The Constitution’s declaration of State power, State freedom. We must understand it and also why it matters a lot.

The Constitution makes it clear that the nation it governs is to be a federal system, uniting fully sovereign states for purposes common to all, and nothing but those which must be common to all, and toward the end of providing for the General Welfare of every state that has agreed to it.

Today we tend to take the Presidency as a popularly elected, plebiscital office, that the president is some sort of tribune of the people, as was the office of tribune in the Roman constitution — literally, the voice of the tribes into which the citizenry of Rome were divided. This is a mistake. The executive office described in Article 2 is almost entirely magisterial, tasked with “(taking) Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.” Actual power is given to Congress, in Article 1, wherein said powers are listed one by one, along with implied powers.

For whose benefit is the President tasked with executing Congress’s laws ?

The question is rarely asked. I can’t recall it being raised in the several courses on American history that I took in college and high school. I can’t recall ever reading an answer, so let me provide one: the President sees to carrying out Congress’s laws for the benefit of the people AND of the States. Why so ? Simple. The President is elected State by State, and each State’s decision is given by the voters registered therein. These are the operative sentences :

The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America. He shall hold his Office during the Term of four Years, and, together with the Vice-President chosen for the same Term, be elected, as follows: Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.

When we tally up the votes for President not by State but as a total, we misread what happens on election night. It may be of note that an aggregate of all voters gives the majority to A rather than B, but the aggregate has no Constitutional significance. It’s beside the point.

This we know; almost all of us fail to understand the reasoning. The actual procedure by which the States elect Article 2’s office holder has nothing to do with aggregation. By empowering the States, each to vote separately, the Constitution encourages local authority to assert ITSELF: freeing each State to pursue its own political objectives — consistent with the Constitution’s prohibitions — because the framers saw power most effective and useful when exercised more locally than not. If that means that the “United States” then becomes 50 sovereign jurisdictions pursuing each its own policies and political shape, is that not what was intended ? The framers did NOT desire uniformity in anything other than the common-market purposes for which the Constitution’s signatories came forward in agreement. But for the exceptions — Equal Protection of the Laws, slavery abolished, citizenship for all who are born within the Federal jurisdiction, etc. — the States are authorized to seek each its own judgement how best to proceed on policy grounds. This is why the election of the national officer entrusted with effecting Congress’s laws receives sanction from the States. Given our current passion for community solutions and community politics, is the State-enabling electoral college more germane than we have come to think of it ?

But for the electoral college, the office of President would be a purely populist electee, unbound by any obligations to regional power centers, an overriding voice of the people — and unchallengable as such because whereas the entire nation knows the President’s name and gait, the entire nation of people knows very little about the Congress. Who can memorize the names of all 535 members of Congress ? Not many. Yet everyone can know the President. By such paths a President becomes the locus of popular aspiration. The Constitution wants nothing of the kind. It wants a power arrangement central only on those matters in which common ground should establish, but locally rules in every other way. That way the office of President is effectively hemmed in, able to act only within its scope, because the States can refuse re-election of even instruct their Congress people to bring a bill of impeachment.

The Constitution made a wise choice. We should learn to act locally, within our State, and add our power of deciding to that of our fellow State citizens and thereby assure that we remain free even as we agree to co-operate nationally on nationwide matters — and ONLY on national matters. May 50 States find 50 separate ways of putting freedom and opportunity into practice. Diversity of views, a multiplicity of choices taken — all gain their political legitimacy from the power given to States by the electoral college manner of choosing.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

IS BOSTON’s $ 1.273 billion 2020 SCHOOL BUDGET WORTH IT ?

John McDonough was the most effective, and one of the best liked, Boston school superintendents of my lifetime. The next super should be someone as much like him as feasible.

Every year now, Boston’s Schools system budget grows by a larger percentage than any other City account. For the coming year, the increase breaks all records : up from $ 1.19 billion to $% 1.273 billion. That’s an increase of $ 83 million dollars : 7.5 percent. In previous years, the increase amounted to three percent, or less than that. So why the huge bump ? Before I take a “deep dive,” as the current slang has it, into the numbers. I have to note that there’s actually a different Boston school budget, one that represents only direct allocation of City money. That budget hasn’t increased very much, only $ 27 million, or 2.6 percent — well within the usual — from $ 1.112 billion to $ 1.139 billion. I’ll take a closer look at both budgets, but before I do that, however, let me insert this quote about education from my friend Ed Lyons, who podcasts often about public spending matters :
Enrollment keeps going down. Spending must keep going up, despite education being information in the middle of an information revolution that makes everything else cheaper. Time for real change in education.

