Maureen Binienda’s revenge tour is off to a bad start
"Vendetta purposes versus non-vendetta purposes”
Welcome to a rare Sunday morning edition of Worcester Sucks! This is a jam-packed post. Lots of tomfoolery to get to, starting with our new school committee, which promises to be a fountain of such. Then we’ll get to the Worcester Knitty Council and the aneurysm that group seems to be causing our crank city councilors. Then, after that, an update on the RMV shelter sweep. Then more stuff after that! Sheesh. It was a very interesting week and I wanted to capture it all at once. It was a busy one for me as well. On Tuesday, I gave my final presentation for the Entrepreneurial Journalism Creators program on Rewind Video and the Worcester Community Media Foundation. Then I re-gave that presentation to the Twitch stream Tuesday night. More on that later in the post but if you’re desperate to watch the recording of that presentation now, you can do so on the Rewind Patreon page.
First, as always, I come with digital hat in digital hand to ask that you consider upgrading to a paid subscription! My subscribers are the only source of income for this newsletter, and the more I have the more I can keep on providing the sort of scrappy local journalism you see here.
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Maureen Binienda’s Revenge Tour Is Off To A Bad Start
The school committee meeting on Thursday was marked by some six instances of new member and former superintendent Maureen Binienda putting up a stink about things in a reactionary way. In response, it was like taking turns. One after another, Superintendent Rachel Monárrez, school committee members Sue Mailman and Jermaine Johnson, even Mayor Joe Petty, went around the horn offering rebukes to Binienda’s various power plays. Over the course of this hour-and-a-half spectacle, Binienda proved she has the power and the proclivity to be annoying. But with three out of nine votes in her corner, and only sometimes, she can’t get anything passed. She can just put stuff on the table, then watch that stuff get rejected.
I’m going to go through those moments one at a time. Me and Brendan Melican hopped on the Twitch stream to watch the meeting—our first time doing so for the school committee—and it was a ton of fun actually. Watch the full thing here, if you want. And I pulled out some choice clips below.
For some of these moments, it’s best to just watch the tape. Especially the first one.
Binienda v Monárrez standoff
After the administration gave a thorough and detailed report on the district’s multilingual programming, Binienda stood up to try and tear it down.
In the following video, you see Binienda attack the superintendent in an Alex Jones “I have the documents” fashion.
Monárrez deftly responds.
“Thank you for that overview of the compliance report that came out of DESE,” she said. “So when we talk about the instructional programming, there’s really two parts to it, right? There’s the compliance and then there’s the instructional pedagogy.
Translation: Nice try. Now I’m going to tell you you’re stupid without actually telling you you’re stupid.
The difference between Monárrez and Binienda was glaring in this moment. English language learner policy is something Monárrez is deeply versed in and passionate about. To summarize the presentation, she spoke from the heart:
“When you see data that shows single digit outcomes for multilingual youth, you should be outraged. You should not be okay with it. We can do so much better, our children can do so much better, and we have to be intentional about what we do. I don't talk a lot about my experience, but I will tell you that I spent 28 years working with language learners. They can do so much more than what they're doing right now and it's not because they don't have the intellect. So we have to be extremely and intentional with our practices and when we do that our children will thrive and they will thrive not only in the English language but they will thrive in the language that they speak in their home. And that's what we want for them, right? So if you walk away with nothing else from this presentation about what this third party told us, it told us that we had a lot of great activities, but it lacked that intentionality.”
Binienda, on the other hand, comes from a camp of local politicos which have been pretty lousy on this issue. Going all the way back to Guy Glodis’ time as a state senator, this political camp has tried to remove programming for ELL students.
Since 2008, the district has been under Department of Justice review for policy and practices that “impede equal participation by ELL instructional programs.” In 2016, when Binienda took over as superintendent, she also took ownership of that DOJ compliance responsibility. Meanwhile, her time was marked by legitimate protests over what many people felt were pointedly racist suspension rates. Binienda and her supporters offered sharp rebukes to the assertion there’s any racism in WPS’s handling of students of color.
At the meeting Thursday—it’s in the clip, around the 3:50 mark—Monárrez brought up the DOJ compliance.
“We're just about to finally exit that. And again, that is very low level compliance. And so we're happy that we're gonna be exiting that,” she said.
