Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

May 30, 2013

Cambridge Delegation Partners with MassDOT to Host Ethanol Train Meetings (June 4-5, 2013)

Filed under: Cambridge,East Cambridge,transportation — Tags: — Robert Winters @ 11:00 pm

The Cambridge legislative delegation invites residents, homeowners, local businesses, and community organizations to join them for two public forums about a plan proposed by Global Partners to transport ethanol through the City of Cambridge using the existing rail system. To facilitate participation, two forums will be held. The first meeting will occur on June 4 at 5:30pm at the King Open School, 850 Cambridge St., Cambridge. The second meeting will take place on June 5 at 6:15pm at Graham and Parks School, 44 Linnaean St., Cambridge.

Representatives from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation will present the findings of their ethanol safety study and answer questions from the public. Following this presentation, elected officials will facilitate an open discussion about the proposed plan and explore opportunities for public involvement.

The meetings will be hosted by the Cambridge legislative delegation, including Representatives Toomey, Decker, Rogers, and Hecht, and Senators Petruccelli, Jehlen, and DiDomenico.

MassDOT’s ethanol safety study and related documents can be found at http://www.massdot.state.ma.us/planning/Main/CurrentStudies/EthanolSafetyStudy.aspx

Any questions regarding the meeting may be directed to Dan Weber at Daniel.Weber@mahouse.gov or (617) 722-2380.

———

Note: Here’s what Congressman Mike Capuano had to say about this in an Apr 26 letter that’s included in the agenda materials for the Monday, June 3 Cambridge City Council meeting:

Congress of the United States
House of Representatives
Michael E. Capuano
7th District, Massachusetts

April 26, 2013

Mayor Henrietta Davis
Cambridge City Hall
795 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02139

Dear Mayor Davis:
I am writing to you in response to recent correspondence I received from the Cambridge City Council regarding a proposal to bring ethanol through several Massachusetts communities by rail. I understand the Council’s concerns and support its efforts to find a safer way to transport ethanol through heavily populated areas.

As you know, my office approaches all issues honestly, even when I expect the response may not be what is hoped for. Therefore, I am compelled to inform the Council it is my understanding that neither federal nor state law seems to provide ways to prevent ethanol from being transported through any community. There are laws and regulations available to ensure safety, but bans on the transport of hazardous materials have not been upheld in court. The Council may know that the Washington DC City Council enacted a ban on hazmat transportation through the city, but it was struck down in federal court. As far as I know, no other city has passed legislation banning the transit of hazardous materials and had the ban stand up in court. Of course, if others can identify alternative paths to judicial success, I stand ready to support them.

I am sure the Council realizes that ethanol is currently transported by rail through many urban, rural and suburban communities all over the country, including in Massachusetts. It is my understanding that the Cambridge Fire department is informed pursuant to state and federal regulation of such transits and is prepared to handle emergencies related to them. I have been informed that any local or state restrictions imposed on rail transportation of hazmat are pre-empted by interstate commerce regulations. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) informs me that they do not have jurisdiction to deny ethanol or other hazardous materials transit and do not have the authority to require the use of certain routes. The FRA does regulate track safety, street crossings, operational requirements and the integrity of tanker cars. I have asked that the FRA carefully review the integrity of the infrastructure that could be used for ethanol transport and I am confident this request will be supported.

It is my understanding that substantial work must be undertaken on the rail line that connects to Global Petroleum’s ethanol facility in Revere. Improvements may also be necessary elsewhere on the routing lines under consideration before they may be used for ethanol trains. I am confident that FRA will only allow ethanol trains on lines that meet FRA safety and operational standards and I will work hard to ensure that this confidence is well placed.

I have also reached out to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the United States Coast Guard (USCG). It is my understanding that EPA does not have a role in allowing or disallowing the transportation of ethanol. TSA informed me that ethanol is not a Rail Security Sensitive Material (RSSM) and therefore TSA does not require additional safety and/or security measures for its transportation. Please note that if ethanol were deemed an RSSM, it is my understanding that TSA still could not prohibit it. Given that the storage facility is along the water, the USCG is required to approve the facility’s security procedures. I have long experience with the Coast Guard and am confident this is a responsibility that the USCG takes very seriously.

While I regret that my initial review of the matter indicates ethanol transport cannot be prohibited, I believe my office can be helpful in other areas. One suggestion would be to have city public safety officials assess the city and region’s preparedness for a release of ethanol. I have read the MassDOT report on ethanol and understand that area fire chiefs believe there is a need for staff training and equipment. My office stands ready to aggressively support any municipal or state effort to access federal funding or seek mitigation. I also strongly support making sure first responders are informed in a timely fashion when ethanol will be transported.

