WHITMAN — Town Administrator Frank Lynam updated the Board of Selectmen about WHRSD audit process on Tuesday, Jan. 28, expressing concern about the emergence of a group that is, perhaps seeking to develop a method to de-regionalize the school district.
“I could not be more opposed to that concept,” Lynam said. “This audit would not have any relationship to that type of an analysis. We simply want to understand how the money comes in, how it’s allocated, what the growth factors are and see if we can project out.”
Selectmen Chairman Dr. Carl Kowalski agreed that getting the information the audit would supply is extremely important, but cautioned that no one should take it as an expression that the board favored de-regionalization.
“We’re still firm in our stand that the statutory should be used this year,” Kowalski said he told Hanson Selectmen Chairman Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett in a phone conversation. “We are also not in favor of de-regionalization.”
He said FitzGerald-Kemmett understands the situation and is trying to get through a difficult time in her town with some “dicey” input from some of the members of her town about the relationship between the towns.
Kowalski said he reminded her of the budget cycle a couple of years ago when Whitman thought it could only do 5 percent and his board’s “most fiscally conservative member,” Brian Bezanson said Whitman should just give the towns what they needed. Within the levy limit, using free cash, Whitman came up with about $800,000 to match what Whitman needed to match for the children.
“We are partly where we are today fiscally because of that move that we made,” Kowalski said. “Whitman has shown that it is interested in the health of the school system. It has shown it by making a sacrifice when it was hard to make it. That is a fact, and that ought to be clear.”
Since 2017, Whitman has sacrificed $3.3 million.
“We’re not asking for it back, we’re not assigning blame or responsibility for what happened,” Kowalski said. But it’s a thing that happened — and it hurts, quite frankly. It hurts to hear from a town we’ve partnered with for a long time that we are hard or we don’t care. We all know that we do. We’ve shown that we do.”
He thanked Selectman Randy LaMattina for getting on top of the issue a couple years ago and for getting the town in a position where the town can look forward with some clarity.
“There are some misguided, misinformed statements going on on social media right now that speaks on our current relationship and in our standings,” LaMattina said of the meetings he, Lynam and Selectman Justin Evans have had with Hanson town administrators, FitzGerald-Kemmett and Selectman Matt Dyer. “There has not been much progress, but there is no negativity and we are going to meet again.”
The group’s consensus is to wait until after the School Committee meeting Wednesday, Feb. 5 when the fiscal 2021 budget is presented.
Lynam said the audit is looking for information, but not to assign blame.
Both Lynam and Kowalski lauded the efforts of Superintendent of Schools Jeff Szymaniak to work through the crisis.
Lynam was slated to meet on Wednesday, Jan. 29 with budget managers to review and update submitted budgets to “hopefully bring forward a budget that will conform to the guidelines the board voted last week.”
In other business, Selectmen voted to approve seeking an exam for the open position of fire chief when Chief Timothy Grenno retires.
Lynam met with Civil Service representatives last week at a Mass. Municipal Association conference.
“As of this moment, we do not have an exam for fire chief,” Lynam said. “It’s important for the board to know that it reserves its rights in the event that we don’t have a timely opportunity for an exam, should we need one.”
The board may seek a written exam through HRD, or return to a previously discussed option of an assessment center. He recommended that a written exam be sought.
“It doesn’t mean that our current chief is going anywhere, it simply gives us a list from which to appoint in the event he does leave,” he said. “We should always have a standing list.”
Once the list is issued, it is good for two years.
Lynam announced that the town was notified on Friday, Jan. 24 that changes need to be made to the flood plain in order to continue the town’s participation in the National Flood Insurance Program. Selectmen approved sending the recommended bylaw change to the Planning Board for review and hearings.