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Reading Advocate 08/19/04 - Letter: Committee is creating the space crunch - Members of the Reading School Commitee are not alone in perpetuating this "school construction charade." Many of those most responsible for the current fabricated "space crunch" have either left town or are not currently serving on public committees.
A variety of individuals have involved themselves in this conspiracy to exploit and mislead the Reading public. There is a great deal of money at stake and many people "in the know" are benefitting at the expense of Reading taxpayers, parents and children. It's all about the money. Do and take what you want until somebody stops you - it's the Reading way!
Minutes from the 06/15/04 school committee meeting in which hundreds of thousands of dollars were moved out of the Reading FY'04 school budget and into Reading school construction project accounts.
July 19, 2004 email from Town Treasurer Beth Klepeis to Linda Phillips detailing "School Department Merit Pay and Vacation Buyback for Administrators."
Daily Times Chronicle 07/27/04 - Killam parents voice displeasure with fourth grade class sizes - Why can't Reading school officials give Killam parents what they want? Even with Barrows offline, ample space exists at the middle schools to solve the current problems (as has been done in the past). However, to admit that extra space exists anywhere in the district is to also admit that Reading school officials and adminstrators have misrepresented and continue to mispresent Reading enrollment and space needs.
Why do some Reading school committee members continue to promote the illusion that Reading enrollment is rising? It is not. As predicted in 1997, Reading school enrollment is dropping. Even after implementing parent-paid all-day kindergarten, plenty of extra space still exists in the district, even with Barrows offline. This is why current renovations (RMHS, Barrows) reflect a reduction of the size of the school buildings (but not a reduction in the cost). The current "crisis" at Killam has been created by school officials to squeeze Killam parents and generate support for the future renovation of the school and / or a new operational override for the funding of new teachers.
So hold on to your wallets, taxpayers! Once Wood End, The New High School and Barrows are completed, Killam is next. There's still a lot more money to be made from Reading school construction projects!Reading officials have already moved hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Reading FY'04 school budget (regular ed and special ed accounts) into school construction project accounts (an alarming and highly questionable practice). Yet, Reading school officials still claim that they can't afford to add a teacher to Killam or provide busing to redistribute kindergartners to space readily available in other parts of the district. They can. They just choose not to.
Under the Harutunian Administration, small class sizes were promoted to agitate parents and gain popular support for school construction projects.In 1997, Birch Meadow kindergarten parents were actually advocating for higher 5th grade class sizes. The parents wanted to free up a classroom that would enable their kindergarten children to stay at Birch Meadow (see 1997 Reading Chronicle article)! At that time, Principal Richard Davidson stated that Reading had bussed kindergarteners outside their neighborhoods for 25-30 years. He even told parents at one meeting that "nothing the parents say tonight will change my decision for next year." To accommodate addtional students being bussed to Barrows, two portables were moved from Killam to Barrows. The RISE Preschool program was also moved from Killam to the High School.
In 1997, after the RISE Preschool and the portables were moved, Killam had 24 classrooms, 5 small resource rooms, for 611 students (see 1998 Killam school wiring plan). Today, Killam uses that same space for only 557 students. Where have all Killam's previous resource rooms gone? In 1998, ample space existed for special education students and students with IEPs. At least five rooms existed, meeting the needs of these children. Why can't 557 students now use the same space once occupied by 611?
1998 Killam school wiring plan - contradicts administrative claims about existing Killam space.
Reading Enrollment Actuals, October 1997 - Peak year for Killam.
1997 Reading Chronicle article - compare with Reading officials' current position on busing.
2000 Inventory of Existing Elementary School Space - submitted to SBA in March 2000.
Eagle Tribune 07/18/04 - There should be a price to pay for violating the open meeting law - by Taylor Armerding.
Attorney Naomi Stoneberg's 06/14/04 Presentation to the Reading School Committee (.mp3, 19.0 MB) - Hear Attorney Stoneberg explain rules of conduct and operation that members of the Reading School Committee violate on a regular basis. Although during former Superintendent Harutunian's reign violations were even more flagrant and frequent, the public records / open meeting law games have, unfortunately, continued with the current administration. This is not surprising. If school officials know nobody is going to hold them accountable for their actions, why should they obey the law? Note the pointed questions from some committee members. Remember that Attorney Stoneberg is giving opinions based upon the limited information and context provided by the school committee. At this meeting, did members accurately present their "issues" to Attorney Stoneberg? More to come.
The Hypocrisy of Pete Dahl - School committee member Pete Dahl, "stunned" that Reading student directory information is public information, willingly participated in the 1997-1998 Birch Meadow Family Directory. In 1997, parents signed forms allowing their information to be included in the directories. Times have changed. Currently, this information is automatically considered school directory information unless parents specifically request their information to be excluded. See Department of Education 603 CMR 23.07 (4) (a).Access to school directory information = increased political power in Reading, Massachusetts.
School committee election teams and override campaign committees (C.A.R.E., Building Pride etc.) have used (with school officials' blessing) directory information to support pro-administration committee candidates, influence Town Meeting and promote the interests of architectural firms and special-interest groups. Over the years, directory information has enabled Reading school officials and their supporters to organize and mass-manipulate hundreds (if not, thousands) of Reading parents. While directories of student / parent information are readily available to those political action groups who support the agendas of school officials and administrators, these same directories are not available to the "opposition." Making this information available to the entire public would put everyone on a more level playing field.
Former Superintendent Harry Harutunian obstructed certain parents' access to the directories by misrepresenting their information requests. At one public meeting, Harutunian produced doctored permission forms (with the check-off box whited out) and claimed that the forms were proof that the parents were shamefully seeking personal, private information about children. In reality, the parents were requesting the same directory information readily available to Harutunian's pet political action groups. Predictably, the Reading School Committee played along with the deception.History is repeating itself. Now that Killam parents want to use the directory to learn about the school system and communicate with other parents whose interests somehow conflict with the objectives of the current Reading School Committee, Pete Dahl doesn't think these parents should have access to the same information he had access to in 1997. Superintendent Schettini and other members of the school committee apparently agree.
Dahl found the idea of student directories to be perfectly acceptable in 1997, when he signed up to include his family in the 1997-98 Birch Meadow Family Directory. Yet, in 2004, he is "stunned" by the idea that such lists even exist.
Listen to Pete Dahl (acting surprised and suffering from selective memory loss) at a recent 06/14/04 School Commitee Meeting when he is informed by attorney Naomi Stoneberg that school directories are public information:
"I am stunned to the point where I wouldn't even.. I would ask the Superintendent never to comply with that request. Just think about this. In a school system you could publish to someone who, who wanted to go after in a kidnapping situation - maybe it's their own child they don't have custody of. What do they want? They want to know everyone in the third grade. So I can, I know exactly what teacher they're in. I request the information and it comes to me."
Read pages from the 1997-1998 Birch Meadow Family Directory [.pdf, 108 KB].Download the 1997 sign-up form [.pdf, 23.3 KB] for the Birch Meadow Family Directory. Listen to the student directory discussion [.mp3 download, 1.17 MB] from the 06/14/04 school committee meeting.
Reading Advocate 06/10/04 - RMHS earns renewed accreditation, praise - "The high school sought to renew accreditation by the NEASC, a nationally recognized, voluntary, non-governmental accrediting agency. According to NEASC documents, 'a school which earns accreditation can assure local citizens that its programs, procedures, and facilities have been submitted to the scrutiny of professional educators and have been deemed worthwhile and appropriate for the students served.'" When Superintendent Harutunian and his special interest friends were selling the RMHS "renovation" to voters, the school supposedly faced major accreditation problems due to the deplorable condition of the building. Listen to the misinformation-filled, scare-tactic override video used in 2003 to promote the Flansburgh Associates / Building Pride agenda - Ken Tucci "Yes" override video audio [.mp3, 7.09 MB].Now, in 2004, under the leadership of a new superintendent, the school is fine? The school hasn't been "renovated" yet. Before the override was passed, citizens were led to believe that conditions in the building were deplorable but now its "ok" for students to inhabit the same building for the next four years... during construction.. and there are no accreditation problems. How convenient.
Again... the NEASC reports what school administrators submit to the NEASC. If an administrator wants to scare the public with the threat of "losing accreditation," the administrator can report conditions that warrant the NEASC to declare that the school is in danger of "losing accreditation." Conversely, if an administrator wants to lead to public into believing everything is "ok," the administrator reports favorable conditions.
Boston Globe North 05/27/04 - Warning is wake-up call for high school - Continuing problems with TLT Construction (the firm contracted to "renovate" RMHS). "A warning this month by the New England Association of Schools & Colleges has prompted school officials to accelerate academic and building upgrades at Gloucester High School......Building construction problems and air quality issues have been of concern since the school was renovated in the mid-1990s. Since then, the city has sued the project's contractor, TLT Construction Corp. of Wakefield, and the building's architects, Drummey, Rosane, Anderson Inc. of Newton Centre, citing 'hundreds' of problems with the work, said Linda Lowe, the city's general counsel. The lawsuits are still active.
While the city spent $1.5 million in 1999 to fix ventilation problems in classrooms, and to repair the auditorium's roof, Sullivan still maintains a checklist of problem areas that he wants fixed. Inside the administration's offices, and the school library, the fresh air ventilation system does not work, causing mold to grow. In the field house, the plastic floor has warped in places, and one section of the track has been replaced by wood. Leaks are also a constant problem, with rain trickling into the auditorium, cafeteria, and the automotive tech shop.
'Every time it rains, we dance around the water leaks,' said auto instructor Dennis Martin, who pointed to leaks in the building's roof, skylights, and water pipes."Sure hope Reading doesn't end up with a "new" high school like this one.
In 1997, Reading appropriated $1.8 million to deal with problems at RMHS similar to those now being addressed at Gloucester High School. While it is difficult to determine where and how Reading's money was actually spent, repairs occurred and the problems were dealt with. Since 1995, new roofing has also been installed in several areas of RMHS. Now all of those repairs are going to be torn down, along with most of the historic, structurally sound building.. and replaced with a new TLT structure of questionable quality. Reading citizens will hope for the best but.. TLT has a history of problems.
Reading Memorial High School may have been neglected and badly-maintained by the Harutunian administration but at least "every time it rains," we don't have to "dance around the water leaks."...and, before anyone writes about it, the cause of the "flooding" in the Pride / Flansburgh Associates / Ken Tucci override video actually was a defective valve [.pdf download, 14.4 KB], not pipes continually bursting in the walls of Reading Memorial High School (as Harutunian often claimed). A 01/30/03 memo to Superintendent Harutunian from Maintenance Director Domenic Cacciapouti revealed that "the malfunction of the valves in the English and Math Department was due to the deterioration of the valves and hard water."
Newburyport Daily News 05/22/04 - Triton school board: We broke the law - "Members of the Triton Regional School Committee admitted yesterday that they had privately offered the superintendent's job to Sandra Halloran in December -- six months before the board publicly voted to give the job to her.The committee's actions are a violation of the state's Open Meeting Law, a law that requires city and town boards to conduct the majority of their discussions and decisions in public."Massachusetts' Open Meeting Law is a joke. School officials know this.
School administrators know this. Open Meeting Law is rarely enforced and the consequences violators face are... laughable. Presently, the rewards for opportunistic school officials and administrators who can successfully conduct public business in secret FAR outweigh the risks. If State officials (the D.A.'s) do not take the Open Meeting Law seriously, why should anyone?
Globe Northwest 05/13/04 - School Chief earns marks of distinction - Communities saddled with inept, manipulative school administrators (whose primary objective is to further their own interests under the guise of "doing it for the children") should know about Superintendent Ronald Fitzgerald. For 28 years, as leader of the Minuteman Regional Vocational / Technical School District, Mr. Fitzgerald has dedicated himself to meeting the evolving needs of students and their communities, successfully integrating solid academic achievement with vocational and technical skills. Contrary to the impression some of Reading's "politically correct" minority expressed at Town Meeting, 92% of students who graduate from Superintendent Fitzgerald's technology / science programs go on to higher education. Since local administrators want to retain students in the local high schools (maintaining enrollment numbers), parents often are kept in the dark about the opportunities available to their children in public vocational / technical schools (paid for by the Town).
Ron Mini of "Quarterbacks" - Have you seen his show on RCTV? Informed residents love this guy! Today, Ron spoke out about the drug problems at RMHS, informed the public about a developer's plans for the downtown property formerly occupied by Johnson's Hardware etc... and urged citizens to attend a planning board meeting at Coolidge Middle School on May 10th.Ron wants more Reading citizens to ask questions and take an active interest in what is going on in the community. Who can argue with that?
Yahoo News 05/08/04 - Lawyers Warned About Becoming Defendants - "...jurors understood what it meant to cook the books and professionals' role in protecting the schemes.
"It's no Robin Hood story ... middle America is getting filched. ... Jurors and judges know if professionals did their jobs, it would all come to a screeching halt.""...jurors have a way of cutting through technical arguments and getting down to basics ... you don't steal, you don't cheat and you do your job."
Advocacy Group - The Unofficial Plano Independent School District School Page - Another website dedicated to providing useful information and exposing waste in their public schools. Citizens of Plano, Texas have been dealing with problems for years (see information on the Delphi Technique).
Questions about Gas Heating at Town Meeting - The decision to convert the Reading schools to gas energy was made long before Superintendent Schettini was hired.Citizens who want to know why Reading is committed to changing all of its schools to gas energy at a time when natural gas prices are soaring should direct their questions to former Reading Superintendent Harutunian (North Andover Public Schools, 978-794-1503) and former Reading School Committee member Susan Cavicchi (who resigned from the committee on June 30, 2003 and has since moved away from Reading).The authorization of a signed "sales agreement" is believed to have been one of Harutunian's last acts in Reading before departing for his new job in North Andover (Keyspan Energy 06/16/03 letter to Harutunian). The full, signed contractual agreement between the gas company and the Reading Public Schools is one of many Harutunian-era public documents that have yet to be released.
Boston Globe 04/25/04 - Sick day policy called threat to fiscal health - "Paying retirees for unused days seen as squandering funds."What kinds of buyback provisions do the contracts of school superintendents and administrators contain? According to this Globe article, one retiring assistant principal in Lowell received $64,518 "as part of a sick-time buyback program."
Reading Advocate 04/15/04 - Schools adjust funding [.pdf, 17.2 KB] - "Funds earmarked for furniture, library books and educational technology will be temporarily reduced in order to keep the Reading Memorial High School renovation project on track, School Committee officials decided Monday night. The committee voted to engage TLT Construction Corporation of Wakefield as general contractor for the renovation, at a cost of $44,492,700, approximately two percent higher than pre-bid estimates."
Toxics Action Center, 1997 Dirty Dozen Awards - TLT Construction Corporation of Wakefield's Rotten Apple Award [.pdf, 197 KB] - "One construction company stands out... as the cause of a long and growing list of health and safety problems at schools across the Commonweath: TLT Construction Corporation, a company which specializes in public projects, and is in fact one of the most aggressive school contractors in the Commonwealth. While its low bids win contracts for the company, children and school staff are paying the price."
Newton Tab, 1997 - TLT among state's "Dirty Dozen" [.pdf, 200 KB] - "...Matt Wilson of the Toxics Action Center presented a Rotten Apple Award to TLT 'to highlight the threat that its work poses to students, teachers... and their own workers.' He called for TLT to pay more attention and put more resources into health and safety, for a reexamination of the state's low-bid law and for municipalities to aggressively oversee renovations at schools and other public buildings."
Daily Times Chronicle 09/03/97 - Parker Middle School Contractor nominated to 'Dirty Dozen' list [.pdf, 42.4 KB] - "During construction at the Parker Middle School, there was a fire at the site, and after the flames were extinguished a portion of the building collapsed."
Newburyport Daily News 02/21/97 - A profile of TLT: An aggressive but sometimes troubled builder [.pdf, 87.6 KB] - "TLT's reputation is marred by reports of missed deadlines, unsafe work conditions and air quality problems that have coincided with projects at local schools."
Massachusetts Department of Public Health - February, 2000 RMHS Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Report [.pdf, 1.55 MB] - This State report on Reading Memorial High School reveals the true causes of many of the building's alleged "problems." This report, from a November 1999 site visit, includes some very simple and cost-effective solutions and, unfortunately, was suppressed by the Harutunian administration. Details from the report were also omitted from Flansburgh Associates' RMHS Feasibility Study. Accompanying DPH officials on their November 17 assessment visit were Jane Fiore (Reading Health Department), Frank Orlando, RMHS Principal, Herbert Marden, RMHS custodian and Richard Barrett, Reading Schools Facilities Manager.After investing over $2 million in 1998 in heating system upgrades and a new roof at RMHS (built in 1953 with 1970s addition), Reading taxpayers now are throwing it all away (with the State's blessing). Reading is demolishing the structurally sound high school to fix poor housekeeping issues and heat fluxuations in 3 classrooms. Why IS RMHS going to be torn down and replaced with a new $58+ million structure? Who benefits?Did the Reading Building Committee and "Building Pride" folks know about this IAQ report when they misrepresented conditions at the high school and campaigned to tear it down and replace it?
Note (at the end of the DPH report) the scathing 11/24/99 DPH letter to Reading Assistant Fire Chief Jack Mooney regarding hazardous chemical storage at RMHS. Was this situation ever corrected? Are the "volatile organic compounds" still improperly stored there?If your house is a dirty mess, don't clean it or put things away; tear it down!! It's the Reading way!