Although I am not optimistic that I can prevent this proposal from being implemented, I will continue doing everything I can to be sure that the interests of our communities are protected. Particularly in the aftermath of the Marathon bombings, I understand the unease you may feel and the desire to make sure that everything possible is done to protect public safety. Please keep my office informed of the Council’s actions and any support I can offer in your endeavors.

Sincerely,
Michael E. Capuano
Member of Congress

May 26, 2013

Voter Turnout by Age – November 2011 vs. November 2012 Cambridge Elections

Filed under: 2011 Election,2012 election,elections — Tags: — Robert Winters @ 11:51 pm

The overall percent voter turnout (including active and inactive registered voters) in the November 2011 municipal election was 26.4%. The overall percent voter turnout in the November 2012 federal election was 71.9%. Turnout always varies considerably by age. The chart below shows the percent turnout by age in four-year increments. The municipal election is in blue and the federal election in maroon.

Voter Turnout 2011 and 2012

Cambridge City Manager to Serve Fellowship at Harvard Kennedy School

Filed under: Cambridge — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 7:29 pm

Cambridge MA — Robert W. Healy, who has served as Cambridge City Manager for the past 32 years and in city government for more than 40 years, has been named a Taubman Fellow at Harvard Kennedy School’s (HKS) Taubman Center for State and Local Government and the Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston, it was announced today by HKS Dean David T. Ellwood. Healy will begin the Fellowship in mid-July after leaving his city government position.

Bob HealyThe Fellowship will allow Healy to work with faculty, scholars and students on a range of academic and research projects and to participate in seminars, workshops and public events. Healy will also teach at the Kennedy School as an adjunct lecturer.

"Bob Healy is an extraordinary public servant who has devoted more than four decades of his life to his hometown. As City Manager, he created and maintained a mutually beneficial partnership between Harvard and Cambridge, bringing people together to identify and support common interests and opportunities. The result is a stronger community for all and a remarkable wealth of insight and expertise that Bob will share with future leaders studying at the Kennedy School of Government," said Drew Faust, President of Harvard University.

"We are pleased that Bob Healy has chosen to join us at the Kennedy School," said Dean Ellwood. "Bob brings knowledge and expertise in so many facets of local governance — from budgeting and housing to education and health care — and we look forward to both learning from and engaging with him."

Healy will be anchored at the Taubman Center, whose mission it is to improve the governance of states, metropolitan areas and cities through research, teaching and public events.

"Local government leaders are dealing with myriad challenges, particularly during these times of budget belt tightening and economic stagnation," said Edward Glaeser, Fred and Eleanor Glimp Professor of Economics and director of the Taubman Center and the Rappaport Institute. "Bob Healy has met and tackled these difficult challenges for decades, allowing the city of Cambridge to grow and prosper, all the while constantly evaluating and improving critical city services to meet the needs of citizens."

Healy was named City Manager in 1981, shortly after Proposition 2 1/2 had been passed and the city’s credit rating was suspended by Wall Street rating agencies. During his tenure the city has seen its financial position improve substantially, and since 1999 Cambridge has been one of only a few dozen cities in the country to earn and maintain three Triple A bond ratings from the three major credit rating agencies. Under Healy’s leadership the city has completed a multi-million dollar sewer and storm water system reconstruction project, renovated virtually all opens spaces in the city, and constructed a new architectural award winning main library and state of the art public safety facility.

"It is a great honor to become part of Harvard Kennedy School and the Taubman Center for State and Local Government," said Healy. "During my over 40 years of municipal administration, I have learned that character and unwavering commitment to professional governance defines great leaders. I am excited to share my many years of practical experience in the creative environment offered at HKS, to inspire and engage our next generation of leaders by fostering the courage, perseverance and dauntlessness necessary to meet the everyday challenges of local governance."

Healy holds a Master’s Degree from UMass, Lowell; and has earned certificates from MIT Sloan School of Management, Urban Executive Program, and from the Kennedy School’s State and Local Executive Program.

This story is taken from a Harvard press release (May 24, 2013).

