Mayoral Candidate Forum – Oct 3

Friendly reminder that there are still lots of candidate forums left this election season – I think I’ve posted them all here but please let me know if I missed any!

And now on with the show…these are the notes I took from the Research Bureau/Chamber of Commerce/T&G mayoral candidate forum.

The video is here; I welcome any corrections to my notes based on watching/listening to the video.

(not typing the introductory remarks from the hosts as I’m getting here a little late)

Maybe 50-60 people here in attendance?

Panelists

Carolyn Stempler, chair of GWCF, owns a business (Carolyn & June Designs)

David Nordman, Executive Editor of T&G

Stephanie Ramey, Executive Director of Discover Central Mass

Begin with two-minute opening statement

Colorio: taking abilities and skills from serving on school committee to run; small business owner with family, educator at QCC, raised three children in the city.  Great place to live and work.  Understands challenges of running a small business.  Three priorities: lowest residential tax rate; will support Binienda; safety in our city.  Wants to represent hardworking families and citizens.  Will not let you down, will be your voice.

Sarkodieh: has the longest name on the ballot so you can’t miss him.  Careful analysis of facts: things are not as they seem.  Tale of two cities.  Not everyone is on the “rising boat.”  Need for public safety and city services.  Issues with some ethnic groups. He is currently a substitute teacher in WPS.  Worcester gave him hope and he wants to give that back to the city.  Education is the biggest issue.  So much potential in city, but not because of the current government.

Coleman: He’s been at this for a long time.  First ran in 1979.  A few years before that, he worked in DC for Ed Brooke.  He has been consistent over the years, has been community activist, retired educator, grantwriter, currently project developer.  Would like to see more development, wants new police station (which was antiquated even at the time it was built).

Petty: city is changing, people are moving in, businesses growing.  New rates of homeownership.  We are becoming a real city.  New biomed manufacturing, Red Sox, let’s continue to work to make Worcester better for all.  Have invested $60mil in parks over the last five years, new Nelson Place, new South High, new Doherty in the works, maybe even a new Burncoat.

Questions: each candidate 1 minute time limit, with everyone else having 30 secs, with 30 sec rebuttal.

Q1: Separation: issues that involve both City Council and School Committee.  How would you enhance communication/coordination?

Colorio: SC had worked with CC on a joint committee.  Would like to expand that a little more and meet together more often.  A lot of issues between city and schools that they can work together on.  Consolidation of areas where there is overlap (I think she means like HR and facilities, but don’t want to put words in her mouth)

Petty: SC and CC work well together.  Flu vaccination. 

Sarkodieh: transparency within both systems.  Major part of mayor – oversee activities of SC. 

Coleman: you learn a lot from being in classroom, from interacting with parents.  Would make sure that we met more often.

Colorio: add a few thoughts: because city does a lot for schools, and funding is there, needs to be a clear and concise communication between them. 

Q2: Neighborhoods vs Downtown.  Prioritization of projects.  How would you balance?

Sarkodieh: Polar Park is a good deal for the city of Worcester.  Would balance this with something for residents of Worcester.  Worries about gentrification – people are being pushed out by the city that they helped to build.  Price of rent is going up too high.  Will make sure all are heard.

Colorio: you have to have a balance – vibrant downtown and vibrant neighborhoods.  Hears continually that residential taxes are going to go up and can’t afford any more taxes.  We can’t tax people out of the city.  We are not a wealthy city – median household income of $45,000

Coleman: during 1980s, whenever something happened downtown, something was supposed to happen in the neighborhoods.  Need to do more that we have transpo system that responds to needs of city

Petty: we have invested in both.  Sidewalks and safety in Union Hill and Green Island.  Parks, playgrounds, schools.  SWIP.

Sarkodieh: he has heard from his constituents about traffic issues and panhandlers.

Q3: Sex Education.  What if anything would you differently to advocate for right sex ed curriculum?

Coleman: if you talk to young child that has cancer, very clear on diagnosis.  We need an age-appropriate total health ed program that includes general sex ed.

[The lights have completely extinguished…much laughter.  All we need is mood music, says Stempler]

Coleman, continued: sex, sex lifestyles, awareness, health – matter-of-fact type program.  Do not hold anything back, but needs to be age-appropriate.

Sarkodieh: as a concerned parent, age-appropriate sex ed.  Parents should have say one way or the other.  Need to be sensitive to different cultures. 

Petty: We will have a sex ed curriculum by next fall.  Will be progressive and age appropriate, need to see what state guidelines are in December.  Makes people uncomfortable, but need to protect kids.

Colorio: missing point.  Teachers and parents know what’s best for kids.  Hears we are going to have sex ed, but need to involve parents.  Parents were objecting – parents participation and teacher input prior to decision being made.

Coleman: parents should be involved, but we have 172 parents under age 18 in the city.  Need to give them a preview.

Q4: Blue Space.  Closures at Indian Lake, cleanup at Coes Pond.  How to maximize natural resources?

[Note from Nicole: since Coes is man-made, is it really a natural resource?]

Petty: we hired a person about blue space procedures.  We have beautiful lakes.  We need to dredge them, but it’s millions of dollars, have started the process and will continue the process.

Coleman: he has run many neighborhood cleanups.  Comprehensive swim education [I think this is what he’s saying]

Colorio: has visited a lot of homes and some are located on lakes.  You don’t think of Worcester as having waterfront property.  Lot of rec going on in these areas.  Have police patrol the lakes to make them a safe environment.

Sarkodieh: concerned about price tax.  Encourage youth and other groups to clean up.

Petty: mentions Blackstone and proactive administration

[I am extremely disappointed that no one has explicitly talked about the need for greater swim education.]

Q5: Strategic Plan for Schools. 

Sarkodieh: advocate for more parental involvement.  More funding for schools.  A lot of programs are seriously underfunded.  His kids are at a charter school.  They need funding for a whole lot of stuff. 

Petty: Couple of things to prioritize: address suspension issues and ed issues from Latino community; invest in technology.

Coleman: continue with three words: Fund Our Future.  We were able to secure $270mil more statewide, CoW got $22mil.  Continue to fight for appropriate funds.

Colorio: Original member of strategic committee.  Worked hard to include all groups and all ideas.  Goal would be to look at plan, see what we have accomplished so far and what we need to accomplish.

Sarkodieh: committee to make sure that we have more parental involvement.  One of predictors of child’s success is parental involvement. 

Q6: many Worcester residents commute to Boston.  Commuter rail.  How would you continue to enhance efforts?

Coleman: thanks Tim Murray for his efforts.  More trains, more times.  We need to look at comprehensive efforts to move people around the state.  People moving west and will be coming to Worcester. 

Colorio: process of increasing rails in Worcester.  Lt Gov Polito trying to make this smoother.  Getting back and having time at night is important.

Sarkodieh: Great to have inner-city transport improved.

Petty: Collab with the state very important.  North/South Connector, East/West Connector.

Coleman: need to look at transpo around the city and encourage businesses that are on the fence to leave Boston to come to Worcester.

Q7: Foundation Budget.  Underfunded by more than $90mil.  How would you use office of mayor to increase state funding?

Petty: has been coordinating with mayors of Brockton and New Bedford on this.  We haven’t been outrageous, but we got extra in this budget.  Today the Senate is looking at putting more in Ch 70 funding.  If this dies, we will file a complaint.

Sarkodieh: underfunding affects everything.  Bring strong argument as to why we need those funds.  This affects my kids, lead a school rally to downtown Boston.  Make the state notice us.

Colorio: no one understood what the funding formula was.  Only in past few years that school committee members became aware [UM TRACY O’CONNELL NOVICK ANYONE?!?]

Coleman: Fund Our Future campaign.  Mayor did an excellent job to lobby on behalf of cities and towns.  Senate was talking about Promise Act.  Our constitution promises us the right to a public education.

Petty: charter school reimbursement not a proper rate.  He is talking about a bunch of things but man this guy mumbles and I am getting too old to understand half of what he says.

