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.
WHITMAN — Plympton Police Officer Laicey Ieronimo and The Action Team have assembled sensory kits for local Police Departments, donating some to the Whitman Police Department last week. The kits will be places in all Whitman patrol cruisers for use when needed.
The kits contain various tangible tools (fidgets, pop-its, etc) as well as a card with breathing exercises. For some people, communication isn’t always going to be eye contact, words and speaking.
“We realize that a police officer’s presence can cause higher tension or anxiety just in itself,” Whitman Chief Timothy Hanlon said. “These tools could be a way to promote and allow for communication, but could also de-escalate a situation and show we are here to help. It is our job to connect with everyone in the community, even if sometimes it’s in a different way!”
Thank you to The Action Team, The Plympton Police Department, and to Officer Ieronimo for not only having this great idea but for sharing it with 13 local departments!
Hanson Police Chief Michael Miksch said his department has been notified they will be receiving the sensory kits soon.
Miksch said the Action Team has done other projects like this one.
“They’ve put together go-bag its for domestic violence victims so, if they need to go someplace, we have little bags with tooth brushes, diapers and other items they might need,” Miksch said. “They usually take care of us, Halifax, Pembroke and others.”
Miksch’s department has been involved with ways to improve communication for people who communicate differently, such as those with autism.
Whitman Police Deputy Chief Joseph Bombardier said Ieronimo is a recent graduate of the police academy who has been involved with the Action Team since high school.
“They reached out to us and asked us if we would be interested in participating,” Bombardier said. “She’s pretty remarkable. She’s running the Boston Marathon this year to raise money for charity, she’s got a lot going on for her.”
Bombardier agreed with Miksch about the need for different avenues of communication.
“It’s kind of an untapped area,” he said. “A lot of us aren’t really trained or equipped to handle it and I’m glad that people are stepping up and giving us the tools we need to at least, on a basic level, communicate with these people and make them feel comfortable. It’s a good thing for all of us.”
Ieronimo started the Action Team as a community service oganization in 2017, runing nearly 30 events for various charities, including care packages for Boston Childen’s Hospital (theactionteamorganization.com).
“I lead every event and get a lot of support from my hometown of Carver and local police departments,” she said. The sensory kits idea came from a coworker/supervisor when she worked in an elementary school while earning her degree in Occupational Therapy.
“As a police officer, we see people on calls in every capacity and every situation,” she said. “It’s our job to connect and communicate with everyone, even if it’s in a different way for some.”
HANSON – The Select Board heard updates on the MBTA communities program, the licensure of its building inspector and received an update of work being done to overhaul the town website during its Tuesday, Jan. 10 meeting.
Town Planner Antonio DeFrias outlined the states’ alterations to its final guidelines for its MBTA communities program to create multi-unit housing under MGL 40A.
The final guidelines had been issued last August by the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) and had already revised in October.
Changes include community categories, significant adjustments for small towns with no transit stations, changes to the reasonable size criteria, district location requirements and a multi-family unit capacity tool, DeFrias said. The October revisions included modifications to the definition of an affordable unit, allowing communities to set income limits for affordable units of below 80 percent AMI, allowing communities to require that more than 10 percent of units (but not more than 20 percent) in a project be affordable and create an exception to the 20 percent gap on affordable units.
He said no further amendments are anticipated. The town has applied for a $25,000 technical assistance grant to allow it to engage a consultant, such as the Old Colony Planning Council to help create regulations. The state recently released a press announcement that all communities that had filed for the grant would receive it.
“Massachusetts has one of the highest housing costs in the nation,” DeFrias said, adding that it is ranked as the fourth highest. It is also fourth highest for rental costs on two-bedroom apartments.
“There is this need to create additional housing,” he said. “Hanson is considered a commuter rail town. We have 3,960 housing units as of the 2020 census.”
The town would have to create a zone for a minimum of 750 affordable housing units with a required land area of 50 acres. There is about 500 acres of land within a half-mile radius of a transit station, and the state has determined that Hanson has 218 available acres in which to create a multi-family housing zone.
“They’ve created a tool kit,” DeFrias said, noting he has not yet been able to access it. “But that will help me look at and put a finer point on looking at the town, the 218 acres and the area around the transit station and start plugging in information to get us in compliance with the final regs that need to be in place by the end of 2024.”
Chair Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett asked if there was a downside should the town decide it did not want to comply with the program.
“You lose the ability to apply for grants, such as MassWorks grants,” DeFrias said. But he said the DHCD commissioner made it clear what else might happen.
“Don’t think that’s the only grant you won’t be able to get if you don’t do the housing,” DeFrias said. “If you don’t do it, don’t. Hopefully, you’ll have enough money for any issues you have in your municipality.”
