proposal, the state would create a separate budget line item for charter schools to insulate school districts from the fiscal uncertainty.
Patrick also wants to allow the state's lowest performing school districts to add more charter schools, provided the schools agree to meet certain enrollment levels for limited English and learning disabled students.
Kenen said the association opposes both proposals. He said the first would create "a separate and unequal system" of funding charter schools. He said a separate line item would be more vulnerable than the state's main budget for public schools -- known as "Chapter 70" funds.
And while the association would welcome Patrick's proposal to allow more charter schools, Kenen said they are opposed to any effort to create "quotas."
Kenen said the charter schools are less concerned about a third Patrick proposal that would require the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to collect financial information about charter schools, including where they raised their money and what they plan to do with any surpluses.
DeNucci's audit also found that charter schools also have improved their financial reporting and bidding practices. Those changes came after an earlier audit found the state had trouble comparing charter schools because they used different reporting methods.
The Uphams Corner Charter School in Boston serves grades 5 through 8, and has an enrollment of about 160 students. (Wendy Maeda/ Globe Staff)
MICHAEL K. MAYO, Op-Ed, The Boston Globe
"Lessons from a 'failed' charter school"
By Michael K. Mayo, February 22, 2009
AT THE State House late last month, Governor Patrick outlined a plan to lift the cap on charter schools, so long as those new schools served students most at risk. They'd have to serve at least 5 percent more special-education students, students who don't speak English at home, or children from low-income families than the regular schools in the local district. People in the charter movement, when they heard the news, were ecstatic - more charters, extending their excellent programs to students who are currently underrepresented among charters.
At the Uphams Corner Charter School, though, we were dumbstruck. The same day Patrick made his announcement, the state revoked our charter. At Uphams Corner, the reaction to Patrick's plan, from our board's president to our fifth-graders, was heated but proud: A charter school that serves those kids? Great idea. Somebody get on that.
Intent doesn't count
I co-founded the school and have worked here since the day we opened. In a report provided to state officials, an evaluation panel characterized our school as an apathetic, confused, chaotic place. But the school described in the document is one that I don't recognize. We have no major discipline events, no graffiti, no noise in the hallways, a fully documented curriculum, and excellent teachers doing very good work.
We have never disagreed with valid criticisms of our school. We're not located in the area that gives us our name. And more to the point, the MCAS scores at our school have been abysmally low for years. We open the Globe with dread in September to find our school ranked among the lowest in the state. The stomach-punch is real, the almost existential gap between effort and outcome causing us, for years, to question and improve our methods.
And while this is where you might expect me to rail against the MCAS, I won't. If I had children, I'd want them to pass that test, and there's no reason why the children in my care can't do the same. They're brilliant, weird, astonishing, and (though they'd never say so) starving to learn. I agree: For schools, intent and effort don't count. So when we testified before the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, arguing against the revocation, there were no bleeding-heart arguments. No throngs of angry parents and students with picket signs and tears. Just a story more complex - and far more essential to filling the gaps identified by Patrick's new charter plan - than anyone beyond our walls might have imagined.
In charters across the country, there's a movement toward "paternalistic schools," a term used favorably by David Whitman of the Fordham Institute. Their argument is that "urban" students need schools with the highest levels of student compliance and routine. In some of these schools, children don't speak from the moment they get off the bus until they get back on again. Others have disobedient students wear a certain-colored shirt and order other students to "shun" them. When we were starting our school, some of these schools were saying, "We're not for everyone." These schools continue to get enormously positive attention and deep private funding.
At Uphams Corner, we knew other approaches were valid, too, and we believed in the charter movement's philosophy of diversity and choice. Research and experience told us that the conditions for long-lasting achievement were the same for all people, young and old, "urban" and otherwise. We knew from our own teaching in city schools that compliance and routine are nowhere near as powerful at addressing the needs of all children than the cultivation of robust relationships, strong but nurturing boundaries, and enormous support for all aspects of a child's life.
This isn't touchy-feely. A fellow school founder, the psychologist Peter Martin, put it this way: "A rigid program is great for reaching a fraction of the population, maybe a large fraction. But that's great only if you buy into the concept of acceptable casualties." We would be for everyone.
The progress we made
One of our board members said, "We do our job too well." To meet the needs of the students who showed up, many of whom couldn't read, we beefed up our remediation program, and we got quite good at it. Our special-education coordinator, who'd been in the field for more than 15 years, said at the time, "I've never seen cases like these before." We invested in our special-education program until it became one I'd challenge anyone to beat. And we invested in an excellent school adjustment program - not to be a social service agency, but get students bouncing back to algebra and Shakespeare as soon as possible.
Did it work? The students learned to read and do math. On national standardized tests such as the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, our students made huge jumps from September to June. Last year, our percentile ranks soared - 15.6 points in reading, 17.3 points in math. (On these tests, an increase of zero still means you've done a year's work in a year's time.) Our program brought some students from kindergarten reading levels to third grade in just a year. They didn't pass the MCAS; they still weren't at that level. But they were on track to succeed. Some of our former students attend Boston's best high schools, and you'd never know that five years ago, they couldn't read a word.
But families most at risk are families most likely to move. More than 13 percent of our families move out of the city every year - almost always a good decison for them. Another 9 percent find spots in METCO or in charter or private schools with high school programs, ensuring a good education from now until college. Good for them. Another fraction, usually around a third, graduate from our program each year. At Uphams Corner, we believe that it might take our students more than the typical amount of time to be ready for high school, so we keep them here until they're ready to move on; 18 percent of our students withdraw rather than be held back, and go enroll in the Boston Public Schools.
So every year, students succeed on standardized tests, and before they're strong enough to register on the MCAS, they move on. And when we replace these students, we get people attracted to our brand - not as a charter school of choice for the many (our MCAS scores pale in comparison with almost all others), but as a place that has solid remediation, excellent special education, and school adjustment services that turn school-phobic children into students for life. Dozens of students in the school right now were oppositional, even violent, at their previous schools. At paternalistic schools, these are the students who'd be most likely to drop out or be thrown out. Here, you couldn't pick them out of a crowd.
Did we fail?
Today, our special-education population hovers around 40 percent. Low-income families represent 93 percent of our population. These levels are far beyond what the governor has proposed, far beyond what the Boston Public Schools serves.
Is this failure? Was this "brand" a mistake? We didn't set out to specialize in serving these populations; it just turned out that way. Catering to transient and extremely needy students, even if you teach them to read, write, and compute, wrecks your MCAS scores. Other schools - such as the Berkshire Arts and Technology Charter Public School, which serves populations like ours and has its own unique, non-paternalistic mission - are facing the same "failure."
We need that school, and schools like Uphams Corner. We need schools as diverse as our children and the needs and gifts they present.
Using MCAS as the sole measure of success, without taking into account transiency, learning disabilities, poverty, and English language proficiency, will choke the diversity of charter schools in Massachusetts. As the 2013 deadline for No Child Left Behind approaches - a date when every child in the state must be proficient in reading or math, or their schools will be punished - the pressure toward "paternalism," attrition, and test-driven routines intensifies.
As for the students who don't fit into that paradigm, no one's figured out how to deal with them yet.
Michael K. Mayo is interim executive director of the Uphams Corner Charter School.
MEASURES OF CHARTER SCHOOL SUCCESS
"State must broaden its set of indicators"
The Boston Globe, Op Ed, March 1, 2009
MICHAEL MAYO'S "failed" charter school underscores the troubling effect of indicators like MCAS on educational equity. If charter schools are to become the market-driven, competition-based answer to educational inequity that its proponents suggest, there must be several blueprints, not just that of the "paternalistic school," for achieving student success. First, however, the state must judge charter schools through a more holistic set of indicators.
As Mayo highlights, it is all too often assumed that the "paternalistic" model - one of strict compliance and enforced daily regimen - is the best method of bridging the achievement gap among urban students. While effective for many, this model can alienate those whose learning styles would be better met in a flexible, though still academically rigorous, environment.
As a former public school teacher, I recall a handful of students who came to my classroom because their learning and behavioral needs were not satisfactorily accounted for by the strictly regimented charter schools they had previously attended.
Promoting charter schools that take a range of approaches to education would not mean lowering performance expectations. It would mean stretching the yardstick by which we measure success so that more students are able to meet state standards.
"BArT to hold Conte meeting"
By Ryan Hutton, North Adams Transcript, Wednesday, February 25, 2009
ADAMS -- The Berkshire Arts and Technology Charter Public School is holding an informational meeting for parents of students at the soon-to-be-closed Silvio. O. Conte Middle School to let them know the option that BArT provides. However, North Adams Mayor John Barrett III said BArT's attempt to recruit new students may be premature.
On the heels of the announcement that Conte will probably be closing due to budget cuts, BArT has organized a public arts and technology showcase at 6 p.m. Tuesday, March 3 and scheduled the informational meeting to follow at 8 p.m.
"We're a school of choice for any family in North Berkshire," said BArT Executive Director Julia Bowen "And at this time, we've heard from a number of families in North Adams that they are really weighing their options, and they really don't know much about us. It's a difficult times for parents in North Adams weighing all of their options, and we want to be sure we're being as supportive as possible so that they can learn about us and decide if they want a school for their kids to get them on track for college."
While no decisions are final yet in North Adams, preliminary plans call for the sixth and seventh grades to be relocated to the city's three elementary schools and for the eighth grade to go to Drury High School.
"Rather than being presumptuous about what's going on in our district before decisions have been made and before attempting to recruit more kids, I'd concentrate on getting my MCAS scores up if I were them," said Barrett. "It's going to be a rather hard sell for them. What can a school that has the lowest MCAS scores in the county really offer that we don't?"
Bowen said she did not think BArT was capitalizing on the closing of North Adams' middle school.
"I don't think of the concept of poaching in this environment," she said. "I think our goal is and has always been to offer families a choice. I think it's really inappropriate to think of this as poaching. This is our attempt to make sure families are armed with the information they should have. For many families, the right answer is going back to the elementary schools but for others, that's not the right answer. Thinking of it as poaching is a pretty paternalistic view point on what is ultimately the parent's choice."
Bowen said she thought BArT's curriculum and "small, safe environment" was an appealing option for students that could be stuck in the middle of the redistribution of North Adams schools.
"I definitely think we can and do offer something different than is being offered in the district schools," she said. "I think in this case, what I'm hearing from parents is that their kids don't necessarily want to go back to the elementary schools but some parents are concerned about their kids going to high school in 8th grade. I think we can provide a middle school experience that is also tied to a high school and one that is also a college preparatory experience starting in 6th grade."
Barrett said it was clear BArT was attempting to recruit additional North Adams students and added that he wasn't surprised.
"I think they're nervous and they should be nervous. They haven't done what they said they were going to do," he said. "They reduced the school year and the length of the school day. Our middle schoolers had laptops long before theirs did. If I were them I would be nervous because I think this is actually going to strengthen the district.
"Of all the school districts, we have the largest number of students returning from BArT. We're going to be able to offer more in the way of music and technology and theater and athletics and intramural that are far superior to anything BArT can and does offer."
Bowen reiterated that she saw this meeting as a chance for parents to see al the options available for their children and that, in the end, that's all that matters.
"I don't know how parents are going to react to this," she said. "I want parents to make the right choice for their children and have the right information to make that choice. I we lose kids from BArT because they're attracted to having their kids back in the elementary schools, then I am happy that the parents have that option."
To reach Ryan Hutton, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joe Bazzano teaches math at Mount Greylock Regional High School in Williamstown. Mount Greylock Regional School District is among only four in the region showing gains in enrollment.
Sizing up enrollment
"Districts doing the math: Officials aiming to match resources to shifting student rolls"
By Jenn Smith, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Thursday, March 05, 2009
As the economy continues to waver, local public school districts are looking at student enrollment as they try to shape their schools for an uncertain future.
Overall, the county's enrollment dropped from 18,492 students last school year to 18,138 this year, a decline of 1.9 percent.
Only four of the Berkshires' 15 school districts and unions showed modest increases. Farmington River Regional School District, Lenox Public Schools, Mount Greylock Regional School District and Williamstown Elementary School (now part of School Union 71) each gained between 1 and 24 students, according to the latest data from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
"We absolutely need to look at enrollment," said Howard "Jake" Eberwein III, superintendent of the Pittsfield Public Schools, where enrollment fell 1.8 percent. "The allocation of resources should really follow students."
As school districts confront the likelihood of shrinking budgets during the continuing recession, some are analyzing their enrollment as they seek ways to save.
Berkshire Hills Regional School District is hiring a consultant to look at a possible consolidation with Southern Berkshire Regional School District as a way to save money and resources. This could include the possibility of merging into a larger "super district."
North Adams Public Schools is looking to downsize by closing Conte Middle School and implementing a kindergarten through Grade 7 model within its elementary school buildings, and a Grade 8 through 12 model at Drury High School.
North Adams Mayor John Barrett III, who also serves as School Committee chairman, cited a deteriorating school building and declining enrollment as motives for the reconfiguration.
"Enrollments are way down all over the place. It's just the times," said Barrett. The mayor said the district decided that closing a building would be better than cutting programs.
"We're projecting out, and the big thing is we haven't cut anything out of the curriculum," he said.
These downsizing districts are not alone: Consolidation has become a frequent topic on a school and state legislative level.
In September, the Rennie Center for Education Research & Policy sponsored a conference in Boston titled, "School District Consolidation in Massachusetts: Opportunities and Challenges."
In one presentation, a Rennie representative showed data from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education that half of the 327 school districts in the commonwealth enrolled fewer than 2,000 students during fiscal year 2007.
Research into economies of scale has shown that by spreading costs over a larger student population, schools can realize a reduction of average costs. In Massachusetts, 3,000 students appears to be the magic number where schools begin to save, according to a Rennie report.
At North Adams' Conte, Barrett said the restructuring will make the district more competitive.
"I think our (student population decline) has bottomed out to a certain degree, and the new model will right off the bat stabilize things," he said.
Despite an unexpected increase in enrollment at the beginning of the school year, William Travis, superintendent of Mount Greylock Regional School District in Williamstown, said that next year's enrollment figures will be affected by the economy and Berkshire County's population in general.
"It's hard to predict what may impact us next year. The economy throws us the possibility of getting more private school students," Travis said. "But at the nearby elementary schools, the current fifth grades have four classrooms, but in fourth grade, they're down to three classrooms."
In response, he said, the middle school grades may have to reconfigure their staffing.
Lenox Public Schools have contracted with the New England School Development Council to do its enrollment projections, which, over the next five years, will waiver between 800 and 820 students. This year, the district reported an enrollment of 816 children.
"Holding steady is fairly positive for the community as a whole, not just the school district," said Lenox Superintendent Marianne Young. "It does speak to trends in the community as well."
But generally speaking, between the economy, enrollment, state policy and student needs, Young said, school districts are finding themselves reviewing and restructuring schools in a different manner.
"I've never sat at a budget meeting that had an economic stimulus package on the table. It's a different kind of dance than we've done before," Young said. "But bottom line, we need to look at what we're doing for kids and how we're doing it."
At a glance ...
Public school enrollments over the past two years in Berkshire County:
Actual decrease: 11 students
Percent change: - 0.7
Actual decrease: 1 student
Percent change: - 0.4
Actual decrease: 45 students
Percent change: - 3.2
Actual decrease: 65 students
Percent change: - 3.1
Actual increase: 1 student
Percent change: + 0.7
Actual decrease: 6 students
Percent change: - 15.4
Actual decrease: 15 students
Percent change: - 5.1
Actual decrease: 35 students
Percent change: - 3.9
Actual increase: 3 students
Percent change: + 0.4
MCCANN (Northern Berkshire Voc.)
Actual decrease: 11 students
Percent change: - 2.2
Actual increase: 24 students
Percent change: + 3.8
Actual decrease: 92 students
Percent change: - 5.5
N. BERKSHIRE (Abbott Memorial, Clarksburg, Savoy combined)
Actual decrease: 3 students
Percent change: - 0.8
Actual decrease: 114 students
Percent change: - 1.8
Actual change: 0 students
Percent change: 0.0
Actual decrease: 1 student
Percent change: - 0.1
Actual increase: 17 students
Percent change: + 3.9
"BArT student speaks out"
The North Adams Transcript, Letters, 3/11/2009
To the editor:
I'm a BArT junior from Pittsfield. I am appalled by the recent article about Berkshire Arts & Technology Charter Public School being an option for Conte students, and by the comments made by Mayor Barrett and the others who seem so negative towards BArT.
I feel personally attacked and also very disappointed in the sheer ignorance and inaccuracy that is being displayed both in the article and in the comments written by other Berkshire County citizens. I'd like to set some things straight. Please, read on and inform yourself, no matter your opinion.
For three years, I suffered at Reid middle School. I was bullied, shut out by teachers and shoved aside. I was treated as if I had no real significance by most teachers and students. I saw harassment, attempted suicide, knives and alcohol in the school. It was a horrible experience. I was losing myself, becoming nothing more than a shadow. To quote a book I read in my Advanced ELA class, "I encountered my own soul less and less." ["The Poisonwood Bible" by Barbara Kingsolver, page 200)
My younger sister was making bad choices, meeting bad people, sneaking around. I was terrified to endure such a life for another four years in the Pittsfield Schools. So my mother looked into BArT, and that is where I ended up on the first day of my freshman year.
