School Committee Passes Budget Without Majority

School Committee Passes Budget Without Majority

The School Committee passed a $95.4 million School Budget last week, but it was passed with less than a majority of the total number of nine committee seats.

The budget, which passed with a $1.9 million funding gap that led to the elimination of 10 teaching positions, was approved by a 4-2 vote.

School Committee members Rosemarie Carlisle and Frank DePatto voted against the budget, while board member Jeanette Velez and Chair Richard Maronski recused themselves from the vote, citing relatives who work for the School Department. Last week, Julio Hernandez resigned from the Committee and his seat has yet to be filled.

School Committee members and administrators said it has been a long struggle to present a budget that attempts to meet the needs of the Chelsea schools.

Supt. Mary Bourque and City Manager Thomas Ambrosino were among those who noted that falling enrollments in the Chelsea schools, as well as an antiquated state funding formula that underfunds urban communities such as Chelsea, were the main culprits in the budget cuts.

“I’ve spent a lot of the time with the superintendent trying to provide city support for the budget,” said Ambrosino. “The City is really trying to do its fair share.”

That included the City providing an additional $1.5 million to the schools to address budget shortfalls.

“Every new tax dollar I can raise in Fiscal Year 2020 is going to the School Department,” said the city manager.

Regardless of how the School Committee ended up voting on the budget, Ambrosino said the $95.5 million figure is the figure he would present to the City Council as the school share of the overall City Budget.

“The budget (Bourque) presented is fair and reasonable,” said Ambrosino.

Once the budget is approved, Ambrosino said attention should be turned towards advocating for change to the Chapter 70 state education funding formula on Beacon Hill.

Bourque said she agreed that the time is now to fix the state funding formula, noting that Chelsea schools will be underfunded $17 million by the state.

The other factor leading to cuts in the budget is falling enrollment, Bourque said. Between January of 2018 and January of this year, she said Chelsea schools have lost 217 students. That is part of a larger trend of falling enrollment over nearly a decade, according to the superintendent.

Carlisle voted against the proposed budget, but said the problem with the $95.4 million figure laid not with the City, but with the state.

“The problem is with the state,” said Carlisle. “They are not doing the right thing, and we have to send them a message.”

School Committee member Ana Hernandez backed the budget, but said it wasn’t a decision made lightly.

“The votes we make are very hard,” she said. “This budget is what we dread every year. We have to make a decision for the best of the entire school system.”

But for DePatto, further cuts to teaching positions was a bridge too far to support the FY ‘20 budget. He said the schools laid off seven teachers in 2017, 20 in 2018, 10 in 2019, and have projected another 10 for 2020.

“Forty seven teachers and 25 paraprofessionals,” he said. “When is it going to stop? I can’t vote for this budget (when) I don’t support these cuts.”

School Committee member Yessenia Alfaro-Alvarez voted in support of the budget, stating that it was in the best interest of the City’s students to pass the budget, and also noting that Chelsea is hamstrung by declining enrollments and inequities in the state funding formula.

•In other business, the Committee voted to forgo School Choice for the 2019-20 school year.

•The School Committee also approved a field trip to New York City for high school and middle school REACH students to participate in the Andover Bread Loaf Writing Conference in May.

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Exhibit by Chelsea Hunger Network Features Work of Community Groups City-wide

Exhibit by Chelsea Hunger Network Features Work of Community Groups City-wide

An exhibit by the Chelsea Hunger Network is now installed at Gallery 456 and will remain until the day of its community fundraising event on April 18, the 8th Annual Chelsea Empty Bowls.

Since September of 2018, 19 groups have convened over 300 “community artists” in Chelsea to paint a variety of ceramic bowls and mugs. A selection of these colorful pieces of practical art, all fired in the kilns of Salem State’s Art + Design department, are now on display in the gallery. Next to the exhibit of the decorated ceramics, a collage depicts various artists showing off their work as well as groups and individuals at work. Many photographed are widely recognized community figures including Chelsea’s City Manager, Tom Ambrosino.