May 20, 2013

Merry Month of May – Cambridge City Council May 20, 2013 Agenda Highlights

Filed under: Cambridge,Central Square,City Council,cycling,School Committee — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 12:00 am

Merry Month of May – Cambridge City Council May 20, 2013 Agenda Highlights

Amidst the flowering trees and the birds and the bees, springtime also brings the annual City Budget to the peaceful garden of Cambridge. The Big News is that the School Department Budget was not passed by the City Council’s Finance Committee amidst suggestions that important questions asked were not being answered. The 3-4-1-1 vote at the May 9 Budget Hearing [YES – Decker, Maher, Davis; NO – Simmons, Kelley, Cheung, vanBeuzekom; PRESENT – Toomey; ABSENT: Reeves] means that on the night when the final vote on the FY2014 Budget was expected to occur, the largest single component of the budget ($151 million) remains in committee. There appears to be trouble in the garden.

This might have been resolved on May 16 when there was a scheduled meeting of the Finance Committee if necessary, but Finance Committee Chair Marjorie Decker canceled that meeting. Instead of an actual meeting, we’ve been treated to a flurry of letters by city councillors and School Committee members posted here and on the Cambridge Chronicle website. [Mcgovern/Harding (May 13); Davis (May 13); vanBeuzekom (May 14); Cheung (May 14); Decker (May 15); Cheung, Kelley, Reeves, Simmons (May 16 and on this agenda); and Simmons (May 17).] Monday’s meeting agenda is interesting in that there are proposed policy orders that are incompatible. One order calls for the School Committee budget to be released from the Finance Committee and the unresolved issues discussed at a joint Roundtable meeting after the Budget is passed. The other order calls for the Finance Committee Chair to schedule a meeting of the committee before June 3 to resolve these matters prior to the Budget being passed by the City Council. The School Committee is not involved in these votes, but the co-chairs of their Budget Committee, Richard Harding and Marc McGovern, have been quite outspoken in characterizing the City Council’s actions as "reckless."

Here are the agenda items related to the current impasse:

Order #1. That the School Department budget be discharged from the Finance Committee and be referred to the full City Council for adoption at the City Council meeting of May 20, 2013.   Mayor Davis and Councillor Decker

Order #9. That the City Council schedule a Roundtable Meeting on June 10, 2013 at 5:30pm to meet with the School Committee members, the Superintendent of Schools and the School Department as a follow-up meeting to discuss issues raised in the FY14 School Department Budget hearing held on May 9, 2013.   Mayor Davis

Order #17. That the City Council respectfully urges the Chair of the Finance Committee to convene further budget hearings, to allow for additional discussions, with the hope of resolving any outstanding concerns that individual City Councillors may have regarding the FY2014 School Budget.   Vice Mayor Simmons, Councillor Kelley and Councillor Cheung

Communications & Reports from City Officers #2. A communication was received from Councillors Cheung, Kelley, Reeves and Vice Mayor Simmons transmitting a copy of a letter to Mayor Davis regarding the Cambridge School Department budget. [This communication gives a very detailed list of grievances/concerns.]

Communications & Reports from City Officers #3. A communication was received from Jeffrey M. Young, Superintendent of Schools regarding the Cambridge School Department Budget.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #5. A communication was received from Mayor Henrietta Davis regarding the School Budget.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #6. A communication was received from Mayor Henrietta Davis transmitting a copy of a memorandum from Carolyn L. Turk, Deputy Superintendent of Schools regarding Capital Improvements and Corresponding Educational Planning.

Late Communications & Reports from City Officers #7. A communication from Mayor Henrietta Davis regarding the FY2014 School Budget.

Letter from Massachusetts Association of School Committees (written by Glenn Koocher)

It will be interesting to see how this is resolved if, in fact, it is resolved. There has been a lot of talk around town about how the highly-touted Innovation Agenda may not be as rosy in its implementation as it was in its initial presentation. This may not be entirely apparent in the above communications, but the failure to pass the School Department Budget was most likely preceded by many phone calls and e-mail messages to city councillors from parents of children in the public schools.

In other matters, we have these items:

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to develop a progress report on all of the non-zoning recommendations submitted by the Central Square Advisory Committee   Councillor Cheung, Councillor Reeves and Vice Mayor Simmons

This is important. Potential zoning changes to enhance retail and residential opportunities in Central Square will come before the City Council later this year and will hopefully pass in some form. However, many quality-of-life issues and actions that support the retail environment of Central Square are not part of the zoning code and should not be ignored while the zoning discussion continues.

