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Haha, you lost! Buh-bye!
Mayor Joe Petty and the majority of the Worcester School Committee—a somewhat surprising majority, which I’ll get into later—have shown Superintendent Maureen Binienda the proverbial door.
Her contract will expire without the one-year extension she sought and a national search will begin to find a replacement which, crucially, will come from somewhere outside the school district. That is, barring any sort of political plays from the old-school crony network from which Binienda hails to secure a superintendent from their ilk. The chance of that happening is unlikely, but that’s how Binienda got the job six years ago, so the possibility should never be discounted.
At a meeting last week, the overwhelming majority of the School Committee supported a motion by Petty to begin a national search for a new superintendent. Only committee member John Monfredo, a friend and political ally of Binienda’s, dissented. He called the move an outrage and a “slap in the face.” The rest of the committee, however, went along with Petty in varying degrees of enthusiasm. The decision has subsequently angered a small but powerful cohort of the city’s political class and electorate and is sure to become a major issue in the ongoing School Committee and City Council campaigns ahead of the Nov. 2 municipal election.
But hey! She finally lost! Her camp lost! This is a camp which has actively kept the district from assessing racial disparities in educational outcomes and discipline. It’s a camp that has for years made overtly racist comments and failed to address accusations of outright racism in the school district. Monfredo himself several years ago said, in front of the cameras and God and everyone else, that he has never seen an instance of racism in his decades-long career in the Worcester Public Schools. It is a camp that for years blocked any sort of substantive or effective sex education program from implementation as teen pregnancies and STD rates among Worcester youth soared. It is a camp that implemented a psychologically damaging and patently ineffective school shooter drill which accomplishes nothing but scaring the shit out of kids and teachers alike. It is a camp, which I have argued over and over and over, that has maintained power and influence in Worcester politics via appointments and hiring practices within the school district. It is a camp which exists to protect itself. A townie hiring racket built by and for itself.
And they freakin’ lost! Hell yeah! Now maybe, just maybe, we can start to get something done.
More recently, the word on the street is Binienda has been somewhere between unwilling and unhelpful in the process of removing police officers from the school district, despite a clear directive from the mayor, city manager, city council and school committee to do so. This is obviously a major source of friction. But no one in Binienda’s camp really wants cops out of schools. They were the ones who put them there in the first place after all and despite all analytical evidence to the contrary they believe cops in schools make the schools safer. Or they say they believe that. Again, this is a hiring racket. And those school resource officer jobs are cushy jobs. Unsurprisingly, the patrolman’s union Facebook page has been awash with posts exoriating the school committee and mayor for their decision to not extend Binienda’s contract.
Here we have a Worcester police officer repeating the same line that is… let’s just say racially tinged… about Jermoh Kamara, a School Committee candidate who called for new leadership the other week.
“Petty & his flock got to her too,” he says, denying Kamara, a smart and driven young woman of color, the agency of being able to make her own choices. Couldn’t have been that she drew her own conclusion. Nope. That’s not possible.
This is rhetoric repeated by Binienda herself. When Kamara called for new leadership, Binienda was quoted in the Telegram saying "It's not like her to come out and say a statement like that unless coached to say a statement like that... I think I was very instrumental in Jermoh being successful in her development, I gave her a ride to school every day... My feeling is she probably got coached into this particular statement that she was saying."
This sort of comment is indicative of a mindset that is… let’s just say… antiquated. And I mean antiquated in the racist way. I wrote about it the other week.
In this statement, Binienda removes any agency from Kamara as a free-willed and thinking human being. Kamara simply couldn’t think up something like this by herself she says in so many words. It was someone else. She’s being coerced into saying it. She doesn’t mean it.
How absolutely insulting.
It also speaks to the sort of patronizing attitude Binienda has toward Worcester Public Schools students. You’ll hear often from her and her supporters that she’s done “so much” for “inner city” kids. Here Binienda puts that mentality on full display for everyone to read. How could Kamara make such a decision when I used to give her rides to school? Doesn’t she understand what she owes me? Doesn’t she understand she’d be nothing without me? Binienda might as well be on a career-long missionary trip the way she talks about her students—the way she tacitly ‘others’ them and takes credit for anything they do. Surely it couldn’t be that they’re smart and talented and capable of greatness. No, it’s because I made them. The racism and classism baked into that mentality ripples out into every decision Binienda and the people she surrounds herself with make. It’s why she can’t see the racial disparities in outcomes and discipline in the Worcester Public Schools, and it’s why her administration is incapable of rectifying them. The first part of fixing a problem is acknowledging there is one. She has not done that.
Someone not engaged in a career-long missionary trip might understand and respect that while she had a hand in this woman’s development, Kamara is her own woman, capable of making her own assessments and capable of articulating her own opinions. She might respect that she had a part in developing a true independent leader. But she doesn’t. She sees this as a slight. She doesn’t understand or won’t understand that what Kamara is saying has merit. She scratched Kamara’s back, and expects a back scratch in return. That is the political culture that Binienda comes from. It’s not about leadership. It’s not about what’s best. It’s about influence, favors and maintaining power.