It was a mess at first. There were behavior and academic issues. My classmates were constantly arguing. I hated the uniforms. I missed my friends. And yet ... it grew better. Slowly but surely, we became a small and dysfunctional family. We actually learned, once we got over the power struggle. I was one of the few students that had no problems with learning or behavior. I would do my extra credit work while my classmates struggled. That was ninth grade.
I am in eleventh grade now. Our class consists of seven students, all at different levels. Within the last year and a half, we have become re-motivated, and we want to learn. We are succeeding, as a whole. We are starting to plan for college. Quite a few of us passed our MCAS last year. It's strange to think that a year ago, we were all still arguing and struggling with the content of our classes.
These beautiful, amazing kids in my class are excellent examples of what BArT can do. Most kids in district schools float through, doing only what they have to. If they are unmotivated, they remain so, and only the truly motivated thrive. At BArT, they took my highly unmotivated classmates and helped them find a way to learn and be satisfied with their accomplishments.
It is almost humorous how Mayor Barrett has targeted our MCAS scores as our big weakness. Yet, while speaking to a parent from North Adams at our open house a few nights ago, she said that the state had been threatening to take control of North Adams schools for a long time, because they do not meet the MCAS standards, either. In recent benchmark testing at BArT, our students have gone up an overall average of about seven points in this year alone. And BArT doesn't enjoy teaching to the test. We prefer to take it to a college level, doing essays and art projects. This is a huge improvement.
The MCAS is not the best way to measure our success as a school. Look at our academic, artistic, and technological achievements. In past years, we have competed in science fairs and the Junior Solar Sprint. We started a recycling program for our school. All of our graduates apply to college, and the only one who did not attend is training for the National Guard.
All of our students complete college courses and internships to graduate. We have our work in county-wide art shows and galleries. We have students on advisory boards. Just last weekend, a group of students participated in Model United Nations. One student came home with an award for Best Position Paper. You cannot look at our school, our students, and say that we offer nothing.
I would also like to point out that school choice is supposed to be about the students. I don't imagine that many of the Conte sixth- and seventh-graders are too happy about being returned to an elementary school. They will feel like they are being treated like babies. The eighth-graders will be forced into a high school environment long before they are ready. They will be either scared of the situation, or they will be eager to act like the rest of the high schoolers.
As a high schooler, I can say that I would not want an eighth-grader to be picking up bad habits so early. Freshman year is hard enough at the age of 14 or 15. I can hardly imagine suffering through it as a newly-turned teenager. BArT integrates the two levels so that high school is not so frightening when freshman year comes, but keeps them separate enough that the stupid things we do in the high school do not rub off on the younger students. If somebody fears these kinds of treatments in district schools, then BArT would be a good option for middle school.
I can't sit here and tell you that I don't hear the words "I hate this school" on a frequent basis. I can't say that I love every teacher and every student and every aspect of the school. I hate the uniform, and the discipline sometimes leave a lot to be desired. Some people get on my nerves. But I love this place as a whole. I know most, if not all, of the high schoolers by name. My teachers are some of my best friends. Ms. Bowen and Mr. Klompus are the most supportive people I have ever met, and I also consider them friends.
I am not a statistic or a test score. I am not an idiot. I am not a behavioral problem. I am not a rich kid. I am a concerned student who is willing to defend this school. Upon reading the article, I joked out loud, "We should change BArT to BAT and hit Mayor Barrett with the truth; we can succeed." It's true. This school does not deserve all the abuse it gets.
It's a good choice. If you are interested in more information about BArT, or its students, feel free to e-mail me at email@example.com. It's time that people realized the truth about BArT. Conte students welcome.
"Charters win a big fan"
By Boston Herald Editorial staff, Wednesday, March 11, 2009, www.bostonherald.com, Editorials
Yesterday President Barack Obama was as clear as he could possibly be about his support for charter schools and for their expansion in states where they already exist.
Now if only his BFF Deval Patrick would get the message!
Obama detailed his education reform plan in a major address to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Much of it was in keeping with his campaign themes, but still, speaking from the bully pulpit of the presidency is different.
And so it was encouraging to hear President Obama support merit pay for teachers, especially those in the hard-to-recruit fields of math and science.
He is committed, he said, “to ensure that anyone entrusted with educating our children is doing the job as well as it can be done.”
That means rewarding the good, mentoring them and tossing out those who don’t measure up.
“I reject a system that rewards failure and protects a person from its consequences,” he added.
That ought to get the attention of union leaders.
So too Obama’s call for innovation and his belief that “One of the places where much of that innovation occurs is in our most effective charter schools” - yes, the bete noir of teachers union educrats here and everywhere.
“Right now, there are caps on how many charter schools are allowed in some states [Massachusetts among them], no matter how well they are preparing our students. That isn’t good for our children, our economy or our country.”
Well, memo to Gov. Patrick - who has supported lifting the cap only in under-performing districts - it’s time to get with the program.
“I call on states to reform their charter rules, and lift caps on the number of allowable charter schools, wherever such caps are in place,” Obama said.
So how about it?
Article URL: www.bostonherald.com/news/opinion/editorials/view.bg?articleid=1157789
"A challenge for Mayor Barrett"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, Wednesday, April 8, 2009
North Adams Mayor John Barrett III, sometimes referred to as "the mayor for life," will face a real challenge this November from City Councilor Richard J. Alcombright, who announced his candidacy Tuesday. We look forward to a lively campaign that will be to the benefit of the city and its residents.
Mr. Barrett's past opponents have tended to be underqualified and overly motivated by antipathy toward the mayor, but Mr. Alcombright is well-respected and has generally been supportive of the mayor's initiatives. A four-term city councilor, veteran member of the McCann School Committee and vice president of retail banking at Hoosac Bank, Mr. Alcombright has a solid résumé but faces a challenge in making the argument that Mr. Barrett, the longest-serving mayor in Massachusetts, should be turned out of office after completing his 13th two-year term.
Mr. Alcombright sounded like Barack Obama in calling for change at Tuesday's press conference announcing his candidacy, but it remains to be seen if North Adams is as ready for change this November as America certainly was last November. Mayor Barrett's style is more of an issue that his substance, as he is a micro-manager who doesn't suffer dissent gladly, and makes no apology for either. He has inevitably made enemies over the years, but the city has enjoyed a revival under his guidance, and his name, reputation and tenure give North Adams a voice in far-off Boston.
Mr. Alcombright, who serves on the boards of a wide variety of Northern Berkshire community organizations, and has chaired several of them, will certainly have no difficulty persuading residents of his love for and knowledge of the city. His challenge will be to convince them that he can do better what Mr. Barrett has proven he can do well.
That said, there is nothing like a good mayoral race to initiate discussion of the many issues facing a city and explore ways to resolve problems, build on strengths and make the community a better place. The Barrett-Alcombright race in North Adams has the potential to be that kind of mayoral campaign.
North Adams, Massachusetts
"Alcombright shares vision"
By Jennifer Huberdeau, New England Newspapers: The Berkshire Eagle & The North Adams Transcript, Wednesday, April 8, 2009
NORTH ADAMS — City Councilor Richard J. Alcombright formally announced his candidacy for mayor on Tuesday, touting a vision of community and regional collaboration, transparent government, re-energized boards, and citizen engagement.
"I believe we are at a very important crossroad with respect to the future of North Adams," he said, flanked by his wife, Michelle, along with family, friends and supporters. "New leadership is necessary as we move into this next decade, a time that promises recovery and growth. By engaging the largely untapped abundance of human energy and creativity in the city, we will not only weather the current economic crisis, but we will also position the city to move continually forward."
Alcombright, vice president of retail banking at Hoosac Bank, said he has been a strong supporter of Mayor John Barrett III and his vision for the city, but it is time for new leadership to carry the city into the future. Barrett, the longest-serving mayor in Massachusetts, is completing his 13th two-year term.
"I believe, as many residents do, that there is a need for change and the time for that change is now," Alcombright said.
He later added, "We've ridden the Mass MoCA wave for years now. It's time that we need to decide who we are as a community. Are we an arts-based community? Are we a creative-economy community? We need to ask how much industry we need in the city and how much technology we can carry. We need to get our business leaders involved and work with our neighboring communities on figuring out what businesses we need and can bring to our region. We need to grow as a region as we grow as a community."
He said his campaign will offer "new ideas and innovative strategies" centered on three categories: housing, education and the economy and economic development.
A member of the McCann School Committee for the past 16 years, he said that experience would lend itself to the mayor's other duty of being in charge of the School Committee.
"I think whether or not the mayor should be head of the School Committee is a conversation that needs to be explored in itself," Alcombright said. "I also think that we need to fully utilize our very intelligent and talented School Committee, giving them more responsibility through various subcommittees. I think we need to utilize the talents of all of our boards and committee members."
Barrett said he welcomed a challenge from a worthy opponent.
"I think what it will all boil down to is who the people think will be the best leader during these economic times," he said by phone from his office. "The city is facing a $2.5 million budget gap, and that is where my time has been consumed of late. I'm trying to keep taxes in the city low, which has been the hallmark of my administration."
The mayor added, "I fully realize this will be a race. Dick Alcombright is a well-liked man, and he is running against a mayor who has been in office for 26 years and who has had to make the tough decisions throughout those years. I have always made decisions with the best of intentions of the community in mind."
Barrett said he will make a formal announcement in the coming months, after he has completed the city budget, crafted a financial strategy "to get the city through the next two years," and worked to bring "millions of dollars of stimulus money" to the city.
"I have no problem with anyone calling for change, but I do take issue with his statements about Mass MoCA," he said of Alcombright. "Mass MoCA has been a catalyst for economic development, not only in this city, but throughout Northern Berkshire. The LeWitt retrospective, which opened less than six months ago, has brought national recognition and new business inquiries to the city every day."
Alcombright was joined at his announcement by former City Administrator Mary Katherine Eade, who works as an assistant attorney general in Springfield, along with former City Councilor Keith Bona and Councilor Robert Moulton Jr.
"Over the last few years, people have discussed who could win an election against the mayor and who would be a good mayor," Bona said. "Those are two different qualities. Dick has always and clearly been at the top of both those lists. I think you can see that when you look at the votes he has received over the last few elections."
Moulton said he also believes the city needs a new leader.
"The mayor has done a fine job over the years, but I think there comes a time when change is needed and a new leader needs to be chosen," he said. "Dick is that man. He has a lot of experience with budgets and on the school committee. He's a fine choice. It's going to be an interesting seven to eight months."
Alcombright, who joined the council in 2000 after he was appointed to fill the unexpired term of his late father, Daniel F. Alcombright Jr., is also a member of the board of directors of several community boards, including the Northern Berkshire YMCA, Holy Family Housing Terrace, and Berkshire Community Action Council's Individual Development Account Committee. He has also served as a corporator of Northern Berkshire Healthcare. He has served as chairman of several boards, including the Northern Berkshire United Way Campaign, North Adams Catholic Community Tri-Parish Finance Council, and Transportation Association of Northern Berkshire.
Alcombright also announced a Web site for his candidacy: www.alcombrightformayor.com.
A Reader's Comment - by "Retired Farmer" - 4/8/2009:
The time has passed when North Adams needs a Mayor who screams at subordinates and shouts obscenities at business and professional people. No one needs to micro- manage the affairs of the city, intimidating all in the way.
The present Mayor always requests re-election because he "...needs to finish the job." If you had a carpenter working on that basis, for that length of time, you would probably say it was indeed time for a change.
Dick Alcombright would be a unifying force for the entire community, and not at all prone to declare himself a "benevolent dictator."
"BArT’s budget could take hit of $300K"
By Ryan Hutton, North Adams Transcript, 4/8/2009
ADAMS -- It seems that even the Berkshire Arts and Technology Charter Public School is not immune to the state’s financial downturn as it’s budget is down over $300,000 this year.
BArT Executive Director Julia Bowen said that 2010 projected budget cuts will mean losing the equivalent of five full-time positions next year. She said she did not want to go into details because the staff being effected have not been notified, but added that the schools is trying everything to avoid layoffs.
"We’re actually delaying some positions," she said. "For people going off to grad school or leaving for personal or family reasons, we’re trying to fill those positions with qualified people here to reduce layoffs."
The school’s projected 2010 budget is $3,086,481, down roughly nine percent or $302,000 from last year. In addition to the five positions, BArT has no planned capital expenditures and is scrapping plans to buy a set of classroom laptop computers. There will also be a reduction in field trips, and the board of trustees has voted to freeze all salaries for the next year.
Bowen said the cuts will not impact class size or the number of classes that are offered. In fact, she said, they are planning to add two advanced placement courses next year.
"We want to show that BArT can still provide a rigorous college prepitory curriculum through smaller classes as well as the actual classes," she said. "Fortunately a lot of that has been built over the last five years, so it’s not like we have to build it all during the next few years."
Bowen said she wanted to explain how BArT is funded compared to the district schools.
"Our budget is driven by what the districts are spending," she said. "Right now we’re predicting a 10 percent decrease. It’s per-pupil funding, but when I look at their overall their budgets, there isn’t any district that’s projecting a 10 percent decrease. North Adams is the largest and they’re looking at an eight percent decrease and they make up the majority of our students."
Of BArT’s roughly 250 students, 37 percent come from North Adams, 26 percent from Adams and Cheshire, 25 percent come from Pittsfield and 12 percent are from other towns.
Bowen said despite what the projections for the school’s budget are, actual funding is based on the number of days students spend at BArT. If a student stays for a year, the school receives a year of tuition. If a student stays for a month, the funding is prorated to the number of days the student was actually in school.
"We have to project to the state so the districts have some information from us," she said. "In March we have to project how many students we’ll have for the next year. If we have more students than we projected, we don’t get paid for them, but if we have less than projected, we get paid for the number we have.
"When other people in the community say that our funding is secure, while district funding isn’t, all I can think is ‘It’s not secure! We just heard in December that our funding was going to be cut by over $100,000 this school year’. So we’re taking all that into account for next year’s budget so we don’t have to take any actions in the middle of next year."
With the middle schools in both North Adams and Adams-Cheshire closing next fall, Bowen said she has received a lot of questions about whether BArT could handle an influx of students from those schools. She said BArT is committed to providing the same level of attention and intense curriculum it provides now. She said a lot of people may consider BArT an option because they are concerned about having their seventh and eighth graders mixed with high schoolers.
To reach Ryan Hutton, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
"'No layoffs this time': Mayor Barrett cuts $220,200 from the city budget through attrition and unfilled positions."
By Jennifer Huberdeau, New England Newspapers: The Berkshire Eagle & The North Adams Transcript, Wednesday, April 15, 2009
NORTH ADAMS — Although $220,200 was slashed from the city's current budget during Tuesday night's City Council meeting, nobody will lose their job.
"There are no layoffs this time around — it's all being done through attrition and salaries for positions that have gone unfilled," according to Mayor John Barrett III. "We're going to be creative in the way we make up for these positions. (Highway Superintendent) Leo Senecal is out the door on May 1 and another city yard worker is going to be leaving as well. We'll have to make do without them."
The mayor said he is still looking for another $338,000 in cuts that need to be made to the fiscal 2009 budget to make up for the loss of $538,000 that was removed from the budget following Gov. Deval L. Patrick's emergency cuts to local aid in October.
In anticipation of those cuts, Barrett had already stripped $310,000 from the budget, eliminating salaries for unfilled positions in several and making reductions in departmental expenses, employee training, computerized systems and the litigation account.
The cuts made Tuesday night eliminated unfilled positions in the offices of the administrative officer, City Clerk, treasurer and collector, tourism and cultural development, health inspection services, public properties and buildings, wire and alarm, veterans services, engineering, and the highway department. Departmental expense accounts were cut in information services and the water works department, while funds for youth programs, community development, the historical society, historical commission, the employee assistance program and for the audit were all reduced.
"This is the third budget you've had before you for fiscal 2008 and I'm going to be back at least one or two more times before this fiscal year is closed out," Barrett said. "The budget I bring to you in June, for fiscal 2009, is going to be about $2 million less than the one I brought you for this year. If I don't make these cuts now, I'll be making them later. I want to end this budget on the plus side and not have to use our free cash to end in the black."
He said the city will have to use about $100,000 from free cash to pay for snow and ice removal costs that went over budget, along with $100,000 for veterans benefits.
"These are things we can pay for from free cash because they are one-time expenses," Barrett said.
He said no cuts were made to the school department budget because "cuts cannot be made to their budget in the middle of the year."
"They also had their budget reduced at the beginning of the year when the state reduced its aid packages," the mayor said. "With these cuts and the other cuts I'll be coming to you with in the coming weeks, we'll hopefully only have to cut $1.4 million from the fiscal 2010 budget."
