Sunday, March 23, 2014

Blind Faith

Ken O’Brien

Milli Vanilli was an R&B pop and dance group that hailed from Germany in 1988. The group's debut album Girl You Know It's True achieved international success and earned them a Grammy Award for Best New Artist in 1990.  Milli Vanilli became one of the most popular pop acts in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Their success turned to infamy when the Grammy award was withdrawn after LA Times author Chuck Philips revealed that lead vocals on the record were not those of the performers billed as Milli Vanilli.

The lesson to be learned, of course, is that before you accord someone status, you should determine the degree to which it is merited. 

This is a lesson that has apparently escaped the attention of Southbridge officials in recent years.

Currently it may be most relevant as regards Southbridge’s (part time) Superintendent of Schools.

Recently we reported how his own words indicated that his opposition to a Charter School proposal in his prior position in Brockton was motivated more by politics and control over finances than by concern for the quality of education.

Further research has indicated that he had no problem with Charter Schools before he felt threatened by one on his own turf. The Brockton Enterprise carried an Associated Press report on September 16, 2005 titled “New effort would aid failing schools”. This was shortly after Mr. Nembirkow became Brockton’s Superintendent in 2004 and well before the Sabis proposed Charter School in 2007.

The article reported:
When Brockton school superintendent Basan Nembirkow thinks about the future of his schools, he's frustrated by the past….
Yesterday, Nembirkow joined other superintendents to support a proposal to cluster together the state's worst schools under the Department of Education, and give the state more flexibility to structure education and power to close chronically failing schools or convert them to charter schools.

So, he was for charter schools before he was against them and then …well whatever he thinks now.

Beyond the apparent devotion to protecting his political turf even at the expense of academic progress, there is the issue of transparency.

Many have noticed the almost ritualistic nature of recent school committee meetings. There is little exposition of issues relating to pending decisions and essentially no disagreement. The committee members march in in lockstep, sing cumbaya in unison and march out in lockstep. Anything resembling controversy is relegated to the relatively invisible confines of committee meetings held at Cole Ave.

Had those who were involved in the hiring of Buzz done any real investigation, they would have been well aware that this was characteristic of his operations in Brockton.

In 2008 The Enterprise published an opinion piece titled “Secrecy rules in Brockton schools”.
The writer observed,

If it seems like we have been picking on Brockton school officials lately, it’s only because they have given us good reasons. It’s nothing personal on our part; we just think parents need to be informed when suspected drug dealers are arrested in an elementary school or school custodians collect items from school property and sell them for cash that they put in their own pockets. Now, we have the School Committee voting on one of the most important items in the School Department’s history — and it isn’t listed on the agenda for the meeting.
The School Committee voted Tuesday to approve a sweeping school reconfiguration package by a 7-0 vote. Two committee members protested — to no avail — that the vote wasn’t proper because it wasn’t listed on the agenda, but they went along with fellow board members in the end. School officials said parents had received adequate notification of the meeting and the topic, with fliers being sent home. But that isn’t enough. Why wasn’t it listed on the meeting agenda? Why wasn’t it listed on the School Department’s Web site, which posts the agenda of all meetings?
There was only one public meeting set up by school officials to discuss the reconfiguration — and School Superintendent Basan Nembirkow didn’t even attend. This is yet another example of his failure to communicate with parents and the public and his department’s lack of transparency.
We have no problem with the reconfiguration itself, which should save the city money and will close two city schools, open two new ones and move some students. Not everyone will be happy, but overall it is a plan that will be effective and was well-planned.
But that doesn’t excuse school officials’ failure to keep the public informed of everything they do. These incidents are starting to add up and it isn’t a good sign. Above all else, parents value communication with school officials. That is something that is sorely lacking, week after week, on a variety of issues.
Is it that difficult for Nembirkow and his administration to let parents and taxpayers know what is happening in the schools? Or will secrecy remain the order of the day?

So, any current complaints about the opacity of the school department should have been foreseeable, if there had been any real vetting of the candidate.

Another complaint that has been heard is about the apparent tendency to expand the size and cost of central administrative staff. This too could have been expected.

Turning to the Brockton Enterprise of October 23, 2008 in their piece “School Committee nixes new $74K job” we learn:

A School Department position created by Superintendent Basan Nembirkow was abolished this week by the School Committee.
The 3-3 vote came after committee members questioned the $72,000-a-year job of assistant facilities manager that went to Michael Towne, who was promoted from his $59,900-a-year job as night supervisor.
“That position was created without knowledge and authorization of the School Committee,” said committee member Thomas Minichiello, who voted against it.
He said the committee was not informed of the new position. Some members learned about it through calls, others from a report that appeared in The Enterprise on Sept. 28.
“One of the roles of the School Committee is budget oversight,” Minichiello said, noting that any new positions created outside the annual budget process should be brought before the committee.

This week the school committee will consider a budget that seeks a 6.2% increase over the prior year. This comes in the wake of a contract with the teachers’ union, the specifics of which are still unclear.

In October of 2004, upon assuming the position of Brockton Superintendent, Mr. Nembirkow told the MetroSouth Chamber of Commerce, “My goal is to make Brockton the Number One urban school system in Massachusetts.” 