Here’s what happens now: A subcommittee of three School Committee members will meet on the 23rd to outline a timeline and process by which a search committee will form and a firm to assist the committee will be contracted. The committee consists of members Tracy Novick, Molly McCullough and Dianne Biancheria. In terms of any funny business, Biancheria is the one to watch here as she is very much part of the Binienda camp. The rough goal is to find a new superintendent by February or so, and that superintendent will assume the district’s helm when Binienda’s contract expires next summer.
Now, it is important to note that the aforementioned funny business is still a possibility, though a diminishing one. Six years ago, the School Committee tried to do a national search like this, but the process was scuttled by a new, incoming School Committee, fresh off an election like the one we’re having in November. The composition of the board changed in such a way that Binienda’s camp had a majority. The national search was abandoned and Binienda was subsequently appointed.
I took a look back through the meeting minutes at that time to see how it really went down and what I found is quite interesting if a little in the weeds.
When the recommendation to start a national search was made back in late 2015, members Tracy Novick and Hilda Ramirez sat on the board. Both are left-of-center politically and nowhere near Binienda’s camp. In fact, they’re both pretty squarely against it (my characterization not theirs). In the election that year they were replaced by Molly McCullough, a neutral I’m-with-you-fellas sort of politician and Donna Colorio, a right-wing weirdo who’s probably now railing against critical race theory and dabbling in QAnon stuff.
On Jan. 21, 2016, after the inauguration of a new School Committee, in which two of its left-leaning members were replaced by people much more sympathetic to Binienda’s camp and its cronyism, members discussed the national search recommendation in an executive session meeting, meaning it wasn’t held in public. At that meeting, Biancheria motioned to “reject all bids to do a national search” for the next superintendent. The motion was approved by a 5-2 vote. Only members Jack Foley and Mayor Joe Petty voted against.
Foley, as noted in the minutes, argued against the motion. He said Biancheria’s motion runs contrary to what school committees everywhere should be doing when searching for a new superintendent. He argued that the committee should “first engage in a community-wide strategic planning session, take the time needed to reach out to parents, teachers, students, members of the community and the business community to identify what it is the School Committee is seeking for the district over the next five to 10 years.”
Nevertheless, the School Committee voted to do the opposite. The members at the time who voted to spike the national search, effectively handing Binienda the crown, were Molly McCullough, John Monfredo, Diana Biancheria, Donna Colorio and Brian O’Connell.
Careful readers may notice that two of those names—Biancheria and McCullough—are on this new subcommittee tasked with implementing a national search process. That should be cause for some concern, but not too much concern. The political winds are very much blowing in a different direction today than they were six years ago, and neither Biancheria nor McCullough are much adverse to a stiff breeze. Both voted in favor of a national search last week, though with tempered comments. Two of the four challengers in the upcoming election, Jermoh Kamara and Sue Mailman, publicly confirmed they support a national search. So it seems unlikely if not impossible that the board could shift in the way it did in 2016. Still, the Binienda camp is surely going to have its knives out and we should remain vigilant for any upcoming skullduggery.
Though clear eyes and constant watch are necessary over the next couple months, this is a really exciting opportunity for the Worcester Public Schools to turn the page and start implementing policies and programs that address longstanding and racist inequities in the education it provides.
In with the old, out with the new. Hell yeah!
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The situation at Saint Vincent Hospital continues to mire on as the nurses and evil ownership company continue to fight over a “back-to-work” provision in the new contract, which appears to be for the most part settled. The issue here is that about 140 of the 700 nurses on strike may not have jobs to return to, because Tenet, the company that owns St. Vincent, hired other nurses to permanently replace them and refuses to give them their jobs back. The Massachusetts Nurses Association is fighting the decision and filing unfair labor practice claims with federal regulators. Meanwhile, the hospital is fighting to make sure the striking nurses lose their unemployment benefits, an entirely evil and unnecessarily punitive move which yet again demonstrates the lengths this for-profit company will go to skewer workers who dare to demand better. Happy Labor Day, everyone!
If you missed it, I interviewed one of the nurses who may lose her job last week, and she had nothing but bad things to say about Tenet and the way they run the hospital.
B: I understand, And maybe if I could just get you... I mean I know you're trying to hold your tongue but I'm going to ask this question. So you've worked for Tenet basically as long as they've owned the hospital. How do you feel about their management style and the way they run the hospital?
