School Committee Forum notes – 10/20

Registration was required for this candidate forum (as it was for the other forums) because of limited seating.  (Note that this has prevented some of our t-shirted friends from attending, as far as I can tell.)
We are again welcomed by Maritza Cruz.  [full list of sponsors]
(link to video)

Moderators: M Casey Starr, Monica Thomas-Bonnick

Dianna Biancheria is not in attendance due to a death in the family.

90 second opening statements
Clancey: running for her second term.  Born & raised in Worcester.  Two children in WPS.  Educated at WSU, American International College.  Parents need to have a say in decisions that are made.  Hopes to continue to be part of the team that continues work.
Coghlin Mailman: runs family business, public education system is the lifeblood for many family businesses.  Has been involved for many years with Worcester Technical High School.  Has worked to expand Innovation Pathways.  During last strategic plan, chaired tech part, wants strategic plan updated.
Novick: running for fifth term, not consecutively.  (You know her, people, don‘t make me type.)  The coming school term about policy and hiring a new superintendent.  Need people who can work on this.
Johnson: product of WPS.  Is a social worker for DCF.  Two kids in WPS.  During pandemic, his family, along with many others, struggled.  Decided that he would run for SC for those families who struggle(d).
McCullough: she runs a local nonprofit called Planting the Seed.  Stepparent to two boys.  Wants to advocate for all students.  Proud to work on inclusive health curriculum, dress codes; will continue to advocate for best educational opportunities for all students.
Kamara: early voting from 23rd!!!  Her family came her from Liberia; she grew up in poverty.  Got a scholarship to go to Providence College.  Has a MPH.  Running bc equity for all, community health.  Would love to serve as an inspiration but also an advocate.
Soucy: went to 5 different elementaries, 2 junior highs, had eldest son at age of 14.  Was homeless at 15, struggled through much adversity.  Finished high school, went to Becker, owned a barber shop, now an electrician, as is her eldest son.  Hopes to be a big voice for the students who are growing up in poverty like her.  Kids are struggling immensely.

Q1 from NAACP: why is it important to have adequate representation of black, brown, male educators in WPS?  What strategies in diversity and retention?
Soucy: as a minority woman who is also an electrician and barber, values diversity.  Benefits from opportunities from affirmative action – so there are a lot of opportunities for black/brown people, so makes recruiting and retaining difficulties.  Wants students to see the impact they can have and wants them to think about teaching.  Life experiences and ability to relate to children has hugest impact on their lives.  Would require climate change in WPS.
Kamara: there was a doctor who came to speak when she was in school, sees need for more people of color in schools.  Wants all of us to really mean that, not just in hiring but in retention.  With a woman of color running for SC (herself), we need to elect people who are diverse, and bring in a superintendent who also believes in that.
McCullough: importance of having educators that look like students is crucial.  Teacher Pipeline Proposal with WSU is something she served on – can use that to attract and retain teachers of color.  Make sure mentors are provided beyond first year.
Johnson: there has never been a black male elected to Worcester School Committee.  Translate that down to WPS educators.  Growing up, there were not many educators of color in WPS.  (The PA system is not great so I missed some of what he said)
Novick: ton of research that demonstrates teachers of color important for all students.  Questions of cultural competency, implicit bias, also role models.  People decide to become teachers when they are really young bc they are happy at school.  Disciplinary practices directly contribute to whether people feel comfortable.  Equity audit is needed, as is implicit bias training for all.
Mailman: hiring and retention in the trades take focus, time to develop, need to be measurable, transparent, many models of workforce development (like co-op and apprenticeship) – can be tried in education.  
Clancey: students need to have people in front of them that look like them.  In WPS have serious situation with retention.  Teacher morale is low period.  Listen to staff. Teaching is tough to get into.  Look at alternative pathways to licensure.  Dept relies heavily on test to determine licensure.

Q2 from YWCA of CM: comprehensive sex ed, evidence-based, culturally informed, etc.?  How will you support such an initiative?
Johnson: as educators, need to make sure students can make healthy decisions.  3Rs can assist – he supports Worcester adopting comprehensive sex ed.  Supports families who feel like opting out as well.  As social worker, works with numerous things: sexual exploitation and can see benefits.
McCullough: she already has supported such an initiative.  Very vocal advocate of 3Rs – need inclusive, medically accurate curriculum.  City needs help in area of health, this will provide students knowledge of how to avoid high-risk situations and being open / accepting of others.  (A lot more, quite good)
Kamara: has taught sexual health education before, supports need for sex ed.  Also interested in the fact that parents may or may not feel comfortable – supports opt out, seamless process to do that.  In that also need to evaluate how this is bringing STI/STD, teen pregnancy down, and promoting good behaviors – not being a bystander – that should be up.
Soucy, who you were all waiting for: one of the biggest problems WPS is facing is huge gap of parent involvement in children.  That is a huge problem and big deficit on children‘s decisions on sex ed.  NOT AGAINST SEX ED – AGAINST 3Rs and ANYTHING LIKE IT.  It is age-inappropriate, pornographic, and she references a website that is not the WPS website, the only place where you can see the WPS curriculum.
Clancey: also supported the initiative and will continue to support curriculum.  Knows how much formalized curriculum was needed.  Once DESE gets act together, will be part of state guidelines.  Worked on by city schools health staff – we have amazing teachers.  She learned how babies are made when she was in elementary school at Nelson Place.  LOOKS RIGHT AT SOUCY – SICK BURN
Mailman: supports sex ed.  Parents can opt kids out.  Participated in presentations by WPS that have reinforced timeliness of this particular program.  Health professionals endorsed – this carried a lot of weight.  Firmly believes that knowledge is power and we underestimate children‘s ability to understand.
Novick: former committee violated Open Meeting Law, didn‘t follow process, and a number of us ran on this issue and fulfilled what community wanted.  This is crucial for sex ed, but also for LGBTQIA students and ALL students.  Ideology and indoctrination – NO; Facts – YES.  MORE BURNS FROM THIS SIDE OF THE TABLE

Q3 from LWV: success of school children – how to collaborate with all orgs in the city, incl business, arts nonprofits, higher ed, social service, to the benefit of everyone.
Mailman:  hopeful that as we transition to new super that this is part of the job requirements.  WPS are viewed as somewhat of a fortress: no one can get in.  We do not have all the answers in Worcester.  Thinking about Shine Initiative.  Should have started years ago, but only started recently bc so difficult to get to the table.
McCullough: agrees.  Incorporate into next strategic plan, next super needs to enhance and build new relationships.  Everyone should have seat at the table.  Tutoring partnerships, dual enrollment, etc. from higher ed.
Clancey: we need to work with leadership that accepts outside orgs.  In midst of pandemic, need to collab with other orgs to assist students/staff.
Kamara: is part of her five-point plan: Office of Community Relationships, to work with WEDF to align to specific needs.  Internship funding, to grow relationship with business, nonprofit world.  Worcester Public School alum network can also provide job opportunities.  Track where kids are going to college, what field they are working in.
Novick: Loves the first part of question – School children‘s success part of city‘s health.  Something can be goals of new super.  Also notion of schools being a place that families feel belong to them.  There are many schools where this is not the case, plays into this as well.
Soucy: during pandemic, NYC doubled up on community school strategy.  Quality ed, infusion of social services, initiative that will allow school staff to collaborate with families.  She has read all this before.
Johnson: surprised that we still need to have this conversation.  Has worked with different mental health agencies.  Need to engage some of these outside providers for care for our kids.  We keep bringing businesses in, but not giving kids access to grow/learn.
[Note: maybe 15 minutes ago they allowed a bunch of people in.  NO SIGNS, though, mes amis]

Q4: about SROs.  What model for authentic way forward that allows least amount of trauma for students?
McCullough: new plan to be rolled out in January.  Need additional adjustment counselors, clinicians, wraparound coordinators.  We have known we have needed more services for a number of years, now even more with pandemic.  Would support community relationship building role – students should feel safe but that things will not lead to more severe punishment.
Mailman: for schools to be place of learning and development, all (students, teachers) need to feel safe.  Need for proper support staff.  School nurses, counselors, etc.  New safety plan in early December.  Plan has taken a long time to be developed.  Wants to hear from students/families impacted by past practices.  This is another area where we can look to others for ideas/best practices.
Kamara: prevention to use community policing.  Include social workers.  Look at how to help kids.  Look at kids who are coming with different medical histories – social workers need to know that.  [HIPAA?]  Make sure kids are not given inappropriate/inaccurate diagnoses.
Novick: having police officers in schools actively harmful to students.  No impact on shootings, elevated arrests and discipline, esp for black students.  Put real money into restorative justice, make it a priority of new administration.  Hoping to graduate students who are fully-formed adults.  Sometimes we look at schools as if crowd control.
Johnson: in 1989, cousin‘s life was taken in South High.  At that time, no police officers in schools.  The schools after that remained safe.  Need to continue community togetherness to resolve issues.  Police officers in schools are not beneficial to students.  Students say no reason for police to be in schools 6.5 hours a day.
Soucy: has been asked to speak MOST OF HER LIFE.  [The person in back of me would BEG TO DIFFER THANK YOU VERY MUCH.]  Kids are looking for someone to relate to them.  Kids like seeing someone who has experienced what they have, the anger is a cover-up for a lot of pain.  COMMUNITY SCHOOLS ARE THE ANSWER.  A lot of people in community have been working with the kids.  The kids need access to those people.
Clancey: the money that was saved equivalent to two social workers.  Novick proposed improvements for 14 social workers.  Agrees with Novick on restorative justice, mentions community policing.  With WPD relationship, have avoided some serious incidents.  Wants to see task force report next month.

Questions from the audience.  No Comments, JUST QUESTIONS based on platforms.

Q from Judy Perry, with grands and great-grands in WPS.  At Centro debate, the SC revisited the 3Rs curriculum and took some components out.  Can you talk about what was taken out and why?
McCullough: work with curriculum dept and consultant moved some lessons to other grades and removed other lessons.  Can get her in contact with curriculum website.  LOOK AT THE DAMN WEBSITE PEOPLE.  Oh my word, Molly, I feel for you.
Novick: the role of the school committee in adopting curriculum is high-level.  We should not be evaluating individual lesson plans – that‘s the job of health educators who do this every day.  This is true of ALL curricula that is reviewed.  We literally hire experts in the field.
Clancey: we worked with our health staff to evaluate numerous different curricula and relied on what they had to say and that is how we voted.

Q from Rodriguez-Fay: first school community liaison.  Fought for bilingual education.  Concerned about racial disparity, Latinos are majority, but no one is representing us.  [We are at the ‘is this a question‘ point.]  Massachusetts is the worst state for Latinos.  How to address racial disparity?
Mailman: this is the question of the night.  Chairs board of QCC.  Latino president and struggling with the same issues.  It matters that he is there, and others at table matter too.  Look at our city council – not just our schools, but our schools are where it starts.  I know I’m an old white lady, but on the team and let‘s get going.
Clancey: have to have serious diversity officer/ pipeline and recruiting.  Have not increased staff in front of students that look like them.  ELL – we don‘t have enough certified dual-language teachers.  Need to work with state to find alternatives to licensure.  We did not have enough teachers to teach at new dual-language school.
Novick: Echoes comments about licensure issues.  We have site council before us (SC) tomorrow– these are supposed to be representative and will ask that tomorrow.  Transitional language students should be routed to dual-language.  Need to value that students speak another language rather than obstacle to be overcome.
Johnson: we were having this conversation ten years ago.  No one ever hears/listens to your voice.  That is why he is running.  Will advocate and push for things that are long overdue.
McCullough: need to hire more employees of color, mentorship through first three years of teaching.  Education should be looked at as desirable career path for students.  Many in community do not know who SC is, what it does.  Will work hard to provide addl translation services.  Need ability to have meetings/forums in multiple languages so that families can be involved.
Kamara: great things happening in our city.  WSU has a lot of program for bilingual teachers, 100 Men to College, LEI doing a fantastic job.  What is the barrier if this is happening in the city and not getting to WPS?  How are we passing up qualified candidates?  Need to look at folks who are hiring – can they evaluate bilingual candidates.
Soucy: we keep talking about hiring/retention – but WE ARE LIVING IN A PANDEMIC.  PEOPLE ARE LEAVING THEIR JOBS.  We need to look at unique ways to get teachers and students supports.  We are in the middle of a very difficult time, need to come together as a community.  COMMUNITY SCHOOLS.  LINCOLN STREET SCHOOL – two projects and a methadone clinic.
(The lady behind me notes that she did not answer the question.  This may, in fact, mirror my view.)

Q to Shanel from Pickens– how to advocate for LGBTQ if you don‘t condone or respect homosexuality?
Soucy: SHE HAS ENDURED DISCRIMINATION, RIDICULE, ATTACKS TOWARDS UNDERAGE SON – all because of 3Rs curriculum.  Was uninvited for a forum for minority candidates.  PEOPLE HAVE FUELED A MOB AGAINST HER !!!!!  [In the absence of Dianna B, Shanel has decided to be the ALL CAPS candidate at this forum.]
She is asked to answer the question
Soucy: she has been the one who has been attacked !!!!  She says there was no question.
She is disabused of this by the moderators and will respond to the question.
SHE HAS SPENT HER LIFE MENTORING ALL who are in her barber chair.  SHE WORKED WITH THEM FOR MANY YEARS – this will not affect how she treats any child.
There is applause.  My side of the room is amazed – LORD HAVE MERCY is an exact quote.

Closing statement of interest:
Soucy‘s voice “would be unparalleled”
Novick: we have a superintendent search coming up and we need your votes there as well.
There were laughs as Mailman got stuck on the word “broads”; mentions needing to maintain buildings.
Clancey: anger comes from 2020 social media post and has nothing to do with the actual sex ed curriculum.

Contested District Council Candidate Forum Notes – 10/14

Candy Mero-Carlson declined because of another commitment; Cipro and Stratman were invited but are not here

So – Hampton-Dance, Rose, and Haxhiaj are in attendance

We are welcomed by Maritza Cruz; forum sponsored by YWCA, NAACP, MAWOCC, LEON, LWV, others.

