HANSON — Lawyers for the town and Whitman-Hanson Regional School District are expected to meet Thursday, March 31 — along with Selectmen Chairman Bruce Young and School Committee Chairman Bob Hayes — to review the legal options open to the town regarding the form and procedures for a Proposition 2½ override ballot question in a regional school district.
The meeting is aimed at providing the answers selectmen need to vote on placement of the override article on the Town Meeting warrant or directly to a ballot by the Tuesday, April 5 deadline.
Selectmen also voted 4-1, with Selectman Don Howard dissenting, to select Michael McCue as the new town administrator pending the completion of a background check and successful contract negotiation.
Young had consulted the Department of Revenue (DOR) website at mass.gov/dls to determine what options might be open to the town and suggested one of two multiple-question overrides might best suit Hanson as it approaches the WHRSD budget for fiscal 2017.
“Basically, [MGL Ch. 59 Section 21] for some reason, makes the Board of Selectmen the appropriating authority, not the Town Meeting, for the placement of ballot questions,” Young said. “It also gives the Board of Selectmen various options as to how those ballot questions may be placed.”
A “menu” override would break the Student Success budget’s 20 program segments, approved by the School Committee on March 16, into separate questions from which voters may choose the ones they are willing to support.
A “pyramid,” or “tiered” form breaks such issues down into two or more funding levels. The traditional contingency article would have Town Meeting vote on May 2 regarding placement of a single funding question on the ballot.
The question is would either option to a contingency article — written concerning local school districts — be legal for a regional district?
School district counsel James Toomey argues it is not legal and town counsel Jay Talerman had not yet offered an opinion, which Young has sought.
“We need a complete and accurate picture of what the selectmen can and can’t do in relationship to the proposed assessment and subsequent override,” Young said of his request to Talerman. Young indicated the tier, if not the menu option, may apply based on Talerman’s preliminary review.
“The second section … explicitly provides a Town Meeting must act on the total budget and is prohibited from allocating from among accounts or placing any restrictions on the appropriated money,” Hayes read from an email from Toomey. “I think the vote has to be up or down, whether we like it or not. It’s a budget that has been voted upon by an elected body,” Hayes said.
Selectmen were referring to voting options on a Town Election ballot.
Former Selectmen James Egan agreed with Toomey.
“I’ve had a little bit of experience in this area,” Egan said. “The School Committee determines how to spend the money, it’s the role of he Board of Selectmen to determine how to get the money. You can’t do what [Selectman James McGahan] is saying about tiering and making choices … that is not the role of a Proposition 2 ½ override. … You don’t have the right to determine how monies are spent.”
Young said he agreed with that, and it’s why he questions the menu option.
McGahan favors a menu option because he said he does not believe an “all-or-nothing” ballot question would pass in Hanson.
“I personally don’t like the override approach,” McGahan said. “It’s too risky.”
He said on Wednesday morning that voters need to know in which of the towns additional teachers and security cameras included in the budget request will go, especially in view of declining enrollment in Hanson schools.
“If we’re going to support this, this, this, but not this and not that — it’s defeated,” Interim Town Administrator Richard LaCamera cautioned about voting in a different manner from Whitman, which would send the budget back to the School Committee. “A lot of those options that are in this 2½ ballot question only apply to local school districts. Most of the options having to do with the tier structure … doesn’t work in a regional school district, unless the School Committee accepts a lower amount.”
The W-H Regional School Committee unanimously voted on March 16 to transfer $750,000 from the excess and deficiency fund and to set a 20.15-percent increase to the towns’ assessments in support of a Student Success budget for fiscal 2017. With the assessment increase accompanying the Student Success budget, the total fiscal 2017 operating budget sought will be $49,714,344.
Hanson’s share of the operating assessment is $8,956,207 — with $1,241,141 subject to an override vote — based on student population and Whitman’s is $12,719,345 — with $1,762,588 subject to an override vote.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Ruth Gilbert-Whitner stressed that the budget’s bottom line has increased only 1/10th of a percent and will actually fall short of level service without an override.
For Whitman voters, an override would mean an additional $1.24 per $1,000 in valuation [$336 per year on the average home value of $270,940 to $558 on homes valued at $450,000], in Hanson, it would mean an additional $1.13 per $1,000 in valuation [$331 per year on the average home value of $293,500 to $509 on homes valued at $450,000].
LaCamera said Hanson officials are proposing a 3.5-percent assessment increase, a figure, which would support the level-service school budget.
Selectmen approved Michael McCue of Mansfield as its selection for the town’s next town administrator.
Young and McGahan reported they had each taken a finalist — Young checking McCue’s references and McGahan checking Sarah Smith of East Bridgewater — asking a dozen identical questions for each in conversations with all references.
Both said they received nothing but glowing responses for each candidate, but selectmen preferred McCue’s experience. He is currently town administrator Rochester, a post he has also held in Avon, and has served as an administrative assistant to selectmen in Mendon, as an Economic Development grants officer in Walpole and was a selectman in Mansfield for six years. McCue had been a finalist for Hanson’s former executive secretary position about 12 years ago when Michael Finglas was hired, and his parents have lived in town for about 20 years.
Young said he wanted “the best of the best” for the job.
“I lean, personally toward someone with more experience,” agreed Selectman Bill Scott.
McGahan said he struggled with his decision, and lauded Smith’s initiative in attending some selectmen’s meetings during the process.
“I liked her attitude, I like the way she conducted herself,” he said. “But I do think, if you’re looking at the résumé, if you’re looking at the experience, I would echo what Bill said.”
Selectman Kenny Mitchell concurred, but Howard voted for Smith.
“She’s new, she’s young and vibrant and I think she’d make a good candidate for the town of Hanson,” Howard said.
The board also voted to have a Norwell private investigation firm conduct a background check including a nationwide criminal, civil and financial search; employment verification; academic degree confirmation and a nationwide media, news and public data search.