He has asked the North Adams Public Schools to cut $1.2 million from its fiscal 2010 budget, a portion of which should be covered by the closing of Silvio O. Conte Middle School and the restructuring of the school district. Superintendent James E. Montepare said another 10 to 12 positions — a mix of teachers, teaching assistants, custodians and other staff — would be shed, in addition to those cuts caused by the consolidation. He has yet to say how many jobs will be lost because of the reconfiguration.
"I'm hoping they'll be able to find $1.2 million," Barrett said. "I don't know if they will. I'm also waiting to see how much more will need to be cut from next year's budget. The (state) House (of Representatives) is expected to release their budget (today) and cut another $1 billion from the budget. How that will affect us, we don't know yet. It could be another $500,000."
"House budget would make steep trims: Local aid cuts decried; critics urge tax hike"
By Matt Viser, Boston Globe Staff, April 16, 2009
Cities and towns would have less money to fight crime and plow streets. The working poor would lose assistance needed to stay in their homes. And fewer seniors would be able to afford home care.
The $27.4 billion budget proposed yesterday by Massachusetts House leaders includes steep cuts in nearly every area touched by state government and would impose the greatest reduction in year-to-year spending in recent memory. The announcement, which comes at a time of steadily declining tax revenues, immediately triggered vocal protests and calls for a tax increase to preserve services.
Cities and towns, which are still reeling from emergency cuts Governor Deval Patrick made earlier this year, would see their funds decline even further under the House budget proposal. While education aid would remain at this year's level, the portion of state aid dedicated to public safety, road maintenance, and other local services would be slashed an additional 25 percent.
Funding for Shannon grants - an antigang and outreach program - and the Quinn Bill - a police benefit fiercely protected by the unions - would both be eliminated. Commonwealth Corps, a program created by Patrick that asks volunteers to dedicate a year of service to communities, would also be scrapped.
The cuts are so severe, and so targeted at programs that have widespread support, that some questioned whether the House was resorting to scare tactics to pave the way for broad-based tax increases. But House leaders said these proposals are a real, sober assessment of cuts that are necessary to keep pace with falling state revenues.
"We're not playing any games," Representative Charles A. Murphy, chairman of the House Ways and Means Com mittee, said in a briefing with the Globe. "We're trying to illustrate the fiscal reality."
House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo called the budget "a portrait of the economy."
The cuts prompted immediate protests from mayors, particularly in cities that are most reliant on state grant programs that supply funds for community policing and homelessness prevention programs.
"The cities of Massachusetts have taken a shot right between the eyes," said Mayor Thomas M. Menino of Boston, which would see a $53 million cut in local aid under the plan. "All the things that are important to making a city work, they're just gone."
"I just don't understand how a budget can be put together like this and taken seriously," he added. "This is a budget that was ill-conceived. This budget has no heart - and it has no brains."
The House proposal includes no new taxes and avoids using any state reserves to balance the budget, although some lawmakers have started to make the case that tax increases need to be seriously considered, including a sales tax increase.
DeLeo and Murphy have avoided any talk of tax hikes, but a group of lawmakers plans to meet today to discuss possible revenue options. All Democrats were invited to the meeting.
"This is going to devastate families and communities across the state," said Representative Carl Sciortino, a Somerville Democrat and vice chairman of the House Committee on Revenue. "If we want to protect a decent quality of life, we have to look at a budget that looks at both cuts and expenditures."
House lawmakers have until Friday to file amendments, which could include broad-based tax proposals. The House will begin debating April 27 and then send the budget on to the Senate, which will craft its own version. The two chambers will then be charged with ironing out their differences and sending a final proposal to Patrick before the July 1 start of the fiscal year.
The $27.4 billion House proposal is $532 million less than the budget proposal the governor submitted three months ago and about $730 million less than the budget that lawmakers initially agreed to for this year.
The cut to local aid would be the largest in state history, according to Geoff Beckwith, executive director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association.
"It's been eight years of hell. We're beyond hell now," said Mayor John Barrett of North Adams, where local aid would be cut by $1.2 million. "It's absurd and it's crazy. This is Draconian. People aren't angry about what's going on at the local level, they're angry about what's going on at the state level."
Local officials have been lobbying for the ability to raise meals and hotel taxes in their communities, but so far have been rebuffed by the Legislature.
Cutting the Quinn bill is also drawing fire from police unions that were caught completely off guard by the elimination of the program. "There's a part of me that feels betrayed and insulted," said Thomas Nee, president of the Boston Police Patrolmen's Association. "Without any dialogue? No discussion?"
The Quinn bill, which was passed in 1970, supplies salary boosts to police officers who earn a college degree. Depending on local contracts, the elimination of the state program would either mean that police officers will take pay cuts or local officials will have to make up the difference.
Patrick has proposed a range of new revenue possibilities, including sales taxes on alcohol and candy and raising the statewide tax on meals and hotel rooms, but the House has not acted. The House budget does, however, include Patrick's proposal to raise a host of fees at the Registry of Motor Vehicles.
Matt Viser can be reached at email@example.com.
"Other cuts in House proposal"
. Would require nonprofits to drop nearly 4,400 seniors from home care and drop caseloads to the lowest level since 1980, according to estimates compiled by Massachusetts Home Care, which represents 30 nonprofits.
. Would slash funding for a rental voucher program that helps keep low-income residents in their homes. The funding for the $33 million program would be cut by 45 percent, eliminating about 2,300 of the 5,000 families.
. Would eliminate $10 million in rate relief for Massachusetts Water Resource Authority users.
. Could increase state employee healthcare contributions to 30 percent, saving $135 million.
"BArT posts high scores"
The North Adams Transcript, By Ryan Hutton, 6/6/2009
ADAMS -- As the school year winds down, things are looking up for the Berkshire Arts and Technology Charter Public School as the school’s Stanford Achievement Test scores have come in high.
BArT Executive Director Julia Bowen said the school’s recent scores, especially the middle school scores, showed that the students were capable of performing math and reading far above their grade level.
"Historically, MCAS have not been a good indicator of how much a student has grown over the years," Bowen said. "It’s been hard for us to only use the MCAS data because we get our kids in sixth grade or later so the MCAS scores are often an indicator of the previous years of schooling before they ever showed up in our building. So early on, we adopted an additional form of testing in the form of the SAT 10."
BArT tests its students in both math and reading with the SAT 10 to measure the year-to-year performance of its students both by themselves and against the national average.
"The exciting part about this is that we test every student every spring and we can always look at their performance that day," Bowen said. "But we can also look at the 180 students that have taken it two years in a row and see how much they grew. It’s also not just on the student level but also on the aggregate of how we’re doing as a school."
Bowen said the Norm Curve Equivalency (NEC) uses a score of zero to show that a school is progressing on par with the national average.
"What we saw this year was, basically, proving how elements of our model work and changes we’ve made to the model," Bowen said. "In math, as a school, we grew by 6.4 points which is incredibly significant. We also grew by 4.4 points in reading. So we tripled our goals in math and doubled them in reading."
The school also progressed well in the grade level equivalency which measures the school’s progress based on national averages of how much a student should advance in one year. In math, the middle school grades advanced 1.8 grade levels and the high school advanced 1.5.
"In one year, when you’d expect them to grow by one grade level, they grew by almost two for the middle school," Bowen said. "Š They’re growing a lot more in a year than one would expect. And the same is true in reading."
In reading, the middle school grew 1.5 grade levels and the high school progressed by 1.0.
Bowen attributes this success to a number of factors in the school’s model that have remained over the years and a few that have been altered.
"One of the things we’ve pushed from the beginning is the integration of arts and technology," she said. "Early on we thought about doing that in the core classes. One of the changes we’ve made over the years, and this year more so than any other, is balancing that more by brining the core content into the arts and technology classes."
She cited examples of math and writing being integrated into music, art and gym classes. Bowen said the SAT 10 is a good, objective indicator to show that the school offers a strong, educational experience.
"This is very exciting, especially for us because when people say ‘your MCAS scores are low’ those test scores are, again, reflective of the learning of our students for years before they show up," she said. "At this point, 40 percent of the kids are new to us. We’ve had them for nine months, but their MCAS scores are reflective of ten years of schooling."
To reach Ryan Hutton, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Year of accomplishments at BArT"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, Wednesday, June 10, 2009
At this time of the school year, high school seniors are being celebrated for their academic accomplishments at graduation exercises, awards ceremonies, and in the local papers. It certainly is important to acknowledge all of the work that these seniors have done to reach this important milestone in their academic careers. We (the Berkshire Arts & Technology Charter School) look forward to celebrating our seniors at their graduation ceremony this Saturday and reading about their accomplishments in the paper, as well.
It is also important, however, to celebrate the academic accomplishments of all students, and for that reason, I write this letter to share the results of our recently administered SAT 10 tests (Stanford Achievement Test, 10th Edition). This test is administered each spring to all of our students in grades 6 through 11. This year, our students demonstrated significant academic gains through their performance on the SAT 10.
In particular, I would like to highlight what our students' test results show:
. Students in grades 6 through 8, on average, are capable of performing at the 9th grade level in math and reading.
. Students in BArT's middle school grew by just under two grade levels in math (and now perform at one and a half grade levels higher than expected for their grade).
Students in BArT's middle school grew by just under 1.5 grade levels in reading (and now perform at one grade level higher than expected for their grade).
Students in 9th grade at BArT grew by over two grade levels during the 2008-2009 school year, ending the year performing at 11th grade levels.
At the end of the 2008-2009 school year, 50 percent of BArT's grade 9-11 students are performing at the "Post High School" level in math; 48 percent are performing at the "Post High School" level in reading.
Congratulations to all BArT students for their hard work during the 2008-2009 school year! Thank you to the faculty, staff and parents who support these students' academic programs throughout the school year.
The writer is principal of BArT.
A BOSTON GLOBE EDITORIAL
"Take caps off charter schools"
June 10, 2009
CONTINUED resistance to lifting the cap on charter schools in Massachusetts leaves more than 20,000 children on waiting lists and the potential for millions of federal stimulus dollars on the table. Sensible politicians and policy makers can’t abide such waste, regardless of how much fuss arises from the ranks of teachers unions and school committees.
US Education Secretary Arne Duncan warned state and local officials on Monday that they will miss out on a share of the $4.4 billion in competitive education grants if they undermine the spread of charter schools. Duncan, the former head of Chicago's public schools, is a strong backer of charter schools, known for their longer school days, flexible scheduling, and ability to hire and assign teachers without interference from teachers unions and downtown bureaucrats. And he is no fan of the artificial caps that limit the ability of new charter schools to open in urban areas where they are most needed.
Some elected officials are responding. Yesterday, Mayor Menino told a group of business leaders at the CEO Club that he will call for lifting the cap on charter schools if he fails to win legislative approval for "a new form of in-district charter school." Boston already operates so-called pilot schools that feature many of the advantages of charter schools. But their formation requires approval from a recalcitrant Boston Teachers Union. Menino said he wants to "quicken the pace of reform" by giving his appointed school board sole authority to create in-district charter schools.
It's a half-measure, leaving Menino with only the bully pulpit should state lawmakers reject his bid. Mayoral challenger Michael Flaherty takes a more straightforward approach by simply urging state lawmakers to raise the current cap, which mandates that no school district be required to transfer more than 9 percent of net school spending to support charter schools. Mayoral challenger Sam Yoon takes a more nuanced approach, calling for a "smart cap" that would allow charter schools with a proven record of success to float above the spending cap. Both the proposals by Flaherty and Yoon seem more in keeping with Duncan's call for decisive action on charter school caps.
The Patrick administration is also dancing around the charter cap issue, offering small reforms and then doing little to guide them through the Legislature. Meanwhile, thousands of students in Cambridge, Lawrence, Lowell, Springfield, and other cities at or near the cap for charter school spending are trapped in underperforming schools. Tight caps on charter schools are a sign of restrictive thinking.
"BArT builds on its success"
By Charlie Toomajian and Pamela Johnson, Op-Ed, The Berkshire Eagle, Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Governor Patrick's and Boston's Mayor Menino's proposals to lift the cap on charter public schools have led to discussion, including an editorial (August 13) and a column by Martin Rudolph (August 16) in this newspaper, about the achievements of charter schools and whether those showing superior results have "cherry-picked" their students. Charter schools' greatest potential lies in their ability to serve as nimble learning laboratories where new ideas can be tried and where the best can then be replicated on larger scale.
Berkshire Arts and Technology Charter Public School (BArT) is an example of one that has grown quickly through its most formative years and has embraced "best practices" from charter schools working with a wide variety of students. This openness to good ideas has resulted in dramatic results with a student population that, in terms of numbers of students requiring special education services, more than matches the sending districts.
After four years of hard work, BArT's founders were pleased with the school's accomplishments as we eyed our first graduating class. These accomplishments included a warm and welcoming atmosphere, a strong sense of community and a terrific faculty supporting our students so well that their self-confidence increased and they learned to present themselves and their work professionally.
Our graduating students, many of whom had started as ninth graders with us, were leaving with a rich education in the arts and technology that is very much in line with the strategic plan for the Berkshires. Despite these accomplishments, we were disappointed with standardized test results that did not reflect the hard work and skill of the stakeholders.
Puzzled by the shortfall in these standardized tests, the trustees asked a resource center for charter schools to facilitate a review by faculty, administration, staff and trustees to answer the question, "What needs to change for our students to achieve the highest levels of academic achievement?" We declared that there were no "sacred cows"; everything was up for discussion other than the core mission of offering a college preparatory curriculum.
Galvanized by the feedback from this honest self-appraisal, administrators and faculty visited selected, high-performing charter schools for focused learning of proven methodologies. In business, this is known as "best-in-class benchmarking" and of course it only works if you are willing to take the lessons to heart, make changes, test the results, modify as needed and be prepared to do what is needed for continuous improvement.
We adjusted the school's mission statement to emphasize college preparation and we focused the whole school -- faculty, students and administration on a clear goal of dramatically improving each student's academic performance. We continuously reinforced the message throughout the year.
The essence of what has led to the performance improvements is as follows:
* Frequent assessments. State test (MCAS) results are received only once a year, in September, after the new school year is underway and weeks after our teachers' intensive summer professional development and preparation period. Much more frequent feedback on student progress was essential and was achieved through investments in software applications and testing services.
* Frequent feedback to staff and students: we couldn't tell anyone how they were doing if school leaders weren't in teachers' classrooms and teachers weren't informing students how they were doing.
* Frequent course corrections to achieve the results we knew were possible. As an organization, we had to be willing to embrace change and do "whatever it takes," including modifying curriculum, implementing a rigorous assessment schedule, giving up some autonomy as teachers and administrators, providing lagging students with additional time in core subjects and after school coaching, grouping students by the level of the curriculum they had mastered and making time for all the conversations about how to achieve desired results.
Contrary to the opinion voiced by columnist Martin Rudolph (August 16), we found that students were motivated by seeing how well they progressed. Our staff rewarded and recognized individuals or groups making the most progress. And that progress has been remarkable. The external Stanford Achievement Test (SAT 10) results show that on average our students gain about two grades worth of progress in one year and outperform their peers across the U.S. taking this test. From the MCAS benchmark tests, other internal tests and preliminary MCAS results, we can see that we have dramatically improved overall academic performance.
Central to BArT's success has been its ongoing commitment to hard work, a rich, inquiry based curriculum, a comprehensive portfolio review process, and a culture where attention and support are provided to all students. Our teachers receive over 100 hours per year of professional development, including two to three weeks of professional development in August to collaborate with each other and learn from experts how to better support their students. Our students will return a week before their peers and attend classes for 30 percent more time than in the surrounding districts in order to succeed academically.
In short, we know that there are no shortcuts. In order to change outcomes, all stakeholders must put in extraordinary time and effort to see success. At BArT we are proud that this is the rule rather than the exception and we look forward to continuing the amazing improvement in academic success of last year while maintaining our commitment to preparing all students for college in a safe and welcoming environment.
BArT is always open to visitors. Come by and see what we are doing and why we are so proud! There will be an open house tomorrow (Thursday) from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. that is open to the public.
Charlie Toomajian is founding trustee and first chair, BArT. Pamela Johnson is founding trustee, BArT.
"Private sector investing in charter schools"
By David Twiddy, Associated Press Writer, Monday, September 7, 2009
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Charter schools, already seeing a surge in students, are getting attention from another group — private investors.
Entertainment Properties Inc., known mostly for sinking its money into movie theaters and wineries, recently bought 22 locations from charter school operator Imagine Schools for about $170 million. The real estate investment trust acts as landlord, while Imagine operates the schools and is using the investment to expand its chain of 74 locations.
"They really are an effective source of long-term financing that we can rely on and enables us to do what we're best at, which is running schools, and do what they're best at, which is long-term real estate ownership," said Barry Sharp, chief financial officer for Arlington, Va.-based Imagine. "It's a good fit."
Charter school supporters hope the move by Kansas City-based Entertainment Properties is the first of many such partnerships as they deal with increased interest from parents but not more money to build or expand their facilities.