Another section of the gallery displays large color posters revealing the identity of the 19 participating groups and gives additional background on the Chelsea Hunger Network. An infographic outlines the contributing factors leading to an increase in food insecurity and hunger in our community.

The 8th Annual Chelsea Empty Bowls event will take place on April 18, from 5-7 p.m. at the Williams School at 180 Walnut St. Choose one of the hundreds of bowls and mugs and serve yourself from an all-you-can-eat menu of delicious clam chowder, chili, soups, and Toscanini’s ice cream. Tickets are $20 ($25 at the door) and can be purchased online at www.eventbrite.com under “Chelsea Empty Bowls”. Children under 8 years old are free.

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Council President Says She Will Bring Back Non-citizen Voting Measure

Council President Says She Will Bring Back Non-citizen Voting Measure

A small order on the Feb. 25 Council agenda likely didn’t attract a lot of attention at the regular meeting, but Council President Damali Vidot said she had hoped it could have sparked a conversation.

That measure, which she introduced, revolved around looking at the possibility of allowing non-citizens that are here legally to vote in municipal elections.

Instead, she said, she was greeted with silence – and a ‘no’ vote.

“We have people invested in our community, who own homes, have kids in the schools and own businesses, but because they are citizens, they can’t vote in our elections,” she said. “Why not have a conversation about allowing them to vote? The fact my colleagues didn’t want to at least have a conversation is a travesty.”

The roll call consisted of a 5-6 defeated vote, with Vidot and Councillors Judith Garcia, Yamir Rodriguez, Enio Lopez and Giovanni Recupero agreeing to begin talking about it.

Those voting against were Councillor Roy Avellaneda, Calvin Brown, Joe Perlatonda, Luis Tejada, Leo Robinson and Bob Bishop.

Vidot said she fully intends to bring the matter back in 90 days.

“I don’t understand why we couldn’t entertain this, to allow people to be part of the civic process,” she said. “At the minimum, I thought we could have a conversation. If I had known there would be this reaction from my colleagues, I would have organized before. I have every intention of bringing it back again in 90 days. We can’t be in the habit of saying ‘no’ without talking about it.”

Other cities in Massachusetts have voted to allow non-citizens to vote, including Cambridge and Brookline. Such a petition by the Council would require a home rule petition by the State Legislature. It would also require legislative action by the State House as well.

The measure in Chelsea would not allow non-citizens to vote in state or federal elections.

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Proposed ‘T’ Hikes Meet with Outcry from Commuters, Elected Officials

Proposed ‘T’ Hikes Meet with Outcry from Commuters, Elected Officials

A roomful of commuters and elected officials roundly rejected proposed MBTA fare hikes during a public meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 27, at the State Transportation Building in Boston.

Steve Poftak, general manager of the MBTA, outlined the increases, which would go into effect July 1 and raise fares an average of 6.3 percent system-wide.

Under the proposal, the cost of a local bus Charlie Card would increase to $1.80 from $1.70 while a subway Charlie Card would rise to $2.40 from the current $2.25. The monthly LinkPass, which provides unlimited bus and subway travel for one customer, would jump to $90 from $84.50, and a seven-day LinkPass would rise to $22.50 from $21.25.

The proposed fare increase would bring in $32 million in additional revenue to help recoup losses against the budget shortfall of $111 million projected for the next fiscal year.

The last hike came in July of 2016, which raised fares an average of 9.3 percent across the system, but since that time, the Legislature has passed a law limiting fare hikes to a maximum of 7 percent every two years.

After Poftak’s opening remarks, City Councilor Michelle Wu presented T officials with a petition she circulated calling for unlimited year-round passes for seniors and children, as well as a lower fare for the city’s poorest residents, which had already garnered 2,700 signatures by the time the meeting commenced.

“This moment in history demands aggressive action against the threats of income inequality and climate change,” Wu said. “Sustainable, affordable, reliable public transit is fundamental to providing Boston residents with the greatest access to jobs, schools, and opportunities beyond their home neighborhoods.”

State Rep. Adrian Madaro, who represents East Boston, read from a letter on behalf of the Boston Legislative Delegation urging the MBTA board of directors to hold off on fare hikes at this time.