Q8: Is Worcester a safe city?  How would you improve safety?

Colorio: supports our police, they understand problems and how to fix.  Drugs on the street is a whole other subject.  Prevent drugs from coming into the city.  Root of problem is in some of our addiction issues.

Coleman: We do have a safe city.  We need to move ahead on building a new police station.  Support neighborhood groups, have more community policing.

Petty: we are a safe city.  Result of hard work, we have invested in police classes, neighborhood response team, youth violence prevention program, RecWorcester

Sarkodieh: we do have a safe city.  Wants a representative police force.  Trust between police and residents

Colorio: strengthen our community neighborhood groups.  Needs to be more engagement.

Q9: Children.  Success set early, many Worcester youth entering school without preschool experience.  How to ensure children and families have their needs met?

Coleman: need preschool education.  We need to have an active mayor with a better salary that can go to public hearings all over the country, including Washington, to advocate for this.  Preschool in the city of Worcester should be free and available to everyone.

Petty: mayor’s office is a [bully] pulpit.  The earlier the children, the better off they will be.

Sarkodieh: will advocate for free preschool because it is very important.  Some of his kids went to Head Start and it was awesome.

Colorio: her daughter went to preschool in the city.  She didn’t understand how to get her daughter there.  Not a lot of communication about what preschools are available.

[This was a really weird response.  No one has talked about the need for full-day preschool or for supports for children after it – preschool is NOT an indicator of future success without reinforcement in elementary school…]

Q10: Worcester airport.  [I don’t write the question because who the heck responds to the actual questions at these forums]

Petty: good communication with Massport.  [This is seriously so boring I can’t even]  As mayor you need to encourage people to go to the airport and remind people that Worcester has an airport.

Colorio: communicate/publicize more. 

Coleman: national press that hasn’t been really complimentary because of all the cancellations.

Sarkodieh: we have to sell ourselves.  Not a lot of direct flights.  We need to work on that.

Petty: will advocate for increased investment.

[Amazes me how much people will advocate for fiscal austerity or the lowest tax rate but somehow think we have a budget to advertise for Massport’s property – but I’m getting cynical in my old age]

Q11: Worcester’s diversity.  How would you foster, esp school and workforce?

Colorio: City has done a great job in this.  When she first started to teach at QCC, our staff was not that diverse.  Now more diverse.  We try to achieve by showing that we are open to diversity.

Sarkodieh: It should start in city hall.  Right now, recommend that voters vote for [a more diverse candidate group]

Petty: has done a lot on the city side in the past 4 years, chief diversity officer.  We have a long way to go.  New construction requirement for women and communities of color.

Coleman reminds us that he started running for office when Nicole was an infant.  People used to complain about him going door-to-door.  Has bushwacked for other candidates.  You can’t change people’s hearts

Colorio: all have good suggestions – everyone here really wants to work towards that.

Q12: WRTA.  How important in your vision?  How would you increase ridership and service?

Sarkodieh: we need to increase bus lines for students and our entire population.  His kids have never been on the bus before.  Everyone needs to be involved.  It’s not just for ‘poor people’

Coleman: WRTA – that’s a piece of work for you.  Bring buses back to City Hall.  Don’t put pressure on drivers to get back to the Hub.  After 4pm let the buses be free, then on weekends, and then review Research Bureau’s suggestions for free bus transpo.

Colorio: People are using Uber and Lyft.  Maybe smaller buses or different routes, esp incorporating technology

Petty: pilot program to get people to use Uber and Lyft (goodness knows what he’s talking about)

[Every time someone mentions that Uber can be used instead of the WRTA – which is not necessarily what Colorio or Petty are saying – that tells me that people are not aware of issues with accessibility and these ‘rideshare’ companies)

Q13: Impacts of building new school.  How to manage siting of new schools?

Petty: This is the process we’re going to right now.  Doherty is a tough one, limited in property that’s right there.  What is neighborhood and traffic impact.  Look at other sites and consider process.  $300 million school, will be state of the art.  It will be one of the best schools in the country when it’s done.

Colorio: the feasibility studies were a good idea.  Everyone has an opinion.  Believes that neighborhood, parents, should be involved. 

Coleman: we need to think out of the box.  Building two buildings, one for juniors/seniors, one for freshmen/sophomores. 

Sarkodieh: put it in an economically depressed area.

Petty: This has been an open process.  We’re going to site it appropriately.  Number one project going on in the city of Worcester.

Q14: Student discipline.  How would you score WPS and decrease suspensions?

Colorio: superintendent is wonderful and has done great work.  When there is a cultural component here [not sure if this a dog whistle for ‘racism that we don’t want to acknowledge’] get complicated.

Sarkodieh: as a POC, hears a lot of complaints.  Would give SC a “C” on this.  We have to understand the culture that we deal with.

Petty: have made great strides this year.  Look at kids and get them to have in-school suspensions.

Coleman: expression: nothing is new under the sun.  We are catching up with suspension issue now, but nothing new.  Open convo with parents, bring parents into classroom to see how kids act.

Colorio: when people move to Worcester, they want to know ‘how are the schools?’ and then ‘how safe are the schools?’

Q15: Negative perceptions.  How would you market the city?

Sarkodieh: Worcester getting increasingly diverse.  We need to do a lot of work with hiring and to make sure that city hall gets diverse.

Coleman: Agrees with Colorio – schools sell property and houses.  Quality of education.  He does not have a negative thing to say about Worcester.  Needs to find potential and start marketing.

Petty: disagrees – perception has changed within the city.  With the ballpark, many people are coming.  Psychological boom. 

[Sorry, this is boring and I am no longer typing anything]

Q16: how to ensure stable housing supply?

Coleman: foreclosure rate is high and challenging, needs to be reduced.  Back tax resolution.  If you lose your home, and have back taxes, you have nothing.  Mentions microhouses.

Petty: have invested $17mil in workforce housing.  Most of projects have affordable housing component.  City has plan for funding for people rehabbing housing.

Sarkodieh: not just ‘affordable housing’ but HOUSING THAT IS AFFORDABLE.  Rents are rising, but median household income remains the same.

[I missed some of this due to a PC malfunction)

Q17: busing in schools

Colorio: supports an outside audit of the school bus situation.  No parent should be out waiting an hour in the cold for a bus, issues with buses getting up icy hills.

Petty: Busing service has been atrocious, but he supports the vote he took because there was no one else.

Coleman: icy roads are a decision about whether to open schools or not.  What about WRTA?

Sarkodieh: need a serious conversation about this.

Colorio: voucher system where students could take the “regular buses” to school.

Q18: Tax Classification and dual tax rate.  Are you in favor of current system or single rate?

Sarkodieh: in favor of dual system. 

Colorio: not in favor of closing the gap.  We are in a gateway city.  We have a lot of nonprofits, we have to supply a lot of services to nonprofits. 

[Sorry, the answers here have been bad.  The other candidates should thank me for not recording their answers]

Q19: process and metrics for evaluating the current city manager.  How would you rate Augustus?

Coleman falls over himself fawning over Ed Augustus.  He does a great job.  Would continue same way of evaluating CM.  Would increase his team and increase the mayor’s team.

Sarkodieh: CM has done a tremendous job.  Would wish the next CM should be thoroughly evaluated.  He has some big shoes to fill.

Colorio: evaluation in place, if he accomplishes goals then he can be assessed appropriately.

Petty: continues with the Stepford-like worship of Ed Augustus.  Don’t make me type any more.

Coleman: after Ed A decides to retire, when he hire HER we will have a new evaluation system based on her needs.

Q20: regarding the superintendent.  Mayor leads SC as well as CC.  Do you have confidence and would you vote to renew her contract?

Petty: she’s got school system running pretty well.  He did vote to renew her contract.  She’s put “tremendous” programs into place.  Everyone’s not perfect.  “She has a good heart and she’s a good person” – that’s an exact quote

Coleman: knowing her as an educator, administrator, principal, and now super – “She does a great job” – lack of clear communication between her and the students.  Firmly supports her.  He would support her for another two years.