Link to video

Moderators are Attorney Rubby Wuabu and Sophie Marani

Candidate introductions:

Councilor Rose: originally ran to make the city a better place for his daughters to raise their children.  However, in running for third term, bring people to get together.  Councilor‘s job is not to be an expert but to bring people together.  Social justice, taking care of vulnerable populations.  District race is very contested and important.  Our democratic values are on the line and cannot emphasize enough how important it is to maintain.

Haxhiaj: her story is the story of many other families who fled their home countries not from choice but because of political violence.  24 years later, making her second bid for CC.  In past few months, have knocked on thousands of doors.  Has shared with them about life experience and experience as community activist, youth worker, shaped – has advocated for equity as board member of YWCA.  We all deserve to have our voices included in planning.  Future greener, healthier for everyone.  Affordable housing for all people.  Elect people who are forward thinking (oh my word this was great – just watch the video)

Hampton-Dance: decided to run because she represents the everyday person.  Not a politician, not polished.  Knows what needs to get done.  Wants to be microphone, amplify people‘s voices and concerns.  No matter how many time people call and write letters.  She feels all the people at the table are running on equity.  She believes she can accomplish some things because she is unafraid and refuses to be quiet.  [She was quite impressive – I was not sure what to expect as a non-D2-voter!]

Q1: how to improve access for woman- and POC (not a quote)-owned businesses in city contracts?

Etel: worked with CLC on this.  We should be taking the lead in how we think about equity.  Pandemic has raised questions.  Would like an equity audit of purchasing, contracts.  It doesn‘t end at putting a line on the city website.  Have right people do the outreach.  Listen to people about what is missing from the contract.  We cannot talk about equity without listening to the people who are impacted by inequity.  Wants to make sure process is transparent.

Sean: Apologizes for opponent not being here.  He is a small business owner.  Often times to contract with people to offer resources.  Also pres of a nonprofit.  What happens is that you are going up against people who have huge teams, dedicated grantwriters.  Look at bidding process closely, even playing field.  Aggressive TIF policies – can use as an opportunity to look at the bid process.

Johanna:  making people aware that there are monies available.  How to get word out: community colleges, resource centers, workshops on how to start a business.  It‘s one thing to talk about bidding, but as a normal person – how do I start a business or a nonprofit?  Where is the front door?

Q2 from NAACP: ARPA funds gives us unique opportunity.  How to determine priority areas?

Etel: the starting point for how we ensure all communities are taken care of.  ARPA is to uplift those who have been negatively impacted by the pandemic.  What has been done in community listening sessions is not good.  Affordable Housing Coalition – 20% of ARPA should be dedicated.  Prescription should come from the community.  CC should listen more to constituents.  Not to be seen as a “good listener” but because it‘s the right thing to do.  Need to spend money in housing, take care of food insecurity, starts and ends with an equity lens.

Johanna: (whispers: “I have to agree with Etel”)  Fight is still on for 20%…we need buildings built for affordable housing, for those stuck in family shelters.  If single person and homeless, you might not get a bed.  Lofts for $2500 a month – I can‘t afford that – so where do I live?  Rent increases – those working 40 hours a week cannot afford.  No more protection from evictions.  How to pay back rent?  More mental health and drug addiction treatment.  We can build a ballpark – [then] we can build apartments.

Q3 from LWV: District councilors often hear specific infrastructure complaints.  What specific experience do you have to efficiently respond?

Johanna: have assisted people in a variety of issues and is not even on the city council yet.  All it took for her to listen.  Then put action behind it.  Provide transparency.  We can say “I‘m going to take care of it” all day long but nothing gets down.  I plan on being accessible 24/7.  It‘s going to be overwhelming, but I work best under pressure. 

Etel: Has been a long-time organizer and has learned about the issues in the city.  Has worked with mothers to have utilities fix gas leaks.  She will work with people who disagree with her.  What she has heard when knocking on doors – different way of thinking about safety, public health, and intersecting issues (housing is safety, housing is health).  Proven record of doing this already.

We have time for questions from the audience.

BLOG FAVORITE Fred Taylor: civilian review board.  We‘ve heard about what the state will do.  Do you support civilian review?  Why/why not?

Johanna: YES.  Has been very vocal about this.  Needs subpoena power.  Police cannot police themselves. Done on a biased level, rinse and repeat process.  No reprimand for bad behavior or misconduct.  Weed out bad apples.  WPD should be respected, trusted – not feared.  If you fear the police, you will not call the police.

Etel: YES.  In the city, we have gone a long time without listening to voices of black and brown people.  Executive order needed.  Police should not be excluded from accountability.  Police officer‘s job description should not be called because of social issues like homelessness.  Definitely civilian review board with subpoena power – but also in best interests of communities most impacted by police brutality. 

Follow up: who should serve?

Johanna: orgs at the forefront (names a bunch). 

Etel: has heard criticism that we can‘t have volunteers with expertise.  Many boards and commissions are already staffed by volunteers.  Need to appoint people who have lived experience.  Accountability to those most impacted.

Rose (who had to step out): would like to see process started done first – then work from there.  Would like to see that through in advance of starting something new.  Each district has own identity – want to see each part of city represented.  Mental health, trauma backgrounds helpful as well.

Q from Shelly Rodman of LWV: read about CC discussion of composition of SC from the previous CC meeting.  Three options were presented.  What do you think?  One month comment period for residents to say something – seems like tight timeframe.

Johanna: OK with three options – each seems reasonable. 4 week time period – but this has been ongoing discussion.  Conversations should have been done at this point.  Because this has not been done fall on the Council.  Done deal – needs to move forward.

Sean: in his two terms, that was probably the saddest CC meeting.  It should have been an 11-0 vote.  When he talks about values on the line, this is exactly what I mean.  Councilors on the record talking about charter review, stats about black/brown people not being represented.  We‘ve been challenged for 400 years in this country.  This levels the playing field.  He is disappointed with some of the commentary.  He likes all options – just wants to get it done.  He is very pragmatic. 

Etel: shocking that it was not a unanimous vote.  Plaintiffs have entered into consent decree – interested in their perspective.  Why is it that every time we try to bring equity forward, why is it that certain members of the Council continue to block progress?  Hurting communities.

Q from me about an issue facing each candidate‘s specific district they‘d like to tackle.

Johanna: certain areas that are very well kept, a lot of the district is not – from trash on the streets to panhandlers on every corner, to rundown properties.  No time, money, attention invested in those neighborhoods.  Neighborhood should reflect people who live as a whole.  Clean atmosphere – take more pride.  Need to hire more DPW, Parks employees to create that atmosphere.  Send out mailers for neighborhood cleanup.  We say we take pride in the city, but there are certain areas of D2 where that doesn‘t show.

Sean: food insecurity.  Seeing people suffering after the pandemic.  Perception that everyone in D1 is well-off, but that is not the case.  There‘s a lot of diversity in the district.  Community fridges are great, Carl Gomes, etc. are being helpful.  QCC has a food pantry.  Kids who are choosing books over meals.  Goals is to change perception of D1 – money is not growing on trees.  Balanced resources around the district.  Tacoma getting rectangular field and spray park, 149 W Boylston Drive – worked with John Mahoney to get that cleared (more parks mentioned).  One of the most beautiful sites on the lake. 

Etel: did a walk audit with neighbors on Mill St 4-5 months ago.  #1 thing is pedestrian safety, children and elderly narrowly escaping being hit by cars.  Pleasant, June, Mill are all very busy.  Traffic calming measures, elderly/seniors/bikers/children need safe streets.  Meeting at West Tatnuck because child had been hit – crossing guard also hit.  We talk about public safety, public health – both issue.  People need a walkable city.  Green/walkable/transportation all related.  Free WRTA is part of this.  We also have a lot of vacant properties.  Park Ave, Big D on Mill Street.  That‘s an issue on their minds.  Incentives to make sure that we are building for neighbors, not for outside people.  All of our residents need to be included in decision-making processes. 

Q: at the NAACP candidate forum, every candidate says that they listen.  It is easy to listen to people who talk in ways that are familiar to you.  Has talked with those who consider themselves progressive but object when someone demonstrates anger or frustration, because it makes it hard to hear the logic.  Can you respond to that concern, what would you do?

Johanna: this just happened last week.  She was knocking on a police officer‘s door.  He was outside and it was a spectacle.  Maybe I can brighten his day…he said he wasn‘t voting for anyone who was not pro-police.  I‘m not, but I‘m not against them either.  I don‘t want people abusing authority.  She wanted to hear why he thought that about her.  He was already angry.  Went on a tangent with Main South.  I spent 25 minutes talking with him and his wife.  I come from a household with a DEA agent; I can understand where he‘s coming from.  We have an understanding.  We didn‘t walk away in anger.

Sean: 26 years in field of mental health and education – people can yell at him. We‘re such a big city.  On Saxon Road, issue with runoff coming into basements – but different from GBV or upper Burncoat or Lincoln Village.  8 neighborhood meetings in our district.  It‘s easy to make issues small – try to understand where people are from.  He grew up in single-parent household, moving quite a bit.  Gives him a good perspective on what needs are.  In the end is committed to finding common ground.  Also times when we have to tell people bad news.

Etel: started career as community mediator in small claims court, then taught about conflict resolution.  We cannot walk away from conversations because we feel angry.  At the end of the day, what‘s beneath anger and frustration is pain.  Pain of not being heard.  Doesn‘t want to police people‘s emotions.  We cannot get stuck in our separate corners and not have conversations.  Our lives are rooted in nuance and complexity.  Conflict is opportunity to look at how we relate to each other.  We need to come from place of compassion – build, not destroy.

Final statements:

Etel, from the heart: This has been a very difficult year for a lot of people.  Her office is located in a shelter.  There is not a day that goes by that she doesn‘t think about the kids on the steps of her building.  Purpose: wants to serve beyond normal definition of serving.  Pathway for those who will come beyond her.  Need doors opened, so that people can express hopes and dreams.  Has been hurt by a lot of negativity hurled her way, but as leaders lead with integrity, patience, ability to talk to all.  If elected, easy to make promises.  Commitment to listen, act, organize, to make sure we are building city for all people and not just a few.

Sean: the COVID disparity study from UMass is way for ARPA funds – do not need to reinvent, can do some strategic planning.  Walkability is important, 2 miles to get to school (without bus) and need studies to get to school.  At one point he was personally filling in a lot of potholes.  $110 million in streets scheduled to be repaired.  Need to figure out how to chip away at that – use unused tax levy.  He is very thoughtful – offered office hours during pandemic.  A great city councilor is an expert in partnering with others and bringing them together.  We have opportunity to not just be reactive/band-aid but have assessments can inform our practice and we can be proactive.  We need someone who is not a one-sided thinker, not just about one department in the city.  Lack of educated approach will stall the progress we have made.

Johanna: her 9-5 works for a nonprofit that contracts with EOHHS and Elder Affairs, directing people to get what they need.  A lot of what‘s missing is pointing people in the right direction.  If you are a councilor in the city, you should know where the resources are at.  She can relate to people in a real way and understand.  She can understand waiting in line at food pantries, going to CMHA.  Someone needs diapers for their baby – she can help them find the right resources.  I am not the voice – but I will amplify.  I may not be that polished diamond – but I am getting there.  I will not leave you out in the cold.

Worcester School Committee Forum notes – 10/13

video link

Telegram coverage

The Opt-Out people insisted on sitting rightnexttome because it was on Shanel‘s side so I moved to the other side of the room.  These people are really too much.

They also have a sign with many, many words.  Two signs, even more words.  They have been told to put them away. 

It appears that all the candidates are here.

Paul Matthews of the Research Bureau opens the forum…thanks the moderators (Kim Salmon and Liz Hamilton), thanks the two audiences (for a minute I thought he meant “the Opt Out people” and the rest of us – but of course he means those at home and those in person).  ELECTIONS MATTER. 

WEC, Chamber of Commerce, Mechanics Hall, Telegram & Gazette are also the hosts of this forum.

(While I listen to the intro from Kathleen Gagne, I just wanted to share that I thought Washburn Hall the most magical room in the world when I was a girl, and I was not wrong.)

More Opt-Outers.  I fear they are breeding.

This is a forum where someone will be asked a question, three other candidates respond, then original candidates will get a little rebuttal.  (This is typical WRRB forum format.)

Opening Statements:

Novick: running for fifth term.  Mother of three, two WPS grads, one soph at Burncoat in dual lang.  Former teacher, member of MTA at the time, works for MASC – focused on school policy and finance.  Advocate for a number of years.  Exciting times – will be appointing new superintendent.  Influx of federal funds.  Fought hard for Student Opportunity Act – big year for WPS.  Looking forward to continuing to serve on SC.

Biancheria: She is 6th on the ballot.  Public Schools most valuable resource.  Advocates for accountability and transparency.  Advocates FROM DAY ONE when she began her adventure as a SC member – for career pathways.  Working towards academic excellence.  Safety in our schools. 

[There is a super-obnoxious guy who has decided to set up a camera RIGHT IN FRONT OF THE AUDIENCE.  He is being moved.]

McCullough: success of schools today = success of city tomorrow.  Research & institute policies to prepare students for higher ed and workforce.  SHE ADVOCATED FOR A GOOD HEALTH CURRICULUM.  TAKE IT HEAD-ON, MOLLY.  Also updated dress code.  Listening to and collaborating with students, families, educators, community members, key.

Clancey: born and raised – stayed here to raise her two daughters, WPS students.  Volunteer with many orgs, for last 15 years worked with at-risk youth supporting them in their educational goals.  Just like every parents, wants best education.  Parents need to have a say in issues impacting kids. 

Kamara: early voting starts October 23.  We must create a strong ladder of support – so children can have opportunity parents didn‘t have.  Born in W Africa/Liberia, came here 2004.  Started at Canterbury, Sullivan Middle, South High.  Wants to advocate for those who have academic challenges – need more support for ESL students.  She participated in programs that allowed her to have a full scholarship for college, then get master‘s degree. 

