Friday, January 16, 2015

Southbridge Property Taxes – Explained?

Ken O’Brien

During Councilor’s forum on Monday night another eleven minutes were devoted to “clarifying” the tax bills received by residents.

Now, I want to begin by saying that my criticisms of this discussion are not directed against Wil Counoyer. He is essentially a technician using State laws to guide his obligation to determine a tax rate that will fund the budget as well as any subsequent additions thereto as set by the Town Council.

There may be criticisms that can be leveled as to how those decisions are allocated, but I am not in a position to evaluate that. Rather, my criticisms are directed at the aggregate consequences of the tax rate that was enacted as a consequence of the Council’s prior actions.

State Education Officials Plan To Dump MCAS

Ken O’Brien
from State House News Service

State education officials will decide next fall whether to switch from the old standardized tests to a new model under development around the country, and already policymakers have voiced the need to shift public schools' testing approach.

"Higher ed cannot do what it needs to do unless we change the current system," said Higher Education Commissioner Richard Freeland at an education forum Wednesday morning. He said, "If we don't get it right this time I suspect it is going to be a very long time before we revisit it."

This spring a little more than half the school districts around the state will administer the new Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers while the other half will stick with the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Stanton Appointed Superintendent

Ken O'Brien

Updated: Just a note for those who might have missed it. During last night's meeting of the Southbridge School Committee, items VIII and IX were moved on the agenda. They were taken up after the Executive Session. When the committee returned to the dais the item labelled " Superintendent of Schools Update/Discussion" became a motion by Erin Quinney to appoint Sheryl Stanton as Acting Superintendent of Schools through June 30, 2015, pending contract negotiations. The vote was 6 to 1 in favor with the sole negative vote being cast by School Committee member Dr. Raymond Page.

Enforced Silence Or A Lack Of Vision – Or Both?

Ken O’Brien

I recently ran an image that showed the School Committee chair saying that she could show terrorists how to constrain free speech without engendering blow back.

A few critics thought my expression was over the top or lacked any humor.

Perhaps they missed the point that I was making.

Whether the item was humorous or not was somewhat irrelevant. What was intended was to illustrate the irony that the ability to express an opinion could be far more effectively limited by distorting the rules than by actions that inspired popular outrage.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Telegram Opinion Piece Targets Southbridge Schools

The following article appeared in today's (January 13) Opinion section of the Worcester Telegram.

A system in turmoil

The public schools in Southbridge face more than enough challenges for any system, including a need to raise academic achievement and help many of their students find stability and direction. The last thing the town needs is instability in school administration. Unfortunately, that has been the case for years. 

Meeting in emergency session last Wednesday night, the Southbridge School Committee accepted the immediate resignation of Patricia Gardner, who had been superintendent for less than a year, and was the target of complaints from system employees over what has been called "a serious account of unprofessional behavior." 

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Southbridge Infrastructure Funds Increased By $242.7 Thousand

Ken O’Brien

On Thursday Governor Charlie Baker, in one of his first actions in office, directed Acting Secretary of Transportation and Chief Executive Officer Frank DePaola and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) to follow through on the Baker-Polito administration's commitment to release immediately $100 million in Chapter 90 transportation funds critical to job creation, public safety and economic growth.

"I am pleased that one of the first acts of this administration is to fulfill our commitment to ensure local governments have access to the infrastructure funds they have been promised for transportation upgrades," said Governor Baker. "The release of these funds represents a step towards creating better jobs and building stronger communities in Massachusetts."

Friday, January 9, 2015

Southbridge School Committee Meeting - January 13, 2015

Southbridge School Committee Meeting

Town Council Chambers

Southbridge Town Hall

January 13, 2015

7:00 PM


I. Welcome and Pledge of Allegiance

II. Public Input*

III. Call to Order/Roll Call

Southbridge Town Council Agenda - January 12, 2015

Town Council Meeting

Council Chambers

Southbridge Town Hall

January 12, 2015

7:00 PM


Thursday, January 8, 2015

Wall Street's Next Bubble - Fracking

Ken O’Brien

The last big financial crisis  was brought about by the sudden collapse of the housing bubble. Synthetic derivatives based on inflated home values and unscrupulous mortgage practices suddenly collapsed leaving investors holding worthless paper that threatened the foundations of world financial markets.

