Lifelong Whitman resident Heather Fernald is a woman on a mission.
While she has a fundraising goal of $1,500 – the Pacesetter Goal – when she again takes part in the Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund Walk on Sunday, Oct. 1, she said this week that she’d really like to double that.
“I would dream of doubling that,” she said.
When asked where fundraising sits at the moment, she let out an ironic chuckle and said, “Like, $350.”
“My goal is $3,000 and we can say I’m halfway,” she laughed. “Most people end up donating the last couple of weeks.”
Besides trying to fit in more training and boosting her fundraising efforts, she is also devoted to the color pink because of their support for breast cancer fundraising, she said, noting people walk to support research in all forms of the disease.
“She’s fantastic,” Heather said of her mother’s condition. “She uses a Rolator because outside of the house she’s nervous.” Chemotherapy has left her mom occasionally with a situation where her legs go out from under her.
Her mom, who had back surgery two years before she was diagnosed with cancer, also makes sure to keep up with her exercises.
“She gets a couple thousands of steps a day,” she said.
While her mom is an inspiration, Heather said she doesn’t train for the walk, but she’s kicked it up a notch and is back at the gym three days a week, doing a lot of cardio on the treadmill.
With Heather’s work schedule, fundraising has proven challenging, but she does a lot of it through Facebook Fundraising. And she also does some fundraising on the Whitman 02382 Facebook site, where she has received good encouragement and some donations, too.
“I try not to be too pushy – that’s my problem,” she said, noting she ads posts from her training walks to keep interest fresh.
Fernald has participated in the walk, presented by Hyundai, five times before in honor of her mother, who was diagnosed with breast cancer. Last year the walk returned to the Marathon route after two years of “Walk Your Way” events at participants’ homes.
She did hers around town, receiving some friendly horn-beeps and waves, but it doesn’t compare to the Marathon route walk.
“The support from the people just along the route, it’s more encouraging,” she said.
An added boost for this year is that participants will end the route at Fenway Park because of construction going on at Copley.
“My mother is my main reason I walk,” Heather wrote in an announcement run by the Whitman-Hanson Express on Aug. 10. “She is a Breast Cancer Survivor thanks to Dana-Farber and, of course, her own strength and courage!”
Her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017 and was treated at Dana-Farber.
“I’ve been going there since I was in my early 20s,” Heather said of the
preventive care she has received there herself. “They were just so amazing. They’re so amazing to the family members.”
She said Dana-Farber staff have kept up with her on how she’s training for the Marathon walk and have people who visit patient while they undergo treatments and some of the items in the center’s gift shop are free for patients.
Her mom was practical to the soft, handmade hats available. A crafter herself, who creates inspirational rocks to sell at craft fairs. Fernald left about 40 or so of the message stones at the shop for other families when he mother was released.
“The terrible part, but the amazing part is that so many people from all over the world come here for top-of-the-line care,” Heather said.
Heather is the Team Captain of the Journey For Janice team and hopes to raise $1,500.
She said her mother still goes to Dana-Farber for checkups and any needed treatments.
“She doesn’t mind going to the doctor’s when she has to go,” heather said.
“It’s a life-long thing now,” she said. “So [Dana-Farber] is a life-long extended family. It’s not necessarily the family you want, but if you have to have one, they’re really the one to have.”
The 2023 Jimmy Fund Walk will take place on Sunday, October 1, and raises funds to support all forms of adult and pediatric patient care and cancer research at the nation’s premier cancer center, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Whether participating for themselves, loved ones, neighbors, or co-workers, each walker shares a common purpose: to defy cancer and support breakthroughs that will benefit cancer patients around the world.
Participants have the flexibility to choose from four distance options: 5K walk (from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s Longwood Medical campus), 10K walk (from Newton), Half Marathon walk (from Wellesley) or Marathon walk (from Hopkinton). Walkers can also participate virtually by “walking their way” from wherever they are most comfortable—whether that be in their neighborhood, on a favorite hiking trail, or on a treadmill at home.
The Jimmy Fund Walk has raised more than $167 million for Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in its 34-year history. The 2023 Walk will be held during the Jimmy Fund’s 75th anniversary year and will aim to raise $9 million in the effort to prevent, treat, and defy cancer. To support Heather’s walk go to http.//danafarber.jimmyfund.org/goto/Journeyforjanice.