Unfortunately, we who advocate major education reform lost that fight in 2016, when the state’s education bureaucracies, commandeering every elected school committee in our 351 municipalities, beat back an attempt to open up the number of “charter” schools. Encouraging more “charter” schools might have invited a host of innovative school reforms, including online learning, home tutoring, small group experiments, and technology academies. None of that happened, and thus for the foreseeable future we’re left with taxpayer dollars funding an inflexible, sometimes cumbersome — and always too expensive — learning apparatus. One should look at Boston’s $ 1.273 billion schools proposal in this no-reform context. School accounts are given little choice but to continue feeding the beast.

As for the FY 2020 school budget, here’s a link to the proposal, itemized by school. It’s very difficult using this account method to focus on staff salaries at all, much less increase in staffing budgets :

Next comes the school budget using only direct City alloocations. It itemizes in the normal manner, by classification, not by school, and is easier to examine :

Using the direct allocation budget, you’ll notice that the three salary and benefit accounts total $ 144 million, only $ 2 million higher than last year. The budget note says this results from “cost control efforts.” We’re not told what these are, however the schools budget does not list the three school facilities that the City closed this year. Perhaps custodial employees assigned to those facilities were laid off or took retirement ? The only account with an increase higher than most is the “Student Services,” which jumped from $ 54 million to $ 60 million. Why ? We are told this : Replacing federal funding for PEG grant (pre-K at community based partners); also includes out of district special ed and vocational placements and adult ed It is unfortunate to see Federal funding lessen, yet certainly no surprise given the proclivities of Mr. Trump. This hit we’ll just have to take. As for other allocations, the transportation account has risen by about 4.5 percent and now totals $ 96 million. That is a lot of money to send kids all over the city pursuant to a Federal Court desegregation order adopted 45 years ago. Nobody wants segregation to return, yet today’s Boston schools operate in an environment enormously unlike that of 1974. The City is much more residentially integrated, and many parents of color today do not prefer transportation over neighborhood seat assigning. Is it time to revisit the Federal Court order ? Maybe.

Next is the FY 2020 budget itemized by account, which you find not on the main web-page but in its “Budget Development” links. This is the link you need to look at if you want to understand the present deployment of schools money :

You find, in its “Salary” section, that three sub-accounts have risen five percent or more : ELT — English language Teaching, aides, and secretarial. Within the “Aides”: category, I note these exceptional increases: Security, from $ 1,012,178 to $ 1,147,462; Support specialist, from $ 222,908 to $ 373,338; ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) specialist, from $ 4,412,702 to $ 5,269,499; sign language interpreter, from $ 379,342 to $ 496,716. Evidently 2020’s students reflect, perhaps, an increasing number who aren’t prepared well at home, or experience behavior problems, or have sensory deprivation. I do not know why the last should be true, but maybe it is. In any case, my question would be, is the standard Boston school regulation the right venue for behavior difficulty students, or those who are deaf, or those who need support ? We aren’t soon going to find out, I’m afraid. Meanwhile the cost of meeting these kids’ serious needs goes up.

Perhaps the most disturbing numbers are these : the total salary for administrators and aides has risen 3.5 percent, but the total of teachers’ salaries gained only one percent. For 2020, total salaries to administrators and aides equals $ 144.6 million; total teacher salaries amounts to $ 435.2 million. The balance between actual educators and system managers continues favoring the regulators. Given the bright new leadership elected by the Boston Teachers Union, one hopes that this imbalance will reverse. Either the City’s public schools are directed by educators, or they aren’t. I am sure that teachers value having aides in or near the classroom; yet the only reason why the system keeps adding administrators is that more and more governmental regulations are required of school systems forced to compromise locally individual situations to the rules of common purpose. I would prefer regulatory flexibility, devised by the classroom itself and costing much, much less to operate. I think teachers would agree.

The Boston system serves 55,000 students only, yet it maintains facilities for far more students, who do not attend because they are enrolled elsewhere. This is waste. It should stop — and, to his credit, Mayor Walsh is moving to close down several under-utilized school facilities; he is also consolidating most of the rest. That’s a good start toward budget sense.

It’s not enough, however. Boston’s schools should be able to operate from the classroom upward, for most things — the exam schools entrance exam excepted; there may be other exceptions — rather than from the central office down. John McDonough was a very successful Superintendent because he understood this possibility and was working toward it.