Order #13. That the City Manager is requested to explore how the City of Cambridge can adjust the structure of its commissions to make them project-based and have the appropriate levels of funding for projects.   Councillor Cheung

It’s a little difficult to read between the lines of Councillor Cheung’s order. Taking a long, hard look at the structure and purposes of the City’s various non-regulatory borads and commissions is overdue, but this order could be little more than a prompt for the City Manager to hire an executive director for one particular board.

City Manager’s Agenda #4. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 13-62, regarding a report on evaluating and incorporating traffic signaling during very low traffic volume times.

I found it interesting that the loop detector on Lee St. at Harvard Ave. is not on the list. Perhaps this is why it never registers the presence of my bicycle no matter how I position myself there. The loop detector on Lee St. at Broadway is on the list, but it does not detect bicycles. If you’re on a bike at a red light and there’s no way to make it turn green, what exactly are you supposed to do?

Unfinished Business #14. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Interim City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Apr 3, 2013 to discuss an amendment to the Zoning Ordinance to create a new Section 6.100 Bicycle Parking, and to create a new definition for Bicycle Parking in Article 2.000, modify the yard standards in Article 5.000 as they relate to bicycle parking and modifying various sections of Article 6.000 to remove references to bicycle parking. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after May 6, 2013. Planning Board hearing held Mar 19, 2013. Petition expires June 17, 2013. May 6, 2013 substituted language referred to Unfinished Business and remained on Unfinished Business.

Having spoken and written about this petition in the past, I’ll just make one simple suggestion for an amendment: Require that in any renovation of a residential or commercial property there be no net reduction in the potential for secure bicycle storage below the established minimum as proposed in this zoning amendment. That is, if basement or garage storage space is converted into living space this should not eliminate the potential of an appropriate amount of secure bicycle parking. – Robert Winters

May 17, 2013

The Board of The Dance Complex Announces the Appointment of Peter DiMuro as Executive Director

Filed under: Central Square — Tags: — Robert Winters @ 1:29 am

CAMBRIDGE, MA: The Dance Complex Board of Directors is delighted to welcome and introduce career long arts administrator and artist Peter DiMuro as The Dance Complex’s new Executive Director. From a pool of dynamic and qualified candidates, Peter distinguished himself with his unique combination of experience leading an international touring dance company, leading service organizations, collaborating with artists, mentoring dancers, developing relationships with producers and funders alike, all in addition to an extensive career performing on stages all across the world. “We are excited about Peter’s arrival and look forward to the wealth of innovative initiatives he has proposed and the terrific ideas for engaging the community and building further partnerships across the city and state, “David Dance, President of the Board of Directors of The Dance Complex states and adds, “Peter’s bio reads like a veritable ‘Who’s Who?’ in contemporary dance, and we feel so fortunate to be the future beneficiary of Peter’s vast network and extensive experience.”

The Dance Complex
Located in the historic Odd Fellows Hall, in Cambridge, MA; The Dance Complex is a volunteer-based, artist run organization dedicated to promoting, advancing, and sponsoring artistic endeavors, creative work and education in dance and the movement arts. The organization, formed from the hard work and collaboration of members of the dance community, lead by pioneering founder Rozann Kraus, has been a model of a successful volunteer-based community engaged in dance study and making since 1991. Culturally, The Dance Complex is a process; we are members of the arts community establishing a resource, referral and support center that is responsive to a wide diversity of needs for both professional dancers and those who enjoy moving.

“This community has made an incredible living, breathing monument to dance in Central Square”, Peter offers. “I look forward to guiding us to a next phase of development.” Through his appreciation of diverse ideas, approaches and people, as Executive Director, Peter will sustain and build positive relationships with other arts organizations, dancers, instructors, the City of Cambridge, and all who are committed to dance. In addition to leading the staff in the identification of best practices and future frontiers for The Dance Complex, the Executive Director will oversee all administrative and programmatic elements of activity.

A biography for Peter appears below. We look forward to introducing Peter, along with upcoming plans at the start of the fall season early in September. Stay tuned for details.

Sincerely,
David Dance
Chairman of the Board of Directors
The Board of Directors: Anne Brown Allen, David Dance, Richard Getz, Mary McCarthy, Jayne Murphy, William Parsons

Peter DiMuro – Biography
Peter DiMuro gladly returns to Boston, where his first professional performance was with Gerri Houlihan’s Boston Dance Project at The Dance Complex of Cambridge. Ruth Birnberg, Susan Rose and Concert Dance Company (dancing the works of Deborah Wolf, Bebe Miller, Lucinda Childs, Wendy Perron, Keith Terry and many others) also provided Peter mentorship early in his career.

