THE PIONEER BLOG

Congrats to 3 Mass charters and a Big, Open Question

At a ceremony held at the Capitol Building in DC yesterday, the Center for Education Reform named three of Massachusetts charter schools among the 53 National Charter Schools of the Year. The day’s events included a press conference, a National Press Club lunch, and meetings with reps and senators. The three award recipients were Excel Academy Charter School (East Boston), MATCH Charter Public High School (Boston), and Roxbury Preparatory Charter School (Roxbury). These are schools that are inspiring and changing the expectations of minority students. They are also outscoring on achievement tests many of the “W” communities that have so many more advantages. To anyone who has been in these schools, it is clear, however, that the students’ impressive results […]

And then there were two

The Senate Ways and Means Budget contains a provision (scroll down to section 48) allowing two of the twelve public skating rinks in Greater Boston to be put out for long-term leases. That’s down from the twelve that the Governor’s budget (to his credit) allowed, but up from the zero allowed in the House budget. We looked at the effect of long-term leasing on the public skating rinks outside of Greater Boston and what did we find? – Increased Availability: Rinks operated under competitive contracting are now available an average of 43 weeks per year in fiscal year 2005, versus 34 weeks per year under the previous management system in fiscal year 1991. – Continued Affordability: The average hourly cost […]

If you think education is expensive, try foreclosure.

This year’s collapse of mortgage lending—also rendered as a crisis, a bubble bursting, the inevitable result of misguided policy x, and so on—has gotten a lot of press recently. In response, some have called for more regulation, tighter credit, or another solution that’ll make the problem worse. In welcome contrast, this Springfield Republican story highlights the first requisite of a healthy marketplace: well-informed buyers and sellers. HAP, Inc. led by Pioneer author Peter Gagliardi, helps both lenders and borrowers know exactly what they’re getting into. HAP’s “Yes You Can” homebuyers’ fair offers good rates and clearly stated terms to borrowers—but only those who’ve taken the time to learn more about home finance. In turn, HAP introduces those educated buyers to […]

Only big businesses move, right? Wrong!

Even if we lose all our headquarters, even if big business expansions go elsewhere, we can always count on small businesses to stay here and grow, right? Wrong. We’ve all heard the constant drumbeat about Fidelity’s moves and expansions elsewhere—they’re going to New Hampshire, packing off to North Carolina, they’ve been lassoed by Texas, and they have a great base in my lovely birth state Li’l Rhodey. A small digression in defense of Rhodey for you Mass snobs who can only venture to Plum Island, the Cape or Vineyard: Rhode Island has everything you could want—coffee syrup, Saugy hot dogs, the Cranston accent can cut through any clump of earwax, and the beaches are Florida compared to Salisbury and anything […]

Holy Reconstitutions, Batman!

All right, so the Governor has made a $1 billion bet on the biotech industry. And he is also betting that there will be 15,000 jobs at the end of the $1.4 billion New Bedford-Fall River rainbow—I mean, rail line. All this suggests that he will be a betting man on gambling as well. But before you go and cancel your bus tickets to Foxwoods, we have another pretty big gamble coming up in the next couple of weeks. Governor Patrick is widely rumored to have up his sleeve an ace that will please the unions, superintendents, and school committees—a reconstitution of the Board of Education and the creation of a Secretary of Education. The Secretary’s post, according to the […]

A Troubling Pattern Emerging?

Friday’s Globe has two articles on recent actions by the Governor — a view on his $1B biotech initiative and news of a $3.6 million bailout for the dairy industry. The biotech story discusses how this funding will help start-up companies through the ‘valley of death’ when financing is scarce. Having had a ringside seat to the internet bubble’s expansion and eventual collapse, I’d suggest that the valley of death has some utility and the notion that the government understands the science and market well enough to determine who should make it through strikes me as highly unlikely. The dairy farmer bailout is more direct. Dispensing with the typical niceties of concealing subsidies in tax credits or rebates, the bailout […]

Please, sir, I want some more.

In case you no longer listen to the radio, the Massachusetts Teachers Association last month launched a new ad campaign in which the voices of six students are heard asking for support for public education – from their parents, their communities and their government. As a former public school teacher, this ad annoys me for two reasons. 1) It reminds me yet again of the frustration I felt as a teacher that, though it was bad enough my salary was pittance because so much of school budgets are wasted, my take home pay was just that little bit smaller because I was required, without consent, to pay union dues that went to prop up a second bloated bureacracy and air […]

Feeding the Lions

Bill Weld used to say that unless you feed the lions (i.e. the press), they will feed on you. The first 100 days of the Patrick administration were a case study in that lesson (see drapes, Cadillac, etc.). However, they seem to have hit their stride recently, putting on major announcements which (whether you liked the ideas or not) managed to dominate the news cycle. First, it was the light bulbs/environmental announcement, then the $1b biotech initiative, and finally the anti-crime initiative. The anti-crime announcement was also a bit of creative political jujitsu. The Governor’s budget had not funded the program, yet he was able to take political credit for backfilling this ‘oversight’ through a supplemental budget.