Johnson: born and raised in Worcester.  Product of WPS, in 1989 he lost his cousin in the hallways at South High.  He learned the values of closeness, community.  He and wife have two kids, WPS students.  Social worker at DCF over 20 years.  Youth coach and mentor for Worcester Cowboys football, Jesse Burkett LL, other places.  SEIU local 509 shop steward.  Platform is safe and healthy schools, social / emotional supports, high quality education

Mailman: mother and grandmother, son graduated Burncoat in 2005.  Her family business for 140 years – our public education is the lifeblood, we need excellent schools for all students across all neighborhoods.  System should be more inclusive to all.  Involvement with Worcester Tech.  Talks about Innovation Pathways, which takes kids from comprehensive high schools to Tech after school for voke ed.  Strategic plan needs updating.  Have served/chaired numerous boards.  Must expand early education opportunities.  Grade-level reading. 

Soucy: very excited to be here.  Grew up all around the city, 5 diff elementaries, 2 middle, graduated North.  Grew up in poverty, trauma in early life, got pregnant in 9th grade.  Had son just before 20th grade.  Homeless at 15.  Lived in teen mom shelters, continued to strive toward education.  Took many buses to graduate.  Went to Becker for two years, then barber school.  Worked in urban barber shops, eventually opened her own.  Education is important, but have someone at table who understands poverty is long, hard road.  Someone who lived it and overcame it.

[We are told that candidates can take their masks off to speak.  This is, of course, inconsistent with the city mask mandate.]

Q1: metrics to eval candidates for superintendent, top goals

Biancheria: What is your experience?  What are your experiences?  WHAT DO YOU KNOW ABOUT OUR UNIQUE CITY?  If you are not from this area, then you should be learning about it.  If you‘re from here, YOU SHOULD HAVE BEEN INVOLVED.  How would you work with principals in this district?  Principals are ALL VERY IMPORTANT AND ALL MATTER.  VISIT ALL THE SCHOOLS.  BIG SHOES TO FILL.  NEW SCHOOLS.

Johnson: ability to lead in Worcester.  Accountability, collab with parents/students/community.  Vision for city schools.  Next superintendent needs to be diverse, work with different cultures. 

Novick: she does superintendent searches for a living.  While Worcester is large for Commonwealth, not large by national school district standards.  Administrative experience that corresponds to the size of the district.  Strategic thinker who can break down silos, identify with student body.  A person of ethics and strong integrity.

McCullough: innovative, take us to the next level.  Strong communication skills, problem solver, someone who shares values of the community.  Role of super is not an easy one.  Need to be able to use the criticism that is reflective.

Soucy: super needs to be FROM WORCESTER.   It‘s a UNIQUE PLACE.  Strong advocate for parent involvement.  Knowledge and preferably experience with community schools.  High measurable outcomes on educational outcomes and grad rates.  Strong leadership, managerial and conflict resolution skills.  (There was more, there was a lot.)

Mailman: served at national searches at nonprofits.  Every time there has been a national search.  The process makes us better, regardless of who gets the job.  Listen to new ways of doing things.  There are people who are doing things better than us.  Strategic thinker, team builder.  Pay attention to student success metrics, academically.

Clancey: significant managerial experience in urban district.  Strong leader who is not afraid to delegate.  Wants staff to be able to share their ideas and implement solutions. 

Kamara: agile leader.  Change how many people in community see school district.  Worcester has had decrease in students from PreK.  Busing – sexual health curriculum – improve diversity / communication.  Community partners, parents, so Worcester can be equitable. 

Q2: discipline.  Overall number of suspensions, drawn attention of community.  How do you feel about current?  How to address disproportion of students of color being suspended?

Johnson: unacceptable.  His children, and all children, should have the chance to grow, not suspended at higher rates than white students.  Wraparound services.  More outreach/communication with parents at home.  To be able to talk to principals, they have different perspective on kids.

McCullough: we have begun to see some improvement, but more work needs to be done.  Adjustment counselors, restorative justice.  Safe/supportive schools – DESE‘s roadmap will help eliminate issues.

Kamara: need to look at how we are suspending kids in PreK-3rd grade.  For those above 3rd – use strategies like restorative justice, work with teachers so that they have the training / ability to support students.  Increase staffing, adjustment counselors.

Biancheria: increase programs that help students cope with anger, drug centers, give them a reason to come to school and learn.  MGL ALLOWS US TO SUSPEND LITTLE KIDS.  Unequal part of this – out of time.

Johnson, rebuttal: increase access to programs for youth.  Year-round jobs, community-based programs. 

Q3: busing.  School Committee will work to in-house busing model.  National bus driver shortage – how will this be a better model, more reliable service than third party?

Clancey: I don‘t know how we can get worse.  Has not just been in the last two years.  Now that we have funding available, take advantage.  Staff in transpo dept is wonderful, and they think we can do it.  Once we can train bus drivers, we will do a good job.

Mailman: In favor of in-house move.  Never thought she would say that, but there has been tremendous energy/work to do this – workforce development.  Maybe custodians also drive buses.

Johnson: has been dealing with this with his daughter.  Concern is with Teamsters who drive for Durham, will want to have a conversation to get them on the Worcester system.  Retain, train more drivers.

Novick: if the parents seem definitive about this, it‘s because we see it.  Her daughter was late for math class for three weeks.  She had kids who use WPS buses – those phones get answered.  If we can‘t get kids to school, we can‘t learn.

Clancey: Waiting for kid to come from school – not knowing where they are – all in agreement.

Q4: sex ed on opt-out, public debate was contentious.  What is your position?  Do you believe anything else should be done?

Soucy: IS NOT AGAINST SEX ED.  Against 3Rs and anything like it.  Continued agenda to confuse parents who would like to opt-out.  Online form deadline was Sept 10 and then taken down.  It was hard for parents to opt out.  Parents are still the most important.  [Opt Out section claps]

Biancheria: VOTED NO – Admin should have developed but they fell short.  You can opt out, take survey with students, standing committee worked hard.  After 1 year, can have additional discussion.  We have opportunities if we need to tweak or change.

Clancey: as a youth worker, have sat down with 15-year-olds in sex industry.  Listen to any of their stories and tell me – 100% supportive if this prevents one student from their situation.

McCullough: not pornographic, go to WPS, read the actual curriculum before you make your decision [Opt Out people actively trying to argue with her]

Soucy: we need to give kids – watching porn, masturbation, exploitation – people hooked on sex, when do we stop?  What‘s the limit?

[much clapping.  These people need to just shut up at some point]

Q5: diversity in how students are taught, in workforce

Kamara: mechanisms that will allow Caucasian educators to work with diverse population

Novick: 16% nonwhite educators.  Number of models – we never look closely at what we are doing.  Boston/Cambridge work on retention.  Recruitment only gets you so far.

[The Opt Out people have their signs up.  I have complained]

Soucy: she was a barber for years, privilege of working with people in diverse demo.  Students at Lincoln Street (WHO ARE NEAR A METHADONE CLINIC) have a different experience from Flagg.  Community schools.

Johnson: more Black/Latino/Asian teachers.  When kids identify with someone they can relate to, builds core relationships.

Kamara: how to certify educators.  MTEL prevents some from becoming teachers in WPS.

Q6 for all: how should strategic plan be updated?  How to capitalize on community resources?

Novick: Strategic plan adopted when she was off SC – from parent‘s eye, she filed complaint because public was not allowed to attend some sessions.  We are now doing revision in governance (public meetings).  You would not get a sense of level of poverty or ELL if you read the current strategic plan.  Overdue for revision, need better one than what we have.

Soucy: talks about community school strategy.  It is, as always, unclear if she knows what a community school is.  School/staff/family strategic partnership.

Johnson: improving absenteeism of students.  ELL classes, Special Ed classes, increasing, and no teachers to meet their needs.

Clancey: pandemic made us achieve some goals, like technology.  Vision is to get this updated in 5 areas of focus, work with SC members to get community groups in those areas.

McCullough: more community involvement, accessible involvement.  Families, students should have a voice.  What she said was very mild, but the guy behind me insists that it‘s wrong.

Mailman: missed opportunity not having ongoing community engagement.  Hit tech goal because we had a pandemic.  New superintendent will have big impact on how we go.

Kamara: alternative school graduation rates, on time.  Use the support of students, have voice in the plan. 

Biancheria: FOUR PIECES: expand our safety dept, holistic approach for our students, involve stakeholders, align budget with strategic plan.  MISSING OPPORTUNITIES FOR COLLEGE AND CAREER PATHS.  Staff trained, trauma services are available.

Q7: resource officers…what should be in school safety plan?

Mailman: agrees with CM and chief of police that we need to change way we do business.  Listen to communities who have been negatively impacted by police in schools.  Should actively involve those communities in new plan.  Mystifying why we don‘t have a new plan yet.  Other ways to engage police in schools that is favorably received by everyone.

McCullough: SROs have done a good job in schools, but time to change what that looks like.  Looks forward to plan by CM and chief of police.  Use SROs in ways that enhance the community.

Kamara: supports plan to look at other means for safety.  Some students come from civil war, need social-emotional support.  Never had SROs – had security guard, Carlos, at South.  Supports community policing.

Clancey: school safety office was one of her issues.  Arrest rates have gone down since we have had SROs.  Need to continue close relationship with WPD.

Q8: early education.  Many parents chose not to send kids to PreK or K during pandemic.  What should schools do to catch these students up?  How to expand preschool, other early childhood ed programs?

Biancheria: we have opportunity – presently very limited resources and haven‘t expanded the program.  We have to make sure we have the PreK programs, welcoming, new families in the city.  Yes, pandemic set us back, but opportunity once things calm down to have welcoming schools.

Johnson: offer more preschool opportunities.  Half-day doesn‘t fit working parent.  More preschool opportunities, early education – socially, emotionally beneficial in the long term.

Mailman: partner with existing child care agencies in city.  What do we do in WPS and what do we do with partners in the community?  We can do better job with community partners, early ed is a good place to start.

Soucy: one child had an IEP – direct correlation between poverty, poor reading, and crime.  Full-day preK, using tech to increase involvement. 

Biancheria: should look at in context of Student Opportunity Act.  SHE SEES MONFREDO IN THE AUDIENCE AND ACKNOWLEDGES HIM.

Q9: technology access.  WPS distributed chromebooks and hotspots…emergency response.  What to do beyond pandemic?  How to ensure funding is sustainable?

Novick: important to acknowledge that the district failed in March 2020.  We did jump in eventually.  One of ongoing gaps has been internet connection, glad serving on municipal broadband committee.  It‘s a utility and should be treated as such.  We need to budget in Chromebook replacements.

Clancey: when we shut down, we weren‘t ready for it.  Need to maintain technology – hopes to have money to do it in the future. 

Biancheria: our budget is $3.2 million, she‘s going on to talk about Chromebook budget, etc.  This is meaningless to me.  She is reading a list – we are switching from Microsoft to Google Suite. 

Kamara: agrees with Novick, need municipal broadband, part of her 5-point plan.  ARPA funds could be used to train teacher to use the various platforms they needed to help kids.  Also to help parents.

Novick: city but small enough to solve problems other municipalities can‘t – Research Bureau encouraged a lot of people to think in that direction.

Q10: classroom size, employee shortage, how to incentivize employment at WPS, how to recruit/retain?

McCullough: starting to see shortages in educators, diverse pop of educator in system.  Support from committee perspective, need to have advanced mentoring.  Crucial to retain educators who may be on the fence.  Ensure we are working to support them. 

Soucy: agrees with Molly.  Prior to pandemic, 70% of students in poverty.  She knows how important it is to support – COMMUNITY SCHOOLS is the only answer to all of our issues.  (Seriously, I am not making this up, she read the same thing she already said two times about community schools.)

Novick: maybe you need to pay people more.  MTEL has been a significant barrier, glad that Kamara mentioned that.

Mailman: look at what others are doing and adopt best practices

McCullough: good professional development!

FINAL QUESTION #11: Academics, for all, students learning has been declining, social/emotional needs significantly impacted, what policies to ensure students are supported academically, socially, emotionally?

McCullough: why was MCAS held last year?  Grossly unfair.  Addl adjustment counselors, wraparound, providing addl afterschool programs.  Roadmap to recovery – foster sense of belonging.  (There was more, it was good)

Clancey: saw social/emotional toll it took on her own child, advocated for admin to bring in outside counseling services.  They need to listen to us and our concerns and what will be best for our students.  We made reallocation for support services.  Will continue to advocate for that.

Johnson: saw impact it had on kids, their friends, and other families.  We need to listen to the kids and slow down a bit.  Very important that teachers get to know, establish relationships again.  First – stop, slow down, build connection again.  Adjustment counselors, social workers, increase wraparound services.

Biancheria: thanks everyone for covering issues.  THE SOCIAL MEDIA IS TELLING THINGS TO OUR KIDS.  Training for our students, but teachers had difficulty adjusting as well and should also be supported.  Mental/social factors: need solutions, not just symptoms.  NUTRITION – THEY HAD NUTRITION OFFERED TO THEM THROUGH WPS

Mailman: dear friend just retired and wanted a platform of field trips and recess.  Recess and interaction with their friends.  There are people in the workplace who don‘t know how to interact with each other.  [Is she talking about Opt Out Corner?  One can only hope.]

Novick: changes to WPS budget are the biggest changes any SC has made in two decades.  We took responsibility for kids‘ needs – that is our job.  Mental health supports for students and staff.  MCAS fell in line with the state.  That was not forecasted.  Our students did well – credit to teachers and staff.

Kamara: elimination of SAT/ACT at universities – can we find a way to adjust the MCAS?  Portfolios of what the students can do – more creativity.

Soucy: As mother of two teenage sons, one who just barely graduated: kids are struggling mentally.  WHAT‘S GOING ON ON SOCIAL MEDIA IS TOUGH.  Parents have a unique time right now.  Get them back into the school with their kids – COMMUNITY SCHOOLS BABY.  Use outside supports.  Need schools open at later hours.

Closing statements – I will only type items of interest –

The guy in back of me is cheering on Jermaine Johnson.  Do we need to say more?

Novick: we need people who make decisions based on research, not on emotion.  BURN

Mailman: people have wide range of views, it‘s our job to bring it together into one system

Biancheria ends with rapping on the table and demanding your vote.  I would expect nothing less.

