Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

January 30, 2012

Only 1,318 Ballots To Go – Jan 30, 2012 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,Cambridge government,City Council,elections — Tags: , , , , , — Robert Winters @ 2:10 am

Only 1,318 Ballots To Go – Jan 30, 2012 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Though not the longest of agendas, there are a few hot items that could provoke either some interesting debate or a hasty exercise of the Charter Right. There’s also the unresolved matter of electing the Chair of the City Council, i.e. the Mayor. Here are the items that drew my interest this week:

Manager’s Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to a draft amendment to the GLBT Ordinance increasing the maximum number of commissioners from fifteen to twenty.

Often it’s been the case that City boards and commissions draw too few (acceptable) candidates, but in this case the GLBT folks received enough good applicants that they felt an ordinance change was warranted to increase the number of members on this advisory committee. It’s always good to see a growth in civic interest. More people should apply for City boards and commissions.

Manager’s Agenda #2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 – Various grant-funded appropriations to the Dept. of Human Service Programs.

These items tend to come in bunches and are often not highlighted because the City of Cambridge has become so routinely successful in securing these grants and supporting these programs. We really do have some great people working for our Department of Human Services Programs under the leadership of Asst. City Manager Ellen Semonoff.

Manager’s Agenda #9. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of a Grant from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection for $67,000 to the Public Works Grant Fund Salaries and Wages account ($22,590) and to the Public Works Other Ordinary Maintenance account ($44,410) to research, plan and possibly implement a Pilot Curbside Food Scraps Collection Program for Residents to be accomplished in two phases.

This is one of those Back to the Future things. As many of you know, Cambridge once had citywide food waste (garbage) collection where the old "honey wagon" would make the rounds collecting the buckets from back yards all around the city with the collected material destined for pig slop or other uses. The concrete-lined, steel-capped pits from those days can still be found in many Cambridge yards. The piggery days are long gone, but the wisdom of recycling organic waste for composting (and greenhouse gas reduction) remains. This is an undoubtedly good initiative to consider, though its economic viability remains unclear. A pilot program, if feasible, would be a welcome start. That said, many of us have been composting most of our kitchen and yard waste in our back yards for many years and will continue to do so.

Manager’s Agenda #10. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the authorization to borrow an amount not to exceed $36,800,000 for the purpose of refinancing existing General Obligation Bonds to acquire lower interest rates than those currently being paid.

Louis DePasquale and the Finance Department are always on the job getting the best deals for taxpayers. It almost makes you want to forgive Louis for being a life-long avid Yankees fan.

On The Table #1 and #2 – The curb cuts at 37 Lancaster St. (#1) and at 9 Wyman St. (#2).

I imagine both of these curb cuts will be approved either at this meeting or pretty soon, but these applications (as well as our never-ending stream of zoning petitions) do serve to highlight the degree to which residential and commercial development proposals bring out the passions of abutters and others living near to these developments. It’s often not the curb cut itself that sets people off, but rather the belief that the developers are pulling a fast one and have not been entirely honest about their ultimate intentions. For example, in the case of the Wyman Street curb cut, there is a belief that ultimately this mammoth single-family structure that claims the need for entries on two different streets will one day become something entirely different. In truth, abutting residents and city councillors have very limited tools for influencing most projects, and zoning is often a very blunt instrument.

Unfinished Business #3 – The Election of a Mayor.

It’s possible that the City Council could resolve this before February, but if neither of the two 3-vote candidates (Cheung and Decker) or those who are supporting them relent, this could go on for many more weeks. Ultimately, if this drags on too long, those councillors who are committed to neither of these candidates could peel off a couple of votes from one or both of them to elect someone else. Several days ago I discovered a series of Harvard Crimson writings from The Great Mayoral Marathon of 1948 in which it took 4 months, 35 sessions, and 1,321 ballots before the City Council managed to assemble 5 votes to elect Mayor Michael J. Neville. The Crimson writers gave very entertaining accounts of the marathon. You can read them at http://cambridgecivic.com/?p=1796. If there is a mayoral vote at this meeting, the results will be posted at http://cambridgecivic.com/?p=1750.

