Supt. Bourque Says Governor’s Budget Increases Still Aren’t Enough

Supt. Bourque Says Governor’s Budget Increases Still Aren’t Enough

Gov. Charlie Baker brought a short smile to the face of many when he unveiled an increase in education funding in his State Budget proposal two weeks ago, but this week Supt. Mary Bourque said the proposal needs to go further for cities like Chelsea.

“Although a step in the right direction for public education and in particular gateway cities, the Governor’s FY20 budget does not go nearly far enough,” she wrote in a letter on Feb. 6.

Bourque said the Chelsea Public Schools are facing another year where they will likely – as it stands now – have to cut another $2 million from their budget. That falls upon multiple years of cuts that have weighed cumulatively on the schools and taken away core services from students.

One of the problems is that salaries, health insurance and special education costs are rising so quickly. This year, she said, they are looking at increases in those areas of $5.2 million.

Gov. Baker’s budget proposal steers an increase of $3.2 million to Chelsea over last year, but in the face of rising costs, that still leaves the schools in the red.

It’s yet another year of advocacy for the schools to fix the Foundation Formula – an exercise that has seemingly played out without any success for at least five years.

“Once again we are facing another year of painful budget cuts because the foundation formula used to calculate aid to our schools is broken,” she wrote. “The formula from 1993 has not kept up with inflation, changing demographics or increased student needs. I am however, encouraged this year that all leaders at the State level have acknowledged that the formula is broken, including for the first time the Governor.”

Bourque also spelled out the complex nature of the Chelsea Schools, including numerous factors that are contributing to the reduction in funding.

One of the most startling situations is that there are fewer kids, and with education funding based on numbers of kids, that translates to even less money for the schools.

Bourque said this year they have begun to identify a downward trend in enrollment for the first time in years. She said fewer kids are coming in from outside the U.S. and families are leaving Chelsea for areas with lower rents and costs of living.

“In addition to the foundation formula undercounting critical costs, a significant portion of this year’s $2 million dollar gap is due to student demographic shifts taking place in our schools,” she wrote. “We are seeing a downward trend in student enrollment…This year we have noted fewer students entering our schools from outside the United States as well as a number of students and families moving from Chelsea due to the high cost of living in the Boston area.” The Chelsea Public Schools under the City Charter have until April 1 to submit their balanced budget. Bourque said they plan to lobby members of the House of Representatives and the Senate in the meantime to fix the funding gaps that now exist.

Read More

A Visit from Santa

A Visit from Santa

Justin Machado holding his new Phlat Ball after his special visit with Santa at the Chelsea Police Station on Tuesday, Dec. 18. The annual pre-Christmas visit to Santa has become a staple for local children, with the Police partnering with the Early Learning Center (ELC) this year.

Read More

Senior Captain Balances Work, Family, School and…Basketball

Senior Captain Balances Work, Family, School and…Basketball

Jose Gutierrez wears many hats in his family and on the Chelsea High basketball team as well, but this week, he is wearing the captain’s hat and has taken one step in leading an experienced hoops team to a good year.

Chelsea kicked off its season on Tuesday against Essex Aggie and cruised to an easy victory behind the defensive effort and leadership of Gutierrez.

The Record sat down with Gutierrez on Monday afternoon, and the two-time captain and senior said they have a scrappy team this year.

“We have a very scrappy defense this year,” he said. “I’m excited to see how we do on the defensive end and how that will create our offense. We’re going to be all up in your face – rah-rah – trying to put pressure on you so you’ll turn over the ball. It’s a very scrappy team.”

The team returns seven seniors for second-year Coach Judah Jackson, and Gutierrez said they have learned from their playoff loss last year against Waltham.

“Last year we didn’t have the experience,” he said. “this year, we’re full of seniors. If we all do what we’re supposed to be doing, we’ll have that confidence come playoff time to get that kind of win.”

Gutierrez, 18, grew up in Chelsea and went to the Kelly School and the Wright Middle School before landing at Chelsea High. He also played in the Chelsea Youth Basketball League (CYBL) and said it made him more of a team player.

“It helped me to focus more on the game and not just going out as an individual player,” he said. “Every year it was myself and another kid who did everything for the team. We would win, win, win and then during the championship we would always lose because we were just two guys and never involved our other team members. That helped me grow as a player because my IQ for basketball got a lot better.”

Same could be said for his academic IQ as well.

Gutierrez busies himself taking a rigorous college preparatory schedule and is enrolled in the Bunker Hill Community College program that allows students to take college classes in high school.

“It is a lot more difficult this year,” he said. “Right now I’m trying to focus on my high school classes so I can go to Bunker Hill next year and pursue my dream of becoming an EMT.”