By Linda Ibbitson Hurd
Special to the Express
In the Summer of 1953 I was 6 years old and would start first grade in the fall. I was both excited and scared at the thought.
I also was covered with poison ivy from head to toe when I landed in it falling out of a small tree. I wasn’t hurt otherwise but hated being covered with calamine lotion every day. My sister Penny was 3 at the time and I felt bad because she didn’t understand why she couldn’t hug me or hold my hand. We also had a new baby brother who had been born the end of August and was little more than a week old and I couldn’t hold him. My parents were hoping the poison ivy would clear up so I could start school in time and I was hoping it wouldn’t.
Just in the nick of time the last of the poison ivy faded away.
I had new clothes and a lunch box and finally the big day came. I stood with Mom at the end of our sidewalk holding her hand with Penny beside us and Davey in the carriage asleep. As the big yellow bus came down the street and stopped in front of our house opening it’s door, I gripped mom’s hand. She urged me to go ahead as I walked slowly up the steps of the bus.
Much to my surprise I knew the bus driver, he was a distant cousin named Sammy.
My mother and he greeted each another both happy to see each other which calmed me down and I think it also helped my mother. As Sammy drove down the street picking up other children, I realized I had forgotten my lunchbox and everything in it I needed. I was trying very hard not to cry. When Sammy asked me if I was OK, I told him what was wrong. He told me not to worry, he would take care of it. When the bus turned around and came back up the street getting closer to my house, there was mom standing there holding my lunch box. Sammy smiled as he stopped the bus, took the lunch box from mom and gave it to me. It seemed very strange going to an unknown place without my mother. I also worried about leaving her alone with no one to help her.
The bus finally pulled into the L.Z. Thomas school parking lot. It was a nice old red brick building with a big window in the front with an outside staircase going down either side that made me think of a castle. Teachers met the buses, leading us into the building and to our designated classrooms. I will always love the smell of old buildings and their old wood floors and I did love this building, the wooden desks and chairs, the coat closets and the nice big windows with their spacious panes that looked out onto the grounds.
I liked my first-grade teacher and was intrigued and interested by the classroom and it’s big chalkboards on the wall. Over the chalkboards hung big squares, each one a different color with a letter on it. A big calendar hung on the wall depicting a colorful Fall scene. On another wall were big colorful squares with numbers on them. There was a flag hanging up in one corner and we all had our very own desk and chair. The first couple of weeks, I mostly worried about my mom and wanted to go home. Some of my classmates seemed to be having the same problem.
One morning the teacher passed out books. She said we were going to learn how to read. She started pointing to the lettered squares on the wall asking if any of us knew what letter it was and we learned the alphabet quite fast. Before long we were reading some of the words in the books she passed out. By the end of September, we were reading about Dick, Jane, Sally, their Cocker spaniel, Spot, and Puff the kitten; the town they lived in and all their adventures. When October came, we were learning how to cut shapes out of colorful construction paper and taping them on the windows. We decorated for Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. We loved standing outside on the lawn looking at our decorated windows. There is always at least one kid who has to stick his or her tongue on the flagpole. The first year I was there it was a third grader as we all watched out the window while the Firetruck showed up to rescue him.
When Spring came that year, we were still decorating windows with our colorful cutouts. We also were taught about the Maypole and every Spring there was a ceremony. I remember the year my class was old enough to be in it and we were so proud. I was actually sad when it was time for Summer vacation at the end of first grade. I had stopped worrying about my mom, she was doing fine and Penny was helping her. Being both homesick and scared, first grade opened up a whole new world to me and as over the hill as I am, I’m still learning!
HANSON – The October special Town Meeting ballot will include a space-saver article addressing a potential change in school transportation costs.” Town Administrator Lisa Green said.
The town will seek some guidance on the issue before its Tuesday, Aug. 29 meeting.
“We’re going to have to figure out transportation,” she said of the need to transport a student to Norfolk County Agricultural High School. “I need to fashion an article that’s going to provide that extra money. … This is going to cost the town about $54,000.”
Select Board Chair Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett asked if Green has checked with legal counsel as to whether the agreement in question with the school in question includes busing.
“Did I not read that there was an article for out-of-district busing thoroughly being contemplated by the legislative body?” FitzGerald-Kemmett asked.