Worcester School Committee Forum notes – 10/6

Dr Déborah Gonzalez introduces the sponsors:


Youth Civics Union

Community Connections




El Buen Samaritano

Worcester Interfaith

Expresso Latin Radio



Juan Gómez welcomes us

Someone from city econ dev speaks to census results.  (I am sorry, I missed his name.)  206,000 in population.  Despite negative messages from Washingon – 50,736 Latin (?); by 2045 the country will become white minority.  When you add the numbers in the city of Worcester, we are all quite a “minority” city.  We all belong to the same country. 

Segment 1: Youth Questions (Moderator: Andrea Delgado, Youth Civics Union)

YCU focuses on educational issues of youth, esp those of color

I think we are doing candidate introductions now (6:13pm)

Biancheria: 22,000 students – numbers of Latino students change daily.  Dual language programs, evaluations to look at whole students.  860,000 dollars for translations.  Seal of biliteracy.  IAs that work with students every day in our schools.

Clancey is not in attendance.

Johnson: lifelong Worcester resident, graduated from South in 1992, social worker for DCF.  He has worked with Latino community, WPS IEP, ensuring kids are safe and healthy at home and have everything they need.  He was involved in a fatherhood program (sorry, I missed this a bit as someone was in front of me).  Work with fathers to give back to the community. 

Kamara: born and raised in Liberia, moved here when she was 11.  Started public school – they wanted her to be in ESL class because her accent was very strong.  Her father felt that ESL tracked kids as “not smart” (not her exact words, but she is talking about the inequities).  Worked through LEI, sexual education.  Has been to Dominican Republic.  Massachusetts is one of the worst places for Latinx people. 

Coghlin Mailman: business owner in Worcester, chairs board of QCC, and has served on a lot of boards.  One issue on her mind – data and transparency.  Was involved in strategic plan as part of business community.  We have to strive for excellence for all students (shouts of agreement from the populace), in district this big, hard to get to the data.  Would like our leadership to make sure we are putting info out – that is what she will do.  Latino community wants this and it has been difficult to get.

McCullough: additional translation services for meetings held over zoom.  Not used for each meeting.  While agenda and backups can be read in Spanish and other languages, meetings themselves should be translated.  More participation, equitable access.  Work of impact of COVID-19 on communities of color.

O‘Connell Novick: mother of 2 WPS graduates, mother of a current Burncoat High sophomore.  Served twice on Latino Education Commission, particular experience of students and families across the city.  That has focused her attention – we are a plurality Latino district.  Experience as a parent shaped by that, youngest daughter in dual language program.  At least half of her homework she can‘t help her with (bc in a language she does not speak) – gave her understanding of what other parents experience.

Soucy: 70% of WPS students are currently living in low income households.  At 14, was raising her child, 15 was homeless and dependent on gov‘t assistance.  In spite of trauma and hardship, fought for better future for herself and children.  Graduated North, lic electrician, lic barber.  Built many relationships at barbershop.  Wants to be unique voice to add to SC.  Today her son is 25.  He is also an electrician.  Two other sons, 17 and 16.  Her role as Hope for Worcester – gives provisions, food, family portraits.  Leads follow-up team, prays with families, refers to partner churches, mentoring them, referring to services.

Segment 1: Youth of color make up 71% WPS students.  Questions influenced by this reality.  Three students will be asking the questions in this segment.

Q1: what is your vision for education in this community?

Biancheria: to make sure we are accountable, have transparency, every opportunity for students in school.  Career path programs through Perkins Funding – Ch 74.  We have almost 30 courses.  Safety in our schools. Looks forward to what the CM presents for SROs.  “We don‘t pay” under schools for SROs.  It‘s paid for from the city side.  She sees success for every student.

(there are translations after every candidate speaks, which is GREAT for someone who likes breaks for her hands!)

Johnson: safe and healthy schools.  He has two kids in WPS: 4th and 7th grader.  Struggled during COVID.  How lacking WPS was in certain areas.  Drinking water in schools is unsafe.  Schools were not up to par for ventilation.  Social-emotional supports.  Without that, academics will struggle.  As kids get older, invest in internships. 

Kamara: gives us another telling of her life story.  Kids should have same opportunities as their white counterparts.  Communication with parents/kids needs to be better.  Listen to kids bc they have valuable insights.  Community resources like LEI can be used to reach out to parents.  Technology accessibility in our schools.  We can do more to provide these programs to prepare kids so that they do not struggle when they go to college.  Graduation rates need to be improved – that they are able to carry on knowledge to college – succeed and graduate. 

Coghlin Mailman: our city is exactly the right size to come together and get it right.  Comes from children.  They will have all of our jobs.  This generation of people can be mentors to get us to that next level.  She has done much work with vocational school for many years.  One thing is about a welcoming school.  Tech – people are welcome there.  Takes a village – wants Worcester on a magazine that says we got it right.  COVID learning loss – any time people go through difficult times, gain some strengths as well.  Even with career tech, vocational programs – where are we going?  Thank God, Shanel, we will always need electricians.  We have new trades now.  All of us working together can make it happen. 

(While I wait for Dr Gonzalez‘s translation to finish, I‘d just like to note how everyone on this stage is either a woman or a person of color or both.  This is in stark contrast to what you‘ll see at the at-large forum, happening right now!)

McCullough: when your name is alphabetically towards the end, many of the things you wanted to say have been mentioned.  More access/connectivity with our families.  Options for families to get info in their own language, so that parents can actively participate in their child‘s education.  Would like to see so much more involvement rather than families feeling like barriers are being put up.  Mentorship, internships.  Parent liaisons in school buildings.  Appreciates students answering questions tonight.  The success of students in schools today determines the success of the city tomorrow.

O‘Connell Novick, who offers to pause frequently if better for translations: State Constitution is the first in the country that guarantees public education.  It was put there as the defence to why needed to continue to have a Commonwealth of Massachusetts.  We are supposed to make sure our students are voters, advocates, city councilors, fulfil all the parts we need to fill the body politic.  It is no less true now.  If we started from there, and made everything ancillary to that.  At WPS – you should be leaving to take your part in the civic life of Worcester, Massachusetts, USA.  Measure is what our students are able to do –

[Tracy, of course, said it much better than I can; but I do frequently tell my children, “John Adams said you have the right to a Chromebook.”]

Soucy: As an electrician in Boston, saw gentrification – saw people heading out this way.  Keeping in mind the number she gave earlier (70% in low income households).  Gap in WPS anticipates growing.  Reality is that we have a lot of monies – 110% imperative to focus on supports that our kids need.  Has been asked to speak at two schools to be a mentor.  For her, vision is community school strategy.  Success in NY.  Would like to see that happening here.  Combine quality ed with extended learning opportunities.  Gap between parents and the school.  If something going to change for kids, families need to be first and foremost in our lives.  Staff needs support – through community school strategy.

(I will type again during translation to note people in the creepy Opt Out t-shirts who make up half of the front row.  Unclear whether this is a Soucy cheering section or something else.)

Q2, to Johnson: what do you see as major issue facing the school district?

Johnson: many major issues.  1 – busing crisis.  My daughter is late to school every day – late back home every day.  2 – lack of diversity within school system.  The more representation, beneficial to Worcester.  He works on that as a social worker.  3 – MCAS.  Too much pressure to achieve on standardized test.  After you don‘t achieve in 4th grade – damaging for future grades. 

Q3, to Tracy Novick: what work have you done with youth of color?  (I think there was more but I didn‘t hear it)

Novick: one of the things that has been important to her in professional life and her time of service on SC – in MA, every SC is required to have student representation.  AND every SC is supposed to be meeting every other month with a student advisory council elected by their peers.  That part we haven‘t done well.  Has an item on the subcom that makes our own rules – specifically asked to change rules to make it part of our rules to have student representation, but also have bimonthly meeting with student advisory council.  Hopes to get it through by end of term.  We need to do both halves of what we are legally required to do.  We have had pieces of it, but can be more effective if we meet our legal obligations.

Q4, to Coghlin Mailman: how to use Worcester‘s portion of federal funding to improve educational system?

Coghlin Mailman: great news is that we have CFO, Brian Allen, leader across the region.  Federal dollars need to be thought of as an investment. They need to be spent in a short amount of time.  When we put numbers on things, it becomes challenge for districts to prioritize.  Worcester is supposed to get Student Opportunity Act money – that is our ongoing money about structural things.  Community schools (appreciates Shanel‘s talking about it, mentions blog favorite Frank Kartheiser talking about this 30 years ago).  Hopes students will be able to participate every other month.

Segment 2: Parent Questions

Q5: what will you be doing to improve school discipline, neg suspension rates in WPS? (to NOVICK but it appears all candidates will respond)

Novick: she has attempted to get policy that would bar suspension under grade 3.  Urges you to vote for people who would do that.  Need to look at ways to discipline students – currently alienates students, hurts the district.  It hurts the students‘ classmates.

[I find it AMAZING that we do not currently have 4 people who agree that little kids shouldn‘t be suspended from school.]

Soucy: weight of WPS with 70% students in low income households.  Statistics that says behaviors increase – when she grew up in single-parent household with financial strain, definitely creates a weight outside of school.  Kids come with a lot on their plate.  We need increase in counselors, community supports.  Difficult to teach and manage behaviors.

McCullough: need to work on ways to decrease discipline in schools.  Wraparound coordinators, adjustment counselors.  Collaborative problem-solving training.  Trauma-informed care and resilience building. How can we keep them within the school? 

Coghlin Mailman: data – for past year and a half, suspension rates are going to come down.  How are we going to track this data, how to support teachers, make sure kids are taught every day.  Measure across each principal.  More energy spent on measuring can make us see problems in individual buildings.

Kamara: from firsthand experience, school adjustment counselors need to be used.  From firsthand experience, kids have to fill out certain paperwork.  Those papers should be given to school adjustment counselors, they can begin working with kids who need extra support.  Classroom – kids had behavioral issues that needed addl support, kids were suspended or had to do in-house, from her experience in WPS.  We need to use the counselors we have more efficiently.  We need bias training for educators in WPS.  Kids of color get punished for the same behaviors white kids do not.  Restorative justice.  

Johnson: Social-emotional supports, wraparound services, trauma-informed practices, part of platform he is running on.  On the front line every day, sees the trauma and what the kids are going to.  He has sat with principals when there is discrimination going on, involve the parent for a meeting. 

Biancheria: we need to continue with justice practices that keep people from inappropriate behaviors.  K-3 has emergency removal.  Superintendent and safety advisor are there with parents.  Counselors in drug programs, safety for elementary and secondary.  Nurses need to start to participate in some behavior, they can see meds and look at behavior.  We have started this and need to expand on it.  Alternative education – at some age, question about why do I go to school – we need to have additional opportunities.  Perkins funding allows schools to have alternative programs for kids.  Our students carry a very heavy load. 

[There is always a deluge from Biancheria, and I am sorry if I didn‘t write all of the highlights.  I think what she was getting at is that MA Law allows for K-3 to be suspended, and there is a hearing process (?) for that, and the appeal goes up to the superintendent and the safety advisor (?).  But what I got is that she‘s comfortable with little kids being suspended]

Q6 – also from a parent, wearing a creepy Opt-Out shirt: part of group called Empowering Parents.  Wants to clarify that Shanel and we are different entity!  Do you know that 600 students already opt out of this EXPLICIT CURRICULUM PEOPLE !!!!!!  ALL CAPS BABY!!!!  Do you support this pornographic sex ed in this system?  If you don‘t, what will you do to remove it?  AND SHOULD KINDERGARTENERS KNOW ABOUT SEX?!?!?!?

(Maybe that wasn‘t exactly the question, but you can watch it on a replay and see how I toned it down.  THEY ARE NOT THE PAWNS OF SHANEL, OK!)

Directed to all

Soucy: she appreciates that.  She supports the Opt Out parents.  She supports parents‘ right to choose and be involved in all aspects of their child‘s education.  WRT question: she had a child at 14.  She lived in shelters with teen moms for three years.  In all of the group therapy they had, lack of sex ed was never mentioned as a way that they could have avoided their circumstances.  Living in poverty, many repeating same cycle.  Safer sex no match for generational issues.  Statically, sex ed is weak at best in preventing pregnancy and STDs – NO 3 Rs – inappropriate, pornographic.  Children need guidance.  Single-parent homes creates a huge weight in the house, children have huge amount of alone time.  CDC lists poor mental health on having impact on sexual health.  There are people making money off people‘s struggles.

Novick: that may be the most biased mischaracterization she has heard.  Not pornographic, not age-inappropriate.  Age-appropriate, health-informed, – as a parent you teach children about appropriate touch at a young age.  We intervene by giving children education at a young age.  If we leave that out of the curriculum, not doing our job.  We cannot bar from the public schools.  Concerned about fear-mongering, basis in which this comes from.  Actively harmful to children.  Her interest is for WPS children to get education that they need.  What she taught as an English teacher would not safe a kid‘s life, what the health teacher teaches WILL.  LGBTQIA students esp need this. 

[There was more, Tracy is awesome, but you all know this already]

McCullough: Tracy has covered many of the topics – fully supportive, was chair of subcommittee and approved of the curriculum.  WPS had sex ed when she was a student in 1994 in middle school.  The 3Rs consistent with what she learned at that time.  Concerned about misinformation.  Supports family‘s ability to opt out.  Her two stepsons, nieces, nephews – she feels comfortable with them having these lessons, but understands that not everyone is comfortable.  No pornography in kindergarten.  You have the right to have people not touch your body.  There‘s a sheet going around – for lessons not in WPS.  There was a consultant who came around and shaped lessons.  It‘s clearly on the website.

Coghlin Mailman: will be brief, because these guys are the experts.  Remembers speaking to a family who had a lot of questions, attended some school forums.  Tremendous misinformation.  Would echo Tracy‘s comments about high-risk kids like LGBTQIA, human dignity and human right to be accepted by larger community. Because the emotion is in your souls, and I understand that, those on SC will follow through, to make sure we alleviate your concerns.