NECN News 03/26/04 - School chief, others indicted for alleged fraud - "A Middlesex grand jury indicted Fred Foresteire, the district's superintendent since 1989, along with five corporations and 10 other people on charges related to alleged bid-rigging schemes in the Everett Public Schools. The grand jury returned a total of 41 indictments, Attorney General Thomas Reilly announced Friday.Sixty-three contracts worth more than $552,000 were illegally obtained, according to Reilly, who is investigating the case with state Inspector General Gregory Sullivan. The indictments allege that contracts were steered to certain contractors outside the competitive bidding process.
Sullivan said Foresteire and the other ten people created fictional competition "out of whole cloth" for their own gain.'Bid rigging... is a cynical effort by people to line their pockets at the expense of the public,' he said. 'When public employees use their official positions for personal gain, the integrity of the entire system is undermined.'"
Does this sound familiar? Is it only a matter of time before the truth about bid processes, maintenance contracts and questionable school construction deals in Reading goes mainstream? The Ten Taxpayer Complaint (by 22 Reading Taxpayers) revealed that Reading failed to follow State bid laws (designer selection statutes) in hiring the architectural firm Flansburgh & Associates for two elementary school projects.
"Reilly's office said Foresteire was charged with one count of receiving stolen property on allegations that he had two $1,200 air conditioners purchased with Everett school funds, installed in his home."
If A.G. Reilly's office can indict Fred Foresteire for air conditioners, they can surely investigate the many longstanding allegations of wrongdoing that have been made against former Reading Superintendent Harutunian. Did school employees use school funds to work on the Superintendent's private home? Whatever happened to the $1.8 million in maintenance funds appropriated in 1997 to to address RMHS mechanical, structural, safety and accreditation issues? Why do school committees directed by Harutunian have a habit of repeatedly violating open meeting laws? Why was Flansburgh & Associates allowed to prematurely work, under an illegal "time and materials" contract from January to August 2000, on full design services for Reading elementary schools? Who benefitted? Who benefitted from the misrepresentation of Reading student enrollment data? Concerning Harutunian, there are many, many unanswered questions... and a need for serious investigation.
When State authorities do not hold school administrators accountable for their actions, it sets a bad example, encourages other administrators to disregard laws and "the integrity of the entire system is undermined."
Boston Globe Magazine 03/21/04 - Schoolhouse Rocked - "No longer just for religious fundamentalists, home schooling has gone main stream, especially in Massachusetts."
Boxford Tri-Town Transcript 03/18/04 - Masco candidates at glance - It's interesting to hear what some administrators will say when they're looking for a new job.
During his interview for the Masconomet Regional School District Superintendency, Reading Associate Superintendent Dennis Richards insisted he had extensive experience in administration, beyond curriculum, because Reading has no Personnel Director, no Business Manager and no Technology Director. According to Richards, he and the Superintendent "do it all." Richards neglected to mention some of the unique "business arrangements" that exist in Reading. For example, since 1991, Town Treasurer Beth Klepeis and her husband, Town Accountant Richard Foley, have been overseeing Reading's school finances. In 1996, Harutunian further expanded Klepeis and Foley's involvment in the school budget. In the name of “efficiency,” Klepeis and Foley, two Town employees who should have been part of the Town's “checks and balances” over the School Department, were placed under the control of and answerable to the Superintendent.Joe Cain has been listed as Reading's technology specialist since 1996. Think about Mr. Cain's duties. Doesn't he basically do the job of a technology director?Also, following former Superintendent Harutunian's arrival in 1995, several new administrative positions were created in the central office and numerous secretaries were promoted to the level of "administrative assistants." Some of these positions include the Administrative Assistant for Personnel and Administrative Assistant for Finance. In recent years, top Reading school administrators have often complained about not having a business manager. However, in reality, they have had an extensive administrative / finance support system in place.Read about the people who really "do it all" in Harutunian's 1996 reorganization plan.
Search for Public School Information - National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) - A resource for concerned taxpayers to evaluate their Town's school expenditures. Compare school systems and per-pupil expenditures in your own district, including construction costs and the interest on school debts.
According to the NCES, from 1999 - 2000, Reading spent $8,900 per pupil. Based on revenues reported, Reading had an additional $41 per pupil available but failed to use the money.Including State and Federal revenue sources, the total revenue of the Reading Schools for 1999 - 2000 was actually $37,489,000!! Are these the same numbers Reading school officials have been reporting to the public? According to Reading Town / School Department documents, the official School Budget that year (1999 - 2000) was only $24,953, 916...To find this information, input Reading, Massachusetts on the search page.. click on a school... click on "district information" and then click "show all."
Eagle Tribune 03/03/04 - North Andover's school chief insists he's open, responsive - When North Andover School Committee member Darlene Rose Torosian resigned Friday, "she called Harutunian a manipulative leader who controls the information the School Commiteee and the public receive and brushes issues under the rug to keep a grip on his power." That sounds about right... "Harutunian said he has 'no idea' why Torosian and the Web site authors have interpreted his behavior that way.
'I have a strong leadership style, and sometimes when things don't go the way people want them to be, sometimes they lash out,' he said. 'I honestly do not know. I'm speculating.'"
Reading Advocate 02/05/04 - John Russo: Why I did not run for school committee [.pdf, 15.0 KB]. "I liked giving a voice to those in the community who paid taxes but had no voice on the committee. I really liked challenging the status quo.""I especially didn't like the fact that not one person in this community, except for Tim Kaldas, accepted my many offers of debates for school issues.""I didn't like the new 'freedom of speech rule' (I called it the 'Russo gag rule') that the committee designed for me. I could not talk about my agenda items unless the majority of the School Commitee members agreed. The people's voice that I represented was being restricted." "Finally what tipped the scale was my realization that I could achieve essentially the same results as I have with much less time by doing it another way. At each School Committee meeting there is an opportunity for any citizen in Readng to speak. At this time I will have even more freedom to speak than as a School Committee member!""The School Commitee has been my best experience in democracy (and lack thereof), community activism and consensus building. I look forward to continue working for the students' and community's best interest."
Vote for Linda Phillips Tuesday, March 2, 2004 at the Hawkes Field House! ...and read her advertisment [.pdf, 42.5 KB] which appeared in the Reading Advocate. Linda Phillips' campaign doesn't have the backing of millionaires or an army of prideful supporters but she does geninuely care about the education of children, responsible school spending and has demonstrated through her involvment over the past four years that, if elected, she WILL advocate for the best interests of the community (and not special interest groups). Perhaps this is part of the reason Lisa Gibbs is now being run against her.
Many of the people engineering Gibbs' campaign are the same prideful individuals responsible for recent overrides, abuses of authority, wasteful school spending and manipulative misinformation campaigns. New to the affairs of the Reading Schools and a self-described "team player," Lisa Gibbs is not expected to challenge the status quo or curb school spending.The pride / school lobby / special interest group agenda demands that Linda Phillips not be elected to the Reading School Committee. The powers-that-be simply do not want to have to deal with someone who, as a school official, will ask hard questions, fight corruption and seek to hold school officials accountable. There are simply too many influential people feeding at the trough.
Reading used to be a good place to live. People of all ages were valued equally and money didn't always control the community. There was also a time when good people respected the democratic process and didn't turn a blind eye to adults bullying and intimidating others. It's a shame.
Requested Link - Superintendent Schettini's Recommended Budget, FY 2005
Requested Information - Agreement Between Reading School Committee and Reading Teachers Association [.pdf, 1.70 MB], Effective: September 1, 2002 / Expiring: August 31, 2005.
According to comments made by Reading's Town Treasurer, Beth Klepeis, at a Selectmen's meeting Februrary 3rd, taxes for the average homeowner will increase $400 next fiscal year (July 1 '04 to June 30 '05) in order to make payments on the $35 Million the Town has borrowed to begin construction of the New High School this spring. The Town of Reading still needs to borrow an additional $20+ million to fund the construction of the school and, when this happens, the cost to Reading taxpayers will be larger still.
Funding from the State still isn't coming (or guaranteed). Tax bills, usually sent out around the holidays, will soon reflect the latest tax increases. Reading's average house value is now up from $355K in '03 to $391.4 for FY '04 while the average tax assessment has risen 17%. The average taxpayer's tax increase for this current year of $550 was due to the recent $4.5 million override plus other tax increases allowed under Proposition 2 1/2.
Boston Globe 01/12/04 - Send A Message to Bullies [22.7 KB] - "We all witness bullying every day." "I loved it because I knew I wouldn't get bullied if I bullied someone else. I loved yelling at people so they would be scared of me and never, like, do anything."
Adults can be bullies too. BullyOnline.org is an excellent resource for victims of bullying; the organization has made a detailed study of the psychology of those who habitually threaten and intimidate other people.
"The serial bully is an adult on the outside but a child on the inside; he or she is like a child who has never grown up. One suspects that the bully is emotionally retarded and has a level of emotional development equivalent to a five-year-old, or less. The bully wants to enjoy the benefits of living in the adult world, but is unable and unwilling to accept the responsibilities that go with enjoying the benefits of the adult world. In short, the bully has never learnt to accept responsibility for their behaviour."
Who in Reading, past and present, fit the profile of a serial bully?
We're on the list! We're on the list! But what does that mean??? Reading School Construction projects' current positions on the FY 2004 School Building Assistance reimbursement list [.pdf, 113 KB]. At position # 414, Reading ("Memorial" designation deleted) High School joins the 420 hopeful, yet-to-be-funded school projects on the School Building Assistance (SBA) combined list of Category A, B, and C projects. This list is in addition to the hundreds of school construction projects the State already is in varying stages of 20 year payback, some up to 90% reimbursement. Although the Reading High School project cost was filed with SBA at $57+ million, the projected 57% reimbursement only applies to $47 million of the project costs. Also, any reimbursement will be contingent upon annual legislative funding levels. With RHS sixth from the bottom of the waiting list before a twenty-year payback can even begin, Reading taxpayers may be forced to pay this bill on their own for many years and, possibly, the complete $57+ million for the entire project, plus interest. This fiscal burden was NOT included in the project sold to Reading taxpayers. Voters were misinformed about the scope, cost, and funding of the proposal as well as the state of the existing school building.
When and if the high school "addition / renovation" as it is currently proposed is completed, Reading will have a terraced parking area extending down from the top of the hill, replacing the soon-to-be demolished structurally sound Reading Memorial High School. A new, significantly smaller school will rise out of the low lying area at the bottom of the hill near the Field House (where the water table is only 5 feet below the surface). For $57 million, Reading will have less space, an inferior school structure and reduce its student building capacity from 2000 to 1400. Reading is a community of contradictions. The Town Finance Committee is currently circulating a questionnaire [.pdf, 33.1 KB] "to solicit residents' opinions" on how to deal with the current fiscal crisis including such novel ideas as selling naming rights for public spaces to the highest bidders and "a resort in Reading" featuring "casino gambling" (another special legislation assignment for State Rep. Jones?).
At the same time, Reading is destroying its historic memorial high school into which millions of dollars have been invested over the past 5 years, including roof and heating system replacements. Reading Memorial High School needed proper maintenance, care and renovation, not destruction. Instead, opportunistic individuals have taken advantage of the situation and the complete lack of State oversight of school construction projects. Foxes are watching the hen house and wolves are protecting the sheep! Millions of taxpayer dollars have been wasted and will continue to be wasted if Reading Memorial High School is torn down and destroyed. Irreplaceable excess community space within the RMHS structure will be lost.
Reading also has a new 5th elementary school under construction, a project sold to the taxpayers using inflated enrollment projections and low-balled cost estimates (of running a 5th elementary school). Some believe that a NEW OVERRIDE is being planned for this coming spring to cover additional school operating expenses.Since the 400 elementary students Reading administrators insisted were coming actually are not coming, the Barrows Elementary renovation / addition project has been redesigned a third time, bringing Flansburgh Associates even more money. This time the plan is to completely gut and further reduce the student capacity of the existing Alice Barrows Elementary school.
The waste and unnecessary burden on taxpayers apparently is without end. Voters need to realize that current tax bills do not include any of the $57+ million high school project costs. The full costs of Reading's elementary school projects also have not yet been accounted for. The higher than projected increases due to elementary projects apparent in Dec. 2003 tax bills are only the beginning!!! Outside of regular taxes, Reading water and sewer fees soon will also increase, incorporating roughly $1.5 million for the design of the new water treatment plant and $3.18 million for hookup to MWRA.
While increasing numbers of those responsible for creating this mess are jumping ship, selling their homes and moving out, those who remain in the Town of Reading will be forced to deal with an overwhelming financial burden. As long as the good, honest people who live in this town continue to do nothing to stop this craziness, the financial crisis the Town of Reading now faces will continue to spiral out of control.
There Is No Guarantee of State funding for the Reading Memorial High School Project - A 12/03/03 letter from the Department of Education to Reading Superintendent Patrick Schettini [.pdf, 42 KB] reiterates what some in Reading have known for years: even if the Commissioner of Education determines the high school project meets all program requirements, placement on a waiting list does not constitute a guarantee of project funding. (603 CMR 38.10 (8) [.pdf, 146 KB] "Any applicant with a project on the waiting list may commence construction prior to the grant award but does so at its own risk. Only a grant award provides a funding commitment by the Commonwealth. The Board will award grants to projects on the waiting list as funding authorization is available." As the 12/03/03 letter to Superintendent Schettini explains, "when the project's priority ranking places it within the available SBA grant authorization for a given fiscal year, the Department will present your grant application to the Board of Education for consideration."Reading has never been guaranteed state funding! With declining enrollment, structurally sound buildings and an excess of school space, Reading does not meet any of the criteria listed in Chapt. 70B Section 8 [.pdf, 88.7 KB] or Commissioner Driscoll's 4/04/03 memo outlining seven categories [.pdf, 199 KB] for priority ranking! The facts, however, have not stopped local Reading officials and community organizers from misrepresenting State requirements and the true status of building projects and their funding sources. Prior to Reading's rushed 02/25/03 override vote, Reading's former Superintendent, local officials and school committee members repeatedly assured voters that Reading would not proceed with the school projects unless state funding was guaranteed. Now, those same local officials are silent about the fact Reading taxpayers may have to foot the entire bill for the project. How many other school systems are as foolish and shortsighted as Reading? How many other communities are willing to pay $57+ million to tear down a structurally sound high school and endure an excessive "renovation / addition" process, ultimately to reduce the capacity of their high school from 2000 students to 1400 students?Who benefits?
Lawrence Eagle Tribune 11/17/03 - DA Probes Complaint of Closed Meeting - Do "birds of a feather flock together?" Hopefully, Lawrence Superintendent Wilfredo Laboy (member, Board of Directors, Greater Lawrence Educational Collaborative) has not been getting advice on Open Meeting Law from former Reading Superintendent of Schools (and GLEC Chairman) Harry Harutunian. During Harutunian's reign, the Reading School Committee regularly listed ALL (not one or two at a time... all) "nine exceptions" as reasons to hold closed-door, executive session meetings. Suspicious "five-minute breaks" and off-camera discussions were commonplace and citizens frequently filed complaints with the Middlesex District Attorney's office (who ignored them). Minutes of Harutunian-era executive session meetings were withheld from the public for years, long after their "reasons" for secrecy had passed (and some minutes are still unreleased! see past News entries, Harry Harutunian, Open Meeting Law). The Essex County DA is different; they can and do investigate murders and OML violations at the same time.
Boston Globe 10/30/03 - Per pupil cost: $5,300; MCAS scores: priceless - "I attribute the success first and foremost to our very competent teaching staff," says North
Site Boring Data is Bad News for the RMHS New High School Project - See Sept. 9, 2003 Geotechnical Engineering Report by Weber Engineering Associates, LLC and Flansburgh & Associates' March 4, 2003 draft of their “final” Reading Memorial High School Schematic Design report which includes site utilities report by Judith Nitsch Engineering, Inc. based upon an August 2002 site visit. Architect Flansburgh & Associates failed to obtain the contracted number of site borings by Dec. 2002, attributed at the time to their inability to locate site utilities (Judith Nitsch's 2002 report, in which site utilities have already been located via an August site visit, refutes Flansburgh's "explanation" here). Bidders for the final architect design contract were only given a March 4, 2003 “draft” of the final report, in spite of the fact that, by contract, Flansburgh and Associates was supposed to have produced a $50,000 Final Schematic Design report before the January, 2003 Town Meeting and the Special February Election. Neither Reading's former Superintendent nor the Reading School Committee held Flansburgh & Associates accountable for not producing this report in a timely manner (and the final version of this report STILL has yet to be discussed in public!!).
Reading taxpayers voted for the RMHS question #1 debt exclusion based upon inadequate, incomplete and in many instances, misleading and / or incorrect information. Although Design Partnership of Cambridge, Inc. is now the Final Design architect for the RMHS project, Flansburgh & Associates still remains the architect for the elementary school projects. Based upon Flansburgh's past performances in Reading, their competency to continue with the elementary projects is questionable at best.A Sept. 9, 2003 Geotechnical Engineering Report by Weber Engineering Associates, LLC raises serious concerns about cost and feasibility of building the RMHS and field house additions in a low lying area. Test borings now reveal the potential need for 24 hour “dewatering” of the site, since the water table is only 4 feet down, even during the dry season. Also of concern are conditions conducive for mold growth in the structure. Do Reading citizens really want to spend $54-57+ million to build a new high school structure on land that is essentially a swamp? Are Reading taxpayers prepared to take on the added cost of paying to continually pump water from its foundation 24 hours, 7 days a week?As the historic book on Reading history “At Wood End” explains (pages 103 and 227), the high school was originally built on the hill for reasons of common sense. Reading residents of the past would find it laughable that ANYONE, let alone school officials and architects (who should know better), would think of building a school on a former sawmill’s wetlands. Also see page 5-29 of Strekalovsky and Hoit's Second Feasibility Study, April 13, 2000 space needs study [.pdf download, 6.30 MB]: "The typography of the site suggests that the proper location for a new high school is in the location of the existing building" on the hill!