Becoming an EMT is very personal for Gutierrez, who said two years ago he and his family watched helplessly as his father had a heart attack in their home. When the paramedics arrived, he said he was impressed with their skill and how they were able to care for his dad.

It hooked him.

“Two years ago my dad had a heart attack 20 minutes before we celebrated Christmas,” he said. “We celebrate at midnight and right before he had a heart attack. It was so tough to see my dad having cold sweats and shaking and I couldn’t do anything. That’s really when I knew I want to be an EMT.”

Gutierrez also runs track and plays soccer too, having been on this fall’s outstanding Chelsea High soccer team that went undefeated in the regular season.

However, Gutierrez also has to work as a janitor at a local radio station, where his parents supervise him. He is also responsible for watching his 9-year-old sister, who has become the team mascot and honorary water girl.

He said every time he hits the practice floor or suits up for a game, he has to thank his parents, Rafael and Nolbia. He said it’s because of them that he even gets to still play sports.

“They have helped me so much,” he said. “If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be doing this. I’m a senior and I need to work and save money. It’s because of them I’m able to do three sports every year and do what I want to do.”

Gutierrez and the Red Devils will host Greater Lowell at 5 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 14, in the gym.

Read More

Chelsea Fire Begins Toys for Tots Collection, Winter Clothing Drive

Chelsea Fire Begins Toys for Tots Collection, Winter Clothing Drive

The Chelsea Fire Department has embarked on another year of collecting toys at the Central Fire Station for needy families, delivering them mid-month to the Toys for Tots campaign.

Capt. Phil Rogers said the fifth year of collections at the Central Fire Station has begun and he urged everyone in the community to bring in a new, non-violent, unwrapped toy if at all possible. They are accepting donations through Dec. 14, and can take them at the Station in Fay Square between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. every day.

“We have started our annual Toys for Tots campaign,” said Rogers. “The toy drive ends a little early this year on Dec. 14, which is a little easier. We need all kinds of new toys and they should be unwrapped. Toys for Tots only accepts new toys. We have really enjoyed doing this over the years, and the people here have been so generous. We’re trying to make this an annual thing and it’s been working very well. If we can put a smile on a kid’s face, that’s a good thing.”

This year, the Fire Department is also sponsoring a winter clothing drive in conjunction with the toy drive to benefit St. Luke’s Food Pantry.

Rogers said several firefighters helped to cook and serve Thanksgiving dinner to those at the Pantry this year, and the needs there, he said, were “eye opening.”

In response, the Department decided to begin collecting winter clothing.

He said they need new or lightly-used gloves, hats, coats, mittens or scarves. For the homeless, he said they are requesting new packages of wool socks.

The Department will continue collecting the winter clothing through December.

Anyone in need of toys from the Toys for Tots campaign should contact their social worker or pastor, who will put them in touch with the proper people.

Read More

Cost of Thanksgiving Meal Decreases Once Again; at an Eight-Year Low

Cost of Thanksgiving Meal Decreases Once Again; at an Eight-Year Low

The cost of a traditional Thanksgiving meal has once-again decreased and is at its lowest cost since 2010, according to the 33rd annual American Farm Bureau Federation’s (AFBF) Thanksgiving dinner survey.

The AFBF reported late last week that it had found the average cost of a traditional Thanksgiving meal for 10 to be at $48.90 nationwide, which figures to be less than $5 per person. It was a 22-cent decrease from last year’s low of $49.12. This year’s new low has put the cost of the traditional meal at the lowest cost since 2010.

After adjusting for inflation, the cost of this year’s Thanksgiving dinner is $19.37, the most affordable in more than a decade.

“Since 2015, the average cost of Thanksgiving dinner has declined steadily and is now at the lowest level since 2010,” said AFBF Chief Economist Dr. John Newton.

A total of 166 volunteer shoppers checked prices at grocery stores in 37 states for this year’s survey. Farm Bureau volunteer shoppers are asked to look for the best possible prices, without taking advantage of special promotional coupons or purchase deals, such as spending $50 and receiving a free turkey. Shoppers with an eye for bargains in all areas of the country should be able to purchase individual menu items at prices comparable to the Farm Bureau survey averages.

The shopping list for Farm Bureau’s informal survey includes turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls with butter, peas, cranberries, a veggie tray, pumpkin pie with whipped cream, and coffee and milk, all in quantities sufficient to serve a family of 10 with plenty for leftovers.

The chief driver of the lowering costs is the most common item – the turkey. AFBF research showed that retail turkey prices are at the lowest costs since 2014, mostly because they are in abundant supply.

The average cost for a 16-pound turkey this year is $21.71, which is down 3 percent per pound from last year.