Kamara: how many of you here had sexual intercourse when you were 10-15?  There cannot just be one hand.  How about not you, but someone you knew?  With social media so widespread, how many of you know that your kids, friends, on OnlyFans?  If the argument is on the images that we are seeing, and if argument is on sexual health education not reducing pregnancy, STI, STD, as a public health educator, we should be questioning PhDs from Harvard and all around the world.  Sexual health education works, and what I am concerned about is that I support opt out.  She supports curriculum, wants to see reports of decreases in pregnancy, STI/STD, based on curriculum.  In next few years, we need to evaluate it and see decreases in our city so that we can show to the state.

[Man, if only my parents could have opted me out of gym class!  Or pre-calc.]

[True confession: I did have them opt me out of sex ed so that I could take music.  AND LOOK WHERE THAT LED ME…to a life of fame and fortune in local political blogging!]

Johnson: everyone has spoken.  He believes Worcester needed, and should have had, sex ed.  Supports opt out.  Sat down with wife for 4th grader and 7th grader, made the option to opt in.  Supports for all parents moving forward.

Now there is some conversation between Biancheria and a member of the audience about whether we are talking about this particular curriculum or sex ed in general.

Biancheria: voted no because she wanted the admin to write their own curriculum.  We had three years, there was COVID, other priorities.  She supports sex ed, just wanted something that was Worcester-sex-specific [OK, she didn‘t say that, but can you IMAGINE this admin‘s program on sex ed; I always get punchy during her parts of any candidate forum…].  She had a number of concerns, worked with unwed mothers.  [Does NO ONE work with unwed fathers?]  LGBTQ needs support.  Need tweaking of program, see how it works, then take it up as a SC?  Additional forums, actually speak to parents whose kids went to class, and parents that opted out.  [One wonders why you would need to involve the parents who opted out to talk about how well a curriculum worked.]  Sex ed is a small piece of curriculum, what is talked about in the classroom.  We need to be concerned if we have different types of ailments that our kids are getting because of sexual contact AND WE NEED TO COME UP WITH SOME SOLUTIONS HERE.  That doesn‘t mean we as SC members, we as a community.

[Speaking as the kind of person who forwards the DVR through kissing scenes on my soap opera – I have rarely been so uncomfortable in a candidate forum.  And that includes any forum that involved Mike Germain.]

We are out of time.  There are many audience questions, candidates can respond via email.

(Yes, there are final remarks, but if you‘ve read me for any length of time, you know that I can‘t deal with final remarks)

Kamara: WE CAN SHAKE IT UP – two open seats – the other four are up for grabs, too!  A lot of people in this city want new leadership. 

Coghlin Mailman: (Jokes about having to follow Kamara alphabetically in every forum; Kamara was very enthusiastic) this is the energy that we will all bring in many different ways to this job.  Governance, policy, budget.  Has experience in all those areas.  Not afraid to listen and change her mind.  Need respect for each other as we go through these very difficult topics.  Thanks everyone for listening tonight.

McCullough: so many important topics that we couldn‘t get to tonight – hope to get to them and asks people to reach out to her.  Many wonderful candidates running, working together we can do great things.

Novick: thanks Gonzalez for translating.  [OH MY WORD AMAZING.]  so many things in district that we did not touch on: new superintendent by end of school year; if you participated tonight, over month of December talk about what you need in community forums; federal funding and additional state funding in future years.  In both cases, those are on a feedback loop – be active in those conversations as well. 

Soucy: genuine love for people, spent life working hard at everything she‘s done.  Running in hopes of bringing authentic advocacy/representation to SC.  Knows firsthand what families/students are going through, voice would be unparalleled.  Life experience, work in residential programs for youth, Hope for Worcester, etc., – live with, serve, mentor, people from more diverse backgrounds than she can count.  Hopes unique life experience will get your vote.  We can push forward together to improve our children‘s education.

At-Large Candidate Forum 9-29 notes

At-large – all candidates here but Peter Stefan

NAACP – Educational & Environmental/Climate Justice committees are doing great work.  Always looking for members to join!!

1 min to answer each question.

Simultaneous translation provided.  LOVING THIS

Opening statements

Bergman: Worcester is a city of immigrants.  Is a first-generation American, everyone needs a friend at City Hall.  Became a lawyer to help people.  Running for re-election – best way to help a lot of people is to serve in public office.  Very few items that come to the city council that do not involve the law; having lawyer assist with this.

Coleman: has been candidate since 1979.  Worked for US Senator Ed Brooke.  Before that studied for the priesthood.  Almost 45 years dedicated to public service, taught (now retired) from UMass.  In Worcester, tries to do his best to listen to people and voice concerns to city council.  It‘s been a long run, but biggest thing he wants to see changed is on November 2 he wins.

Colorio: has served 1 term CC, 2 terms SC.  As educator at QCC, has worked with thousands of students from diverse background.  Businesswoman, understands small biz.  Provided thousands of jobs to immigrant community.  Of Albanian and Italian descent.  Lowest residential tax rate.  Wants people to be able to live and work in the city.

Creamer: product of Worcester, went to Elm Park, Nativity, etc.  Proud son of immigrants.  Left Worcester to go to DC for school.  Life struck, could not afford to finish college. Did not want to be just another statistic.  Started org with Pay Our Interns – $50 million allocated to interns.  Wanted to bring skills back to Worcester.  Served on Human Rights Commission – newer, younger perspective, Latino, gay man, would be a first.  [Well, not for Latino, right?  That part was confusing but it‘s his first time out.]

King: thanks wife and daughter [sitting in the audience] for sharing their time.  Has worked as a social worker, wants us not just to recover but to thrive post-COVID.  Brought PPEs, education to those in most need, in fighting the pandemic.  We need to be able to afford to live here.  Thinking about mental health and addiction. 

Nguyen: queer Vietnamese refugee, came here in 1991, lived in Main South, graduated from Clark.  Has been youth worker for last decade, director of projects at Southeast Asian.  Has seen ways community came together to survive in this time.  Accumulated privilege, has role to play – community-led solutions, communities should be represented at the table when decisions are made.

Petty: challenging times.  Quotes Tale of Two Cities.  Seen so many people ill from or succumb to COVID, saw struggles with communities of color, health disparities.  We came together as a city to help one another.  Allocated and raised money for most vulnerable and small businesses.  Excitement about city that transcends beyond boundaries. 

Toomey: committed to continue work she has been doing.  Ensure that city is a great city for all.  COVID has had a tremendous impact on disadvantaged and communities of color.  Good teachers, transpo, infrastructure, public safety training, addiction, homelessness.  Depth and breadth of experience that many other councilors do not have.  Understands need for tech as city grows.  Green future.  [There‘s a lot I‘m missing here; I can only imagine how the simultaneous translators are doing!]

Wally: wife and I are happy to be raising two kids here, graduated Holy Cross, grad school at Clark.  Ran Matthew 25, rehabbed houses in this neighborhood.  Additional involvement in a lot of non-profits.  Serves on a few boards.  For past 10 years, working in banks. Running at-large – issues more applicable to the city.  Better municipal broadband.  Support small businesses.  206,000 people – need to plan for the future.

Question to King: from Black Families Together: Polar Park disappointment to black and other minority businesses.  How to pressure city manager for opportunities for black businesses, etc?

King: doesn‘t stop with city manager.  Mayor has to hold all of us accountable as well.  Has worked with community folks, labor community, about this very issue.  Called on administration to fact-check spending on women, people of color owned businesses.  Involving community voice is important. 

Creamer: has talked to families across city, a lot of people feel left behind.  Polar Park was a solid investment for city, but many BIPOC were not involved.  Many Latino families feel the same.  Get out into the community and talk to them.  Build relationships.  Part of why he‘s running is because young people are not involved.

Colorio: was elected 18 months ago, so all the stuff was already set.  She can address transparency – issues on Duffy Field side.  Community was not listened to, made sure voices were heard.  Go back to transparency.

Coleman: publicity about Polar Park, we‘re going to do more to include people in – but this was a public embarrassment.  A lot of other issues with race/inclusion.  As elected official will be on toes before contracts are put out so that more businesses can be included.

Bergman: he‘s in his 50s!  He‘s proud of his maturity and experience!  Big issues overlooked: construction costs still haven‘t come in.  Small business owners – we have done very poor job having people build equity with homeownership.  Ballpark is done, whatever happened happened.  Minority homeownership is how businesses wind up in ballpark.

Wally: we have strong manager.  He was disappointed.  New compliance manager will look at these.  We need to make sure TIF policy is followed going forward (and notes this was not a TIF).

Toomey: need to educate people about process, train people.  Helped people become certified to get state contracts.  Educate business communities, 189 biz listed on minority biz list on city website.

Petty: like everyone else, was disappointed and caught off-guard.  So focused on getting community jobs.  Hiring went well, exceeded expectations, but did not meet business goals.

[Note that this blogger petitioned the city council months ago for transparency and reporting in this project and others, and there have been CRICKETS.  The current electeds have all done very little, as far as I‘m concerned.]

Nguyen: begins with listening to people.  Communities of color, small businesses, have been struggling.  It‘s been a year and a half.  Has seen this since when pandemic struck.  A lot of Asian businesses were struggling because of so-called “Chinese virus.”  Accountability and transparency need to be high priority.  Businesses shutting down.  Need hands on temp of what‘s happening on the ground.

Question to Petty, from Local 336 Carpenters Union: wage theft on projects that receive public funds.  July 2019 ordinance – fines for TIFs with wage theft.  What penalty should developers, contractors face/

Petty: have hired two compliance people to ensure no wage theft.  Should be more proactive now that we have these.  If prior history, should not be able to bid on job.

Nguyen: Completely agrees with Petty. Outrageous when wage theft on huge project.  Should not get job, pay people retroactively with damages, penalties.

King: very important issue.  When you steal from workers, you steal from families.  Need to put a stop to it.  Require to make the worker whole, there should be a requirement that we as a city pre-screen the applicants.  One thing to respond, another thing to be proactive.

Creamer: Need to ensure that this doesn‘t happen.  Work with unions, needs to be a blacklist for this. 

[I have a feeling this is a no-brainer question]

Colorio: wage theft is not acceptable under any conditions.  She employs 70 people in her family business.  People live day to day, week to week, every bit of money earned is needed.  Heavy consequences to this behavior.

Coleman: penalty should be severe, but a company can come back under a different name.  Has yet to see someone penalized. 

Bergman: penalties are 3 times $$.  System before COVID, case would linger 3 years.  Post-COVID, length is even longer.  Need to amend so cases are on a fast track and resolved quickly.  Work with state legislation to make the resolution speedy.

Wally: one of downsides in going near end is that everyone has said things.  But – he would have us work with other municipalities to better track these.  Also – have a bond for employees to get wages while waiting for court system.

Toomey: part of problem is subcontractors, tough to identify them.  Has stood on the line with Carpenters Union.  Work with delegation – supported order last week and will continue to fight against this.

Question to Coleman, from MAWOCC, City – $115 mil in stimulus and $81 mill for schools, how to advocate for childcare for black/brown children, housing, ensure utilization of funds for women of color owned businesses?

Coleman: this can get us online.  Supports free preschool education, also paying educators fair and decent wage.  Advocate for the shared amt of funds that this windfall is providing to our city. 

Bergman: focus on 39% homeownership rate in Worcester.  Of that, less than black/brown people.  Has items to set aside some funds for down payment deposits, biggest hurdle to homeownership.  Ability to build equity and send kids to college.  Need to do better job to right the balance.

Wally: black/brown families disproportionately impacted by COVID.  Need to ensure affordable daycare.  Small biz – workforce training.  37% of all small businesses owned by foreign born, work with Mass Hire, to provide training.

Toomey: daycare will enable families to be gainfully employed.  Would want to advocate funding for that, free preschool in WPS. 

Petty: childcare in ARPA meetings.  How to get people trained in childcare.  Good balance of market rate and affordable housing in the community.

[Any elected who is advocating for free preschool has also voted for the lowest possible budget for the WPS.  KEEP THAT IN MIND]

Nguyen: well-resourced communities are the ones that thrive.  Residents always talking about housing.  Support homeownership, rent stabilization.  Affordable housing needs to continue, zero fare WRTA.  Mental health is a huge thing, need more counselors in our schools.  Work with women of color outreach workers.

King; housing is a public health crisis.  How folks lift themselves up is through stability.  Having stable home, stable education.  We have to start asking for women of color owned businesses – goals within ARPA funds. Affordable housing – low-income and moderate.  Workforce and market-rate – just not there.

Creamer: many people don‘t feel like their voice matters.  4 listening sessions are a start.  Talk to neighborhoods like GBV, Lakeside, not just the ones that vote.  Are we talking to them in their languages, making sure people feel heard.  Does not think that is happening right now.

Colorio: taught soc/psych at QCC for 35 years.  People working 2 jobs and trying to get an education.  100% in support to have homeownership (Councilor Bergman‘s order.)

Question for Wally: what makes you the best candidate for this position? (From Worcester Black Clergy Alliance)

Wally: education and professional background.  Exec director of non-profit housing org, master‘s in community development.  In current role as district councilor, #1 priority is constituent services.  Small biz support, establishing a dept of transpo in Worcester.

Toomey: saved 20 teachers‘ jobs when she was on the school committee.  Understands school systems.  Has been chair of a load of CC subcommittees.  From southeast corner of the city.

Petty: he brings people to the table and listens to what their issues are.  Make sure everyone is part of the success of the city.  South High, Doherty High, and hopefully a new Burncoat High.  NEW SUPERINTENDENT WITH A TRANSPARENT PROCESS.

Nguyen: community organizer that has been on the ground.  Not here to be a career politician, wants to have political reimagination shift.  Gov‘t holistically build systems that build people up.  Make people who are historically left out be brought in and listened to.

King: macro social worker, close to 30 years.  Providing opportunities for youth.  Father of daughters aged 4, 16, 28.  Has been able to build coalitions, build up coalitions, cofounded Black and Latinx Municipal Caucus.

Creamer: has been told to wait his turn many times.  During one of most divisive times in DC.  Paying interns now common across the country.  That needs to be brought here to Worcester.  Candidate that needs to bring people together, proud to be very different from most of the people at the table.

