Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Woo-love and pay raises.

"Let’s give MBTA executives the benefit of the doubt and assume that it may never have occurred to them that anyone would be in a rush to get to Worcester."
Boston Globe Columnist Brian McGrory took a funny but easy shot at Worcester with his column's opening line on March 2nd. I'm happy Brian McGrory accepted Rick Rushton's offer to find out more about Worcester and gave us a little love in the Hub's paper today (03/23/11). I'm not going to write any more glowing words about Worcester or about the trip, despite my secret desire to someday 'earn' a scathing shakedown from Will W.W.

I enjoyed UMass Chancellor Michael Collins' quote about Worcester:
"We arrived at the UMass Medical School, where I found myself with Chancellor Michael Collins, the street-smart academician who surely had kept his wits about him over his years here. “I like every bit of it,’’ he said. Oh, Michael. “What takes three years to get done in Boston takes three months here.’"
Was he referring to his new house and his new pay raise to compensate for losing his housing allowance? During this current age of fiscal restraint and belt tightening, why should the UMass chancellor receive a $60,000 raise to compensate for his 'loss' of a $32,000 housing allowance and taking a hit on his taxes for living rent free in a house valued at over $750,000? Chancellor Collins has done an excellent job in his time at UMass Worcester, but he made $524,300. He wasn't suffering, or living paycheck to paycheck.

None of the employees of the medical school receive a raise when Congress and the Obama Administration passed their tax compromise last December. The continued reduction in taxes for 2011 came out of every worker's Social Security deduction. State workers don't pay Social Security taxes because they pay into the Massachusetts pension plan, so they saw their taxes went up in January. Perhaps outgoing UMass President Jack Wilson should be kind enough to ensure that every employee receives the same courtesy that was accorded to Chancellor Collins.

Today's lesson: The less you make, the less you receive from our government, while the more you make, the more you undeservedly receive from our government.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Get off my Common!

After reading Jeremy Shulkin's article (03/16/11) on the planned relocation of the City Hall WRTA hub to Union Station, I'm baffled. It's not because of Jeremy's always excellent reporting, it's because of the claims by our city officials that:
"It’s been no secret the current hub outside City Hall did little for drivers and the WRTA. The current location drew complaints about teenagers loitering and caused traffic congestion."
"City officials say this will lead to short bus routes, more direct connections and would fold bus, train and taxi services all into one area. The increase in people at the bus hub may also finally attract retail to move into the empty first floor of the Union Station parking garage.  “It’s certainly another building block for the critical mass that makes retail successful,” offers City Manager Michael O’Brien, who adds that increased commuter rail and housing developments will provide “the feet on the street that breathes life into those storefronts.”
People have been complaining for years about the 'scary teenage hoodlums' in our downtown. That perception is largely overstated, hyperbolic and ignorant. But the critics of the current City Hall WRTA transfer point out that the presence of these hoodlums has had a negative effect on businesses around City Hall. If that is true, why would our city officials want to move the riff raff to Union Station, and right across from the new CitySquare? Won't the businesses in Union Station suffer, and complain? Don't attempt to sell me this crap about teenage feet on the street that will save the empty Union Station garage.

I also question the need to split stops between City Hall and the new hub next to Union Station?  If riders want to transfer, will they have to walk around the current empty mall or through the future CitySquare to transfer? That is highly impractical and difficult for the elderly and disabled who rely on the WRTA for transportation.

On a positive note, I really like these ideas:
"Along with wayside message boards that will show riders how long until their bus shows up, riders will be able to upload cash directly onto a fare card that will double as a Charlie Card for those heading into or coming from Boston."
"City Councilor Mike Germain brought forward one idea last week, asking that the city look into working with Direct Air to provide a shuttle between Union Station and Worcester Regional Airport."
Perhaps they can also develop a smart phone app that shows schedules and route delays.

Schools and Testing.