“Thanks to an ample supply, turkey remains affordable for consumers, which helps keep the overall cost of the dinner reasonably priced as well,” Newton said.

AFBF also highlighted other foods that showed large decreases as well. They included:

  • Gallon of milk, $2.92;
  • 3-pound bag of sweet potatoes, $3.39;
  • one-pound bag of green peas, $1.47;
  • one dozen rolls, $2.25.

Some items did show an increase, however, including Massachusetts’ own contribution to the Thanksgiving table – the cranberry. Other items on the increase included pumpkin pie mix and cubed bread, among other things.

Those increased prices were as follows:

  • 12-ounce bag of fresh cranberries was $2.65;
  • 30-ounce can of pumpkin pie mix was $3.33;
  • 14-ounce package of cubed bread stuffing was $2.87;
  • two nine-inch pie shells came in at $2.47;
  • one-pound veggie tray was $.75.

A group of miscellaneous items including coffee and ingredients necessary to prepare the meal (butter, evaporated milk, onions, eggs, sugar and flour) was also up slightly, to $3.01.

There was no change in price for a half-pint of whipping cream at $2.08.

To provide information on the increasingly changing Thanksgiving meal, AFBF looked in at hams and other new additions. Adding a four-pound bone-in ham, five pounds of Russet potatoes, and one pound of frozen green beans added about $1 per person to the overall cost.

“Adding these foods to the classic Thanksgiving menu increased the overall cost slightly, to $61.72 or about $6 per person,” said Newton.

AFBF also surveyed the price of a traditional Thanksgiving meal available from popular food delivery services. This revealed that the convenience of food delivery does have a larger price tag.

A 16-pound turkey was nearly 50 percent more expensive at nearly $2 per pound when purchased from a food delivery service. Nearly every individual item was more expensive compared to the do-it-yourself average and the total cost of the dinner was about 60 percent higher at about $8 per person.

The AFBF Thanksgiving dinner survey was first conducted in 1986, and the menu has not changed since that time for reliable comparison year to year. While AFBF does not make any scientific claims about the data, it is an informal gauge of price trends around the nation.

Read More

Trash Talk:City Manager Calls for Consideration of Universal Trash Fee as Rates Rise for Water, Sewer and Trash

Trash Talk:City Manager Calls for Consideration of Universal Trash Fee as Rates Rise for Water, Sewer and Trash

City Manager Tom Ambrosino told the City Council he believes it might be time to start a discussion about charging everyone a trash fee in the coming years as costs continue to rise for rubbish collection and recycling.

This came at the same time that he announced water and sewer rates would increase by 7.95 percent this year and the existing trash fee would climb 10 percent over last year.

Currently, trash fees are only charged to properties that are not owner-occupied. However, Ambrosino said it might be time to change all that.

“This new trash fee represents an increase of 10 percent,” he said. “Residential owners will pay an additional $32.88 annually as a result of this increase. I recognize that annual increases of 10 percent are painful, but even with this increase we will not cover the cost of our trash system with our fees. I have mentioned for some time that the City should consider changes to our current rate structure for Solid Waste Disposal. Specifically, I suggest we start the discussion of at least some nominal fee for owner occupied units. Otherwise, 10-plus percent increases will be the norm for the foreseeable future.”

The trash rate will increase to $30.09 monthly for residential property and $141.96 monthly for commercial units in mixed buildings.

Meanwhile, for water and sewer rates – which affect every homeowner – the combined rate increase will be 7.95 percent over last year. The average water user can assume a bill of $1,776 annual for water and sewer charges.

The water rate alone will go up 6 percent, and the sewer rate alone will go up 9 percent. Together, they arrive at the combined rate increase of 7.95 percent for residential users.

For Tier 1 users, the combined rate is $14.80 per hundred cubic feet.

The rates went into effect on July 1, but a Monday’s Council meeting Councillor Bob Bishop was quick to criticize.

“The water and sewer rates in Chelsea are too high,” he said. “I think we should be doing everything we can to hold the line or decrease these rates every year. Other cities and towns aren’t charging the rates we charge…It seems to be a feeding trough at the water and sewer department. I don’t like it.”

Read More

New Clark Avenue School Opens with Buzz of Excitement on Wednesday

New Clark Avenue School Opens with Buzz of Excitement on Wednesday

It was a new year at the Clark Avenue Middle School Wednesday morning, Aug. 29.

But it wasn’t just any new year.

It was the year that students poured through a brand new front door to the clean, sparkling hallways of a brand new $54 million school building with all of the most modern amenities that their old school – the former 110-year-old Chelsea High School – couldn’t provide.