But he also made clear what the state was not saying.
“It’s creating the zoning,” he said. “It’s not saying you have to go out and build the units. It’s just creating an area for these units to be built.”
He filed an action plan, due at the end of this month, with the state back in October and it was approved in November. Hanson is in interim compliance until its due date for district compliance, which is Dec. 31, 2024.
“We have to keep the ball rolling,” he said.
On other business, Town Administrator Lisa Green reported to the Select Board that the town recently received a determination from the state licensing agency that Building Inspector Kerry Glass, who was in the process of receiving certification as building commissioner, but the timeline for courses and exams had not “come together.”
He therefore exceeded the 18-month window the state requires for obtaining certification. Green said the town has appealed that determination, but the state rejected that appeal.
“In that same letter they required our building inspector to resign as building commissioner,” Green said.
Glass would still be able to inspect any construction work being done in town, Green advised the board at FitzGerald-Kemmett’s request. He is still able to interpret Hanson zoning laws and provide guidance to any construction going on in town.
“Building commissioner is just one area, which is occupancy permits, Green said. “Mr. Glass can still be our local building inspector, he will go out and inspect any construction, look over anybody who submits a permit for any kind of a building or construction project … he just cannot sign the occupancy permit.”
The board was asked to accept Glass’ resignation as building commissioner and appoint him as a local inspector, appointing Joseph Stack as the building commissioner for an interim period, until Glass satisfies the state’s requirements for a building commissioner. FitzGerald-Kemmett said Glass has indicated he should complete the requirements by May.
The board voted to accept Glass’ resignation and appoint him as local inspector as well as to appoint Stack as interim building commissioner.
“I’m disappointed that the state did not allow you to continue in your position until … May,” Select Board member Jim Hickey said. “Because I really don’t want to accept your resignation, but I will, to keep you local, but I’m not happy about it.”
FitzGerald-Kemmett and Select Board member Ed Heal agreed with Hickey’s comments.
Capital Strategic Solutions representatives Blythe Robinson, Nicole Figueiredo and Jennifer Thompson virtually attended the Tuesday, Jan. 10 Select Board meeting to outline a proposed and updated social media policy as well as ways to strengthen internal communications for the town.
Robinson said the town made a sound decision in contracting with 2Revise for the town website.
“These days, people do so much electronically, they want to be able to do things with you electronically,” Robinson said. “Your new website can become more of that.”
She said the first step would be deciding on the appearance of the homepage, followed by building a site map.
“You want to make [using the site] as quick and seamless as possible,” she said. Centralizing social media in one location and highlighting every municipal email address and phone number can allow people searching the site by cell phone able to just click on a number and call a town office.
“When people can do those things more easily, they’re more likely to follow through,” she said. Application forms for committee posts are an example of that.
Content must be in compliance with state laws, including ADA and the aesthetic appearance of the site should be updated.
The firm likes to use a layered approach to social media strategies to allow the town to reach the largest possible audience with their social media.
FitzGerald-Kemmett said much of the recommendations are definitely needed. She and Green also said IT Director Steve Moberg is on board with the proposal.
The start-up costs, which are not to exceed $50,000, do not reflect the ongoing – and much lower – costs of maintaining the site.
“This is a very project-specific contract” Thompson said.
“I get a good feeling about working with you because delivered on coming back with specific things I think all of us are excited to see,” Select Board member Joe Weeks said.
The board voted to enter into the contract for the web site services, contingent on Capital Solutions providing additional information on a firmer project plan for immediate portions of the project – overhauling the town website and permitting posting to social media automatically when website is updated.