Colorio: grew up on Beacon Street.  One of her best moments when she ran ballot question against Common Core.  Spends time in city (she says ‘district‘) knocking on doors listening to people.  Brings a diverse background as well.

Coleman: was 22 years old when he first ran for office in Worcester.  He is 66 – will be 67 next month.  Drives around with a broom in his van because he is willing to ‘do a Tom Sawyer‘ and do neighborhood cleanups.

Bergman: I can‘t say I studied for the priesthood.  He doesn‘t like “the best” – he adds value to the Council.  We all have great resumes.  Saw the struggle of his parents, wants to make everyone (esp marginalized) lives in this city better. 

Question to Bergman from NAACP: civilian review board for police?

Bergman: controversial question.  NO – (1) being established at state level, duplicitous at local level; (2) can‘t politicize that type of board.  State board more than sufficient.

Wally: NO; (1) state review board being formed; (2) city manager will have board at Human Resources dept.  Internal Affairs is not strong enough.

Toomey: NO; (1) state review board; (2) where there are these boards, there have been issues.  Need transparency and more rigor.

Petty: passed Division of Investigations.  So – that‘s a NO.  Then there would be an appeal to the state.

Nguyen: As someone who believes in healing justice framework – YES.  People in community should have some sort of oversight: honest transparent accountable gov‘t

King: still waiting for report from administration.  Office being established in HR is not civilian review.  YES in concept, but would like more information to make an informed decision.  One thing we have heard is that we need more oversight.  What better oversight than for citizens to be participating?

Creamer: YES.  Community input core of what he‘s talking about.  Way to do this in a non-political way.  It‘s not about attacking a certain body, but about ensuring accountability.

Colorio: NO

Coleman: YES – Andrew Harris, Spencer Tatum, fought discrimination suit against hiring practices in WPD.  From 1954-1974, never hired POC for WPD.  City Manager should hold special pinning ceremony for Spencer Tatum.

Question, to Toomey, from Main South CDC: do you agree with CM‘s distribution of ARPA funds, esp for housing needs?  Adequate funding for communities of color?

Toomey: needs list of recommendations from ARPA meeting.  Not sure what number is for affordable housing is right now.  CM has had some general recommendations.

Petty: $18.2 million for housing.  Out there listening to the community.  Housing, mental health, most important issues.  Needs to be spent by 2024.  IT‘S HARD TO SPEND MONEY, PEOPLE. 

Nguyen: housing is a crisis.  With listening sessions, we need to listen and periodize needs.  Need to wait until sessions are wrapped up.

King: supports 20% to affordable trust fund, and to affordable housing needs.  At a point where we have highest rates of families living in shelters than we have ever seen.  Affordable housing trust fund with NO FUNDING MECHANISM.  This would be great way to start fund, then Community Housing …

Creamer: building back better.  We need to recover and look at next chapter of the city.  We needed to have a Spanish-speaking only session.  Community listening/input – needs to not just be amongst councilors but with directly impacted communities.

Colorio: waiting for info from listening sessions.  Then she will be able to make the best decision.

Coleman: housing major crisis in this community.  Next Tuesday filing petition to have admin contact private/public housing professionals about wait list.  Then we can look at housing crisis.

Bergman: CM‘s recommendations have not come out.  Affordable housing – recent article in T&G – it needs to be fixed. It takes years to get into affordable housing.  Surrounding towns have very little – demand will never meet supply.  Force towns to shoulder their responsibility.

Wally: supports manager‘s initial recommendation.  We will never have money to meet demand.  40% defined by HUD as low income.  How do we make sure that we have enough well-paying jobs.  Has never voted for lowest residential tax rate.  We need to encourage businesses and move people up economic ladder.

Question to Nguyen, from Worcester Common Ground: community outreach workers essential.  What will you do differently, ex: restructure Chandler Street in webinar vs open-air format to walk the areas in need of improvement?

Nguyen: a lot of people have distrust in gov‘t.  Want people to feel CC meetings are safe place for people to come to. Homeless person can‘t come to CC and then make it to the shelter, mother might take time off work and the agenda changes.  Switch to online has helped people participate more.

King: you need to walk the walk.  Willing/able to listen, learn, and lead.  City gov‘t oversight is the city council.  Our responsibility/duty to stand up for transparency, process, oversight of how gov‘t is managed.

Creamer: on the ground outreach is everything.  He was told not to spend time in certain neighborhoods [because they don‘t vote].  Needs to ensure we are on the ground.  You need to ask yourself when you last visited a certain neighborhood.

Colorio: community outreach, I totally support it and think it‘s great.  Traffic/Parking: she goes to each requested stop sign, etc.  two young people hit at Newton Square and at airport, put meeting together, to meet in the area and talk about issues.  Great thing to bring meetings to the community.

Coleman: for nearly 40 years, fielding phone calls, attending crimewatch groups, building up groups, for people who are intimidated by the process of petitioning city council.  Wait ‘til I get on that Council – you‘re going to be so happy.

Bergman: 20/30 years ago, 40-50% of population voted in City Council elections.  Societal disconnect – it‘s not just Worcester, it‘s everywhere.  We should take city council meetings on the road.  Now in age of virtual meetings no reason we need to stay in city hall.

Wally: we have dozens of neighborhood groups that meet on a monthly basis.  We could advertise that a bit more.  At convenient time?  Would like to see mobile City Hall services throughout city in different neighborhoods.

Toomey: having worked under Kevin White, knows how effective little City Halls can be.  Nothing more important than having a face-to-face meeting with someone about issue affecting their neighborhood. 

Petty: there a lot of people who work second shift and don‘t have access to neighborhood group meetings.  Use our schools more for the meetings.  Perhaps they can tie into afterschool programs.

Question from Worcester Interfaith: WPS BUDGET BABY

Colorio: has been on the school committee.  SC responsible for budget and policies.  We allow the SC to set their priorities.  [BUT – keep in mind the CC decides on the overall SC budget.  That was being asked as well]

Coleman: one thing we can all do, I saw our mayor at the state house advocating for more equitable funding for public education.  Make sure funding is appropriate

Bergman: limited by city charter about the say – but we do have some say.  We are giving new South, new Doherty to next generation.  East Middle, other schools that are failing.  Role very limited to money.  Every high school should have a front lawn every college/university that their students are accepted to.

Wally: we are limited by what we can put in the school budget.  One of the best things we can do is allocate new schools.  Can we work with colleges on improving schools?  Could we have partnered with Worcester State for better learning experience for Doherty?  Partnerships for better learning env?

[Note: we have Early College Worcester]

Toomey: better broadband.  We do have some programs – all of our colleges could do more.  Advocacy for what schools need.


Petty: $650 mil into schools.  We can do better on school side by listening to community members.  New super should bring energy, then get funding through state.

Nguyen: as a WPS grad, need transparent admin.  That‘s all of our duties, we should be caring about foundational development of youth.  Accountability should not be a harsh thing.  Have conversations with the community.

King: we have some charter challenges.  We do go over school budget with school admin.  Public health/safety issues; resources kids receive/don‘t receive.  Mental health, youth programming, after-school programming.  Ask the legislature for more.

Creamer: ensure that we are talking to our educators.  Has luxury of still talking with first-grade teacher.  Elm Park is down the street from Midland, and it‘s a very different school from Midland.  Our educators don‘t live in Worcester, but they serve our residents and are building the next generation.

[And no one here has said, “We need the city to spend more on the schools, and I have asked the city admin to spend more.”}

FINAL QUESTION, to Creamer, from MOAD: spoke with over 50 African-owned businesses, they didn‘t get loans bc didn‘t understand how to fill out forms.  Small non-profits with funding difficulty.  How will city help?

Creamer: community integration.  We need to go out into the community and talk with individuals.  Small biz owners across the country didn‘t know how to do this.  Provide proper resources, walk people through step-by-step.  This is beyond the loans.

Colorio: federal PPP loan or city loan – it was difficult, confusing, and you had to upload.  Got many calls from those who had difficulties.  We have to do better at helping people in community.

Coleman: would target a specific office with additional aides to help small businesses go through the process.

Bergman: question specifically about African community – but find access to get in the door in these communities, cultural or religious connections.  Whatever model city used for census program was successful and should be replicated. 

Wally: proud that small business grants went to majority of minority- and women-owned businesses.  Difference between access and equity.  Did everyone know where to go for resources?  City should provide tech resources, partner with peer-to-peer learning, Chamber of Commerce, to assist.

Toomey: she reached out to state for Ghanaian community – state minority business process. Regular support session in person or online, in different languages.  When we can grown biz community, small businesses raise everyone up.

Petty: why didn‘t people apply for these PPP loans?  Difficulty in filling out form.  How to get state or federal regulators to change the form?  City loans were better.  We missed a lot of people.  The question is – how do we get access to those people?

Nguyen: it felt impossible – the application would be open for three days, then funds would be gone.  Impossible to gather all the documents, translate, then it would be closed.  Esp for people who are marginalized – they stop turning to these resources.  Systems aren‘t supporting them.  (They were actively working on this with business owners.)  need to do better at outreach, have lists ahead of time.  We cannot lose these businesses in the future.

King: have to be intentional, reach out to businesses.  For our grants on the city side, went well.  But more can be done.  We know who the stakeholders are, can identify in these communities.  Incumbent on us to begin process of action plan from administration.

Closing remarks – I will only type what‘s interesting.

Creamer is trying to appeal with his youthfulness to this old crowd.  I fear that this is falling on mostly deaf ears. (The whole night he’s been talking about how he’s the youngest one running, and Moe’s been talking about his experience and maturity, and then Bill Coleman felt the need to talk about how he used to be young, too.)

Petty loves the city and it‘s going in the right direction.

Toomey has been told that she is ‘pretty darn good‘ at constituent services.  Also, has gray hairs.  (Creamer is touching a nerve with some of these old folks.)

Worcester Candidate Forums – 2021

For those interested in attending candidate forums, these are the ones I am aware of. I’ll try to attend as many as I can (note that there are a couple that conflict with one another).

Cory Bisbee has a Google Sheet with information about the candidates.

School Committee race:

Wednesday, 10/6 – 6pm – Location: Centro, 11 Sycamore Street

Sunday, 10/10 – 3:15-4:15pm – Location: Church of Pentecost Worcester Central, 41 Providence Street
Organizer: MOAD (Massachusetts Organization of African Descendents)

Wednesday, 10/13 – 7pm – Location: Mechanics Hall – link
Organizers: Research Bureau, WEC, Mechanics Hall, Worcester Chamber of Commerce, Telegram & Gazette

Wednesday, 10/20 – 6pm – YWCA – link; ticket registrationOrganizers: YWCA, LEON, MAWOCC, NAACP, LWV

Contested District races:

Thursday, 10/14 (note the change in date)– 6pm – YWCA – linkticket registration

Monday, 10/25 – 7pm – Location: Mechanics Hall – link
Organizers: Research Bureau, WEC, Mechanics Hall, Worcester Chamber of Commerce, Telegram & Gazette

At-Large race:

Wednesday, 9/29 – 6pm – Location: Worcester Boys and Girls Club. 65 Boys and Girls Club Way.  (Note from organizers: Gardner Street is under construction. If you plan to join us it is recommended that you take the Main Street to Boys and Girls Club Way Rt.)
Organizers: YWCA, Black Families Together, Boys & Girls Club, Main South CDC, Carpenters Worcester Local 336, NAACP, MOAD, Worcester Youth Center, WBCA, MAWOCC, Worcester-Fitchburg Building Trades, Worcester Community-Labor Coalition, Interfaith Worcester

Wednesday, 10/6 – 7pm – Location: Mechanics Hall – link
Organizers: Research Bureau, WEC, Mechanics Hall, Worcester Chamber of Commerce, Telegram & Gazette

Sunday, 10/10 – 4:30-5:30pm – Location: Church of Pentecost Worcester Central, 41 Providence Street
Organizer: MOAD (Massachusetts Organization of African Descendents)

Wednesday, 10/13, 6pm – Location: YWCA – link; ticket registration

Mayoral race:

Wednesday, 10/27 – 7pm – Location: Mechanics Hall – link
Organizers: Research Bureau, WEC, Mechanics Hall, Worcester Chamber of Commerce, Telegram & Gazette

District 5 Council Forum – Sept 9

These are my notes from the forum tonight at the IBEW Hall. I will not pretend to be impartial. Etel Haxhiaj is hands down the best candidate in this race. You can ote for her or you can vote for Yenni. Once you read the notes, you’ll see what I mean.

Video here

Bill Shaner livetweet here

Telegram/Foskett coverage here

Forum moderators: Gary Rosen, Melissa Hanson (MassLive), Ben White (Radio Worcester)

Gary had noted that there were masks available and that people who might not want to wear them because of medical reasons or personal choice don’t need to.  One person applauded for “personal choice.”  And this is why we’ve been where we’ve been for the past eternity.

Interpretation in Spanish and English tonight.  (I think this is the first candidate forum I’ve ever experienced this!)

Electeds in the building: Matt Wally, Khrystian King, Moe Bergman

Other notables: Bill Coleman

Melissa Hanson introduces the candidates.

Yenni: throughout entire life, natural problem-solver.  As project manager in video game industry as well as small business owner.  About time we fix infrastructure in timely manner instead of just talking about it.  Follow example of other small cities similar to Worcester.  Every problem has a solution.  (Applause when she removes her mask.  These people are irritating me to no end.)  Expensive consultants have not suited us.  This will be her full-time job.  Vote for her is for tech/policies to make a mid-sized city great.

Etel: in 1997, she left Albania as a result of political violence.  As mother, as proud Albanian-American, as community leader.  Has knocked on thousands of doors to include all neighborhood, solutions that will benefit all of us.  Worked as legal advocate in attorney general’s office, worked against rate hikes, natural gas leaks; fair, free, reliable, sustainable mass transit that works for us.  SCIENCE, FACTS, and DATA.  All of us should be included in all decision-making.  New leaders who will work collaboratively, protect open spaces, make communities safer, greener, and healthier.

