Owen Cadres fires one in from the stretch as he pitched for the Tag Team Fitness Mets during opening day of Hanson’s Little League season Saturday, April 9. The game followed a parade from Town Hall led by a Hanson Fire Department engine and ceremonies at Boiteri Field. Whitman’s opening day parade is Saturday, April 23 at 9 a.m. See more photos, pages 8 and 9.
HANSON — The fiscal 2023 Recreation business plan and budget was presented to Selectmen on Tuesday, April 5 funds full operation of the camp, but the inability to attract lifeguard applicants, means the Cranberry Cove Beach at this point.
“I’m not looking at this as you presenting a budget right here,” Selectman Joe Weeks said. “I’m looking at this as a budget plan with, realistically, your expenses are going to be … what you’re projecting being able to bring in.”
He said it was easier to ask the town for free cash to close their budget out with a solid business plan.
Chairman Frank Milisi and Vice Chairman Audrey Flanagan presented the Recreation Commission’s financial plans for fiscal 2023 and 2024 to the Board of Selectmen. If the plan works out, the commission would be less likely to ask the town for more money next year as they seek to do more to bring in more profit, Milisi said.
“Total expenses we estimate to be around $200,000 fully funded,” Milisi said. “That is with Cove staff, a facilities manager and coordinator, the camp staff and the clerical staff.”
The total operating expenses, including staffing costs, are forecast to be about $200,000 to fully fund operations. Funding only funds the facilities manager or the events coordinator — not both — which cuts about $52,000 out of the salary line. There is also no plan for the recreation director position to be filled in fiscal ’23.
Revenue is anticipated to be about $373,250, mostly from weddings, including bar services, ceremonies and camping fees, which he chalks up to a “COVID rush to get married.” But without free cash, he said they would be short of their budget goals for the coming year, according to Milisi. To fund staff needs to meet contractual obligations, he said the Recreation budget would need $60,000.
Weeks said that would be a smart investment to keep the camp going the way it needs to.
The fiscal 2024 forecast is for $372,000 as the COVID wedding rush in plans wind down.
“Wedding revenue is the main source of income for Camp Kiwanee,” Milisi said.
They are starting to consider other ways of diversifying revenue sources for the future, including selling Cove passes to subsidized Cove staff, online camp site and cabin rentals, rolling wedding price increases — potentially 2 to 5 percent a year, to name a few.
The facilities position is a change to the facilities manager post at Town Hall, according to Milisi, but the events coordinator position must be approved by Town Meeting.
He said they do not anticipate hiring Cove staff this year because they have not received any applications for lifeguards, etc., and the pay grade is significantly lower than other places — $16 to $20 per hour. But there is $30,000 budgeted for it. If the beach is open, beach pass fees would subsidize salaries for the Cove staff, and the recreation director position is not anticipated to be filled this fiscal year.
“This is a wish list,” Flanagan said. “As a business plan, this is ideal — we’re just not there yet.”
Selectmen Chairman Matt Dyer noted that DCR is paying lifeguard $26 per hour, Milisi also noted some fast food employers are paying $19 per hour.
“That just shows how competitive this market is,” said Dyer, who works for DCR.
Flangan said the openings have been posted for several weeks without one single applicant, and with the bee situation [sand wasps] at the beach, the commission is not fully ready to open the beach.
“Our goal is to get the beach back so we can open next year,” Flanagan said. “[The bee problem] hasn’t gone away.”
“There are no bees at the beach, as it stands right now,” Milisi added. “We’re working through things to remediate it, but the problem with remediation of these bees, is it costs us money — money which we do not have.”
Milisi explained that after a bee infestation last year, the plan is to renovate the facility to a more natural habitat than it was before, which was the recommendation of the Conservation Commission to prevent a recurrence of bee problems, is being planned for fiscal 2024.. The commission is looking to CPC funds to help with that cost.
The department brought in during the 2018-19 season was $269,000 — that year’s salary baseline was $179,600 and operating expenses were $87,000. In fiscal 2019-20 it was $204,000 — salary baseline was about $184,000 and operating expenses were $107,000. By 2020-21, with the COVID-19 pandemic in full effect, the camp was “essentially 100-percent shut down,” with revenue only $66,000 salary baseline was $95,000 and operating expenses were $52,000.