It’s been decades, and we’re just finally complying with the Department of Justice on this. It’s something Binienda wasn’t able to figure out in her six years on the job, apparently. Another deft little dig from Monárrez, pointing out that the compliance is “very low level.”
How Can You Have Any Pudding If You Don’t Eat Your Meat?
In the second moment, Binienda shows off her penchant for punitive cruelty. The committee was in the process of voting through a bulk motion on governance subcommittee recommendations when Binienda stood up. “Can I ask one question?”
Ugh. Here we go again.
Petty said we’re in the middle of a roll call vote but sure ask your question. Binienda asks what to do if she doesn’t agree with one of the items in a bulk motion (a process question she should really know the answer to by now).
“Can we pull the graduation one out?” she asked. The “graduation one” is a proposal that kids who are two credits short can walk the stage at the graduation ceremony then finish the credits afterwards to get their diploma.
“Having been a principal of a high school for 38 years, I really feel as though high school students should not walk the stage unless they have received all their graduation requirements. And in reading this I wonder how you gonna ensure that students actually do show up for those last two credits?”
The answer to that is very simple. They don’t graduate, they just get to walk the stage. In Binienda’s argument, walking the stage is more important to a student than getting their actual diploma, which is crazy. Binienda continues:
“It’s always been at Worcester Public Schools you have to get 24 credits before walking the stage and I’m just thinking, what are we doing that we’re telling kids ‘well you don’t have to get 24 credits before. You can walk the stage with 22.’ I don’t think we’re setting up high standards for students. I think we should continue with ‘you really have to have 24 credits to walk the stage.’”
Sue Mailman and Molly McCullough defended the idea, as did Marie Morse, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning. I pulled the video from this moment up until the vote, which was 8-1 against Binienda. Not even Dianna Biancheria and Kathi Roy, her two staunch loyalists, were willing to follow her down that dark path.
“It was more about ensuring that we weren’t penalizing students and taking something very important away from them like high school graduation,” said Morse. “Walking the stage is different that getting credit for graduating high school.”
A reasonable and compassionate policy! Binienda hates it.
“I don't think it’s right. I don’t think the general public thinks it’s right and I really think we need to not pass this particular item,” Binienda said.
Well, the item passed. Binienda’s “no” vote sounded as though it may have been through tears. It’s a bold move to say you speak for the general public, as Binienda did, but to make that claim and then have not a single colleague vote with you? That’s just awesome, man. Pure delusion.
For Binienda, the “general public” is Ray Mariano and the six other cranks she talks to in a given week. That much is very obvious. We really need to make sure that over these next two years, the maximum number of people are simply exposed to who Binienda is. Hopefully she keeps it up in these meetings.
Then it was time for Bineinda’s slew of pointed and transparently political orders...
Ammo for Bad Faith Attacks, Please
At first, Binienda tried to introduce this request without explaining herself. “As it reads,” she said.
But then committee member Johnson forced her to give an explanation, saying he was “hoping to get some clarity.” Binienda’s explanation did not pass a sniff test.
“The funding for this school year through the state is already looking to be questionable in many areas. This is a question asking exactly what were unfunded allocation requests from principals from the 23-24 school year because assuming those may be asked again in the 2024-2025 school year. So I’m looking for a list of those things that principals and department heads did not receive.”
If Lying Cat from Saga was in the room, it would have said “lying.” The intent of this request is pretty obvious: she wants ammunition to set the building principals against the superintendent. It was one of several obvious ploys for an attack line.
Mailman quickly questioned the order.
Those of us who have been around for a long time know that every year there’s lists and every year the principals get or do not get things that they need so I guess I’m just confused as to why we’re even taking this up.
Those who have taken the training know our job as school committee is higher level and not line item level. So I would make a motion that we file this item.
A delightful bit of shade thrown there with the “taken the training” line, because, as we’ve been over, Binienda has not.
Petty agreed with Mailman, saying he found the request unusual.
“The city manager gets probably millions of dollars from the department heads in requests, so I’m trying to understand what the purpose of this is... most principals I would guess would ask for the world and see what they can get and the department heads would too, so I’m not sure how that plays into the budget.”
The item was eventually filed by a 6-3 vote, but it took a long time to get there. It’s too much to get into, but the committee actually took four votes on this. Petty realized he voted the wrong way on the first vote, to send it to the budget subcommittee. After three very confusing votes (that weren’t tallied correctly) the committee filed it.
