By Tracy F. Seelye, Express editor
HANSON — Selectmen voted Tuesday night to support five immediate repair needs at Indian Head and Maquan schools in an effort to finish the work before school starts Wednesday, Aug. 27.
The board also discussed an Open Meeting Law complaint filed by a resident after selectmen Bill Scott and James McGahan attended a July 30 meeting of the School Repair Priority Committee, which is chaired by Selectman Bruce Young. The complaint was deemed unfounded, as no dilerations were conducted between the three selectmen at that meeting.
In the meantime, Tuesday’s 4-0 vote — Selectman Don Howard abstained — clears the way for the $82,169 in repairs to be made and a financing article prepared for Town Meeting approval.
The list of repairs — sidewalks, library carpet and dishwasher replacement at Indian Head as well as cafeteria floor and boiler repair at Maquan — were deemed emergencies as they present insurance liability risks, the need for state certfication compliance for the boiler and a diswasher deemed beyond repair.
The meeting was attended by School Committee Chairman Bob Hayes of Hanson, School Committee member and Facilities Subcommittee Chairman Fred Small of Whitman, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Ruth Gilbert-Whitner and both assistant superintendents Craig Finley who heads district operations and Ellen Stockdale who supervises teaching and learning.
Vice Chairman of the Priority Committee Michael Jones also attended.
“We’re looking at some of the larger items, but we also want to address the smaller items that we’ve come across,” Young said. “We definitely need to address some of these before school takes place, and that’s agreed on buy the members of the school department.”
Town Administrator Ron San Angelo reminded selectmen that the School District is expending the money now and need to “feel comfortable that they’re standing side-by-side with selectmen” so residents know the warrant article at Town Meeting is a joint recommendation.
Howard asked why the inside projects were being handled before the leaking roof.
“The roof is under consideration for some other type of repairs,” Hayes said. “These repairs we’re talking about we’re trying to get done before the opening of school because of some of the insurance problems.”
Past repair efforts on a low-bid carpet installed several years ago have been ineffective and the rug presents a trip hazard, as does the unneven tile in the cafeteria.
The repair considerations have also raised the issue of how an emergency is determined.
“We do agree that going forward we are going to establish a new policy or agreement on what an emergency might be [determined],” San Angelo said. “Now that we are recognizing that the schools are getting older and we’re talking about a lot more emergency repairs than we have in the past, all of a sudden these numbers are starting to inflate.”
He suggested a town-side budget line, similar to that approved at Whitman’s Annual Town Meeting, so emergency repairs can more quickly be funded.
Gilbert-Whitner said a subcommittee is reviewing the regional agreement including whether the $5,000 school obligation before towns are required to foot the balance of repair bills should be raised.
“Whatever it is, it essentially comes out of taxpayers’s pockets, so you’re going to have to pay it one way or the other,” she said.
The locking system at Maquan School, which “doesn’t even exisist,” is an item which should also be included as an emergency repair, Scott maintains. It was not included on the list brought forth to selectmen Tuesday.
Finley said the district has been meeting with both the police and fire chiefs to vet the systems for door locks, which should be able to be installed with children in the schools.
The Open Meeting Complaint, filed by resident James Armstrong, was determined to be unfounded by both Town Counsel Jay Talerman and San Angelo, who reported that finding in a letter prepared for him by Talerman to the Attorney General’s Office Division of Open Government. The corrective action sought was completion of training in the law’s requirements, which is already being done by the board’s newer members.
Selectmen Chairman David Soper said the proper procedure for such a complaint should have been to contact the board first.
“Going forward, you’re going to see two or three selectmen at some of these meetings,” Soper said. “I would just caution everybody who wants to make a call that the board should be notified first, that’s protocol.”
The board would then discuss the issues involved with a complainant and determine the next steps.
“The Open Meeting Law is taken quite seriously and shouldn’t be used as a political widget for whoever thinks it’s to their advantage,” he said.
Scott and McGahan sat in the audience at the July 30 meeting in question. Scott said at the time he was offering his comments as a private citizen, which the Open Meeting Law allows, and McGahan explained he was attending in his role as a member of the School Committee’s Facilities Subcommittee.
“We were acting on the best interests of the town,” said McGahan who also called Armstrong to discuss the matter. That discussion revealed the Board of Selectmen’s vote to rescind the pay-as-you-throw grant was the real issue involved, he said.
“I truly was disappointed,” McGahan said. “We should try to be respectful of one another.”