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to contact Sagewell, Inc. with the view in mind of providing a city-wide thermal analysis to Cambridge residents and report back to the Council within two weeks in time for an early winter 2012 thermal scan.   Councillor vanBeuzekom, Councillor Cheung and Councillor Davis

This is a welcome Order. When the Cambridge Energy Alliance was established a few years ago amid lots of fanfare, there was plenty of discussion about how to best advise and assist residential and commercial property owners in order to move toward the goal of a far more energy-efficient city. Perhaps the early excitement can be revived if more effort goes into showing where the improvements are most needed and just how much money there is to be saved.

Order #4. That the Acting Chair of the City Council is requested to appoint a temporary committee of three Council members to start the process of searching for and hiring a replacement City Clerk.   Councillor Kelley

Order #5. That the Acting Chair of the City Council is requested to appoint a temporary committee of three City Council members to start the process of setting up a City Council review of the City Manager and to start the discussion with the City Manager of his intentions.   Councillor Kelley

Order #6. That the City Clerk and Deputy City Clerk develop an interim plan for the City Council as it relates to the retirement of the City Clerk; such plan to include whatever reassignment of duties and responsibilities are required to carry out the operations of the City Clerk’s Office during this interim period.   Councillor Maher

These three Orders deserve comment as a group in that they concern two of the three people appointed by the City Council under the Plan E Charter, namely the City Clerk and the City Manager (the other being the City Auditor). Insofar as City Council subcommittees should be undertaking the responsibilities outlined in Councillor Kelley’s Orders #4 and #5, perhaps this is the best argument for why this City Council should elect an actual Mayor with the authority to appoint these committees. Normally, this would fall to the Government Operations & Rules Committee.

Regarding Order #5, the City Manager’s contract stipulates that "In the event written notice is not given, by either party to this agreement to the other six months prior to the termination date as hereinabove provided, this agreement shall extend on the terms and conditions as herein provided for a period of one year." Since the termination date of the current contract is September 30, 2012, this means that the City Council and the City Manager have until the end of March to make their intentions known. Since Councillor Kelley is the only councillor who voted against the Manager’s contract in 2009 (and voted Present on the previous 2006 contract), it seems somewhat aggressive that he should be the one proposing the procedures now.

Councillor Maher’s Order #6 is more constructive. City Clerk D. Margaret Drury has announced that her last day at work will be February 29 – just one month from now. The smooth operation of the City Clerk’s Office is vital for residents and for the City Council and, as Councillor Maher points out, Deputy City Clerk Donna Lopez has 42 years of experience working in the City Clerk’s Office. This Order would appoint Donna Lopez as Interim City Clerk of Cambridge, effective March 1, 2012. It is hard to imagine any councillor objecting to this Order, except possibly for the purpose of removing the term "Interim" from the title.

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Assistant City Manager of Community Development and report back with recommendation on zoning changes for the Sullivan Courthouse and neighboring parcels.   Councillor Toomey

As many have pointed out, if the former use of that building had not been as a courthouse, it is unlikely that it would have been built at its current height. Several city councillors have suggested that there be a reduction in the height if and when the building is redeveloped or replaced, and some of these ideas are included in the Order. One could argue that Councillor Toomey’s Order does not go far enough in specifying to CDD what zoning changes might be most appropriate. If, upon analysis, the CDD finds the specifications to be economically unsound, they presumably would recommend compromise zoning language.

Order #8. City Council support of Senate Bill S.772 which expresses the desire for the United States Congress to draft a Constitutional Amendment in response to the Citizens United decision.   Councillor Cheung and Councillor Decker

I’ve had numerous conversations recently about this court decision and all of the money that has flowed into political advertisement as a consequence of the decision. The campaign to amend the U.S. Constitution to reverse the effects of the decision seems to be based on the underlying belief that most voters are idiots. That is, when subjected to misleading mass media political advertising, they will simply accept as fact whatever rubbish is broadcast. They must therefore be prevented from such bad influence, and if it takes a constitutional amendment to do this, then so be it.

Maybe voters are not predominantly idiots. Perhaps, as these well-funded rubbish campaigns become more common, voters will develop the ability to tell the difference between fact and fiction, and the more millions that are spent, the more these advertisements will be seen as entertainment rather than information. Needless to say, many people are now getting their information, whether accurate or not, from a dizzying array of web sources most of which are not affected in any way by the Citizens United decision. Personally, I’m more concerned by threats to regulate speech on the web than I am by the ability of corporations to advertise political rubbish.