It’s About “Fiscal Responsibility”
Then Binienda went after the new in-house busing service, which she actively opposed as superintendent, hiding behind a thin veneer of “fiscal responsibility.”
Mailman offered a takedown of this supposed reasoning.
“This might be one of those items where we're... I wish I could think of another word but I can’t on my feet ... items that are filed for vendetta purposes versus non-vendetta purposes ... this to me screams out a little bit.
“For vendetta purposes” is an appropriate way to categorize this whole meeting, I think.
This was a very fun moment of the stream.
I agree with Brendan that we need to make a shirt that says “I AM HERE FOR NON-VENDETTA PURPOSES.”
By a narrow split vote, this “vendetta purposes” item went to finance committee. This is the only one so far that wasn’t scuttled.
Caches of Weapons
Next, Binienda moved to one of the classic tropes of bad faith attacks: violence in the schools. I would bet a hundred dollars that Ray Mariano writes a column on this moment.
She said she was interested in the disparity between weapons and drugs confiscated and the number then turned over to the police department.
“In the past, those numbers have not matched,” she said, introducing the wild conspiracy theory that there are caches of weapons in public school buildings.
It’s here that Petty decides to put his foot down.
“I just don’t want anybody thinking that there’s a massive amount of weapons in the Worcester Public Schools,” Petty said.
“What I won't allow to happen again is to have this front page story, about the Worcester Public Schools, saying that we're not safe schools,” Petty said.
That is, of course, exactly what Binienda wants. Petty rightly called this out as a page from the North High 2014-2017 playbook, which Bineinda helped write.
“It happened at North High School, which I regret,” Petty said. “And people used North High School for politics.”
This ploy for a “cache of weapons” report backfired on Binienda. Per a request from Mailman, the report will now include eight years of such data, going back to the time of Binienda’s tenure.
Biancheria, one of Binienda’s loyalists, put up a weak fight against taking the eight-year look.
“This is a simple request, literally a simple request. It was a simple request. It should stay. Please,” said Biancheria.
That argument didn’t win anyone over. The report will come back with an eight year snapshot, which will make it a lot harder to use as ammo for an attack on the current superintendent, and might actually end up making Binienda look comparatively awful.
Going After “Administrative Bloat”
This report, Binienda claimed, thinly, was another attempt to get out ahead of possible state budget cuts.
“I would say that if those cuts have to come, they have to come from that table of organization,” she said.
Translation: we have to cut people from Monárrez’s team.
This suggestion did not find a sympathetic audience.
“That's public record,” said Johnson. “People could look that up. You could look that up tonight if you wanted to. That's public record to find salaries of all the employees and their certifications.
I don't understand why we're making a mockery of this here on the floor.”
Mailman and Petty both said they didn’t understand the order. Binienda tried to argue it was about “fiscal responsibility” and not just a transparent bad faith attack. That line didn’t work. The order was filed by a 6-3 vote. Binienda was joined by her loyalists, Biancheria and Roy, and no one else.
So that was the start of Binienda’s revenge tour, and it amounted to a temper tantrum. She showed us that she doesn’t have a controlling position on the board—almost every push failed, and some backfired—but that it won’t stop her from being annoying and antagonistic on the floor every meeting.
If it’s any consolation, school committee is going to be fun to watch! Me and Brendan had such a good time we’ve committed to watching every meeting. Be sure to give the Twitch stream a follow and tune in next time.
If we’re stuck with this petty “superintendent in exile” revenge tour narrative, the only thing we can do is make sure as many people see it for what it is.
Presenting: Rewind Video
I had a LOT of fun making this particular slide for my Entrepreneurial Journalism Creators Program class project on the Rewind Video Store.
It’s always fun to describe this city to the uninitiated. Where’s the lie?
If you want to watch the whole presentation, you can find it here on the Rewind Video Patreon page—where you can also sign up to become a card-carrying member of the Rewind Video Club!
I can’t say enough good things about the EJCP program. My vision for Rewind and the Worcester Community Media Foundation became immensely more focused and developed as a result. If anyone reading this has a cool idea for a new journalistic venture, I’d highly suggest applying. They’re accepting applicants now. It’s worth it.
Ok on to more of the sort of local journalism Rewind exists to support!
“This Is a Little Bit Too Much as Far as I’m Concerned”
The Worcester Knitty Council is a collection of knitters who get together to knit and talk about local politics. They have weekly meetings. Sometimes, they go down to city hall and sit in the gallery, knitting away, as the city council meets. It’s a neat idea, a great group of people, and should be entirely innocuous.