HANOVER – The South Shore Tech School Committee held its public hearing on the fiscal 2024 budget, Wednesday, Jab. 18. No members of the public attended to speak at the hearing.“This is a proposed budget, with a 2.25-percent increase,” said Superintendent-Director Dr. Thomas J. Hickey. “As you know, with a new governor coming in, we don’t have the ability to project with greater accuracy, town assessment numbers at this time.” Hickey said he would encourage the member towns to consider enrollment trends at the school, but the district truly does not know, based on inflation factor, whether the state will honor the 9.1-percent inflation factor from the third quarter of 2022, or whether they will cap it at 4.5 percent as state law permits. “If you cap funding based on a lower inflation number, there are more costs that are to the local level,” he said. “For now, this is the next step in our process and an opportunity for the public to talk about the budget.” Hickey said the conversation will continue until Feb. 15 when he will ask the committee to certify the budget, which again may have no firm numbers from the state. “It’s very likely that we will have a certified budget, [but] we will get Chapter 70 numbers by March 3, then we will re-evaluate, we will take stock of what numbers we have,” he said. After which the committee members from each town will receive that information. District Treasurer James Coughlin will run the numbers within a day of receiving them on March 1, Hickey said. The School Committee has the right to readdress a certified budget, especially if the numbers are lower that where they are now. “We’re going to be able to project revenues,” he said. Whitman Committee member Dan Salvucci asked what the latest date would be to certify the budget. Hickey said the spending plan must be certified 45 days before the earlies town meeting among member communities – which would be Scituate on April 3. That is why Feb. 15 was chosen as a convenience would be ideal because it is the date of the next scheduled meeting and would meet the district’s budgeting obligation. But March 3 would be too late. “If numbers from the state come in lower than what we are looking at, how will we meet the budget, take it out of the [excess and deficiency] account?” Salvucci asked. Hickey said his recommendation would be to take it out of the capital line included for the bus fleet. “That’s where we would start,” he said. “We would look at where the revenue gap is, and we’ll look at our ESSER 3 funds to help close that gap. But if the assessments to the towns was still significant, then that’s [the bus funds] the first place I would go.” It would likely only force the school district to wait a year to replace its bus fleet, Hickey estimated, and there is some additional transportation funding to use as backfill. “I know the process,” Salvucci said. “I want that understood, that we, as a school board, do not take one-time money to offset the budget.” “One-time money to fund operating expenses is generally not a good practice,” Hickey agreed. Hickey also reported to the committee that the district has forwarded the selection of the firm Left Field to the Massachusetts School Building Authority as owner’s project manager for the expansion/renovation project. The paperwork was being completed to the MSBA review panel can address it at its Feb. 6 meeting. Once MSBA approves a selection, the district could start working with it the next day so the OPM and building committee can begin the process of selecting a design team. The regional agreement review has been approved by the Department of Education’s legal department, said Hickey who said the legal team had no additional concerns. He will soon be seeking a vote from the Committee on proposed changes to the regional agreement. “Although there are several changes – some of which are nice, but not necessary – and we definitely deployed grammar police throughout the whole document, there isn’t a bad comma anywhere to be found,” Hickey said. “The reason we’re doing this is the potential addition of Marshfield.” In other business, Vocational director Keith Boyle was saluted as the school’s staff member of the month. Assistant Principal Sandra Baldner for his skill set, his relationship with students in the program and his deep relationship with the teachers across the building. Boyle began his career in the horticulture program at Upper Cape Cod Regional Technical High School and joined SST as vocational coordinator in 2018. “He’s credited with managing South Shore Tech with the best cooperative education program we’ve ever seen,” Baldner said. “He’s changed that culture and students are now expected to go out on coop, they don’t just choose to do it – it’s part of the culture of our school.” Boyle is also a successful grant writer. According to Boyle, 96 seniors are participating in the coop program this year – or about 60 percent of the senior class, who have collectively earned more than $374,000 so far on more than 22,000 hours of job training. Juniors become eligible to start coop assignments as of Feb. 6. He also provided the committee with a breakdown of the more than $4 million in grants which he obtained for the school. The most substantial of those was a $2.5 million Skills Capital Lab Modernization Grant. “That grant is specifically earmarked to expand and update equipment in our Culinary Arts department and our carpentry program,” Boyle said. He met with both departments over the summer to create an extensive list of potential equipment and lab renovation ideas. “Once we were awarded the grant, we hit the ground running,” he said. He said meetings have already been held with an architect to plan a new modernized kitchen with a “strong footprint.” The grant’s requirements call for improvements that increase enrollment. Architectural plans for culinary allow for assets like the walk-in freezer to be moved, providing more room in food preparation areas, and allowing more students to participate in the program. [ The percentage of the budget increase was misreported in the Jan. 5 Whitman-Hanson Express. The Express apologizes for the error.]
CULINARY CHALLENGE: SST culinary students took part in a SkillsUSA MRE challenge earlier this month as a test to see who should move on to a state competition. The entry-level competion to this year’s SkillsUSA competition had the students creating their own recipes from a miitary meal(s) ready to eat (MRE) package to see who would advance to the state competition in Natick. See more photos, page 6. Courtesy photos/SST Facebook
The school district outlined its preliminary figures for a“reasonable budget” of $60,984,583 during a preliminary budget presentation to officials from both towns on Thursday, Jan. 12. That figure represents a 3 percent increase.
“My goal for tonight is to give both boards, both FinComs, the select boards in Hanson and Whitman an overview of what the regional school district budget looks like,” Superintendent of School Jeffrey Szymaniak said. “This is a preliminary overview that I shared with [the] School Committee Dec. 21, right before the winter break.”