Wall Street Journal 11/07/03 - Expectations May Alter Outcomes Far More Than We Realize - "Seventy-six years on, scientists have documented the power of expectations, not only of lab researchers but also of teachers, athletic coaches, judges and work supervisors."
Wall Street Journal 10/15/03 - A Thirties Revelation: Rich People Who Steal Are Criminals, Too - "There are usually many victims over a long period of time. The thief and victim almost never come face to face. The crimes are complex and difficult even for other business executives to understand."
CTNOW 12/02/03 - Feds Eyeing Lake House - Hey, does this sound familiar to anyone? Well, at least in Connecticut it's clearly not OK to have public employees work on one's home...
Newton Tab 10/15/03 - It's all about scare tactics [.pdf, 87.3 KB] - In Reading, it's all about Pride: Reading Pride, Building Pride... PEP. Newton and Reading have a lot in common, complete with influential, manipulative lobby groups working hand-in-hand with school committee members and officials. Unfortunately, Reading does not have an informed, organized Taxpayers Association.
05/19/98 Reading Chronicle article: The longer the system has the kid... the dumber the kid! [.pdf, 127 KB]
The cost of the High School Renovation Project WAS misrepresented to Reading voters. On May 28, 2003, then Reading School Superintendent Harry Harutunian and Design Partnership of Cambridge submitted a $57,164,063 high school "renovation" project to the Department of Education School Building Assistance for reimbursement approval (see 05/28/03 submission to SBA for the RMHS project). Of that, $1,193,700 is for the RISE program area and $55,970,363 for the high school.
The actual cost of the approximately $54 million "solution to everything" project sold to Reading voters (see Building Pride's door to door propaganda flier) during the February 2003 Special Election is really expected to be at least approximately $57 million--and rising. How can this be? Prior to Reading's (very rushed) February Special Election, Reading voters were repeatedly told by school officials and special interest groups that the project was approximately $54 million dollars..
This new $57 million project total does not include the cost of replacing the district maintenance office and the district SPED office or renovating the Superintendent's Office (which will be 100 percent funded by Reading taxpayers with no State reimbursement). Back in February, Flansburgh Associates insisted that the RISE program was reimbursible (it's not). The added cost to the Town of Reading for new athletic fields and synthetic fields (Flansburgh's estimate: $4,000,000) has yet to be released to the public. According to SBA audit procedures, fields and bleachers also are not reimbursible.
The Reading School Committee has already acknowledged (in writing to SBA) their understanding that State reimbursement may never come and the Town of Reading may have to foot the bill for the entire high school "renovation" project, originally $54 million ($103,000,000 with interest). What will be the total cost with interest on a $57+ million project?
Those responsible for the inconsistency in the price of the RMHS project submitted to SBA ($57+ million) and what the Reading public was told prior to the February Special Election ($54.3+ million) insisted that a specific project amount could not be included in the ballot question.
In January 13, 2003, Town Meeting voted and approved a specific amount of money, $54,305,000, "to be expended at the direction of the school committee, to pay costs of making extraordinary repairs and/or additions to Reading Memorial High School at 62 Oakland Road, including the payment of all engineering and architectural fees and the payment of all other expenses incidental and related to this project" (Special Town Meeting, 01/13/03, Article 5).
Yet, the RMHS project was submitted for $57 million. What else has been kept secret from Reading voters? Why was Reading's own Town Treasurer Beth Klepeis not aware that the project was submitted for $57+ million?? The creative accounting and misrepresentation continues...
See 05/28/03 submission to SBA for the RMHS project, Building Pride's 02/15/03 FAQ, release 8 and the 05/27/03 Department of Education's Cost Estimate and Plan for Financing Form F, signed by Town Treasurer Beth Klepeis, claiming that the total project cost would be $54,304,945.
Reading's most recent contract (signed in July 2003) with Design Partnership of Cambridge ($4,600,000 for work to be done regarding the RMHS renovation project) surfaced only after it was requested by a member of the school committee. Having never seen, discussed or voted on the contract, Mr. Russo asked that the contract be presented to him. He was concerned that the present architect may be moving foward without a signed contract.
During former School Superintendent Harutunian's tenure in Reading, there was no signed contract for the new elementary school feasibility study. Neither Superintendent Harutunian nor School Building Committee Chairman Russell Graham could produce the signed contract for the Strekalovsky and Hoit feasibility study of Reading Memorial High School, the second of four feasibility studies done for this high school project. Strekalovsky and Hoit provided 7 options (some actually reasonable) at a cost of $35,000 -- a bargain compared with Flansburgh & Associates' over $400,000 price tag for the third high school feasibility study.
The Reading School Committee approves $980,000 for architects Design Partnership of Cambridge's Final Design Development phase of the ($54.9+ million / $103+ million with interest) Reading Memorial High School "renovation" project. Design Partnership has already received $400,000 for the partial design development phase, in spite of the fact that the initial schematic plan has yet to be approved by SBA and the RMHS project is not yet on the state funding list.
At last night's meeting, Mr. Phil Vaccaro, Reading Athletic Director and Coordinator of Extra Curricular Activities, pointed out that the new design (like many previous designs) significantly reduces and does not replace existing athletic facilities. It is good that Mr. Vaccaro is now speaking openly about his concerns. Why did he not, however, feel free to express these concerns during the time the (now defunct) Building Committee was planning this fiasco? Why did Mr. Vaccaro and others not speak out about this while Superintendent Harutunian was in charge? How could these serious deficiencies go unquestioned for so long?
Were people unwilling to criticize the project because they were too frightened or intimidated by school officials? Did some believe their jobs, salary increases and / or bonuses would be in jeopardy if they did not remain silent?
Does anyone remember former Superintendent Harry Harutunian (now in North Andover) and RMHS Principal Frank Orlando assuring the Building Committee and the public that this project was going to solve Reading Memorial High School's problems? Unfortunately, this RMHS "renovation" project is looking less and less like the long-term "once and for all" solution Harry Harutunian and others promised the public only a few months ago. With each new plan, taxpayers are paying more and more for less and less...
Even some of the early, discarded RMHS building options make more sense now than the plans revealed at last night's School Committee meeting. Not convinced? Take a second glance at any of the plans presented by architects Strekalovsky and Hoit, Inc. in the Feasibility section of this site.
Strekalovsky and Hoit, Inc. RMHS Option C1 [.pdf, 1.32 MB download]
Pages from Strekalovsky and Hoit's April 13, 2000 Space Needs Study [.pdf, 102 KB download]
Reading Advocate, 06/20/02 - "Risky Behavior" survey finds smoking, depression on the rise - While special interest groups and school officials have embraced the demolition of Reading Memorial High School, a new building will not resolve inherent problems with school administration, curriculum or risky student behaviors.
What has been done in the past year to address the glaring needs of the student population???
People in Reading want to believe that if millions are spent on flashy new schools, their children's emotional, social and academic problems will disappear. It's far easier to rally around costly, unecessary building projects than to acknowledge and deal with the deeper issues that plague our public school system.
New Delphi Technique article added:
Are You Being Delphied? - The goal of the Delphi technique is to lead a targeted group of people to a predetermined outcome, while giving the illusion of taking public input and under the pretext of being accountable to the public...
Three excellent Reading Advocate letters from 09/11/03 that, for whatever reason, mysteriously did not actually appear on the www.townline.com/reading web-site until today:
Says Voters did not have all the facts - As Reading further commits
to the $54.9 million (+ $48 million in interest) "renovation"
of Reading Memorial High School, keep a few facts in mind... (Globe
Lawrence Eagle Tribune 09/18/03 - Does anyone know who I am? - Same game, different community. The homework passes, the pins, the interviews, the epic classroom visit marathons... the same insatiable need for recognition (under the guise of striving to be accessible to the public).
"...Dann Nicolosi and Harmony Lu, both 13, said it seemed like Harutunian was trying too hard to be funny.
'I thought the gesture of him coming in to present himself was good,' Harmony said, 'but it seemed like he was trying to be too buddy-buddy with us when he was a strange man coming into our classroom.'"
Out of the mouths of babes...
North Andover Citizen 09/11/03 - Communications to go through Superintendent - Reading history continues to repeat itself in North Andover. Former Reading Superintendent Harutunian's unofficial practice of tightly controlling communications and (mis)information from his central office has now resurfaced as official North Andover policy. Control of information is (and has been) an essential part of Harutunian's "management" style, tactics and his assertion that such a policy "is not one he has worked with before" is wholly untrue.
North Andover school principals and secretaries... you'll get used to playing solitaire on your computer and having little to do but distribute notices and (mis)information delivered to you from the central office.
"Bureaucracies work by controlling information. They can handle challenges that go through the 'proper channels.' Publicity undermines their power over information and reaches a constituency they cannot control."
Divide and conquer, beginning with the youngest, most impressionable and most trusting members of the community. The following audio files provide a rare look into Superintendent Harutunian's private administrative meetings with Reading preschool parents, one of the Superintendent's favored methods for gathering sympathy and support for himself and his school spending programs. Many parents who attended these meetings anticipated information and reassurances about their child's upcoming kindergarten experience. Instead, they encountered indoctrination sessions that played loose and fast with the truth but offered very little verifiable, factual information. Preschool parents, new to the school system, were extremely vulnerable to his misinformation and "scare tactics."
At this March 2002 meeting, Harutunian plays the role of a community organizer, urging citizens to take control of their town and organize to pass overrides. He disparages parents with older children and community members who do not favor increases in school spending and / or oppose the supposed "pro-education" agenda. He labels and marginalizes his political opponents, twisting facts, fabricating stories and referring to his critics (who, in reality, are simply trying to hold him accountable for his actions) as "knuckleheads." Through it all, Harutunian displays a false modesty and humility that belies his arrogant and manipulative nature.
The audio of the meeting survives in two parts... part A and part B. Currently, the following .mp3 files are available for download (right-click, "Save Target As" to download the files):
And.. for a limited time... higher quality .mp3s (larger in file size but somewhat easier on the ears).
Get to (preschool) parents while they still trust you, before they know any better and before your critics and political opponents. The hearts and minds of preschool parents are very precious to Harry Harutunian. If he can successfully influence, organize and control preschool parents in North Andover (as he did in Reading), he will likely enjoy their consistent, unquestioning support (and votes) for many years to come.
Friends in North Andover.. please note that these recordings are textbook, "classic" examples of the Delphi Technique in action. "The reality is that" Harry Harutunian should be ashamed for employing such tactics against the public. If only they were not so effective...
Design Partnership of Cambridge architects unveil plans for Reading Memorial High School at 08/25/03 Reading School Committee meeting
Wow. The current plans for the $54 million ($103+ million, with interest) new high school look a lot like the old high school... only smaller.. and less accessible? The existing Reading Memorial High School structure is looking better and better and better with each passing design revision.
It's time to admit that Reading's building committee, school committee, school administrators, hired architects and citizens have done a terrible job with this project. Plan after plan, study after study, Reading taxpayers will never be reimbursed for the hundreds of thousands of dollars (perhaps even millions of dollars) handed to the three previous architects (and, especially, Flansburgh Associates) during the early stages of this high school "renovation" fiasco. Now, citizens are faced with everchanging "renovation" plans (what was the plan that people actually voted on and approved??? Oops, it wasn't a plan, it was just a Flansburgh sketch...), an enormous, rising price tag and a plethora (an excess) of apparently incompetent and / or unconcerned individuals (with vested interests?) running the show.
In spite of what many school officials and interested parties would have the public believe, Reading will not likely see any reimbursement money from the State for a very, very long time (if ever). Breaking a promise they made to the community, Reading school officials are choosing to continue with the new high school project with or without reimbursement. The waste and misrepresentation continues...
For further information on what local and state officials in Massachusetts knew about changes in school reimbursement (and when), please see the Massachusetts Board of Education minutes located on the DOE web site: Jan. 22, 2002 (p.1 - 5), Feb. 26, 2002 (p. 39 - 42) and Feb. 25, 2003 (p.3).
A May 16, 2003 letter from former Superintendent Harry Harutunian (filed with Reading Memorial High School Project SBA/Dept. of Ed application) reveals that Reading is actually ranked 55 out of the 63 additional Building Projects SBA anticipates submitted this year. The RMHS project is ranked 55, after the 300+ school projects already on the regular reimbursement list that have yet to receive any State funding. Harutunian's letter is essentially an attempt to justify higher placement for Reading's project on the SBA list by fabricating non-existent accreditation issues.
Also referenced is a 05/15/03 memo from New England Commission on Schools and Colleges (a non-profit organization, NOT a Federal or State regulatory commission) Assistant Director Janet Allison. Her memo lists conditions pointed out to her by RMHS Principal Frank Orlando and retiring Facilities Director Dom Cacciapuoti during a tour of RMHS May 6, 2003. Allison notes that she in no way considers herself "an expert in the area of school facilities." Money has already been raised or appropriated for many of the alleged problems pointed out to her during her "walk-through" (See the projects FAQ section and Flansburgh's own 10/08/02 Existing Conditions Report in the section of this site devoted to feasibility studies for more details).
Have school officials severely downplayed the level of technology at RMHS in order to better "qualify" the school for its impending renovation / demolition? Where have the thousands of dollars donated to the Reading Technology Fund actually been spent? What about the network wiring and installations? Were the schools' $50,000 (each) Gateway wireless mobile labs conveniently locked away in a closet somewhere during Janet Allison's accreditation visit???
"Principal Frank Orlando reports that the first of the Gateway wireless mobile labs is up and running in the Social Studies Department. The lab is fully networked and includes digital image projection and print capability. Implementation and training have gone smoothly. This mobile lab adds an exciting dimension to historical research. "We're able to do things in the classroom that were unthinkable a month ago," says history teacher Dave Blanchard.
Thanks to your generosity, a second lab will be up and running in the English Department before the end of the school year." (April 7, 2003 RMHS Library Media site)
Comparing the level of technology known to exist within the school with the level technology school officials are currently reporting for purposes of accreditation, one might wonder how much information about the facility was actually shown to Janet Allison while she conducted her evaluation.
Harutunian's 05/16/03 letter with the 05/15/03 Janet Allison memo [.pdf download, 154 KB]
SBA reduces by 1% the grandfathered grant payments on projects currently being funded (July 24, 2003 FY'04 State Budget Update, Revised 7/28/03). Because the legislature hasn't funded SBA due to other budget restraints and priorities, a reduction already is occurring in the Cherry Sheet reimbursements. According to the update, it appears Reading will receive reduced payments on the already completed Parker, Coolidge, Joshua Eaton and Birch Meadow renovations.
Those who insisted SBA never reneged on payments were wrong; it's already happened.
School Committee votes 5-1 to proceed with Reading Memorial High School demolition / renovation / addition project in spite of warnings from School Building Assistance (SBA) that partial reimbursement may come years from now, if ever. SBA advisories require school systems that proceed with projects to sign statements acknowledging that they may have to foot the entire cost of the project (SBA 05/31/02 Administrative Advisory 02-2). In addition, the night before the Feb.25, 2003 special election School Committee took a vote not to move forward with a non reimbursable project.
Dissenting School Committee member John Russo explained that voters were sold the project through an implied understanding that Reading would be reimbursed 53-58% over a 20 year payment period beginning within 7 years. The State emphasizes that there are no guarantees that either scenario will come to pass. Here, Russo would not support a resolution potentially holding the community responsible for the full cost of the project ($103+ million, with interest) (.mp3 audio, 794 KB, Spadafora reading 08-04-03 School Committee Motion re: SBA Advisory 02-2 and Russo's response).
Russo is mindful of the SBA Feb. 11, 2003 Administrative Advisory 03-1 that states "Placement on the waiting list is not a guarantee of future state funding." Massachusetts Board of Ed 02/25/03 Board in Brief minutes reiterate that funding is not a guarantee.Commissioner Driscoll stated that School Building Assistance is now a $5.5 billion program and it would take 17 years and another $5 billion to reach all the projects on the current waiting list (as of February 2003). That sum did not include the RMHS project or the other school projects legislators forced onto the reimbursement list after the April 2003 moratorium.
This 17 year estimate was well known by school administrators far in advance of the Board of Education meeting which "just happened to occur" on the same day of Reading's townwide special election to fund the RMHS project. Coincidence? Hardly. Purposeful deceit? Probably.
Listen to Town Treasurer Beth Klepeis' current "take" on how Reading should hope to finance the new school, the Barrows renovation and proposed $54.9 million Reading Memorial High School demolition/renovation/addition. Klepeis mentions that the elementary school projects joined the State reimbursement list in 1998; realize that these projects were actually voted by the Board of Education onto the reimbursement list in 2000 (Klepeis 08/04/03 School Committee .mp3 audio, 3.09 MB).
Lawrence Eagle Tribune, 07/27/03, New school chief looks to community like a hungry wolf looks to a flock of sheep! [.pdf download, 87 KB] - More messages to lull the citizens of North Andover into a false sense of security. This time around, Harutunian isn't even creative enough to deviate from the same tactics he used eight years ago to deceive citizens of Reading.
New to the job and without his usual support structure, Harry Harutunian is waiting, playing the part of the concerned community leader while sizing up the people of North Andover. He needs to conduct interviews to determine who the major players are in town politics and how they may relate to his agenda (control and power). As in Reading, those who help him will be rewarded (for as long as they're useful) and those who question and oppose him shut out of the educational process.