But, for some strange reason, the resident cranks on city council are targeting the group.
At the meeting Tuesday, councilors Donna Colorio and Moe Bergman made the Knitty Council into a major point of contention.
For the second week in a row, Colorio tried to “hold” a report on the Knitty Council’s use of the senior center as a location to pass out hats and mittens they’d knit for people in need. Gasp.
To take Colorio at her word, she’s just asking questions, with no further designs in mind. She wanted to hold the item one more week until the administration provides a report—“just a short description, mission statement, just get... most of us don't understand what this group’s about or understand this group, so that would be really helpful. Thank you.”
Fact check on the “most of us” claim, please! A quick Google search of “Worcester Knitty Council” brings up the group’s Facebook page, a Worcester Magazine feature, the group’s Instagram, and a delightfully wholesome spot on the local cable station. In that order! The information is not hard to find, and you’d have to suspend a lot of disbelief to think that Colorio doesn’t know exactly what and who this group is.
It was the second week in a row she tried to hold this item, despite it being made clear that the hold accomplishes nothing. The Knitty Council is using the senior center to pass out mittens and that’s not something a city councilor can stop from happening.
Since it was the second time, she needed to get four votes to hold it per the council rules.
Councilor Khrystian King stood up after Colorio and asked “what exactly are we holding here?” A good question! The answer is nothing. Made to explain, City Clerk Niko Vangjeli could be seen barely concealing laughter. King motioned to file it.
Councilor George Russell, who helped the Knitty Council get into the senior center to pass out their mittens and such, spoke in disbelief at the idea of “holding” this again, which would have accomplished nothing.
“This is a little bit too much as far as I’m concerned,” said Russell. “This is an item where a group that was supplying or is supplying knitted items to folks that need them in the community. And I was just asking the administration to assist them with locations to drop them off.”
Petty added his two cents: “I can’t believe we’re having this discussion,” and King can be heard whispering into the mic “I know, I know.” Which makes Petty laugh. Everyone was having a good time figuring out what to do with this ridiculous hill Colorio appeared ready to die on.
Everyone but Councilor Moe Bergman, that is. He spoke in grave terms about why he would be voting to hold the item.
“This group is listed as a private organization on their Facebook page. They’re being asked to use the senior center which is a city-connected building to distribute things that should be distributed and I agree with it. I’m happy that they’re making mittens and hats and it's cold out and they should be distributed. But if you’re going to use city property I need to know a little bit more about why they’re a private organization, at least that’s how they describe themselves. So i’m going to vote to hold it.”
Apparently he didn’t get the memo that the hold accomplishes nothing. He continued to tell on himself:
“If they want to use the senior center, I just want to be comfortable with the connections. I would also say my recollection is that they get arts council funding through the city. So they’re a private organization on their Facebook page. So something needs to be explained to make me feel comfortable. I'm not trying to hold up gloves or mittens. So I just want to be clear about that.”
Oh no, Bergman is uncomfy!! Fact check please on why Bergman needs to be made comfortable about the existence of a knitting group at the senior center? He actually doesn’t have to be made comfortable at all? They’re passing out the mittens and this hold is completely meaningless?
I don’t know what the most embarrassing part of this tirade is exactly but the assertion they are a “private organization on their Facebook page” is right up there. How is this guy a lawyer?
Everyone is laughing at this point besides Colorio and Bergman. King finally calls this what it is:
“I think this is much more to do about politics quite frankly than anything else–let’s let these folks do what they want to do. Let’s call it what it is and let’s file this item.”
These are just crank city councilors looking for any way to spite a group of progressives. Whatever ammo they think they have here, they simply don’t. All they’re doing is embarrassing themselves.
The vote to hold the item, which everyone acknowledged was functionally useless, was still split. At 6-5, the hold passed. Haxhiaj, King, Pacillo, Russell, and Nguyen voted against. Petty, having just explained why he didn’t understand what the hold was for, voted for it for some reason. Regardless, it got the four votes it needed. It didn’t accomplish anything at all but they got the four votes.