In the past decade, the number of U.S. charter schools has tripled to 4,618, while the number of students enrolled has almost quadrupled to more than 1.4 million, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
While charter schools are publicly funded, they often don't have the same access to bonds and other financing available to mainstream public schools. That forces many to operate in places like storefronts or church basements, said Todd Ziebarth, vice president of policy for the alliance.
"I think it's probably the biggest challenge facing charters, not only finding space but once you find it how do you pay for it, particularly if you're going to buy it," Ziebarth said. "I think it's limiting their growth and it's limiting the expansion of existing schools."
Charter school supporters say the need for construction funding is high, and the entry of a for-profit player like Entertainment Properties signals that they've gone from being an educational curiosity to being seen as a future significant part of the educational landscape.
David Brain, chief executive of Entertainment Properties, said he initially was skeptical of investing in charter schools. But he said he looked deeper and determined that most of the charter school operations that had failed either never opened or were independent operations with little experience.
Focusing on large players who know how to operate schools, hire teachers and develop a curriculum, he said, provides the company a more dependable return.
"We're not speculators, we're investors, so I have to invest in property making money for me and my customers today," said Brain, whose trust oversees a $2.6 billion portfolio. "The charter public schools offer lenders/leaseholders a dependable revenue stream backed by a government payer. It's a very desirable equation."
Enrollment at Imagine Renaissance Academy of Environmental Science and Math, Kensington Campus — among the schools sold — was near capacity by its second year, with 515 students in kindergarten through fifth grade.
While the renovated 19th-century school in Kansas City looks like any other public school, there are subtle differences: the color-coded polo shirts the students wear to signify their grade, smaller class sizes and an added emphasis on science.
Sharp said Imagine could have used a combination of mortgage financing and other funding to fuel its growth. But he said that would have forced the company to keep relying on rental properties it had little control over.
"We would have had to go out and use some of the money to maintain our investment in our existing buildings and therefore it wouldn't have made it into the new ones the same way," he said.
While charter advocates welcome the interest of private investors, they wish the focus was less on the larger networks and more on the vast majority of independent schools that could use help.
Jeanne Allen, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Education Reform, said states and individual school districts ultimately must change how they allocate funds, either allowing charters to use bonds and other public construction funds or give them more money to build their own facilities.
"It's unfair to require a public school, regardless what kind, to have to rely only on philanthropy or alternative financing to create a building that is adequate for kids," Allen said.
But that shouldn't be at the cost of established schools that need repairs or new buildings, said Kay Brilliant, director of policy and practice at the National Education Association, which represents public school teachers.
"The whole issue around distribution of funds has to do with a lack of funds overall," she said via e-mail.
"Massachusetts lawmakers consider school overhaul bills"
By Associated Press, Sunday, September 13, 2009, www.bostonherald.com - Local Politics
BOSTON — Massachusetts lawmakers are planning to hear from the public on two major school overhaul bills proposed by Gov. Deval Patrick.
One of the bills is aimed at creating high-quality charter schools to serve students in the state’s lowest-performing districts. The bill would allow the creation of more than 27,000 new charter school seats and require the schools to make an effort to seek out low-income, limited English and special education students.
The second bill would let the state education commissioner step in to turn around chronically underperforming schools, in part by helping close the state’s racial and ethnic performance gap.
Both bills are scheduled to be heard Thursday before the Committee on Education at the Statehouse.
"Mayor insisting he will be needed during tough times"
By Jennifer Huberdeau: The North Adams Transcript & The Berkshire Eagle, Saturday, October 31, 2009
NORTH ADAMS -- A year ago, Mayor John Barrett III was contemplating a different future -- one that involved teaching college students about politics rather than being a politician.
But all that changed last October when Gov. Deval L. Patrick began cutting the state budget and talks of devastating emergency 9c cuts in local aid loomed on the horizon for the new year.
"I asked myself last fall why I would stay for a 14th term," Barrett said during an interview on Wednesday. "I thought about the detrimental impact the cuts would have and all I could see was the hard work and progress we've made over the last 26 years go for naught."
Speaking without ego
He continued, "I felt, and I say this very humbly, that the community would need me and my relationships. The community needs someone who is experienced with budget reductions and cuts to make it through the next two years. That's why I decided to run again -- I never expected a battle like this. I've never worked this hard for this office, except for maybe during my first bid."
A victory on Tuesday will mean an unprecedented 14th two-year term in office, both at the local and state levels -- but for Barrett it will mean more than hanging on to the prestige of being the state's longest-serving mayor.
"The state will have to continue to pay attention to us," he said. "I've had more than one mayor from the other end of the state tell me, ‘If North Adams loses your voice, you'll never know that North Adams is in this state.' I have a seat at the table, one that I earned about 15 years ago."
While some question his hands-on management style, Barrett says that it allows him to have all the information he needs when making tough decisions.
Learning on the job
"Nothing can prepare you for the role of mayor," he said. "The most important quality of being a mayor is being a leader. You can't run a city with roundtable discussions. One of the most prominent criticisms at the state and federal levels right now is that the person in charge needs to make the hard decisions. You can have as many people as you want give you input, but at the end of the day, only one person makes the decisions."
He also stands by his philosophy on economic development, one that formed 35 years ago during his time as a county commissioner.
"Economic development plans and directors are a huge waste of tax payer money," he said. "A few years ago, I was criticized for not supporting the studies done by the Berkshire Economic Development Corp. Where are those studies now? On a shelf with all of the other plans that have been paid for over the years. I believe I've proven the image of a community makes a huge difference when it comes to economic development. Mass MoCA has been our economic development director."
Instead of investing hundreds of thousands of tax-payer and private-sector money into plans and development directors, Barrett said he's invested it in the downtown, neighborhood streets and the airport.
"I believe we've created new types of jobs along the way and attracted businesses to the city as well," he said. "We've just scratched the surface. The companies are small, but the economy has changed. The factories left the Northeast to go to the south. They've left the south to go to India and other countries. The future is in light manufacturers and other small businesses."
Over the years, Barrett has made enemies, but just as many connections, he says. He's proud of the city, which has risen from the ashes of the desolated mill town he took over in 1984.
"The Boston Globe once said I was ‘sturdy, feisty and resilient, just like his city.' We'll all have to be just that -- sturdy, feisty and resilient over the next two years," Barrett said. "Not everyone is going to like your decisions. You can't be everything to everyone."
He added, "We've had more stories printed about us than any city in the state outside of Boston. We've been featured world wide and yet in this election you'd thing we were the poorest community you could find in Appalachia. It bothers me this picture that's been painted by my opponent. We had the first middle school in the state to have a laptop computer for every student and we just added a school-wide fine arts program. I just don't get it. He talks about all the things he's going to do and establish -- most of these things exist. We just don't talk about them on a regular basis."
Unlike other elections, this campaign has brought the challenge of reaching out to a new population -- a younger Internet-savvy generation of voters.
"Technology has changed things -- I used television, a Web site and even FaceBook for the first time," Barrett said. "I had a group of young people who came to me and said that I needed to be on the Internet and I used their talent."
But the Internet has it's downside as well, he said.
"There's a meanness to this campaign that I've never seen before -- it's out there on the Internet." Barrett said.
Perhaps his biggest challenge in the final stretch of the campaign is reaching out to those voters who moved to the area after Mass MoCA opened.
"They have no memory of what the city was like 25 years ago," Barrett said.
"They don't know about the poverty and the desolation after Sprague pulled out. They don't know what it all looked like. There was a letter in the paper the other day that thanked me for all my hard work, but then the author said it was time for change."
"The post-Barrett era"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorials, November 5, 2009
When John Barrett III began his 26-year career as mayor of North Adams, Ronald Reagan was president, Michael Dukakis was beginning his second term as governor of Massachusetts and Carl Yastrzemski was wrapping up his Hall of Fame career with the mayor's beloved Boston Red Sox. That provides context for how long Mr. Barrett has been the city's dominant figure, and a sense of the dramatically new era North Adams will embark upon next January with a new mayor.
Every mayor gets to set a city's agenda, but Mr. Barrett's sharp-edged personality and uncompromising management style enabled him to dominate his city's agenda. Whether it was wrestling with skeptics to make Mass MoCA a reality, leaning on Beacon Hill to get funding for city projects or taking on Yankee Magazine and any others who dared mock his beloved community, John Barrett hit the opposition head on. To return to baseball, the bunt wasn't in the mayor's arsenal. He swung for the fences, and from the heels.
That style enabled him to accomplish a great deal for his city economically, culturally and educationally. The big successes, like the museum of modern art and its spin-off businesses, drew headlines, but the mayor sweated the small stuff too, as if he were a councilman. The challenges of a small city tucked in the Berkshire hills are many and Mayor Barrett has met them.
The mayor's style, however, was guaranteed to make him enemies, and he made plenty over the years. Many would never forgive slights real or perceived no matter his accomplishments.
The nature of Dick Alcombright's decisive victory Tuesday, however, indicates that North Adams voters didn't just vote against Mr. Barrett, they voted for his opponent. Unlike many of the mayor's past opponents, he gave voters someone to vote for rather than simply target Mr. Barrett as someone to vote against. Mr. Alcombright's credentials are solid, his popularity among residents well-earned.
Mr. Alcombright's management style will be dramatically different from Mr. Barrett's, which is not to say it is either right or wrong. In fact, his conciliatory nature should enable him to ease the transition from a long-dominant predecessor, and while loyal Barrett supporters will not be easily appeased, we are confident the new mayor will reach out to them.
North Adams will be losing Mr. Barrett's statewide political savvy and years of experience, but he entered office in North Adams with neither and Mr. Alcombright has the potential to gain both. The new mayor also has the opportunity to build a legacy in North Adams. Mr. Barrett has already built us, and it provides a platform for Mr. Alcombright and North Adams to build a bright future upon.
"Reflective Barrett mulls his future"
By Jennifer Huberdeau, North Adams Transcript, 11/07/2009
NORTH ADAMS - Mayor John Barrett III's office is full of memories from his 26-years at the helm of the city - a pair of cufflinks from the late U.S. Rep. Silvio O. Conte, a hard-hat from the ground-breaking ceremony of Brayton Elementary School, a hockey puck from the local skating rink, along with countless photos, buttons and cards from well-wishers.
"I have a lot of obituaries on that table - they're all people who've made a difference in my political life," Barrett said Friday, pointing to a table in his office overflowing with odds and ends given to him over the years. "There's also pictures of my wife [the late Eileen Barrett] all throughout there. To some people it looks like a pile of junk, but it helps keep me grounded."
"Just three days after the election in which he lost to challenger Richard J. Alcombright by 880 votes, Barrett, the state's longest-serving mayor with 13 two-year terms under his belt, wore a mask of calm as he attempted to hide a tide of emotions - a mix of disappointment, sorrow and relief - that bubbled to the surface as he talked about leaving the corner office.
""I'm going to ask the historical society to come in and see what they want," he quipped. "They're not going to get my autographs from Ted Williams or Joe DiMaggio, but I am part of the city's history now. What some people will find amazing is the fact that we've saved every letter and every news clipping since day one. It's been an exiting period in the city's history.
""It's going to be sad to pack up, but nothing lasts forever," he added. "My only regret is that I didn't get to go out on my own terms. But I'm looking to the future as the next chapter of my life. I know that politics will play some part in my future, but running for office is already in my rearview mirror."
"Over the last few days, he said, he has received numerous job offers - interim town manager, interim school superintendent, political consultant and a position with a think tank.
""I'm looking forward to getting out of this fish bowl and having a little privacy," he said. "I want to stay in the city, but I don't know if I'll be able to. That's the hard part."
"Barrett is also being sought out for lectures, he said.
""I have a lot of opportunities presenting themselves. A few are in politics. I'd really like to teach part-time - that interests me strongly. I'm not ready to make a decision yet though - I'll do that in December It's amazing how very relaxed I am, knowing that all I have left to do is really clean up this place and hand things over."
"The mayor said he was severely disappointed at first by Tuesday's outcome - he had hoped to finish the Mohawk Theater before he left office and to lead the city through the impending fiscal crisis.
""Then I stepped back and realized that the job of mayor is one that is never finished," he said. "The real jewel of this city is the Mohawk Theater, and I hope that it will be finished. I'm walking out with my head held high, though. I'm leaving the mayor-elect with a city that's better than the one I inherited. We've rebuilt the economy with Mass MoCA. The city is in good financial shape with a good educational system and he'll even have a little money in the bank. He'll also have $15 million in projects that I'm leaving him."
"Looking back over the last 26 years, Barrett remembered a time when the Holiday Inn, then simply the North Adams Inn, was in and out of bankruptcy, Sprague Electric Co. was on its way out and the Transcript was running a daily tally box of the businesses that were leaving and the number of lost jobs.
""For the first 1 1/2 years I was in office, I was working 18 hours a day and never left the city," he said. "I worked seven day a week. The first time I took a vacation was on Nov. 29, 1986, when I got married."
"Even after the city turned around, Barrett has kept up the hard work.
""I've come in here every day for the past 26 years [except for brief vacations]," he said. "The hardest part is going to find someplace to go. I'm going to have to find an office."
"While he plans to set the city's tax rate as his last official act in office before Alcombright takes over on Jan. 1, Barrett said he believes he'll also have the skating rink renamed - an act that must be signed by the state Legislature - before he leaves.
""It will be the Peter W. Foote Vietnam Veterans Memorial Skating Rink," he said. "He's the only man in North Adams to give his life during that war. People might not like it, but that rink is in North Adams."
"As for his advice for Alcombright, he said, it's no different than what he would tell any new mayor:
""Never let yourself believe that you're mayor for one minute. You've just been selected by your friends and neighbors to lead them for a little while. You must remember that you're not special and that you're not any different than them."
"A View From Adams: Gone but not forgotten"
By BILL DONOVAN, The Advocate Weekly - advocateweekly.com - Op-Ed Column, December 3, 2009
Many people were sincerely surprised by the results of the recent North Adams mayoral race. I was one of them.
North Adams has made tremendous progress fighting the same long, slow uphill battle facing cities and towns all over New England. From Bangor to Pittsfield, they're struggling to find a way forward after their factories closed down. Yet the voters of North Adams chose not to re-elect the man who has successfully led them on that journey for 26 years, Mayor John Barrett III.
And right now, it looks as if Massachusetts will be facing a rock 'em, sock 'em budget year as Gov. Patrick and the Legislature wrestle with a grim revenue forecast. Yet the voters of North Adams chose not to re-elect a mayor who is widely regarded by other public officials throughout the state as a top-notch municipal financial manager.
Apparently, the same desire for a quick fix that has swept over the entire country's political landscape for the past few years has made its way to North Adams. Millions of Americans are out of work. Millions more have watched an unpredictable stock market pummel their retirement accounts. All over the country, Americans are understandably confused and hungry for any change that sounds good.
But campaign pledges are rarely all that they're cracked up to be. And crack up is exactly what they usually do when they crash headlong into the unsentimental reality of the bottom line. Time will tell what the results will be from this dramatic change in North Adams leadership.
One thing is absolutely certain. North Adams will not be the same place without the passionate, plain-speaking man most residents simply call "The Mayor."
I served on the North Adams City Council for a total of 10 years between 1991 and 2005. During my time on the council, I attended many meetings, subcommittee meetings and public hearings where I had the opportunity to watch and listen as Barrett fought to move the city forward.
The crowning achievement of the Barrett years will of course be the establishment and roaring start of Mass MoCA. When it was finally a going concern, it was clear to any honest observer that the transformation of the former Sprague mill complex into a world-class contemporary art museum would never have survived and succeeded without the dogged determination and follow-through of Barrett. MoCA never would have negotiated the rapids of local politics without his uncompromising leadership.
During most of my tenure on the council, my main area of interest was the North Adams school system. The councilors had a liaison responsibility to different community boards and organizations. I was the liaison from the council to the school department several times.
As I saw it then, and still do, elected officials on the local level have few responsibilities as important as making sure the kids in their city or town have an honest opportunity to receive a good education. And that's where I think the mayor made his greatest contribution.
In an era when school systems all over the state were and still are forced to cut back and cut corners, Barrett fought endlessly to make sure that all of the pupils in the North Adams public schools, regardless of their family's economic situation, would have that honest opportunity.
One particular effort of the mayor's, which I believe still functions today, highlighted his priorities. It was a program that provided hot lunches for kids who needed them all summer long, not just during the school year. It ran into some momentary opposition, but the mayor, as always, wouldn't back down. And it passed and was put into effect, and because of John Barrett, kids in North Adams who depended mightily on the school lunch program had healthier summers.
All things change. But it will be a long time before anyone has a conversation about the city of North Adams without also talking about Mayor John Barrett III.
Bill Donovan contributes regularly to The Advocate. Feedback is welcome at email@example.com.
A grim Mayor Barrett predicts massive layoffs at Sprague Electric Co. during a television press conference on Sept. 19, 1984. Despite company denials, two weeks later, Sprague announced 600 layoffs over two years, in what was the beginning of the end for they city’s largest employer. (Transcript file photo)
"Barrett looks back on 26 years in office"
By Jennifer Huberdeau, North Adams Transcript, December 30, 2009
NORTH ADAMS -- After nearly three decades in the city’s corner office, Mayor John Barrett III is ready to move on later this week.