Green said she didn’t know if it would happen in time, before the beginning of the school year on Aug. 30.
“I want to bring to the board’s attention a situation that came to light today,” Green said during the Tuesday, Aug. 15 meeting. “It has to do with transportation for a student.”
“That’s a lot of money,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said. Initially hesitant to entertain the issue, she asked if it pertained to the Town Meeting warrant.
“Information was brought to my attention today regarding additional money that we’re most likely going to have to expend on transportation per student,” Green said, explaining there had been an issue pertaining to the town having to pay transportation costs for one new student from one new location to the school.
“It was brought to my attention today that the situation continues” she said. It leaves the town in a situation of having to figure out student transportation and where the money is going to come from. She said she needed time to write the article that is aimed at proving that need while she works with the town accountant to prove the need for it.
“I did make a call to DESE (the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education),” regarding what we can do regarding the situation,” Green said. She was expecting a call back from them.”
Town Accountant Eric Kinsherf said that when the numbers become known they can be entered into the agricultural line item.
“I’m curious,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said. “I’m seeing a lot of money articles in the warrant, and I’m curious as to whether you think if we have the money to pay for all of these?”
Kinsherf said he didn’t at that time, as he is in the process of closing the books. He said he would know more when he got an initial look at free cash.
“It just struck me as a lot of money for an October Town Meeting,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said to the agreement of other board members.
The town has receive some good financial news recently.
Green announced that, thanks to the efforts of Hanson’s state Rep. Josh Cutler, D-Duxbury, and state Sen. Michael Brady, D-Brockton, a fiscal 2024 budget earmark of $100,000 has been received to finance a subsurface enginering work on a water pipe below the road surface – which had delayed progress on the road work being funded through the MassDOT Transportation Improvement Project (TIP) program.
The subsurface work is required because of where the pipe, which supplies water to Abington and Rockland is located. Those communities were not interested in joining Hanson in having the engineering evaluation done, Green said.
“That was huge,” she said. “So a very big thank you to our legislators for helping us obtain this money.”
“Fortunately, our legislative partners stepped in and put in for an earmark of $100,000 and the governor just signed that budget, including the $100,000,” she said.
That engineering study can provide the town the green light to move forward on the $13 million road project funded by state grants.
A $90,000 grant,provided by the Mass. One Stop for Growth program and applied for by Planner Anthoney DeFrais, has been received by the town to begin engineering work on the pedestrian improvements at the Hanson Commuter Rail station on Main Street/Route 27.
WHITMAN – Numbers on the Whitman Middle School project have suddenly changed, leaving Committee members questioning why, the Select Board heard on Tuesday, Aug. 22
Town Administrator Mary Beth Carter outlined the financials for the Select Board, noting that the Whitman Middle School project price tag has increased – but the MSBA reimbursement went up by a larger percentage.
The Building Committee met Tuesday, Aug 15 to discuss the most recent updates regarding the project. Another meeting for the Building Committee is slated for Monday, Aug. 28.
“Now it’s getting real, so to speak,” Building Committee Chair Fred Small said “There should be some options on the table for us.”
The whole committee needs to sit down and discuss why the numbers changed and to have the opportunity to seek another option – if one is available, he said.
“I’m glad you are calling another meeting,” said Select Board Chair Dr. Carl Kowalski.
A new school building’s total price tag increased by more than $7 million [$135 million, up from $127 million] – but the town’s portion after the estimated reimbursement from the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) would be increased by $17 million, with the town getting back $90 million rather than the $72 million previously anticipated – a 26-percent increase.
The Building Committee had also voted on Aug. 15 to send all the information on the schematic design phase of the project to MSBA. The final step before requesting approval from voters at special Town Meeting in October and a subsequent ballot vote. The schematic deadline was Aug. 31, and the Monday meeting should also look at options, including if an extension of that deadline could be granted.
“The numbers we were given for the new project originally were [about] $67 million to $72-something million.” Small said. “When we saw the $89 million figure, it was quite startling.”
He said the new numbers had not been received until very late before the Aug. 15 meeting, giving committee members little time to digest the information and have questions prepared.
“I ran some numbers and the impact of this new cost to taxpayers, is approximately $1,494.01 for the first year of debt,” Carter said. “This figure is based on a level-principal, 30-year debt schedule calculated at the district’s anticipated borrowing rate of 5.5 percent.”