Communications and Reports #1. A communication was received from Councillor Craig A. Kelley, regarding the subject of the late resolutions not being read.

In principle, I have to agree with Councillor Kelley on this one. The full text of ceremonial resolutions is not now publicly available but, for goodness sake, if you are going to pass a death resolution when somebody dies, you should at least have the courtesy to read the person’s name. Personally, though I don’t see the need to print the full text of ceremonial resolutions, it should be publicly available on the City web site. – Robert Winters

January 27, 2012

Harvard Crimson Archive – The Great Cambridge Mayoral Marathon of 1948

Filed under: Cambridge,Cambridge government,City Council — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 2:24 pm

The Harvard Crimson has a searchable archive that can’t be beat. With the current comedy of the unresolved Cambridge mayoral election, I thought it might be worth looking at some of the accounts of the Marathon of 1948 when it took four months, 35 sessions, and 1,321 ballots before finally electing Michael J. Neville as Mayor. There are a few archiving errors here and there, some of which I’ve edited, but you’ll get the picture. Links to all of the Crimson articles are provided. – Robert Winters


Smash Hit
Published: Friday, January 16, 1948
http://www.thecrimson.com/article/1948/1/16/smash-hit-pa-few-blocks-down/

A few blocks down Massachusetts Avenue one of the best farces to be produced in many years is showing nightly before a packed house. Opening night at the show was not the sensation that one might expect, for at the time there was no indication that the play would have such a run. It has already put ten performances behind it and threatens to continue indefinitely.

There is no real lead in the play. Top roles are shared by nine men, all of whom happen to be members of the Cambridge City Council. Their acting is well nigh flawless. The plot is centered around the futile and ludicrous efforts of a City Council to elect a mayor from among the members of the Council. To date they have held 319 ballots, and no one has been chosen, though at a point early in the balloting one of the actors had four votes and needed only his own to make him mayor of the city. Fortunately he was too modest to vote for himself. That would have spoiled the whole performance.

There have been some charges that the entire plot was lifted from one of the early Mack Sennett comedies. The good boys (stamped by the CCA) are battling the bad boys (Micky Sullivan’s cohorts). But the good boys can’t agree upon a plan of action, so they are thwarted at every turn. Eventually, just when it seems sure that the bad boys have won the day, they will be confused by some daring stratagem, and virtue will reign triumphant–maybe.

The final touch of irony is added by the fact that even if someone does eventually get elected mayor, it will be a hollow victory. For Cambridge has a City Manager type of government, commonly known in Massachusetts as Plan E. The Manager is the person who really runs the city; the mayor glories in his title and draws down an extra thousand shekels a year.

Promoters in other cities have been watching the production with great interest. Perhaps they plan to institute similar productions all over the country. And well they might. An election marathon has infinitely greater possibilities than six day bicycle racing. It is a much funnier and far less tiring form of indoor sport.


Divide and Flounder
Published: Monday, February 16, 1948
http://www.thecrimson.com/article/1948/2/16/divide-and-flounder-pon-january-5th/

On January 5th, nine ambitious men gathered at City Hall to elect a Mayor of Cambridge. Today, seven weeks and 841 futile ballots later, the City Council is still unable to decide which one among them shall serve as the chief executive. The filibuster has seen the Council Chamber criss-crossed by vicious political tracers, it has turned simple ambition into bitter perversity, and has delayed vital legislation. Resulting from a hopelessly disorganized political system and a calculated smear campaign by a few professional politicians, the lengthy stalemate can only give the Councilmen enough rope to hang themselves and possibly the city along with them.

The fact that a deadlock has been allowed to drag on for seven dreary weeks is an eloquent commentary on the current state of Cambridge politics. Although elections are fought on a broad reform and anti-reform basis, there is a complete absence of party discipline among members of the same faction. Each man views his legislative duties in the light of his personal ambitions and thus obviates any hope for concerted action. The returns from the November election gave the backers of Managerial government and proportional representation a clear cut majority of five men on the City Council. It should have been a simple matter to elect a Mayor by a majority vote. The reformists, all backed by the Cambridge Civic Association, promptly developed a schism and gummed the work. Former Mayor John D. Lynch claims a supernatural mandate from the people. His dearest friend, Hyman Pill, has cast 841 votes for the man with a mandate. Messrs. Deguglielmo, Crane, and Swan, also of the CCA, dislike and distrust Lynch and have split their three votes among themselves. These men are the backers of Plan E. They are responsible for its continuing success in a city that still wants to be shown. If, through personal ambition and mutual dislike, they discredit that most excellent plan, one can only guess to what depths their I.Q. has plummeted.