"I’ve been here through five presidents and five governors," he said Tuesday, thinking back on his 26 years in office. "I have a lot of good memories as I leave office. There are always a few things you wish you could do differently. I think we’ve been able to do a lot of creative things over the years."
The mayor pointed to Brayton Elementary School as an example of one of his administrations most creative endeavors.
"The Northern Berkshire YMCA was bankrupt at the time," he said. "We needed a new elementary school as well. I went to the state building assistance bureau with the idea of building onto the YMCA building. We saved the YMCA, a vital organization to this city, with that move.
"I’m also proud of the addition to the library and the addition to Drury High School. I like to call it the new Drury High School. It was one of my goals when I took office to put walls in that school -- that open school concept just didn’t work."
He added, "We were able to do so much over the years and I’m not leaving any substantial debt as I leave."
However times weren’t always so wonderful for Barrett.
"My first month in office was just terrible," he said. "We received something like 35 inches of snow that month. We had 12 pieces of equipment in the city yard and 11 of them broke down. Neighborhood streets had nearly two feet of snow on them. It was just an awful month."
Just days after he took office in January 1984, the new mayor would receive a report from state auditors indicating "serious mismanagement" of the city’s books by the previous administration’s treasurer, David DeLuca, who allegedly kept the city’s receipts in shoe boxes.
"It was also during that first month in office that John Sprague came to pay me a visit," Barrett said. "He told me not to be alarmed, but that Sprague Electric Co. was going to be moving its corporate office out of the city. The move was only going to impact 12 people. I did what all the other mayors before me did, I believed what Sprague was telling me."
A few months later he would learn from a friend working in a Greenwich, Conn., that Sprague wasn’t merely moving its corporate offices -- it had a plan in place to move out of the city entirely over a five-year period.
"I hit the roof," Barrett said. "I was so angry they lied to me. The headlines reflected that the next day."
In September, he would address the citizens of Northern Berkshire by television, telling them of Sprague’s intended plans. The company would not announce its plan to layoff hundreds of workers until the following month.
"The worst part was that it just wasn’t Sprague that left," he said.
Over the course of 1984, the city would lose nearly 1,000 jobs as the former Xytal Mill shut down, along with the Berkshire Tannery, Mohawk Industries and the Adams Print Works.
"An editorial in the Transcript said it wouldn’t blame me it I shut the blinds and turned out the lights," Barrett said. "Joe Grande, who was a reporter for the Transcript at the time, recently paid me the greatest compliment of my career in a column in the Berkshire Eagle. He wrote that I wouldn’t let North Adams die. I think that’s what I’m most proud of -- my greatest accomplishment is that I roused the spirits of the community despite an 18 percent unemployment rate and all the layoffs."
In 1988, Barrett decreed the city would no longer be known as the Tunnel City in his annual State of the City address.
"Every time I see the phrase ‘Tunnel City,’ it reminds me of a dark hole with no light, and today, North Adams is not a tunnel city, but a gateway city -- the gateway to the future -- the gateway to hope -- the gateway to opportunity, and as our city seal states, we hold the Western Gateway," he said at the time. "Today we officially shed the tunnel vision connotation. Today we truly are a great city well on our way to further greatness."
Although his vision of recreating the city’s economy with the idea of Mass MoCA didn’t become a reality until the contemporary arts museum opened in 1999, Barrett says he was always a true believer.
"I chuckled during this election when it was said that I didn’t support MoCA until it became an accepted idea," he said. "That would make me a supporter around 1995. I was on board way before that -- I remember when Thomas Krens first brought me the idea. He wanted the Windsor Mill and he later brought me renderings for the Eclipse Mill. All I knew was that it was a form of economic development, which they call the creative economy today."
When Gov. Michael Dukakis got on board and the idea of using the former Sprague building on Marshall Street was sold on Krens, the project quickly went from a few million dollars to well over $35 million.
"I remember the night the Legislature shot it down," Barrett said. "I called Tom at 1:30 in the morning and told him not to worry. I then called Fred Oakley, then president of Williams College. He said that it was over, that Williams had done all it could, but a few days later we were all back together. A few months later we had the approval."
Perhaps his greatest disappointment is leaving the Mohawk Theater unfinished -- a project that has kept his attention over the years.
"We’ve done $2.1 million in work in there," Barrett said. "The entire inside has been gutted. Phase one is complete. It’s ready for restoration work, and there’s about $2 million in tax credits waiting for the new mayor. I’ve set the table, now he has to serve dinner. It’s going to be a great economic development tool in the future, with the ability to host movies, concerts, digital feeds and events. It could be quite the venue, especially with 900 seats."
One thing the mayor doesn’t regret is the controversial stances he’s taken over the years.
"When you make decisions, you make enemies, and if you make enemies, then you’re doing you’re job right," he said. "Is it controversial for a mayor to take on the price of gas? I guess it is. Is it controversial to say the charter school is taking money away from the city’s school budget? Yes, but I’d say it all over again without batting an eyelash. Those statements played an important role in my defeat. Did anyone question why the charter school supporters and its executive director were raising money for my opponent?
"The important thing is that I know I made the right decisions over the years, and I don’t regret it. Most recently it was the state Group Insurance Commission. A year ago, the unions picketed outside my office, demanding access to the GIC. They weren’t taking about the higher co-pays and the higher deductibles. Would it have saved the city money? Yes, but it also would have hurt the employees in the long run."
Many have sought out his advice over the years, but most recently, he said he’s lent an ear and advice to Pittsfield Mayor James Ruberto, who like Barrett, lost his wife, to cancer while in office. Barrett lost his wife, Eileen, whom he married in 1986, to cancer not long after the couple married.
"When I heard Ellen’s [Ruberto] diagnosis was terminal, I called him," Barrett said. "No one wants to hear the word terminal. He told me he wasn’t going to run. I told him that he had to come to terms with the fact that she most likely wasn’t going to make it, and that he would need this job to survive after such a loss. If I hadn’t been mayor, I would have crawled into bed for six months and done nothing."
A short while later, Ruberto called Barrett, saying that Ellen wanted him to run. She died before November’s election.
"He’ll be a better mayor because of it," Barrett said. "She’s up there watching over him. I like to believe I’m a better mayor because of Eileen."
While he has no firm plans for the future, Barrett has rented out space at MoCA and plans to think over his options carefully over the next few months.
"I want to do some consulting, do some speaking tours and teach," he said. "I made all the wrong decisions after Eileen died. I want to do this right. I also want to do some fundraising for the Eileen Barrett Cancer Foundation, which gives all its money to helping cancer patients and their families."
To reach Jennifer Huberdeau, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Outgoing Mayor John Barrett III said he was contemplating a new position and an announcement would be forthcoming. (Caroline Bonnivier Snyder / Berkshire Eagle Staff)
"Reflections on 26-year reign: Outgoing North Adams mayor looks back proudly on his accomplishments"
By Benning W. De La Mater, Berkshire Eagle Staff, January 1, 2009
NORTH ADAMS -- Don't ask Toni Vitali to talk about the highlights from the last 22 years of her professional life.
She doesn't want to cry
"Too much to talk about," the secretary said, fighting back tears. "It's tough."
Her emotions made the tough guy cry, too. That's her boss, Mayor John Barrett III, the man who she said "will always be the mayor of the North Adams."
The two spent Thursday afternoon going through the final remnants inside an office that for 26 years was home to one of the most legendary political figures in Berkshire County history.
Barrett, 62, the state's longest-serving mayor, lost his bid for a 14th consecutive two-year term in November when City Councilor and banker Richard Alcombright beat him by 880 votes. Alcombright will be sworn in today.
On Thursday, there were a lot of emotions and memories shared in the corner office. In between the typical daily calls -- Barrett fielded one concerning a dispute over a cemetery plot and another from a resident complaining about ice build-up -- Barrett and Vitali finished housekeeping duties.
Barrett and all of his stuff have to be out by Monday at 10 a.m. And for those who don't know, Barrett was famous for all of his stuff.
"I kept everything," he said. "Every letter ever written to me. And every newspaper article I was quoted in. I even found my Ted Williams autograph."
And a few thousand other things.
Two bottles of homemade grappa sit on a shelf.
A small American flag stands on an empty desk.
Above three weathered, leather briefcases sits a small, silver frame holding a photo of his late wife, Eileen.
"She was the one who taught me compassion, the human side of politics" he said. "She smoothed my edges."
Barrett was known to be a bit, um, stubborn. His motto was "Be reasonable. Do it my way."
He was known for a shoot-from-the-hip, dictatorial style and his many clashes with city departments and unions were viewed as extreme by some.
When he came into office, he inherited a city that was about to lose its biggest employer, Sprague Electric Co. North Adams' alcoholism and unemployment rates were among the highest in the state. Yankee magazine called the city "a sorry gateway to anywhere."
The self-titled "urban mechanic" is credited with stopping the slide. He was the leading advocate for establishing the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, which brings in 120,000 annual visitors. But Barrett said his proudest accomplishments are focusing on the neighborhoods and restoring pride.
"In order to rebuild the city I had to start in the neighborhoods, rebuilding the streets, sidewalks and playgrounds," he said. "And I was able to keep services intact and the tax rate low."
He didn't do it alone. He had strong, passionate school committees, and "12 of my 13 City Councils were great."
And he had Vitali.
"I couldn't have done it without her," he said. "She wasn't just a secretary, she was my secretary. She presented a good image for this office. She was a great editor and made me rethink things when I was a bit brash."
Vitali can't help but feel a bit bitter over the election results.
"He did remarkable things for this city, and I don't think people ever really knew what he was trying to do," she said. "They didn't know how much he cared. I hope I helped him. I know I annoyed him."
Barrett said he didn't take the election loss personally. He believes he lost because he didn't use the Internet to reach out to the younger voters. "It was time for a change," he said.
Barrett has rented an office at MASS MoCA, where he will run the Eileen Barrett Foundation, which gives financial relief to families who are dealing with cancer. He's hinted at a desire to teach government and policy and to enter the consulting field.
He said he's had a few offers and is contemplating a position. "There will be an announcement in the coming days," he said.
He plans on golfing as much as he can -- maybe dropping his 7 handicap back down to a 5, where it was when he first took office -- and speaking about creative economies.
He's not scared about this new chapter in his life, but there is one thing that's a bit unnerving.
"The hardest part is going to be when I wake up Monday morning," he said. "It's going to be hard not going into the office. With the exception of vacations, I came into this office every morning for the last 26 years.
"Maybe I'll just get in my car and drive."
"Barrett to lead at jobs agency"
By Scott Stafford, Berkshire Eagle Staff, May 7, 2011
PITTSFIELD -- John Barrett III has been appointed the interim executive director at BerkshireWorks, the quasi-public agency that provides job training and placement assistance for county residents.
The former North Adams Mayor replaces Michael Herrick, who retired as executive director on Monday after 16 years on the job.
Until April 30, Barrett had been working as interim public services commissioner at the Pittsfield public works department.
Barrett said Pittsfield Mayor James M. Ruberto asked him to take the position on an interim basis until a permanent replacement can be found. He expects the search for a new director could take three months or more. The Pittsfield mayor is the appointing authority for the position.
Ruberto "asked me to make some changes in the administration and operation of the agency," Barrett said. "The staff has been helpful, and there are a lot of programs I have to get up to speed on."
According to the BerkshireWorks website, the agency is a partnership between the Berkshire Training & Employment Program and the Massachusetts Division of Career Services, and is chartered by the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board Inc.
Funded through the federal and state government, BerkshireWorks provides access to employment-focused programs and services for businesses, job seekers, workers, and employers.
Heather P. Boulger, executive director of the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board, said her agency sets policy and oversees performance at BerkshireWorks.
BerkshireWorks has about 20 employees.
"I really enjoyed working with [Herrick] during the past 16 years and wish him luck with his retirement," she said. "BerkshireWorks does a tremendous job, and I’m sure there won’t be any hiccups with job seekers or employers during the transition."
"I’m enjoying it, and hopefully I can be helpful to the mayor the same way I was in Pittsfield," Barrett said.
Ruberto was unavailable to comment Friday.
To reach Scott Stafford: email@example.com or (413) 496-6241.
"Barrett's service will be missed"
By Bill Donovan, The North Adams Transcript, Op-Ed, 9/13/2013
Former Mayor John Barrett's decision not to run for re-election to the North Adams City Council surprised many people in North Adams as well as Northern Berkshire.
For the first time in nearly 40 years his name won't appear on the ballot in this year's city election. During this span of time, he served eight years on the McCann School Committee, four years as a Berkshire County Commissioner, 26 years as mayor, two years on theCity Council and several years on the Airport Commission.
Clearly, Barrett's record of public service was extraordinary and more than likely will never be matched again in the City of North Adams.
I was very disappointed by the comments of Mayor Richard Alcombright when asked to comment on those councilors who were not running for re-election. He praised City Councilors Alan Marden, Michael Bloom and Marie Harpin for their service and commitment to the city over the years, yet failed to mention the fourth councilor, John Barrett. It would seem obvious to most that this would have been a perfect opportunity to thank Barrett publicly for his many years of service to the citizens of North Adams. Instead, Alcombright took the opportunity to send the former mayor off with a cheap snub.
John Barrett is a leader in every since of the word. No matter how difficult the issue, he always seemed to find a creative and positive solution in solving it. Who else would have found a way to save the YMCA from bankruptcy by building a new school around it and, at the same time, have the state pay 88 percent of the cost?
No other mayor would have been successful in leading the charge to secure $35,000,000 from the state to convert an 800,000-square-foot empty factory into a museum of contemporary art and call it economic development.
He convinced the state that North Adams could run the skating rink and then got a grant of $1.2 million from it to renovate the facility!
At a time when many had given up on Massachusetts' smallest city, Barrett oversaw the construction of one new school and the $22 million renovation of Drury High School.
Through his vision, he secured millions of dollars in federal and state money to renovate downtown North Adams, built the beautiful Veterans Memorial to honor the city's veterans, spearheaded the new addition at the library, saved the Mohawk Theater from the wrecking ball and spent millions in saving the theater for future use, brought new and innovative programs to the schools, and saved the historic Armory Building. While all this was going on, he somehow managed to keep North Adams an affordable community.
As a North Adams City Councilor for 10 years I was part of the amazing transformation that was taking place in North Adams. I saw first-hand how bad things were in North Adams as over 2,500 manufacturing jobs were lost in the mid 1980s. John Barrett had the courage to tell the people that Sprague would no longer be part of North Adams' future long before the company would acknowledge it publicly. He realized that North Adams had to restructure its economy and put in place an economic development strategy which would have many small businesses and no longer would the city's economy be centered around one company.
What I remember best is his refusal to sell out the regular working citizens of North Adams for the special interest groups. To him, these were the most vulnerable and the ones he cared about the most. From the meanest slumlord to the wealthiest commercial property owner, to the toughest union president, Barrett built up a long list of enemies because he would say "no" to those who didn't have the best interests of the community in mind.
After hearing about John Barrett's decision, I called him up and asked why he didn't run for mayor. He laughed and said, "The reason, I was afraid I would win." He told me about a group who had a poll done that showed him with an eight-point lead. He was even more excited by his favorable ratings as they were pretty high. "I know some people were disappointed by my decision, but it was just not the right time for a lot of reasons".
I, like many others, am disappointed that he didn't run this year, but I'm sure we will hear from John Barrett again. He certainly deserves the thanks of so many people for his long and distinguished years of public service. I sincerely thank him for all he has done and continues to do for North Adams.
Bill Donovan, of Adams, is a former North Adams City Councilor.
"Bianchi seeks replacement for Barrett at BerkshireWorks"
By Jim Therrien, New England Newspapers: The Berkshire Eagle and North Adams Transcript, 10/04/2013
PITTSFIELD -- Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi has reopened his search for a new BerkshireWorks Career Center executive director after rejecting an initial round of applicants, including the current director, John Barrett III.
However, Bianchi also stopped short of ruling out Barrett in the next round. A former longtime North Adams mayor, Barrett was appointed executive director in 2011 by former Pittsfield Mayor James Ruberto.
Barrett's contract expired in September, but he continues to serve in the state-funded position under the same contract terms.
Bianchi said Thursday he is hoping to attract someone with extensive experience in a workforce development, state employment system or similar position, preferably with a background in information technology as well.
The job is expected to be posted online again today, with a salary range of $86,000 to $94,000.
Resumes are requested by Oct. 24, according to the advertisement.
BerkshireWorks is a partnership between Berkshire Training and Employment Program and the state Division of Career Services, chartered by the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board. It provides access to programs and services for businesses, job seekers, workers and employers.
Bianchi said Barrett has done a good job as director, "but I'm really looking for someone with a workforce development background and experience." He added, "But we will have to see where this search goes. Oftentimes we have to go out [for resumes] two or three times."
Appointing authority is Bianchi's as the lead public official in the county's largest municipality.
Contacted Thursday, Barrett said, "I can't worry about that. I understand that the mayor has the right to select his own person. I'm still working under the terms I was hired under two and a half years ago ... What will be, will be."