That impact amount was based on an average single-family home with a valuation of $420,530 as of today. Debt payments based on a level principal debt schedule decrease each year over the 30-year term, according to Carter, with an average debt payment being $1,017.59.
“The difference in using a level debt service schedule as opposed to a level principal debt service schedule saves the town over $19 million on this new construction borrowing options,” she said. “That would be the option that I would say that I would want the town to use.”
She said staggering the borrowing over two or three years, based on projected cash flow, the interest rate used in the calculation would be different, and the impact to taxpayers would also be different.
A base repair option, for example, would be estimated to cost $60,358,000 with the impact to taxpayers on an average single-family house would be about $1,001.96 in the first year of debt. The borrowing rate of 5.5 percent and a 30-year schedule decreasing each year, were the same as the first option.
The average payment over the 30 years on a base repair option would be $682.38.
“The difference in using a level debt service schedule instead of a level principal service debt schedule for a repair option saves the town over $12 million in interest,” she said. Noting in this scenario, the level principal would be the best way to finance it.
“This is an estimate based on the district borrowing the whole amount in one bond issue,” Carter said.
The base repair cost is based on the useful life and would not be considered a renovation, but a repair of the building.
“The question is what would the useful life be, and you are allowed to expend your debt schedule based on the useful life,” she said, noting her calculations were based on a 30-year debt schedule. “If it were determined that it’s a 20-year useful life, of course, that payment would be even higher.”
Comcast Executive Director Eric Dresser discusses the decennial license renewal process, the current license began in June 2014 and expires in June 2024.
“Just recently we kicked off the process of the every-10-years cable license renewal,” he said. He and Assistant Town Administrator Kathleen Keefe have met with attorney William Soloman in a preliminary meeting, whom the board approved to enter into the contract negotiations.
He said Soloman has assured WHCA they are not in any “red zone” in terms of timing, but they are aiming to continue progress on the process. The first of the necessary steps is holding an ascertainment hearing for the community to come in and speak about the benefits of the cable access service, including feedback or changes they might like to see in a new cable license.
He asked the Select Board to set a date for an ascertainment hearing, suggesting Sept. 19 or Oct. 3. The board agreed with Dresser’s preference for Oct, 3 for a meeting with department heads about how they can better serve them under a new contract. They have already conducted an ascertainment hearing in Hanson last February.
People who can’t attend in person can write a letter to WHCA.
“Our contact goes out over the entire world, so if there’s somebody that benefits from watching our programming in Florida, we’ll take whatever from wherever they are,” he said.
Superintendent of Schools Jeff Szymaniak has announced with deep regret Wednesday, May 31 that a Whitman-Hanson Regional High School student died Tuesday night.
The name of the student has not been released out of respect for the family and no other information is available at this time.
A person described as a juvenile female was killed by a train Tuesday night, May 30, according to a statement released by Whitman Police and Fire Departments.
MBTA Transit Police notified Whitman Police at about 8:30 p.m. that the crash occurred in Whitman involving a southbound train, which possibly struck a pedestrian on the tracks.
Whitman Police and Fire responded to the scene, where the victim was pronounced deceased.
Police officials also said the victim’s name was being withheld at this time.
“We are all tremendously saddened to hear of this tragic loss,” Szymaniak said in a statement issued through John Guilfoil Public Relations, which also handled press releases on the incident from police and fire officials. “Our thoughts and condolences go out to the family and friends of the students and all those who knew them. We also extend our condolences to our friends at East Bridgewater High School, who were also affected by this tragedy.”
Whitman Police Chief Timothy Hanlon and Whitman Fire Chief Timothy Clancy also extended their condolences to the family.
Grief counselors are available and will remain available in the coming weeks to assist students and staff as the school district mourns and for anyone needing their services.
Szymaniak said the district encourages students and the school community to talk to counselors, faculty and parents, as this tragedy is sure to raise emotions, concerns and questions for us all.
Additional resources for students and families relating to gried and loss can be found at cdc.gov/howrightnow/resources/coping-with-grief, courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and prevention, and nea.org/professional-excellence/student-engagement/tools-tips/grief-and-loss-resources-educators-and-students, courtesy of the National Education Association.
Mass. State Police detectives, MBTA Transit Police, Hanson Police, East Bridgewater Police and the Whitman Department of Public Works also responded to the scene.