“Obviously, that was a significant cut to our revenues,” Milisi said.
Fiscal 2022 saw $184,453 come in as wedding bookings and programs began to come back, the salary baseline was $91,840 and operating expenses were $60,000. Revenues are used to pay out salaries and operating expenses, which were higher in 2018 and ’19 when there was a director and full caretaker staff on the job.
“Right now, we’re running the camp at full capacity with a half budget,” he said.
Maintenance costs have increased greatly at the facility where everything is made of wood, as lumber costs have increased 400 percent recently. Dyer also noted that the utilities costs — at $30,000 — is a huge portion of operating costs and asked what is being done to reduce energy consumption and the resulting carbon footprint as well as cost.
Milisi noted that the cost also reflects for contracted services for general maintenance. Flanagan said an energy audit has been done at the camp recently and that the economical operation of utilities such as air conditioning is now included in staff training.
HANSON — The town’s budget gap has been closed to within $278,572 — down from about $1 million a little over a month ago.
“With the cuts and sharpening of the pencils that we’ve done and [despite] the surprise of the schools that came out with a 5.5 percent assessment to the town on March 16, we brought our budget deficit down,” Town Administrator Lisa Green reported to the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, April 5. “The school assessment came as a surprise, where the assessment that was forwarded to us on Feb. 16 was 4.1 percent.”
Green said the jump in the school assessment was not expected. After further budget computations, the bottom line came to within $278,572 or balance.
“We do continue to look for ways to cut any way we can without impacting personnel,” she said. “It’s a work in progress.”
Green said she is still hoping the school district will lower the assessment a little bit.
She also spoke with Whitman Town Administrator Lincoln Heineman, who has indicated that, if there is a change in the non-mandated busing formula, Whitman will be able to afford their 4.87 percent assessment within their levy.
She said that would put Hanson in a difficult position.
“If Whitman is saying that they can afford their assessment within the levy, there’s not going to be a lot of leverage and ground for us to ask the schools to lower their assessment,” she said.
Green had advised the school district that Hanson could afford no more than a 3.5 percent increase, and said 3.3 percent would work within the levy.
In speaking to district business manager John Stanbrook, Green reported he is not aware of any changes to any of the assessments at this time.
“Is there a way to reach out to Whitman, as a partner — and knowing, in part, why we are where we are — and ask if they will partner with us and ask them to lower the assessment,” Selectman Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett said. “Just because they can afford it, doesn’t mean they necessarily want to put things on hold and want to pay all of that money, as well.”
She noted there have been past years when Whitman could not afford what they were assessed and Hanson successfully worked with them to work with the district to lower that assessment.
A week after closing the Town Meeting warrant the previous week, Selectmen voted on two articles one of which was inadvertently left off the warrant through a printing error and the other, which had been with town counsel for a clarification on wording and was returned after the warrant had closed.
One was a citizen’s petition about amending the town’s recall provision, including giving residents their own grounds for initiating recall, requiring 300 voter signatures on the requesting petition and must name the official being recalled, which is required to be on the warrant. The other would allow selectmen to enter into a lease for if an RFP was agreed to regarding the Lite Control building.
Selectmen voted to place both articles and to remove another one that would place a generator at the transfer station, but that had not originated with the Board of Health.
Another three capital articles had been previously withdrawn by the Highway Department after Green had instructed departments to pare down their budgets.
Selectmn signed the approved warrant.
WHITMAN — There are three school playground-related articles — Articles 20 through 22 — on the annual Town Meeting warrant, according to Town Administrator Lincoln Heineman.
The three projects total $700,000.
“The schools had requested that those all be in one article,” Heineman told Selectmen at the Tuesday, April 12 meeting. “My recommendation is that, I think they are different things.”
Heineman said there will be plenty of masks and test kits will be available at the Town Meeting, Monday, May 2 but no other COVID-19 protocols are being planned at this time.
There are two different playgrounds at Conley and another at Duval.
“Two [articles involve] entirely new playgrounds and one would be a retro-fit,” he said, leaving it to the Board whether they wanted three articles or one.