Colorio: she was on the SC that interviewed and hired her.  She believes she has knowledge and leadership skills.  “I am a big fan.”

Sarkodieh: supports her as well.  But should not discount people who complain.  She needs to explain her policies to concerned parents. 

Petty: Communication seems to be an issue.  He loves that Maureen is strongly opinionated.  Needs someone to communicate all the good things that are happening and still address concerns of community of color.

(That’s the last question)

Closing statements; I’ll type sparingly:

Interestingly, Colorio says she will follow the law.  That’s reassuring.

Sarkodieh wants us to focus more on education.  He wants to be the first mayor with an accent.

Coleman wants people to get out the vote.  You should take an absentee ballot if you live across the street from a polling place but your actual polling place is 4-5 blocks away.  You should just vote for him.

Petty wants you to embrace change and not stifle it.

School Committee Forum – September 25

Lots of folks still congregated within & without the auditorium so I don’t think we’ll be starting for a few more minutes.

They will take questions from the audience via index cards.

Maria Rivera-Cotto (CENTRO) and Joanne Berry (LWV) will be the moderators. Ground rules: 3 minutes for opening statements; second round: 2 minutes to respond to questions from contributing organizations; third round: 1 minute to respond to questions from the audience.

Opening Statements:

Cara Berg-Powers: because of opportunities she had as a WPS student, she was able to get a full scholarship to Clark, then went on to master’s and doctorate. Has taught at college level for the past 8 years. Things have radically changed in the less than two decades since she was in school. Not enough play-based learning, recess, access to arts/phys ed. Not enough time to eat lunch. Some of the decisions can be made with the best of intentions, but fail because the right people aren’t at the table (parents, students, teachers). 1- Community voices should be brought to table. Subcommitees, site councils. Create opportunities to bring community members to brainstorm and strategize. 21st century learning opportunities, not just technology.

Chantel Bethea: Running because tired of being tired. She and other parents all had same issues. Turnaround was with sex ed curriculum. Mother of four, involved parents. Has volunteered for everything on everything. Her 3 sons are treated differently from their friends. We don’t have welcoming schools. Parent needs to be involved in order to succeed. Need to be a team and work together. Stop talking at each other. Open up and actively listen to one another. Need true transparency, not afraid to talk about hard topics (racism, classism, sexism). The reason you’re uncomfortable is because it’s about you.

Dianna Biancheria: lists statistics. I believe this is a similar speech to the one she gave last time. She emphasizes voke ed. There is a long list: safe schools, welcoming little kids, health educator position. We listened, we supported a diversity officer. You know what she’s going to say. She is now outlining her resume, including her close ties to Ray M.

Laura Clancey: One daughter at Forest Grove, another will be enrolled in a couple of years. Former PTO pres at Nelson Place, serves on DA’s opioid task force, a few other volunteer things. She is a career and education counselor. Advocate for appropriate ed opportunities for students on a daily basis. She will be the voice on the school committee to have difficult conversations. She will work hard to make sure provide good ed while being fiscally responsible.

Jack Foley: has been involved in a lot of community orgs. Committed to providing high quality educational opportunities. Many critical issues: funding (chair of Finance & Operations subcom and has worked on ensuring that schools will be funded. Need to keep pressure on state, even if it means legal action); look carefully at data and address trends; need SC and super that embraces transparency and engages in strategic conversations (much approval from the attendees). Cannot having bidding process about transpo – bidding process favored current vendor and there was no serious consideration of anything else (GO JACK OH MY WORD HE IS ON FIRE)

Jermoh Kamara: Came to US when she was 11. Education system for people who do not look like her; struggled through ed system and succeeded through perseverance. She has lived around the world. She is a lover of education and people – doing good things in this world starting with Worcester. Low-English-proficiency families have limited opportunities in the WPS. She believes very strongly in sex ed.

Mariah Martinez: Yes, she is old enough to run. Education lacks real-world situations. Need to know about credit scores. Class never learned about current events. 13-hour shift is something many young people are familiar with – they don’t know how to budget and have many bills to pay. Why are students only familiar with learning to be students?

Molly McCullough: Seeking a third term so that she can continue the work she has begun. Her mom was an educator in the system. Educating the whole child. Needs of students are greater than ever. We should follow strategic plan as intended. (I think this is similar to the last intro). Increase AVID program (and plenty of other ideas…) The four Es (sorry, I missed them but I think this was similar to last intro)

John Monfredo: about the best interests of children. Again, this is a similar intro to last time. Education is an anti-poverty tool. You know what he’s going to say. “For the children”, his motto, is what everyone should be for.

Tracy O’Connell Novick: Mother of 3, one graduate and two currently in WPS. Her work focuses on school finance. We deserve better. SC is not doing its job. Health care, equity in student discipline, basic accountability, hiring practices, transpo. Basic governance not being done. Super’s goals rubberstamped at a meeting – super’s eval was not based on anything it needed to be. Not a professional evaluation – it was a popularity contest. Who do you want managing your money? (Tracy as well was on fire; I captured about 1/3 of what she said.)

Brian O’Connell: he’s going to tell you about an article he read. Poor people fail in education. I am not making this up. Key issue is not ethnic or racial; it’s finance and economic opportunity. Take an active role for all children. Yes we can do more (THEN WHY AREN’T YOU, BRIAN!?! YOU’VE BEEN ON THIS DAMN SCHOOL COMMITTEE FOR NEARLY MY WHOLE LIFE!) We put additional funds into the classroom.

John Trobaugh: Father of two WPS kids. Works at UMass Medical School & Memorial System. Has an MFA in arts and is in a doctoral program at NYU. A lot of folks have talked about the things they would do. Think about the people who have been here the longest – they are responsible for where we are now. Every kid needs to be college or career ready. Tech is a great school, but there is a waiting list every year. Real parental engagement – don’t need involvement. Engagement means: when relocation of Doherty happens, engage the communities and parents. Parents are part of decision making process for transpo, comprehensive state ed. Current transportation department needs to be re-evaluated. He loses his place (“Oh boy, I shook myself up there.”)

(7.21 pm – We are never leaving tonight, I fear.)

Q to Foley: how to craft superintendent’s evaluation.

Foley: performance prescribed by state standards. Past few years, goals of super is based on inputs – not about data outcomes and trends. We cannot be afraid of the data. Need to hold SC, district, and super accountable. Transparency and feedback from parents – our discussions are open to the public but not really welcoming to the public. Perhaps need a more formal survey.

Q to McCullough: sex ed. What factors to assess curriculum.

McCullough: Last year’s conversation was heated, not done in the best way possible. Comprehensive, LBGTQ, consent, involve parents and community members. Bring back WISH task force.

Q to McConnell: in 2018, strategic plan. How should SC ensure plan is followed? Who is responsible? How will community be apprised?

O’Connell: if we do not watch plan and carry it out, shame on our committee. Quarterly hearings are crucial. We need to do it. Ideally have forums televised. This is the most BOC non-answer ever. Like he has been talking for 45 seconds saying the same thing.

Q to Novick: what is your idea of successful student and what will it take to get all students there?

Novick: we don’t act as if all students are not able to be successful. That’s the first step. Align resources in ways that this can happen. Worcester is a school district where 59% of students have first language not English. The district isn’t run in that way. When she looks at goals of WPS, attention paid to small minority of students. Not a lot of cultural capital, not a lot of attention, or admin resource/experience applied to students who need it most. Recognize the students that we actually serve.

Q to Berg-Powers: civic ed (Chandler bill) – project-based learning. How to ensure adequate funding and success?

Berg-Powers: excited to have this and piloted it in Boston. Participatory action based projects. Part of what you will see as her style is supporting behind the scenes, sharing resources, hold district accountable. Doesn’t assume that there wouldn’t already be plans, but she brings this to the table. Meet with folks who are currently doing that and share some of what she has done. As far as funding, that is making sure that we continue to fight for the Promise Act. Meet with City Council, who are used to hearing from me already, so that we have resources that we need.