S.J. Services' new cleaning contract. In spite of regular complaints to Building Maintenance regarding the deplorable work of the current cleaning service contracted for Town Buildings, another three year contract for S.J. Services, Inc. was recommended to School Committee and voted June 17, 2003 (Harutunian 06/23/03 memo including municipal custodial services request / municipal complaint letter). Nowhere in the recommendation does Harutunian comment on the quality of the company's past services (06/13/03 Harutunian custodial services bids and recommendation).
Police Chief Silva, Elderly Services Administrator Pamela Brown and Library Director Kimberly Lynn, under the impression that the contract would end June 30, 2003, wrote a June 19, 2003 letter to Town Manager Hechenbleikner (copied the Head of Building Mainenance, Board of Selectmen, Superintendent of Schools and Finance Committee Chair) detailing their concerns with S.J. Services past performance and suggesting that an arrangement using inhouse custodians would be a preferable alternative. Oversight of maintenance of Town Buildings was given to the School Department in 1998.
The three year contract with J.S. Services, Inc. was signed by Harutunian June 26, 2003 (ignoring the June 19, 2003 municipal complaint letter) and forwarded to the cleaning company which has not, as of July 14, 2003, returned it signed to the Town (apparently J.S. Services, Inc. have been working without a contract).
Would a reasonable school superintendent, concerned about the welfare of the community he was leaving (on June 30th) and fully aware of the history of this cleaning company, still sign a contract on June 26, 2003?
S.J. services' contract is representative of many of Harutunian's questionable actions over the years, recommendations that defy logic when considering the best long-term interests of the community.
Special 30 Year Bond Legislation for Reading - House Bill 3900 (2 pg.) has now reached Senate Committee. This legislation, specific to Reading, would allow the Town to issue a 30-year bond (rather than the 20 year borrowing limit allowed for Massachusetts school projects) for the $54+ million high school demolition / renovation / addition project.
Bill 3900 also specifies that the increase in interest costs for the additional 10 year borrowing period "will be totally borne by the Town of Reading." School Building Assistance reimbursement will only be paid on 20 years of interest, if ever.
This is NOT the 30 year "easy payment deal" Town Meeting members believed they were supporting in April 2003 when they voted an instructional motion to direct the Selectmen to seek 30 year bonding legislation (Camille Anthony, 04/04/03 Town Meeting bond motion). Town Meeting members also did not realize that they were seeking 30 year bonding for "any other projects subsidiary or incidental" to the high school renovation and construction. Also, House Bill 3900 does not mention the DEMOLITION (of the entire 1953 school and sections of the 1970s addition).
At the April 2003 Town Meeting, Reading Treasurer Beth Klepeis described the total cost of the $54+ million high school project with interest at a staggering $103 million. Yes, if the Senate passes House Bill 3900 as currently worded this project is going to cost Reading taxpayers even more.
Despite herculean efforts by local legislators to circumvent Department of Education (DOE) priority categories and get the ineligible Reading Memorial High School project on a reimbursement list, the priority categories still will be used to rank the placement of the RMHS project on the priority list (Jones / Romney 06/24/03 letter, Section 668, Conference Committee report on H. 4004).
Reading Memorial High School is a structurally sound school. Its current capacity will actually be reduced during this demolition / renovation / addition (from 2000 students down to 1400). The excessive Reading Memorial High School project cannot compare with urgent needs of other communities.
Some version of the ever-changing RMHS plans may be "on the list " but, as legislators admit, Reading's 20 year reimbursement payback of a percentage of the project may not start for 15 to 20 years, if ever.
This comes as no surprise. Town Meeting Member Fred Van Magness's presentation at January 2003 Town Meeting [.mp3 audio] predicted the lengthy wait for reimbursement and impact of long-term borrowing. Nobody listened. Instead officials looked to the legislature to sanction a "smoke and mirrors" approach to financing excessive school projects that the Town cannot afford.
Sec. 668, passed by both the House and Senate, places 35 additional projects on the reimbursement "list" without meeting Dept. of Education School Building Assistance (SBA) requirements. Any "promise" that was broken (Jones / Romney 06/24/03 letter) was to the communities that halted school project work in Spring 2003 based upon SBA / DOE advisories that money was not available and communities should be prepared to foot the entire school project costs themselves.
Unlike Reading, where voters were asked to fund an estimated cost of the high school project based upon feasibility studies and vague sketches, Burlington spent $1.3 million on detailed renovation designs for their Marshall Simonds and Wildwood school projects, providing the voters with reliable specifics for their upcoming townwide May 3 vote to approve the debt exclusion. Because word received from DOE April 4 indicated that funding would not be available and Burlington had not been included on "the list," Burlington Selectmen canceled the May 3 townwide debt exclusion vote.
Meanwhile, Reading hadn't even signed a contract for the high school final design architect but proceeded with the project at Rep. Jones' recommendation, despite the April 4 DOE advisory and previous advisories cautioning communities against spending money on design work.
If anyone should be irate that the State broke promises, it is communities like Burlington that acted upon what the State was telling them about funding availability. Burlington believed there was no State "funding mechanism at this point" and that Burlington would have to find "$45 million to spend" on their own (Globe NorthWest 02/27/03, 45m school construction plan advances, Globe NorthWest 04/17/03, School rehab is placed on hold).
Communities with political pull (like Reading) ignored the advisories, misrepresented their projects, and continued to spend tax dollars on design work on ineligible projects, confident that they would circumvent the process. With passage of Section 668, billions more in school projects have been placed on "the list" with no State oversight as to the quality, need, or eligibility for the projects. State "checks and balances"on those 35 school projects have been legislatively removed.
Meanwhile, the total cost to Reading of borrowing for 30 years as proposed in House Bill 3900, 10 of those years without State reimbursement on the interest costs for the RMHS project, has yet to be revealed to the public.
Some say Reading voters "have spoken." More likely, voters have been deceived and had little or no idea what they were actually supporting at the rushed Special Election for the high school school project in February 2003. Perhaps now, after receipt of their most recent tax bill (which does not even include the high school project!), some voters have a clue.
Welcome Patrick Schettini to the position of Superintendent of Schools in Reading, Massachusetts!
Hopefully he will bring a breath of fresh air to the town of Reading, along with honesty, intelligence, integrity, tolerance and a genuine respect and concern for the children and citizens of the community.
Now is the time to conduct an impartial, independent, outside forensic audit of the Reading School Department. Only an extensive, comprehensive investigation (similar to that experienced by the Reading Municipal Light Department) can insure that the Schettini administration will not be tainted by the questionable actions and practices of the past.
Boston Globe 06/17/03 (A16 Editorial), A Good Building Faces Demolition, "Reading Memorial High was among the first large high schools built in the state after World War II. Yet, Reading's Historic Commission did not even weigh in on the high school's historic value before the February election funding the (new high) school because it did not want to 'influence' the vote."
Massachusetts Public School Buildings - An Endangered Resource [.pdf document, 974 KB]
The Deception Continues: The Reading Historical Commission's Role In The RMHS Demolition / Renovation / Addition Project
According to minutes released to Town Hall June 10, the Reading Historical Commission moved on May 22, 2003 to "approve the sending of the letter" stating that they are "not aware of any historical or architectural significance of the high school at this time." Minutes (approved or in draft form) of the Historical Commission's February 4, March 11, April 10, May 6,and May 27, 2003 meetings, including discussions of the historic significance of RMHS, still have not been made available to the public in spite of requests.
Why delay the release of these minutes?
The Historical Commission's May 22, 2003 letter (to be included in the Department of Education RMHS June 2003 application) references only "additions and renovations" and does not mention the planned demolition of the entire original 1953 high school and a significant portion of the 1970s addition. Current Reading Memorial High School plans have also changed from the additions and renovations presented to Town Meeting in January and approved by the voters in February 2003 (See 06/04/03 news entry below).
Reading Historical Commission Materials: minutes for Jan. 9, April 1, May 22, 2003, 05/22/03 letter to architect Keith Hoffses, Historical Commission letter to Design Partnership of Cambridge for DOE application [.pdf, 129 KB].
Although some officials, deceptive individuals, manipulative special interest groups and misinformed citizens would like (us all) to believe otherwise, many neglected and poorly maintained sections of Reading Memorial High School scheduled for demolition (when basic care and renovation is all that is needed) have historic significance.
"(Harutunian) will be leaving Reading on June 30 and should be proud he has led the town into over $60 million dollars in debt, not to mention the interest on the debt and the added property tax burden to those taxpayers he leaves behind. He now heads off to North Andover leaving behind the Reading taxpayers, their children and grandchildren who must pay the debt for years to come."
- Town Meeting Member Gerry MacDonald, in a 05/06/03 Advocate letter regarding Harutunian's "self testimony to his successful stewardship during his tenure (Harutunian's 05/12/03 letter to Town Meeting Members)."
New plans for RMHS and Barrows elementary projects: the 05/27/03 Design Partnership of Cambridge version of RMHS (Reading Memorial High School) demolition / renovation / addition project was approved by Reading School Committee Tuesday 05/27/03 for submittal to the Department of Education School Building Assistance (SBA). This latest version differs markedly from the Flansburgh & Associates RMHS plans submitted to SBA on December 1, 2002 and the Flansburgh $54 million Option 3 version approved by the January 2003 Town Meeting and the voters in February 2003. Like the recently "renovated" Parker Middle School, nearly all RMHS classrooms, including the science labs, will have only one egress (doorway), raising serious safety concerns if the sole egress were to be blocked. The new high school plans call for conversion to gas heat.
A new, different design by Flansburgh & Associates has surfaced for the Barrows Elementary School. Changes include extensive reconfiguring of existing space, a new media wing that eliminates the circle drive entrance, inadequate parking and a maze of convoluted routes for handicapped students to reach core facilities. This 05/21/03 Barrows Additions and Alterations version, along with its 05/22/03 site plan, differs greatly from the Spring 2000 Barrows plans approved by SBA and the January 2003 revised plans used to persuade voters in February 2003 to approve an additional $2.5 million for the two elementary projects. The layout of the Barrows School "as is" shines in comparison to these everchanging Flansburgh versions. What is the real goal here: to meet the needs of the Town of Reading or to create increasingly complex and costly designs for the benefit of Flansburgh Associates?
Since the Reading School Building Committee dissolved itself at the April 2003 Town Meeting and no public session School Committee discussions have occurred during the development of these latest school plans, exactly who has been overseeing and authorizing these changes?
How many other communities, like Reading, conduct the business of overseeing multi-million dollar school projects completely behind closed doors?
Indeed, as contractors forge ahead with the unnecessary new elementary school off Sunset Rock/ Dividence Rd., one might also wonder how those plans have changed since SBA put it "on the list." One can only imagine...
After interviewing the three finalist candidates for the school superintendent position on May 29 and 30, the Reading School Committee voted to continue to consider candidates Patrick Schettini and Patricia Ruane. Some School Committee members will go on site visits next week.
Superintendent Search Report [.mp3 audio, 3.21 MB download]
Superintendent Search Committee Chairman Carol Grimm describes the closed door process the School Committee Subcommittee followed to arrive at the three finalist candidates: Reading Associate Superintendent Dennis Richards, former Lexington Superintendent Patricia Ruane and Natick Assistant Superintendent Patrick Schettini (formerly Assist. Principal at Reading Memorial High School).
Not only did the Reading Superintendent Search Committee create the "policy" and process they followed as they went along but, from Chairman Grimm's description, that process appears to have been in direct conflict with existing Open Meeting Law.
Regarding Search Processes and Executive Sessions, the Middlesex District Attorney's Open Meeting Law Guidelines" August 1993, p. 34:
"...an executive session may be permitted during the preliminary stages, prior to selection of semi-finalists, under exemption (7) and the privacy law, G.L. c. 214, S 1B. In either case, only the actual consideration of candidates may be conducted in executive session: other matters, such as the hiring process, criteria for selecting candidates, or recruiting strategies must be discussed publicly."
Reading School Superintendent Interview Process Continues Behind Closed Doors (05/22/03)
After approximately 50 applicants (allegedly) had been screened, Reading's Superintendent Search Committee held (in executive session) interviews of superintendent candidates in the Superintendent's Conference Room on May 19, May 21 and May 22. The Search Committee planned to present 4 finalists to School Committee May 27 for them to interview in public.
Questions continue to be raised about the secretive process and absence of any evidence that the School Committee has been following official policy. Complaints have been filed [.pdf download, 1.18 MB] with the Middlesex District Attorney. The most recent "policy" supposedly being followed is a version of a 1987 Reading School Committee Process for Selecting a Superintendent. Again, many discrepancies exist between the ongoing search process and the 1987 "policy" version. It appears that the School Committee and its subcommittee are currently doing whatever they want; the public be damned.
The Reading School Superintendent Search Process: Bogus from the Beginning - read more about this tainted, ongoing process (that has yet to conduct its business in the open) by clicking here (http://www.iror.org/ss.asp).
School Superintendent Search Committee members appointed: (Advocate 04/17/03) One of the last official acts of outgoing School Committee Chairman William Griset was to quietly, outside of public meetings, select and appoint his choices for the 11 member superintendent search committee, a subcommittee of the School Committee. His appointments include his sister-in-law / Campaign Manager Gael Phillips-Spence and, filling the two community member slots, Town Accountant Richard Foley and former Finance Committee Chair Carol Grimm.
1. The appointment of a relative to an influential position, paid or not, raises questions, heightened by the fact that these appointments were accomplished through a closed door process.
2. Under changes implemented during outgoing School Superintendent Harutunian's tenure, the Town Accountant works directly for the school superintendent. In filling community slots with people employed by the Town or who have had significant interests on Town boards, Griset defeats the purpose of the two slots: to provide perspective from the community-at-large.
3. Some of Griset's selections are not Reading residents and, as employees, they might be inclined to serve their own interests over the best interests of the community.
Apparently new School Committee Chair Harvey "Pete" Dahl (Advocate 04/17/03) believes the search committee, as a subcommittee of the School Committee, need not post its meetings. Though Dahl maintains the meetings will be open to the public, even though the meetings are not posted, how is the public to know the time and location of these "open" School Superintendent search meetings?
Posting on the Town Bulletin Board of public meetings at least 48 hours in advance is required by Reading Charter (Sect. 8-10 Procedures of Multiple-Member Bodies) and the Open Meeting Law likewise requires posting, defining governmental bodies as " every board, commission, committee or subcommittee of any district, city, region or town, however elected, appointed or otherwise constituted..." The Superintendent Search Committee is a subcommittee of a governmental body, the School Committee, and therefore falls under the requirements of the Open Meeting Law. Their meetings should be posted.
In ignoring the need for an open process, are Reading officials laying the groundwork to insure the selection of a predetermined candidate for the next School Superintendent?
Hamilton-Wenham School Committee conducts illegal closed meetings (Salem News, 04/09/03). Essex County district attorney's office finds the school committee repeatedly misrepresented reasons for moving into executive session during their School Superintendent search process last year. Numerous violations occurred while working behind closed doors with Lyle Kirtman (Future Management Services), the same Superintendent Search consultant Reading has hired (scroll down to 03/12/03 for more details). Honest mistakes or "business as usual" until someone blows the whistle?
Groundwork begins for the new 5th elementary school off Sunset Rock Lane. The approximately $9.4 million construction work is progressing in spite of official Fall, 2002 K-5 enrollment projections indicating at least 400 fewer elementary students will be coming by 2007, roughly the same number of students this new elementary school would service. In September 2000, the State Board of Education voted to place this new school on the reimbursement list, based upon Reading's projected K-5 "overcrowding."
Meanwhile, Reading's current K-5 elementary enrollment reflects a drop of 111 students since this 5th elementary school was proposed in 1998.
Though the RMHS project lacks even preliminary approval from School Building Assistance, Reading School Committee authorizes (5 -1) Superintendent Harutunian to direct architect David Finney (Design Partnership of Cambridge) to proceed with the Final Design Schedule for this $54 million size reduction (demolition/ renovation/ new construction) of Reading Memorial High School. The maximum total amount of this latest authorization expenditure is $400,000.
This School Committee action is in defiance of the Commissioner of Education advisory that communities not expend further funds for design plans or override elections if their projects have not yet received preliminary approval. Superintendent Harutunian and Reading School Committee are confident that through the political clout of Minority Whip Representative Brad Jones and Senator Richard Tisei this Reading high school project will receive State approval, even if special legislation needs to be filed.
.mp3 audio [13.7 MB] from the 04/10/03 meeting
A lively discussion turned heated when newly elected Chairman Harvey "Pete" Dahl, refused to allow resident Gary Phillips to speak on the school project unless Phillips apologized for statements he allegedly made at the 03/27/03 final design architect selection meeting. Unfortunately, Dahl (audio 04/10/03) misrepresented Phillips' statements (audio 03/27/03) and demonstrated how he, as new School Committee Chairman, intends to "preside" over the business of the Reading Public Schools.
Phillips appears to have hit a nerve on 03/27/03 when he suggested that outgoing, long-time School Building Committee / School Committee member / attorney / architect Timothy Twomey recuse himself from voting for the RMHS final design architect.
A recent 01/06/03 "letter of declaration" from Mr. Twomey was filed with the Town Clerk but, to date, no State Ethics Commission letter regarding Mr. Twomey has been made public.