I’ve seen a few people point out, rather correctly, that this odd line of attack is reminiscent of the Mosaic debacle of old. Way back in 2015, the Mosaic Cultural Complex came under the fire of the city council at the behest of crank councilor Mike Gaffney and Turtleboy Sports. Mosaic drew the ire of the cranks for being involved in a Black Lives Matter demonstration. Gaffney and Turtleboy succeeded in getting the complex audited by overblowing the issue. The difference here is that Mike Gaffney isn’t around and Turtleboy is in actual jail.
So the cranks might be trying to pull off the same smarmy stunt here, but there’s far less chance of it succeeding. Say what you want about Gaffney and Kearney, but they ran a more sophisticated outrage machine than Colorio’s ‘just asking questions’ bit and Bergman’s weird little hissy fits.
“It's All Case by Case, Depending on the Situation”
Would it surprise you to learn that a policy matter with actual real life ramifications received far less attention from this city council than a group of knitters did?
Right before the whole Knitter-gate drama, King pressed City Manager Eric Batista to answer a good question: Was a trans woman turned away from a bed in the RMV shelter because she was trans?
King asked Batista whether that was the case. Batista’s answer was long, but take a look yourself and see if he answered that simple question:
“You know, as part of this process, when this situation came forward and I was made aware by SMOC and also the individuals in my office who received notification, we acted pretty quickly. We worked. We called SMOC right away. We asked what was going on, what happened, what a situation. And then we came to our table, to my table, and discussed what are the things that we need to do to support the individuals who were protesting and the individuals who needed assistance. In regards to the situation regarding the individual that was transgender, there was a conversation that I had with SMOC and said, you know, what is your current policy? Do you have a policy? Or was this individual turned away? Were we able to make accommodations? Can we make accommodations?
And then in speaking with the solicitor, we clearly understood that the city of Worcester has a gender identity policy within the city that's extremely important to ensure that all vendors and anybody doing business with the city–and they're receiving funding through the city–needs to adhere to that policy. It's part of the city's ordinances. And that's how, like you mentioned, it happened in 2014. The current agency, SMOC, also as part of their development and training of their staff, they include this policy efforts, not our current policy, they have their own set policy, and they make sure that all staff adhere to that. They are trained in that manner as part of their application to the state, into the city regarding their temporary certificate of occupancy clearly identifies an area focused on gender separation and the importance of doing so.
But oftentimes depending on the location of the accommodation of the individual and how they identify themselves it could... they may not be able to provide all the accommodations, um, and they may not be able to have that capacity depending, uh, on the scenario. And so that particular day, that particular night, we were made aware, we called the state and had a conversation to increase our capacity as quickly as possible.
We worked with our emergency communications to get the cots, bedding, other areas that were need to try to provide as much services as we can in a quick manner. We weren’t allowing people to be out in the elements. SO again we took this very seriously. We’ve been working with community partners to make sure we provide as much support as possible.”
King asked the question again. “And if you could just clarify, I'm not sure if you did, does this particular shelter have the capacity needed to ensure that folks who have concerns, who are transgender, have a safe space to be in that facility?”
Given a second chance, Batista didn’t do much better.
“They have the ability to accommodate. I think it's all case by case, depending on the situation and what the accommodations are, depending on the individual, these ADA accessibility and other elements related to the individual and how they identify. So again, it's all based on location. Based on need. They can be able to accommodate. They may not be able to accommodate 100%, maybe 60%, maybe 40%, maybe 75%, depending on the facility and their staffing capabilities.”
Hmm. Leaning toward no they did not offer the trans woman a bed.
Odds and Ends
A few more items of note:
The city has apparently lost another chief diversity officer before even bringing them on board. Per This Week In Worcester, “The City of Worcester will soon relaunch its search for its next Chief Equity Officer after a candidate rejected a recent employment offer from the city.” Welp, guess we’ll have to keep trying. No one wants this job for some reason hmmmm wonder why.
Here’s an odd one: a scholar recently found 20 poems apparently written by Louisa May Alcott, the author of Little Women, in Worcester! They were written under various pseudonyms and were discovered at the American Antiquarian Society.
Chapnick discovered Alcott’s other stories as part of his research into spiritualism and mesmerism. As he scrolled through digitized newspapers from the American Antiquarian Society, he found a story titled “The Phantom.” After seeing the name Gould at the end of the story, he initially dismissed it as Alcott’s story.
And let’s see—one more plug for the Worcester Sucks merch store! Grab your “Worcester has a dome over it” swag today!
Thanks everyone. Have a good Sunday.