The crash is under investigation by Mass. State Police detectives assigned to the Plymouth County District Attorney’s office and MBTA Transit Police.
HINGHAM — Whitman Fire Department was among 12 regional departments providing assistance from firefighters, chiefs and station coverage as they aided the Hingham Fire Department in battling a four-alarm fire at a large house Monday afternoon. The blaze had spread to at least four other homes in the area.
No injuries were reported in the fire that is under investigation by the Hingham Fire and Police departments and the State Police Fire & Explosion Investigation unit assigned to the State Fire Marshal’s office.
While the 6,000-square-foot house was a total loss and other homes sustained damage. Three people were inside 4 Mann St. when the initial fire started and all got out safely.
The family will also be displaced. Several homes in the area were evacuated as a precaution due the fire embers spreading to nearby houses.
At approximately 12:50 p.m., Hingham Fire responded to 4 Mann St. after receiving multiple calls about a home being on fire.
While responding to the scene, firefighters could see large amounts of smoke above the house and struck a second alarm.
Upon arrival, the house was fully involved and a third alarm was immediately called for. At 1:30 p.m., Chief Murphy struck a fourth alarm as the fire continued to spread.
Area residents were asked water down mulch beds on their properties.
Three people were inside 4 Mann St. when the initial fire started and all got out safely. The family will also be displaced.
Several homes in the area were evacuated as a precaution due the fire embers spreading to nearby houses.
About 120 firefighters from nine of the communities, Hull, Cohasset, Norwell, Scituate, Rockland, Weymouth, Quincy, Braintree and Hanover Fire departments responded to the scene and the Whitman and Brockton Fire departments sent chiefs to provide assistance and Abington Fire Department provided station coverage for Hingham.
The Hingham Police Department controlled access to the site and aided in evacuating neighbors from the affected area.
National Grid and Hingham Municipal Lighting Plant were working to restore gas and electricity to the neighborhood after it had been shut off by the utility companies.
— Tracy F. Seelye
By Tracy F. Seelye, Express editor
WHITMAN – The wounds of war can go beyond the ones that bleed, to the invisible pain of moral and psychological scars.
“It’s a paradox that I want to acknowledge – the veterans’ paradox,” author Michael J. Robillard says. “As a veteran, how can one voice an opinion on the military and its policies without falling victim to the binary, of sounding either like a pacifistic victim or a war-hawk shill?”
He said the first risks sounding like a broken victim or a person condemning one’s own country, military or comrades in arms, or risking conflating patriotism with enthusiastic, uncritical endorsement of all things military and all things war.
American Legion Post 22 on June 29 hosted a book discussion with Robillard, who wrote a book titled “Outsourcing Duty: The Moral Exploitation of the American Soldier,” with Bradley J. Strawser. [Oxford University Press, hardcover 240 pages, $35 — available on Amazon.com]
“This book is an attempt to walk a tightrope,” Robillard said of the widening civilian/military divide. “If this town were to deploy in WWI, the entire town would have [gone] together and come back and spent the entirety of our lives sorting through what it was that we just did.”
By WWII, families like the Sullivans, who lost all five sons, who had insisted on serving on the same ship, when that ship was sunk in action, led to a policy of separating family members or residents of the same town in service. By Vietnam, differing operation tempos affected how troops were deployed.
The all-volunteer force since Vietnam takes the entirety of war fighting and decision-making “and drastically pushes it behind a social veil, where 1 percent or 2 percent of the population are doing the war fighting.”
Matthew Quimby of the Post’s Sons of the American Legion group introduced Robillard, reading from one of the book’s back cover blurbs.
“‘Outsourcing Duty’ is the first serious and detailed analysis of the ways in which societies and governments expose their soldiers to moral as well as physical risk,” he read during the event broadcast by Whitman-Hanson Community Access TV. “Soldiers are compelled to fight in wars about which they are given a little information. They must take responsibility for the life-and-death decisions that involve a great risk of wrongdoing.”
Robillard spoke of a military ethics conference he attended in Spain in March 2018 where he spoke to a fellow West Point graduate, Maj. Ian Fishback [a year ahead of Robillard] and veteran of the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, was one of three 82nd Airborne soldiers who had written in 2005 to the late U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., about abuses of prisoners’ rights he had witnessed at a forward base in Fallujah, Iraq that “had gone unnoticed.” He chronicled in that letter what he saw as a military culture that was permissive toward the abuse of prisoners.