Szymaniak made a presentation before Business Manager John Stanbrook spoke about the financial picture
“This is a level-service budget as presented,” Szymaniak said. “We are not adding any additional staff. We are, in this budget hopefully [reusing] retirement funds to be able to fund staffing positions that are currently in ESSER 2 and ESSER 3.”
ESSER 2 federal Coronavirus grants are expiring and ESSER 3 expire in September 2024.
Budget information, which had not been adjusted since the Dec. 21 meeting, are available on the school district website whrsd.org.
“Again, this is prelim, so we had to make some estimates going forward,” he said. “I also ask both [Select] boards to offer some grace in going forward. As you know, we’ve had some technical issues, dating back to July, and we are knee-deep – neck-deep – in W2s right now, to make sure our employee get their tax documents prior to Jan. 31.”
After Stanbrook completes that, the information will be made available at the Wednesday, Feb. 1 budget meeting. Szymaniak said the school district and committee are also in the process of developing a new five-year strategic plan for the district, which they hope will be approved by the School Committee this June.
Stanbrook said Hanson’s operating assessment is currently calculated at a 7.88 percent increase and Whitman’s at 8.52 percent higher.
District goals for the current budget were tuition-free, all-day kindergarten, one-to-one devices for students, a robust K-eight related arts program and an improved culture and climate in district schools. Szymaniak thanked both communities for supporting all-day kindergarten and making it possible for each student to have a [Chromebook] device on which to learn.
“We were not successful, necessarily, in putting forth a robust K-eight related arts program,” he said. “We’re still in motion on that, with a goal this year to potentially put it into the FY ’24 budget.”
School start times, if changed, and the related arts programs, will have a financial effect on the fiscal 2024 budget, innovation pathways toward early college courses will have no impact on the budget, he said.
The budget currently does not have the funds included to bring back foreign language to the middle school to the extent students would like to see [see related story, opposite].
Improving the culture and climate so that every student has an equitable experience in school, preK-to-age 22, has no financial implications, he said.
Szymaniak said class sizes are “better than they ever have been and students are achieving more than they have in the past,” and credited community support for budgets has meant lower class sizes, giving teachers more one-on-one opportunities to help students since 2010.
Retaining special education students in the district is another goal, as well as support for English language learners.
Enrollment is expected to maintain its current levels – at about 3,440 students – for the foreseeable future.
Salaries and expenses are being calculated to increase about 3 percent – but not across he board, but more to ensure salaries are not underfunded. Hold harmless requirements will increase the required town contributions by 5 percent and the town split for non-mandated busing is estimated at 60.61 for Whitman and 39.39 percent for Hanson.
A major questionmark remains the state’s special education tuition expectations.
Szymaniak said in December, he is looking at what represents or a 4.19-percent increase over the current budget. The district has tried to keep the increase to 3 percent every year in the interest of fairness to the towns, and, if a state-mandated 14 percent increase in special education tuition could be eliminated, the WHRSD budget increase is back to 3 percent, he said.
Whitman Selectman Shawn Kain disagreed on the way the budget is being rolled out.
“We should have a revenue forecast,” he said. “We should come together and come to consensus about what we’re going to do about revenue … and then we should build our budget.”
He said a consensus is missing in the process, which creates tension in the community and between other departments and asked if the school department was looking for an override.
“I don’t know,” said Szymaniak, who stressed the budget is preliminary without state budget information, as well as from the towns. “What I would like to get is the budget forecast from both communities, because that hasn’t been presented to me in two years.”
He said he was targeting a 3 percent increase this year.
Whitman Select Board Chair Randy LaMattina said he respectfully disagreed that the schools had not received town financial forecasts, having provided a fiscal policy three years ago that gave up to a 5 –percent increase to the schools and 2.5 percent to other departments.
“We’ve not moved off that,” he said, noting that Whitman School Committee members have consistently reminded the district about it.
“It’s seems the understanding falls on you, Mr. Szymaniak, because you haven’t gotten it right yet,” he said. “The amount of money you just asked for in this budget is more than the town takes in.”
LaMattina said the purpose for financial forecasting is to enable the town to live with from year to year.
He also asked how many positions were paid for with onetime funds, information Szymaniak said he would have by the Wednesday, Feb. 1 public hearing on the budget.
Whitman Finance Committee member Kathleen Ottina said other town departments have also come in with higher numbers than the town could afford, because this is the preliminary stage of budgeting.
“I think the tone that’s beginning to escalate in this room needs to be ratcheded down,” she said. “We have to start somewhere. … We’re all good people who work very hard to do the right thing for everybody.
Hanson Selectman Jim Hickey the budget picture is similar to the age-old chicken-or-the-egg question.