What was originally a worthless minority of four anti-Plan E votes on the City Council now looms as the strongest group. The unexpected fratricide among reformists has proved a strategic godsend to the men intent on discrediting Plan E and proportional representation in the eyes of the electorate. PR forces a candidate before the entire city for re-election instead of allowing him the relative security of a small well-organized Ward. Such a plan constitutes a direct menace to professional politicos like Sullivan, Foley, Sennott, and Neville. Their political futures demand an inoperative government and a continuing stalemate. Although these men have had it within their power to elect one of themselves Mayor several times they have always split their vote. At one point Neville, having three anti-reform votes, received an unexpected CCA ballot. Mickey (the dude) Sullivan was last to vote and cast a ballot for John D, Lynch, one of his bitter political enemies. There was no Mayor elected that day. As long as the opposing factions in the reform camp insist on feuding, these men will be able to extend the filibuster indefinitely.

All improvements, budgets, and vacancies come under the jurisdiction of a School Committee headed by the Mayor. If there is no Mayor, the committee cannot function and any successful operation of the schools becomes impossible. Cambridge’s educational program, recently the target of a lengthy report by Professor Simpson, is badly antiquated and desperately in need of overhauling. Any such revision of the school program can come only from the School Committee and for this reason alone the election of a Mayor is a matter that should be placed outside the realm of petty politics. Along with the general loss of prestige for Plan E, a more specific evil of this senseless stalemate is its crippling effect on the city’s school system.


Mickey’s Minstrels Carry On To Snap Long-Run Records
Published: Tuesday, February 17, 1948
http://www.thecrimson.com/article/1948/2/17/mickeys-minstrels-carry-on-to-snap/

Cambridge’s legislative carnival is now rocketing into its seventh fun-packed week and still no Mayor. With 841 sterile ballots to their credit since January 5th, the nine-man City Council is eagerly looking forward to the thousand mark, at which time, it is reported, each member will receive a complimentary copy of "Laughing Gas" by Dr. O. H. Schneiderman, anesthetist at Bregman Memorial Hospital.

Early rumors that a conscience-stricken Councilman would attempt to break the filibuster were squelched by an ugly counter-rumor that he wouldn’t.


1,220 Ballots, Yet Mayor’s Job Open
Published: Saturday, March 13, 1948
http://www.thecrimson.com/article/1948/3/13/1220-ballots-yet-mayors-job-open/

Ballot number 1,220 was cast last night in another futile attempt to elect a mayor for Cambridge.

Filing into the meeting 45 minutes late, the city’s nine uncompromising council-members didn’t once give the impression that they might accomplish anything. Even the clock on the council chamber wall was slow.

A crowd of 75 soda-drinking and candy-munching spectators heard Hyman Pill vote for himself 15 times, thereby preventing any majority vote.

To the observer, it was like one big poker game, with members of three determined cliques bluffing each other to see how long each would last out the game. Clouds of smoke thickened in the room, but the plot still looked clear. Cambridge would stay without a mayor.


Appointed Mayor May Halt City’s Election Comedy
Published: Saturday, April 24, 1948
http://www.thecrimson.com/article/1948/4/24/appointed-mayor-may-halt-citys-election/

Governor Bradford may soon confiscate the script of Cambridge’s most popular comedians.

He threatens to name City Clerk Frederick H. Burke to the long-disputed mayor’s post, and thereby put an end to the fruitless voting sessions that one gallery observer called "the most ludicrous burlesque I ever saw."

Although 1803 ballots have been cast since January 5, no mayor has been selected in the 34 voting sessions. Interspersed between each ballot, the council-men have slipped eggs in each other’s pockets, joked loudly, and even refused to swing the tide by voting for themselves. Hundreds of Cambridge citizens have come to the sessions, and have laughed, jeered, and insulted the actors on the councilroom stage. "Ridiculous," they ruefully admit between sips of lemonade.