Barrett added that he still enjoys the position and believes he's been successful in what he sees as primarily an administrative job. Audit findings before he began noted serious financial issues, he said, "but those findings have all been cleared. That's what I'm most pleased with."
He added, "Employee morale is high, and I think I have done the job I was hired to do."
In his time in the post, Barrett said, he also was asked to be an advocate for the profession by the Massachusetts Workforce Professional Association and has built a number of relationships and partnerships in the field.
City Personnel Director John DeAngelo said the first search for applicants didn't produce as many resumes as expected.
One change this time, he said, is the inclusion of the salary range in the ad.
DeAngelo said a review committee consisting of himself, another city department head, a member of the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board and a career center official reviewed eight of the applications received. He said they chose two finalists for submission to Bianchi, including Barrett.
The advertisement notes that the BerkshireWorks Career Center, located on North Street, is a quasi-public city agency with a mission to strengthen the Berkshire economy by advancing the skill development of youth and adults for careers in the knowledge and innovation economy.
Among requirements listed are a bachelor's degree in business administration, communication or business management; at least five years of experience as a senior manager in employment and training/workforce; a working knowledge of employment and training programs funded through [state and federal agencies], as well as state and federal laws and regulations pertaining to grant management, managed information systems data collection requirements and procedures; knowledge of regulatory procurement policy of grants; knowledge of computers and application programs; strong writing, presentation and interpersonal skills.
"Budget pact may leave unemployed without benefits at end of year"
By Nathan Mayberg, Berkshire Eagle, 12/12/2013
PITTSFIELD -- A budget deal announced this week by House Republicans and Democratic Senate leaders may help keep the government funded for the next two years -- but it also may take a toll on the long-term unemployed.
The deal, which both houses are expected to vote on Friday before leaving on holiday break, did not include an extension for unemployment benefits to those who have been receiving them longer than 26 weeks.
"This will cause irreparable harm to people," said John Barrett III, director of Berkshire Works Career Center in Pittsfield, which helps people sign up for unemployment benefits. "It's going to hurt a lot of people."
Unless further action is taken, an estimated 1.3 million people will lose their unemployment insurance after Dec. 28, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. That figure would climb to more than 2 million by March.
The agreement has been billed as a way to avoid future federal budget crises by cutting Medicare, raising pension contributions for federal employees, limiting cost of living increases to military retirees under 62 and doubling airplane ticket security fees. U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., made the announcement Tuesday.
There were 4,722 people officially listed as unemployed in Berkshire County by the state Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development for the month of October. The number of those receiving benefits for more than 26 weeks was not immediately available. The unemployment rate doesn't include those who have exhausted their unemployment benefits or who have dropped out of the labor pool.
"We think it is heartless and craven for Congress to go on vacation" without extending unemployment insurance, said Judy Conti, federal advocacy coordinator of the National Unemployment Law Project. "The economy is hurting these people the hardest," she said.
The average weekly unemployment benefit in Massachusetts is $431, according to state provided figures. Last month, Congress reduced food stamp benefits.
In a prepared statement, U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., described the failure by Congress to extend unemployment benefits as "unfortunate," while "corporate tax loopholes and billions in subsidies for oil companies remain on the books. These jobless benefits make an important difference to unemployed workers and their families in Massachusetts and around the country."
However, Markey also said the budget agreement was a "a good first step by limiting devastating sequestration cuts and putting in place a more reasonable level of funding."
U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, signed onto a letter urging House Speaker John Boehner to extend un employment benefits, but was unavailable for comment on Wednesday.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren could not be reached for comment.
"The economy is not in the position where a lot of those people will be able to find jobs," Barrett said. "It's going to cause some problems."
The economy has picked up, but "there hasn't been a lot of movement in the county," Barrett said. There have been layoffs in the manufacturing center, though he said there are a lot of job openings out there, depending on one's skills.
Presently, those out of work receive unemployment insurance benefits up to 63 weeks in Massachusetts.
Without new legislation, 30 weeks will be the limit.
"Think of all of the people who will be cut off and won't have money for their heating bills," Conti said. "It's brutal."
"Now, to be hit right after Christmas," Barrett said. "It's going to cause havoc."
“Taconic Grad To Lead BerkshireWorks”
iBerkshires.com - January 7, 2014
PITTSFIELD, Massachusetts — BerkshireWorks will have a new leader.
Mayor Daniel Bianchi is appointing William Monterosso as its new executive director.
"I was really looking for someone who is living and breathing workforce development," Bianchi said on Tuesday. "Any one of our three finalists could do the job but what stood out was his experience running statewide agencies."
Monterosso is a Pittsfield native who graduated from Taconic High School. He then went on to earn his bachelors' degree in business administration from Greenville State College in West Virginia and enlisted in the Marine Corps.
He was certified as a workforce development professional in 2003 and has more than 15 years experience in the workforce development field. Most recently, he was the executive director of the West Virginia Association of Rehabilitation Facilities.
His responsibilities have included leading and managing approximately 700 employees, leveraging millions of dollars in grant funding, developing and managing budgets, and cultivating relationships between the organizations and communities in which he served in West Virginia.
Bianchi says he sees Monterosso leading BerkshireWorks to become much more of a resource for businesses and nonprofits through partnerships. BerkshireWorks is a partnership between the Berkshire Training and Employment Program and the state's Division of Career Services.
"You are going to see them cultivating a culture of success," Bianchi said. "I think it can be a critical role."
Former North Adams Mayor John Barrett III was serving in that position for the last two years. Bianchi said Barrett was considered in the first round of resumes but ultimately, Bianchi wanted someone with more experience in the workforce development field rather than administrative.
Barrett was appointed to the position by former Mayor James Ruberto at a time when the agency was facing questions from the state about its operations and reporting practices. A call placed to Barrett's office was not immediately returned.
"John did a wonderful job righting things," Bianchi. "We are thankful of that."
Barrett has continued to stay on as the director and will until Tuesday, Jan. 21 (2014), when Monterosso takes over.
Monterosso was considered the best candidate to fill the position after Barrett's contract expired in September. The city posted the job in the summer but only received a few resumes. The city sent out another request and a committee consisting of the personnel department, director of finance and another department head interviewed eight candidates and narrowed it down to three finalists.
"It was a very involved process," Bianchi said.
From there, a team of county officials was invited by Bianchi to aid in interviewing final candidates: current North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright, a volunteer from the Berkshire Town Managers Associations, and Richmond Town Administrator Matthew Kerwood. They unanimously picked Monterosso.
While the appointment could have been done administratively, Bianchi said the job is important for the entire county and that is why he asked Alcombright and Kerwood to help.
"This is an important function for such a critical agency for all of Berkshire County and not just the city of Pittsfield," Bianchi said. "I think it is really important to recognize our strengths in operation as a larger community."
Bianchi said Montrosso won't be under a two-year contract but rather operate and be reviewed the same as other department heads.
"I am looking forward to his tenure," the mayor said.
"Massachusetts online unemployment help still ponderous"
By Clarence Fanto, Special to The Berkshire Eagle, 1/26/2014
PITTSFIELD -- Last week, winding up his tenure as interim executive director of BerkshireWorks, John Barrett III was on the front lines at the career center, helping unemployment-benefits seekers navigate the still problem-plagued state website, UI Online, and TeleCert, the automated phone system for filing and updating claims.
This week, Barrett, 66, is preparing to file for jobless benefits himself and remains deeply distressed by how many hoops newly unemployed workers have to jump through in order to start receiving checks while they seek new positions.
Barrett, the former North Adams mayor who lost his re-election bid to Richard Alcombright on Nov. 3, 2009, after 26 years in the post, then served Pittsfield Mayor James Ruberto as a consultant. In June 2011, Ruberto appointed him as executive director of BerkshireWorks, the career center with offices in Pittsfield and North Adams, under a two-year contract.
While Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi kept him on as an interim head, he chose not to consider Barrett for the permanent post. Instead, he appointed William Monterosso, who began his assignment on Tuesday as the new director. The former Pittsfield resident was most recently executive director of the West Virginia Association of Rehabilitation Facilities.
Barrett had taken heat from the state Labor Department as the first official to sound an alert last June that the Department of Unemployment Assistance's new website about to be launched was in big trouble.
"It wasn't a gut feeling, it was just my years in politics dealing with the public and the facts," he said during a conversation at a local cafe. He contended that state officials from Secretary of Labor Joanne Goldstein on down didn't want him or anyone else to discuss potential problems with the rollout of the website last July 1.
"They just wanted to spring it on the public," Barrett recalled. "And I said, ‘You can't do that.' I said it was wrong." After The Eagle reported his concerns, Barrett received a dressing-down phone call from Alice Sweeney, director of the state Department of Career Services, reprimanding him for talking to the news media.
That department oversees one-stop career service centers such as BerkshireWorks, which is operated by the Berkshire Training and Employment Program. Although BTEP partners with the state Department of Career Services, the executive director and the BerkshireWorks staff are not state employees, and the career center is funded primarily by the federal government. However, the executive director is appointed by the mayor of Pittsfield.
"They went bonkers," said Barrett, referring to state officials who lambasted him for "inappropriate and wrong" statements to The Eagle.
Ironically, on Barrett's last day of work last Friday, Goldstein announced her resignation to take an administrative position at Northeastern University in Boston.
Last summer's launch of the $46 million website crafted by Deloitte Consulting to handle claims and manage benefits caused prolonged delays and frustrating glitches for thousands of jobless applicants. The site's unveiling was nearly two years late and came in $6 million over budget.
The state's automated phone center was overwhelmed by anxious claims-seekers unable to navigate the online system.
"The numbers skyrocketed we were averaging over 400 people a week, most of them with unemployment insurance problems they couldn't get solved," said Barrett.
Before the state added staff to its call-in center, some applicants were kept on hold for hours, Barrett noted. Others had to wait eight weeks or even 15 weeks to begin receiving checks.
"These are people who lost jobs through no fault of their own," said Barrett. "People were coming in saying their lives have been ruined. I've seen people break down because they can't pay their mortgage, their medical bills, their insurance."
State officials had been warned by a number of local job-center leaders to straighten out the phone system because of a likely deluge of callers, Barrett said.
While the problems appeared to ease last fall after local career centers were given more authority by the state Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA) to handle claims, Barrett maintained that delays in resolving problems with benefits-seekers have persisted, and even worsened.
According to state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli's office, eight new complaints were received just last week from applicants unable to resolve issues with the DUA. The Lenox Democrat and the rest of the Berkshire delegation opened a public campaign last September urging Labor Secretary Goldstein to double down on efforts to ease the logjam by adding staff at call centers.
"They were leaders," Barrett said. "Without them, it would be even worse for people because they did step up to the plate." The legislators signed a strongly worded letter of complaint to Goldstein.
"The secretary was feeling the heat," Barrett said.
Goldstein, who leaves the post at the end of this month, will be replaced by Rachel Kaprielian, current chief of the Registry of Motor Vehicles.
In a brief interview with The Boston Globe, Goldstein said that the online unemployment benefits system is working fine, and that its troubles were caused by bugs common to new software and systems.
But the state Senate's Post-Audit and Oversight Committee continues to investigate the problems that required thousands of overtime hours by state employees.
As for the former North Adams mayor, he plans to write a book about the creation of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, which he strongly advocated despite a tide of skepticism.
"New Secretary of Labor Kaprielian expected to fix online system"
By Clarence Fanto, Special to The Berkshire Eagle, 1/26/2014
PITTSFIELD -- When Rachel Kaprielian, current head of the state Registry of Motor Vehicles, succeeds Joanne Goldstein as Secretary of Labor on Feb. 1, she’ll have a mandate to straighten out the state’s still problem-plagued online system for filing and renewing unemployment benefit claims.
"I’m very optimistic about Kaprielian," said John Barrett III, the former executive director at BerkshireWorks, the one-stop career center. "She’s an administrator. She hopefully will take care of it, but she’s got to get out into the vineyards to talk to the people at the career centers and hear from the claims-takers. If she will listen to them, a lot of this will be cleaned up."
While downplaying issues with the claims system as the reason for Goldstein’s departure, Gov. Deval Patrick told reporters at the Statehouse last Friday that Kaprielian would "continue the team’s insistence that those issues get resolved quickly for people who rely on this assistance."
"I think Gov. Patrick is a pretty smart guy," said Barrett. "He knows there’s a problem, and he’d hate to see his legacy determined by the failure of this UI Online system." Patrick has less than a year to serve in office.
The state’s new online system was installed by Deloitte Consulting under a contract Goldstein took over from former Labor Secretary Suzanne Bump of Great Barrington, the current state auditor.
According to contracting specialists cited by The Boston Globe, the contract with Deloitte negotiated by Bump offered few protections for taxpayers and limited oversight. Last year, Goldstein acknowledged that the project had gone so far off track by the time she became secretary that she considered firing Deloitte, which has encountered similar problems with its sites in Florida and California.
Patrick gave Goldstein credit for tightening the contract with Deloitte "to hold them accountable for any fixes or improvements that need to be made."
Last year, the Registry of Motor Vehicles awarded a $77 million contract to Deloitte to modernize its computer system, even though the state Department of Revenue had fired the firm midway through its own $114 million contract because of technical problems that caused officials to lose confidence in the consultant.
Information from The Boston Globe was included in this report.
Our Opinion: "Truth-teller joins line"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, 1/28/2014
Like the typical whistle-blower, John Barrett III got in trouble not for telling falsehoods but for revealing the truth. The former interim executive director of BerkshireWorks, Mr. Barrett drew public attention to the problematic state website designed to help the unemployed get the benefits due them, and if and when the site ever becomes fully functional, he will deserve a share of the credit.
The former North Adams mayor was the first public official to sound the alarm last June that the Department of Unemployment Assistance's new website was not prepared for the onslaught triggered by its launch on July 1. He says he was told by Labor Department officials, from Secretary of Labor Joanne Goldstein on down, to keep his concerns to himself, and when he shared them with The Eagle, received a phone call from Alice Sweeney, director of the state Department of Career Services, chastising him for going to the media. (See Clarence Fanto article in the Sunday, January 26 Eagle.)
Mr. Barrett was proven correct, as the glitch-plagued website was indeed overwhelmed, and at the one-stop career center he directed he saw first-hand the anguish of unemployed Berkshire residents who couldn't pay mortgages or medical bills while they waited for weeks to get their checks from the state. He credits the Berkshire legislative delegation for its public campaign to persuade Secretary Goldstein to increase her efforts to address the problem, in part by adding staff.
Appointed to the BerkshireWorks executive directorship by former Pittsfield Mayor James Ruberto, Mr. Barrett, the mayor of North Adams for 26 years, was kept on as an interim head by Mayor Daniel Bianchi, who chose not to consider him for the permanent directorship and instead named former Pittsfield resident William Monterosso. That is the mayor's prerogative, and the new director has a solid résumé, but as the career center position is not political in nature it would be unfortunate if the capable Mr. Barrett was penalized for his appointment by the current mayor's former rival or for whistle-blowing.
Last Friday, when Ms. Goldstein announced that she would be leaving at the end of the month to take an administrative position at Boston's Northeastern University, Mr. Barrett finished up at BerkshireWorks and will now get to test the state's unemployment system personally. Taxpayers should not only be concerned about the DUA's troubled, $46 million website, they should be offended that state officials were evidently determined to keep what they knew to be the truth about that website hidden, to the extent of unsuccessfully trying to keep Mr. Barrett silent.
"Massachusetts labor chief ‘obviously tried to neutralize me,’ official says: Pittsfield official who spoke out about issues with the state’s jobless benefits system says he was targeted"
By Megan Woolhouse, Boston Globe Staff, February 5, 2014
Labor Secretary Joanne Goldstein (right) has defended the new online system. (Dina Rudick/Boston Globe Staff)
John Barrett III, who ran the career center in Pittsfield for nearly three years, said he warned state officials that the new online system for managing unemployment benefits was not ready to be rolled out on its July 1 launch date, anticipating problems that would overwhelm phone lines and career centers.
Several weeks later, when his warnings proved prescient, he spoke publicly about the difficulties the new system had caused jobless workers trying to get benefits. Labor department officials chastised him for his comments to the local newspaper, he said, while an “infuriated” Secretary Joanne Goldstein contacted the head of the board that oversees the center and the mayor of Pittsfield to complain about him.
“She obviously tried to neutralize me,” said Barrett, who served as mayor of North Adams for 26 years until 2010. “But I saw something was wrong and I saw the faces of these people who couldn’t get benefits, and that’s why I did it.”
Barrett’s experiences are indicative of what career center staff and legislators said were state labor department officials who at times seemed more interested in managing public perceptions than addressing problems that were keeping hundreds, if not thousands, of unemployed workers from collecting benefits. Career centers, many run by nonprofits contracting with the state, are on the front lines for the unemployed, providing a variety of services, including help with claims.