Q to Clancey: data shows early childhood ed is important to equity. Half-day programs make it difficult to most. What proposals to strengthen Worcester’s offerings?

Clancey: could not send her child to pre-k because it was half-day. Full day pre-k. (Sorry, spaced and couldn’t tell if she talked about funding)

Q to Biancheria: how to get diverse voices heard in decision-making?

Biancheria: diversity is very exciting and interesting. At graduation many students were excited. Crowd was also very celebratory. Need to celebrate a bit more in the schools. We have a diversity officer. Have some training taking place for all staff. We have taken our first steps. Many credit to the teachers. They are looking for ways to bring this out. What are we offering every kid in our schools? Careet pathways, that is how you overcome challenges in schools. Another amazing non-answer.

Q to Kamara: action plan for school-to-prison pipeline

Kamara: data pretty self-evident. Disciplining students of minority background…we need more teachers that represent the population. We can do a better job of increasing value for the students. People feel not a lot of effort put into diverse hiring. Under past administration, we evaluated diversity and inclusion in hiring and maintaining staff.

Q to Monfredo: goals for chief diversity officer in the short term.

Monfredo: make every attempt to hire people of color. That’s why we have hired a diversity officer. We also have future teachers academy tied in with Worcester State University. More effort needs to be done. Is this the non-answer of the night? WAIT AND FIND OUT!

Q to Trobaugh : what kind of assessment for teachers about external factors

Trobaugh: teachers have told him about need for more professional development. Chief Diversity Officer should do training but also need to engage school psychologists, clinicians, adjustment counselors. If we are able to provide supports for students, they will be the most successful – then they will be economic drivers later. Investment now will pay off later (not his exact words but the general idea). Trauma based approach to education.

Q to Bethea: how would you work with higher ed assets without impinging on the superintendent’s authority

Bethea: we have every person & community org that can replicate stuff in WPS. Stop looking outside of us. No trust in WPS. We need to bring that back. We need to respect and listen to one another. Put an action behind it. Use ACE to work with different children.

Q to Martinez: poor behavior is often a symptom of trauma. Discipline can add another layer. Trauma-based approach; are there school systems that are leading the way?

Martinez: I hate suspensions. Horrible method of discipline. If you turn backs on kids and do not provide level of support from the start. We need to find models that work (Yes, I believe that’s what they asked you). (What she lacks in knowledge she makes up for in enthusiasm)

7.48 – part three: audience questions.

Q to Bethea: will you listen to educators on how to spend more $$ from the state?

Bethea: I would listen to educators, but I would listen to the students as well. Needs to be put into schools and not into administrators’ pockets. Nurses, transpo, after school programs.

Q for Trobaugh: how to support minority educators get into admin postions?

Trobaugh: he’s trying to do this in his job. You have to build supports. In addition to building supports and finding out what they need to be successful, teacher pipeline. Also need to look at teaching aides/assistants – support them to become teachers as well.

Q for Biancheria: change is needed. What is most important thing you are going to change?

Biancheria: expanding voke education. She is going to answer the question she wishes she had, and mentions AP classes.

Q for Berg-Powers about safe schools and emergency drills? Firearm free zones are invitation to terrorists

Berg-Powers: not wanting to traumatize the drills themselves. Her six-year-old was discussing this with her last night. It is really unlikely. Teachers should not be exposed to more trauma, and can use age-appropriate language to explain things to kids. (Her answer was better than I am expressing here.)

Q for Clancey about institutional racism.

Clancey: implicit bias trainings are eye-opening. Should happen in WPS.

Q for O’Connell: what is stand on standardized exams and discrimination that occurs.

O’Connell: significant problems with MCAS, cultural bias, teachers need to teach to the test, alternative testing isn’t great, don’t measure higher-order skills. He is now on number 9 and I can no longer type. Brian O’Connell is clearly smarter than you are.

Q to Foley: how to meet needs of students in understaffed, underfunded schools?

Foley: you can’t. With trauma, homelessness, are external and come to school with these challenges. Fight for funding we deserve – these dollars need to be spend wisely on support systems, more school counselors, lower class size. Teachers have to teach large classes with different levels.

Q about facilities for Monfredo – accessible and safe for all

Monfredo: he talks to facilities about what needs to be done. We can do things if we know what the problems are.

Q to Kamara about transpo issues (late buses, time without extra pay)

Kamara: look at current bus contractor. Need to re-evaluate. Something we should be looking at – find opportunities for a contractor within the city.

Q for Novick: would you vote on extension of superintendent’s contract?

Novick: super contract is based on evaluations, and that is why I was talking about it earlier. You have to take a step back and have SC evaluate superintendent. My evaluation would have been very different. My vote on contract renewal would also have been very different.

Q for Martinez: further development of social/emotional learning?

Martinez: need better training and push forward in having training implemented.

Q for McCullough: what to do to support additional needs of students?

McCullough gives the answer of the night, which is of course training/professional development.

Q to Kamara: 10% increase of students of color, but teachers only 3% over same period. WHAT ARE YOU GONNA DO?

Kamara: create platform for teachers to apply, instituting career fair for all students. Folks of color are hired but then they leave. Need to focus on hiring and retention.

Q to Foley: given divisiveness in community, how would you bring about healing?

Foley: openness, trust, transparency. Current system has not been following a [good] process. Way bus contract was handled speaks to integrity of the district. Need to be genuine and open to what the issues.

Q to McCullough: how to ensure true accountability of the superintendent?

McCullough: we need to have additional public fora where we have parents who can come talk about policy issues and then we can work with the administration. [Biancheria is currently talking to one of the moderators and it is completely distracting]

Q to Clancey: how to plan to support educators in fight for the living wage?

Clancey: make sure teachers make pay scale that they should. You deserve every penny that you get and you deserve more.

Q for Novick: are there racial inequities in the Worcester Public Schools.

Novick: Yes [beat] – to deny that (and she’s seen that happening in the past few years), we can’t fix things that we don’t acknowledge are an issue. We’re several steps removed, because we haven’t even acknowledged yet.

Q for Martinez: much focus on hot-button issues, not on day-to-day student success. What issue?

Martinez: lack parent/community engagement. We don’t push for it further. You need to seek it now. Don’t wait until you’re just trying to be elected.

Q for Monfredo: do you support sex ed curriculum that includes info about condoms and birth control?

Monfredo: needs to be age-appropriate, and so parents don’t opt out. Expand classes in grades 7/8/9/10.

Q for Biancheria: recently SC voted to renew super contract.

Biancheria: I voted to extend contract because I believe she has commitment I am looking for but commitment in community & schools. Not easy to be a leader. She supports our teachers. She works well with mayor and city manager. When we look to our future, we want people like Maureen Binienda. (Hey, at least she’s comfortable with her decision…I guess!)

Q about district seats?

Trobaugh: district and citywide. Districts..then the schools in the district become the only one that the SC member worries about. Mixed method (like CC) might not be a bad idea. It’s very tough to run as a challenger with at-large. (Not his words, but essentially his idea)

Q about homeless students

Berg-Powers: I teach sociology of ed at Worcester State. Number of things to support students: housing stability (can students start and end of year in same classroom), out of classroom supports so it’s not on teacher.

Q about systematic racism and training.

Bethea: if elected, she would find for it. At the end of the day, we have to break the wheel that has been spinning. We’re not going to get anything done by saying this is what we are going to do – needs action. You need someone who has been fighting for 39 years.

Q – how to encourage students to be involved in arts and music?

O’Connell: arts and music are not frills. Groups like Worcester Historical Museum, Preservation Worcester…kids need to be involved from a young age.

Final round – closing statements – I will only type what is interesting as I am tired!

Trobaugh: evidence-based parental engagement program. Lack of effective parental engagement. This is his highest priority.