Today's (03/18/11) T&G article  by Jacqueline Reis raised some fair questions regarding the selection of charter school students.  Last night's School Committee meeting raised the following point:
"Information was presented on students at the newly opened Spirit of Knowledge Charter School, which serves Grades 7-9. The district found data on 85 percent of the school’s students from when they were Worcester public school students and found that those students scored higher on the MCAS exams than the district average."
If the selection process is truly a blind lottery, why are they getting the better range of students? Is it because parents of the better performing students are opting out of public schools in favor of charters schools? Is it because charters have a history of pruning out undesirable students?  Or is it merely because our charter schools don't have to educate the more challenging students, like special ed or limited English proficient students? And why did they find data on only 85 percent of the students? These are fair questions to ask and have less to do with pro- or anti-union politics if our tax money is going to charter schools that spend our tax money and keep the profits but aren't accountable to the general electorate.

If charters are more efficient due to better innovations and no union interference, why was a public high school like Brockton High successful in turning around their school? The answer is innovation in the classroom, input from teachers, parents and children, and a cooperative relationship between administration and teachers.  Innovation needs to come from the people in the classrooms, not from administrators, politicians and bureaucrats, as Gary Rosen points out in his most recent piece (03/17/11) in Worcester Magazine. I also recommend this article about the test grading process and hopefully we can turn the current debate on extending No Child Left Behind away from arbitrary testing programs and on actual learning.
And while we are on the subject of learning, would it be too much to ask our local paper to spell Worcester correctly?
I assumed it would be corrected in the online version, but it hasn't been caught by 5:30pm today.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Who benefits?

This quote, and the thinking that created it, confuses me:
"When Erin McFarlane looks at public workers, she sees lucrative pension benefits she doesn't ever expect to get. And it makes her mad.  "I don't think that a federal employee or government employee is worth any more than anybody else who does their job and does it well," said the Slinger, Wis., woman. She's been working a couple of bartending jobs since January, when she was laid off from her job at a Harley Davidson plant after almost a decade.  She's not alone in seeing public servants as public enemies in some ways.  It's a case of pension envy."
Maybe Erin is angry because her union failed her when management at Harley Davidson decided to restructure after "Harley-Davidson experienced the biggest drop in value. The “legend’s” value dropped by 43% to $4.34 billion, which is most likely connected to the 66% drop in the company profits in two quarters of the last year."

Perhaps the threat of plant closings and turning full time workers into part-time workers has something to do with Harley-Davidson, an iconic American brand, opening up factories in India. As long as we continue to espouse the wonders of free trade and globalization, let's also espouse the wonders of fair trade, environmental regulation, and worker's rights. Without a global campaign against human and environmental exploitation, the Erin McFarlane's of the world will be left angry, underemployed and wondering why they don't have pensions, health care or a chance at employment.

Why are U.S. government workers the only strong unions left in America? Because they are the only ones whose jobs can't be outsourced to India or China. The only threat is privatization, and that hasn't worked very well in Wisconsin. So rather than turn on the last few people in the U.S. willing to stand up for their right to a decent paying job with benefits, why don't you join them, Erin?

I don't know any union members who are millionaires, but I know plenty of billionaires who aren't paying their fare share.

Scott Brown needs money for his next campaign!

Knowing who your elected representatives get campaign donations from and how it affects their voting record is the most important question any voter can ask. So who is Scott Brown asking for donations?

David Koch, the billionaire who funds Americans for ProgressFreedom Works, and doesn't believe in big government yet gets billions in taxpayer subsidies. I recommend this piece about David and his brother Charles from the New Yorker, which I wrote about last September.

A cynic would question how much influence a campaign donor has over an elected official, but this prank call from 'David Koch' to Scott Walker shows how eager Walker was willing to talk to and get advice from his top campaign donor. What advice will the Kochs give Scott Brown and the People's Senate Seat?
Apparently the Kochs don't always get what they want from their campaign donations, which is more taxpayer money, less regulation, and a government compliant with their wishes.