Many centers were overwhelmed by jobless people facing claims issues after using the new claims system. State officials grossly underplayed the scale of the problems, career center officials said, discouraging them from referring to “glitches” in the system or speaking to the media about the problems. Labor department officials visiting the Pittsfield career center even demanded that photocopied information with legislators’ phone numbers be taken off walls and desks in an effort to keep the problems quiet, Barrett said.
State labor officials focused more on public perceptions than addressing system woes, many lawmakers say.
Yet the volume of claimants who contacted legislators helped prompt the Senate Post Audit and Oversight Committee to open an investigation into the system last fall. Among other issues, claimants said they often waited for hours when they contacted the state help line only to be disconnected.
In Holyoke, so many angry claimants flooded the career center that executive director David Gadaire hired a security firm. Gadaire said he and other career center directors told Goldstein or her staff on many occasions that the system was flawed, and career center workers were frustrated because they were often powerless to fix the problems.
After Gadaire was quoted in an Aug. 19 Globe story saying the transition to the new system was “very very difficult,” a top labor department official contacted him and told him he “needed to take a more positive approach,” “back up what the state’s trying to do” and that he “shouldn’t be going to the press.”
“I think they were trying to get control of a story that was growing,” Gadaire said in a recent interview.
Goldstein, who will leave the labor department Friday to become associate vice president of workforce development at Northeastern University, declined to be interviewed. Robert Oftring, an interim spokesman for the department, said in a statement that the state offered career centers extra staffing and support to handle claims issues.
“Career center directors were encouraged to voice their concerns and offer suggestions about how to best structure the launch,” Oftring wrote. Career center directors, he said, were “encouraged to coordinate their public statements” with the Department of Career Services.
Barrett was not reappointed as executive director of the Pittsfield career center, known as BerkshireWorks, when his contract ended Jan. 17.
Barrett said he and other career center employees were invited to test drive the system just a few months before the rollout.
Barrett said he was concerned that the new system would confuse users and ultimately overwhelm both the phone lines for filing claims and providing assistance.
After the rollout, the number of people visiting the Pittsfield career center more than doubled to about 400 people a week because of claims issues, he said. People who had waited for help on phone lines for hours were coming in angry and frustrated, worried about how they would pay their mortgages and other bills.
Barrett said one man received about 70 letters about his unemployment claim in a single week. In another instance, an 85-year-old woman received a letter from the state demanding reimbursement for a $63 overpayment by the state from 22 years ago.
In August, Barrett said he visited Pittsfield Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi to discuss the end of his contract. Bianchi told him that he had been contacted by state labor department officials and if “some things didn’t change . . . there was a possibility that BerkshireWorks would close or funding would be taken away,” Barrett said.
Oftring denied that Goldstein threatened to withdraw career center funding for BerkshireWorks in Pittsfield or any other career center.
Bianchi, who under the law appoints the career center director, said in an interview last week that he couldn’t recall whether Goldstein had contacted him. He said he never discussed Barrett with her, although he said they discussed the resumes of the candidates for Barrett’s job and Goldstein offered suggestions.
“I wanted to make sure we were getting the right person or looking at the right candidate,” he said.
On Sept. 15, Barrett was quoted in the Berkshire Eagle newspaper saying the new system had caused so many problems that “some people have gone eight or nine weeks without a check, some even longer.”
Barrett received a text message the next day from Heather P. Boulger, executive director of the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board, which oversees the career center. The text said Goldstein was “infuriated” by Barrett’s comments.
Boulger said in an interview that she sent the text because Goldstein was concerned about avoiding miscommunication and had asked career center staff to forward unemployment insurance questions directly to the department.
State Representative William “Smitty” Pignatelli, a Democrat representing the Lenox area, said he and the Berkshire delegation have written Goldstein and Governor Deval Patrick because of the problems. And he said his office continues to field a steady stream of complaints from claimants.
“It’s flawed,” he said of the system. “And it’s time for someone in state government to recognize it and fix it.”
Megan Woolhouse can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"JB III still mad at Coakley"
A Sunday Boston Globe article on the likelihood that many supporters of state Treasurer Steve Grossman will defect to the camp of Republican gubernatorial candidate Charles Baker should Grossman be defeated by Attorney General Martha Coakley in the Democratic gubernatorial primary noted that former North Adams Mayor John Barrett III is already in the Baker camp.
The article reported that JB III, a prominent Democrat statewide when he was the state’s longest-tenured mayor, flirted with supporting Grossman before deciding to back Baker because of the latter’s performance as a top economic aide to former Republican governors William Weld and Paul Cellucci back when Barrett was chief executive of North Adams.
Former allies Barrett and Coakley, who has family connections to North Adams, had a falling out when Coakley endorsed Richard Alcombright in the election that ended Barrett’s tenure as mayor. Plainly, those wounds have not healed. Bill Everhart, Berkshire Eagle editorial page editor, 8/19/14.
"‘Torpedoed for telling the truth’"
By Clarence Fanto, Special to The Berkshire Eagle, 9/21/2014
LENOX -- He was the chief whistleblower, the canary in the coal mine.
Fortunately, unlike the proverbial canary, former North Adams Mayor (almost) for Life John Barrett III did not succumb, except professionally, after he alerted the public in a June 2013 Eagle article that the state’s new website for unemployment benefits was a technological train wreck.
Hundreds of internal emails between state labor department leaders, recently revealed through a public records request from The Boston Globe finally granted after eight months of delay, showed that they were dissembling when they insisted publicly that the UI Online site was a success, with minor glitches affecting relatively few claimants.
Instead, as we now know, the unemployment division was "mired in chaos for months, as thousands of people and businesses struggled with late benefits, missed hearings, and botched mailings," The Globe reported earlier this month.
Labor Secretary Rachel Kaprielian was appointed in January to succeed Joanne Goldstein, who presided over the system breakdown. Goldstein had insisted there were no serious problems and, according to Barrett, helped get him dismissed as the director of BerkshireWorks, the Pittsfield-based career center that aids job seekers.
Barrett, who had the support of his employees, was torpedoed for telling the truth.
Last January, Goldstein resigned to take a position at Northeastern University’s College of Professional Studies as associate vice president of Workforce Development and Employer Engagement. It appears she landed on her feet, unscathed.
Now Secretary Kaprielian, who has a successful track record in state government, has confirmed that the unemployment division was strained by the "relentless nature" of complaints about the $46 million website lemon designed and built by Deloitte Consulting of New York.
She acknowledged that the agency called many people to apologize for delayed payments and some bogus demands for alleged overpayments of claims.
One person received a faulty "bill" for $45,000 in overpayments, while another was denied benefits while trying to pay for health insurance coverage to treat a brain tumor. Another was deluged with 100 mailings in a single day. The exact number of unemployed affected remains unrevealed, but it is believed to be in the tens of thousands.
On the other side of the coin, state officials claim some clients did receive overpayments -- the agency supposedly paid out $800,000 in benefits that were not legitimate.
"We made sure people were given an explanation," Kaprielian told The Globe. "Things went wrong through no fault of their own."
By all accounts, including her own, the system is working well now. But Kaprielian’s true confession of how flawed the new website was for many months after its July 1, 2013, launch contrasts with Goldstein’s public statements -- including her phone interview when I was covering this story -- and her testimony before a committee of state lawmakers. (She has not commented on the release of the emails.)
The documents reveal that Michelle Amante, then the director of the unemployment division, was sending alarmed emails to Deloitte and to her staff, declaring that "this isn’t acceptable."
Amante, interviewed recently, said Deloitte, her previous employer, responded to her complaints but admitted: "I was very stern in my emails. I had to hold them accountable."
Kaprelian has fired Deloitte from further involvement in the system, denying the company a maintenance contract and comparing the separation to a divorce -- "nobody comes out completely happy."
In a follow-up letter to The Globe, she wrote: "I am proud to say that UI Online is working well. The average amount of time it takes to process a claimant’s first check is now 14 days, down three weeks from 37 days prior to the launch -- three weeks that can mean all the difference to someone in need."
I believe her. Previously, Kaprelian, as head of the Registry of Motor Vehicles, oversaw the development of its website. A few days ago, I easily renewed my driver’s license online -- it took 10 minutes, no muss, no fuss.
We can only hope the state has successfully revamped its hapless Health Connector website by the time it’s rolled out in November to begin processing applications for 2015 insurance coverage. As is well-known, that site broke down completely early this year and had to be taken offline for major surgery.
Barrett, the feisty North Adams mayor who served 26 years until defeated by Richard Alcombright in November 2008, remains understandably angered by the loss of his BerkshireWorks position.
"Those emails prove that Goldstein was not telling the truth," he told me this past week.
As he put it, "I got penalized, I was killed professionally, they took away my job and put BerkshireWorks in turmoil for 10 months."
The center now has its second new director since Barrett was shoved out -- Ken Demers of Adams, whose appointment was announced by Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi on Thursday, comes with strong credentials and a positive reputation.
Barrett, who receives a pension for his long service in North Adams but would prefer to be employed, acknowledged feeling satisfaction following the release of the email trail, proving that he wasn’t whistling Dixie.
His experience serves as a cautionary tale for anyone in government or private industry who tries to warn the public about incompetence, misdeeds or blatant obfuscation.
Nevertheless, eventually "the truth will out," as Shakespeare wrote in "The Merchant of Venice." That provides not-so-cold comfort to those with the courage to, as the Quakers wrote in a 1950s pamphlet, "speak truth to power."
Al Bashevkin, retiring executive director of the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, was awarded the 11th annual Gerard D. Downing Service to Children Award last year. (Eagle File)
“Outgoing NBCC leader Al Bashevkin reflects on challenges met”
By Edward Damon, The Berkshire Eagle, July 12, 2015
NORTH ADAMS — As Al Bashevkin prepares to depart the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, he says he'll always remember working in a close-knit community.
The longtime executive director officially retired in June after 29 years with the organization, but is assisting the board and employees during the transition.
"It will probably take me a year to be secure in my decision to leave," Bashevkin, 64, said in an interview recently at the newly dedicated UNO neighborhood center. He said he still loves working at the coalition and added, "It's time for someone else to do this work and for me to find other things to do, to find people who can use my skills and talents."
Currently underway is a search for a new executive director to lead the organization, and the goal is "to improve the quality of life for people in Northern Berkshire by organizing, supporting, and empowering the community."
Bashevkin, of Bennington, Vt., said his future is open and he isn't sure what he wants to do next. But retirement will give him more time with his wife, Nancy Pearlman, and flexibility to visit his two children who live on the West Coast. He's also looking forward to spending more time exploring the outdoors.
A city native, Bashevkin left for school in Connecticut and Boston before returning to the area in the mid-1980s. As a faculty member of then-North Adams State College, he taught social work and community organizing, overseeing college interns placed at various social service agencies.
Sprague Electric Co.'s Marshall Street plant closing in 1985 sent a ripple effect through the community, he said, as hundreds were suddenly unemployed. Other factories and businesses that relied on Sprague also shut down.
"There was just a sense of hopelessness in the area," Bashevkin remembered.
He gives a lot of credit to former Mayor John Barrett III, he said, for boosting morale during tough times.
"He just wasn't going to take that," Bashevkin said. "He always said we were strong, good people. It was like his mantra, he said it over and over again to remind people — that this is a good community."
While so many people wanted to help, Bashevkin said there was no one group to bring community members and various agencies together.
Officials and community organizers looked east toward central Massachusetts where a community coalition had formed in the Athol and Orange area. Like North Adams, those communities had also lost manufacturing jobs.
Bashevkin joined what was then known as the Northern Berkshire Health and Human Services Coalition in 1986. The whole organization was housed within a Townhouse apartment on the NASC campus, where it was given mailing privileges, a phone, computer and eventually the Internet.
"The college was really our guardian angel as we were starting out," he said.
The coalition welcomed new people and programs over the years and undertook various initiatives. One of the first discussions focused on homelessness.
"We discovered people were sleeping in the streets, and we hadn't realized that was an issue," he said.
A homelessness crisis fund was founded and following a community conversation, the Louison House shelter was founded in Adams.
The coalition's monthly forums, he said, will be what he will remember most. Rural transportation, youth substance use and major national events such as the Sept. 11 terror attacks and Hurricane Katrina were all topics.
Bashevkin also acknowledged the work of the coalition staff, which oversees neighborhood organizing, family and youth programs, as well as the board of directors.
"They're all really nice people, and we all share the philosophy of respecting the individual," he said.
The city still has many challenges, he said. But he pointed to Mayor Richard J. Alcombright's administration and City Council members, and local agencies, as beacons of hope.
"We need to see what we can do to have the next generation be more involved in the world they live in," he said.
Contact Edward Damon at 413-770-6979. email@example.com @BE_EDamon on Twitter.
Former North Adams Mayor John Barrett III, who served 13 consecutive two-year terms, took out nomination papers for the office on Wednesday. (File Photo Berkshire Eagle)
“Updated: John Barrett III takes out nomination papers for North Adams mayor”
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, August 12, 2015
NORTH ADAMS — Former Mayor John Barrett III quietly took the first step toward a potential run for mayor on Wednesday by pulling nomination papers.
Barrett, who served as the city's mayor for 26 consecutive years, lost the post to current Mayor Richard Alcombright in the 2009 general election. Alcombright has already announced his intentions to run for a fourth term this year.
"Yes, I did take out the papers, as a result of a real grassroots effort in the city of people asking me to consider running again for mayor," Barrett said when reached by The Eagle on Wednesday.
With a week left before the deadline, a total of five potential candidates have now taken out papers: Alcombright, Barrett, artist and real estate developer Eric Rudd, Richard David Greene, and Nik Lareau. Papers must be returned to the city clerk with 50 signatures by 5 p.m. on Aug. 20; thus far, Rudd is the only certified mayoral candidate.
Barrett is expected to make a formal announcement in the coming weeks.
"Now that we're coming down to the 11th hour, I agreed to take the papers out. That's all I'll say now and once I submit the papers, I will have more to say about my candidacy," Barrett said.
In a 2009 interview with the North Adams Transcript — conducted as he was leaving office — Barrett reflected on his accomplishments during his tenure in the corner office including the addition of Brayton Elementary School to the Northern Berkshire YMCA building, an addition to the North Adams Public Library, and an addition to Drury High School.
Assuming it is necessary, a preliminary mayoral election will be held on Sept. 21. The general election is scheduled for Nov. 2 and includes races for mayor, City Council, the North Adams School Committee, and the Northern Berkshire Vocational Regional School Committee.
Nine at-large city council seats will be up for grabs in the upcoming election, as well. So far, fifteen residents have taken out papers, including incumbents Keith Bona, Eric Buddington, Wayne Wilkinson, Benjamin Lamb, Nancy Bullett, Lisa Blackmer, Kate Merrigan, and Joshua Moran. Councilor Jennifer Breen is the only current councilor not to have taken out papers.
Potential challengers for council seats include Robert Cardimino, Ronald Sheldon, David M. Owens-Branco, Joseph Gniadek, former councilors Robert Moulton Jr., and David Bond, and former council president Ronald Boucher.
Moulton challenged Alcombright in the 2013 mayoral election and lost.
Only five council candidates have had their nomination papers certified thus far: Bullett, Gniadek, Wilkinson, Bona, and Cardimino.
So far, four potential candidates have stepped forward for three open seats on the North Adams School Committee: Karen Bond, Nicholas Fahey, Tara Jacobs, and Miles Wheat. Those seats are currently held by Larry Taft, Mary Lou Accetta, and David Lamarre. The winners of the election will serve a four year term on the board.
The last day to register to vote in the preliminary election is Sept. 2, and the final registration day for the general election is Oct. 14.
Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6308. firstname.lastname@example.org @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter.
John Barrett, right, seen here in 2010 with then-Pittsfield Mayor James Ruberto. Charlie Deitz WAMC.
"Former North Adams Mayor John Barrett Takes Out Papers For Old Seat"
By Jim Levulis, WAMC Northeast Public Radio, August 12, 2015
The former longtime mayor of North Adams is getting back into politics. John Barrett, who served from 1985 through 2009, has taken out mayoral nominating papers.
Barrett joins a field that includes his successor, three-term incumbent Richard Alcombright. Barrett took out papers Tuesday, according to the city clerk’s office. He did not return a call seeking comment Wednesday. Artist and businessman Eric Rudd admits a run by Barrett hurts his chances.
“Now Dick [Alcombright] can say to supporters ‘If you don’t vote for me, if drift and maybe vote for Rudd, you’re going to be helping John Barrett,’” Rudd explained. “And John Barrett is going to say the same thing to his people so we’ll get back to the same two camps and people will be afraid of breaking out and doing something different.”
Richard David Greene and Nik Lareau also took out nominating papers which must be returned with 50 voter signatures by August 20th to be certified.
John Barrett III (Ben Garver — Berkshire Eagle Staff)
"Barrett lays out mayoral platform: Seeking 14th term in corner office in three-way race for mayor"
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, August 27, 2015
NORTH ADAMS - Nearly six years after he left the corner office, John Barrett III says he is seeking a 14th mayoral term to get North Adams "headed back in the right direction."
Barrett, who served as the city's mayor for 26 years from 1984 until 2010, will challenge incumbent Mayor Richard Alcombright and local developer and artist Eric Rudd for a two-year term this fall.