O’Connell is selling himself as a collegial, forward-thinking School Committee member. I got nothing, kids. He’s still smarter than you.

Novick: much like federal gov’t, your school committee can be ignored until it doesn’t work anymore. It can be ignored until your kid’s bus is later, until you’re an English Language Learner, until your daughter gets sent home for having a head wrap. Making speeches and putting stuff on agendas doesn’t get stuff done. We need four votes on the school committee.

Martinez: you have 6 votes, you can vote for experience and new ideas.

Kamara: bring 50 people with you to come and vote. Leadership needs to advocate for every child. Programs for all students will not implemented if we don’t change the school committee.

Foley: does it really matter what he says? You know you’re going to vote for him.

Clancey wants to move things in a positive direction. Most of the students we’ve been talking about – she has been doing more with/for them than anyone else in the room.

Biancheria: She is number 5 on the ballot. Keep that in mind.

Bethea: What do I say after all of that? What was is past, what’s new is better. We understand what you did in the beginning, we also know what we can do now. You need to reach back and let others lead. You fight for what you want. Everything is not yours at the end of the day. Our future needs to look like our children now.

Berg-Powers: thanks for listening to us talk at you for the last two hours. When elected, I’ll spend a lot more time listening. Facilitate listening sessions with current social workers, teachers. Sit around a table, not line up in front of a microphone.

Update: Telegram coverage here

Candidate Forum Schedule

Here are all the candidate forums I’m aware of. Let me know if I missed any!

This week:

Livable City Candidates Forum – Monday, September 23 at 6:30pm at the Park View Room (across the street from Elm Park). All at-large city council members were invited. This was my favorite forum from the last election cycle. Sponsored by: Greater Worcester Land Trust, Jane Jacobs in the Woo, Mass Audubon, Preservation Worcester, Tower Hill Botanic Garden, Walk Bike Worcester, Worcester Common Ground, Worcester Urban Planning Partnership and Yes for a Better Worcester – hosted by the incomparable John Anderson. Unfortunately, I will not be able to attend this forum. If you can attend, I’ve appreciate your taking notes & sending them to me to post…leave a comment below.

Worcester School Committee Forum: Putting All Children First – Wednesday, September 25 at 6:30 pm in the Worcester State University Sullivan Auditorium. Sponsored by League of Women Voters of the Worcester Area (LWVWA), The Massachusetts Women of Color Coalition (MAWOCC), the Worcester Education Collaborative (WEC), YWCA, CENTRO, Worcester State University, and Worcester Youth Center.

Next month:

School Committee Forum – Wednesday, October 23 at 6:00pm at the Worcester Youth Center.  Sponsored by Worcester NAACP.

The Worcester Telegram & Gazette, Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce, and The Research Bureau, in partnership with Mechanics Hall, are hosting a series of municipal debates to hear from the candidates seeking public office in Worcester. Each debate will be held at 7:00pm at Mechanics Hall. The debates are all free and open to the public.

The debate schedule is:
• Thursday, October 3 – Candidates for Mayor
• Tuesday, October 22 – Candidates School Committee
• Thursday, October 24 – Candidates for District 5 Council this will be at Worcester State, Foster Room, Student Center, 3rd Floor, Building #12
• Monday, October 28 – Candidates for Council at Large

City Council Candidate Forum – Wednesday, October 30th 6:30 pm in the Worcester State University Sullivan Auditorium. Sponsored by League of Women Voters of the Worcester Area (LWVWA), The Massachusetts Women of Color Coalition (MAWOCC), the Worcester Education Collaborative (WEC), YWCA, CENTRO, Worcester State University, and Worcester Youth Center.

Candidates Night – Monday, October 21 from 7-9 pm, Talk of the Commonwealth at Redemption Rock Brewing, 333 Shrewsbury Street.

City Council Candidate Forum – Wednesday, October 23, 6:30-9:00 pm at Worcester State University – Blue Lounge in the Student Center. Shades by Worcester Pride in partnership with the Diversity and Inclusion Office of Worcester State University, YWCA, Worcester chapter of the NAACP, and Worcester Pride is hosting a City Council Candidate Forum. The City Council Candidate forum is developed to educate voters on issues centering and affecting Worcester’s LGBTQIA+ and Queer/Trans* People of Color (QTPOC) communities.

School Committee Candidate Forum – with cookies!

I’ll liveblog the SC candidate forum for as long as my battery holds out!  Also, they have COOKIES!!!

At least 50 people in attendance as of 6:00pm.

Advisory Committee on the Status of Women – greeted by the co-chair of the committee, thanks to the other sponsors (I’ll try to scan the handout when I get home)

(Lots more people now — nice turnout)

Opening statements – I will only type items of interest

Dianna Biancheria: city depends on school committee members.  public schools are most important public resource.  She will ensure accountability, parents and students demand safe learning and teaching environment.  She lists her many qualifications.

Mariah Martinez: recently a lack of unity within the community.  school committee and community has a disconnect.  Parents, students, teachers need to be heard.  She is a recent product of the WPS.  Two top priorities: real-world curriculum (financial literacy, world civics, sex ed); improve communication between SC and the community.  Everyone needs to be heard.

Molly McCullough: very involved in the community, looking for her third term.  Her mother was an educator in the WPS.  Needs of students are greater than ever.  Need to follow strategic plan as intended.  It is our roadmap and can achieve many wonderful things through it.  Enhance acad and voke offerings, increase diversity in staff, alternatives to suspensions, increase tech curriculum, etc.

John Trobaugh: has two boys in the WPS and is a dad who cares.  All of our children deserve right to fair and equitable education.  Dissatisfaction with SC and how it works with each other and the community.  He has an MFA – product of public schools, became an EMT in high school, now works at UMMS in the office of diversity and inclusion.  SC could use someone who can see things through the lens of diversity.  Students need to be prepared for everyday jobs as well as for college.

Hermorne McConner: retired schoolteacher.  She is no longer proud to say she is a retired Worcester schoolteacher.  Hoping to make a change in special ed and cultural climate.  She understands how students develop.  First priority: special ed and getting students what they need in timely fashion.  Second: team with administrators, teachers, family for student success.

Jermoh Kamara: one person but represents all students in the WPS.  She came here from Liberia at age 11.  Her education has not been great – was kicked out of program, never called on by teacher, bullied as a student.  This could have held her back, but she changed the direction of her educational career.  She runs because it is personal to her.  Hurts that adults stand in the way of students’ potential.  Background in public health.

Laura Clancey: remained in Worcester after growing up here.  WPS parent perspective is missing from the SC.  Communication breakdowns between school system and parents/family.  Nelson Place PTO president for four years.  She has experience as ESL and GED teacher, licensed guidance counselor, currently counselor for DYS.  More vocational funding for students.

Cara Berg-Powers: grew up in Main South, graduated from WPS.  Parent, educator, alum of WPS.  Because of the opportunities she had, went to Clark for free and then got her doctorate.  She does not know if that opportunity would be possible today.  If her daughter is not getting the same opportunities Cara had, how many other kids have this experience?  Parents and educators who have experience should be serving on WPS.  There’s a real disconnect between people’s lived experience and what looks good on paper.

John Monfredo: upon retiring, became SC member.  He was a principal.  You all know what he’s going to say.   Education is a great anti-poverty tool.  Work ethic to get the job done.  Advocate for change.

Brian O’Connell: You probably know what he’s going to say, too.  We’re at a watershed time: stark choice to be adequate or state-of-the-art.  Two issues: equal ed opportunity to every student; strategic plan.  Work aggressively to bring diversity to the school system.  (You all know what I’m going to say, too, I think.)

Jack Foley: His engagement with WPS began when his three children attended schools.  Issues/priorities: funding (led educational and advocacy efforts for proper state funding; need to keep the pressure on even if it means legal action); data and trends need to be used to allocate budget dollars; SC that engages in strategic discussions and transparency (no inappropriate private discussions, bad bidding practices).