The friend had served three more tours after transferring to Special Forces before returning to West Point to become a philosophy professor, before working on his PhD at the University of Michigan.
Tragically, Fishback died at age 42 in an adult foster care facility. According to a New York Times report of his death, his family said his career “begun to unravel as a result of neurological damage or post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
The last time Robillard had spoken to his friend was in a Veterans Day phone call a week before Fishack’s death.
“Ian was a scholar,” Robillard said. “He was a warrior. He was an examplar of what it meant to be an American citizen, and our country gravely failed him. … Ian’s situation is not unique at all – not for him, not for my generation, not for … the last set of wars that America’s been fighting.”
Woburn native Staff Sgt. Keith Callahan was buried in 2007 after he was killed in Iraq. Robillard called him “the best platoon sergeant I ever had,” when as a new second lieutenant, the author found himself in his first command posting from 2003-04. Callahan was killed in action on a later deployment.
Robillard also spoke of Abington’s Marine Sgt. Daniel Vasselian, killed in Afghanistan in 2013; Whitman native Maj. Michael Donohue of the 82nd Airborne, who was killed in action in Afghanistan a year later; and Sgt. Jared Monti, also of the 82nd Airborne, who hailed from Abington, killed in 2006 in Afhanistan.
“Anyone know his story?” Robillard asked about Monti. “Medal of Honor. I would be very surprised if many people in this area are even aware of it. It was news to me.”
He said he listed the local fallen as a “brief snapshot of the side effects of our nation’s ongoing wars, at least for the last 20 years.”
It is not just a Massachusetts issue, he said, but a national one that spans the country and expands generationally.
Of the 1 percent that was doing any fighting in U.S. wars, much of that was assigned to Special Forces units, according to Robillard. Considerations about warfare, including ethics, was being pushed off to the tip of that spear.
“The civil/military divide I’ve just described is still widening,” he said. “This isn’t a static thing.”
The three side effects the authors see are: unchecked military adventures, or the “forever wars;” a basic breakdown in the shared notion of citizenship; and the moral exploitation of soldiers.
The book largely focuses on the latter, exploring the relationship of exploitee vulnerability and exploiter benefit, according to Robillard and Strawser.
“This is an incomplete account of how persons or groups can be exploited,” Robillard said. “Persons can also be exploited, unfairly or excessively, by being made to shoulder excessive amounts of moral responsibility. We think that is what’s going on, at least, in part, with America’s relationship to its soldiers and to its veterans – at least during the last 20 years and the War on Terror.”
PTSD, moral injury and the growing problem of suicides among the veterans community is tracking something within the moral space that illustrates the problem.
The book also traces the demographics of vulnerability within the military – socio-economic background, geography, age, race gender and recruitment means and methods. Society, on the other hand, benefits from minimal disruption and physical risk to a tremendous institutional immunity to moral injury and dilemmas.
They also offer three possible prescriptions for the problem: recruitment reform and compensation; going back to some kind of ‘skin in the game argument,’ perhaps like the pre-Vietnam citizen soldier model of some type of draft so communities see actual tangible evidence of a war; or a national service model. Some of the soluions examined in the book range from removing profit margin for war, giving youth more likely to go to war a voice in whether or not there should be one and limitation of military forces to home defense purposes.
“It doesn’t have to be national military service – fighting fires out in Wyoming or building roads or doing something — but at least gives some damn sense that we’re shared citizens that are doing our part to collectively share in our war-fighting decision making, and we’re shouldering the responsibility equitably,” Robillard said.
Robillard said he is “most sympathetic” to the prescription of requiring more skin in the game.
By Tracy F. Seelye, Express editor
Strategic plan working groups will be spending this month examining issues to improve the district, with an eye toward fostering discussions involved in at the Aug. 17 meeting, the W-H Regional School Committee has decided.
The committee, at its Wednesday, July 6, following a pre-meeting executive session to discuss contract negotiation strategies, discussed and selected areas of focus for its strategic plan working groups, which are not designed to be public meetings.
“With all of these [issues], it’s a conversation,” said Chair Christopher Howard. “We’re doing analysis, we’re sharing ideas.” It doesn’t mean that, come Aug. 17, the committee would have detailed plans ready for a vote. “It’s to understand and to build that long-term plan, with the exception of start times,” he said.