“I really want to see the new gym; I can’t wait,” said William Bay, a 7th grader, as he waited outside his new school Wednesday morning. “I guess I just want to see all of the school. I’m excited about the whole thing. I think it will help me do better in school. I’m going to learn more here.”

For parents, the excitement was just as frenzied.

“I’m so excited,” said Bernice Reyes, who brought her two sixth graders for their first day. “I have a college graduate who went to the old Clark Ave. I remember that school. It couldn’t give these kids what this one will.”

Said Sara El-Mahil, a returning student, “It’s better than the old one for sure. The classroom are larger and all the water fountains will work now. I really like the space in the front where kids can hang out before school. Everything is going to be more organized.”

The Clark Ave began several years ago, with Phase 1 concluding in December 2016 and kids being welcomed into the new classroom portion along Tudor Street. This year, however, the entire school was opened to students – revealing a new gym, new music rooms, the library and numerous other amenities that completed the project.

“It’s a fantastic building,” said Principal Michael Talbot. “The kids are going to love it. The teachers are going to love the new options that this building gives them to teach the kids. Everyone’s excited.”

Supt. Mary Bourque and other district officials, including Gerry McCue – who shepherded the project through before retiring this year, were on hand to welcome students and parents.

“I am so proud of what the City has done here with this facility,” she said. “This was the right thing to do for the kids and the community.”

One of the most appreciated things on Wednesday morning for the students, parents and staff was the new, sprawling courtyard and outdoor amphitheatre at the corner of Tudor  Street and Clark Avenue. The new space is still under construction, but was finished to the extent that it offered a great place to gather before school.

Previously, the school hugged the sidewalk, and there was little to no space for gathering.

The new outdoors space will support learning at the school, and will also be available for the community to use for things such as outdoor plays or movies.

Williams School sewer problems

The Williams School – home of the Browne Middle and Wright Middle Schools – experienced a heart-attack moment on Monday afternoon when a major sewer blockage threatened opening day.

Around 3 p.m. on Monday, the sewer backed up and caused a major problem in the school. All of the teachers getting prepared for the school year in the building were sent home.

Joe Cooney and his team at the Buildings and Grounds Department went to work on the problem and soon found that there was a huge cluster of baby wipes clogging the sewer pipe and drains.

“Joe’s team worked throughout the night washing and sanitizing everything and we were ready to be back in business Tuesday morning,” said Supt. Mary Bourque. “I am truly the luckiest and most grateful Superintendent for our dedicated and hard-working Buildings and Grounds department.”

Read More

Fiesta Verano

Fiesta Verano

Alex Taborta and Esther A. danced inside Pan y Cafe during Fiesta Verano last Saturday, Aug. 4. The second part of the Chelsea Art Walk had a hard time avoiding rain this year, having been cancelled once due to rain. On Saturday, organizers decided to go for broke, and moved the event inside Pan Y Café – courtesy of owner Roy Avellaneda. Several acts performed inside, and the Latin-themed afternoon was a hit.

Read More

Chelsea Schools Get Raw Deal in ‘Pothole’ Account This Year

Chelsea Schools Get Raw Deal in ‘Pothole’ Account This Year

The Chelsea Public Schools have had a life-line in the State Budget the last few years as finances have gotten more difficult.

That life-line is known as the ‘Hold Harmless’ provision, or more popularly the ‘Pothole’ account. This year, that account is little to no help for Chelsea as the district saw their funding slashed in half.

Last year, Chelsea got an additional $1.214 million from the Pothole account funding – a fund that seeks to help districts who are not getting a proper count of their low-income students due to changes three years ago in the way they are counted.

However, this year Chelsea will only get $296,000, nearly $1 million less than last year.

“The whole idea of the account is to hold us harmless for the change in the way they calculate the funding, which has taken dollars away from us,” said Supt. Mary Bourque. “Come to find out, it was slashed this year at a rate of about 56 percent, so we are not held harmless because that would mean you are at 100 percent. By their own admission, we aren’t held harmless at 100 percent.”

State Sen. Sal DiDomenico said he was disappointed in the funding allotted to Chelsea for the Pothole account, and the ability not to be able to fix the funding for the long-term. That was something he had proposed in the education funding bill.

“I’m disappointed that was also not addressed within this session,” he said. “It would have been addressed with (the education) bill and it’s another reason I’m disappointed with how all of this happened.”

Read More

Gallery Opening

Gallery Opening

John Winam points himself out in one of Arnie Jarmak’s historic Chelsea Record photographs during the opening reception for Gallery 456 on Monday, July 16. The show was the first for the City-sponsored gallery in the old Salvation Army Store. Jarmak was a staff photographer for the Record in the 1970s and captured thousands of images of the city and its people. His show will be displayed at Boston College later this year, but will remain in Chelsea through September.

Read More