WHITMAN – A suggestion made during the Monday, Jan. 9 WHRSD Regional Agreement Committee that all School Committee votes require a two-thirds vote to carry, was greeted with concern by Whitman Selectmen at their Tuesday, Jan. 24 meeting.
Right now, only budget certification needs a two-thirds vote to pass.
Whitman representative to the Regional Agreement Committee, Select Board member Justin Evans reported on the two meetings held on Jan. 9 and 23. The vote issue was discussed on Jan. 9.
Evans said the voting threshold was the only issue on that agenda that delved into deep discussion.
Hanson Select Board member and Regional Agreement Committee representative Jim Hickey said that is why he felt that a two-thirds vote on any kind of vote taken by the School Committee would make would be the easiest way to solve the problem.
“On anything that the School Committee would actually vote for, you’d need seven out of 10,” he said on Jan. 9. “If the School Committee is doing their job, there’s never a tie vote.”
Evans told his board that the expectation was that Hanson would seek reconfiguration of how many members come from each town, as that approach has been discussed to this point.
“I wanted to get the opinion of this board because I think that will be the biggest area of disagreement when we go back for next Monday’s meeting,” Evans said. “How do we feel about every vote the School Committee takes being at least a two-thirds vote.”
Interim Town Administrator Frank Lynam said that, just like a budget vote. The proposed change would require two-thirds of all members, and not just of those School Committee members present to approve anything.
“It would really be inappropriate to change the number of members from each town,” Lynam said, noting that representation is based on population. “The alternative was a suggestion that there’s some – I would call unfounded concern – that Whitman having six members and Hanson having four members, puts them in a difficult position when issues are controversial, and the interests of a particular town are at hand.”
Lynam said he could only remember one vote, in all his years of dealing with the region, that broke down along town lines, 6-4 and that was the assessment method of dividing costs to the schools.
“The question is, is there enough concern, either on the Whitman side or the Hanson side, that we need to put in some type of circuit-breaker that prevents us from voting along town lines on issues that effect the School Department,” Lynam said.
Evans said he thinks the School Committee members will push back on the proposals as well, because it couldn’t function without seven members.
“I think they’ll push back on that pretty hard,” he said. “They may entertain two-thirds of present members, which would create all kinds of strange scenarios for voting.”
Evans said he is uncertain if he could personally support the proposal but stressed he is the representative to the committee from the Select Board and wanted to get their opinion.
“I don’t even know if they’d reach out to counsel to see if it’s allowable, according to state law,” Evans said.
Select Board Chair Randy LaMattina said he understood Evans’ concern and the nature of compromise, but that the most important vote the School Committee takes every year is the budget and views the issue as “an internal problem.”
“I don’t know if I would argue it,” he said.
“This is a decision that doesn’t effect our hand so much as the School Committee themselves,” Evans said. “I think their opinion matters more than ours, but I wanted to see how we felt.”
Select Board members Dr. Carl Kowalski said he didn’t see any reason to go to a two-thirds vote.
“It doesn’t make sense to me,” he said. “Leaving it the way it is, does.”
“For as long as I’ve been involved, Hanson’s had the chair,” Evans said.
“Yes, they have,” Kowalski said.
Evans noted that Regional Agreement Committee members do see the reorganization votes are a time when the two-thirds vote would definitely come into play.
The current agreement stipulates that “in accordance with one man, one vote committee members will be elected by voters in member communities, with each community’s representation apportioned according to population” and adjusted every five years, beginning in 1995.
School Committee Chair Christopher Howard said his interpretation was that the passage pertained to the interim committee and that the proposed agreement kept that unless and until “a shift in the effective populations in the member towns … creates an impermissible disparity, based on the one person, one vote principal, the committee will address the disparity by either adjusting the committee members or weighing the votes.”
A state law governing how regional committees can form their membership through one of five ways:
Electing committee members by voters in each town with the number of members apportioned by population;
Electing members through district elections on biennial state election ballots;
Electing members with residency requirements in district elections on biennial state election ballots;
Weighing the votes of committee members according to the population they represent; or
Appointing committee members by locally elected officials such as school board members.
Howard said issues that had been difficult to surmount in past years because “we couldn’t get a two-thirds vote.”
School Committee Vice Chair Christopher Scriven noted that, while it may not always be right, people tend to vote for their town.
“To me, that’s wrong,” Hickey said. “I think the School Committee, as members has to hold themselves to a higher standard.”
Evans also reported to the Whitman Select Board on Jan. 24 that the Regionalization Committee discussed busing calculations again as well as what capital needs of the schools come under the heading of an “emergency” cost.
Evans said in years when the School Committee has a large balance in excess and deficiency, they could pay for emergency repairs of most kids, but in leaner budget years, even some of the smaller costs will have to be sent to the towns.
“I personally think an emergency cost is an emergency,” LaMattina said. “It is going to impact you going to school the next day, or impact a particular school or classroom.”
“That’s where most of the conversation was,” Evans said.
Select Board Vice Chair Dan Salvucci stressed that he did not want to see repairs delayed until they were big enough to pass along to the town.
“As far as I’m concerned, that is mismanagement of town buildings,” he said.
Evans also said requiring a periodic review of the Regional Agreement was relatively non-controversial.