The divide between Whitman and Hanson select boards concerning the school assessment formula remains even as talks continue.
Whitman Selectmen on Tuesday, May 5, reaffirmed their commitment to the statutory formula even as they left the door open to a compromise proposal from Hanson.
The towns also opted to find alternative ways to honor those who served on Memorial Day this year. Whitman Selectmen canceled parade plans with no announced plans for an alternative observation yet, while Hanson Selectmen are looking toward a scaled-down ceremony to be televised on local cable access television as well as possible citizen participation.
At the end of a lengthy a joint session with the Finance Committee, which devolved into a heated debate on a possible compromise vs. staying the course, Whitman Selectmen voted 4-1 to stick by an earlier vote to base the school budget on the statutory assessment formula. Whitman Selectman Justin Evans, who is on the negotiating subcommittee voted no.
Later in the meeting, however, Selectman Randy LaMattina argued for a reconsideration that, while not approved, left the door open to hearing out any Hanson compromise. Selectmen Chairman Dr. Carl Kowalski made that motion initially suggesting replacement with wording expressing the board’s willingness to continue discussion about how the current budget is funded, but moving to the full statutory formula next year.
LaMattina suggested the language be changed again to commit Whitman to acknowledge any offer from Hanson in a public meeting for discussion “at a minimum.” He argued that such a move puts the ball back in Hanson’s court.
“I think we’ve drawn a line in the sand tonight,” LaMattina said. “By principle, I think, [it’s a situation] where we’re absolutely right. It’s just one of those things where we may be cutting off our nose to spite our face.”
He said there was a lot of negativity expressed in the meeting that was cast at the wrong group of people, which he found frustrating.
“If [Hanson] came to us, we would be doing the same thing, we would be in the same position,” LaMattina said, arguing that the source of the divide is evident in the recordings of the previous regional agreement meetings, viewable on WHCA-TV’s YouTube Channel.
“[School] Administration, at that time, knew there was an issue,” he said. “They did not tell the towns, plain and simple.”
He argued it would be wrong to paint the town of Hanson as they enemy now. While he said he believes Whitman is in the right, LaMattina questioned whether it was worth risking the regional partnership over it.
“This is crunch time,” he said. “My vote came tonight because we need a path forward.”
Whitman Town Administrator Frank Lynam said if there was a way to keep the door open to Hanson, it is to Whitman’s mutual benefit.
Whitman Selectman Brian Bezanson asked how long Whitman’s kindness would be taken advantage of, reminding the board that their fiduciary responsibility is to Whitman residents.
“The stakes are pretty high on this and I think it’s at least worth trying,” said Selectman Justin Evans.
Hanson Selectmen Chairman Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett noted to her board the same evening, that Whitman officials seemed divided.
“One camp in Whitman is proposing that we split the difference between what would be the statutory method and the per pupil method,” she said. “Some have suggested that they’d be willing to transition after that to fully statutory at some point in the regional agreement, and some have suggested that they would want it to be statutory immediately after this year.”
Other Hanson board members expressed cautious interest in compromise talks.
In Whitman, Selectman Dan Salvucci said he did not see what reconsideration in favor of a compromise could accomplish. “Closing the window to negotiation is not a good idea, in my opinion, however, I do agree that there should be a limit on what we are willing to pay,” said Whitman Finance Committee member John Galvin.
The towns were more in accord with their approach to alternatives to a Memorial Day Parade. Whitman Town Administrator Frank Lynam suggested postponing a parade until either July 4 or combining it with the Veterans Day parade.
“Are we cancelling it?” LaMattina asked.
“If we don’t have a Memorial Day parade on Memorial Day, it’s considered cancelled,” Kowalski said.
Hanson has also been considering the alternatives.
“I’ve been thinking about this for awhile,” said Veterans’ Agent Timothy White. “It’s really all unknown and it’s kind of hitting the period between Mothers Day and Memorial Day.”
He suggested three options — cancellation, as 90-percent of towns are said to be doing; postpone it until the fall in combination with the planned 200th Anniversary parade; or coming up with an alternative observation akin to a rolling rally in their cars under escort.
“It doesn’t necessarily satisfy everyone,” White said of the latter option, noting that not all veterans drive. “The older generation is at severe risk for coronavirus and we don’t have a clue who is a carrier.”
He also said there is a contingent of folks who would insist on Memorial Day be observed on the actual holiday, but FitzGerald-Kemmett said she did not feel right subjecting vulnerable veterans to possible coronavirus exposure.
“If we really respect these folks who have served our country — which we do — and we really want to honor them, we don’t want to be exposing them unnecessarily,” said FitzGerald-Kemmett. “If you really care about them, perhaps this is not the year we’re going to push the envelope and … I, for one would think it heartbreaking that something that we did would unwittingly cause a veteran to get infected with COVID.”
Selectman Matt Dyer suggested a call to action throughout the town, like the display of a flag or asking families to individually plant flowers on a veterans’ grave. FitzGerald-Kemmett said the latter idea might provide the PTO with an opportunity to involve the town’s children in the observation by sharing home projects with the community.
White indicated he was concerned about maintaining social distancing at the cemetery.
Selectman Kenny Mitchell said he felt the best option would be to cancel the parade. Selectman Jim Hickey suggested that WHCA-TV televise a small ceremony at which a prayer, wreath-laying and “Taps” could be featured, and Selectman Wes Blauss agreed that it was a good idea, volunteering to assisting any way he was needed. Executive Director Eric Dresser said he would be willing to discuss the logistics of that proposal.