The committee did vote 9-1, with member Fred Small opposed, to establish an advisory committee, including a couple committee members to determine whether school start times will change.
“Among the issues parents have been asking for is a change to school start times, particularly at the high school. That issue, however has been carved out for work by the school district leadership team due to issues such as logistics, financial and potential contract implications will be addressed before suggestions are brought back to the committee.
Four public comment emails had also been received from Shawn Kain, Joshua Gray, Ann Gray and Jennifer Cronin, according to Howard. Kain’s comments were relating to budget process while pulling the five-year plan in and looking for budget efficiencies and and the other three were regarding school start times and post-graduation readiness – preparing students for college and career.
Previously discussed strategic plan topics have been placed in groups — relating to security; student climate, culture and support; robust K-8 related arts; STEM and 21st-century learning; 1-to-1 technology and early childhood education. Committee members prioritized which issues they wanted to work on. The top three categories were robust K-8 related arts, post-graduation readiness and student climate, culture and support as the three main focus topics this year.
Member Dawn Byers suggested start time could be grouped in under student climate and support. She said it was not clear whether the committee is in total agreement as it was on all-day kindergarten, and “was not sure why the committee is not being invited to work along with that.”
Vice Chair Christopher Scriven said it was an example of collaboration toward a more efficient solution, as Superintendent of Schools Jeff Szymaniak has indicated he is willing to include committee members in that work.
“We’re not shelving it,” Scriven said. “We’re going to continue to be involved.”
He said he had no problem with administration and some committee members taking the lead on it, making a motion to that effect.
Member David Forth suggested doing the work under the umbrella of an advisory committee, which are not subject to the Open Meeting Law, and could provide the flexibility to bridge the concerns Byers voiced.
“I was going to take start times on with my leadership team myself,” he said. “Based on public comment, based on what people have been emailing me, based on research that we’ve talked about since 2012, this was going to be one of my goals with my team this summer and putting it forth to the committee … so the committee could focus on a couple other things.”
He said he was willing to take some committee members on board with him for the work, but said some of the areas involved in the student climate and culture group would make the job overwhelming to put forward.
“When Jeff and I spoke, his point was it may be a more effective prioritization, [and] to get this moving quicker, for his team to look at the logistics of what it would take, rather than for us to spend the summer [discussing it].”
Howard said moving the issue forward in that way would make it a higher priority and, while the committee would still begin the working groups in August, but that Szymaniak would add one centering on what implementing new starting times might look like.
“It kind of bumps this one to the top of the line, if we want to go that way,” Howard said.
Szymaniak also said the start time issue has financial and contractual implications, as well as the need to notify parents if there’s a change.
“It’s not something that I can throw out there next February or March [along] with the calendar, saying, ‘Hey, by the way, all the elementaries are going to be going in at 9:30,’ that might not be fair for parents who’ve already established day care,” Szymaniak explained. He said he would rather see a proposal and potential impact bargaining issues with the teachers’ association by December.
Vice Chair Christopher Scriven said he is “very much in support” of working on start times.
“I’m thrilled that you’re going to take that on as one of your iniatives,” he said to Szymaniak.
“We don’t need a discussion on it,” member Beth Stafford said. “I think we’ve all agreed with it … but what needs to be done is stuff that we can’t do.”
She pointed to busing logistics and budget impacts are more familiar to the district leadership team.
“If that gets things faster, let’s do it that way,” she said. “We have so many other things we can be working on if we know the administrative team is solely working on that one.”
Howard said another consideration was that setting up meetings to work on it would be easier with the leadership team than with the whole committee.
Member Glen DiGrazio asked what start time was actually based on.
“Long story short, in 2012, we cut the budget by about $400,000 and realigned all our start times,” Szymaniak said, noting it cut both bus routes and the number of buses needed to move the high school start time up 35 minutes – from 7:40 to 7:05 a.m.
Start time changes at the high school have a ripple effect to all the other schools.
Member Hillary Kniffen, who teaches in Pembroke, said making a start time change for that school district was a three-year process making 10-minute changes in each of those years.
“This is not shelving [work on start times], it’s prioritizing,” Scriven said, seeking to clarify the approach. “It’s not kicking the can down the road.”