No Signs in Cambridge
Not one new sign has been hung in Cambridge this year as one result of the lack of a mayor, for his signature is needed on every permit for a new bill-board or shingle. "No mayor, no sign," exasperated storekeepers explain.

But despite the apparent necessity of a mayor, local citizens won’t be entirely happy even when this long-awaited figurehead finally gets in the City Hall. If Governor Bradford appoints the city clerk to the post, and lets the Council play around with its fruitless elections on its own time, Cambridge will loose its most recently discovered amusement center–the council chamber on the second floor of City Hall.

Any such action from Beacon Hill would set a political precedent, but what is even more important, it would at last give Cambridge a man down at City Hall with enough power and prestige to issue okays for the newly painted shingles that must now stay inside its stores.


Mayor’s Nest
Published: Thursday, April 29, 1948
http://www.thecrimson.com/article/1948/4/29/mayors-nest-pafter-1312-ballots-and/

After 1,321 ballots and countless pocketed raw eggs, the Cambridge City Council has reached the end of the road. It was a long road and often a comic one, but last Friday the councilmen met for the thirty-sixth time and decided not to vote again. They didn’t have to, for they had finally elected a mayor.

How the group arrived at this unprecedented decision is still unclear. Since January 5, each councilman found his own desires stronger than the theoretical interest of the group; though there was no crucial issue keeping the factions apart, no candidate garnered a majority. A major attempt to force a compromise and end the haggling failed in February, but virtually the same plan succeeded last Friday when five votes seated Michael Neville. Regardless of whether the elusive majority materialized with the Spring, or whether it stemmed from Governor Bradford’s edict to produce or else, the shouting is over and the Mayor’s chair is filled.

Filling the vacancy won’t exactly clear up confusion for there was little confusion to begin with. The Cambridge City Manager attended to all routine chores during the interregnum–only the School Committee was held inactive. Now that Mr. Neville is elected, the School Committee can roam at will, and signs can once more be posted bearing the mayor’s signature. Only one questions remains: do these advantages really compensate for the loss of the famed Councilmen capers? Mayors are good to have, but vaudeville is priceless.

January 23, 2012

Will there be a Mayor? – Jan 23, 2012 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Filed under: City Council — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 1:51 am

Will there be a Mayor? – Jan 23, 2012 Cambridge City Council Agenda

In addition to the regular items on the meeting agenda, there’s still the lingering question of whether this City Council plans to elect a mayor this term. The results of the first two ballots may or may not be meaningful – it all depends upon whether the two who amassed 3 votes each last time (Cheung, Decker) can ever make it to 5 votes. If not, eventually the votes will find their way to a candidate who has majority acceptability, and that may not be either of the two current frontrunners. The relevant agenda item is Unfinished Business #3. The votes taken will continue to be recorded here: http://cambridgecivic.com/?p=1750. Feel free to comment.

Fundamentally, this matters more to the councillors than it does to the residents of the city. It really only determines who gets to appoint the committees, chair the meetings, get a paycheck bonus, and have the privilege of planning a few senior picnics. The one exception is that the mayor becomes the 7th voting member and Chair of the School Committee, and this is potentially consequential in that they are right now making decisions about the new upper school structure (Innovation Agenda). It would be nice if the person elected as Mayor actually believes in and is willing to act in support of academic excellence. [Ref.: Cambridge Public Schools Academic Challenge Plan]

There’s one other potential consequence of this mayoral election. If the choice of mayor causes many Cambridge residents to shake their heads in disbelief, this could lead some to seek a change in the Charter to have a popularly elected mayor (which would continue to be more ceremonial than substantial) or perhaps even more fundamental Charter change (along with the inevitable unintended consequences). On the other hand, civic interest is currently so dreadfully low that it’s hard to imagine any person or group having enough interest to carry out such a campaign. In any case, it would be a mistake to blame the system for the failings of the people we elect.

It’s interesting that Resolution #22 (sponsored by 8 councillors) offers congratulations to Councillor Henrietta Davis on being named Chair of the National League of Cities International Council. Meanwhile, back in Cambridge, none of these 8 councillors seem willing to vote for Davis as mayor.

