All posts by Mike Benedetti

Preview: City Council agenda (March 13)

The Worcester City Council meets Tuesday at 6:30pm. The agenda is here.

This week: Weed, South, conservation, crime.

If you know of anyone else who’d like to get our weekly preview via email, the link is here.

  • Replacing South: The Council will vote on a $194,646,240 plan to build “a replacement South High Community School at 170 Apricot Street, to include the demolition and environmental remediation of the existing school.”
  • Holden Conservation Restriction: The Council will vote to spend $95,000 on a “conservation restriction” on some land near to the reservoir where we get our water. Because of collaboration with other groups, 50 acres of land will end up with conservation restrictions.
  • 2017 Crime Stats: The police chief has a report on last year’s crime stats. Every kind of crime except “disorderly conduct” declined vs. 2016, in some cases more than 30%.
  • Weed As Always: Can the Council limit the number of weed stores to 3 per Council district? The City Solicitor responds, “No.” Potential locations are marked in purple on the map below.
  • Flavored Tobacco: Can the Council restrict the sale of flavored tobacco products, including e-cigarettes? The Health Commissioner says “Yes,” and recommends they be restricted to adult-only sales locations.
  • The Bus: The WRTA Director has a report detailing the ins and outs of proposed service cuts. People continue to organize against these cuts and for increased bus funding.

Preview: This week’s Worcester School Committee meeting

And no, I can’t go and liveblog; I have a meeting myself that night!

The Governance subcommittee meeting is reporting out, including a clarification that, yes, students can use cell phones at after-school events.

There are appointments, resignations, and recognitions.

There is a brief report on the EPIC grant on a pipeline of teachers.

There is a request for a report on Earth Day participation; a request that the Future Teachers program be expanded; for a report on school libraries.

Administration wants the Committee members to get back to them on co-sponsorship of items earlier (by Thursday noon).

There is a request to accept an innovation pathway grant for Worcester Tech; to approve prior fiscal year payments of $6,366.84 for Seven Hills Groton, MA Pediatric Center and of $4,396 for Durridge Radon Implementation; to accept donations of $10,000, on behalf on the Digital Federal Credit Union (DCU), for scholarships to graduating seniors, $25,000, on behalf of the Hanover Insurance Group Foundation, for the Hanover Insurance Academy for the Arts at Burncoat Middle School, $350, on behalf of the Boston Museum of Science, to Woodland Academy for bus funding for the student’s field trip to the museum.

Oh, and Worcester F&O, as we mentioned, is being nationally recognized for being awesome again.

There is an executive session for a worker’s comp case, and for bargaining with administrative secretaries.

Preview: City Council agenda (March 6)

The Worcester City Council meets Tuesday at 6:30pm. The agenda is here.

This week: Weed, dogs, tax breaks, the usual.

If you know of anyone else who’d like to get our weekly preview via email, the link is here.

  • Making Streets Public: The Council will vote to make a bunch of streets near Assumption College public streets. These are Knapp Ave, Myrick Ave, Pelican Ave, Phoebe Way, and Toronita Ave.
  • Removing Tax Breaks for Wage Violations: Councilor Bergman wants to know if the city can “deny or terminate” tax break (TIF) agreements for developments when “employee wage violations are present.”
  • Nationally Legalized Weed: Last week, there were a bunch of items about restricting marijuana retailers in the city, including a proposal from Councilor Mero-Carlson that there could be three weed stores in each Council district. This week, Councilor Lukes wants the Council to vote on whether they want our US Congressman and Senators to remove marijuana as a controlled substance from the U.S. Code.
  • Dog Licensing: In 2010, the city began issuing lifetime dog licenses. Now that dogs are allowed in some city parks, the City Clerk would like to go back to annual licenses and dog tags that are a different color each year, so enforcement officers can easily check which dogs are currently licensed. I don’t understand this item.
  • Stop Making Your Own Driveway: In an item held over from last week, Councilor Rosen wants people to stop making DIY driveways that take away curb parking and encourage people to drive back and forth over the curb.

Preview: City Council agenda (February 27)

The Worcester City Council meets Tuesday at 6:30pm. The agenda is here.

This week: So much stuff.

If you know of anyone else who’d like to get our weekly preview via email, the link is here.