In considering the proposed budget as well as the objectivity and oversight of the school committee (or the bobbleheads, or the blueberry brigade, or the Buzz boobs, or the McLaugh-In Group, or the Laurentian Abyss, or just the four players) it might be prudent to take a look at where Brockton’s schools stand today in light of that stated goal in 2004.


  1. Well our local paper, "The (Really Old) News, has also decided to march in lock step with the Blueberry Girls. Not a single article about the teachers contract recently signed, the proposed budget (6.2% increase), the massive number of student and staff departures, the principal turnover, and the lack of public confidence.
    But the lack of transparency is the most disconcerting.
    I wish the Southbridge "Public" Schools were truly public and open to the public.
    It is somewhat comforting that as I travel about the town and speak with average citizens they are surprisingly aware of the issues and the individuals responsible for them. I'm quite confident that McLoughlin and Donovan will be one-term board members. Should they be so arrogant as to run for reelection, they will most assuredly be voted out.
    The real problem is how much more damage can they do before next June.
    Woodruff knew she made giant mistakes at our students' cost. She did the right thing and left. Big Mac and her side of fries should do what's right for the good of the schools - leave.

    1. New contract after a year without one increased pay rate more for entry level teachers to make starting pay competitive. I think veteran teachers increase was in 3-4% range. However, elementary teachers had their work day increased by 6%. No windfall for teachers

    2. Says who? This contract is an agreement between the taxpayers and the union. The taxpayers are footing the bill. The taxpayers are held legally responsible when school committees over spend their budget and unions want (and deserve) to be paid the agreed to amounts. The taxpayers pay for the buildings. The taxpayers pay for the endless parade of law suits and legal fees. The taxpayers have every right to read the contracts that we are paying for. When and were can the taxpayers have access to this document?
      This school committee makes the power players in the Kremlin look open.

    3. Even adding this half hour to the elementary teachers' contract finds them working less than 7 hours a day, after their guaranteed lunch time. Not bad for $60,000+- per 180 day school year.

    4. I agree with you this should be public. Teachers only have a summary themselves. All I am saying is it is not all roses for teachers who have to deal with this administration too

    5. And I agree also, make the contract public.

      And I agree that working with this leadership team is frustrating. Reallocating resources from classrooms to central office - a sad path. Making teachers and staff afraid for their jobs - sad.

      But the teachers and staff have continued to vote Dave Williams in as union boss. He is in bed with Bazz and the girls. Talk about walking in step lock!

    6. Agree union is worthless, unfortunately no one else chooses to run. Hope that changes.
      And not to whine as many have it worse than teachers do, but days extend well beyond seven hours, year beyond 180 days and guaranteed lunch...not!
      Like in the private sector teachers are constantly told to do more with less

    7. Don't worry, Dave Williams and his pals on the school committee will be sure you are well compensated with the 1.8 million extra dollars in the new budget. Or as Buzz says, it " surplus" money.

  2. This should be lesson to the town manager search committee. Don't just take for granted what the resume and the search consultants tell you.

  3. Maybe we can learn a lesson from Sheila Harrity, the principal of Worcester Tech which has been chosen to have President Obama as its commencement speaker. The T&G wrote this about her when she was named National High School Principal of the Year.

    “Ms. Harrity is the first Massachusetts principal to be named a national principal of the year in the program's 20-year history.
    She has been principal of Worcester Tech since 2OO6, when the school moved into a new $90 million building designed to foster small learning communities and link academics with trades. Before that, she was principal of Wachusett Regional High School in Holden for a year.
    Worcester Tech's academic credentials have improved dramatically since her arrival. The percent of students scoring proficient or above on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System exams in English language arts rose from 27 to 88, and the percent of those scoring proficient or above on math went from 35 to 78. The school began offering Advanced Placement courses in 2OO8. The school's graduation rate, 96.4 percent, is the best in the district. Students Abigaele Mann, Omolara Ojo and Lindsey Bernier, who were among those who held Ms. Harrity's new banner, said in an interview that Ms. Harrity gets students what they need. When Abigaele approached her wanting to take nonexistent upper-level math courses, Ms. Harrity came back with new offerings including pre-calculus, Advanced Placement calculus and a partnership with Worcester Polytechnic Institute.”

    Any chance the bobbleheads could hire and retain someone with that potential?

    1. Any chance we could get her as town manager?

    2. The only people who will apply for four current principal and two assistant principal are those who will stay a year or two, get the requisite experience, then bolt for easier working conditions.
      For those who have attempted to make Southbridge a career location, they have been side stepped or terminated.
      So get ready for another batch of knowallogists who will arrive with all the answers before they even know the questions. Just like McLoughlin, Donovan and Buzz.

    3. The only principal the McLaugh-In Group would accept and allow a chance to improve things is somebody smarter than them. But they already know that person doesn't exist.

    4. Hearing rumors that Admin may have found a way to keep Charlton St principal in that position despite earlier state comments to the contrary. Any truth? Can't find one if don't advertise.

