|By G. Michael Dobbs|
SPRINGFIELD A business ombudsman, a combined dispatch center for police, fire and ambulance services, and the identification of funding sources for proposed programs were just three of the recommendations released last week in the executive summary of the reports from Mayor Domenic Sarno's transition teams.
The lengthy summary contains dozens of suggestions offered by a wide spectrum of business people, civic leaders and citizens through a process started in January.
Sarno told Reminder Publications he will now consider the recommendations and how they could be incorporated into the city budget. He said he must be "very prudent and fiscally responsible" as he anticipates the next two years might be challenging ones in terms of state aid.
He added the proposed extension of the re-payment schedule for the state's loan of $52 million to the city is very important to the city's continuing economic recovery.
Sarno thanked the members of his transition teams and said, after attending many of the meetings, that many people in the city were "just happy to be heard."
The Report of the Economic Development Sub-Committee
A business ombudsman position in the Mayor's Office should be created representing the interest of business. The ombudsman would interact with businesses and city departments to help navigate the processes and interactions between business owners and the City.
Larger businesses identified workforce as their most pressing need. The Committee recommends that the Mayor fully endorse and implement the Springfield Workforce Development Plan as developed by the Regional Employment Board. The plan establishes strategies to improve emerging, transitional and incumbent workforce supply to strengthen our businesses' competitiveness; increase workforce skills and close the existing workforce skills gaps. Special attention should be paid to the establishment of a universal Pre-Kindergarten in the City of Springfield. Such a standard will set children on the right path toward education and skill development for long-term supply of workers for our businesses.
The City should continue to develop projects identified in the Urban Land Institute report until they have reached a completed status. Snapshots of these development projects include: 31 Elm St., the former York Street Jail, the Federal Building and Union Station.
An underutilized private group is the Springfield Business Development Corporation (SBDC) whose mission is to redevelop difficult real estate projects for business use. SBDC should be given appropriate funding to redevelop parcels in the City of Springfield that are important components of in the City's economic in development . A renewed SBDC will be vitally important along the State Street Corridor, the South End, the Riverfront and the Downtown.
The Mayor should appoint a working committee to identify potential funds for marketing; develop a strategic long-term marketing plan and identify appropriate venues for the marketing so the City's assets can be vigorously promoted.
Report of the Public Safety Sub-Committee
The Mayor should establish a Police Commission or Civilian Board that will have lawful authority and oversight of the Police Department. Public trust requires citizen participation in and review of police activity. The Civilian Complaint Review Board appointed by Mayor Ryan was a good faith effort to accomplish that goal, but this board is advisory without realized authority. The previous police commission had real authority and civilian review, but its policies and procedures were outdated. The new board must operate with revised and modernized rules and regulations.
The Mayor should establish a Police Advisory Board comprised of members of the business community, neighborhood representatives and educators, all of whom hold a direct interest in public safety. This Advisory Board will provide valuable insight and community feedback while further promoting public trust.
EMERGENCY DISPATCH CENTER
The Mayor should conduct a feasibility study regarding a combined emergency dispatch center for police, fire and medical services.
POLICE DEPARTMENT EXPANSION
We recommend that the Mayor immediately expand the size of the Police Department by a minimum of 50 officers. A comprehensive examination of the size of the Fire Department labor force should also be initiated to determine if there is a need for expansion.
An enhanced, collaborative approach to address the issue of domestic violence is necessary.
Report of the Education Sub-Committee
EXCELLENCE AND COLLABORATION
A district engaged in the education of all children must collaborate with city departments, agencies and organizations as well as on a state and federal level. With its hierarchical leadership model, the system lacks the level of coordination necessary to foster effective change in spite of much community involvement and the continued effort of many dedicated educators. A collaborative team approach without political influence or interference is needed. Reorganization of the system must reflect the changing delivery of instruction and the integration of academic and support programming.
New delivery models include a continuum from preschool to post high school careers and college. The hiring, development and retention of highly qualified teachers must be the primary goal of a learning organization. Change cannot be piecemeal.