  • Residential Zoning Changes: Councilor Russell would like to change the zoning regs for RL-7 “Limited Residence” zones. Currently, you can build “low-rise multi-family dwellings” and “single-family attached dwellings” with a special permit. Russell’s changes would make that a blanket “no.” You could still have things like a single-family attached dwelling or a group residence.
  • A Giant Heart Behind City Hall: Bill Coleman (who has a giant heart) would like the city to make a mosaic of the city seal on the Common.
  • Fatty Jenkins Basketball Court: Councilor Rivera would like the City Manager to attend an April 5 meeting at the Network Center concerning a plan for the city to take ownership of the basketball court on Piedmont St. This plan has been a long time coming. As I understand it from going to some neighborhood meetings, currently a semi-defunct trust owns the property. The city would like to switch the entrance from Hawley to Piedmont St and do more trash pickup. (The currently Hawley St entrance is the site of lots of police incidents and the occasional drug dealing.)
  • Stop Making Your Own Driveway: Councilor Rosen wants people to stop making DIY driveways that take away curb parking and encourage people to drive back and forth over the curb.
  • Let’s Use the Lincoln Square Tunnel More: Councilor Rosen wants to know if we can reroute Lincoln Square traffic so as to make better use of this tunnel.
  • Let’s Privatize the Bus: Councilor Rosen would like to get a private bus company to provide unsubsidized service to part of the city, so that the WRTA could make better use of its resources in the rest of the city.
  • Cleaning Up Patch Reservoir: Councilor Wally would like the Manager to devise a plan to resolve problems with Patch Reservoir, such as water quality and access. He would also like “the abutting piece of property” moved under control of the Conservation Commission.
  • Encouraging Owner-Occupancy: Councilor Russell would like the Manager to encourage home ownership of the 2- and 3-family homes in our “general residence” RG-5 neighborhoods. He would also like to include facade improvements in this plan, and do particular outreach to the employees of our colleges.
  • Affirmative Action: Councilor Rivera would like the Manager to update our affirmative action policies and hiring to do a better job ensuring equity. (There are no specifics in this item. I am told Councilor King will sign onto this as well.) Activists are planning to rally at the meeting around this item.
  • Flags of Diversity: Councilor Lukes would like us to fly some flags downtown “representing the diversity of the city’s population.”
  • Shutting Down Group Homes: Councilor Lukes would like a report on “any and all public licenses, certifications, notices, etc” that are required of our “group homes, shelters, and sober houses.” This ties in with the years-long quest of the Council to find some way to get Council control over such establishments, which are otherwise protected by state, not local, law.
  • 65 Kenwood Ave: Councilor Mero-Carlson would like an official report of code violations for 65 Kenwood Ave. (It has been some time since complaints about a specific address surfaced at a Council meeting.)
  • Hats and Gloves for the Homeless: Councilor Bergman would like the city to buy “hats and gloves” for the homeless next winter. (I am not sure what prompted this item; there are of course considerable efforts among the public to take care of this need each winter.)
  • Holden Stop Pollutin Indian Lake: Councilor Rose would like the city’s lawyer to figure out if we can stop “fertilizer and nutrient run off that is entering Indian Lake from the Town of Holden.”
  • Street Changes: The Council will likely approve a request by Nick Smith to remove the tiny Warmland St, a private street in Quinsig Village, from the official map.
  • Zoning Changes: The Council will likely approve zoning changes that would see part of 408 Pleasant St and an adjacent part of Winslow St rezoned from residential to commercial and added to the Commercial Corridor Overlay District. These are at Ed Hyder’s Market. The Council will likely approve cleaning up the zoning of 127 Cambridge St to make it all “Business Limited.” The Council will likely approve rezoning all the parcels at 7 Brookfield St to make it uniformly “General Residence.”
  • Marijuana Zoning: The City Manager would like to keep marijuana establishments out of residential areas and away from schools. They could be allowed in business or manufacturing areas in a permit. The T&G has much more.
  • Can There Be Private Marijuana Clubs?: The Council approved last week, though it was not previously on the agenda, a request from Councilor Lukes for details on the legal status of private marijuana clubs in Worcester. As it happens, today the state Cannabis Control Commission touched on social clubs for weed, however they didn’t do anything so these remain legal.
  • Boards and Commissions: The Council will vote whether to appoint Lindsey Silva to the Commission on Disabilities, and Madison Friend to the Advisory Committee on the Status of Women.
  • More Boards and Commissions: The city has responded to several questions from Councilor Lukes on making changes to our boards and commissions. Can city employees be on boards and commissions? No, but this is a matter of policy and management, it is not prohibited by law. Can someone be on multiple boards? No, but this is a matter of policy, not law. The current City Manager says he wants to stick with the current policies. What would it take to change the lengths of City Council terms and the times of Council elections? Full-blown Charter Change, that’s what.

Preview: City Council agenda (February 13)

The Worcester City Council meets Tuesday at 6:30pm. The agenda is here.

This week: Opiods, homelessness, human trafficking.

If you know of anyone else who’d like to get our weekly preview via email, the link is here.