Voices heard in the audio clips of 04/10/03 School Committee discussion of the RMHS project are: outgoing School Superintendent Harutunian, School Committee members Sue Cavicchi, Vice Chair Carl McFadden, John Russo, Chairman Dahl, newly elected members Rob Spadafora and John Carpenter. Audience input is from Selectman George Hines, Linda Phillips, Gary Phillips and Jackie Mandell.
Local election results were predictable, heavily influenced by the well-funded but often misleading Reading Pride political machine. Besides the passage of the $4.5 million operating override (4249 to 3189 votes, 48% turnout), outgoing School Committee members Bill Griset and Tim Twomey will be replaced by Rob Spadafora (4251) and John Carpenter (3576).
Reading Chronicle, 04/07/03 - town provides override tax information the day before election.pdf - Did supporters of Question #1 really understand the consequences of the override they just approved? How many young families will be forced to move in the next 3 years, thanks to Reading's rising water, sewer fees and taxes? How far will housing values fall as potential buyers acknowledge the impact of Reading's hefty taxes and go elsewhere? As reflected in the override vote, the community is divided.
School Committee is expected to take action Thursday night (04/10/03) on hiring Design Partnership of Cambridge for the final Reading Memorial High School project design, even though RMHS project did not receive preliminary SBA approval. The Commissioner of Education's April 4th advisory cautions communities against committing to detailed designs for unapproved projects as long as major reorganization of SBA and reimbursement requirements is pending.
Reading parents take pride in paying $4000 tuition (double what parents in other communities pay) for proposed full-day kindergarten. It's the "Reading Way"!
The State average tuition falls between $1,800 and $2,400 (Newburyport Daily News).
(Cartoon from Boston Globe North, 03/30/03)
School Building Assistance plans to announce today the school projects with preliminary approval for reimbursement. The Governor has indicated that only those projects with urgent needs (condemned structures, overcrowding over 25% capacity of the school etc.) will move on to the June phase of the process. Will the Reading Memorial High School demolition / addition / renovation project meet the "urgent need" criteria for reimbursement?
Reading Advocate letter comparing a decade of increasing Reading School Budgets with staffing and enrollment levels.
Data Shows 78% increase in ten years
Once again School Superintendent Harutunian predicts dire consequences if he doesn't get his 7.6 % school budget increase of an additional $2.1 million for the fiscal 2004 school budget. Every year, the citizens of Reading are treated to the traditional "doom and gloom" scenario -- more money or damaging cuts -- holding the education of Reading's children hostage. Amidst continuing accusations of shamefully low funding, a brief review of the previous ten years of school budgets is in order.
READING PUBLIC SCHOOL DATA FOR BUDGET YEARS 1994-2004:
Year - School - % Budget* increase - K-12 Enrollment - Staff
Since the 1994 school year, school spending has risen $12 million for an increase of only 477 students -- a 78% budget increase for a 12.7% rise in students. Since 1996, 93 staff members have been added for an increase in enrollment of only 277 students. This school overspending is why the town (of Reading) is in trouble.
Have you had an average household income increase of 6.7% yearly for the last ten years? The Reading School Department has! And in 2002, while crying poor boy to the community and laying off classroom teachers, Dr. Harutunian and the school committee gave over $100,000 worth of merit pay, vacation buyback, and equity pay. What hypocrisy as they continue to mislead the uninformed citizens!
It is time to stop the Superintendent's "tradition"
of runaway spending, of adopting expensive, unproven curriculum, and
emphasis on bigger and newer structures at the expense of common sense
and adequate building maintenance.
Remember, after this override will come more taxes for the two elementary school building projects ($16.1 million), the new high school project ($54 million) and the water treatment plant ($13.8 million), just to mention some of the upcoming big time spending projects.
Remember an override is a tax increase forever. Vote NO to the override on April 8 and vote to elect knowledgeable, fiscally responsible school committee candidates.
Residents have received mailings from Reading Pride, a ballot question committee (formerly high school and elementary ballot groups Building Pride, PEP) organized to pass a $ 4.5 million operating override at the April 8th election. Their flyers include descriptions of Reading’s financial woes from Reading Fire Chief, two school principals, Police chief, and the Public Library Director as well as Town’s Finance Director.
Rather than provide the public with a menu, the school and Town funding has been lumped into one $4.5 million operating override question, unevenly split between Town "needs" ($1.4 million), and School Department "wants" ($3.1 million). Over the last 2 years, the Town side has reduced its budget by 20%. The School Department budget, however, has increased by 16.5% since 2000 and this FY ‘04 request will be a 10% increase.
Because voters approved the new elementary school and the Barrows Elementary renovation/addition to be accomplished within the operating budget (allegedly without requiring an override or debt exclusion), the Town will be looking for additional money beyond this April 8 operating override for the next few years to pay for these school projects and their additional staff.
Boston Globe 03/16/03, Subsidy plan for schools finds scrutiny - "State spending on school construction mushroomed from $148 million in 1993 to $365 million last year. While spending was curtailed this fiscal year, to $269 million, that did little to solve the long-term problem."
The Reading School Committee plans to interview architects for the final design of the Reading Memorial High School Project on Monday, March 17 and Tuesday, March 18th. Though School Committee member John Russo has strongly questioned the need to rush this phase of the project since the necessary schematics have already been developed and paid for, Superintendent Harutunian and other members of the School Committee insist that it is imperative that the process move swiftly and a design architect be hired for the Town to qualify for the State's June 2003 deadline.
Flansburgh's Sid Bowen, "Principal Architect" (Salesman) in charge of the new $34 million Manchester Essex project has explained to the Manchester Essex school committee that even though Manchester Essex still has to go to Town Meetings for approval, "Flansburgh will have sufficient time to prepare the schematic drawings the state requires by the June deadline."
Why then are Reading school officials rushing to interview and contract with a design architect when Flansburgh already has completed and paid for the schematic designs for our high school project, the very requirement that Sid Bowen himself has told Manchester Essex is all that is needed for June 2003 application eligibility?
Who benefits from rushing to appoint a design architect before School Committee members William Griset and Timothy Twomey, who are not running for re-election, are replaced (following the April 8 election) and Superintendent Harutunian leaves for his new job in North Andover?
Certainly not the citizens and taxpayers of Reading, Massachusetts...
Salem News Article - School Project Shouldn't Be Rushed - Some communities realize that railroading excessive and unnecessary school projects through the system is a recipe for fiscal disaster.
"And all this to get at the end of a line hundreds of school systems long, every one of which is clamoring for money that isn't there."
Haste Makes Waste: School Committee voted 5-1 for Lyle Kirtman, Future Management Systems to be the Superintendent Search Consultant. According to Chairman Griset, the $16,500 deal he negotiated overnight with Kirtman (excluding travel, down from $19,000) is "close to" the 15% reduction School Committee voted as a condition of hiring Kirtman (the same consultant North Andover used to hire Superintendent Harutunian). Consultant Philip Devaux had also garnered 3 School Committee votes and bid $10,000 less than Kirtman. Superintendent Harutunian urged School Committee members to be prepared the following night (3/13/03) to be specific about what they want and don't want when Kirtman and his associate meet with School Committee in the Superintendent's Conference Room.
Before the Reading School Committee met with the Finance Committee for their budget review, School Committee member John Russo expressed concerns about the process being used to evaluate all architectural final design candidates. He felt that the “rush to decide on a candidate” could significantly impact the quality of the decision for the town’s largest construction project. He raised the issue based on information included in the Inspector General’s Manual on the Designer Selection Process and felt that several necessary, important steps were being omitted in order to unecessarily expedite the selection process. He also stated, and the Superintendent agreed, that the School Building Asssistance (SBA) application deadline of June 30th (with some extensions granted until August 30th) would not be compromised and that Flansburgh’s current schematics are adequate and all that is necessary for SBA application submittal. Final design plans (a by-product of the architectural selection process) and bidding documents are not required components to complete Reading’s application to SBA for the June submittal.
School Committee voted 6-0 for J&J, J&W (joint venture) as General Contractor for the new elementary school. J & J currently is working on the Colonial Park School in Stoneham but Superintendent Harutunian did not give examples of any J&J, J&W joint ventures. Harutunian stressed that he and J&J, J&W were eager to break ground before the end of the month.
There was no discussion of how the new elementary school project will be bonded or funded. Only $2.5 million was passed as a debt exclusion Feb. 25 for the new school. The voters had originally approved the elementary school with the $9.1million funding coming from the Town's operating budget. The money simply is not there now.
Prior to the 03/12/03 Reading School Committee meeting, School Superintendent Harutunian, Flansburgh's Sid Bowen and School Committee member Carl McFadden met for about an hour to discuss project details and Flansburgh's suggestions for the Field House reconfiguration and flooring, playing fields and stadium. In other communities, such a discussion would have taken place at a posted building committee meeting. In Reading, however, the School Building Committee is no longer *officially* involved in the process. Why?
Flansburgh has completed the schematic design work necessary for the high school project to be eligible to be submitted by June 2003 for placement on the SBA reimbursement list.
Is Flansburgh & Associates being given preferential treatment and access to Reading officials and representatives, beyond that of other architects interviewing for the high school design phase? Do outside firms really have a chance.. or is Flansburgh's selection a predetermined outcome?
The $54 million high school option approved by the voters Feb. 25 has yet to receive even preliminary SBA approval; Flansburgh's $400,000+ contract (to 06/15/03 if necessary) requires that the completed schematic design be reimburseable.
School Committee interviews for the high school design phase architect will be held Monday 3/17/03 and Tuesday 3/18/03.
Superintendent Harutunian continues to direct the Reading School Committee, even during the Superintendent Search process for his successor. Following interviews with superintendent search consultants, the School Committee reached an impasse, 3 voting for Future Management Systems (FMS/Lyle Kirtman, who worked as a consultant for Reading in 1996 and "managed" the recent hiring of Harutunian in North Andover) and 3 voting for Philip Devaux, the retired Marblehead Superintendent-turned Consultant (and the low bidder for the job at $10,000 less).
Comittee member Harvey "Pete" Dahl proposed a "compromise" in which he would support Future Management Systems if Griset could negotiate overnight a 15% reduction in FMS/Kirtman's fee. Harutunian then requested a 5 minute recess to consult off-camera in his office [.mp3 audio, 734 KB] with wayward Committee member Pete Dahl and Chairman William Griset. Though member Carl McFadden strongly questioned the purpose of the recess, the break proceeded anyway. Upon return, the committee voted 5-1 for Future Management Systems contingent upon a 15% reduction in cost. Griset promised to report back on his negotiations with FMS at the next joint School Committee / Finance Committee meeting (on 03/12/03).
Triton schools to offer Full-Day Kindergarten in fall (Newburyport Daily News). Statewide average cost for full-day tuition is between $1,800 and $2,400.
Using already existing excess classroom space in each of the 4 elementary schools, Reading will charge $4000/student tuition plus a $25 processing fee for a "pilot" 96 student Full - Day kindergarten program in Fall 2003 (Advocate 02/06/03).
In 1997, the high school feasibility study by Drummey, Rosane and Anderson (DRA) suggested adequate space existed in the high school Industrial Arts wing (now scheduled to be demolished) for a centralized full-day kindergarten program. At that time, Roberta D'Antona, the Director of Reading Extended-Day Activities Program (REAP) located at the High School, was on the Reading School Committee and the School Building Committee. REAP President, Margaret Cowell, was also on the School Building Committee at that time. DRA's suggestion fell flat and DRA was strongly criticized by D'Antona in her reports as School Building Committee liaison to the School Committee.
Governor reopens list for School Project Aid (Salem News) $11 billion in school projects already are in the pipeline, not including the 63 school districts now hoping to get on the reimbursement waiting list by July 1, 2003. Legislators advise against selling school projects based upon receipt of payments within seven to 10 years. There is no source of revenue for those commitments, the governor's office said..
Reading votes (4801 yes, 2891 no) to demolish 2/3 of the structurally sound Reading Memorial High School without knowing if the option is reimbursable by the State, by how much it may be funded or when funding may be expected.
Reading votes (3968 yes, 3676 no) for $2.5 million towards the construction of a fifth elementary school no longer supported by enrollment projections. The remaining $16.1 million needed for the New School / Barrows Elementary Projects currently must be found in the Town operating budget.
Reading votes not to approve (2741 yes, 4866 no) the $250,000 to build sidewalks for the proposed New School Project.
Boston Globe 02/24/03 - A roof collapses at the Sunderland Elementary School, an Earl R. Flansburgh Associates design (a page detailing the school from www.fai-arch.com that, as of 03/12/03, has been been removed).
"Officials blame snowpack, rain."
Letter (02/10/03) from Department of Education Associate Commissioner Jeff Wulfson to Rep. Brad Jones. Letter was copied to Superintendent Harutunian, Reading Board of Selectmen and SBA Christine Lynch.
1. The already completed RMHS schematic designs would have been sufficient to get the project, if and/or when approved, on the SBA list in June 2003. There was no need to rush Town Meeting or hold a Special Election to fund more designs.
2. SBA has no idea how long a project will have to wait for reimbursement. In spite of this 02/10/03 letter, Superintendent Harutunian repeatedly insists during the 02/15/03 Barrows school tour that SBA Christine Lynch had, within the past two months, told him and the architect that reimbursement would come within 3-4 years [Harutunian 02/15/03 Barrows tour SBA Lynch statements,.mp3 audio, 334 KB download].
3. If local officials choose to alter the elementary project proposals, Reading would not lose the positions on the reimbursement waiting list. This is in direct contrast with claims of School officials (for the past 3 years) that the Barrows renovation had to be done in tandem with the new school or Reading would not receive funding for Barrows.
In spite of the potential impact of its contents on the Feb. 25 Special Election, this letter has been kept from the public. The constituent who requested this information in January 2003 did not receive it until February 22, 2003. Despite the date of the letter, Selectmen also did not receive their copy until just before the election.
08/26/99 Advocate article about emergency procedures at RMHS.
Lawrence Eagle Tribune Article, 02/16/03 - Architect profits (often 10%) will plummet if State approves prototype designs to be adapted for new / renovated schools. Note the millions in architect fees cited in local projects, including the 100% state reimbursed $110 million Lawrence High School, a Flansburgh design scheduled to start construction in Summer 2003.
Flansburgh Associates, the designers of the unnecessary New Elementary School, Barrows renovation and RMHS schematic designs, undoubtedly will be "selected" to design what, with 2 / 3 demolition and the gutting of the remainder, is basically a New Reading High School. By Flansburgh's Sid Bowen's own admission, separating the schematic from the design phase is "highly unusual" [.mp3 download, 936 KB]. Consequently, it is doubtful that other firms will even be interested in the RMHS design phase after Flansburgh has already done the schematics.
Flansburgh Associates stands to lose millions of dollars if Questions #1 and #2 are not passed by Reading voters on February 25.
Senate school building assistance amendment sponsored by Magnani-Joyce and adopted February 13, 2003. This special interest legislation was co-sponsored by 14 senators, including Reading's Richard Tisei, and extends to February 25, 2003, the eligibility (if a project otherwise meets all department of education criteria) to be included on an SBA reimbursement list. Curiously the senators' cut off date is February 25, the date of Reading's Special Election on the school projects.
The State has over $5 billion in school construction projects in the process of twenty year paybacks and billions more in approximately 350 school projects on A and B priority lists (sba 2003 priority list .pdf download) for which no reimbursement payments have begun. Reading's elementary projects are 62 and 78 on a second priority list B, after the 46 projects on the higher first priority list A. Over 100 projects are ahead of Reading's elementary projects and the high school isn't even on the list yet.
If passed by the voters, how long will Reading have to finance these projects by itself before the State starts their 20 year payback, if ever? Can Reading afford to take the chance that State reimbursements could take 30-40 years to receive, if ever?
Advocate 02/12/03 - Faith Broken With Taxpayers - By Reading Selectman George Hines.
Reading's 12/01/02 SBA RMHS Submission packet notifies School Building Assistance of Reading's "intent" to file plans in June 2003 for a construction/ renovation of Reading Memorial High School (see "letter of intent"(page 8). RMHS is NOT "already on the list" for reimbursement.
In the Long-range Plan (see pages 11-13) included in the 12/01/02 submission, Superintendent Harutunian describes the RMHS project as a "capacity expansion" to just under 1400 students. Note Architect Robert Peirce's statement in the accompanying Inventory of Existing Space (page 16) that RMHS current building capacity is only 1299 students (though RMHS was built for 2000)! In reality, RMHS has ample space (in excess of 100,000 sq. feet) for phasing, is not overcrowded and is structurally sound.
Neither the public nor the State expects architects and superintendents to misrepresent conditions on applications in order to qualify for State aid for excessive, unecessary school projects.
Follow the money. Who benefits?
12_01_02_rmhs_project_prelim_submission_to_sba.pdf [.pdf download, 945 KB] in which the "Town of Reading intends to submit this project for a Capital Grant on June, 1 2003."
We are not on the list.
Harry Harutunian's North Andover Superintendent Job Interview [.mp3 audio, 14.7 MB] Harry got the job.
Reading Salaries (as of February, 2003) - Reading School Administrator Salaries - HTML, for .pdf click here - Reading School Employee Salaries - HTML, for .pdf click here - Reading Town Employee Salaries - HTML, for .pdf click here
High School Project Goes Out To Bid (Advocate Article, 02/06/03) - Bids are due same day as funding may or may not be approved at February 25, 2003 Special Town Election.
Reading Superintendent Harutunian 1 of 4 finalists for Superintendent position in North Andover, MA - http://www.eagletribune.com/framesets/news.htm - in the Local News section. Final decision to be made Friday.