He has since woven a career as a choreographer, director, teacher, facilitator and arts practitioner/engager, touring and teaching internationally from Honk Kong to Pigeon Forge, TN, and places beyond and in-between. His Peter DiMuro Performance Associates and his fifteen-year collaboration, including 5 years as Artistic Director, with Liz Lerman Dance Exchange laid the foundation for his current creative umbrella, PDM: Public Displays of Motion, that develops and performs artistic works and cultivates dance/arts literacy, advocacy and engagement.

Peter’s work has appeared on tour and been commissioned by leading presenters, including The Kennedy Center/DC, Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center/MD, Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, Dance Place/DC, DanceNOW at Joe’s Public Theatre/NY, Dance Umbrella, the Emerson Majestic, Bates Dance Festival, American Dance Festival, AURAS Dance/Lithuania, as well as on a nationally aired television commercial for the National Institute on Aging. As a collaborator and artistic lead at Dance Exchange, he directed seminal projects in the company’s history, including “The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Project” and the 17-city tour of “Hallelujah Project”, both engaging communities in dialogue and action to make dance/theatre. “Near/Far/In/Out” and “Funny Uncles”, both dealing with issues bridging straight and LGBT communities, toured nationally. He directs and choreographs for theatre, stage, on-site, cabaret and coaches performance. For the Massachusetts Cultural Council, along with its then Executive Director Mary Kelley, Peter designed and executed the Elder Arts Initiative, offering exchange of ideas and training among artists and caregivers working with seniors.

He was named a White House Millennial Artist in 2000, a 1995 Mayor of Boston/ProArts Arts Award recipient, and his work has received grants from the National Performance Network, the Mass Artists’ Foundation, Mass Cultural Council, MetLife Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. In 2010, he represented the US as an emissary for the Department of State in Madrid, teaching and adjudicating an international competition for emerging artists. Peter has taught several summers at the Cornerstone Theatre Institute/LA, American Dance Festival and Bates Dance Festival and adjudicated several American College Dance Festival Association regional conferences. He has been affiliated with Tufts University (artist in residence), Drexel University (associate professor), Michigan State University (guest artist/commissionee), American University, Emerson College, Boston University, The Boston Conservatory, and several college programs throughout his career.

A believer in the multiple roles artists develop to re-create definitions of their own artistry and the field’s re-definition of artmaking, Peter created several programs for artist development and audience literacy through his directorship of Dance/MetroDC, a local service organization and a regional branch of Dance/USA. He has served on the boards of the Dance Umbrella/Boston, National Performance Network, Dance/USA, Capitol Region Educators in Dance Organization, and as a mentor and panelist for New England Foundation for the Arts, Maryland State Arts Council, D.C. Commission for the Arts. He is host and creative consultant to VelocityDC, an annual DC based showcase for the region’s eclectic dance companies.

He received an MFA in Dance from Connecticut College under Martha Myers; a BFA in Theatre from Drake University, early study with Sally Garfield, and continued study in New York, Boston and at the American Dance Festival.

Originally from Round Lake, IL (population, circa 1970: 250), he is the youngest of three children, the son of the Chief of Police (Dad, born in East Boston) and a machinist/gal Friday (Mom). He has a niece named for the Crayola crayon, Sienna.

May 16, 2013

Communication from Councillors Cheung, Kelley, Reeves and Simmons to Mayor Davis (May 16, 2013)

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council,School Committee,schools — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 5:51 pm

May 16, 2013

Mayor Henrietta Davis
795 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02139

Dear Mayor Davis:

With only three of all nine Councillors voting in favor of the Cambridge School Department budget on Thursday, it is clear that there is a heightened level of frustration and angst amongst the Council – one that should not go unnoticed. The principal duty of the Cambridge City Council is to exercise fiduciary control over the City of Cambridge to ensure that it is meeting and exceeding the goals set by the Council each session. As adopted in December of 2011, one of our principal goals is to "strengthen and support human services, public education, and out of school learning in Cambridge for the benefit of residents of all ages". On May 9, the will of the Council showed that questions and concerns remain as to whether the budget makes significant strides towards meeting this integral goal.

Many citizens throughout the City share this concern. In each of the last three Citizen Satisfaction Surveys, the quality of our public schools has been the top ranking concern amongst all Cambridge residents. It is crucial that all elected and appointed officials understand the importance of addressing the concerns that our community has expressed and that many Councillors raised in regard to the budget as it was presented at the May 9 Finance Committee meeting. We recognize that the wealth of concerns that were raised at this point may not be met in the next year, much less be solved during this current budget discussion, but it is important for the District to acknowledge that these concerns are real and that the District, coordinating with Cambridge’s elected officials and relevant City staff, will address them and develop a comprehensive, data-driven and outcomes-oriented long term plan to work towards accomplishing them in the years to come.