  • Opiods and Human Trafficking: There are a couple items on the agenda asking the Manager to step up existing efforts on fighting opiod abuse. And there are a couple items asking that the city align itself with existing efforts to fight human trafficking, such as draft legislation from the Central Mass Freedom Coalition, and to also give certain city employees some education on the issue.
  • Newton Hill Wall: Councilor Wally requests a report on the stone walls around Newton Hill.
  • Boards and Commissions: As part of her effort to deal with the lack of applicants for certain boards, Councilor Lukes would like the Manager to allow people to serve on multiple boards and commissions, within reason.
  • Encouraging Redevelopment: Councilor Russell requests that the city expedite hearings for small developments, whether for housing or for small businesses.
  • Homelessness: The Manager proposes a series of hearings this spring and summer about what we need to do to address homelessness in Worcester, with an emphasis on the “housing first” model. He notes that we have around 60 chronically homeless people known to the city, and that “chronic homelessness increased 46% from 2016-2017, and unsheltered or street homelessness increased 97%.”
  • Public and Private Streets: The Council will vote to “abandon and discontinue its use of a portion of Chino Ave and Boylston St” as there’s a building that encroaches a tiny bit on those streets.

Worcester School Committee meetings this week

Two subcommittees and a full committee meeting!
It’s not actually clear from the online postings what is going to be discussed at the subcommittee meetings; it’s just everything that has been sent to that subcommittee. That’s not best practice on agenda postings; here’s my guess from what has backups.

Monday, there’s a Finance and Operations subcommittee meeting (5pm). It looks like a lot of the items are facilities repair related (most without a backup); you can see the list of big projects done in cooperation with MSBA (costing more than $60M total since 2012)  here. In other words, the answer to “why haven’t we used bonds?” is “we have.”
Because cell phones are always with us, there is a report on that.
The one to watch, of course, is the quarterly budget update. It’s in much better shape for second quarter (free cash transfer) with a projected ending balance of -$177, 761…still negative, but better. The report is here.
Note that legal was cut by $30,000 and now is over that amount. Workers compensation continues to be over the budgeted amount (remember when there are proposed cuts during deliberations). Special education tuition is eight new students since June (and I don’t understand the last sentence in that paragraph…meaning it was more like $700K?). Translation–in two accounts–has been flagged as underfunded in the past, as well.
The good news on utilities is that the solar panels are working; the bad news is that Nelson Place is getting fewer solar panels than planned? Also, crossing guards are not an account in which one wants to see a balance! There are some account transfers on this one.

Tuesday, Teaching, Learning, and Student Supports meets at 5. There’s a response to an (old; my name is on it) item on reviewing what instruction there is on coding, for which the response is this:

There’s an item on wrestling teams and one on the reading curriculum
The amendment to the Worcester East Middle innovation school plan has no academic or instructional backup, no support from teams at the school or anything else; it just reports enrollment. As I think of all of the work that went into the innovation plan, this is pretty appalling. 
The one item that may be of most interest is the upcoming school calendars
On Thursday’s full meeting, the report of the superintendent is her goals for the year. They are: 
  • completing the new superintendents’ induction program
  • providing high quality learning opportunities and resources to all students: the benchmarks are around AP, linking to Khan Academy (!), and then by subject area
  • developing a district technology plan…perhaps they could start with the one from five years ago. This includes “scaling computer science,” redoing the website by 2018, and providing “equitable access to mobile technology.”
  • providing effective professional development with a list of professional development plans
  • continuing to analyze district data: with measurements having to do with dual enrollment, tiered support, gifted instruction, 
  • developing a positive school climate: with references to some initiatives
As a response to the frequent “advertise, advertise” itme, the district apparently is being rebranded; beware of reports having no dollar figure attached.
There’s a list of the schools that have students from Puerto Rico.
Relatedly, the $5000 came through, and Worcester is using it on a “homeless liaison.”
There is a request that the School Committee accept: 

  • $450 to the Art Department at Doherty Memorial High School in memory of Jeffrey Gustafson.
  • $300 to the Special Education Department at Grafton Street School in memory of Elisha Inferrera.
There are requests for the following:
  • Request that the Superintendent create an updated Health and Wellness Curriculum for middle and high school students. (Petty, joined by all of the committee; held from the last meeting)
  • Request that the Administration provide a report on the accountability changes made by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. (Monfredo)
  • Request that the Administration provide a progress report on the Hanover Academy at Burncoat Middle School. (McCullough)
  • To consider joining forces with the Brockton Public Schools as a plaintiff in its School Funding Lawsuit. (Comparetto)
  • Request that the Administration provide a report on changes in principal leadership and its plans to hire new principals.(Comparetto)
  • Request that the Administration provide a report on its efforts to attract a diverse pool of teachers and administrators in the Worcester Public Schools. (Comparetto)
  •  To consider a review of a publication entitled Teaching Hard History: American Slavery from the Southern Poverty Law Center.(Comparetto)
  • To support Senate Bill No. S249-An Act to involve youth in civic engagement, a new bill filed on Beacon Hill by State Senator Harriette Chandler. (Monfredo)
  • Request that the Administration provide an update on the ways in which education is provided to staff and students, in light of the opioid crisis, as a result of the passage of the recently enacted Marijuana Law. (Biancheria)

There is a 6 pm executive session for three workers’ comp cases and a grievance.