No stranger to the city's short election cycle — preliminary elections will be held in less than a month on Sept. 22 — Barrett wasted no time establishing his priorities and the differences between the Alcombright administration and a Barrett administration in a recent interview with The Eagle.
Barrett stresses that he is not running against Alcombright as a person, but the priorities and policies of his administration.
Since he left office, Barrett said that the average homeowner's tax bill has increased sizably while property values have dropped, though precious little funding has been poured into the city's decaying infrastructure.
Barrett says that addressing the city's "deplorable" housing stock and "attacking blight," largely through the use of federal Community Development Block Grant funds, would be among his top priorities. Hiring a full-time code enforcement officer would mean "you know who is living in these properties" and help police stem the flow of drugs into the city, Barrett said. The former mayor says he'd also look to revamp community policing efforts.
"I would be declaring a war on drugs in the city," Barrett said.
If he were to win another term, Barrett said he would continue his efforts to renovate the city's Mohawk Theater, which he believes is key to revitalizing the city's downtown.
Barrett also criticizes Alcombright's management of Western Gateway Heritage State Park, which is managed by the North Adams Redevelopment Authority under leadership of the mayor. When Barrett left office, the North Adams Redevelopment Authority had about $300,000 in its reserves, which have now dropped below $200,000.
Alcombright announced plans in 2012 to privatize the 7.6-acre park's commercial buildings, but has yet to find a viable tenant.
"Spending five years on Heritage State Park would not have been my priority," Barrett said.
Community Development Block Grant funds should also not be directed into a proposed skate park near Noel Field on State Street, Barrett argues. Instead, it should be put into revamping the city's housing stock.
"I don't think a skate park, at this time, and for $700,000, should be a top priority,"
Echoing arguments he made during a two-year stint as a city councilor from 2012 to 2014, Barrett said the renovation of Silvio O. Conte Middle School wasn't the right choice for the city. The city's other schools remain in need of repairs, he noted.
The city is currently embroiled in a battle with the general contractor it hired to complete the historic building's renovation into Colegrove Park Elementary School, and the project is on track to finish about four months past the initial end date.
"I was totally against the renovation of Conte for the very reasons that they're now encountering," Barrett said.
Although he doesn't think he could have prevented inevitable downsizing at the former North Adams Regional Hospital, which closed in 2014, Barrett believes that he would have been able to prevent such a sudden closure. While Sprague Electric famously began its departure from North Adams not long into Barrett's tenure, he says that he was able to keep them in the city in some capacity until 1992.
Barrett believes that "Barrett fatigue" played a role in his defeat at the hands of Alcombright in 2009. And although he admits at times he made mistakes—and had a temper, which he said has mellowed—the former mayor stands by his record.
"People were looking for a change in the person, not the policies," Barrett said.
That record includes an addition to the North Adams Public Library, the building of Brayton Elementary School, and an addition to Drury High School under his watch. Since leaving city hall's "corner office," Barrett has headed the Berkshire Works program for a stint and served as a city councilor for two years. But, now, he's looking to return as the city's leader.
"I'm looking forward to getting this city headed back in the right direction," Barrett said.
email@example.com @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter
“North Adams as destination is music to my ears”
By John Seven, Op-Ed, The Berkshire Eagle, September 21, 2015
The fact that the preliminary election for North Adams mayor takes place two days after the FreshGrass Festival finishes another successful year offers some irony to me, reminding me of a story from my early days reporting for the North Adams Transcript in 2003. I was approached by someone who had tried to start a music festival for North Adams. This person and others had come up with a plan, organized the festival and gotten major sponsorship and all that was left was to get the support of the corner office.
According to my source, the exact opposite happened. They were told by the mayor at the time he would not allow a music festival to take place in North Adams and there would be no further discussion. Like everything else at the time and years to follow, most of this was played out in in-person meetings and phone calls with no helpful paper trails to use for reporting. And what was the story anyhow? "Mayor prevents music festival from starting in North Adams." At the time, I'm not sure many people would have cared. The schools were bad and downtown was nearly a ghost town. Who could blame them for not caring?
But 13 years later, I see the influx of people, I see the publicity FreshGrass has garnered around the country. I hear Dwight Yoakum performing down the street from me on Saturday night and hear the approval of the audience.
Then I think about Solid Sound and how, between the two music festivals, thousands of people who never would have stepped foot in North Adams have. Because of these, North Adams isn't just some place they stop on the way to somewhere else, it's a destination, a place that they now equate with a good thing in their lives. That's powerful. That builds a lot of good will beyond our borders that advertising cannot. And it might not be this way if we still had leadership that opposed music festivals. That's the definition of backwards thinking.
Of all the columns I have written in the Eagle, I have never received so many responses as for my Aug. 17 column about former North Adams mayor John Barrett III. It struck a chord with a lot of people. I have never been thanked by so many people for writing something. I have never been approached by so many people with their own stories illustrating what I spoke about. I have never had so many people begging me to tell their stories for them, but also insisting that they remain anonymous because they are fearful of reprisal.
But despite all the requests, I can't tell your stories. I can only tell mine. The best achievement of the Alcombright years, as I said, has been to set a new tone of not only approachability but openness and the idea that you can be critical without fear. Any mayor to follow him will have to accept the same dynamic. Whispering your fears to me and hoping I will speak for you is against the spirit of that.
It's also part of the North Adams' tendency towards paternalism, which the former mayor relies on and which it has to get past. No one person will save North Adams. I believe part of opposition to Alcombright is directly related to his lack of forceful paternalism, something many of us do see as a positive.
You need to embrace your own stories in public, group together telling them, understand that numbers combined with honesty equals power.
A columnist in a newspaper cannot make that big a change. Only you, the citizens, can do that, using the power you already wield and always have.
John Seven, a writer, lives in North Adams. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at vknid.com.
Bill Donovan: “North Adams needs more from MoCA”
By Bill Donovan, Op-Ed, The Berkshire Eagle, January 30, 2016
NORTH ADAMS - The opening of Mass MoCA nearly 17 years ago is perhaps one of the most significant economic development projects in Northern Berkshire in the last 50 years. It was the beginning of what was referred to as the creative economy in the county. Art and culture was now economic development and job creation.
Under the leadership of Joe Thompson, Mass MoCA has exceeded just about everyone's expectations as it continues to expand its programs and receive acclaim in the international art community. Despite that, Mass MoCA's success of late has not translated into helping the North Adams economy.
Mass MoCA at first did have a positive impact on the city's economy. Millions of dollars in private sector investment was made in North Adams. The Porches Inn, a $5 million, opened. Apartments in downtown were being converted into condominiums, some selling for more than $300,000, and five new restaurants opened in the downtown. MCLA developed a fine arts program and was growing as a result of Mass MoCA and a new college president.
NO HELP TO DOWNTOWN
However, things changed, especially during the past five years when someone decided North Adams needed a new brand. Hundreds of thousands were spent on studies while the North Adams economy was spiraling downhill. Most evident was economic decline in the downtown, which just five years ago had been showing such promise when the Mohawk Theater saw a $3 million investment along with a renovated marquee. Today many businesses have closed, their space empty, and even the Mohawk marquee is no longer lit as it once was.
As exciting a cultural venue as Mass MoCA is, it has done nothing to revive North Adams' downtown. Mass MoCA has actually become an energetic competitor against growth in the downtown as it raids downtown businesses in order to fill its own commercial space. That's good news for the museum, but bad news for North Adams and the downtown.
It was more than five years ago when Mayor Richard Alcombright approved the museum's leasing space to the Social Security office, which had always been on Main Street. Former Mayor John Barrett III opposed the moving of Social Security to Mass MoCA as he believed it would negatively impact the downtown.
I was on the North Adams City Council when Barrett explained his position. Despite knowing that the office would help Mass MoCA financially, he felt it would be a greater detriment to the downtown because losing the foot traffic on Main Street could be the difference for some businesses surviving or closing their doors. When the Social Security offices moved, 70 percent of the commercial property on Main Street was filled. Today commercial property in the downtown is closer to being 70 percent empty.
There is no question Mass MoCA is important to the North Adams economy as without it things would be much worse. The problem is that it has become the city's entire economy and that is not good for either Mass MoCA or North Adams. The city needs a vision and plan which will benefit both Mass MoCA and North Adams. North Adams needs to have a say in its future and not have that future determined by people who don't live there.
Since the inception of Mass MoCA, more than $60 million in public money has been invested in the museum. There has also been significant private sector money invested to match a portion of the public money. In the last five years there has been little in the way of laying out real money from those who wanted public assistance for their projects.
Those with close ties to Mass MoCA didn't close the deal to privatize Heritage Park despite getting significant tax incentives. They even got a concession so they wouldn't have to pay the agreed upon $750,000 lease. The Greylock Mill is looking for significant tax breaks in addition to state and federal grants. The Redwood Motel developers were given a sweetheart deal on the easement they purchased from the city without any commitment as to what the land would be used for. Developers have responsibilities and North Adams shouldn't be used as someone's playground.
PART OF, NOT JUST IN
I was on the City Council when things didn't look too good for Mass MoCA. The entire city came together to fight for Mass MoCA and because of them it happened. Many new to the area have no idea how it came together. Mass MoCA and North Adams have to return to the days when they were synonymous with one another. As former Mayor Barrett always said, "MoCA can't just be in North Adams, it has to be part of North Adams."
The millions of public tax dollars given to Mass MoCA weren't intended only to make it an arts showcase, or a concert hall, or a nice place to do business. They were given to Mass MoCA so it could help save North Adams. It's time for local and state political leadership to start asking Mass MoCA some tough questions and demanding more bang for the taxpayers' buck.
Bill Donovan is an occasional Eagle contributor.
Former North Adams Mayor John Barrett III has been appointed to the MCLA board of trustees. (Eagle file)
“Governor appoints John Barrett III to MCLA board of trustees”
By Adam Shanks, The Berkshire Eagle, 4/13/2016
NORTH ADAMS - Former North Adams Mayor John Barrett III will assume a new role in local leadership.
Barrett has been appointed by the governor to serve on the board of trustees at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, according to a release issued Wednesday by the office of Gov. Charlie Baker.
"I'm honored by it; it's my alma mater, and it's where I started my political career as student president," Barrett said. "I'm anxious to help the school in any way possible."
The former mayor was one of several appointees to public college boards announced by Baker. Current MCLA Trustee Susan Gold was reappointed to her post.
"We are fortunate to benefit from the dedication and expertise of Susan Gold, who served as co-chairwoman of two presidential search committees. Her willingness to commit to this critical position speaks to her deep dedication to MCLA, and I am grateful for her service," MCLA President James Birge said in a statement. "In addition, as one of the first political leaders in the nation to recognize the importance of the arts as an economic development tool, John Barrett will be a valuable addition to the board."
Barrett, a Democrat who served 13 terms as mayor from 1984 to 2009, publicly endorsed and campaigned for Baker, a Republican, in his 2015 gubernatorial bid against Attorney General and North Adams native Martha Coakley.
"Lieutenant Gov. [Karyn] Polito and I congratulate the trustees on their new roles and thank them for their willingness to step forward and serve the commonwealth," Baker said. "Board oversight is critically important, and we rely on their expertise and leadership to be strong stewards of our institutions of higher education."
Baker and Barrett's relationship dates back some 20 years, when the now-governor served as secretary of administration and finance Gov. William Weld in the 1990s. Barrett described Baker as a "key player" in the establishment of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art.
In addition to the being the city's former mayor, Barrett also noted he's been a resident of the neighborhood for 40 years and been a long proponent of the college.
Barrett said he did not seek the appointment, but was asked by Polito to serve.
Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376. email@example.com @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter.
Bill Donovan: “Our region isn't sharing state's overall success”
By Bill Donovan, Op-Ed, The Berkshire Eagle, March 6, 2017
ADAMS — U.S. News and World Report recently ranked Massachusetts the No. 1 state in the nation. The online magazine, which ranks almost every aspect of American life (usnews.com/rankings), also ranks Massachusetts' major metropolitan areas. Boston (8) , Worcester (54) and Springfield (67) are ranked among the top 100 locations to live in the country.
It's debatable whether or not the rankings have any statistical validity, but it's probably safe to say they represent the most commonly held opinions among a wide and fairly representative group of people.
So it can be assumed a large group of people think Massachusetts, and especially its three large metropolitan centers, are great places to live. The rankings mentioned education and health care as being strong points. It's probably also safe to say that people would not share such a positive opinion of our state and its cities without a correspondingly positive opinion of the economic opportunities they offer.
While it's nice to hear that our state and its major cities are so well regarded, the question that immediately comes to mind is what happened to us? If the rest of the state is doing so wonderfully, why is Western Mass., especially Northwestern Mass., trapped in this terrible cycle of population decline, poverty and widespread drug addiction?
First and foremost is the lack of good jobs. Our jobs left when our major employers, General Electric in Pittsfield and Sprague Electric in North Adams, left. The terrible aftershocks of thousands of good middle class jobs evaporating almost overnight continue to reverberate throughout every aspect of Northern Berkshire life. Another reason we struggle so forcefully, and it's a direct result of the vanishing job market, is population decline.
North Adams and Adams are especially hard hit by a population count that's dropping like a rock. The population that hasn't moved out or is planning to move out is comprised of the wealthy and well-off, the few of us who still are fortunate enough to have decent jobs, and a growing group of the economically challenged and struggling.
Real solutions needed
The middle class in much of Northern Berkshire, the group that buys homes and cars and a wide range of consumer goods that used to keep this area's economy chirping, is shrinking and shrinking rapidly. And the economically challenged group which is filling the void is furiously struggling with all of the social problems associated with being broke and without opportunity, chief among those problems a raging heroin and opioid addiction crisis.
A fair question to ask, then, is how can a big part of the rest of our state be doing so well as to be nationally ranked and recognized for its success, while we struggle so desperately with such overwhelming issues?
Why aren't there real solutions being offered to these problems that are choking the life out of us while the rest of the state is enjoying a banquet?
The most honest answer begins and ends with our political leadership. We need lions, not cheerleaders. We need political leaders who are willing to go to war with our state and federal legislators in Springfield, Boston and Washington. Gov. Baker should be suffering migraine headaches from the phone calls, letters and public demands from our local and state officials. Congressman Neal seems like a nice guy, but he shouldn't be able to open a newspaper or sit through an interview without being confronted with bold, angry challenges from our Western Massachusetts officials. Even Sens. Markey and Warren should be constantly prodded and poked to do something concrete for Western Massachusetts.
The solutions which have been trotted out in recent years to resuscitate our critical-condition economy here in Western Massachusetts have all come up short. There is no better example than the perpetual dance around the Greylock Glen. While Adams and Cheshire bitterly argue over which community will have to close an elementary school we can no longer afford, we're told that economic salvation for our community lies in a hobbit-themed campground.
We don't need any more campgrounds, hobbit-themed or otherwise. We don't need any more master plans. We don't need any more studies.
We don't need any more half-baked schemes and drawn-out, endlessly planned proposals that are draped in all the right window dressing and buzz words of "tourism" and "the arts" and "long-range economic development."
We need good jobs, and we need them now.
Bill Donovan is an occasional Eagle contributor.
Letter: “Visitors are critical to North Berkshire economy”
The Berkshire Eagle, March 15, 2017
To the editor:
Here's a few things for Bill Donovan ("No argument made for scenic rail funds," op-ed, March 13) and others to think about.
The global economy we had in 1950 is gone. GE is gone and so is Sprague. None of this is North Adams Mayor Alcombright's fault. Do people really think that there are big companies wanting to build businesses here in Northern Berkshire and Mayor Alcombright is telling them to go somewhere else?
Mr. Donovan writes, "We need good jobs and we need them now," so why doesn't he start a business and hire someone instead of complaining? He decries building "campgrounds" and other visitor attractions. Here is some interesting information for him.
My wife and I rent out a small apartment in Adams to tourists and vacationers. Since June 2015, we have had roughly 125 parties stay with us for over 175 nights. That is over 300 people who have come here with 80 percent never having visited the Berkshires before. We have had folks from all over the U.S. plus many foreign countries.
Aside from the all around beauty of the Berkshires, the primary reasons these people have told me they are visiting Northern Berkshire are — guess what, Mr. Donovan — Mount Greylock and Mass MoCA. These guests have nothing but good things to say about our area and they all spent money here.
So if people want to come stay in a hobbit hole at Greylock Glen, eat in local restaurants, buy local gas, pay admission to local cultural institutions, rent bicycles to ride on the rail trail, have an ice cream, etc., I say the more the merrier.
- Jonathan Melle
- Amherst, NH, United States
- I am a citizen defending the people against corrupt Pols who only serve their Corporate Elite masters, not the people! / My 2 political enemies are Andrea F. Nuciforo, Jr., nicknamed "Luciforo" and former Berkshire County Sheriff Carmen C. Massimiano, Jr. / I have also pasted many of my political essays on "The Berkshire Blog": berkshireeagle.blogspot.com / I AM THE ANTI-FRANK GUINTA! / Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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