Lyle Kirtman, Future Management Systems' consultant guiding the North Andover search, should sound familiar. According to an August 21, 1996 memo from Superintendent Harutunian, Kirtman met several times with the Reading Budget Council and wrote "A Systems Approach to Conflict Management" ( School Administrator, March 1996) based upon information he obtained through the Budget Council Meetings. Reading implemented his seven-step approach.
Offical Reading Absentee Ballot for the upcoming Special Town Election 02/25/03 - The three questions Reading voters will face in February. No dollar amounts are listed for both Questions #1 (the High School at $54 million, though no figure is stated on the ballot) and Questions #2 (the New Elementrary School). So exactly what are we voting for here?
Question #2 :the additional $2.5 million needed since the bids came in more than $1 million over the architect's estimated cost for the new school. The Elementary Projects were originally approved by voters to be built out of the operating budget and not as an exemption from Prop. 2 1/2.The Barrows school renovation has been downsized so that no increase in funding is needed.There is no money in the operating budget to fund either elementary project.
Question #3: $250,000 to build sidewalks on Franklin Street (which will be needed if the Elementary School is built).
Passage of Questions #1 and #2 is comparable to giving the Reading School Department and related special interest groups (like Flansburgh, Inc.) a blank check.
Reading Advocate - Letter: 'Physics lesson' points out Pride's 'distortions' - Building Pride (a ballot question committee in Reading) offers little documentation to support their statements and relies upon misinformation, scare tactics and public trust to promote their agenda. Most parents, citizens and voters do not have the time to investigate the validity of Building Pride statements for themselves.
Medford Transcript - Problems with frozen pipes at two Flansburgh-designed schools in Medford, opened in 2001 (Andrews and McGlynn schools).
Globe North - Area Schools Wonder: Will State Pay Bills?
Reading Advocate - Editorial: A physics lesson - Why has RMHS not been maintained properly?
Salem News - A pipe bursts at the (Flansburgh designed) Ipswich High School... again.
Salem News - Flansburgh chosen for Manchester / Essex Regional HS schematics.
Boston Globe North - New Manchester/ Essex Regional $34.2 million middle / high school to go for June 30, 2003 SBA deadline with only schematics. Pending are Town Meeting votes in April and May, plus a majority from each town when voters then go to the polls.
Reading School officials and Flansburgh's Principal-In-Charge Sid Bowen insisted that an April election would not allow adequate time for architects to meet the SBA June reimbursement application deadline for the high school project and predicted that there would be limited architect interest without a Special January Town Meeting and Special February election.
Yet, Reading and Manchester / Essex share the same architectural firm (Flansburgh Associates) and Principal-In-Charge (Sid Bowen) and Reading has already done the schematics. Manchester / Essex is way behind Reading in the process and yet Manchester and Essex are not having their town meetings until April and May. Why did Reading need to spend money to have a Special Town Meeting and Special Election? Who benefits from rushing this process??
Reading Advocate - Moody's drops town rating [.pdf download, 58.2 KB].
Reading Town Meeting:
Selectmen's Meeting - Rationale against February 25 Special Election for School Projects - Nine important reasons to wait until the annual April election.
Fred Van Magness' reasons against having an early election - by Precinct 8, Town Meeting member Fred Van Magness
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Reading Advocate 08/19/04 - School to shed natural light on learning - It is painfully obvious that the Wood End School was designed by Flansburgh Associates to impress other architects and to compete in design contests. Durability? Practicality? Who cares! Wood End has a "visible Queen Anne truss," "exposed birch-toned timber complemented by Navaho white walls with yellow, blue, and gray accents" and "the exposed mechanical system's blue ductwork, gray sprinkler pipes, and yellow electrical systems, deliberately integrated by the architecture firm of Flansburgh Associates as part of the learning environment."
Hey, why not also include exposed transparent septic pipes so the children can monitor the colorful flow of sewage thoughout the school? The children could note the changes with the lunch menu and "chart the flow" depending on the time of day! That might win an award!
Isn't it nice to be able to experiment and build whatever you want with public money?
Daily Times Chronicle 070904 - Plans for Wood End Elementary - It’s official, the school committee has named Reading’s 5th elementary school "Wood End" and, as predicted, the unnecessary new school at Sunset Rock is not living up to its promise.
Reportedly, this gas-heated school will have smaller classrooms, about 2/3 the size of those currently at the Barrows elementary school. Extensive glass in the two story entry and skylights will create sauna-like conditions in the summer and frozen pipes in winter (both problems are hallmarks of Flansburgh Associates' designs). Exposed mechanics and duct work will be difficult to clean and quickly collect dust, spitballs and paper airplanes. Wood End Elementary's composite wood siding (who made that materials decision?) makes the structure look more like a cheap aircraft hangar than a school.
Reading teachers already are dismayed by the construction of the ceilings and walls and, especially, the tiny classroom bulletin boards obstructed by poles and criss-crossed structural supports. If voters thought the artists’ rendering used to sell the project was what would actually be built - think again. The end-result of this project bears little resemblance to the plans proposed or approved.
After railroading the school through the voters, all of the major changes to the project have been decided in secret, behind closed doors, by people who parked common sense at the door. Still, what can one expect when there has been no school building committee oversight since April 2003? Reading officials ignored the fact that a building committee is a state requirement for reimbursement. If the State apparently doesn't care how millions in reimbursement money is used, why should Reading or Flansburgh Associates? Everybody "in the know" got what they wanted. By September, the rest of the community will finally see what a school built on lies and deception looks like.
Alice Barrows Elementary School - Take a few moments to look at the gem Reading already has in the Barrows school - before it is completely gutted, reduced in capacity and refitted with tiny classrooms like the new “Wood End” monstrosity. Flansburgh Associates failed to land the RMHS high school demolition construction project but has partially made up for the loss by running up the bill for the Barrows Project through multiple unnecessary redesigns and destroying large sections of the solid, structurally sound building. In the upcoming "renovation," Barrows will be made smaller... to help magnify the administration-fueled "enrollment crunch" in Reading and further justify the construction of the Wood End Elementary School.
Already, bushes have been ripped out and trees cut down at Barrows. Asbestos removal has begun in one wing (Superintendent Schettini, be careful not to "lose" those records like your predecessor!) and Barrows' oil heat option has been eliminated. The oil tank, which was not leaking, has been removed and a gas line to Barrows extended up Edgemont Ave. Thanks to a highly suspicious "deal" negotiated in secret by outgoing Superintendent Harry Harutunian and former School Committee member Sue Cavicchi, Reading moves closer to an "all gas, all the time" school system.
Reading teachers, who know what a disaster Wood End Elementary is, don’t want to see the same mistakes repeated at Barrows. It may already be too late.
U.S. Department of Education - Family Policy Compliance Office (FPCO) - The obligations of your State and local educational agencies regarding student records and directory information. "The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a federal law that affords parents the right to have access to their children's education records, the right to seek to have the records amended, and the right to have some control over the disclosure of personally identifiable information from the education records."
From the FPCO FAQ:"Educational agencies and institutions are required to notify parents and eligible students about their rights under FERPA. Section 99.7 of the FERPA regulations sets forth the requirements for the notification and there is a model notification on this Web site. Schools do not have to individually notify parents and eligible students but do have to notify them by any means that are reasonably likely to inform the parents or eligible students of their rights."
Have Reading school officials ever notified parents about their rights under FERPA?"
FERPA defines 'directory information' as information contained in the education records of a student that would not generally be considered harmful or an invasion of privacy if disclosed. Typically, "directory information" includes information such as name, address, telephone listing, date and place of birth, participation in officially recognized activities and sports, and dates of attendance."
All school superintendents receive annual updates regarding FERPA and the rights of parents and students to student and directory information. Superintendent Schettini probably received his latest FERPA update in January, 2004 (see under hot topics, "Letter to Superintendents").As an attorney and a superintendent, Superintendent Schettini is (or, at least, should be) aware of the rights of parents and students to student records and directory information. Why then does Mr. Schettini not stand up and let this information be known? Why does he not correct members of the school commitee when they make misleading and untrue statements about student information?
Are Schettini and the Reading School Committee "playing dumb" and pretending that they aren't aware of these Federal regulations? Do they know about these regulations but choose to ignore them? Or are they truly oblivious to these laws? If so, what other laws and Federal regulations do they not know about?
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) - Keeping Your School Records Private - Information for students and parents regarding privacy and school records."...schools like to hang your record over your head like a threat or a punishment: the famous 'that's going to go in your record' line. Some schools even try to put irrelevant but extremely personal information about you in your record, such as your political or religous beliefs and practices."
"Thanks to the 1974 Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (known as the Buckley amendment), schools that receive any federal funding must make student records available for viewing by parents and the students themselves if they are 18 or older. (When I say "parent" I of course also mean legal guardian.) In some states the age is less than 18: in Delaware, it's 14, and in Massachusetts it's 14, or ninth grade."
Reading Advocate 06/10/04 - School swap rejected by parents -"'We supported the override and worked on Building Pride, so it's frustrating,' Ross said. "We were told the schools needed more money to address class size. We hoped they would stand by their word and give us smaller class sizes."
You were used. Wake up and stop expecting the Reading Public Schools to advocate for the best interests of your children. Those "in the know" take matters into their own hands, hire tutors or send their children to private school. Those "in the know" also make sure their own children are placed in the best classes. It's not the size of the class but the teacher (and what she / he does with the curriculum) that counts.
Reading Advocate 06/10/04 - Water and sewer rates to increase - Officials and some Reading residents knew these increases were coming when the recent overrides were proposed and passed. Now, taxpayers face more fees and tax increases. Your tax bills do not yet reflect the cost of the three school projects (Barrows, Sunset Rock, RMHS). This is only the beginning...
Boston Globe 06/06/04, City & Region - Panel ordered to rescind superintendent offer - "The Essex district attorney's office ordered the Triton Regional School Committee District on Friday to rescind the hiring of its new school superintendent, which was done in a closed-door session in December, or face legal action for violating the state's Open Meeting Law."The Essex County D.A. steps up to the plate... and delivers. Enforcement sends a message to school officials and administrators, prompting even the most arrogant and unrepentant of Massachusetts' "public servants" to think before they violate laws and abuse their positions of authority.It's unfortunate that the Middlesex D.A. chooses not to give OML similar attention. Violations frequently occurred during Superintendent Harutunian's tenure in Reading and even continued during the superintendent search process for his successor.
Miscellaneous News - On
May 26th, Superintendent Schettini announced the appointment of Ms.
Linda Darisse as the new Principal of the Parker Middle School. Ms. Darisse, the former Asst. Principal
of the Collins Middle School in Salem for the last 4 years, also served
as curriculum coordinator for the Salem Middle Schools and worked as
a middle school teacher. Ms. Darisse has a Bachelor's degree in Education
and a Masters in Educational Leadership from Salem State and has completed
coursework for certification as a middle school principal at the University
of Mass. at Lowell. No word on any principal search sub-committee
or any candidate finalists to replace retiring High School Principal
Frank Orlando. Orlando's position was first advertised in February '04
(in the Globe Help Wanted ads). Perhaps the position will be filled
by an internal candidate?
Tommyduggan.com - North Andover High School on Warning of Losing Accreditation - Harry's new "take" on the NEASC (New England Association of Schools and Colleges). Not surprisingly, it's a 180 degree shift from what he told Reading voters. Read more here (see "news" entries).Harutunian's 05/16/03 letter to SBA Christine Lynch and 05/15/03 Janet Allison memo [.pdf download, 154 KB] - one Reading example..
Daily Times Chronicle 05/21/04 - "An odor of natural gas was reported at Joshua Eaton school Thursday morning just before 8:30 a.m. The odor, which according to the fire department was 'slight,' was discovered to be coming from the boiler room. The fire department also reportedly used a meter to check the area but no readings were measured."Would you like to know what really happened?Children were evacuated from the Joshua Eaton School for up to 2 hours on Thursday (May 20th) while the Reading Fire Department located a gas leak due to a faulty furnace valve. Meter readings were taken... and the presence of leaked natural gas was established.This incident is reminiscent of the gas leak that occurred a few years ago between Birch Meadow Elementary School and the YMCA. While the gas leak was not found inside the buildings, the gas company's multi-gas meter determined that Birch Meadow had a carbon-monoxide problem in its renovated 5th grade / addition wing. Months of student and teacher complaints about headaches and nausea had been dismissed, ignored and belittled by the Harutunian administration. However, when the problem with the gas furnace was finally corrected, the complaints ended. Reading citizens can look forward to more gas-related problems when all of the public schools are converted to gas energy.
Townhall.com, 05/24/04 - The Big Education Sell Out - An interesting article by Armstrong Williams. Is the "real goal" of the National Education Association "to increase their own bargaining power by ripping to shreds any education reform that seeks to hold public schools accountable to their failures"?
Citizens for Limited Taxation - School advocates spring trap on unwary taxpayers - An excellent article by Barbara Anderson of Citizens for Limited Taxation (www.cltg.org)."Sometimes, proponents use children to help win a Prop 2½ school override. Notes are sent home in backpacks, urging that parents vote themselves and their neighbors higher taxes.
Of course, the note cannot say 'vote yes' or the sender is in violation of campaign finance law that prohibits using government money or facilities to support a ballot question. Usually it is just 'an information piece,' letting you know that if the override doesn't pass, civilization as we know it will end. So if you don't care about 'the children,' well, the end of civilization will be your fault."Children and their parents are pawns in the public "money games" some superintendents and school officials are playing. It is no exaggeration of the truth to say that children are "being used as tools for tax hikes by educational establishments."
Salem News 05/17/04 - Mixed feelings mark teacher's departure from Salem HS - A letter from a prematurely departing teacher describing the "contentious and toxic environment" at Salem High. "The problems facing Salem High School are endemic of a leadership culture that substitutes intimidation for true consensus building, plausible deniability for accountability, and impulsive decision-making for respect of the rights and accomplishments of the people in its charge."
Globe Northwest 05/16/04 - "Salem student denies net threat" - An account of the ongoing Salem student "threat" embroglio is (finally) published in a mainstream newspaper. ''I haven't been in class for the last couple of days due to being sick . . . to my stomach because of the school and what this is turning into. When i get my chance i will show everyone how I feel. I have never held back before and i wont start now."This is it? This is the "threat" that, according to Superintendent Levine, warranted a police investigation, a "lockdown" of Salem High School and the attempted expulsion of a student?
Trouble in Salem - Threats?
A lockdown? A lawsuit? Has Salem Superintendent of Schools Herbert Levine finally gone too far?See: "No
Attorney's request ""Repost:
Lawer Needs Help re: Expulsion"
Advocacy Groups - The Texas Educator's Witness Protection Program, a special project of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation - "We want more education for our dollars before we put more dollars into Education.""Often, teachers leave the classroom to go into administrative positions so they can make more money. That is just plain wrong! Good teachers should receive more compensation than administrators!""There are many education employees who have seen the wasteful spending and education curriculum controlled by the powerful education lobbies resulting in less pay for teachers and 'dumbed down' education for children... however, educators are fearful to speak out for fear of retaliation by administrators and powerful education unions."
Salem News 04/22/04 - It's all about the kids except when it's about the money - An excellent article about the "little dance played out by school superintendents around the region who are looking for more bucks and long-term job security.""I suppose it is human nature to grab for all the cash you can. But it would be nice, while the money showers down upon these high-demand free agents, if there were an acknowledgement that, starting right at the top, it is not really 'about the children,' as we constantly hear. It is about richer contracts for adults.""...the demand for richer, longer contracts is a powerful symbolic message that trickles down to the rest of the staff: Forget about the kids. Go for the money, just because you can."
"...it is past time for local school committees to stop believing the fantasy these superintendents are selling - that they are irreplaceable. They're not. Nobody is. If Nomar and Pedro weren't around, some other highly motivated, gifted player would step up, and eventually will step up, to take their place. The same is true in education."
Eagle Tribune 04/18/04 - Records hint at open meeting law violations - "Minutes from 13 years of closed (Andover) School Committee meetings appear to show discussions of topics that should have been handled publicly." "North Andover Superintendent Harry K. Harutunian said he has his School Committee approve executive session minutes when they are written, and then he holds onto them until the matters discussed have been resolved. He makes them publicly available in the town clerk's office within 'a reasonable time,' he said, but would not specifically say how long he holds the minutes before their release."Unfortunately, during Harutunian's tenure in Reading, a "reasonable time" often meant "years" or "never."
Reading Advocate 03/11/04 - E-Violation [.pdf, 19.1 KB]- District Attorney requires that the Reading School Committee to make public their emails regarding strategy and changes in Reading Community Television (RCTV) bylaws. Read the DA's 02/27/04 decision [.pdf, 211 KB]. "Based on all of the circumstances, I conclude that the school committee violated the Open Meeting Law. To remedy this violation, the committee should create a hard copy of the email messages at issue and immediately place it in a central file, where it can be provided as a public record on request." - Lillian Cheng, Assistant District Attorney
Bostonworks 04/04 - Job
openings in the Reading Public Schools - The exodus continues. According
to one Reading teacher, "much of the exodus from the Reading School
system is because of retirements and not necessarily dissatisfaction
with the system. At RMHS a number of teachers came in the early 1970's
when the high school was expanded to include the 9th grade.
North Andover Citizen 04/01/04 - North Andover athletes deserve the real thing - Another view on synthetic / artificial turf athletic fields. Reading plans to install two of these non-reimbursable (by the State) fields - one for the football field and one for a soccer / lacrosse field. As this coach attests, there is "more than meets the eye" to synthetic turf fields. Such fields are expensive and lucrative for the companies that make and maintain them but their hazards and problems have not been well publicized.