“Public transportation is a vital resource for residents of Boston, and especially for low-income individuals, seniors and students who rely on MBTA service as their primary means of transportation,” the letter read in part. “We realize fares bring needed revenue to the operations of our public transportation system, but understanding how higher fares affect these vulnerable populations is essential to striking the right balance between funding and public accessibility to transportation services. We believe that there needs to be a more in-depth discussion with the MBTA about the background and reasoning for this proposal prior to the imposition of any fare increase.”

James White, chairman of MBTA Accessibility Advisory Committee for the past 18 years, advised against raising fare until after planned improvements are made to the Red and Orange lines, including the replacement of both fleets by 2023.

In response to the MBTA’s own projection that a fare hike would amount to a 1.3-percent loss in ridership, State Rep. Andy Vargas, who represents Haverhill, said, “At a time when we have increased ridership on the T, we should be doing everything we can to encourage that.”

State Rep. Tommy Vitolo, who represents Brookline, took to the podium with a can of Arizona Iced Tea in hand.

“It costs 99 cents, says it right on the can,” he said. “It has cost 99 cents for 18 years. What the good people of Arizona Iced Tea figured out is if you don’t improve the quality of the tea, you don’t raise the prices,” Vitolo said before drinking from the can as the audience applauded him.

The fare increase would put an even bigger burden on commuters living outside the city as illustrated by statements from Egan Millard, a 27-year-old Weymouth resident who works in Cambridge and currently pays $217.75 for his monthly commuter rail and subway pass.

“I, and I’m sure most T riders, already feel we’re paying too much for such abysmal service,” Millard said “Commuter rail service is so infrequent I have to plan my entire day and sometimes week around it. I have lost, at this point, days of my life on the T that I can’t get back.”

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City Manager Ambrosino Highlights Achievements -Looks to the Future in His State of the City Address to City Council

City Manager Ambrosino Highlights Achievements -Looks to the Future in His State of the City Address to City Council

Fresh off of a new contract, City Manager Tom Ambrosino gave an enthusiastic opening to Monday’s Council meeting during his State of the City Address, where he talked about Chelsea’s accomplishments in 2018 as well as its goals for 2019.

“I feel confident in saying that the state of our City of Chelsea is very good indeed,” he started.

Among the achievements of the past year, Ambrosino noted that the City ended 2018 with an excess of $28 million in its coffers.

“There’s not another city our size in the entire Commonwealth with that level of reserve,” he said. “That is a testament to the shrewd financial planning of City Council.”

In 2018, Chelsea was also one of only 35 cities in the country to be awarded a Bloomberg Challenge grant for its vision to reduce crime with preventative care.

“Because of that award, our model of predicting harm and then engaging in cross-sector collaboration to address the harm got national attention,” said Ambrosino. “It’s gaining interest and it has people seeking to replicate that, not just in Massachusetts, but outside as well.”

Ambrosino cited the City’s increased development in 2018, such as the construction of two new hotels and the multi-million dollar expansion of a pharmaceutical company. He also mentioned the $10 million grant by the state to reconstruct Broadway from City Hall to the Revere Line, as well as a $3 million federal Economic Development Administration (EDA) grant to renovate Chelsea’s waterfront, one of the largest grants given by the EDA to any municipality in the country in 2018, and one of the only grants issued in Massachusetts.

“We kept our promises to our residents in 2018 by doing good services,” Ambrosino reflected. “I think we can achieve the same level of success in 2019 if we have the same level of collaboration from City Council.”

In terms of goals for 2019, Ambrosino highlighted the effort to renovate the downtown Chelsea area, building on the foundational work done in 2018.

“We added police, social services, more lighting, decorative banners, public art,” he said. “We’ve created an atmosphere and foundation for success, so what we need to do now is finalize the work that remains.”

Ambrosino outlined four areas of improvement for downtown Chelsea: finalizing the design for the infrastructure improvements for one-way schemes, adopting the necessary zoning permissions to improve the facade of the corridor, offering a rich array of cultural and artistic activities, and submitting a request for proposal (RFP) for the redevelopment of the former Salvation Army site.