Looking at the task ahead of the committee, member Fred Small, said that it would require meeting in smaller groups, looking into the individual items on the lists of topics divided between them.
“Unfortunately, in today’s world, some of it’s going to be financial — or what can and can’t we do — logistics … and also, what is the greater good,” he said.
While later start times benefit the four grades at the high school, he said a decision might crop up between that and a more robust related arts program that benefits eight grades.
Discussing information gleaned during July will be discussed toward making those decisions in August.
Forth said he saw valid arguments both for Szymaniak’s proposal and the inclusion of the full committee in the working group process, advocating a vote on that as well as votes for other top priorities in preparation for the Aug. 17 meeting.
Small suggested having committee members involved could potentially bog the process down. Howard said that if committee members want to participate, they would have to agree to Szymaniak’s schedule.
By Tracy F. Seelye, Express editor
WHITMAN — The Select Board, on Tuesday, July 12, voted to establish a policy governing seniors participating in the tax work-off program and adhere to town policy on minimum wage.
Town Administrator Lincoln Heineman noted that voters at Town Meeting had approved an article to permit residents age 60 and over to reduce their real estate taxes by allowing a maximum number of hours each year instead of a maximum dollar amount.
“We have not has a policy for the senior tax work-off program in the past, just sort-of some procedures that were laid out by the Council on Aging,” he said. “It seemed like an opportune time to have a policy to bring clarity on a couple things.”
He based the policy on one he wrote for Hanover when he served as Town Manager there.
Whitman will differ from the town’s current practice in that the board had recently voted that town employees should be paid minimum wage. There is also currently no cap on the number of tax work-off employees, but the proposed policy recognizes there might be with the 125 hours — now at $8 per hour, but possibly more — there might be some increased interest, which might require capping the number of people included in the program.
“Tax work-off employees are employees,” Heineman said. “They’re employees of a different kind. It’s up to the board what the hourly rate would be — it doesn’t have to be minimum wage.”
But his proposal left it to Select Board consideration to possibly have it at minimum wage.
There are currently 32 slots available under program guidelines, all of which have been filled.
“This would make it so there could possibly be a cap of 35,” he said. “If there were more applicants for the program … how would a determination be made about who was in the program and who wasn’t?”
Heineman’s policy proposal would give preference to those already in the program, establishing a first-come-first-served waiting list, provided that those on the waiting list would be well-matched by their skills and background to open positions.
Vice Chair Dan Salvucci asked what a position should pay per hour for a 125-hour post to take $1,500 of their taxes.
Heineman said it would be $12 per hour. The present minimum wage is $14.25 per hour (taking about $1,800 of property taxes) and rising to $15 per hour on Jan. 1. Right now a senior in the program working 100 hours at $8 per hour has $800 taken off their property taxes.
Heineman said the program is not required to meet the minimum wage requirements.
“I don’t think it meets the intent that we set when we set that policy, though,” Chair Randy LaMattina said. “I see tremendous value in this program. It’s helping out seniors in two ways, financially by way of taxes, but most of us have known these people from the time we voted the first time until last election. These are dedicated seniors that also get a lot, personally, out of this program.”
LaMattina said he had no problem going to minimum wage for the program.
The Council on Aging manages staffing through the program.
“I certainly would support it going to minimum wage,” member Shawn Kain said. “I feel like it’s a benefit they should be entitled to, not something [where] they should jump into a lottery and potentially get [sunk].” He advocated removing the cap on the number of participants.
“The question is, how much can the town [afford to] take off its taxes?” Salvucci asked. “Can we lose the revenue and still give services to the town? You’ve got to think on that issue.”
“And are there 100 positions to fill?” member Justin Evans asked.
Heineman said he expects the increase in hourly pay, along with the cap of 35 positions, the policy would take only about another $23,000 out of the overlay account, which funds it. The account typically carries $125,000.
“It would come out of taxes and reduce the excess levy,” he said.
LaMattina said he would like to see, monetarily, what the policy rules would do with the new rate.
“This program has been, I think, relatively stable,” he said. “If interest was out there, or if the need was out there, it can be amended.”
The date on the Meat Raffle with the Hanson American Legion was incorrect. It it sceduled for this Friday, Jan. 28th and not Nov. 12th.
We do apologize for any inconvenience this may have brought!