Q: Democracy in action.  This is what makes America great.  Should all work together.  Has spent 35 years volunteering for children in various little leagues.  Longest-serving member in Cable Commission.  Only candidate that will lower property taxes.  Has a plan proposed in 2017 – through business community, neighborhood associations – to create new revenues.  Taxes are going up.  He has filed three home rule petitions.  He can turn $22 million around to save homeowner from increase in taxes.  No training period with him.

Greg S: Has lived in Worcester for 17 years.  Has 9 children, 15 grandchildren, 4 great-grands.  Served in Mass State Police and is now retired.  Focus completely on district 5.  Best city in the region.  As a retiree, he can devote 100% of his time to his community.  He has given out his personal cell phone number.  He doesn’t plan on just listening, get quicker resolution for things that have not been done in the past.  Lowest residential tax rate.  Safety in neighborhoods, parks, streets, fully funding WPD.  Speeding, potholes, cracks, on roads.

(Mayor Joe Petty arrives)

90 seconds to answer – 60 second responses – original candidate 30 seconds

Q from Hanson to Yenni: COVID pandemic has brought issues for small business owners.  How will you support, esp with your experience?

Yenni: lack of outreach in finding right people for right jobs.  A lot of people are looking at what their next career is going to be.  MassJobs, CareerCentral.  Collaboration between business.  When she had someone who wasn’t quite right for her company, she would refer to another business that might be able to hire the person.  Chamber can help with collaboration.

Etel: small businesses have suffered greatly during pandemic.  Has yet to see plan for ARPA money to support mom and pop shops, can also help low-wage workers along with small business owners.  Need capital access for them.  City has done good job for incubators – make sure that those resources are accessible to everyone.

Q: downtown core has not impacted neighborhood.  Main South has mini-City Hall.  That’s something we need in all the districts.  Need a voice that will advocate for that.

Greg: [needs question repeated] Fight for District 5 to get fair share of those funds because we have been out in the cold for a while.  Work together with entire city council.

Yenni: need to retrain, for potential employees to be aware of new positions.  People in community should have common job board.

Q from White to Etel: public transpo.  What to improve/add, how to pay for?

Etel: Fair, free, reliable, sustainable WRTA.  Has been catching a lot of steam across the country.  Needs to be part of the economic development policy. For every dollar spent, $4 comes back.  COVID related funds helped sustain suspension of fares.  Sustains local economy, all riders, makes sure that we have neighborhoods that are connected, reduce traffic, increase walkability.

Q: Spag’s isn’t giving out tomatoes any more.  [Editorial note: actually, Whole Food does…]  Towns need to pay their fair share.  Will not provide free bus fares when that is the responsibility of the state. 

Greg: took WRTA this morning, new, clean, driver was very personable.  Driver said need designated area and kiosks that are well-lit and safe for riders who need assistance getting on.  What is cost to taxpayer for the future?

Yenni: hub and spoke model without a wheel.  Aside from northeastern ones that go to the hospital – no connections in middle – WRTA needs to recalibrate and expand routes.  Rt 19 used to go up to Airport Business Park – just goes to Leicester now.  Could have a loop from airport to Rt 2.  Rt 8 could go up/down Park Ave.

Etel: fare free buses do NOT benefit only a certain segment of the population.  $3 million to have fare boxes, maintain; WRRB stated some ways that we could cobble together funds from fed, state, local business.  Public transit is a public good that benefits all neighborhoods, including district 5.

Q to Q from Rosen: 1 penny sales tax.  Sales tax could be considered a regressive tax.  Would be good policy?

Q: Didn’t come to this in a vacuum.  We don’t get our fair share back from Boston.  Opportunity that we have to keep revenue here.  Will it serve a purpose for everybody?  Yes.  Sitting on a shelf in city hall.  Also wants state to pay for state-owned buildings [in tax?], and a $10 surcharge on renting cars.

Greg: no rise in sales, property, or commercial tax for him.  He would not vote for this.  [I think this is the end of the statement.]

Yenni: correct that it is a regressive tax.  Would not vote for this.  If it were to act like VAT (not to groceries, toothpaste, personal needs), perhaps.

Etel: how does this impact those who struggle the most?  They need to spend less on transpo, affordable housing, benefits from development projects: we raise up families by taking multi-pronged approach.

Q: Groceries are not taxable.  Lowest affordable tax rate means your taxes are going up.  He will ensure that your taxes will go down.

Q for Greg from Hanson: lower speed limit?  More traffic enforcement?

Greg: people don’t read the signs to begin with.  More efficient, and MORE, traffic enforcement.

Yenni: multiple accidents in the district that involve kids being put in the hospital recently.  Reduce speed limit by 5 mph has many benefits.  At 25 mph, you can really tell if someone is speeding.  Traffic enforcement = getting grants from state to do speed enforcement.  Get more $$ from state.

Etel: 2 mothers at West Tatnuck meeting spoke about how their kids are affected by speeding.  Slow streets are safer; supports 25 mph.  Traffic enforcement – one box solution.  City of Boston wants automatic enforcement of red light cameras and speed cameras – reduces reliance on police officers.

Q: At West Tatnuck meeting, nothing has been done.  It was four weeks ago, and the state has done nothing.  (This is 122 from Atlas on)  We don’t have enough police officers. 

Greg: sign is only as good as the person who stands behind the sign.  Compliance needs to be enforced.

Q from White for Yenni: Worcester Renaissance.  How can everyone benefit?

Yenni: lack of funds allocated to our areas.  Webster Square has a lot of businesses that need buildings torn down.  Need to implement business districts.  Amazing success.  Get buildings reused and updated.  Tatnuck is having a lot of benefit and regrowth.  Do more to help with water problems – storm drains.  Neighbors have had a swimmable portion of water in their backyard.

Etel: Renaissance belongs to all of us, in all districts.  Would love to see city spend ARPA $$ to support businesses.  Every developer that comes to Worcester needs to benefit D5.  Why aren’t we talking to Sam Adams (owner of former Big D lot) the way that we are offering incentives to Mt Carmel?

Q: mentions that Gary and Matt Wally brought the Big D lot to the forefront.  A lot of complaining about student housing.

Greg: safe neighborhoods.  Fix under the street, and then fix the street.  [Literally, this is what he said.  I tend to summarize but he is literally giving 5 second answers.]

Yenni: focus that city manager has given has not been adequate.  Advocacy at state level – we need appropriate amount of funds actually coming to us.

Question for Etel from Gary: police reform.  What reform measures, if any, would you like to see city adopt?

Etel: fully supports CM’s executive orders.  Looks forward to having WPD that is accountable, transparent.  Police reform at state level will come to Worcester.  Looks forward to having WPD be accountable to the people.

Q: adequately fund – increase to 450 police officers. 

[Wayne Griffin tries to interrupt.  Screw off, Wayne]

Greg: fully funded, fully staffed.  He has experience at this.  Based on experience, you need a team effort.  Those problems don’t exist here like they do in Minneapolis.

Yenni: wants to pursue which Defund measures work for us.  Death in 1991 was very similar – heard about it at neighborhood watch meeting.  We may need to re-plan, doesn’t think cameras will do anything.  Mental health education for police dept. 

Etel: what makes our streets safe is having adequate housing for people, provide supportive services for chronically homeless people, feed people, provide support for those struggling with addiction, etc.  No one in this room says that we should have no police.  (There was more, it was very good.)

Question for Q about Doherty being on time, on budget (sorry, missed it)

Q: need to be involved more.  Proper oversight.

Greg: if the school is needed, allocate resources and get the job done.

Yenni: chronic issue of things not getting done on time and on budget.  Projects should be kept on top of more.  Future projects: ensure incentives for construction companies to get things done on time and on budget.  Equity issues need to be addressed going forward.

Etel: our neighbors need to be kept abreast.  They feel decisions get made without input, they are the last to know things.  Let parents/teachers/kids know, include everyone in process.

Q: penny sales tax (out of state sales tax).  They also need a practice field.

Question for Greg from White about tax – changing multi-family to commercial.

Greg: doesn’t support raising taxes on everything.  He can’t give an intelligent answer because he’s not up on it and needs to study.

Yenni: owner of a three-family.  Does not feel a three-family is a commercial property when you own one.  Differentiation between those who own multiple properties vs an owner-occupied.  During pandemic, one of neighbors had tenant with trouble paying rent.  Would put burden on owner-occupied.

Etel: small-scale landlords had trouble during pandemic.  Small-scale landlords are not the problem.  Look at commercial properties (more than 5 building properties) could bring extra revenue.  Landlords and renters – we need to create pathway to homeownership and look at racial disparities that have prevented people of color from paths to prosperity (not her words, sorry, she’s too good and I can’t type that fast)

Q: this is another thing on the mayor’s task force.  Will stand up for homeowners and renters.

Greg: agrees with Q

Question from Gary to all candidates, 1 minute: dismal turnout for D5 prelim election expected.  Why don’t voters see importance of prelim/municipal elections?

Yenni: switch to ranked choice voting [boos from crowd] – we would have one election.  This person is my #1 choice, this person would be OK.  For municipal race, can drop age to 16.  [crowd is incredulous – Yenni asks to be able to speak – GOOD FOR HER – these people are philistines, no offense to Philistines]  – mock voting in every single high school for every single election.  Teach people what the city council does for them.

Etel: our residents feel disconnected.  Whether we’re talking about Duffy, Lakeside, Doherty – residents feel they do not come first.  Early voting increases turnout.  We turned down 16 year old voting.  Our campaign has reached voters in different language.  Everyone deserves a seat at the city council.

Q: Ranked choice: solution in search of problem.  absolutely against 16 year old voting.  He points to Steve Foskett, who he says is not doing his job (Steve is standing in for all the media).

Greg: reach out to young people via the social media.

Q to all from Hanson: vote with conscience or vote with the majority of the district?

Etel: both.  Councilors need to have conscience, ask tough questions.  D5 is not in isolation – we have a responsibility to have people who care about everyone, include everyone in community planning, etc

Q: you can’t have a straw poll every time something comes up. 

Greg: he agrees with Q.  Here to represent what people have had on their minds.  He’s not going to vote his conscience.

Yenni: combination needed.  Go out into community and get information proactively.  If seeing mixed results, need to go with conscience.  If you see something detrimental to community, vote against it.

Candidates can ask questions of another candidate.  Untimed.  [ULTIMATE GARY FANTASY]

Greg to Etel on subsidized housing in district. 

Etel: by day she works in the housing world.  Lakeside faces quite a bit of issues.  There can never be enough housing for people of all income levels.  The city is becoming inaccessible, unaffordable for many people.  Wants a path to homeownership for all, black/brown people should be able to get a mortgage.  People should be able to buy or rent a home and be free from debt.

Q: a lot of housing is more affordable.  Market-rate.  There has to be an equilibrium there.  But we have to open up the doors.

Yenni: She agrees with Etel almost entirely.  Encourage changes to zoning to allow multi-family and mixed-use.  We need more housing in the city.  A lot of single-family homes and a lot of empty lots. 

The next question is for Q.

He asks Etel about increasing WPD numbers.  Increase to 425?

Etel: More police will not bring safety – police should focus on violent crime.  People struggling with complex issues that are not helped by police.  Why should we expect police officers to do everything?  Make our officers’ job easier by not expanding their role.

Yenni: when people think about crime, they immediately think police.  Improve lighting, adding tree coverage and places where kids need to play.  Cutting down foliage so that police can quickly see homeless folks.  Need to understand why people turn to crime – address cause not symptom.

Greg: strongly supports increasing the numbers because of number of people in city.  In 2013, Boston Marathon bombing.  He was there when “we captured those people.”  He received a commendation for that. 

Question goes to Etel.

Etel to Greg: the next city councilor will need to work in coalitions with community members, city manager, other councilors.  I have worked with various coalitions.  What is your experience working in coalitions, either in pandemic or before?

Greg: during pandemic, was retired and focused on spat between children.  Has worked with many different police, sheriff’s depts, corrections, prisoners.  He can work with anyone.

Q: has been volunteering since he’s been 18.  When you work together, great things can be accomplished.  He has been attending neighborhood group meetings for a long time.  Coalition or not, working together.

Yenni: lack of willingness for those at two opposite ends of spectrum to get together.  Her family is complete Trump fans, she can still meet with them and discuss things rationally.  Being able to sit down at a table with those who disagree with them is an important quality – everyone up here has that quality.

Yenni’s question: wants to see us use technology in an appropriate way.  Community engagement/understanding.  What to do to increase transparency?  (Directed at Q)

Q: Asks what information in particular.  Yenni responds with Hillside Beach.  Planning Board sends you a note if you’re an abutter.  With virtual meetings, we are expanding those who attend.  Need to open door to those who can get in.  Virtual meetings are way forward.

Yenni: that is passive, can you explain more on the outreach?

Q: well, that’s the answer.  [Yes, isn’t it!]

Etel: city has ARPA sessions that are not accessible by public transpo, at dinner time, not livestreamed, etc.  Provide childcare, make sure everyone has access to information.  People are not engaged because they feel that city is not paying attention to their needs.

Greg: media is a tool that should be used.  Would have satellite meetings in wards/districts.  Send them out mailing in their language.

Final statements – I will only type things of note.

Greg is the only candidate that is retired and has a lot of time on his hands.  Will vote for lowest residential tax rate.  Also lowest business tax rate.

Q: top-down from city administration.  We need to set pace and agenda.  Bubble up from the district councilor.  He’s a moderate centrist.  That’s what the time needs.

Etel: We have run a positive, grassroots campaign, including commonsense solutions that seek to benefit everyone.  Rumors about her family.  She is a registered Democrat, not a communist.  Climate change is real.  Her grandfather was a liberator from nazis and fascism in Albania.  Serving others is the highest good.  She has worked hard with humility and persistence because serving others is her purpose.  Compassion, inclusive solutions. 

Yenni: Running for city council – solutions that make the most sense financially and socially.  Tech/automation will change city and country as a whole.  We can save money, increase efficiency.  This will be her primary job – this job will go to someone who has time required to run second-largest city in New England.  You can book a 1-on-1 meeting with her at her website.  Open office hours next Monday.