The City Manager threw his support behind the Forbes Proposal, which is up before the City Board of Appeals next month for the redevelopment of the Chelsea waterfront, claiming that it will include affordable condominiums for Chelsea residents looking to become homeowners.

Ambrosino also mentioned the planned infrastructure and capital improvements for 2019, including work to the Chelsea Greenway, the Chelsea Garden Cemetery and Veterans’ Field. This would all be in the context of a master plan, the first of its kind in Chelsea since the 1970s.

The City Manager emphasized the importance of investing in affordable housing as well as in education, specifically for grants to allow high-achieving, low-income high school students in Chelsea to attend Bunker Hill Community College free of charge.

“This idea of public funding for education beyond just high school is gaining momentum in this nation,” he said. “We can feel a sense a pride that Chelsea is in the forefront of that movement.”

The City Manager’s State of the City address can be viewed on the Chelsea Community Cable’s YouTube channel here: youtu.be/lRVWajXR44w.

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Massachusetts Greenworks Is an Investment in Our Present — and Future

Massachusetts Greenworks Is an Investment in Our Present  — and Future

The announcement last week by House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo that the state will be investing $1 billion over the next decade to help communities across Massachusetts adopt technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fortify infrastructure is welcome news to everyone who realizes that time is running out if we are to offset the inevitable effects of climate change that already are taking place all around us.

The proposal – known as GreenWorks – builds on a long-standing approach by the House under Speaker DeLeo’s leadership to provide the means for our cities and towns (especially along the coast) to build sustainable and resilient communities that hopefully will prepare us for the impending threats posed by rising sea levels and catastrophic weather events.

Environmental groups and clean-energy businesses across the state have praised the plan. The $1 billion investment envisioned by the GreenWorks proposal not only will provide cities and towns with the ability to cut greenhouse gases and lower their long-term energy and operating costs, but it also will adopt Massachusetts-made innovative technologies that will put people to work on clean-tech infrastructure projects.

These competitive grants, to be administered by the governor’s Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, will provide funding for a wide array of projects, including energy-efficient buildings, solar, microgrids, energy storage, electric vehicle charging stations, and resiliency infrastructure.

Inasmuch as the GreenWorks plan presents an opportunity to pursue innovative approaches to funding clean energy and climate-change resiliency projects, the economic and environmental benefits of GreenWorks grants will be felt immediately, while also expanding the state’s commitment to embracing cost-effective investments in leading-edge clean technologies.

In our view, the GreenWorks program represents a timely part of the overall solution that is essential if we are to address the imperatives we face from the looming catastrophe of climate change. We applaud Speaker DeLeo for taking the lead in advancing a plan that acknowledges this reality and the need to deal with it immediately.

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CHS Roundup

CHS Roundup


Stephanie Simon takes second place in the long jump at all-state meet

Chelsea High track star Stephanie Simon captured second place in the long jump at last Saturday’s All-State Meet that was held at the Reggie Lewis Center.

Simon was in third place approaching her third and final jump of the day, but her leap of 18′-2.25″, which was five inches better than her top jump to that point, propelled her into the second spot, behind only Jada Johnson of Sharon, who had the best jump of the day at 18′-6.75″.

Stephanie had advanced to the all-states by taking first place the previous week in the Division 2 meet with a jump of 17′-9″. Thanks to her second-place finish at the all-state meet, Simon now will compete in the All-New England Meet this Saturday.

Simon also competed in the 55 meter dash on Saturday, finishing in 16th place with a clocking of 7.48 seconds. Stephanie had grabbed third place in the D-2 Meet the week before to advance to the all-states.

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Better Bussing – MBTA Meets with Chelsea Community to Discuss Proposed Fare Hike, Projects

Better Bussing – MBTA Meets with Chelsea Community to Discuss Proposed Fare Hike, Projects

By Laura Plummer

Chelsea residents and MBTA officials mingled at the Chelsea Senior Center on Tuesday, February 19, where the MBTA sought community feedback on three new system-wide changes on the horizon: a proposed fare hike, a bus system improvement initiative dubbed The Better Bus Project, and an upgraded program for managing ticket purchases called Automated Fare Collection 2.0.

