Friday, July 27, 2007

Once Again, the Double Standard

The crackerjack investigative staff of the Milton Times has rocked the summertime calm of the 7th best place to live in America! “School Clerical Staff Win Large Raises.” Imagine our good fortune that this story did not break before Money Magazine identified Milton one of the top 10 of 3000 similar communities. How would they have reacted to news concerning the “honesty and accountability”, as the Milton Times editorial described it, of the Milton School Department? Would we have lost the top Massachusetts position to Chelmsford?

Sarcasm off.

Alright. So what’s the story? Five clerical staffers in the school department were given raises for FY 2008 ranging from 8-16%. These are sizeable increases. And they are occurring at a time when personnel are being cut in the school department because salary increases in the school department were not funded by the Town Meeting. This somehow raises issues of honesty and accountability in the eyes of the Times, and of fiscal responsibility according to some others.

Let’s look at the numbers. The FY 2008 raises for these five employees total $24,868. Had they been the standard 3%, they would have been around $17,872 less --this amount out of a school budget of over $30 million, with the average cost of single teacher running around $50,000. Is this fiscal irresponsibility? Lack of honesty? Does it really contribute to the pain being inflicted upon Milton school children by a wholly inadequate budget coming out of Town Meeting? Of course it doesn’t. Descriptive terms like those used by the Times and others lose all meaning when they are applied in such an inappropriate way.

In the real world of government and private industry increases in compensation beyond the standard occur all the time. When a Police patrolman becomes a Sergeant, or a Sergeant becomes a Lieutenant, the pay jumps more than the standard 3%. When a school teacher becomes an Assistant Principal the same thing occurs. Whenever the responsibilities of an employee in the private sector change significantly, whether accompanied by a title change or not, raises above the standard are expected. These changes occur in good times, and they occur in bad times when layoffs are necessary. They occur because smart management knows that keeping employees properly compensated and motivated is crucial at all times.

It should not be surprising to anyone that the Milton Times is beating the drum on this story. Their long history of antagonism toward the School department begins at the top and manifests itself in a double standard with respect to “news” which has been seen over and over again. Do you really believe the Times is only interested in the issue of large raises during times of very tight budgets?

The Warrant for the 2007 Town Meeting contained the following statement in the report of the Warrant Committee.

“For the 28 DPW employees who are members of the Milton Public Employees Association, the aggregate cost of salary increases from FY2007 to FY2008 is $128,137, a 10.92% increase. The Town does not have sufficient revenue to sustain increases of these magnitudes year after year.”

Not a single member of the public, and not a single Town Meeting member rose at Town Meeting to question or oppose this action. Money to pay these increases was approved. Neither before nor after the Town Meeting did the Milton Times raise this as an issue of accountability, or, indeed, at all.

Along with the front page article the Times ran an editorial about this story. Apparently it is growing sensitive to charges of unfairness in its coverage of the schools. It claimed a responsibility to disclose information it had discovered. The Times has been receiving leaks of information for many years. Why do these leaks place more of an obligation on the paper to report about something than the facts laid out plainly in something like the Town Warrant, on exactly the same issue? And why does it seem to get such leaks about the School Department only?

The fiscal problems we face as a town are far more complex than the simplistic, agenda driven output of the Milton Times. No one should expect that enterprise to expend the effort to understand and communicate the larger questions. What we can expect of citizens, and especially of Town Meeting members, is a resistance to the emotional responses which sensationalized reporting can engender.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Milton Firefighter Tony Pickens

Public announcement made during a concert at the Milton Town Green the evening of July 3, 2007:

Good evening. I’m Jeff Stone. Most of you have signed a large get-well card that Gail Marie Dwyer has been circulating around. Thank you for signing it. I’d like to make a short announcement about something that is important to the community.

Milton Firefighter Tony Pickens was struck by a car this week and he was severely injured. He is currently fighting for his life at a Boston hospital and he has a long road to go to recovery.

Tony was helping at a minor accident outside the Atherton St. Fire Station when he was hit. His fellow firefighters administered first aid immediately and probably saved his life.
Our first responders – fire, police, EMT’s – are priceless and precious to the community. This is a reminder of how they put their lives in danger to help others. Please, let’s keep Tony Pickens in our prayers and thoughts at this time. Thank you.

If you somehow missed this story:

The most recent press reports list Tony's condition as being slightly upgraded from critical to serious.