“You’re waiting to get information from the towns in October 2022 to present something to the district, to the board, to the School Committee in January, but you’re not getting those numbers in October,” he said. “Maybe it’s the towns’ fault … maybe it’s the selectmen’s fault, the town administrator’s fault that we don’t have the numbers projected for you in October to use for us in January.”
He said the process has to start somewhere.
“At some point, we have to start,” he said. “It has to change.”
Whitman Selectman Justin Evans said a lot of progress has been made.
“We’re moving in the right direction, and I do think that, for Whitman, out budget forecast is going to get better every year that Shawn is on the board,” he said. “He’s been pushing us since he was a citizen, attending meetings of he board.”
What to do a about the problem of motorists breezing by stopped school buses?
School Committee member Fred Small is advocating a get-tough policy in which cameras would record the license plate of every driver who passes a bus picking up or dropping off students and reporting them to the police. He broached the subject at the School Committee’s Wednesday, Jan. 11 meeting. Small attended remotely via phone.
“If it’s ‘legal’’ for us to do this, I would love for us to be able to – it’s such a safety hazard and, for me, has no place on our streets, so to speak,” he said.
Superintendent of Schools Jeff Szymaniak asked, for clarification, if that entailed placing a camera on the red stop signs that unfold when a bus stops, which records the information and for the district to report to the RMV or police.
“Yes, and we would report every instance,” Small said.
Chair Christopher Howard said several other school districts are also discussing the issue, wondering how big an issue it is, suggesting that Szymaniak could talk to First Student and get the bus company’s view. He was also concerned the other districts were dealing more with city streets or multi-lane streets.
“I don’t know how much it happens here,” Howard said.
“Usually, we would hear about that, and I don’t hear a lot about it,” Szymaniak said.
Small asked if the committee could at least make a start by seeking a consensus among the police chiefs and school resource officers over the legality of such a move.
Member Steve Bois asked what Mass. General Law outlines on the subject.
“That would be the first thing, to allow us,” he said. “Obvioulsy, I don’t want to see anyone blasting past a school bus.”
Vice Chair Christopher Scriven said, while the district wants to do all it can to ensure the safety of students, he said he could not remember the last time he saw someone blow by a stopped bus.
Member Glen DiGravio said he has seen it happen
“All you need to do is look on social media,” Szymaniak said. “Every now and then somebody gets blasted for it. Our drivers would try to flag that license plate if they did, but we don’t have that device.”
Scriven suggested a survey of First Student bus drivers might be a good first step in gauging the extent of the problem.
“If you’re asking bus drivers what their biggest concern is, it’s going to be the motorists who have their head down on their cell phones as they’re driving by them,” Howard said.
Szymaniak said, while cameras are not a bad idea, he doesn’t know if he can contractually push First Student to do that right now, but said it was an issue worth bringing to the committee for discussion.
Member Dawn Byers said she recalled the issue might center around a statewide effort.
“I’m certainly in favor of getting more information about it, but I don’t think it’s something us independently would do,” she said.
Assistant Superintendent George Ferro said there are 24 states where the cameras are legal, but only 12 have taken any action to implement it so far.
“It’s called bus arm stop cameras,” Ferro said, adding he had just Googled it. He and Szymaniak said the district maps bus routes to try and avoid having students cross roadways to get on the bus. He added that the high school parking lot during morning parent drop-off is a bigger problem from a safety standpoint.
“It does get active in the morning,” he said.
Howard agreed more research can be done while the district asks First Student.
“I’m certainly all for the safety of our students,” Howard said. “To me, there’s other things to consider, too.” He mentioned yellow caution light violations and speeding in school zones as well as people texting while driving as examples. He suggested it could be part of a larger brain-storming session on student safety.
DiGravio said a pilot program of Small’s suggestion was conducted in Medford in 2011.
In other business, members of the Student Advisory Council spoke in favor of the budget line item to return foreign language to the middle school curriculum.
“Foreign language has been an invaluable piece of my education here at Whitman-Hanson and being able to continue foreign language into senior year and being able to take a college-level course before I’m even in college has been incredible,” said Riley Getchell, adding it would bring a higher academic standard to the district’s middle schools. “The grades below [us] haven’t been able to experience this and they’re most likely going to see the effects of this in their college applications and not being able to have that advanced level of foreign language.”
SAC member Emma McKeon has a younger brother in the Duval School who’s been asking her to teach him Portuguese because he has a friend who speaks the language. He wants to be able to speak with his friend.
“The elementary schoolers, which is surprising because they are at such a young age there, are really striving to learn these new languages, which I think is amazing,” she said. “It activates all of the different strategies in your brain and helps a lot.”