Preview: City Council agenda (February 6)

The Worcester City Council meets Tuesday at 6:30pm. [The agenda is here](

This week: The usual important but routine stuff, and maybe 1 important but non-routine item to write up for this preview.

If you know of anyone else who’d like to get our weekly preview via email, [the link is here](

  • Boards and Commissions: Anthony Pignataro has been appointed a Constable.

Preview: City Council agenda (January 30)

The Worcester City Council meets Tuesday at 6:30pm. The agenda is here.

This week: Such a tiny agenda.

If you know of anyone else who’d like to get our weekly preview via email, the link is here.

  • Automatic Council Pay Raises: Currently, the Council gets automatic pay raises based on increases in the cost of living. Councilor Lukes would like the Council to have to debate and vote on each pay raise. Note that this is like .004% of the city’s budget. (Though most of the budget is not discretionary, so this is a larger chunk framed that way.) If you assume being a Councilor is a full-time job and discussion on such matters should be proportional to budgetary impact, each Councilor should spend 4.8 minutes a year on this issue.
  • Flavored Tobacco Crackdown: Councilor Toomey would like a report from the city’s lawyers on what the Council can do to ban flavored tobacco.

Worcester School Committee meets Thursday

Yes, I’m sorry, I missed the first one of the year…too much to keep track of this January! 

I’m flagging this one in particular because it’s FIRST LOOK AT THE FY19 BUDGET!
That’s the report of the superintendent this week. The quick glance I gave Worcester’s numbers earlier this week had the foundation budget up by $3.7M; to that, add some from the $15M intended as a grant for the students evacuated from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands…I’m guessing another $2.4M or so?
That won’t, of course, be enough, as it doesn’t even cover real inflationary costs.

There are some appointments and congratulations.

The administration is reporting on the $5000 received under McKinney-Vento for homeless students, rather, reporting that it did receive it. I wonder what it will be used for?

There’s also a report on the process of making referrals to DCF.

There are two donations:
$250 from Walmart to Woodland Academy
$286.80 from Box Tops for Education to Tatnuck Magnet School
…as well as a $20,000 grant from UNUM for the “Strong Schools” grant to purchase books and curriculum…that report is very vague….

Miss McCullough is asking for a report on indoor recess policy.

And BOTH Miss McCullough and Mr. Foley are asking what the difference between an excused and an unexcused absence is (I have no idea). Miss McCullough also calls out the scary letter they send if your child gets a certain number of absences (I’ve gotten it; it’s frightening).

The annual audit is coming (it’s not here; it’ll be referred to F&O).
And the annual handbook review is coming (it’ll be referred to Governance).

The administration is looking to amend the innovation plan of Worcester East Middle to drop the sixth grade to have a new “Citywide Health and Science Gifted Academy” starting next year.

At the request of Miss Biancheria, the administration is reporting out on the use of the returned health insurance funds; the recommendation looks like this:

There is approval of the allocation farther down the agenda.

Miss Biancheria is asking if students could do community service at the senior center.

Mayor Petty, following up on his inaugural address, is asking for a review and update on the health curriculum. It’s worth noting that the state is about to start a comprehensive review of the state standards for health.

The administration is referring two sets of curriculum to the school committee for approval: grade 8 and AP science texts and elementary reading curriculum.

There is an executive session to discuss contracts for the IAs and Plumbers and Pipefitters, and also to discuss litigation.

My hope is to be there for the budget presentation. 

Preview: City Council agenda (January 23)

The Worcester City Council meets Tuesday at 6:30pm. The agenda is here.

This week: The littlest agenda. There’s a million dollar DCU item, and a two million dollar health insurance item, and everything else seems routine.

If you know of anyone else who’d like to get our weekly preview via email, the link is here.

  • Constables: Jeffrey Cammuso has been appointed a Constable.
  • Boards and Commissions: The Council will vote on appointing Nicole Dicello to the Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Committee.
  • Downtown Gentrification: Tabled from the last meeting. Councilors Rivera and Mero-Carlson would like to know what the city can do for people at risk of being displaced as downtown becomes more expensive.
  • Mobile City Hall: In response to Councilor Rosen’s suggestion that there should be a van driving around the city for people who need to do municipal paperwork, Councilor Toomey last week proposed (and the Council approved) an item asking the Manager if it would work to use our existing bookmobile for that sort of thing.