Eagle Tribune 04/02/04 - Secret session notes go public - "For eight years, the (Andover) School Committee and administration have failed to release the committee's executive session minutes, violating state law on closed-door government proceedings... Committee members said they did not know why the documents -- hundreds of pages of them covering such things as lawsuits and union negotiations -- were not regularly released as the law requires." When questioned, officials who violate open meeting laws and withold information from the public have little defense but to feign ignorance. The same kinds of "closed-door government proceedings" have been going on in Reading ever since the arrival of former Superintendent Harutunian in 1995. Hundreds of documents still remain unreleased... unlawfully.. and one can only imagine what Harutunian-era "executive session" activities would finally be revealed if these documents were allowed to "go public." Unfortunately, Superintendent Patrick Schettini appears to be playing many of the same games to obstruct access to public information as his predecessor (i.e. delay tactics, claiming documents are "not in my possession," charging exorbitant "search fees" for basic information that, in other communities, is available in the public library or online). Schettini, who came to Reading from the Natick Public Schools, is reportedly charging $240, up front, for a staff member (at time and 1/2) to "research" school construction records. If his administration were closely monitoring Reading's school construction projects, these records would already be accessible to the public. In Natick, detailed public information on local school construction projects can be found online.See Natick School Committee minutes and other public documents. Also read public documents from the Town of Newton... or visit the Town of Wayland's comprehensive Building Committee website, complete with copies of the E-MAILS passed among architects, school officials and committee members.Where are the emails for Reading's projects?? Where is the correspondence? Why are some Reading officials - even now - so afraid to release information about school construction projects? Why all the obstacles? What is the big secret??The Reading public currently has no access to basic pubic information about its $70+ million school projects. Major decisions have been (and are) being made behind closed doors. Who benefits?
Bostonworks 03/14/04 - Advertisement for Principal of Reading Memorial High School - The exodus continues; none of the major players want to be stuck in Reading when the fruits of their labors are "realized..." and the Reading public finally wakes up.Apparently, RMHS Principal Frank Orlando is leaving, "jumping ship," getting out while he still can. Is Principal Orlando retiring or will he be joining his former boss, Superintendent Harutunian, in North Andover? At what public meeting (school committee or otherwise) was the RMHS Principal vacancy and search process discussed??? Is there any particular reason why this "boilerplate" ad doesn't mention the upcoming major demolition of RMHS / and subsequent three years of construction (all without a building committee, as required by law)? Perhaps a candidate has already been chosen...
Background information on the recent indictment of Everett Superintendent Fred Foresteire and others can be found at http://everettmass.com. Apparently, "grand jury activity with regard to an ongoing investigation into the purchasing practices of the school department" has been ongoing in Everett since summer, 2003.
Added information regarding Anthony Witwicki and others vs. Beverly School Committee [.pdf download, 256 KB] to the Harry Harutunian archive and the section on open meeting law. The 01/04/93 decision and order from Superior Court Justice David M. Roseman rescinded Harutunian's illegally negotiated contract and forced the Beverly School Committee to fully comply with the open meeting law in future proceedings. Also added an Eagle Tribune article about the "retirement" of North Andover Principal Lou Reste (the third principal with plans to leave the district this year) in the North Andover news section. Will Reading Interim Parker Middle School Principal (and longtime Harutunian associate) William Foye soon have a new job in North Andover?
Boston Globe 03/27/04 - Everett schools chief, 10 others indicted - "The indictment also charges 10 other people with involvement in a scheme to illegally profit from more than $552,000 in school construction and maintenance contracts awarded between 1998 and 2003, alleging that bid-rigging and illegal kickbacks were involved in the awarding of at least 63 contracts. Prosecutors said they did not believe that Foresteire was involved in the bid-rigging."Bid rigging and illegal kickbacks... people actually get in trouble for that?
Massachusetts Superintendent Salaries and Compensation data - expanded version. A listing of school chief salaries, perks and other benefits.
Newton Tab 03/23/04 - Lay off on teacher layoffs - An excellent article on "school bureaucrats who push lower class size for their own narrow ends" by Newton's Tom Mountain. "...in the Newton Public Schools, whenever there is perceived to be a budget shortfall, or the school administration just wants more money, the first people they threaten to lay off are the teachers. Not the overpaid administrators, the teachers. You'll never hear the superintendent threaten to cut some of his assistant superintendents because, after all, who among the public would object to that?"
"Threaten to cut teachers and enormous pressure will be brought to bear on the politicians to prevent these 'layoffs' by shifting more money to the schools. Throw in the prediction that classroom size will increase from 20.2 to 20.5, and City Hall will dip into the rainy day fund and the schools will reap a windfall."
"All the administrator needs to do is establish the premise that smaller class size is critical for effective learning. Liberal think tanks can be utilized as references in the unlikely event that someone questions the premise. But the best strategy is to present small class size as a fact, not open for discussion. Keep harping away at the need to maintain lower class size. Preach it at every opportunity. And the money and staff will flow in.Smaller classes mean more teachers, support staff, administrators. More classrooms mean more office space, more buildings. More bureaucracy."Sound familiar?
Advocates for responsible, efficient use of school funds to "stretch every dollar to the max" are often labeled as being "anti-school" by those who use and perpetuate educational bureaucracy to achieve their own ends. In Reading, wasteful administrators, their special interest "friends" and the reigning (but often clueless) "politically correct" school lobby have driven the Town to the brink of financial disaster...
High School Project changes - February 20, 2004 invitations for sealed bids went out for the high school project. Sub-bids (trades, masonry, metals, roofing, painting, plumbing, etc.) were opened on March 15, 2004. The latest version of the project (that was bid on by contractors) is unknown since Reading no longer has a Building Committee and many of the changes have occurred behind closed doors.However, some changes to the high school project that voters were "sold" in February 2003 have surfaced:
San Antonio Express News 03/08/04 - Top dollar for schools' top dogs - "Why have superintendents' salaries grown as much as 77 percent in the past five years?" "...for taxpayers, superintendents' salaries can be a contentious issue.
'The problem is that the money is coming from tax dollars. If it was a CEO of a private company, it would be different,' said Anne Dixon, a former superintendent at Somerset School District."How do some of Massachusetts' top dogs compare to their counterparts in Texas? Yes, Massachusetts administrators make less money.. but they oversee significantly smaller school districts. How many Massachusetts superintendents have to deal with "more than 50,000 students, 8,000 employees and a budget just over $445 million?" Why are some school superintendents in Massachusetts overseeing fewer than 4,000 students but making more than $150,000 per year? "Superintendents have the luxury of negotiating their contracts, which is something teachers can't do, said Tom Cummins, president of the Bexar County Federation of Teachers.""When it works well, as trustees say is the case with Middleton, school boards are eager to avoid losing their superintendent. But when the marriage is dysfunctional, it can cause turmoil, destroy morale and lead the district into financial disarray." - San Antonio Express News
Power Grab In North Andover - Candidates are currently being interviewed for the Executive Director position at North Andover's new cable studio (located in North Andover High School). Apparently, Superintendent Harutunian has been "sitting in" on these interviews and involving himself in the selection process. Though not included in the job description, the Executive Director will answer directly to the President of the cable board of directors (which makes sense) and...... school Superintendent Harutunian!!! The Superintendent's direct involvment in the day-to-day operations of a public access station is NOT normal, even for a community with the access studio located in a public school. Superintendent Harutunian is, as predicted, making a grab for control of the media in North Andover. To control the medium is to control the message. Try as he might, Harutunian could not completely control cable broadcasts during his reign in Reading.Citizens of North Andover NEED to take action to preserve their free speech and access to public information!
Salem News 03/03/04 - Finalists for the Danvers School Superintendent position [.pdf, 92.5 KB]. "The School Committee will interview them in public, one at a time for up to two hours each, at 6 p.m. March 9, 10, 11, 15 and 16."Among them, "Dennis Richards, associate superintendent for the Reading public schools."
Reportedly, former Reading Superintendent Harry Harutunian has imported his former personal secretary in Reading to North Andover. Who could do a better job of keeping his secrets in North Andover than the personal secretary who kept his secrets in Reading? Isn't this the same "secretary to superintendent" who was gifted a whopping 16.6% base salary increase before Harutunian left Reading? At $46,019 base pay in Reading, how much is North Andover now paying for her services?Superintendent Harutunian takes care of his friends... as long as they're useful.
How many of the mistakes uncovered in the Inspector General's investigation of Needham's Pollard School Project have been repeated with Reading's school construction projects?
Reading does not even have a building committee to oversee THREE ongoing construction projects, as required for reimbursement funding by the State! Reading's "building committee" dissolved itself in April of 2003.Read the Pollard Middle School Construction Project management review report [.pdf, 273 KB] by the Massachusetts' Office of the Inspector General.Designing and Constructing Public Facilities [.pdf, 1.02 MB] - advice from the Massachusetts Inspector General.
The Sunset Rock "chicken coop" is arisin' while (for the fifth year in a row) Reading elementary student enrollment is a fallin', just as projections done in 1997 by Drummey, Rosane and Anderson (DRA) predicted. This building will serve as great low income housing in a few years, when the majority of people realize that the supposed "enrollment crunch" was fabricated and the $11.6+ million elementary school was not actually needed. Why do YOU think Barrows Elementary and RMHS are being "renovated" and reduced in size? To help cover up the enrollment gap??Take a closer [.jpg, 147 KB] look at the Sunset Rock elementary school, currently under construction.
Reading Advocate 01/29/04 - Letter: Limit school spending, reduce tax bills [.pdf, 14.5 KB]
"Your recent article 'Schools look at 6% increase' published Jan. 14, again highlights the MINE (More Is Never Enough) mentality of the school department and school committee. Despite a $4.5 million override (overrides are forever!) last spring that gave an additional $3.1 million to the schools, the school department is once again asking for more money. Here's a novel idea: Limit spending increases to the available 2 1/2 percent increase in revenue. The profligate spending of the school department will soon have the school-spending elites calling for another override and more taxes in the near future. Here is a table of school spending back to 1994.
Compare and contrast Superintendent Schettini's 2003 - 2004 employment contract [.pdf, 298 KB] with Superintendent Harutunian's contract with the Reading Public Schools, 2002 - 2003 [.pdf, 71.3 KB]. What is missing from Harutunian's contract (and what has yet to be released to the public)?
"A complete outrage" in Salem, Massachusetts. Since administrative salary increases worked so well in Reading, apparently former Reading Superintendent Harry Harutunian's North Shore Education Consortium / Endicott College breakfast buddy, Salem Superintendent of Schools Herbert W. Levine, is playing the same games in his own school system. Fortunately, Salem teachers and educational advocates are already asking tough questions. See the www.salemhigh.net message board for details. "A Complete Outrage""Levine gets 10.5 Raise Teachers Zippo"Concerning administrative salary increases, perks and contracts...a.) When a superintendent is successful in raising his own base salary, the superintendent is also entitled to more retirement funds and / or is in a better position to seek a new job at an even higher salary.b.) Increases in administrative salaries also influence the salaries of peers in neighboring communities. Across the state, many administrators and superintendents actively work together to raise salaries, regardless of experience. Harutunian ($131,480 total pay in Reading, $150,500 in North Andover) and Levine ($146,390 this year, compared to $120,000 two years ago - a 22 percent increase) are now both making significantly more money (faster) than most administrators in comparable communities. c.) raising the base salaries of favored employees and administrators encourages "loyalty" to the top administrator and "silence." Will employees who enjoy excessive salaries and / or retirement packages speak out against school department corruption?d.) School committees are supposed to oversee superintendent salaries, administrative perks and bonuses. Unfortunately, school committees, as the "checks and balances" to administrative authority, often fail to do their jobs properly (or objectively). In the case of Superintendent Levine, it is becoming increasingly apparent that many of his own teachers, students are dissatisfied with the way he has conducted himself and the business of the Salem Public Schools. Websites (offering specific, verifiable information about school systems' problems) only appear after administrators and school committee members repeatedly fail to address the concerns of the public they (are supposed to) serve.
Boston Globe Northwest 12/21/03 Superintendent compensation data. Who is Massachusetts' most overpaid problem school administrator / C.E.O. wannabe? Who actually is underpaid, overworked and underappreciated? Read about school chief salaries, perks and other benefits in the scanned list [.pdf, 194 KB] from the 12/21/03 Globe Northwest article, Hot Market For Superintendents [.pdf, 25.4 KB].
Boston Globe 12/21/03 - Hot Market For Superintendents [.pdf, 25.4 KB] - Too many superintendents want the power, salary and prestige of a C.E.O. without the hassle of being accountable to the public (a.k.a. the stockholders). These wayward superintendents simply do not understand that they are PUBLIC SERVANTS dependent upon taxpayer funds for their salaries and the operation of schools.
"Whereas management in business requires skill to rise to, to reach, and to remain at the top, management in education merely requires ambition to control others with the near absolute power provided; since funds are guaranteed, results and accountability are simply not expected of administrators, particularly when they stack their boards with puppets." While #4 of NAPTA's Political Insights to Problem Administrations is correct, not all school superintendents are incompetent, power-hungry, truth-impaired parasites drawn to educational administration because it is a "fast track" to power and prestige they could never have attained in the private sector. Just because there is currently no oversight of local school superintendents does not mean that everyone is taking advantage of the situation by abusing and exploiting their authority.Some school superintendents are talented managers, open about school finances, concerned about the communities they serve and deserving of their substantial paychecks.Some superintendents still operate honestly, efficiently and with integrity.
People asking questions about the Alice Barrows renovation... please visit the enrollment or school projects sections of this site. Additional details and a timeline of events to sort out this convoluted mess will be provided at some point in the future. The short answer to questions about what is happening with the project, however, is that Flansburgh Associates is currently on its third redesign, the cost of the project is rising and the building (and student capacity) is being made smaller to cover-up the enrollment gap created when Reading school administrators used inflated enrollment projects to justify the construction of the Sunset Rock 5th elementary school. Taxpayers of Reading continue to pay more for less.
Stoneham Sun 10/28/03 - School Officials Respond to Heat Complaints - Stoneham continues to deal with the poor heating system in their Flansburgh designed, three-year-old South Elementary School. Using Reading logic, Stoneham should tear the South School down.
After spending $2.2 million on the heating system at Reading Memorial High and solving the heating problem (see Invensys, 08/26/98 Siebe Memo and audio statement from former Superintendent Harutunian), the Town still plans to demolish the structurally sound building. With Flansburgh & Associates designing Reading's new elementary school (currently under construction) and the proposed Barrows renovation, just imagine what future problems await Reading taxpayers!
Boston Globe 02/24/03 - Don't forget about the roof collapse at the Sunderland Elementary School earlier this year; yet another Flansburgh Associates' design (a page detailing the school from www.fai-arch.com that, as of 03/12/03, has been been removed)... or the burst pipes in their new schools in Medford... or the two Flansburgh schools in Everett (one of which couldn't open and the other closed after only one year).
Lawrence Eagle Tribune 10/19/03 - North Andover school chief: No area safe from cuts - Somehow, the "sky is always falling" for Harry Harutunian and there's never, ever enough money. Times are tough but the former Reading Superintendent of Schools excels at making situations look a lot worse than they actually are. Indeed, "fixing" a problem becomes so much easier if you constantly exaggerate (and you, yourself, exacerbate) the severity of the problem.
In Reading, Harutunian frequently threatened to cut programs, teachers, staff.
Year after year, fearful citizens (and especially parents with children in the public schools) responded to the threats with ever-increasing amounts of funding. To the rallying cry of "do it for the children," they gave and gave, feeding the spending programs of the Harutunian administration, regardless of whether they could afford it or not.
How long before the citizens of North Andover are forced to pass costly overrides to compensate for Superintendent Harutunian's inability to live within the community's means? To date, Harutunian's scare tactics have saddled the town of Reading, Massachusetts with an unnecessary new elementary school and a looming $54-$57+ million dollar new High School to replace the "aging" (but structurally sound) Reading Memorial High School that his own administration failed to properly maintain.
As helpful Harry "is building the new spending plan from the ground up," taxpayers of North Andover would be wise to keep a watchful eye on exactly how the budget is being "restructured." Changes that appear to be done in the name of efficiency and frugality may actually be designed to make it more difficult to follow the "money trail" and compare the "reorganized" budget with the budgets of prior administrations.
Updated notes to Reading School Building Committee: The Reading School Building Committee dissolved without explanation at an April 2003 Town Meeting, in spite of ongoing elementary school projects and the $54.9 million ($103 million with interest) Reading Memorial High School "renovation" project. Without public oversight by a building or construction committee, construction of the new elementary school has proceeded, although the plans for the new Reading High School have yet to receive state approval.
Upon the dissolution of the Building Committee, school building projects allegedly moved under the oversight of the Reading School Committee and former Superintendent Harutunian. Since July 23, 2003, oversight has supposedly been under the control of a recently hired Superintendent Patrick Schettini (formerly assistant Superintendent from Natick). Under both superintendents, major project decisions, changes in designs and contracts (business that, in other communities, is normally conducted in the open by building committees or construction committees) have been discussed and negotiated behind the scenes, outside of public view.
School Committee Chairman Pete Dahl and Town Counsel have already signed contracts related to the RMHS "renovation" project without prior knowledge of, discussion, review or vote on the contracts by the Reading School Committee. Major decisions have been made but it is unclear who has actually made or authorized these decisions. Certainly, the full Reading School Committee has not reviewed or approved them in public.