Khloe Drake agreed that languages help with cognitive abilities.
“Learning these languages at a younger age helps [students] be more fluent,” she said.
Noah Roberts, who said he surveyed other students over the summer on his Instagram account, touched on what he termed a language-adjancent issue.
“As our schools, and our towns in general, have become more diverse with [residents of] different backgrounds and cultures, I think there’s an increasing need to have some type of education on these different cultures to make these people feel more represented,” he said. “What I’ve had is just one basic monolith of a specific parts of American history and not much outreach besides that.”
He said it could also provide outlets for students of other cultural backgrounds to express how they feel.
Vice Chair Christopher Scriven commended Roberts for his work in bringing students’ concerns about inclusion to the committee’s attention.
School Committee members David Forth and Dawn Byers thanked the students for speaking their minds reminding the committee that the high school students were speaking from the vantage point of having had no middle school foreign language instruction because of budget cuts that were made in spring 2019.
Ferro said that Spanish and French were cut from middle school curriculum in 2003 and then, in 2009, it was reinstituted on a limited basis with both schools sharing a single teacher, later hiring another teacher so each school had one.
But, it was still a matter of selecting which students could take a language, Ferro said, because there were more students wanting to take it than there was room for in the classes.
“A lot of it became political, I’m just going to say, and a lot of it became an issue,” he said.
HANSON — A 139-year-old water main running through Hanson may end up causing the town a headache of potentially more than $100,000 the Select Board learned at its Tuesday, Jan. 10 meeting.
The main, which travels through Hanson, supplies water to Rockland and Abington, may need to be moved during a long-planned road improvement project, which could damage the pipe.
The Board voted to seek assistance in setting up a meeting between the stakeholders and/or filing legislation to address the legal questions involved.
“You’re looking at an additional cost well over $100,000 for this project that the town of Hanson would have to take on,” Town Planner Antonio DeFrias said. He asked if grants could be used to defray that impact.
“I’m getting ‘no,’ this was part of the deal,” he said.
Select Board Chair Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett asked if Environmental Partners should have been expected to identify that it was a potential issue.
“They’re the ones that did this design,” she said. “Those pipes didn’t just suddenly pop up in that road.”
While she said she thinks highly of Environmental Partners, the water main issue was a known entity and she was disappointed it wasn’t found to be a potential limitation on the project. The project is currently at a standstill.
“This issue puts a $13 million project into jeopardy, that goes on the shelf,” DeFrias said. “And the money you’ve spent are [he threw his hands in the air in a gesture of hopelessness].”
Any funds spent so far has been for engineering.
The deadline for project completion is 2026.
Negotiations between Hanson and Abington, centering on Abington’s ownership of a water main, created through special legislation in 1885, that is the center of concern during work on a state DOT project to lower the road and change an intersection on Route 14/Maquan Street.
The state was concerned that roadwork could undermine the water main.
“The question for me was not the engineering piece, but what was the liability?” said Town Counsel Kate Feodoroff. “How do we handle that if we have to relocate the main. Who pays for it?”
The main serves the Rockland/Abington area, not Hanson.
According to Feodoroff, default easement rules state that whoever disturbs is the one who pays. Hanson, as the town disturbed by the easement, is the town seeking to make the change that could impact Abington’s delicate old water main, according to Feodoroff.
“That becomes a question for experts to answer,” she said. “The reality is there is no real clean way of doing this.”
Abington has reported that they do not have the funds to do such a large project right now. Feodoroff said., noting they were unwilling to come to the table to volunteer to replace the pipe while the roadway was dug. DOT offered to again redesign the intersection, by some modification but was rejected and they are requiring a Level 2 survey – a subsurface utility engineering – of the project to determine the impact on the main, which could bring the town up to Teir 1.
“They’re doing this with all their projects,” DeFrias said. “There have been some utilities in the ground where utility companies haven’t maintained them and had accidents.”
For that reason, the SUE survey is being done on all projects MassDOT is involved in, he said.
DeFrias noted there are three possible tiers for addressing the problem:
• Teir 3 uses existing plans to determine a utility’s exact location;
• Teir 2 uses lidar to locate vertically and horizontally where the water line is; and
• Teir 1 uses tests borings at intervals – done by a state-certified company — to find where a pipe is and may be able to determine its condition.
A Teir 2 survey costs $80,000 to $90,000, DeFrias estimated. Teir 1 ususally costs about $1,000 per boring.
Environmental Partners has to keep filing reports to the state.
“It’s a killer,” DeFrias said. “There’s no compromise.” To the other towns, replacement of the line is not a need.