There are several energy/environment Orders on this agenda:

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to devise and implement a system for annually reporting the energy use of each municipal building, including schools and buildings leased by the city, and to communicate this information to the public by making it available on the city website and through other means such as displays in building lobbies and city publications.   Councillor Davis and Councillor vanBeuzekom

Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to designate a committee to include the City’s Assistant City Manager for Fiscal Affairs, to analyze various scenarios for installation of renewable energy facilities for city buildings.   Councillor Davis

Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to revisit instituting a ban on plastic bags from retail institutions.   Councillor Decker and Councillor vanBeuzekom

Order #11. That this City Council go on record requesting that Cambridge go "coal-free" in an effort to combat the negative effects such energy has on health, economics and social justice.   Councillor Decker and Councillor vanBeuzekom

Councillor vanBeuzekom is wasting no time promoting some of the things that really matter to her, and the combination of her and Councillor Davis should keep these issues in the forefront for the next two years. In Order #10, most of the emphasis is on pollution, but there is an even more basic reason for dissuading people from using plastic bags. They inevitably make their way into the single-stream recycling containers (even though it’s against the rules) and they foul up the machinery at the Charlestown processing plant. However, banning Cambridge retailers from using plastic bags is not a particularly great strategy when so many of us do our shopping in Somerville and elsewhere. Rules governing product packaging and recycling have to be regional or statewide to be effective.

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on how the City of Cambridge promotes and enforces the Cambridge Employment Plan.   Councillor Toomey

It’s worth reading this plan that dates primarily to 1984 and 1990. Councillor Toomey’s focus seems to be on hiring Cambridge residents for construction projects. It’s interesting that a proposed ordinance change in 2008 in response to threatened litigation would have relaxed portions of the Ordinance relating to the hiring of Cambridge residents, but the matter was placed on file without action.

Order #12. That this City Council go on record strongly suggesting that Equity World only work with companies that do meet community standards and to provide further information regarding why they chose to work with a company that does not.   Councillor Decker

Yet another Order filed on behalf of the labor unions. The Order states that a certain contractor has been "accused of fraud, asbestos violations, debarments, apprenticeship issues and DOL issues." It’s interesting that a Council Order should be based on accusations without any reference to whether this contractor has ever been found guilty of any of these accusations.

Order #13. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the Council on how appropriate information pertaining to parking sticker location (how many parking stickers are issued to a street or address) may be made readily available, free of charge and on the City’s website, to the general public or, if that is not possible, what information may be made available and why any limitations on dissemination of such information exists.   Councillor Kelley

Nobody likes competing for on-street parking spaces, but do we really want to categorize buildings and the neighbors who live in them by how many resident stickers are issued for each building?

Order #14. That the City Manager is requested to develop a complete list of all agreements which give continuing benefit to the residents of Cambridge and the mechanism for keeping track of expiration, enforcement or change of ownership.   Councillor vanBeuzekom

This is the kind of thing you might think is already routinely done, but it’s doubtful that it is. It might be a good idea to merge this information with the identification scheme proposed in Order #15 of Aug 1, 2011 (comments here).

Comments?

January 19, 2012

Cambridge Public Schools Academic Challenge Plan

Filed under: School Committee,schools — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 2:00 pm

Jan 17, 2012 – The Cambridge Public Schools Academic Challenge Plan for the new upper schools is now available. You can view it at http://rwinters.com/school/AcademicChallenge2012Jan16.pdf. You may also wish to read the Appendices at http://rwinters.com/school/AcademicChallengeAppendices.pdf.

Personally, I’m primarily interested in the plans for mathematics in the upper schools and the high school, and it’s hard to discern from this plan what exactly will happen. There appears to be a rigidity of thought regarding sticking with "differentiated instruction" without any mention of what might happen if the difference in skills within a classroom turns out to be too great. There can be a breaking point where all the "professional development" in the world cannot yield appropriate instruction for all students. This report indicates only that "the Math Academic Honors option will offer students the choice of selecting honors on a unit-by-unit basis rather than enrolling students in a separate honors course." A quick read seems to suggest that the plan is to merely direct advanced mathematics learners to supplement their education with online options – something that advanced mathematics learners may well be doing regardless of the plans of the Cambridge Public Schools.

The plan will be presented at the January 17 School Committee meeting (starting 6:00pm).

Additional Public Comment will be received at the Tuesday, January 24 School Committee meeting (starting 6:00pm).

The plan will be voted on in early February.