Under the Harutunian administration, much of the groundwork -- signing contracts, honoring contracts without signatures or voted authorization, engineering override campaigns, negotiating "deals" with architects and contractors, pressuring and rushing the process while assuring the public about the need and legitimacy of the new buildings -- was laid for Reading's costly new school building projects.
Who is now responsible for "shepherding" Reading's lucrative ongoing construction projects?
Officially confirmed in information released at a 09/30/03 school committee meeting, the projects have been turned over to the Reading School Committee and Superintendent who now face the monumental task of simultaneously running the schools and several ongoing multi-million dollar school construction projects.
Have select members of the Building Committee (with expertise in school construction and, perhaps, an unwillingness to disclose information about their relationships to architects and construction companies) continued to influence the process from behind the scenes? What really compelled the School Building Committee to dissolve at this most critical point in the history of Reading school building projects?
North Andover Citizen, 09/18/03 - Administrative Increase FY 2004 - North Andover is looking more and more like Reading every day...
North Andover Citizen, 09/18/03 - Allen Says Raises Were Warranted - Departing North Andover Superintendent Allen claims that "raises were among the topics discussed during conversations with then incoming superintendent, Dr. Harry Harutunian, on at least "two, possibly three occasions."
Harutunian claims that "during the conversations with Allen before the changing of the guard, the two administrators 'went all over the place' and covered numerous issues, but 'at no time was my permission sought about raises, nor were any numbers discussed.'"
Consider former Reading School Superintendent Harutunian's record of handing out huge raises and "merit pay" to school administrators and trusted employees. Who are you likely to believe?
Who stands to gain from this situation?
Giving out raises is a way a new school administrator can quickly gain the favor of (and thereby begin to control) employees. Increasing the salaries of administrators also creates an attractive situation for future administrators (friendly to the Superintendent) to be imported from other school systems. Across the state, school administrators, regardless of (in)experience, rarely are hired for less money than their predecessors.
By increasing principal and specialist salaries, the top administrator also sets the stage for increases in salary, bonuses and "merit pay" for himself.
Lawrence Eagle Tribune, 09/03/03 - Late Raises Outrage Parents in North Andover - "Harutunian said the five top administrator's salaries remain below average for this region even after the hikes, but the same is true of all administrators in the North Andover schools."
What is the average salary for a school administrator in this region? As compared to what communities?? Former North Andover Superintendent Allen's salary was only $107,000 base. Is Superintendent Harutunian's own $145,000 base salary below average??? Was his previous salary in Reading below average??
Aerial view of Reading Memorial High School. Since 1995, new roofing has been installed in several areas, including the original 1953 building and other sections (seen in white below) scheduled to be demolished in the $54.9 million "renovation" project.
Elaine Webb appointed to remaining 7 month term of former School Committee member Susan Cavicchi. At a joint School Committee / Selectmen meeting, Webb was chosen over 4 other applicants, including two who had been candidates for School Committee in the Spring 2003 election: three-time candidate Linda Phillips (2,357 votes) and first-time candidate Janice Bernier (1,837 votes). Webb, who had never run for School Committee before, elaborated on her intense involvement with the ballot question groups Building Pride and Reading Pride as important considerations for her appointment to the position (Elaine Webb 07/29/03, .mp3 audio, 341 KB) Webb did not mention that she had donated a combined $1075 over 2002-2003 to ballot question groups Reading Pride, Building Pride and Reading Pep (see Campaign Finance Reports).
Salem News, 07/28/03 - Lawmakers turn off flow of school building aid - 63 school districts with school construction plans in the works were given extensions to win final local approval and get their “ducks in a row” by Sept. 15, according to Romney spokeswoman Nicole St. Peter.
Read what the media and State reps outside Reading are saying about true cost of school project borrowing, SBA and the next "Big Dig"--school construction.
Why did Reading officials insist on having a special override election in February??? What would have been the outcome if Reading voters had been given adequate time to know the truth about school buildings, projected needs, the fiscal health of Reading and the State?
So who has benefited from rushing this process??
Boston Globe 07/28/03 - The checks are in the mail - How are you going to use your government tax credit? Here is Massachusetts Teacher of the Year (and RMHS teacher) Jeffrey Ryan’s response to Boston Globe reporter Irene Sege: “To tell you the truth, it’s such a piddling amount, I haven’t really thought a heck of a lot about what to do with it. It’s just one more silly handout from the Bush administration. It’s just a handout to his rich millionaire laissez-faire capitalist friends.”
How about putting “the piddling amount” towards replacing the stained ceiling tiles in Ryan's classroom? These tiles, the replacement of which should have been covered by insurance (what happened to that money??), remained in place long after the toilet valve that caused the flooding was repaired last year. Yes, the problem actually was a defective valve [.pdf download, 14.4 KB], not pipes continually bursting in the walls of structurally sound Reading Memorial High School. No matter, facts have no place when one is hawking a $54.9+ million project and the stained tiles make for sensational video designed to manipulate Reading voters.
Salem News 07/23/03 - Essex Again Votes No [.pdf, 103 KB] - the new Manchester / Essex High School construction project (a Flansburgh Associates' design) fails to win voter approval by an even greater margin than before. Unlike the citizens of Reading, Essex voters were given time to fully understand the issues, the project and the impact it might have on their town. Essex voters were not railroaded into making decisions without adequate information.
Boston Globe 07/19/03 - Former school superintendent indicted [.pdf, 20.8 KB] - "Former Lunenburg school superintendent Richard M. Carlson was indicted yesterday on charges of stealing more than $420,000 from the central Massachusetts school district in a scheme that authorities said involved funnelling money to a dummy corporation he controlled."
The State appears to be taking the problem of inadequate oversight of school superintendents more seriously??
Isn't it time for an impartial, independent, outside forensic audit of the Reading School Department, just to make sure Reading doesn't have any similar problems?
A $7,500 "merit payment" bonus for Harutunian, apparently voted by School Committee in Executive Session in February prior to the RMHS Project Override, was paid in his last check in June 2003. School Committee did NOT conduct a performance review this year and the executive session minutes / record of this action still have not been released (as of July 14, 2003). This merit payment / bonus is the maximum allowed in Harutunian's 2002 - 2003 contract, "subject to continued good performance as judged by the School Committee."
Site work continues at the new elementary school in the elite North section of Reading, though concerns have been raised by Conservation and the Fire Chief. A long standing issue has been the need for a turn around "loop" that can be negotiated by firetrucks and an 18 foot wide paved fire lane around the planned school building. The Order of Conditions presently calls for only a 12 foot wide fire lane with a pervious gravel surface (06/20/03 Conservation Memo Re: Order of Conditions).
Patrick Schettini's resume when applying for the position of Reading Superintendent of Schools (.pdf download, 167 KB).
Building Pride's 2002 and 2003 campaign finance reports are now available for download (in the Office of Campaign and Political Finance section of this web-site).
School Building Projects - Information and public documention related to current Reading School Building Projects.
And so it goes... Reading "history" repeats itself in North Andover. With Harutunian at the helm, can "North Andover Pride" be far behind?
06/05/03 - North Andover Citizen - A Bittersweet Goodbye - Graduating seniors reminisce about the soon-to-be-demolished North Andover High School.
Departing Superintendent Harutunian appoints Interim Parker Middle School Principal. Amidst controversy over Beverly Superintendent Lupini's refusal to reappoint William Foye as Beverly High Principal, Foye follows the Harutunian trail to Reading (Harutunian 06/06/03 memo to Parker Parents, Foye's Resume, Beverly Citizen 05/29/03 Letter: Superintendent Must answer).
Blasting continues at the site of the new elementary school. Due to the tight cul de sac, large construction vehicles have had to back all the way up Sunset Rock to Franklin St. to leave. Are such hazardous conditions an accident waiting to happen? Who's responsible for the safety of nearby Reading residents during this project?
The cutting of trees to make room for Reading's unecessary new elementary school continues. How crowded and unsafe will this entire area become when the school is finally finished? Blasting of the ledge starts next week.
School Building Projects - Information and public documention related to current Reading School Building Projects.
North Andover Citizen, 07/24/03, Wild About Harry [.pdf download, 19.8 KB] - The notorious Harutunian "homework passes" and pins have migrated to North Andover. Citizens beware! Harutunian distributed pins arbitrarily, leaving some elementary children feeling left out, frustrated and confused. Caring teachers had to cope with the consequences of his classroom visits. Harutunian's practice of distributing homework passes (rewards given to students who approached the superintendent and identified him) also generated resentment among parents and teachers.
The passes undermined the authority and ability of Reading teachers to do their jobs and negated the value of an integral part of the learning process: h o m e w o r k.
Pins and passes were superficial rewards that gave the wrong message to students but did serve to boost the superintendent's ego. Harutunian has embarked on a new PR campaign to convince the people of North Andover (and, perhaps, himself) that he is a good communicator, a friendly person and will be an attentive, accessible Superintendent. He is so much more than that. Don't be fooled.
Killam Elementary School to change to natural gas by September 2003. Despite the installation in Fall 2001 of a new boiler ($84,898, awarded George T. Wilkinson & Co. Inc.) capable of burning either oil or gas at Killam, the school's oil tank will be removed this summer. Killam's future renovation is not scheduled for several years (2001 Reading Chronicle articles detailing the Killam boiler repairs / replacement).
According to the 06/06/03 letter from Keyspan to former School Superintendent Harutunian, gas also will be provided to the new elementary school off Sunset Rock/Dividence Rd. by September 2004, the Barrows Elementary School by September 2005 and Reading Memorial High School by September 2006. Commitment to this schedule was "contingent upon a signed sales agreement by both parties," believed to have been among Harutunian's last acts as Reading Superintendent before he departed for his new position in North Andover July 1st (Keyspan Energy 06/16/03 letter to Harutunian).
Coincidentally, School Committee member Susan Cavicchi tendered her resignation on 06/17/03 (effective June 30, 2003). Cavicchi, who regularly recused herself from the public School Committee discussions involving gas, was known to be a longtime supporter of converting Reading schools to gas energy. Her husband, now retired from Boston Gas, was closely involved in the Parker Middle School's conversion to gas during the construction / demolition / renovation project in 1995 - 1996.
The Reading School Committee continues to convert all schools to "natural" gas in spite of widespread knowledge that natural gas prices are soaring (07/14/03 Salem News article "Natural gas prices double over past year" and the 06/27/03 Boston Herald article, 06/27/03 Boston Herald article, "Natural gas prices exploding").
Why the rush to eliminate Killam's oil alternative to gas fuel at a time when gas costs are soaring and a renovation of Killam is years away?
The $54 million Reading Memorial High School demolition / renovation / addition project fails to gain School Building Assistance preliminary approval for State reimbursement (Commissioner Driscoll 04/04/03 Memo, FY '03 Preliminary Approval School Construction List). This news should not come as a surprise since the Reading High School capacity-reduction project actually meets NONE of the seven priority category requirements.
For months, the Romney Administration has been cautioning communities against investing in overrides or detailed architectural designs. Now, if the RMHS project continues to move forward as planned, Reading taxpayers should be prepared to foot the entire bill plus interest. School Committee voted in 1999 and again this year that they would not proceed with the project without State reimbursement. However, neither the Town Meeting warrant article nor February's Special Election ballot question contained a requirement that reimbursement be procurred for the high school project to move forward. Currently, Reading is obligated to pay this tremendous debt unless local officials reexamine the project and take action.
A $4.5 million operating override ($3.1 million for the schools and $1.4 million for the Town) is scheduled for the April 8th election. The Town also did not set aside the $16.1 million needed (in addition to the $2.5 million passed in February) for the unjustifiable new elementary school project and the proposed renovation of Barrows elementary school. From where will that money come?
Time to take a hard look at the total costs to be absorbed by the Reading community. What do we really need to do and what can we reasonably afford to do on our own?
School Committee member McFadden questions whether the fact that Flansburgh Associates Sid Bowen is not a registered architect in Massachusetts should also be a cause for concern in relation to Reading elementary projects (Massachusetts requires the Principal-in-charge of school projects to be a registered architect).
At the school committee meeting, Bowen attempts to minimize the issue and insists that he doesn't know who is the Principal-in-charge for the elementary school projects (.mp3 audio, 326 KB). In reality, Reading contracted with Flansburgh assuming that Bowen was a registered architect. In the contract, Bowen is Principal-in-charge for the Reading elementary school projects.
In the Flansburgh Associates May 2002 proposal for the RMHS schematics, Bowen also is listed as Principal-in-charge of Reading's elementary projects (see below for a list of Public Projects within the last 5 years).
In his Sept. 28, 2000 deposition, Bowen describes the difference between a certified architect and a registered architect, explaining that he has yet to take the state exam.
At what point does Reading say, "enough is enough" to deceptive practices involving our school projects?
Sid Bowen FAI contract, project list and deposition materials:
Flansburgh Associates bid for the High School Renovation Project final design contract is derailed. At Thursday's meeting, School Committee members Carl McFadden and John Russo raised questions about the firm's practices, including misrepresentation of the design team's experience and the revelation that Principal-in-Charge Sid Bowen is not a registered architect, as required by the State (Bowen is also Principal-in-Charge for Reading's elementary school projects, according to his sworn deposition in 2000).
Design flaws in two brand new but now closed Flansburgh schools in Everett figured prominently in the Reading School Committee discussion. Outgoing School Committee member architect / attorney Timothy Twomey initially voted for Flansburgh Associates but requested another vote be held for unanimity when the rest of the committee chose the Design Partnership of Cambridge, the architectural firm that designed the Parker Middle School demolition / construction project.
Download audio [7.50 MB] from this 03/27/03 meeting: public input, Flansburgh school problems, Twomey ethics discussion and Committee vote to select the Design Partnership of Cambridge.
Newburyport Daily News 03/18/03 - School Expansion Plan Withdrawn and Salem News 03/19/03 - FinCom Grapples With School Question - Danvers and Rowley are taking seriously the State's advice and are not moving ahead with new school building projects. Why are Reading school officials ignoring the State's warnings?
The Reading School Committee completed the initial interviews of all six architectural firms who applied for final design phase work (a $3.4 - $ 6 million contract) on Reading Memorial High School. The School Committee voted to ask two firms to return for another interview. During citizen’s input [.mp3 audio, 4.15 MB], a concerned Reading resident suggested that the School Committee, according to the State Designer Selection Procedures (as listed in the Inspector General’s manual), add another firm to select three finalists instead of two.
The Superintendent responded that he had spoken with Mr. Flaherty in the Attorney General’s office and was assured that the Committee was in compliance with the Designer Selection Procedures. According to a May 30, 2002 legal opinion from Town Counsel, Ms. Joan Langsam, requested by Dr. Harutunian on his inquiry into the procedures for Designer Selection (for the School Building Committee), Ms. Langsam clearly states that three finalists need to be selected after the ranking process occurs.
Following the 03/18/03 meeting and after futher investigation by questioning School Committee Members, the concerned resident received a call from the Superintendent confirming that, after consulting with counsel, three finalists needed to be selected and that an additional firm would be asked to participate in the re-interview process (and publicly stated this at a 3/20 School Committee Meeting).
Another concerned Reading resident questioned the possession of Building Pride’s Ballot Question Committee banner by Flansburgh & Associates, who posted it on the wall before they began their interview. Is that banner Flansburgh’s property or did Flanburgh create it for the Building Pride Campaign? Was Flansburgh the driving force behind the campaign in Reading? Was Flansburgh paid by Reading taxpayers to “develop a comprehensive community relations program” to facilitate the passage of Ballot Question #1? Was this “comprehensive community relations program” called Building Pride? Some School Committee members bristled at those questions.
According to Flansburgh Associates "obtaining community support" is part of the many services Flansburgh provides to a community, with an incredible “97% success rate in obtaining bond issue passage in New England.” Is this why the cover of their February 25 proposal had Building Pride’s logo on it and why Flansburgh brought a Building Pride banner to their interview?
sc_03_18_03_public_input [4.15 MB] - Prior to the February 25th election, all of the information, documents and drawings related to Flansburgh's renovation designs were only available to the public through Building Pride's website. As part of the services Flansburgh generally offers to towns and communities, they provide the town with a web-site.
No such site was provided to the town of Reading. Reading only got Building Pride... a site advocating the unecessary "renovation" (in reality, demolition) of the structurally sound Reading Memorial High School and, directly or indirectly, promoting the interests of Flansburgh Associates. Month after month, the ONLY source for the latest information regarding the project was Building Pride.
The poster brought to the meeting, the Building Pride logo on Flansburgh's proposal materials are only the tip of the Iceberg. The issue here is that Flansburgh appears to be taking credit for the Building Pride campaign as though they had a hand in creating it, as though it were the product of Flansbugh's "community support" services: the flyers, the videos, the web site, the meetings, the support activities. Many in Reading would like to believe that Bulding Pride was simply a organization of interested citizens and volunteers but the ties suggesting a deeper relationship between Flansburgh and Building Pride are everywhere!!
Flansburgh downloaded the Building Pride design logo from a web site? Fine. Volunteers designed the logo? Fine. What is really at issue here is why Flansburgh is so quick to include Building Pride logo with their own materials, who implemented the design on the flyers, who backed the Building Pride organization and who engineered the entirel community relations campaign? Matt Wilson? Architect Richard Radville? Flansbugh Associates' Principal Sid Bowen??
Which came first, the Pride chicken or the Flansburgh egg? Who got paid?
Flansburgh Associates has (and is proud of the fact that they have) orchestrated ballot campaigns in many other towns to pass overrides. Are we supposed to believe that Reading is the one town in which they did not?