FitzGerald-Kemmett said her concern was the surveys could bring advice that the town doesn’t want to touch the problem, but DeFrias said a 200-foot change on a curve along the crest of a dirt road and Cresent Street for safety has already been in the works, which effects that length along the water line.
He’s spoken to Environmental Partners about foregoing the lowering of the road at that place.
“They’re not keen on it, but it’s one of those things that, if this becomes such a hindrance, we may have to ask MassDOT to either put someone else’s feet to the fire or turn the burners down on us because this isn’t going to work,” DeFrias said.
Select Board member Jim Hickey said the commonwealth has to have encountered the pipe responsibility before since 1889.
“It can’t just be us,” he said.
He and member Ed Heal asked if any other solutions were considered beyond lowering the road.
“Is anybody getting together?” FitzGerald-Kemmett asked. “Is there any ability to have a conversation with all of the concerned parties and say, ‘We’re just trying to improve this road?’”
“That’s why we’re here tonight,” DeFrias said. “What we’re trying to do, here at Town Hall and Environmental Partners, is get all the parties together in one room and try to hash something out or figure out that it’s not going to happen.”
If it’s not going to happen, some hard decisions may have to be made, he said.
Weeks suggested asking the town’s legislators work on a bill before the Jan. 20 filing deadline to help resolve the situation, make phone calls and/or find funding sources to help resolve the deadlock.
Feodoroff said Rockland/Abington Water is not being adversarial, the main as a stumbling block to roadwork, is simply not their priority.
In other business, CPA Erick Kinscherf met with the board to discuss questions members have raised about his application for appointment as interim town accountant. After the discussion, the board voted to appoint Kinscherf as the interim accountant until a new permanent accountant is identified and hired.
A graduate of W-H regional schools, Kinscherf said he has more than 25 years’ experience in municipal accounting, having served- as assistant treasurer of Brockton, treasurer/collector of Dennis, finance director in another community for four years and has audited municipalities for three years. He opened his own municipal finance and consulting firm in 2008.
“I started out with just me, but we’ve probably dealt with a little over 100 municipalities with engagements over the years doing interim town accountant, interim treasurer [work],” he said. “As an interim town accountant, basically, you provide a town with a bridge between their old town accountant who left … and a permanent town accountant and some guidance to keep it going.”
His most recent interim accountant work has been with Middleboro.
For Hanson, Kinscherf said he would be the main person doing the interim accountant work because he finds it fun.
Hanson’s books are in “excellent shape” and he has met Hanson’s former part-time accountant on several occasions, and had already spent a couple of hours getting to know the people and procedures of Hanson Town Hall.
Select Board member Ed Heal asked how many days per week Kinscherf planned to devote to Hanson’s accounting needs. Kinscherf said he planned to be on-site between four and eight hours one day each week as well as working remotely.
As a long-term solution, Green said a salary of about $95,000 for a full-time accountant has been worked into the budget and former accountant Todd Hassett recommended the town hire its own accountant and that is the direction in which the town will proceed.
“I really appreciate that you’ve hit the ground running, espcially since you don’t know of we’re going to vote for you or not,” FitzGerald-Kemmett told Kinscherf. She also asked that he be open to letting Green know anything the town should look for in a new accountant, as well as providing he feedback, which he readily agreed to do.
“It’s a good experience anyway,” he said. “It wouldn’t be for naught.”
Weeks noted that the town is fast approaching Town Meeting and asked what Kinscherf’s experience has been in “hitting the ground running” in that circumstance as the town tries to avoid a tax increase.
“I absolutely do not see you not using that 2 ½ percent increase, realistically,” Kinscherf said. “As far as keeping taxes the same or lower, I don’t think that’s realistic in the district, because the schools will eat that right up.”
Weeks said he is interested in working with people who are willing to say the opposite of what the board wants to hear, and asked how willing Kinscherf was in doing that.
Kinscherf said he likes to outline the effect on a budget of any given course of action.
“I don’t say whether I would do it or wouldn’t do it, but would say if you this, be prepared next year that you’re going to have to find the funding to do X,” he said. “If I see you going off a cliff, I’ll let you know.”
Weeks said that is exactly the approach he is looking for.
WHITMAN – The Select Board, in a joint budget meeting with the Finance Committee, on Tuesday, Jan. 10 to discuss early financial trends for fiscal 2024 and ways the FinCom has worked to make the budget process more transparent.
“Everything is timely,” interim Town Administrator Frank Lynam said. “We’re going to talk about the budget tonight, but it’s really not a budget, it’s just a whole bunch of numbers put on a spread sheet and saying, ‘What do you think?’”