In particular, we think the District must make a clear and focused effort in these areas:

1. Research has time and time again demonstrated that youngsters who participate in a high-quality preschool program demonstrate higher levels of academic achievement, more socially responsible behavior, and make significantly higher earnings as an adult. We must invest in early childhood education to ensure that each and every child in Cambridge has the opportunity to attend preschool, and the current budget should more clearly explain how CPSD is supporting this notion now and how that support will be continued in the future. If the budget does not address this concern, it is not in line with the Council’s goal of strengthening public education.

2. Throughout discussions about CPSD with current, former, and prospective families, classroom management, school climate and teacher training are consistently recurring issues, as is supported by past CPSD parent surveys. We would like to see a budget that sets clear goals for teacher training as it relates to classroom management and school climate, along with associated data about student disciplinary issues. We understand that the CPSD budget cannot include every effort that the District is making, but it is important that the budget reflect the attempts made to address major concerns raised by the families it has been created to serve. A failure to assess these issues in the current budget is not in line with the Council’s goal of strengthening public education.

3. Family engagement has been another important issue that the FY2014 School Department budget appears to overlook. The Family Liaisons play critical roles in ensuring that parents have a steady guide through all school-related issues and concerns, and they are tireless advocates for the children they work with, often going above and beyond their job descriptions to ensure that our kids get the very best educational experience possible. Study after study has shown that children do better at school when there is an active partnership with the parents and the families, yet the money devoted to Family Liaisons and the family engagement process is nowhere as robust as it needs to be. A failure to assess this great need in the current budget is not in line with the Council’s goal of strengthening public education.

4. Understanding why students and families opt to leave the District, whether it be to attend a charter school, private school, or school in another district, is crucial for schools to improve. At present, the City spends approximately 9-11 million dollars annually, depending on state reimbursement formulas, on charter schools and a significant proportion of school-aged residents opt not to attend Cambridge public schools. Making an aggressive attempt to understand what educational needs that families perceive CPSD as not well-equipped to meet seems like a logical first step in figuring out how to address these concerns. If we do not address the concerns of residents who ultimately decide to send their children to academic institutions outside of CPSD, the Council is not furthering its goal of strengthening public education in the City of Cambridge.

5. The Council has committed to an extensive school building upgrade project that will add a quarter of a billion dollars to our City’s debt load, a figure that will bring our total debt load beyond the level at which we have traditionally set the limit. Additionally, we’ve discussed the potential of extended day, expanded pre-k, eventually expanding the wrap around program, giving computers to kids, broader world language offerings, an office of college success, and other potentially large programmatic expenditures which are not accounted for in the long-term budgetary plan. While we are fully in support of investing in programs and facilities to give our students and staff the facilities they need to grow and thrive, we need a more comprehensive long-term picture to make informed decisions about expenditures that will ultimately be reflected in higher taxes for our residents. We also need to understand the trade-offs and considerations that go in to thinking about how these programs and facilities will increase our return on investment, given that Cambridge already has one of the highest per pupil costs in the state. The failure of the budget to address this concern is not in line with the Council’s goal of "[evaluating] City expenditures with a view of maintaining a strong fiscal position and awareness of the impact on taxpayers while providing a high quality array of city services".

6. There is a concern that the population growth may not keep pace with the amount of building renovation called for in the proposed school budget. It would be most unfortunate if, after a decade of renovations, the City has four state-of-the-art school buildings with precious few students to occupy them. This is why it is important that we have at least a five-year projection for the Innovation Agenda. We would be much better served if we have a sense of how much this will cost going forward, if we can anticipate what additional expenses may need to be called for, what additional positions may be created that will need funding, how many students will be expected to be housed in these buildings, and so forth. The failure of the budget to address this concern is not in line with the Council’s goal of "[evaluating] City expenditures with a view of maintaining a strong fiscal position and awareness of the impact on taxpayers while providing a high quality array of city services".

7. Why, in a District that is very multi-cultural, do so many events, activities, programs and awards seem to be demographically disparate? The systemic inequities and racial unbalances that continue to exist between student populations strongly impact the ability of all of our children to reach their full potential. Failure to address this concern is not in line with the Council’s goal to "value and support the racial, socio-economic, cultural and religious diversity of our city".