The event was the first meeting in a series that the Transit Authority is hosting in the Greater Boston area throughout February and early March. Other cities and communities on the list include Quincy Center, Woburn, South Boston, Harvard Square, Downtown Boston, Watertown and Worcester.

Chelsea residents perused information from the MBTA on Tuesday
night at the Open House – the first of many in the Greater Boston area dealing with rate increases, the Better Bus Project and the new fare collection system.

Departing from the traditional town hall-style meeting, there was no speaker or agenda. Rather, officials from the MBTA were stationed at a horseshoe of tables featuring large informational posters and fliers in Spanish and English. Residents from the Chelsea community were invited to circulate from station to station in order to learn about the proposed changes, ask questions and provide oral and written feedback.

FARE PROPOSAL

The MBTA is looking to increase fares by an average of 6.3%, which, according to its website, it needs in order to “continue making system investments to improve service.”

The increase, which is aligned with Boston’s inflation rate, also meets the State law allowing the MBTA to raise their rates no more than 7% every two years. The fare hike, which would go into effect in July, would be the first since 2016.

The 6.3% increase would be applied to all fares, including bus and subway, commuter rail, ferry, and The RIDE.

In terms of the most common fares and passes, a local one-way bus ticket would go from $1.70 to $1.80. A one-way subway ticket would go from $2.25 to $2.40. A monthly LinkPass would go from $84.50 to $90.00, and a 7-Day LinkPass would go from $21.25 to $22.50.

Those interested can read more about the proposed fare hike at mbta.com/fare-proposal-2019. Comments can be emailed to fares@mbta.com, or mailed to MBTA, Attn: Fare Proposal, 10 Park Plaza, Boston, MA 02116. Respondents can also share their opinions via an online survey available at surveymonkey.com/r/6TW8FFQ.

THE BETTER BUS PROJECT

Another project on the table is The Better Bus Project, an expansive initiative looking to overhaul the entire bus service of the MBTA. Its current projected rollout date is 2020.

“Too many of our bus routes still fail to live up to our own standards,” states the MBTA on its web site. “Through the Better Bus Project, we are changing that. Every day we’re finding new ways to improve the experiences of the people who use and ride our buses.”

The Better Bus Project would be comprised of five distinct elements: continuous change, analysis, proposed near-term changes, multi-year investment strategy and the Bus Network Redesign.

Continuous change refers to changes that can be made incrementally over time as the opportunities arise. Analysis includes reports generated from a period of outreach in which the MBTA surveyed riders most affected by gaps in service.

“Riders want more frequent, more reliable service,” said the MBTA. “They want more routes that run more often throughout the day—not just during peak service hours. And we learned […] that there are too many routes, too many complex routes, and too few routes with frequent, all-day service.”

Proposed near-term changes for The Better Bus Project include 47 specific suggestions for the consolidation of duplicate routes, the increase of space at bus stops and the elimination of some obsolete bus routes.

One of the 47 proposed projects is Route 111, which runs from Haymarket through Chelsea to Revere. The MBTA aims to “provide faster and more reliable service to Route 111 by removing service on Park Avenue in Revere, with connection remaining via Route 110,” according to a Better Bus Project flier.

A multi-year investment strategy will kick off a dialog about how to best leverage resources to improve the bus system as a whole, taking into account what riders want and need.

The ambitious Bus Network Redesign would re-envision the current MBTA bus network in the hopes of better serving passengers.

To learn more about The Better Bus Project and share your input, go to mbta.com/projects/better-bus-project.

AUTOMATED FARE COLLECTION 2.0

Citing an outdated system, the MBTA hopes that its new project will make paying for transit easier. With the introduction of AFC 2.0, the MBTA hopes to “improve customer experience, ensure equal access, upgrade outdated hardware and software, improve revenue control, operate buses and trains more efficiently and support future MBTA changes and growth.”