D5 Preliminary Election Candidate Forums

The District 5 City Council race is going to have two candidate forums (that I’ve heard of):

Today, August 30– an “informal meeting” at the First Congregational Church, 1070 Pleasant Street at 6:00pm. The organizers would like the meeting under an hour and a half.

Thursday, September 9 – this will be more of a formal candidate forum (I hope) at the IBEW Hall, 242 Mill Street, 6:30pm.

The candidates are:

Yenni Desroches, Etel Haxhiaj, Stephen Quist, and Gregory Stratman

Information about candidates:

WCCA has been having an “Election Countdown” series. Each of the four candidates has been featured.

Patch has also been doing a series of candidate questions; I’m not sure how far along they are, but here’s the interview with Etel Haxhiaj.

Body Camera items on tonight’s City Council agenda

There are many items on tonight’s City Council agenda regarding body cameras in particular and the Worcester Police Department in general.

From the public:

8f. Eliana Stanislawski et al. request the City Council to acknowledge that despite rapid implementation across the country, police body cameras have been documented to have had no consistent or significant effect on police officer behavior.

8g. Eliana Stanislawski et al. request City Council to commit to obtaining any funding for a police body camera program from within the Worcester Police Department budget, rather than taking it from other departments.

8h. Nathan Cummings request the City Council take no binding votes regarding the implementation of a new police body camera program until the Worcester Police Department provides its full report on the body camera pilot program, which ended in October of 2019, and time is allowed for robust public debate on the merits of the new program.

8i. Nathan Cummings request the most recent report(s) summarizing performance measures and statistics for the Worcester Police Department (WPD), and those same reports for the preceding five (5) years, be made prominently available on the WPD page of the website of the City of Worcester.

From the WPD:

9.10.A Transmitting informational communication relative to a report regarding information on the Body-Worn Camera Pilot Program.

From various councilors:

11l. Request City Manager initiate a permanent body camera program for the Worcester Police Department to be put in place by January 1, 2021. Funding for said program should be prioritized and consider all funding mechanisms, including new growth monies. (Sean Rose)

11u. Request City Manager fund and pilot public safety and public health enhancement initiatives in FY21, including but not limited to Alternative Deployment Policy Development/Negotiations, full funding and implementation of the use of body cameras for the Worcester Police Department and a City of Worcester Transparency Improvement Plan. (Khrystian King)

11v. Request City Manager negotiate a Worcester Police Department Body Camera memorandum of understanding (MOU) and immediately resume the Body Camera pilot program with leeway for incremental expansion. Said MOU would terminate upon successful negotiation and permanent implementation of the Police Body Camera Program. (Khrystian King)

How did we get here?

(links to Worcester Telegram articles can be accessed via your library card/password)

By 2011, numerous local communities (though not necessarily Worcester) began looking at both body cameras and cruiser cameras to collect evidence and potentially avoid lawsuits. (Article: Nowhere to hide – Police cameras everywhere becoming standard – August 1, 2011)

After police killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, in 2014, the Worcester police began a study of body cameras. (Editorial: Don’t blink quite yet – Body cameras being studied for Worcester PD – September 3, 2014)

In December 2014, the city used some of the CSX mitigation money for two surveillance cameras; some prominent citizens said they would have preferred the money go to body cameras. Police chief Gary Gemme said that the WPD was “following a process of reviewing potential policies that would be needed to implement this equipment [body cameras and a vehicle-mounted camera system], along with conducting field tests with the devices to ensure that we have a successful program in place before adopting this technology” (Article: Surveillance cams get OK for two Worcester neighborhoods – December 4, 2014; editorial: Light and dark – Surveillance and body cameras not cure-alls – December 7, 2014; article: Police test waters of transparency – December 18, 2014)

By May 2015, the city was moving forward with equipping arrest wagons and all booking cells with cameras. Chris Robarge, then of the ACLU, continued to push for body cameras, while noting that they were not foolproof; he referred to two prominent cases of police brutality involved officers who knew they were on camera. City Manager Augustus felt that the cost was a challenge: “There’s a phenomenal amount of storage required. It’s for (about) 500 officers working 40 hours a week or more. … We’re trying to figure that whole piece out.” (article: Worcester PD zooms in on more cameras – May 30, 2015)

The following week, the WPD accepted a gift of $25,000 from the state Executive Office of Public Safety and Security and used it to buy plate readers. It was noted that the grant money could have been used for body cameras. (article: Some fear invasion of privacy – Police get funds for license readers – June 6, 2015; editorial: The future is knocking – June 10, 2015)

On August 18, 2015, State Police and Worcester Police SWAT delivered a no-knock warrant to an apartment on Hillside Street, injuring two people and frightening another three. The person for whom the warrant was issued was living near Canterbury Street and was regularly reporting to pretrial probation three times a week. The then-new State Police Colonel, Richard D. McKeon, a Worcester native, ‘made a point of discussing goals for greater transparency, including consideration of body cameras and “dash cams” for state police cruisers and improved response times for public records requests.’ I mention this because it was a horrible, preventable incident that could have had much clarity from camera footage. (editorial: Three months later – December 3, 2015)

In January 2016, 15 months after the WPD began their study of body cameras and dashboard cruiser cameras, City Manager Augustus said he was going to present recommendations to the council that spring. Storage cost for three years’ worth of video seemed to be a sticking point; at the time the “estimated cost for 578 terabytes of storage [was] about $440,000 for a single site storage and $881,000 for replicated storage.” (article: Worcester Council wants report – Police cam use gets a closer look – January 14, 2016)

My perusal of Telegram records doesn’t show that the city manager made that proposal by spring 2016. In May 2016, Steven Sargent was promoted to police chief. The Telegram reported: “Asked about body cameras for police and additional surveillance cameras for headquarters, the city manager said he is committed to working with Deputy Chief Sargent on implementing that technology. He said Deputy Chief Sargent has been involved in talks about placing devices around the building to record all times when a prisoner is in custody.” (article: Worcester Police Department – Sargent promoted to chief – May 6, 2016)

In May 2017, a year after taking the position of police chief (and also a year after Ed Augustus was supposed to report on body cameras to the city council), Steven Sargent was interviewed by the Telegram on a wide range of items, including body cameras:

A pilot program involving body cameras worn by officers is coming, but it is turning out to be more complicated than originally anticipated, Chief Sargent said. Police are working with the city Law Department and police unions on the program. He cautioned that there is a lot of constitutional law involved, and said some communities have had issues.

It’s definitely something we want to do, we want to get this pilot program going, to see what works and what doesn’t work,” he said.

(from the article Chief Sargent notches his first year as Worcester’s top cop –  May 21, 2017)

Over the next year, there were numerous calls from columnist Clive McFarlane and the Telegram editorial board to begin a body camera program. One of the main reasons was the case of Michael Motyka, a WPD officer who was found guilty of kicking a shackled prisoner in December 2014. (Clive McFarlane column: Double standard on law and order – May 17, 2017; editorial: The question of body cameras – October 19, 2017; editorial: The body camera question – bringing transparency to police work – October 29, 2017; Clive McFarlane column: Worcester police dragging feet on body cameras – June 6, 2018)

Finally, in June 2018, police chief Sargent said that he was finalizing the details on a pilot body camera program, more than two years after the city council was promised a proposal. (article: Plans to equip city police officers with body cameras – June 5 2018)

How did the body camera pilot program go?

There’s a report on tonight’s agenda (item 9.10 A) regarding the body camera program, which was a six-month (May 1, 2019-October 31, 2019) program with twenty officers. I’ll bullet-point what I found interesting:

  • The company Axon provided the cameras at no cost to the city.
  • 20 police officers volunteered to wear the cameras; at no point in this report does it mention the $250 incentive to wear the camera.
  • Officers only wore the cameras during their 40-hour workweek; no other assignments were recorded.
  • There were two camera failures during the program, but there were extra cameras that were swapped in. There is now a new model that should have improved performance and better audio recording capabilities.
  • Freedom of Information Act requests: the WPD estimates that for every hour of video they need to review, it would be 2-3 hours for each request.
  • District Attorney’s Office requests: the report says that if the WPD continued to use body cameras, the amount of time to process evidence requests from the DA’s Office “would not be sustainable” and they recommend that the DA’s Office have accounts that could be granted access to the data.
  • In order to fully implement the program, the WPD estimates it would take 5 additional officers and 2 officials to administer the program. ($4.06 million over 5 years)
  • It appears that the department would prefer to use the vendor Axon, and all of the pricing includes tasers. Costs for the cameras and tasers over 5 years would be between $4.4 – $5.7 million. (And, yes, it’s a little weird that we’re including the cost of tasers in this.)
  • But it’s also weird that the WPD is proposing giving every officer a department-issued mobile phone, to the tune of $750,000 over five years. This would be to review footage, and the report also says that they would likely need even more officers because of the time it would take to review/tag camera footage.
  • This is only a report of the experiences of 20 officers. There are no references to other communities who have been using cameras, or even a true comparison of different vendors.
  • I would urge you to read the end of the report (pp. 15-23) for the officers’ comments about the program and their interactions with the public.

What now?

Sean Rose‘s item on body cameras

Sean Rose had announced earlier this month that he was going to request that the body camera program be implemented January 1, 2021. At the time, nine other city councilors had signed on to his request (item 11l on the agenda).

It’s interesting that everyone but Councilor King was willing to sign on to a request without seeing a report from the WPD about the program, or even a sense of how much it would cost (including the need for additional staff).

It’s also interesting that this request was NOT brought up at budget time, during hours and hours of meetings, but now the request is that “[f]unding for said program should be prioritized and consider all funding mechanisms, including new growth monies.

Finally, having press releases that announce that a supermajority of the City Council is in support of something is a violation of the Open Meeting Law. What is the point of public discourse, or public input, if we already know that 10 city councilors’ minds are made up? (Nathan Cummings’ item brings this up – we need time for a “robust public debate.” We’ve been waiting six years for a report on this; we can certainly wait a little while longer to discuss this as a community.)

What problem are we trying to solve?

This is ultimately the question we are facing. If body cameras are the solution, or at least a solution, what is the problem? What are we expecting body cameras to do?

As the WPD body camera report says, the cameras can record someone’s worst day.

Are police the best response for all of these “worst days?”

That’s the biggest question facing us. How do we help — not handle — our fellow residents who are facing the worst day of their life? How can we best provide assistance to people around this city?

Nip Bottles on Tuesday’s Council agenda

There are, funnily enough, at least two items before the city council on Tuesday whose origins go back at least to 2014.

The first is item 9.17 B (Transmitting informational communication relative to the best practices on reducing litter created from small liquor bottle (nips) such as putting a deposit on the bottles); here’s the report.

(I’ll talk about the second items, 11l/11u/11v, about body cameras, in my next post.)

Longtime residents of Massachusetts may recall that, six years ago, the voters of the Commonwealth were given the option to expand the bottle bill. Our current bottle deposits are for beverages that are artificially carbonated (so, sodas and beer, but not naturally carbonated water, wine, hard liquor, or — most importantly — non-carbonated water).

Longtime residents of Worcester may remember that Bob Moylan, the former DPW chief, was the paid spokesperson for the bottling industry, which vehemently opposed any efforts to take responsibility for the waste their products cause to many Massachusetts cities and towns.

Because of extensive lobbying by the bottling industry — assisted in large part by Bob Moylan, who should have known better — the initiative for an expanded bottle bill failed in 2014.

However, the bottles that litter our streets have not gone away, and numerous efforts have been led by municipalities to ban, restrict the sale of, or put a deposit on nip bottles. The report has a good outline of these efforts, and I won’t repeat them here; it’s a quick read.

One of the recommendations of the report would be for the City Council to issue a proclamation supporting House Bill 2881, which would expand the bottle bill, and to encourage our legislative delegation to support the bill.

Currently, the only two Worcester state representatives who support the expanded bottle bill are Mary Keefe and David LeBoeuf (who I am proud to say is MY representative!). There are no other state reps from Worcester who have signed on as co-sponsor. This means that Dan Donahue, John Mahoney, and Jim O’Day all are due an email or phone call.

This expanded bottle bill, H. 2881, only expands the bottle bill to include nip bottles.

As many of us who pick up trash on a frequent basis know all too well, nip bottles are part of the problem. The other part (and, from my experience, the larger part) is bottled water.

The American people have been convinced, by the machinations of large multi-national and small corporations combined, that bottled water is somehow better for you than the municipal water that comprises most of its source.

One of the major reasons the bottle bill failed in 2014, and why the emphasis of the current bill is on nip bottles, and not on water bottles, is surely the powerful influence of Polar Beverages within the city and across the state.

(links below require your library card and password)

Efforts to expand the bottle bill go back to at least the 1990s.

In 2003, efforts to expand to nearly all types of beverages brought opposition from the local juice industry (Veryfine, Ocean Spray, and Welch’s) as well as from Ralph Crowley of Polar. Indeed, the opposition was so strong that my representative in the General Court, John Binienda, actually wanted to rescind the bottle bill for all containers and focus on home recycling.

Proposals for a similar expanded bottle bill in 2011 brought Polar’s efforts to fight it back into the news. As the bottle bill continued to be promoted, so did Polar’s efforts to discredit the efforts of people who don’t like bottles all over the place; there was even a lobbying group that was incentivizing pay-as-you-throw as an alternative to the bottle bill, while Polar executives argued (as always) that an expanded bottle bill would drive up consumer costs (as if it’s a bad thing to have unnecessary items that litter our streets cost a bit more).

In 2014, the last year the voters saw an expanded bottle bill, the No-on-Question-2 folks spent nearly $8 million dollars (as opposed to less than $1 on the “Yes” side) on advertisements, some of which prominently featured paid spokesperson Bob Moylan, to kill the bottle bill. Funnily enough, my state senator, Michael Moore, and Paul Frost of Auburn, both of whom have Polar-influenced districts, also opposed the expanded bottle bill in 2014.

It’s always going to be an uphill battle for ANY expansion of the bottle bill in Worcester. H. 2881 is a good first step. Please contact your city councilors to support it, and please contact state reps Donahue, Mahoney, and O’Day, to sign on as co-sponsors.