How much does a kid cost?

Just below the surface of most land-use/housing debates is the cost of educating children. A lot of towns effectively zone out many types of affordable housing because they don’t believe they will receive property tax benefits high enough to educate the children who would live there. The UMass Donahue Institute takes a stab at answering this question based on actual cases from a number of metro Boston communities. I’d crudely summarize their findings as a matter of cost allocation methodology. You have three choices: Marginal Cost of New Housing — attempts to determine what new expenditures were required by the town for the new housing units. Very easy to determine for most services (e.g. did the police respond to any […]

Try, try, and try again

No one else seems to have noticed, but the Governor’s supplemental budget, filed on Thursday has this little nugget hidden all the way down in Section 23: Notwithstanding any general or special law to the contrary, the chief justice for administration and management may transfer among any items of appropriation within the trial court. The chief justice shall provide written notification to the house and senate committees on ways and means of any such transfers of funds within 30 days of the transfer. Pioneer has long supported this management reform, among many, many others. It was in the Governor’s House 1 budget but had not been heard from since.

More kids = More school expenditures, right?

Seems like a reasonable idea, and the basis for Chapter 70 Education aid, as well as the implicit justification for many towns in their zoning practices. However, a recent study by the notorious right-wingers at the UMass Donahue Institute found something very different in their recent study on the impact of affordable housing on school costs: Our analysis showed that school teaching staff levels and overall expenditures increased independently of changes in enrollment. From 1999 to 2004, school enrollments statewide were essentially flat, with 0.2 percent total growth, while the employment of full time equivalent (FTE) teaching staff increased by eight percent. Despite very limited growth in enrollment, total school expenditures grew by 28.6 percent statewide from 1999 to 2004. […]

Who’s to pay for affordable housing?

Martha’s Vinyard and Nantucket residents are advocating for a new levy on home sales to pay for affordable housing. State lawmakers are now debating this proposal for the islands. Lawmakers, developers, and housing advocates have been debating variations on this kind of policy for some time. Pioneer’s research shows that over half of communities in eastern Mass have zoning policies that either mandate or encourage developers of include affordable units in new developments, or pay a fee in lieu of building the affordable units. As of 2004, 11 cities and towns in eastern Mass required that a certain percent of new houses in ANY development be designated as affordable. Some developers and real estate experts question the legality of such […]

Digging Big into the state’s pocket

Ouch. The state has documented $173 million in new Big Dig cost overruns – and, worse, another $160 million in future costs. Gov. Deval Patrick noted his “continued frustration with the contractor” and, together with Speaker DiMasi, pooh-poohed Treasurer Cahill’s suggestion that we increase taxes – I mean, tolls – to pay for new and future overruns. The feds – yes, the same feds who bless the construction of bridges and highways to nowhere – are not going to pay any more for our project management failures. So we’re stuck waiting to see if we can post facto recover some of the cost overruns. That’s what the Speaker, Senate President and the Governor are all counting on – let’s let […]

. . . and the 2007 BGC Runners-Up and Special Recognition Awards

2007 Better Government Competition RUNNERS-UP Transforming a Bureaucracy City of Carrollton, Texas—By implementing an innovative Managed Competition program, Carrollton achieves “best value” service delivery while avoiding the problems of some competitive-contracting programs. Computerized Neighborhood Environment Tracking Worcester Regional Research Bureau—ComNET brings together citizens and technology to identify the physical problems of city neighborhoods, speeding up repairs and improving the quality of urban life. Four Proposals to Reform Special Education Special Education Day Committee—To reduce needless conflict, bureaucracy, and litigation, SPEDCO proposes a more collaborative and results-driven approach to public special education. Entrepreneurial Service Delivery Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority—Faced with declining visitation and rising expenses, NVRPA transformed its approach to deliver conservation and recreation services in a businesslike manner. SPECIAL […]

The 2007 Better Government Competition Winner is…

Now in its 16th year, Pioneer Institute’s annual Better Government Competition showcases innovative ideas and programs to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of government. Implementation of previous winning entries has saved Massachusetts citizens over $400 million. This year’s winner describes one community’s unique approach to development permitting, and how their approach could benefit cities and towns throughout the Commonwealth. WINNER Unified Permitting System for the Redevelopment of Ft. Devens Devens Enterprise Commission—To speed the redevelopment of a town-sized army base, DEC is empowered to perform municipal administrative tasks that are typically splintered among many agencies. It carries out these duties in the context of a unique one-stop Unified Permitting System. This expedited approach encourages needed economic development, and similar programs […]