He said, at this point the figures indicate it’s not going to work the way it’s come in. Department heads submitted their budgets in December, with the town’s budget presentation slated for Feb. 1. The Select Board votes on the town’s appropriation to send to Town Meeting by early March
The budget goals include following the Madden recommendations to use a strategic financial plan and management policies to clearly define the impact to property taxpayers in order to create predictable and moderate increases.
The revenue summary projects a budget at $41,522,749 as of now, with a shortfall of $1,367,980 if those are the numbers the town must work with as the budget process continues. The town’s levy limit is $30,668,912. Total revenue is expected to be $40,699,562.
The figures do not include enterprise funds, which are completely separate, or Cherry Sheet numbers, for which there are only estimates available at this point.
“This is not the budget that we’re going to present and ask people to vote, this is the starting point,” Lynam said as he presented an outline of what the town is looking at now, based on funds coming in. “These numbers aren’t actually accurate, either.”
TheW-H regional school district will meet with both towns on the budget at 6:30 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 12.
“I think we have a lot of work to do over the next two months, and I’m confident that, if we put our heads together with everyone, we’ll come out with a solution that works,” Lynam said.
Select Board Chair Randy LaMattina said he hoped the takeaway from the meeting would be some type of unified consensus of what the town’s message is to give a solid answer to where Whitman is able to provide funding and what would possibly have to be sought through other means, whether by override or the school distirict tailoring back their budget.
Whitman’s funding limit is up to a 5 percent assessment increase, not an overall budget increase.
“I’d like everyone to know the challenges here,” Finance Chair Rick Anderson said, as he described his purpose for the meeting as a review of some policy decisions the committee had entertained through a policy subcommittee over the past summer. He also characterized the numbers presented this week as “significantly preliminary.”
“I don’t think we should overreact to the numbers as much as to focus on what the needs are for each department, and give them an opportunity to present,” he said.
Anderson said the Finance Committee has begun meeting with budget managers from all town departments, and that his committee believes some “difficult decisions” must be made by all stakeholders to ensure that taxpayers can continue to afford living in Whitman.
“I believe that, not only have many members of both boards embraced the new strategic plan, but [have] gone so far as to implement some immediate procedures that get us out of the gate a lot faster than I had envisioned,” Anderson said. “We have the tools, and I’d really like to see us put them to work.”
Finance Committee liaison to the School Committee Kathleen Ottina said the proposed $60 million school budget is almost overwhelming, but she did not want to take away Superintendent of Schools Jeff Szymaniak’s spotlight in explaining the areas and reasons for the increases.
“My breath has been taken away, not just by the school requests, but by some of the budget requests we have received from the town side departments,” she said. “I think, if there’s a budget message to be sent to everyone … it’s that the Madden report is the guiding principal.”
She said there is a lot of work to be done before the school budget is accepted by the School Committee.
Leslie DiOrio, of the policy subcommittee, presented an overview of the committee’s work so far this budget cycle.
She noted that one topic of discussion during the policy subcommittee’s work was about how some line items in the budget were “rolled up as something like a miscellaneous category,” which didn’t give much transparency into what those line items meant.
They came up with a mirroring of the format to create an additional column that pops up with a comment such as “please provide additional documentation,” on budget computer worksheets. Another tab would explain what the documentation was.
“The intent wasn’t to add work, it’s really work they were already doing,” DiOrio. It was meant to get out to department groups earlier to help them better develop their budgets.
Anderson said it also helps departments analyze budget trends.
“It really is a simplification process,” Lynam said. “It provides some thought as to why things are being done.”
Select Board member Shawn Kain said he liked the format because it’s organized and helps understand the budget presentations, but he added he would like feedback from department heads to see whether it helps them or if it adds too much work for them.
“Maybe it’s good to have a year to have some discussion and feedback — also, a new town administrator is coming in and I’m sure that person would like to have some feedback about this,” he said. “I really think it’s going to help us in the long run.”
Kain also spoke of the need to focus on budget forecasting to help prevent conflict during the budget process.
LaMattina noted there’s always going to be tension during a budget process.
“We are taking steps to change the way we are doing the beginning of the budget process,” Anderson said.
“I appreciate getting this out to us now,” Select Board member Justin Evans said, seeking clarification on whose role it would be going forward to present a balanced budget back to the board. His assumption that the incoming town administrator would be that person was confirmed by LaMattina.
Vice Chair Dan Salvucci commented on schools being largest cost, but emphasized that the onus is not only on the schools.
“It takes all the departments to run this town,” he said.
Master Gardener Gretel Anspach (trained by Mass Horticultural Society) provided an introduction to basic pruning techniques at the Whitman Public Library on Saturday, Jan. 7. At left, Anspach explains the variables that can affect a plant’s success or failure. See more photos, page 6.
Photos by Carol Livingstone