History appears to be repeating itself. However, this time the target is the world energy market.

Collapsing crude oil prices due to oversupply are reaching critical levels. They threaten Wall Street banks, investors and a dozen countries. 

Foremost among these are Russia, Iran and Venezuela, where revenue losses have caused severe financial degradation, and economies are about to implode

While Americans are today enjoying $2 per gallon gasoline, Wall Street's analysts are predicting an imminent energy market collapse. This will bring financial institutions to their knees once again, and taxpayers are being set up for another mandatory bailout. 

Moving Forward

Ken O’Brien

Southbridge now has its fifth Superintendent of Schools in just over two years.

Ely, Wiggins, Nembirkow, Gardner and now Stanton.

Eric Ely was the last chosen by anything approaching a community-based process. Even in that case, however, the process was compromised.

All four have departed under clouds of varying density and magnitude.

According to today’s Worcester Telegram Mrs. Stanton has been named “acting superintendent”. (Question to the chairman, “Is that a legal title?”) 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Breaking News: Gardner Resigns

Sources tell the O'Zone that Southbridge Superintendent of Schools Patricia Gardner resigned her position on Monday.

Sheryl Stanton, the district’s Assistant Superintendent for Teaching & Learning, has been named to fill the post for the time being.

In a joint statement, the committee and Ms. Gardner cited "philosophical differences on how the School District should move forward" as the reason for ending their working relationship.

What Will They Do?

Ken O’Brien

Tonight at 6 p.m. there will be a Committee of the Whole meeting of the Southbridge School Committee.

The agenda for the meeting has only two components of substance on it.

Vote to enter executive session pursuant to:
 1. MGL c. 30A. Section 21 (a) (2), to discuss the Superintendent’s contract.
 2. MGL c. 30A, Section 21(a)(3), to discuss strategy with respect to collective bargaining: all  bargaining units. 

Fox News Is OFF the Dish Network

Ken O’Brien

The folks over at Fox News had hoped to bully Dish Network into giving their toxic channel the cheap air time it demands, but being banished from the television lineup is only proving that Dish has more clout.

Because Fox News has played the victim instead of offering a fair price to for its weak programming, Dish dropped the conservative propaganda channel, including Fox Business, much to the delight of Americans who value their brains. 

Maybe He Was Wrong?

Ken O’Brien

During the 2012 presidential race, something you may still remember, wealthy Florida real estate person David Siegel got a bit of notoriety for sending his Westgate Resorts employees a maudlin form letter. He noted that while he couldn't "tell you whom to vote for," their jobs would be "endanger"-ed if the cruel President Barack Obama was not unseated by fellow wealthy person Mitt Romney. The ostensible cause was that his fragile empire could not possibly stand another four years of the sort of deeply onerous taxes that Siegel imagined Obama had been imposing, and that if he was going to be taxed anymore he was going to close his company and go be rich on a Caribbean beach.

Monday, January 5, 2015

About Those Property Tax Bills II…

Ken O’Brien

Regarding my most recent post on property tax bills, someone noted that there had been a shift in the allocation of taxes based on changes in property valuations. They even provided me with a time reference from the video of the December 8th Town Council meeting where this was explained.

However, they should have listened to, and evaluated, the immediately following portion of the chief assessor’s presentation. In this he compared Southbridge’s standing relative to the rest of Massachusetts in terms of their average tax bills.

For those of you who don’t recall this, let’s take a look at the video.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

About Those Property Tax Bills…

Ken O’Brien

Like the rest of you, I got my property tax bill today.

Having been told we would have about a 5% tax increase, I was somewhat surprised when I opened the bill.

My property tax had gone from $712.13 per quarter to $778.22 per quarter. That’s an increase of 9.3%