I am very interested to hear what others may have to say about this plan. – Robert Winters

My Follow-Up Comments & Questions (based on the Jan 17 presentation):

1) I would like to hear more details about the "Subject Acceleration Protocol". It sounds almost like an IEP (individualized education program) for advanced learners. What are the possible choices that could be proposed for such students who are several years above grade level?

2) What will happen if the plans for systemwide "differentiated instruction in heterogeneous classrooms" fails to deliver on its promises and the result is primarily chaos and mediocrity? The plan leans heavily on teachers to carry out this plan – and the teachers were barely consulted in the development of the plan. It’s easy to claim that "professional development" can prepare all teachers to carry this out, but the reality may prove otherwise. Is there a backup plan?

3) The Scholars Challenge outlined in the proposal is terribly vague. Much of it sounds like things I thought any school system would already be doing routinely.

4) The Math Honors Option seems somewhat contrived – an acknowledgement that the Cambridge Public Schools must do something with accelerated students while remaining strapped to the mast of its ideology. One School Committee member noted that it’s a very real possibility that there will be two kinds of students – one group who chooses the honors option for every unit where this is permitted and another group who never choose the honors option. The system abhors sorting students by ability, but the students will likely do it on their own (and have no problem doing so).

5) Might there be a conflict between the Math Honors Option and the Subject Acceleration Protocol? I can easily imagine students first choosing the (embedded) honors option and then deciding to seek a more appropriate solution via the Subject Acceleration Protocol. Will acceleration be denied by school staff in order to make the embedded honors option work?

6) How exactly will the Math Honors Option be engineered? Will the Honors students gather in a separate room for these selected units? One School Committee member seemed horrified at the thought – even though this may be the only practical and sensible way to engineer this option. What will happen if there’s a great disparity in the number of students choosing the Honors option? Is there sufficient flexibility in the design to manage this?

7) What will be the protocol for dealing with noncooperative/disruptive students in heterogeneous classrooms? You can talk about beliefs and "habits of scholarship" and "creative environments conducive to learning", but you cannot wish away problematic behavior.

8) What exactly is meant by culturally competent teaching? How does this differ from what teachers do now?

9) Is there a transition plan for students who will be in the 7th or 8th Grade this coming fall? [The new upper schools will consist of Grades 6, 7, and 8.]

10) How does the new plan mesh with the high school curriculum and protocols?

11) Most people will agree that choice of electives and "leveling" of classes becomes appropriate at some point. What is this point? The underlying belief in this Academic Challenge Plan is that such choices are not appropriate at Grades 6, 7, and 8 (and earlier). Is Grade 9 and the beginning of high school the point where student choice becomes permissible?

January 11, 2012

Democratic Primary and Special Election Results: 2nd Suffolk & Middlesex State Senate District

Filed under: elections — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 10:00 am

Democratic Primary Results: 2nd Suffolk & Middlesex State Senate District – Dec 13, 2011

  Belmont Boston Cambridge Watertown Total
Brownsberger 3304 370 1070 215 4959
Hecht 476 181 597 2645 3899
McCarthy 870 602 602 1362 3436
Schofield 196 2061 503 127 2887
Total 4846 3214 2772 4349 15181

Special Election Results: 2nd Suffolk & Middlesex State Senate District – Jan 10, 2012

  Belmont Boston Cambridge Watertown Total
Brownsberger 2416 555 795 806 4572
Write Ins 171 49 26 118 364
Total 2587 604 821 924 4936
Percentage 93% 92% 97% 87% 93%

It is expected that Will Brownsberger will be sworn in as a State Senator on Jan 24, 2012.

Fun Fact: Leland Cheung and Craig Kelley both live in Will Brownsberger’s House district (soon to be vacated when Will ascends to the Senate). Either of them could now run for the vacant House seat in the Special Election that may soon be scheduled. However, when the new House districts go into effect for the next full term, they will both live outside of that district (Cheung and Kelley will be in Hecht’s district). Also, Cheung may not yet have lived long enough at his current address to be eligible.