A comprehensive review of initiatives, programs and policies is needed to address and correct counter-productive results. Testing for accountability is essential, but duplicate testing and excessive testing should be eliminated. New school leadership positions have merit; however, implementation must be careful and deliberate so as not to produce classrooms led by an abundance of new or uncertified teachers. Scripted lesson plans aim to help new teachers, but their rigid enforcement for all teachers has led to teacher frustration. Similarly, the implementation of block schedules has impacted many courses. In some cases, programs have been decreased or eliminated also; the number of classes and students in those classes has increased. Recognizing that more time is needed, we must look at various extended day and year models rather than attempt to add more time in the same school day and year. Academic rigor cannot be confused with increased graduation requirements that dictate a sequence of study without consideration of career and college goals. All initiatives should be evaluated based on the actual impact.
DATA DRIVEN SOLUTIONS
Effective organizations are data driven. Accurate significant data is needed. The Achievement Gap data, attendance and truancy data and data on the qualifications of staff and numbers for individual schools need to be analyzed.
BUDGET AND STAFFING
An independent, comprehensive review of the Springfield Public Schools budget must end with an evaluation of the effectiveness of personnel and programs. Specific attention must be placed on key areas: top management and supervisory Central Office staff; the administrative staffing formula, teaching and support staff at the schools; transportation with the Boundary Plan; school cleaning and maintenance; the food programs; attendance and truancy programs. Communication is needed with the State regarding the funding formula for charter schools and the inter-district choice program. A review of the budgets also should consider funding to sustain model programs that began under state or federal grants.
DISCIPLINE AND SAFETY
The district has many policies and initiatives to address discipline and safety for students and staff. With the many changes in the schools due to student assignment changes and staff transfers or new teachers, educators need ongoing training to address students with emotional and behavioral issues. The attendance policy also needs review since it affects academic achievement, promotion and graduation rates. Summer programs to address academic deficiencies need to be examined for effectiveness and student success.
Report of the Health and Human Services Sub-Committee
Annual public health spending through the Springfield Department of Health and Human Services should be increased by a minimum of $500,000 to achieve the median per capita spending of local health care authorities in the Northeast. A full-time health planner/grants writer position should also be established to assist in securing needed funds.
The Springfield Public Health Council, in collaboration wit the Department of Health and Human Services, should develop a five-year Strategic Plan, to be completed within six months. The recommended Strategic Plan should focus on addressing the health care disparities throughout the City on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis, including but not limited to, the following indices: rates of cardiovascular disease, infant mortality, diabetes, domestic violence and teen pregnancy. The Strategic Plan should be sensitive to the diverse ethnic groups and cultures composing Springfield neighborhoods so that competent, effective approaches can be implemented. In preparing the recommended Strategic Plan, the Public Health Council should seek volunteer professional partners to assist in developing the plan and integrate its strategic planning efforts with major private and public health care providers and insurers.
Domestic violence remains a major health and safety issue in Springfield and a root cause of community violence. It is recommended that an interdisciplinary and collaborative coordinated community response to domestic violence be developed.
COMMUNITY HEALTH CAMPAIGN
The City of Springfield and the Springfield Department of Health and Human Services should lead a community health education campaign, which includes local health care providers, the business community, insurers, and private/public educational institutions. The campaign will serve to inform, enroll, and improve access to health insurance and health care.
Report of the Finance Sub-Committee
Revenue projections used to establish budget levels should be monitored throughout the fiscal period to ensure tracking. Significant variances should be examined and a determination made as to the overall effect on the budget as well as the underlying reasons for variances and the action that might be taken to rectify the problem. Monthly reports on the overall budgeted revenues should be provided to the Mayor and Finance Control Board indicating problem areas, reason for the problem and recommended action. Revenue projections should be based on sound, conservative evaluation and analysis, as well as prior history and knowledge of current mitigating circumstances.
Provisions of Chapter 656 should be re-instituted whereby Department heads are held responsible for over expending their budgets. As per Chapter 656, the financial impact of long-term contracts and commitments should be determined prior to their adoption, and an opinion as to the City's ability to meet funding requirements be rendered by the CFO of the City. Chapter 656 additionally should be amended to further stipulate that if the CFO does not certify the availability of funds, a report be prepared outlining all of the criteria used in his or her determination and submitted to the Department of Revenue for their review. If the DOR concurs with the CFO's determination, the City is precluded from incurring the proposed obligation.
The City should require that all proposed spending for new programs or services be accompanied by the method of funding, either revenue source, or reductions in other areas of the budget. The Mayor should also establish a policy whereby sufficient allowances for un-collectibility be established and offset against the estimated revenue prior to determination of overall spending capacity.