HOLYOKE — State Sen. Donald R. Humason, R-Westfield, and state Rep. Aaron M. Vega, D-Holyoke, are scheduled to update a City Council committee today about legislation and other issues at City Hall.
The Development and Governmental Relations Committee meets at 6 p.m. but public hearings will be held early in the agenda so the committee will hear from the legislators around 7 p.m., Chairman David K. Bartley said.
The leadership changes at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, the bridge on Lyman Street near The Wherehouse? restaurant and public school issues are among matters that Bartley said he expects will be discussed.
City Council rule 32A requires that councilors seek periodic updates from legislators, he said.
The state-funded Holyoke Soldiers’ Home at 110 Cherry St. provides residences and in- and out-patient health care to military veterans. Established in 1952, it employs more than 300 people, has 265 long-term care beds and 30 private rooms for veterans and serves 2,200 veterans a year. It has a yearly budget of $23.1 million.
The leadership transition has been clash-filled, as officials have argued about departure dates, how long-standing employees have been treated and who has authority to choose the new superintendent.
Cheryl Lussier Poppe, superintendent of the Chelsea Soldiers’ Home, was scheduled to become interim director of the Holyoke Soldiers’ Monday. Paul Barabani, a retired Army National Guard colonel, in mid-December announced his plan to retire as superintendent of the Holyoke facility at the end of January. He had been superintendent since February 2011.
John Paradis resigned as deputy superintendent as of Jan. 1 because he said he didn’t want to work with a superintendent other than Barabani.
Steven E. Como, chairman of the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home board of trustees, in mid-December also announced his plan to depart, saying it was time to move on and he wanted to give Gov. Charlie Baker a chance to appoint his own board chairman. But he has remained as board chairman until Baker chooses a successor.
The state has posted the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home superintendent job and applications are due Feb. 12. Como said he expects the search will begin in early March.
The state has posted notice that the job is available at a yearly salary of $57,285 to $151,560.
Work on the bridge over the first-level canal on Lyman Street has lingered for years. In early 2014, Michael Verseckes, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation (DOT), said the project wasn’t scheduled to move from design to construction until at least 2018.
The DOT’s projects update page showed Monday that schedule had yet to change, with the Lyman Street bridge still listed in the design phase.
The estimated cost to replace the bridge and improve sidewalks there remains $11,762,602, according to DOT.
Public school issues normally are mostly outside the jurisdiction of the City Council. That is even more the case with the state’s decision April 28 to seize control of the Holyoke schools because of persistently poor academic performances and place them under control of a receiver.
Stephen K. Zrike, formerly superintendent of schools in Wakefield, took control of the schools as receiver July 6. The receiver’s authority exceeds that of the mayor, who is chairman of the School Committee, and the School Committee.
A school issue that could come up during the committee meeting relates to funding and charter schools. Baker wants to give district schools an extra $20.5 million next year through the charter school reimbursement formula, for a total of $101 million, with most of the extra money going to poorly performing school districts that have large numbers of charter school students.
But the formula would give most districts less money in future years than they are entitled to under the current law.
Baker’s funding plan comes as officials debate whether to permit more charter schools to open in the state.
The cap on charter schools is based on a formula related to what a community devotes to net school spending. Each time a student transfers from a public school to a charter school, the money that the public school system spent on the student accompanies the student to the charter school, at a rate of up to 18 percent of the community’s net-school spending total.
Supporters say charter schools are especially helpful in urban areas with schools that the state has determined to be underperforming academically. This is because unlike traditional public schools, charter schools have more flexibility over curriculum design, length of the school day and the hiring and firing of teachers, supporters said.
Charter schools are financed with tax dollars but operate independently of school districts. In most cases in Massachusetts, charter school teachers aren’t unionized.
Foes say that charter schools compete with district schools for limited tax dollars and that nonunion shops threaten teachers’ collective bargaining power.