Which brings me to my last topic here : choosing anew Superintendent. Tommy Chang was a poor choice from the beginning. You cannot just import an education bureaucrat from anywhere, to satisfy somebody’s “nationwide search” whimsy, and expect him or her to grasp the culture of our very peculiar system with its litigated history and administrative anomalies. Yet Chang also failed to require the most basic administrative diligence : witness the entirely inexcusable financial failures on his watch (and, in all fairness, from before). How many public school systems do YOU know that have been fined by the IRS for failure to file proper paperwork, or which have taken money from one account to pay shortfalls in another ? The ext superintendent must — MUST — be someone with a long record of accomplishment WITHIN OUR OWN SYSTEM; someone, yes, like John McDonough. That superintendent, once installed in office, must commit to reinventing the entire administrative handbook as well as discarding as much as feasible of the $ 96 million transportation budget. Schools should be teacher and student, as much as possible, not teacher, bus, and student.

—- Mike Freedeberg / Here and Sphere


Riders need the T ? The T needs their fares.

A petition is circulating expressing opposition to the MBTA’s proposed 6.7 percent fare hike — big deal. When has a proposed fare hike not been opposed by electeds ? The same electeds who see no difficulty in raising their salaries, and that of their staffs, which taxpayers pay for, somehow find fare hikes, which users pay for, in support of the MBTA budget more than troublesome. But why are taxpayers fair game and users not ? When the bankrupt rail lines of the late 1920s were taken over by the state, so that users could continue to have transportation, the takeover was never considered a free gift. If fares thereafter no longer funded the entirety of transit lines’ budgets, they were yet a significant contributor to transit revenue. That was the bargain : the taxpayers would assume the costs that users by themselves could not. Each interest would share. Otherwise there would have been no more transit.

The sharing of T costs would also be proportional. Users, taxpayers, and serviced municipalities each bore an agreed-upon share of the T budget. Thus as the costs of operating transit rise, so must the dollar contribution made by each interest. That was the agreement by which the current system was enabled.

I see no reason why this agreement should change and many reasons why it should not change. First, however, I include the long-ish column that I wrote about present MBTA financing about three months ago :

All of the arguments adduced in that column by T mangers and elected officials continue in force now. They’re the basis of every dispute about T financing forward. The T confronts four major obligations, all to be met in the same five to fifteen year time frame : ( 1 ) bringing the current lineage to “state of good repair,” an $ 8.6 billion account; ( 2 ) expanding transit service on the Green Line and restoring to operation the Blue Line to Red Line connector between the Blues’ Bowdoin Station and the Red’s Charles Street stop; ( 3 ) converting the T’s bus fleet from diesel to electric as well as bringing mini-buses on line and more bus lines; and ( 4 ) funding the T employees’ pension obligations, presently a $ 97 million number. This last obligation is ramping up and crowding out T operations at the margins. Said Paul Brandley, the T’s CFO, “23 percent of the agency’s payroll costs now go toward pensions,’ a percentage that state Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said was too high. “This is a risk to the T budget, but more importantly it’s a risk to our workforce,” she said. Brandley also said pension spending was budgeted at $97 million for fiscal 2019, but that number had to be increased to $103 million after the pension board lowered its estimate of investment returns from 7.75 percent to 7.5 percent. Brandley also ran some projections for 2022 which indicated costs would rise to $112 million if investment returns hold steady but could go as high as $137 million if returns tank.

The T’s employees are certainly entitled to all the benefits of contracts that they and T management bargain for and agree to. But are pension increases somehow exempt from the basic operating agreement that was set up in the 1930s and continues today ? And if users complain about T service, which remains resistant to full rider satisfaction, are users any less on the hook for the personnel costs of those services ? Let us suppose, for argument’s sake, that the T agrees to forego a fare increase and this throw the entire operating cost onto the taxpayers. Might they, too, not rebel ? Some advocates want the state to do just that : increase the gas tax and tolls on the Turnpike and bridges/tunnels. By what argument do they convince taxpayers who don’t use the T — including those who live and work outside the Boston metro — that they should bear the entire burden of increase of a system they do not use ?

