HANSON — Selectmen Chairman Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett has asked town counsel Jay Talerman to reach out to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to discuss regional school assessments with Christine Lynch of the DESE’s Office of Regional Governance.
The board also voted, on Tuesday Nov. 19, to conditionally appropriate not to exceed $30,000 for Hanson’s share of the cost for an independent audit — based on passage of an audit request in Whitman. The Whitman Board of Selectmen approved the audit request the same night. The report would be provided to both town administrators.
The request for information from DESE came before Lynch’s appearance at a School Committee meeting Nov. 5 to provide what FitzGerald-Kemmett called an excellent explanation of the Education Reform Law and how it impacts school assessments.
Lynch had strongly suggested the two towns work together to solve the issue, which led Whitman Selectman Randy LaMattina to invite some Hanson officials to do that.
FitzGerald-Kemmett reported to the board about the Nov. 12 meeting she, Selectman Matt Dyer and interim Town Administrator had with Whitman Selectmen LaMattina and Justin Evans and Town Administrator Frank Lynam concerning the regional school assessment issue.
“The purpose of our meeting was to just lay it on the line that, regardless of what the School Committee votes … there has to be a path forward,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said. “We’ve got an agreement in place and I think the right thing to do … would have been to have folks from Whitman come to us and say, ‘We believe that we can’t sustain the regional agreement the way that it is now.’”
She pointed to Whitman’s financial constraints in suggesting that officials there could ask to discuss a way forward.
“I’m not saying we would have agreed to do it, but we would have at least had a dialog about it,” she said, noting that, instead people have been lobbing verbal hand grenades on social media. “We’re going to end up at super town meeting anyway you look at it, regardless of what the School Committee does.”
FitzGerald-Kemmett said she thinks Hanson is at a place where they still need the School District’s figures on what it is costing each community to educate children this year and how much money each is getting from in the way of Chapter 70 state aid.
“I’m not trying to be incendiary at all because I do appreciate the spirit in which Randy and Justin reached out,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said.
The committee formed by the School Committee to look into assessments has named Chairman Bob Hayes of Hanson and Vice Chairman Christopher Scriven of Hanson to it. Whitman has officially appointed LaMattina and Selectmen Chairman Dr. Carl Kowalski to that committee. Hanson Selectmen Nov. 19 voted to appoint FitzGerald-Kemmett and Selectman Jim Hickey to sit on the assessment committee.
FitzGerald-Kemmett said she is looking for a private auditor to examine the School District finances to offer an impartial examination — a move Whitman Selectmen backed the same evening in their meeting. The cost of the audit, estimated at between $45,000 to $50,000 would be split between the two towns and could take about four to five weeks.
Selectman Kenny Mitchell said it was a step they should take.
Selectman Jim Hickey said he still wants to know why the 2007 DESE language change was never mentioned in School Committee minutes.
Hayes said the School Department is required to hire an independent auditing firm to report to both the Committee and DESE each year.
FitzGerald-Kemmett suggested the new audit’s lens would be more broad than the one required of the schools.
Another point of contention for the towns with the revised Regional Agreement centers on the de-regionalization process, both towns stress is not imminent, but a point of concern centering on the process and costs if it ever came to that.
“It’s probably not the move, we’re so attached at the hip right now, but I think the question is being asked,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said. “So, I feel it’s something I feel we need to have some [discussion] around. I don’t want to spend a lot of time on it. … I want people to feel we’ve looked at all the options.”
Mitchell said the assessment discussion is needed.
“We can be right, but it’s not going to get us what we want,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said. “What do we have to lose? If we don’t go to the bargaining table, it’s going to happen. At least if we sit down to the bargaining table, we may effectuate some change.”
Hayes addressed questions asked by a resident, who used to work for the School District business office about how the statutory assessment change came about. He noted that the state made the change through an amendment to the Education Reform Act.
“The state contributes a ton of money to school districts,” he said. “They are stating that Hanson has more ability to pay before you get to the 60-40 split [in student population].”
In other business, the board voted to hire Carol Jensen as supportive day coordinator at the Hanson Multi-Service Senior Center.
After an internal posting, there were no applicants, but a general posting brought in two applications, Marini said. She and Senior Center Director Mary Collins interviewed both well-qualified candidates.
Jensen has experience in working with dementia and Alzheimer’s patients through Braintree Hospital.
“That’s what the social day care program is and we think she will be a good fit for the position,” Marini said.
The board approved a request from Police Chief Michael Miksch to appoint full-time student police officer Mario Thompson and part-time officer Bryan Rodday.
Thompson, who grew up in town is a part-time officer who has completed a program the full-time officers go through.
“He’s actually working in a cruiser once in a while on his own and has done a great job doing it,” Miksch said. Thompson currently works full time for the Duxbury Harbormaster. He holds a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Bridgewater State University and coached youth football as well as a basketball program for the Special Olympics.
Town Meeting approved the funding for Miksch to hire two officers in January to help offset the move to a regional dispatch center. Thompson would be one of those two and the department has secured an academy slot for him beginning Jan. 6.
Rodday has been a full-time dispatcher in Scituate who applied for a Hanson dispatch job, but also applied for a position as a part-time officer for HPD. A Hanover native, he also holds a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Bridgewater State, and has worked as a special education teacher in Hanover schools as well as home-schooling autistic children.
Miksch called attention to the beard he has been growing — as some other police officers in his department are — for “Mowvember,” during which men are encouraged to grow a mustache and/or beard to fight men’s cancers as well as suicide and to support mental health programs. Hanson Police are participating to raise funds for Cops for Kids with Cancer.
Selectmen also voted to appoint Matthew Cahill of Duxbury as new highway director and heard an update on the Highway Department from interim Surveyor Curt MacLean.
The director’s job and new title was posted after the recent death of Highway Surveyor Bob Brown, according to Marini, who said one internal application has been received for the posting.
“Although his service to the town and experience was extensive, we just wanted to open it up to see if we could get a higher level of qualifications,” she said, noting that six applications were received.
Marini, MacLean and Blauss conducted the interviews.
“All the applicants were well-qualified, but one just stood above the rest, with being a civil engineer and he comes to us from MassDOT [with] 10 years’ experience in the maintenance division and construction division,” Marini told the board. He also has experience in snow and ice removal.
Cahill said he was excited to begin working for Hanson.
“Well, we’re excited to have you before the first snowfall,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said.
MacLean said his biggest concern when he began as interim was snow and ice, but the crews have worked to ensure sanders are ready for winter.
“If we have an event tomorrow, we’re all ready to go,” he said, and thanked Marini and the town’s department heads for being “great to work with” during his tenure as interim surveyor.
MacLean said the current Highway building if “functional” but offers extremely tight quarters and no longer state-of-the-art.
“If you ever had a fire you’d lose all your equipment int hat one building,” he said. “It beats working in a lean-to.”
He also reviewed the protocol for obtaining road signs. For the full meeting, visit the Whitman-Hanson Community Access TV YouTube channel.