January 8, 2012

A Clean Slate – Jan 9, 2012 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 11:09 pm

A Clean Slate – Jan 9, 2012 Cambridge City Council Agenda

This is the first regular meeting of the 2012-13 City Council term and, except for a few matters of Unfinished Business, it’s a clean slate. Because the new City Council was unable to elect a mayor at its Inaugural Meeting last week, it is expected that one or more mayoral ballots may occur at this meeting. It’s anyone’s guess whether they will succeed in electing a mayor this time, but there will be no City Council committees appointed until there is a mayor. The relevant agenda item is Unfinished Business #1. In the event that this is decided later in the meeting, I invite my diligent civic friends to report the play-by-play as a comment at http://cambridgecivic.com/?p=1750 at the earliest opportunity.

Resolution #21. Retirement of Robert M. Stevens as Director of Veterans Services for the City of Cambridge.   Councillor Kelley

Bob Stevens is a good man whose company has been enjoyed by all who have worked with him and by many others (including me). Enjoy your retirement!

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to present a plan to offer recycling receptacles in the public realm such as in parks and city squares.   Councillor Davis and Councillor vanBeuzekom

There are now many solar-powered "Big Belly" trash containers in Central Square and elsewhere. Ideally, some of these might be repurposed for single-stream recycling, but the signage would have to be unmistakably clear indicating that only recyclable materials are to be deposited in the containers. This Order references dual purpose solar-powered containers in use in Somerville, but such an additional purchase would likely be a nontrivial additional cost.

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to work with the appropriate departments and report back to the City Council with an opinion on whether the widespread use of rodent resistant trash bags would improve the City’s pest management efforts.   Councillor Cheung

The theory is that some scent or chemical is added to the plastic to deter the rodents. Cambridge rodents are, of course, more intelligent than ordinary rodents and will surely research the matter and gnaw their way toward a solution.

Order #6. That the City Clerk, who is the Parliamentarian of the City Council, is requested to organize a review of Robert Rules of Order beginning with the current Council and every new Council hereafter, with a view towards ensuring transparent, orderly and productive deliberations of the City Council.   Councillor Simmons, Councillor Cheung and Councillor vanBeuzekom

This has been a sore spot for several city councillors – most notably Councillor Simmons and Councillor Kelley. Proper procedure during the regular meetings would be welcome, but it would be even more helpful if the City Council committees could be restored to productive use. With a few exceptions, Council committees have largely become places where the Chair of the committee carries out a pet project or two – hardly a collaborative process. Committee attendance has declined accordingly, and the last City Council had a number of significant resignations from committees. Some committees met rarely, and one committee did not meet at all during the entire Council term. There has also been a proliferation of single-councillor ad-hoc committees (Red, Blue, and Silver Ribbon Committees) that are not subject to any of the rules applicable to regular City Council committees.

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to prepare a home rule petition to delegate the approval of curb cuts and report back to the Council with the necessary legislative language.   Councillor Cheung

This was an early issue from Councillor Decker a decade ago. Delegating the approval of curb cuts seems like a good idea in most instances, but there have been a few significant cases in which the City Council’s authority in this matter has played a role in negotiating a better outcome for neighbors.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a letter from former Mayor and City Councillor David P. Maher, regarding executive session minutes of City Council discussions of the Monteiro case.

Former Mayor Maher has determined that there is no longer a need for these minutes to remain confidential. They go now to the Law Department for review and possible exemptions before public disclosure. Perhaps there will be an interesting twist revealed with this disclosure, but this dead horse has now been beaten beyond recognition. – Robert Winters

January 7, 2012

East Cambridge Community Meeting on status of the Edward Sullivan Courthouse

Filed under: Cambridge,East Cambridge,planning — Tags: — Robert Winters @ 11:53 am

East Cambridge Planning TeamThe East Cambridge Planning Team invites you to a community meeting

Wednesday, January 11, 2012
The East End House
105 Spring Street

7:00-7:15pmAnnouncements (Board)

7:15-8:30pmThe Edward J. Sullivan Courthouse
What to do with it ….
Who is looking at it ….. What do you think they should do
(Joe Rull, Director of Legislative Affairs, Capital Asset Management)

8:30-9:00pmQ & A

The State is trying to sell the Edward Sullivan Courthouse. Please come to hear the Director of Legislative Affairs talk about how the process is going and to hear the thoughts of the community. While some of you are regular members of the East Cambridge Planning Team, we need your help in reaching out to neighbors who do not regularly attend our meetings. This is an important issue for our neighborhood and what happens affects us all.

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