Tracy O’Connell Novick: certified MA school business manager as well as parent of 2 current & 1 graduate of WPS.  She knows what works, sees what works in other places…and then sees what happens in Worcester.  not about equality – it’s about equity.  Evaluate super, set goals that are spoken about at every meeting, pay attention to students (majority of whom are not English lang speakers).  Two issues: you’re not talking to parents and students, and SC is not listening.

Chantel Bethea: respect and listening.  Mother of three current WPS students.  (I will not be able to transcribe the experience of listening to her.)  She is tired because transparency does not happen in the city of Worcester.  Sex ed is why she is running.  Current SC needs to educate and then step back.  Cannot be as effective as you started twenty years ago.  Black mother that knows how to budget, rob Peter to pay Paul.  Accountability, responsibility, transparency.

Question 1: Do you believe WPS curriculum is inclusive of all women’s history?  If not, what will you do?

Chantel B: Advocate for change at state level.  More women than Shirley Chisholm and Harriet Tubman.  Give teachers room to be creative.  Parents are the first educators, teachers are the second.

Tracy: State adopted new history guidelines last June; has not seen any district-level work on this.  At the state, they are emphasizing local leadership and primary sources.  The standards include more native, Latino, black voices – that has happened at the state level, yet to see it in Worcester.

Jack: additional funding from state could have women’s/gender students at HS.  Believer in storytelling.  Incorporate legends of local pioneers (Lucy Stone, Abby Kelley Foster, etc.) who led the women’s rights movement.

Brian: models of some other states are ahead of us.  Still have option to have our own local focus.

Question 2: WPS currently lacks sex ed curriculum.  What are your plans for sex ed that is LGBTQIA inclusive?

John M: issue that needs to be addressed.  Problem with sexually transmitted diseases.  Once they hear from the state, we can move forward.  This year health educators will continue to get training.  Grades 7-8 need expanding.  10 week course for grade 9-10.

Cara: As a parent, core issue as a parent and as a childhood survivor of sexual assault.  Endorsed by Planned Parenthood because of support for comprehensive sex ed.  Curriculum proposed in spring was dangerously inadequate.  If she had had that when she was 10, she would not have told her mother about her assault.

Laura: Need curriculum that represents diverse population.  Choose curriculum that helps students – we are working from frameworks from 1999.  We need to sit together openly as a community to find curriculum that works best for students of Worcester.

Jermoh: Even folks that oppose curriculum want it.  She will use her expertise to select curriculum that is based on best practices.  CDC already has a tool to help – National Health standards, National Health Sexuality Ed standards.

Q3: What will you do to help students identified as special needs, specifically those with behavioral issues?

Hermorne: change how we implement special ed services.  Teacher in classroom is important in documenting what she sees, let parent know, finding out what parent sees at home.  When that happens, meet with principal, who then meets with school psych, adjustment counselors, etc.  Informal observation.  SSP is so wrong.

John T: What’s happening is that we are only using part of resources.  School clinicians only at Forest Grove half-time.  Kids with behavioral issues: if kids get support like school psychologists, that makes a difference, not resource officers.

Molly: committed special ed teachers, but need to explore ways to enhance.  To help students with special needs, enhance specialized offerings (autism, reading issues).  Alternatives to suspension – needs to be expanded.

Mariah: teachers need to be properly trained.  Children with behavioral issues are misunderstood, need special curriculum.

Dianna: schools have obligation to educate students, and need to record and review and ensure that they are then able to go out successfully into the world.  Students with disabilities have higher rate of peer harassment.  There will be new programs on board.

Q4: Do you support creation of the diversity and equal opportunity officer position?

Mariah: Worcester has a lot of diversity.  If it is an officer and it works, she supports it.  If it doesn’t work, she doesn’t.

Jermoh: I am confused by her response.  I think she wants it.  Family engagement is important.  Racism has taken many refined forms.  In order to address racism, need to measure it.

Brian: Strongly supports the position.  Needs position added – add $500k to budget for the person to travel (for recruitment?) – will fight for funds for the position.

Molly: use role as chief diversity officer and not just for recruitment and retention.  Need prof development about racism and gender bias for existing staff.  As part of strategic plan, need 25% increase in diverse highers.  Position needs support to do that.

Q5: What would be your argument for whether or not school district should thoroughly review suspension and grad rates using student-sensitive data to accurately measure…

Hermorne: we need to do this, too many suspensions.  Children need to leave when ready — not quitting because they are sitting in classroom waiting for time to come up.  Not everyone is going to be able to go to Voke.

Jack: need to look at data, one of primary goals of SC.  We have not looked at suspension and graduation rates.  Need to do better.

John T: cannot change anything if you don’t track it.  Not just tracking racial and gender, but all measures of groups that may be at a disadvantage.  Concerned groups should also be able to see this.  Chief diversity officer not just HR, but also curriculum and general climate.  Employees are afraid to speak about themselves & their demographics.

Tracy: either we do it or the state does it…and they’re coming.  This exact question was asked in 2017.  Candidates agreed that it was important.  This term, the subcommittee has not met.  Civil rights issue – under purview of SC and the SC is not doing its job.

Q6: Please share your thoughts about ensuring disciplinary action is equitable across race and gender.

Tracy: language access and disability should be added.  Disparities exist and we need to acknowledge it.  State’s data comes from the WPS.  What is our trend line – a lot are going in worrying directions.  $100 million underfunded a year as Mr Foley said, but also prioritization of administration.

Cara: having a diversity and equal opportunity officer will not solve it – we need an office like Boston has.  The community plan they developed is the kind of action we need.  Opportunity needs to be equitable – we need an office.  If we are committed to serving the kids that are in our schools now.

Chantel: inequality is across all our systems.  Need to speak on it when it happens.  Nobody here trusts anybody.  someone in chief diversity officer position should not be hamstrung (my wording).

John M: school comm continues to work on solutions.  Poverty, chronic absenteeism, broken families, all contribute.  He mentions programs that exist and are coming.

Laura: WPS needs a better policy on how discipline actions are documented.  Not consistent across different schools.  Once accurate collection of data, there should be plans in place to make sure equitable across the board.

Q7: What is your opinion of the current SC’s handling of recent controversies in Worcester?

Cara: Many of us impacted by lack of transparency.  Lack of community engagement is what has brought a lot of us to this table.  Real misunderstandings of discipline, best practices and how we apply to kids in schools.  Decisions need to be made with active community participation.

John T: If I thought the SC did their job, I wouldn’t be here.  Transparency is important.  From ed research, you must include community, parents, and have back-and-forth.  You must engage parents about what they want.  You can’t sit from 8-3 and say ‘come see me’

Dianna: When we are talking about recent pieces, we have bridges and gaps.  Number of discussions over last 6-8 months, need to be broader: transparency, review of information, that was what was missing.  Strategic plan should be utilized – this should help us move forward in areas of improvement.

Jack: SC has had a worse year than the Red Sox.  Health ed was not a public discussion – was inappropriate.  Student transportation, we had to fight to get competitive bidding.  Students reporting bias needed to be listened to without being defensive.

Mariah: situation was not handled.  No one was heard in this situation.  There was no solution to the issues that were brought up.

Q8: Do you believe in an inclusive teaching model (or inclusive teaching practices)?  And if so, how would you ensure WPS’s leadership in moving in this direction?

Chantel: I do, as long as teachers have freedom and creativity to implement.  Diversity pool of teachers needs to be diverse.  Need to hire qualified teachers that look like the community.  Principals should welcome parents they don’t understand into their doors.

John M: defines inclusive teaching model.  Teachers don’t teach to homogeneous group but individuals.   Many best practices addressed in professional development offerings.

Tracy: had internship at better-funded school system.  The classroom had 18 students, 3 adults, co-taught inclusive classroom.  So far removed from anything she saw in Worcester…because they had the money.  It’s about wanting, but partly a money thing.