According to the MBTA, passengers will be able to pay their fares faster with improved Charlie Cards, a smartphone app, different payment options and digital fare readers. Under the new system, passengers will be able to conveniently reload their Charlie Cards in a number of venues, from schools and employers, online, over the phone, retailers and an increased number of vending machines.

MBTA employee Anthony Thomas explained that people could still use cash to reload their Charlie Cards at a number of locations throughout the city, but that cash would no longer be an option for paying on buses. The idea is to reduce the long bus queues, resulting in faster routes.

“Our new fare system will get you moving faster,” said the MBTA. “It’ll also get our vehicles moving faster (by up to 10% according to some estimates).”

These changes would not be rolled out all at once, but would overlap with the current technologies available, some of them in place for over a decade. In this way, the MBTA hopes to have a seamless transition to the new system.

For more information about AFC 2.0 and to submit your feedback, visit afc2.mbta.com.

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Rep. Ryan Pleased with Assignments

Rep. Ryan Pleased with  Assignments

State Rep. Dan Ryan said this week he is pleased in what is considered a step up in becoming the vice chair of the Post Audit Oversight Committee – a powerful committee that runs investigations of government operations and actually has subpoena powers.

“I want to thank Speaker DeLeo for this appointment, and my House colleagues for voting to affirm his trust in me,” said Ryan. “I look forward to working with Chairman Linsky and other committee members in continuing to bring solid, cost-effective government programs to the electorate.”

Ryan said Post-Audit Oversight certainly isn’t a household name for most people in the Town, but said it has a unique mission and is a sought-after committee on Beacon Hill.
“The Post-Audit Oversight Committee is a select House committee that has a unique mission,” he said. “Members of the committee are tasked with ensuring that State agencies are abiding by legislative intent and the program initiatives put forth, by the legislature, through the budget process. When necessary, the committee will work with administrative agencies to propose corrective actions to best serve citizens of the Commonwealth.”

One of the most visible investigations conducted by the Committee came several years ago in the previous administration when the Department of Children and Families (DCF) came under fire for its handling and management of numerous cases involving children.

Ryan has also been assigned as a member of the Mental Health, Substance Abuse and Recovery Committee, and as a member of the Transportation Committee.

•Just across the North Washington Street Bridge, State Rep. Aaron Michlewitz came away with one of the biggest scores for the Boston delegation in getting assigned as chair of the powerful Ways & Means Committee.

Rep. Ryan said that having such an important chair nearby will be very good for Charlestown as well as the North End. That will particularly be apparent with projects like the North Washington Street Bridge, which affects the North End as much as Charlestown.

Michlewitz told the Patriot-Bridge that he is humbled by the appointment, and that while he has to build consensus across the state, he will keep his district and Boston in the forefront.

“I am honored that Speaker DeLeo believes I can do the job,” he said. “The first order of business is creating and debating a $42.7 billion budget. A lot of work has been done in committee, but we have a short timeframe to get a lot done. The thing I was to stress is my district is my number one priority.”

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Simon Captures Division 2 State Long Jump Title

Simon Captures Division 2 State Long Jump Title

There is no stopping Chelsea High track star Stephanie Simon.

Simon continued her spectacular junior season by winning the Division 2 state long jump title Saturday at the Reggie Lewis Track Center in Roxbury.

Designated as the No. 1 seed in the competition based on her performance this season, Simon jumped 17 feet, 9 inches to claim the first-place medal.

Stephanie Simon.

Simon, who was undefeated this season in the Commonwealth Athletic Conference (CAC), became the first female athlete in school history to win a divisional state indoor track title.

Chelsea High girls track coach Cesar Hernandez said Simon had an outstanding day, putting the 17-9 jump on the scoreboard on one of her first jumps.

“I was very excited to see her win the Division 2 state championship,” said Hernandez, a 2010 CHS graduate who competed in the Red Devils’ boys track program.

Simon reigned over the CAC indoor track circuit this winter as a champion in the long jump, 55-meter dash, and 55-meter hurdles.

The talented 5-foot-5-inch athlete will compete in the All-State Championships this Saturday. Simon is the No. 3 seed in the event.“Stephanie is working hard and I think she has put herself is in great position to contend for the title,” said Hernandez

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