D: They've always been... even during the first strike they were the owners then. They've always been.. The bottom line is always money. Your equipment is older, your supplies are shitty because they cost less. Things just get cheaper and cheaper so they can make their staff prices go up. They shouldn't be in healthcare but they are. All their decisions are financially based, so, I mean, why are you in this business? Because it's profitable. So I hate them. You know? I hate them. Everyone gets sick at some point, but it doesn't touch them. And I honestly feel for Carolyn Jackson this is a personal issue. And I'm not alone in that. But again, my own opinion. You know she's really like, 'How dare you not do what I say. I'm the CEO, you're a lowly hourly employee. Even if you're skilled, it doesn't matter.' I feel the physicians look at us the same way. Especially after that article published by the four or five senior physicians and they wanted to video conference with Baker and blah blah blah. I'm not asking for anyone else to solve this strike but us. It's our strike. Some support, especially if you bring a lot of money into the building, interventional physicians and cardiologists, you could have assisted us. It's always, always, always the money.
But really I fucking hate them. What is there to like? No really, what is there to like? I hate them and actually we really all do. It's not just what they are. It's how they treat you. 'Oh, you want this? Oh, too bad. I'm not giving it to you.'
It's not surprising. It's expected. But it's not moral in this type of business. You want to build cars, go ahead. You know, nothing against that industry, this is just a different industry. But it doesn't matter. It's just the bottom line.
She stripped our hospital bare so she would make a big profit in 2019. She didn't fill positions. This was bound to happen, and so it did. I don't think anyone expected it to go this long, but that tells you the level of hardball they've played this whole time.
The city is welcoming 300 refugees from Afghanistan, as announced by the mayor last week. All I have to say to that is “sick, now take more.” All most people around here have to say about that, though, is apparently something racist. I mean you know the drill but this one comment on the Telegram’s post about it had me absolutely chuckling.
America is the dumbest country in the entire world, I swear.
After we saw Boston go back to an indoor mask mandate a couple weeks ago I think we all expected that decision to come from Augustus & Hirsh. But what we got last Friday was a lot more piecemeal and ineffectual in a way we here in Worcester have just come to expect, I suppose. In two separate emergency orders, Worcester Medical Director Michael Hirsh said people have to wear masks in schools and public buildings, and that all employers have to report cases of coronavirus in their establishments to the city. Press coverage on the two orders has been relatively light in the days since and the question of how businesses are supposed to report positive cases—and what happens if they don’t—are largely unanswered. I took a look at the legal language of the order and there aren’t any teeth at all. Employers “are required” to do this, but punishment for not doing it is not outlined. Neither is any accountability measure whatsoever to keep businesses honest. I sincerely doubt we’ll get many businesses reporting cases. Seems like it would be easier to just require masks.
There’s a preliminary election coming up!! District 1 and District 5 City Council seats are the only things on the ballot, but each race is interesting in their own right. I’ll have a post about the election later this week, but for now just want to make you aware that there is a District 5 candidate forum coming up on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at the IBEW Hall at 242 Mill St. Hank Stolz and MassLive’s Melissa Hanson are moderating, which is good. Councilor Gary Rosen is also moderating, which is unfortunate. The debate will be livestreamed on MassLive’s Facebook page which luckily they can’t paywall… yet.
In the dismal world of local journalism we saw the Telegram this week cut the print edition on Monday. From working for the company that owns the Telegram for so long, I know that cutting print editions is part of a long-term strategy to “pivot” to a business model based mostly on digital revenue, despite the fact digital advertising is peanuts compared to print advertising. But you could run an online-only operation with a lot less people, couldn’t you? Hmmm. Anyway the only thing that really bothered me about this announcement is they said they’re cutting the Monday paper “in honor of labor day.” Oh, in honor of Labor Day the company that lays off hundreds of local journalists across the country every year is not putting out a paper? Ok.
For what it’s worth the Telegram did on Thursday mention gentrification for the first time maybe ever in a somewhat lacking but fair take on the affordable housing problem in Worcester. Our paper of record dedicated six paragraphs to the issue, couched in between a whole lot of fluff from the Worcester Chamber of Commerce. This is unfortunately a remarkable turn of events. Now, I’m sure the Telegram will go back to entirely ignoring the issue for months.
Not the point of the story but I was surprised and not surprised to read that in Milford there are people living in storage containers. We only know about this because one of the tenants of the storage container was stabbed and now the Milford Board of Health is moving to evict the storage container tenants, saying such a space is unfit for living. Obviously that’s true but how the town is choosing to handle it is entirely reactionary. Kick them out and… then what? They’ll find somewhere else that’s just as dangerous and untenable because we are not taking care of these people. They are falling through the massive cracks in the social safety net. But your average City/Town Hall doesn’t see that as their problem, and instead the prerogative is to shuffle the problem elsewhere. Nice society we’ve built here.
Pride Worcester launched its annual Pride Week today and there’s going to be a bunch of events throughout the city to celebrate LGBTQIA+ identity. I’m particularly excited for personal reasons about the Gay Prom at Ralph’s Rock Diner on Thursday but the big event is a block party and rally on Saturday at City Hall.
Breaking news today: the city, after 27 whole years, settled a lawsuit with two officers of color alleging discrimination in hiring practices. Twenty seven years. And Ed Augustus had the balls to tell the Telegram “we are committed to advancing equity in the City of Worcester.”
Ok that’s all for today!