  4. I wouldn’t worry about any of this. Joe Marino and his petition are going to fix everything. He’s already found the Holy Grail, the Ark of the Covenant, the spear of destiny, the philosopher’s stone, how to cure gayness, and the true cross. In three months he will bring back 1974, town meetings, 8 track tapes, respect for the flag, the proper place for women, Andy Griffith, Opie and the Beaver, and an end to troublesome minorities.
    Jesus was only a carpenter. Joe is a barber!

    1. Oh, no one said the school committee had the market cornered on dopes . . . Our town council has Monique, Nikola and Clements. They make Joe Marino look like genius.

  5. As much as things change, they still remain the same. Nothing new here.
    Wasn't Southbridge the town that thought a regional dump was the answer to all
    their woes? The town is like a computer, it's only as good as what you put in it.
    Garbage in----Garbage out.

  6. At tonight's Council meeting, Chairman Langevin said he had a chance to tour SMHS and basically everything appeared to be fine.

  7. Replacing all or most of the staff represents just one of the options available to the lowest performing school districts under The Federal No Child Left Behind Act. Others include; closure, reopening as a charter school or yielding to a state takeover.

    1. Well let's look at these three options:
      1. Replace everyone. Hell, they've done that a few times, That don't work.
      2. Re-open as a charter school. Probably the best of the three options; since option 3 is to have the State take over. They're even more inept than Buzz and the girls. And their heads bobble too.

    2. Time to hire professional doormen.

  8. Acting Town Manager Reed reports that the difference between receiving and sending costs for school choice in Southbridge is one of the greatest in the state.

    1. And this surprises who? Wait till next year - we make be the greatest in the world.
      I have two words for the reason: McLoughlin and Donovan

    2. Guess that's why they need another 1.7 million added to next years budget - so we can pay Tantasqua, Sherherd Hill, Quaboag, etc.

      Imagine is these fools running our schools could telling us how wonderful they're doing and actually improve 1 thing !

      Not a good business model to send more money out than take in. It's like a trade deficit !

      PS - I hope I spelled all my words correctly - don't want Kara to get after me.

    3. In FY13 Southbridge was the eighth highest school choice tuition loser in the State at $1,057,857
      preliminary numbers from DESE website list Southbridge FY 14 at 1,276,739
      which is a 218,882 increase. Which could skyrocket us up to 6th place bypassing Gloucester at 1,184,500 and Worcester at 1,214,992
      Springfield lead the way in FY13 with 3,764,475 so why do we need so much Springfield in our district?

  9. Brian Lee reports in today's T&G in an article titled Southbridge manager cites students choosing out-of-town schools as 'budget buster':

    "...there is renewed concern in the sudden growth of students opting to attend school in other communities, and taking with them tuition money funded by Southbridge taxpayers. The town had about $450,000 in "sending tuition" in 2008, but almost $1,050,000 in fiscal 2012, followed by a leveling off in 2013, he said.

    For 2015 the line item has increased $260,688, or 20 percent, to $1,276,739.

    As for unemployment compensation, the town is expected to be in excess of $350,000 in fiscal 2014, with approximately $320,000 of this attributable to the school department, Mr. Reed said.

    By comparison, unemployment costs were $70,000 in 2008, but grew to more than $250,000 in fiscal 2012, and to more than $259,800 in fiscal 2013.

    Mr. Reed said the town administration would endeavor to work with the school superintendent and school business manager to try to bring unemployment compensation under better control. "

    1. Mr. Reed, don't waste your time. . . . You can't fix stupid!

    2. What a great, factual article by Brian Lee of the Telegram

      We should expect The News to us about the meeting sometime in mid-April.

    3. This morning, Brian Lee ignored the school committee debacle that occurred last night. He needs to open his eyes to the truth!

  10. Last night we had the town council chairman telling us everything was hunky-dory at the Middle High school. Today we have a letter from Sen. Dick Moore in the Southbridge News saying the same thing. How stupid do these politicians think we are?
    If everything is so wonderful why are people sending their kids out of the district in droves and why are unemployment costs going through the roof?

    1. So I guess Mr. Langevin is in agreement with the budget request submitted by the McLoughlin Group.

      Good for those parents smart enough and capable of selecting school choice. The way things are going under the girls we will be able to put all students in grades k-12 in one building. (That will certainly cut down on principals.)

    2. I just read Dick Moore's letter. While Sen. Moore has always supported public education, but he obviously isn't aware of the endless issues with our school committee and superintendent.
      But it was interesting in reading the letter how aware the students are. They realize how wrong it has been to have somany principals in 20 months. This is just one more problem caused directly by McLougjlin and Donovan.
      Would the 1400 people who voted for them please stand up and take a bow.

    3. I assume the cost of all the paid administrative leaves is on top of unemployment expense, neither of which would be incurred if people we're let go for cause.
      Also note that while I admit it is a net cost, lost school choice money is partially offset by the need for fewer teachers due to fewer students.

    4. They are addi g teachers and staff. If it ain't working, throw more money at it.

      What's up with this sports helmet thing?

      Any comment from the Blueberry Patch?


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