Given the scope of the $150,000,000 CPSD budget, along with the roughly 22 million dollars in charter school payments and school construction debt service, it is clear to us that not all of our concerns will be able to be met immediately. We would like a clear commitment from the School Committee and CPSD staff that the next budget year will start with a focused discussion with the City Council and City staff of the above-listed concerns, and that measurable steps will be taken to ensure that additional concerns of families, students, and members of the community are addressed as well. If we can get that clear commitment, we would be willing to support this year’s CPSD budget and work with all concerned parties to make sure future budgets better reflect the fiscal and educational concerns of the City.

Several years ago, we initiated the practice of holding City Council-School Committee Roundtables to increase the amount of communication between these two bodies, in the hopes of avoiding the very situation in which we now find ourselves. It would appear that we either need to increase the number of Roundtables we hold each year, or we need to set aside specific Roundtables each year to devote exclusively to discussing drafting the school budget, to ensure that City Councillors are able to publicly provide feedback as a group and air concerns during the budget drafting process.

Please feel free to contact us directly should you have any questions or concerns about this communication.

Sincerely,
Councillor Leland Cheung
Councillor Craig Kelley
Councillor Kenneth E. Reeves
Vice Mayor E. Denise Simmons

Cc: Councillor Marjorie Decker, Finance Committee Chair
City Council
School Committee
Superintendent Jeff Young
City Manager Bob Healy
Deputy City Manager Richard Rossi

May 15, 2013

Letter from Councillor Leland Cheung – responding to Co-chairs of the Budget Subcommittee of the Cambridge School Committee

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council,School Committee — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 10:18 am

Sometimes fighting for the greater good requires a willingness to say no to good enough.

I ran for the City Council to make the City of Cambridge a better place to live and raise a family – not to be a rubber stamp. During my time in office, I’ve held developers’ feet to the fire to improve community benefits, I’ve pressed city departments via Council Orders to better respond to resident concerns, and I’ve voted no on the Information Technology budget to pressure the City Manager to invest more in digitally connecting residents to their government.

Throughout the City’s budget process, my colleagues and I expect a data-driven, outcomes focused, long-term plan for excellence from the City Manager. I believe that the same standards should also apply to the School Committee’s budget. On Thursday, I heard great questions by my colleagues that were ultimately left unanswered by the Superintendent of the Cambridge Public Schools, so I voted to hold the budget in committee instead of rubber stamping it and referring it to the regular Council meeting for adoption. This was not a vote against students, the schools, or the programs therein; this was not a ‘gotcha’ vote; this was a procedural vote in response to unanswered questions saying we’re not ready. There is plenty of time to resolve these issues and I fully believe that the budget will eventually pass the City Council, but I wanted to send a message that I believe the City of Cambridge can do more for its kids and that I expect a budgetary plan that is focused on achieving that.

The Council has been raising these questions for years. For almost a decade, Councillor Toomey has been pressing on the systemic inequities in the schools closest to his home. Councillor Kelley has repeatedly called for exit interviews to help us compete with charter schools and other districts. During the School Department budget discussion last year, I asked the administration to tell the Council and the community what it would take for the Cambridge Public School System to become best in class. I asked to see a plan based on considered trade-offs that helped the Council anticipate what the impact on the overall budget would be if we were to implement some of the ideas under discussion, like universal early education, an extended school day, an Office of College Success, increased professional development for teachers, computers for students, broader world language offerings, expanded wrap-around services, and so on.

The Council has committed to a building upgrade program that is expected to cost Cambridge taxpayers upwards of a quarter of a billion dollars and risks exceeding our debt limit guidelines. To make informed financial decisions, the Council needs a better long term budget plan from the school administration. To make sure taxpayer money is being well spent, the Council needs a plan that adequately addresses all the concerns my colleagues raised. At a cost of $151 million for 6,000 students, every graduate of the Cambridge Public Schools should have all the tools they need to succeed, thrive, and prosper in an increasingly competitive world. If that’s not possible in the current budget, we need to see a roadmap for what it would take.

Contrary to statements made by the Finance Chairs of the School Committee, this was not a political maneuver by a handful of Councillors. After I heard so many of my colleagues’ great questions receive unsatisfactory answers, I asked for a named up/down vote because I felt in my heart of hearts that this budget was not ready to pass on its merits. I was surprised by the outcome, but in retrospect the fact that only 3 of 9 Councillors voted to say that the budget was ready to move on to adoption demonstrates a heightened level of frustration and angst amongst the Council. It demonstrates that the Council thinks the school system is failing to achieve the outcomes that we know our community is capable of.