Hermone: it is a money thing, but people have to want to be there.  Children with so many different learning styles.  Support staff for teacher.  Everyone needs to be learning.

Q9: How do you weigh the priority of interest from parents, students, teachers/administrators, and members of the community when those interests do not align?

Laura: most of the time, people’s interests will not align – more people need to listen to various stakeholders.

Molly: our job to educate ourselves on the issue, then speak with parents and community members.  Each member must make decision that they think is best for students.  Voters elect individuals.  There were miscommunication and missteps on the SC side, esp for sex ed.  We need to do better.

Jermoh: Southbridge superintendent said that he can’t do it alone – he needs students and parents to help.  Include student voice because they are in the classrooms all the time.  Families of low income status need to be reached out to.

Brian: responsibility are our students.  Curriculum is adapted for what students really do need.  Career opportunities, structure buildings for what students need, build community support.  Students are our first and final concern.

Closing statements: as you look across candidates, what differentiates you; what are 2-3 strengths that WPS can be proud of?

Chantel: WPS can be proud of being a global community, we are all talented in our own ways.  I’m the black woman that’s angry all the time, I fight for mine and me fighting for my children means I’ll fight for yours.

Tracy: What sets me apart is not that I’m a mom, which is refreshing.  I know what the job is and where the lines are, and what impact those decisions make on kids.  My kids went to WPS and got a good education, but we need to be fighting for everyone’s kids.

Jack: Worcester has many exceptional principals and teachers, but they need our support.  Ensure success for all students and all families.

Brian: he went to Union Hill and still lives in the area.  Knows what we are capable of when we want to work at it.  Knows how to get maximum $ out of what we have.  Quiet progress in terms of curriculum.  Community has not given up on the schools.

John M.: SC members are face of the district. Advocate for change when needed.  WORKING ON A PLAN FOR CHRONIC ABSENTEEISM.  A school is a building with four walls and our future inside.

Cara: the people in our schools and our community are our greatest strength.  I am not a huge fan of the question of what differentiates me because she has spent her career building teams.  She brings fresh eyes and a strategic perspective.

Laura: parent and educator with wealth of experience in different school districts.  Knows how the system works – Worcester can be very proud of teachers and staff.

Jermoh: foreign-born US citizen, got to college successfully, has an ngo based in Liberia.  She knows that when students have opportunities they can do so much more.  Wants to help students be the best they can.

Hermorne: tells folks don’t let anyone tear you down.  We can be proud of Voke school.  Several diverse principals.

John T: all decisions will be about what’s best for students.  He’s a dad who cares.  With community engagement, we can accomplish great things.  With diversity & community engagement, that will make schools the best possible.

Molly: will follow through with strategic plan.  Equity, Equality, Efficiency (and I missed the other E…) – Top notch arts programs, our teachers & students.  Voice of community is important.

Mariah: I am diverse: not just my race, but also my age.  Can relate to the children.  WPS should be proud of diversity, of students who stand up for themselves.

Dianna: It’s established that we’re all different.  Has taken care of kids in family who have gone through WPS.  Loves being a SC member.  Using tools we help support – unbelievable experiences for our kids.  Honored to speak at graduations.

(And I think that’s it)

Trash and Recycling Hearing Notes – February 28

Commissioner Moosey of DPW gives overview with Powerpoint.

Comprehensive Clean City Program

Implementation of Clean Team:

High amount of litter, takes attractiveness away from the city

There are no members of this team now; this would be 6 new positions: 2 additional nuisance inspectors, 4 to clean up.  We currently only have 1 nuisance inspector, who mostly handles solid waste issues (early bag leave out, illegal bags, some dumping).

Need for education on recycling.  The person who is collecting trash/recycling would put a sticker on something unacceptable; follow up from nuisance inspector.  Value of recycling commodities has gotten very low.

They will hire a PR firm to assist with the education.  The education campaign will be funded by a DEP grant.  This can be done regardless.  They will see which methods are most effective so that this can be sent to all residents.  Continual new residents who would need to be educated.

Will information be on the new bags?  Yes, but will be more graphic so more universally understood.

Waste Containers in Business Districts

Currently, businesses or groups will put a barrel out, but they will pay themselves for them to be emptied/maintained.  The city will empty and maintain going forward.

Hoping for 2 grants each per council district to assist with neighborhood cleanups.

Expanded Hours and Services on Millbury Street

This would allow for residential disposal of construction and demolition debris.

You can bring your recycling to Millbury Mon-Sat ’til 4pm if you miss your recycling day.

Drop off of yellow bag is a lot more complicated and cannot be done at the moment.

Curbside Textile Collection

Separate bag for textile materials that will be mailed by the vendor.  On trash collection day, the pink bag will be collected at no charge to the city or the resident, and will be recycled.

Litter in the Neighborhoods

(Bob Fiore mostly doing the talking now)

Bungee cord, brown paper bag on top have all been tried.  Two wheeled carts were first thing they looked at, did pilot program in the winter, and it didn’t work well. Carts weren’t placed where they needed to be, was too congested with snow, held up traffic on streets they tried it on.

Discussion of the clear plastic bags, and how AWESOME they are.  Also, the cost of the plastic bags.

Question about smaller clear bags.  Bag breaker will be calibrated to take a certain size bag, so it can’t be a different size.  Corrugated cardboard can go in the clear bag.

Russell asks for report about the $600,000 amount and what represents in pennies to the total cost.

3 clear bags/roll of 10 large or small bags.  For those who need additional clear bags, would be sold in rolls of 10 for 15 cents a piece (subsidized – the cost is 25 cents, I think).

If the recycling has flown out of the bin BEFORE the truck comes by, Casella are not obligated to collect it

Cost of Recycling

perception of the public is that recycling is free and that it’s always been free — neither is the case.

Value of recycling products has decreased dramatically from the past — the cost of processing (not collecting) used to be made back by the value of recycling.  In the current year, we are now $300,000 behind.

Bags would get us to co-collection quicker, but unclear if that is on the table.

Questions about other towns — the clear bag trial was a copy of Boston’s program.

(Discussion of how the rolling bins would be impossible.  I’ve seen these in other cities, including Cork, Ireland, so I’m not sure why Worcester can’t have nice things.)

They still buy 3,000 bins a year.

Questions from Councilor Wally

Educational component should have video – easily shared, can be seen what can/can’t be recycled.

Business districts – could we continue to look at having private contractors remove so that they don’t lose that business?

Allow for yellow trash bags to be dropped off at Millbury St or Foley Stadium.

He talks about the balance of trash and recycling bags.  Could people buy a-la-carte, but at actual cost of the bag?

Moosey responds: the equation doesn’t work for everyone.

Questions from Councilor Mero-Carlson:

Continuing questions about number of bags.  (This is utterly boring, I can’t type any more about this.)

Some of businesses that sell bags – if someone comes in and pays with charge card, upcharge to business.  Asking businesses to take trash bags and take a cut on it.  Is there a way to be helpful to the businesses?  (Answer: not really, if we charge more, it’s passed on to the consumer.)

What other cities use the clear bag program?  There is none local to here, but will get a list of them from around the nation.

Any idea what the grants for neighborhoods would look like?

Did we send the clear bags out to bid?  Who did we send them out to?

Comments from the public

Arthur Mooradian – business district trash containers.  Have been picking these up about 5 years. One problem they have is that people do not like to pay for trash removal.  Residents wait for it to be cleared out.  Russell recommends that people call DPW when they see this happening.  Education is a major component in solving the litter problem.  Could there be a waiver program for people who can’t afford trash pickup?  Making an appointment for Millbury Street is problematic for some as well.

(didn’t get the name) – education is going to be a priority.  As a firefighter, saw people who didn’t know how to dispose of trash.  No problem with his recycling bin.  Doesn’t think this is something that should be curtailed.  Contamination…what happens to it?  Sticker placed, but will it stay out there?  Can’t Millbury Street be open without an appointment?

