HANSON — The Hanson De-Regionalization Feasibility Committee has voted to disband because its mission to investigate the possibility of dissolving the Whitman-Hanson Regional School District is beyond its capacity.
The Board of Selectmen heard the decision as part of an update on the committee’s work during its Tuesday, Nov. 17 meeting at which they authorized Town Administrator John Stanbrook to explore the cost of hiring a consulting firm to take over the work.
“While we have very skilled, passionate and dedicated people on this committee that have been working tirelessly, the intricacies of a valid feasibility study are beyond our varied skill set, especially when acquiring the necessary data has become difficult and, at times, impossible,” committee member Kim McCoy read from a letter from the panel, which has been meeting since Sept. 23.
The committee has recommended that Selectmen hire an unbiased consulting firm that would have more authority to obtain the information needed to make a legally, fiscally and educationally informed decision.
“After facing multiple roadblocks in obtaining the necessary documents to prepare financial reports and other analysis, and after analyzing the level of detail in the East Brookfield feasibility study — which is a 27-page document — it’s become apparent that our volunteer, part-time, citizen group is not equipped for a task of this complexity,” McCoy read from the letter. “There are too many components that have to be considered in order to make an informed recommendation about de-regionalization for a group such as ours.”
The committee has “reviewed various documents and brainstormed ideas of what information and documents we would need” to fulfill its mission of making a data-driven decision on whether it makes sense for Hanson to split from the district.
They acquired some documents from the district, but the information was not complete enough to form a “full picture,” of the cost of educating Hanson students within the district according to McCoy.
The committee was also unable to obtain Pembroke’s feasibility study involved in successful de-regionalization efforts. It was able to obtain that paperwork from East Brookfield, however.
“Please know the committee is not making this recommendation lightly and without a heavy heart,” McCoy read.
The committee also pointed to the audit of the school district Hanson and Whitman have funded as a source of important information, but Selectman Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett questioned how much information from it would be useful and how much a consulting firm would cost the town.
Selectmen Jim Hickey said he would approach Stanbrook to issue either an RFP or obtain at lease three bids. Hickey was the Selectmen’s representative on the De-Regionalization Feasibility Committee.
“These people [on the committee] are dedicated and we’re trying, but the last two times that it actually worked was in East Brookfield and in Pembroke, and they both had [consulting] firms that did this,” Hickey said, estimating the cost of the entire process would run in the millions of dollars. “For seven people, no matter how dedicated they are and how much time they put in, we just can’t give it what it deserves.”
FitzGerald-Kemmett said the decision makes sense because the volunteers have full-time jobs and lives, suggesting the consulting firm could work with the de-regionalization committee.
“Know we know what we don’t know,” she said.
McCoy reported that the Pembroke consulting firm is no longer in business, but the firm East Brookfield used is and the committee has reviewed its website.
“You guys still may be needed if we’re ever able to hire a firm,” Selectmen Chairman Kenny Mitchell said.
Hickey said the approval process is too far away after that to venture any guesses.
“We just want to get a price on what it’s going to cost,” he said. “These guys are champing at the bit just to get answers.”