I hope that instead of focusing on feelings of personal insult or anger with the process that the Finance Chairs will interpret the vote as constructive criticism on the presented budget and a signal that the Council is ready to better invest in our students if there is a data-driven, outcomes focused, long-term plan for excellence that holds us all accountable. The single most important responsibility of our society is to invest in the education of the next generation. When it comes to our schools, there is no such thing as good enough.

Leland Cheung
City Councillor

May 13, 2013

Letter from Marc McGovern and Richard Harding, Co-chairs of the Budget Subcommittee of the Cambridge School Committee

Filed under: City Council,School Committee,schools — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 9:53 am

As Co-Chairs of the Budget Subcommittee of the School Committee, we are writing to express our complete disappointment in the actions taken by a handful of City Councilors who, on May 9, 2013 voted against next year’s school department budget. The school department budget process began over 8 months ago. During that time, numerous public meetings were held to gain community input. Meetings were also held by school councils made up of parents, teachers and administrators who made recommendations to the administration regarding budget priorities. Meetings were held with principals, the teachers’ union, the special education parent advisory council and others to gain budget insight. Many difficult and challenging conversations were had over these months culminating in a balanced budget that was voted unanimously by the School Committee.

It should be noted that these councilors did not express their reasons for voting against the budget at the time of the meeting. Some of the councilors asked only a few questions, never indicating that they would take such action. Since the meeting, three of the five councilors have provided information as to their concerns, none of which relate to the budget itself. The two major concerns expressed were controlled choice and charter school enrollment. These are two important issues and we do not question that they are worth discussion. What is confusing to us, however, is how will voting against the budget help better understand either of these issues? The truth is, it won’t. Families send their children to charter schools for various reasons. Every public school district in the country is aware of this issue and works to keep students in district, Cambridge is no different. In regard to controlled choice, the School Committee, the administration and the public have been working hard on this issue for the past two years, starting with a working group led by Patty Nolan and Richard Harding, and now a subcommittee of the whole led by Alice Turkel and Fred Fantini. Over 20 meetings have been held and as recently as May 7, 2013 the School Committee held a public meeting to review over a dozen recommendations as to how to improve controlled choice. If this issue was of such concern to these councilors that they took this unprecedented step, why didn’t they come to any of these meetings? Why didn’t they raise this concern sooner? Why didn’t they write an email, make a phone call or sit down for coffee to discuss these concerns? Their lack of communication makes us wonder if these are real concerns or just political posturing.

Let us be very clear, the political maneuvering that was carried out at this meeting will do absolutely nothing to help address these concerns. The councilors have done nothing to help bring us together as city leaders. What they did do, is drive a wedge between the school community and the city community. What they did do was potentially damage contract negotiations. What they did do was show that making a political statement was more important than insulting, disrespecting and undermining several months of work by parents, teachers, principals and school administrators. If that is not bad enough, they did it all without any communication, warning or chance for the superintendent or School Committee to be prepared. This was a complete and utter blindside to all who worked so hard.

What is also confusing is that since the School Committee passed the budget several weeks ago, not one of these councilors contacted us with any concerns or questions. Even prior to the meeting, none of these councilors pulled us aside and asked for explanations or gave any indication that they might vote against the budget.

It is important for the public to know that the City Council does not have the authority, nor is it their role, to vote specific budget allocations up or down. The Council must vote on the budget as a whole. So to make a political point these councilors voted down the entire budget which included funding for an additional autism classroom for our autistic children. They voted down adding additional school psychologists, inclusion specialists, athletic trainers, and additional staffing for our new upper schools. They voted down adding an additional Special Start classroom and funding the Wrap Around Zone at the Fletcher Maynard Academy modeled after the Harlem Children’s Zone. They voted down funding for professional development for our teachers, for paying our teachers, and for providing school improvement funds. They voted down funding for additional community outreach, and against our partners: Cambridge School Volunteers, City Sprouts, Science Club for Girls, and Breakthrough.

We stand with our parents, teachers, superintendent and School Committee colleagues who worked so hard on the proposed budget which we believe will help move our district forward.

Hopefully, with some time to catch our collective breath, more rational heads will prevail and these Councilors will see that their actions were more damaging than helpful.

Sincerely,
Marc McGovern and Richard Harding
Co-Chairs of the Budget Subcommittee of the Cambridge School Committee

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