(sorry, not a lot of notes as I was in line to speak)

 

Recycling Thoughts

Best beloveds,
Mike had asked me to contribute a few words to the forthcoming Happiness Pony about the city’s proposed/updated recycling program.   What I ultimately compiled below is more than would fit into the normal HP article, and probably less polished than what I would usually write on the blog.  But since you haven’t heard from me in a while, I figured I’d share it with you.
-Nicole
1 – History/source of the problem
It’s easy to forget that when Worcester rolled out the pay-as-you-throw (PAYT) program in 1993, it was relatively revolutionary.  We were certainly one of the largest communities in Massachusetts — if not New England and the country — that created an incentive to recycle by charging for trash pickup.  By all measures, the program has been very successful.  But it also hasn’t had any radical changes in the past 25 years.  Sure, the price of the yellow trash bag has gone up twice, the size of the recycling container has been increased (from 14 to 18 gallons), and we went to a single stream (no sort) recycling system in 2008.  But we haven’t moved beyond paying for trash removal and the basic recycling.
The city is now proposing that residents will purchase yellow trash bags (at a higher cost).  With the yellow plastic bags will come clear drawstring bags, which will be used for recycling (rather than the existing bins).  With this, the city is trying to address two issues: (1) the high rate of non-recyclable material in bins (which they estimate at 15% and say the “industry standard” is 0.5%) and (2) the quantity of recyclables that are blown into the street with open-topped bins.
Regarding the “contamination” of recyclables, the goal of 0.5% appears to be related to a Chinese requirement for inbound loads of recyclables.  Compared to other communities, Worcester’s contamination rate of 15% is actually pretty good.  The city of Lynn, MA, has a contamination rate of 25%, which is the national average, according to Waste Management.  So Worcester is better than the average.
The city administration says that clear bags will be an easy way to evaluate the recycling for contaminants, and that there would be an education campaign for those who don’t comply.  In fact, they were so enamored of the idea that they held a pilot program for the clear recycling bags.  According to them, “contamination in the clear bag, especially food waste, was a serious problem”, and in many cases it took repeated trips to a residence in order to achieve compliance.  I’m concerned that the (frankly unachievable) 0.5% contamination rate will be held over residents’ heads — when we’re already doing better than the rest of the nation when it comes to contamination.
From my perspective, the so-called single stream recycling has been the main contributor of recycling blowing into the street, and it appears that the city administration agrees.  But rather than go back to the old method (which was two-stream: bottles/cans/plastic on the bottom of a bin topped with a paper bag full of paper products to weigh down the potential flyaways), the city has decided that since people don’t get as much junk mail any more, they’ll continue with single-stream in clear plastic bags.  This doesn’t really make sense: we had a system that was working well, changed it, and are willing to go down other paths (that a pilot clearly proved wouldn’t work) rather than go back to a tried-and-true method.
2 – The point of a recycling program
It’s worth taking a step back and ask what the POINT of a recycling program is.  Very simply, it’s to reduce as much volume from the solid waste stream as possible, both to reduce the city’s overall tipping fee (cost to have our trash brought to Wheelabrator in Millbury) as well as to have a kinder impact on the environment.
The City of Worcester is as close to maximum rate of recycling as we can be.  Roughly 40% of the total picked up every week on the curb is recycling.  The city’s pilot program with clear plastic bags only increased recycling rates by 2-3%.  We cannot expect any great increases in recycling rates.
3 – Reduction of solid waste stream
So that leaves us with other ways to reduce the solid waste stream.
I very much like DPW’s proposal for the textile recycling program (for cloth items that cannot otherwise be used, and which the city estimates make up 8% of our solid waste stream), which hearkens back to the rag man of my father’s youth.  The trick of this program would be how frequently items would be picked up: someone might not want to hang onto a pair of jeans with a busted zipper for 3 months, but might do for a month.
There’s another good proposal, but one which doesn’t go far enough: expansion of hours for bulk item drop-off at the DPW facility at Millbury Street (to 7pm on Wednesdays and increased Sunday hours) as well as a reduction in the bulk fee to $5 for any item.  The prevention of illegal dumping is near to my heart, but this does not go far enough.
For starters:
1 – Bulk item drop-off should be year-round.  Currently Millbury Street drop-off closes in early November and doesn’t open until April.  Just as you don’t want to look at your old broken pair of jeans for months, you don’t want to have to hang onto a mattress with springs sticking out or dead TV for the winter months.  The waiting can encourage even the most civic-minded to consider illegal dumping or otherwise questionable trash practices.
2 – Yard waste drop-off should be allowed with Christmas tree drop-off.  There are certain streets that get placed too late on the calendar to be taken care of before the first snow, and last-minute oak leaves that don’t fall ’til late December.  Would it be more work to allow these drop-offs with Christmas trees?
3 – It would be nice to be able to pilot a program where one day a week (or every other week) drop-offs could be made without appointments.
4 – Compost
It has frustrated me that Worcester has gone from a city that innovated with recycling programs to one that is desperately trying to keep up with waste trends.  One area we are woefully behind in is compost.
The largest source of unnecessary waste in our stream is food scraps that could otherwise be composted.  I was incredibly disappointed — but not surprised — that the word “compost” was not mentioned once in the 19 page DPW report.
All of us produce food waste that does not need to go in yellow trash bags, then to Wheelabrator to be burned.
Many residences in this city don’t have land that can accommodate the space a bin takes and which can use the product it produces.  Other cities with similar situations are rolling out curbside compost programs.  To some in the city, large-scale compost sites, like the one that had been at Hope Cemetery, are associated with not-too-pleasant smells.  However, companies, including our very own city trash vendor, Casella, have created indoor compost facilities where compost is generated with minimal impact to neighbors.
Could Worcester roll out a pilot curbside compost program with as much enthusiasm as it put into putting recycling in clear plastic bags?  I think so.  Could the city have our own indoor compost venue that would complement the city’s existing program to provide compost to residents?  Probably.  Could we make compost a part of community garden programs, so that residents could leave food scraps in compost bins, which would in turn feed the garden with fresh soil?  Most definitely.
But all of this would require bins, which seem to be the latest DPW bugbear.
5 – Bins vs Clear Plastic Bags
There has been a petition circulating to encourage DPW to not use clear plastic bags for recycling.  If recycling blowing in the wind is a big concern, then the better solution would be a large, covered, wheeled 64-gallon cart for recycling.
The city administration evaluated large wheeled carts in a pilot program, but ultimately rejected them due to the risk of contamination, the difficulty in using them in densely populated neighborhoods with multi-family residences, the increase in recycling collection time, and the ultimate cost if it were a citywide solution.
The clear plastic bags are a dumb idea, but not any more dumb than any other dumb idea that’s come out of city hall in the last couple of decades.  They won’t decrease contamination, they won’t reduce waste, and they won’t increase recycling rates.  They may improve the city’s appearance — but that could be done with a move back to double-sort recycling.
I don’t want to diminish the concerns of those who don’t like the idea of clear plastic bags, especially as our leaders (and surrounding communities) look at banning plastic bags from retail outlets.  But we can, and should, think bigger and demand more.
The City of Worcester would do well to look at innovative solutions to reducing solid waste.
DPW and the city administration should also look to advocating for solutions at the statewide level.  Our previous DPW commissioner, upon retirement, decided to take lobbying money and fight against an expanded bottle bill.  We see the consequences of that all over our city in the form of plastic nip bottles and water bottles.  They don’t come out of people’s recycling bins — they come from those who think nothing of chucking them by the side of the road.  Many towns in the Commonwealth would like to see a deposit on these bottles — Worcester should join with them.
So many of our neighboring towns have moved to a pay as you throw model, decades after Worcester led the way.  If we moved towards curbside compost, and had a compost facility — commercial or otherwise — in Worcester, other communities might be willing to join and add to our efforts.
With the instability of the recycling market, we would do well to figure out other ways to reduce our solid waste.  Curbside textile recycling is a good start.  Compost would be even better.