I use the T. I would rather not pay more to use it. Yet even with a 6.7 percent hike, from a $ 4.20 round trip to a $ 4.48 round trip, the T is still a huge bargain compared to the cost of gasoline and of parking if I choose to use my car. It’s cheaper also than an Uber ride — by a lot. As for the argument that a 28 cent increase per daily ride, amounting to maybe $ 7.00 a month, will put the T out of reach of low income riders, I say : really ? And if, perchance, there are some riders who cannot afford an additional $ 7.00 a month, isn’t it about time that our electeds face the fundamental reform that is needed, namely enacting a $ 21/hour, gradual increase minimum wage ? At some point we have to consider this. The T’s proposed $ 7.00 a month hike is nothing compared to the $ 2,200 a month (and up) that most of the City’s two-bedroom apartments rent for. We can’t, or shouldn’t, tax or penalize landlords, who have their own costs to meet, but we can, and should, require employers operating in the city to pay their workers more, for the distinct advantage of operating within the City and not outside it. After all, the need to locate a business Downtown, or close by it, is great these days and growing greater. More and more businesses want to be in the center. Why should they not pay for it ? Not to mention that, the higher their employees’ paychecks, the better educated and more skilled employees they’ll have, and the more ready they’ll be to not jump from one company to another, thereby imposing large retraining and job-searching costs that really seem to me like complete waste of money and work time.

Perhaps businesses don’t like the $ 21/hour proposal ? (Of course they don’t.) Jeff Lyons, who managed Daniel Fishman’s Libertarian party campaign last year for State Auditor, suggests that the naming rights for T stations and bus stops be put out to bid, as is done these days with segments of state and Interstate Highways. It’s one-shot deal, but better that than nothing. The T currently derives some millions of dollars from advertising on buses and transit cars. Why not more ? Maybe the T might make naming rights a renewable, two-year matter. I can’t see huge revenue arising from it, but certainly several millions of dollars isn’t out of reach.

That said, the T’s current $ 2.10 transit fare and $ 5.00 commuter Rail price are incredible bargains. No competing “mobility service” comes close on price. It’s an enormous subsidy to users. We should count ourselves damn lucky that the T’s price isn’t double what it it now is.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


Snow comes to visit, winter in coastal New England

This morning, as I write, the snow has stopped. At my house the snowfall measured eight and a half inches. I see that nearby, folks encountered twelve inches, even up to sixteen. That’s a decent enough number here in coastal New England. We’ve seen much more, now and then, but 16 will definitely do, It covers the trash barrels, buries the back yard snowman up to his armpits, forces the dog to traipse much too carefully, as dogs do not like to do. It falls off the branches and — if you’re not careful — onto the back of your neck, melting down the back of your undershirt.

The roads, however, are clear. as the temperature rises toward 40, melting changes snow to squish. If it were veggies, you’d cook up a hearty stew of it — that squishy is it under foot and in your hands as you try to make snowballs of it — much too wet ! But back to the roads. They’re wet and clear, and I have places to go, one of which was to the computer at which I am typing now, in the nearby public library because all I have is an iPhone. No tablets for me, no iPad, no PC. Turns out the library opened an hour late and is almost empty of readers. Perhaps they’rte reading at home — or still shoveling out. Myself, I started shoveling at 7.30 and made the driveway all beautifully driveable by 9.00. Then coffee at Starbucks, of course, and a cookie — because I can. There I watched the snow stop and the clouds lift just enough that I could see their contours, no longer a foggy mass of moist grey. I imagine Robert Frost planning the sleigh drive that, in the coming evening, found him stopping by the woods.

There’s woods near where I am typing, but they don’t surround. Not since i was a kid have the local woods sprawled over enough acreage that, once within them, you could not see their lend. In those days the snow was thicker, too, and it did not stop when you hoped it would. It kept on coming at you, as if to fill the entire wood deeply enough that you would need skis to traverse them. You could do that then. There were fewer roads through the woods, and those that did exist were rarely plowed. You put chains on your tires and you slashed through the snow, keeping to the road guided by the orange-tipped poles wise wood-keepers placed along the road sides. You needed them, because if you drove the woods you were more often than not the only driver on the road, and but for those tipped orange sticks there was no way to follow the road-bed. No tire tracks ahead of you and only yours behind. It was a partnership, you might say, the snow and you.

I am in the city with this snow. No partnership there, just the snow, begging, like a Golden retriever hungry, for some loving attention — which it will not get from any of the dozens of drivers hurrying along the salted clear highways and the snow-plowed side streets along which residents are still shoveling and snow-blowing their pathways from there to the job they must go to — because unlike school, jobs rarely send out a “stay home” text. The snow doesn’t know what to do with busy people. It wants attention, which means time out from the busy. It doesn’t get much attention. Perhaps I should give it some ? But I did. I attended to it by shoveling it out of my way. I suppose that was rude of me, but I’m no different from anyone else in the city, a place that’s about work, not snow. Fortunately for the snow, the kids differ. From them the snow can get attention. Kids don’t only love dogs, they love snow. You can’t pet snow, or rub its ears, but you can roll in it and laugh as it hugs you. Woof.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere