Portsmouth School Deficit Real; PCC lawyers up

The Portsmouth Town Council and School Committee had a workshop today with the consultants from B&E to hear their findings, and the bottom line is that the Tent Meeting budget underfunds the school system by $770, 167.

There are some potential offsets -- some Medicaid reimbursements, Little Compton tuitions, and cash balances -- which could get the number down around 450K. But no question, the Portsmouth schools do not have enough money to finish the year while meeting the requirements of law, regulation, and contract, according to the accounting expert from B&E.

Even the accountant -- Walter Edge -- cautioned against a full-on Carulo action. "Carulo is not a prudent budget," he said. "It's a what-you-need-to-finish-the-year-budget." That is, he noted, the cash reserves and a couple of warrant items currently designated for capital expenditures might get eaten up all in one year, were there an adversarial Carulo action and a judge was only required to rule on the minimum to get the schools legal for this fiscal year. With the coming RI state tax caps, said Edge, you "don't want to exacerbate" the situation next year.

So where does that leave Portsmouth? The best option, a stipulated agreement where the Town Council and the School Committee go to the judge with a modified budget seems the rational approach. But wait.

The PCC was there, and have hired a lawyer who said that Carulo does not apply in Portsmouth. Based on his reading of RIGL 16-2-21.4, which states that a necessary step in the Carulo process is a negative vote by the Town Council, he argued that since the Town Charter does not allow the Council to amend the result of a Town Meeting budget (and hence, cannot provide the negative vote for additional funding required by Carulo) that the School Committee could not proceed past that point to initiate an action.

Me, I'm no lawyer. That sounds like a really interesting theory, the kind every client is entitled to pay an attorney to come up with. I fully support the legal process, and I'm sure the PCC and their attorney are being honest and professional.

However. As I pointed out at the meeting, this report from a CPA unambiguously states that the cuts the PCC pushed through in the tent meeting were excessive. Had they been willing to compromise -- there were motions on the table that the PCC voted down that would have been in the ballpark of the cuts necessary -- the town would not be in this dilemma.

Larry Fitzmorris, head of the PCC, stated that the tent meeting was "not the place to compromise."

But according to his own attorney's interpretation of the law, since the tent meeting was the appropriate mechanism for re-setting the budget, that was PRECISELY the place to compromise. But the PCC did not. They cut so much money that Portsmouth's schools now face the threat of operating illegally, and they have hired a lawyer to keep it that way.

Pynchon fans rejoice

Against The Day It's been a long wait since Mason & Dixon, and a few head-bagged appearances on The Simpsons just don't satisfy anyone jonesing for that word-fix only a big fat Pynchon novel provides.

I was introduced to Pynchon in 8th grade by the resident genius in our school, John Hopeck. I wasn't quite ready at that point, but when I read The Crying of Lot 49 a couple of years later, I was hooked. And I mean hooked.

My 5th-printing Bantam copy of Gravity's Rainbow is always within arms reach on a shelf; covered with scribbles, bookmarked, held together with library tape. When I took a Pynchon course in grad school, I had to buy a second copy just to read it pageturningly; the first mutated into a self-referential palimpsest, encrusted and imbricated, a slow evolving process of becoming its inner meaning, like some Pynchon sentence that begins with bright, innocent simplicity and ends up dragging a constellation of laggard concepts kicking and screaming across your corpus callosum. Heh heh.

Can't wait to see what the sensei has been up to...

2800 and counting

The death toll for U.S. service members in Iraq has surpassed the casualties from the World Trade Center. If you're reading this blog, you probably don't need the dose of visceral sadness and outrage that Steve Young eloquently articulates:

"Before you can honestly understand war's demands, it is incumbent to empathize with those who have already lost, and you cannot empathize with those who have suffered by reflecting on 2800 deaths. You empathize by contemplating a single death... 2800 times.

You have to see each of the 2800, not as a number but as a real person; someone who had a history, albeit a much too short one; someone who was once an infant in the arms of a mother or a father. A mother and a father once filled with joy... hope...dreams. You have to understand that the man or woman who died was once a child playing with friends, laughing, crying, absorbing an education...working on building tomorrows. You have to place yourself inside each one of those human numbers, entering a battlefield incredibly scared, breathing heavily, gulping fear, alive, but unaware that in moments you would die. "
--Via Huffington Post

With all the talk about Vietnam comparisons -- especially Tet -- one has to ask: Where are the people in the street? By this point in the war, there was mass protest. Four months before Tet was the march on the Pentagon. 2,800 dead kids; 300,000 dead Iraqis. Where's the OUTRAGE?

Portsmouth School Committee previews response to PCC budget slashing

Let me try to recount tonight's Town Council meeting objectively, first.

With the report of independent auditors B&E due at the school committee meeting tomorrow night, Superintendent Susan Lusi and Finance subcommittee chair Richard Carpender previewed next steps for the Town Council.

As I've blogged before, a group called PCC forced a financial town meeting on August 19 that slashed 1.2 million from the school budget, with the aim of lowering property taxes. The schools have struggled with cutting an already tight budget, and brought in outside auditors B&E to assess the situation.

As Carpender noted, members of the school committee are, in some resects, "agents of the state elected locally," and have no choice but to meet the letter of RI law in running the schools. "We are chartered to maintain and provide education," he said. "We have a disagreement in the amount of money, and we have available the mechanism of a Carulo Action, where we go before a third party -- the court -- to settle the dispute."

Lusi reiterated the point: "If we can't run a legal system with the 1.1 million in cuts, the law is prescriptive." And, she said, they've followed that process: request waivers, notify the Town Council within 10 days to ask for additional funds, and hire B&E to do the analysis to understand what would be required under "law, regulation, and contract."

And it need not be adversarial, she added. Other communities have been able work with the court, stipulate the numbers, and arrive at an agreement, which would save both sides from high legal fees.

To that end, Carpender suggested -- and the Council eagerly scheduled -- a workshop at the Town Hall at 4pm on Friday, Oct. 27, where they will meet directly with the B&E auditors, go through the report and recommendations, and hear public comment.

Personal thoughts: This strikes me as eminently sensible, far more rational a process than getting a bunch of people together under a tent and slashing blindly at a budget without any insight into the actual day-to-day financials. I'm looking forward to seeing the B&E report, and I think reasonable folks would welcome arbitration from a court.

This just in: U.S. stupid and arrogant (says WHO???)

Every once in a while, even a career diplomat, however accidentally, utters an incautious word or two of spin-free candor.

"A senior U.S. State Department official offered an unusually candid assessment of the security situation in an interview Saturday with Al-Jazeera television, saying the U.S. had shown "arrogance" and "stupidity" in Iraq. Alberto Fernandez, director of public diplomacy in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, also said the U.S. was ready to talk with any Iraqi group except al-Qaida in Iraq to facilitate national reconciliation." -- AP via Yahoo

And he's backing away from it faster than a British general.

Neat Richard Dawkins essay on the God Delusion

"Natural selection is an anti-chance process, which gradually builds up complexity, step by tiny step. The end product of this ratcheting process is an eye, or a heart, or a brain - a device whose improbable complexity is utterly baffling until you spot the gentle ramp that leads up to it." -- via the Huffington Post

And a nice bit on the anthropic principle and the fortuitous alignment of various cosmological constants:

"You can estimate the very low odds against the six knobs all just happening to be correctly tuned, and conclude that a divine knob-twiddler must have been at work. But, as we have already seen, that explanation is vacuous because it begs the biggest question of all. The divine knob twiddler would himself have to have been at least as improbable as the settings of his knobs."

and further

"The anthropic principle entitles us to postulate a massive dose of luck in accounting for the existence of life on our planet. But there are limits. We are allowed one stroke of luck for the origin of evolution, and perhaps for a couple of other unique events like the origin of the eukaryotic cell and the origin of consciousness. But that's the end of our entitlement to large-scale luck."

And -- wait for it -- the FSM makes Its Awsome, Noodly Appearance:

"We cannot, of course, disprove God, just as we can't disprove Thor, fairies, leprechauns and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. But, like those other fantasies that we can't disprove, we can say that God is very very improbable."

Like this stuff? Visit the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science.

Scouting for IP -- Baden Powell meets the Matrix

After a trial run of the program in in Hong Kong, Boy Scouts in the LA area can now earn a merit badge for respecting intellectual property. Via Slashdot

What a charming introduction to the media ecology of the online world. Instead of exploring, we're learning to mindlessly genuflect before notions of order imposed on the environment by nervous, reactionary corporate entities. Imagine Scouts being sent into the forest to identify likely spots for clearcutting by timber companies. Or, in perhaps a better analogy, to identify and destroy any illegally planted vegetation.

Speaking as a newbie Tiger Cub dad, I guess they'll need to start rethinking their motto: "Search, Discover, Share." Maybe something more like, "Search, Discover, Enter into a contractual arrangement which limits your rights and loads your content with crippling DRM." Yeah, that's the ticket.

Just cutting and pasting from the NYT feed...

Observed at 0-dark-30, 20 October, at the following suspect URL: http://www.nytimes.com/services/xml/rss/nyt/HomePage.xml

News Item

The U.S.-led crackdown on violence in American military’s new security plan for Baghdad has not met expectations, Maj. failed to reduce the violence and a new approach is needed, said Gen. William B. Caldwell IV said today in Baghdad.Caldwell, a spokesman.

NYT > Home Page 10/19/06 6:54 PM MICHAEL LUO

Richard Dawkins on Colbert

Dawkins on the 'God Hypothesis': "At best superfluous, at worst, unparsimonious."

Colbert: "Do both of those mean you surrender?"


Scott Rosenberg on Rick Santorum's Tolkien riff

Spot-on analysis from Scott Rosenberg on just how dumb Santorum's "Eye of Mordor" analogy is. No summary -- just go read it.