The Capital Committee also discussed that there is about a bit more than $250,000 in the Duval roof account that Heineman suggested the funds maybe needed for “incidental, smaller repairs,” but not for a larger replacement because the town would not be eligible for the MSBA’s accelerated roof repair program for at least a few more years.
“Rather than have that money sit there and not be put to good use, we in the warrant apply $235,000 of toward the same building [Duval] for a playground that the schools are indicating is in dire need of replacement,” he said. “There wasn’t any objection to that from the superintendent.”
Selectman Dan Salvucci asked how long the schools could keep the roof repair money and if they could use it for what they want, or do they need the town’s approval.
“It was appropriated for a specific task and they didn’t do it,” he said. “Should that money come back to the town after a certain time?”
Heineman said the town accountant has aggressively looked at capital appropriations more than two years old in every department and asking about the status of projects for which the funds were appropriated.
“If it’s already been done and this is the remainder, fine, great, we’re going to take it back and put it back to free cash so it can be re-appropriated somewhere else,” he said. “That’s an activity we have gone through with the schools and will continue to do so.”
“Why aren’t the schools … on a regular basis, repairing and getting something fixed for $500 instead of $5,000 when they let it go,” Salvucci said. “That’s my question, and probably what I’ll raise at Town Meeting. They need to look at the equipment at each of the schools and maintain them like we do at our town park.”
Selectman Justin Evans, who also serves on the Capital Committee said the Duval playground was installed in 2000 and they have been maintaining. But, he noted, a lot of the maintenance has become a question of if it breaks, you take it out.
The school district had requested an article for $54,002 for mold remediation at Whitman Middle School, but it is not on the Town Meeting warrant. Town officials have stated that they do not view the work as a capital expense.
Heineman noted the School Committee would be discussing the budget the next evening [Wednesday, April 13], with the non-mandated busing issue possibly up for discussion. He noted that Whitman town counsel has opined any change to non-mandated busing should be contained in a warrant article submitted to the town from the schools.
“We don’t know if that may happen tomorrow night,” he said. “We don’t know what the schools may do regarding either the main operating assessment or the current non-mandated busing assessment that is on the warrant, as that is the number right now that is certified by the schools.”
Heineman said he and Selectmen Chairman Dr. Carl Kowalski are considering calling a Select Board meeting at 10 a.m., Friday, April 15 to react to whatever action the school takes.
“It makes sense for us to vote our final opinion on the warrant once we have that information from the schools,” Kowalski said.
Selectman Randy LaMattina reminded the board there is now a formula that would save the towns of Whitman and Hanson “considerable amounts of money” in non-mandated busing costs and the state’s reimbursement.
“I think the town of Whitman saves, from just the assessment alone, about $271,000,” he said. The total for the towns of Whitman, Hanson and the district with the assessment change is about $583,000, he said.
“To see the full benefit, we need to see an assessment change,” LaMattina said. “Things are moving in the right direction on that.”
He credited the work School Committee Chairman Christopher Howard has done in trying to work out a solution to the issue.
First grader Jack Reuling of Duxbury decided to have a bake sale to help the Ukranian people. Jack’s Uncle Sasha emigrated from the Ukraine to the United States. Jack’s grandparents Angus and Anne Beaton of Hanson wanted to help. When they ordered signs from Hanson’s Webster Printing Company, the printers offered them for free. The company also printed handouts and smaller signs for the displays. Ferry’s Sunoco heard about the fundraiser and contributed. The event raised almost $8,500. All donations will support Chef José Andrés’ World Central Kitchen, which is on the ground feeding refugees.
WHITMAN – The Capital Committee views roof repairs at Whitman Middle School as a maintenance, rather than a capital project, issue, but there is some difference of opinion among it’s members on whether the town or the school district should foot the bill.
No votes have been taken as yet, but are expected by Thursday, April 14.
Superintendent of Schools Jeff Szymaniak said he has discussed a $54,000 mold reimbursement request with Town Administrator Lincoln Heineman after the school had a major mold outbreak in the gymnasium over Thanksgiving. The article seeks reimbursement of emergency remediation funds, including cleanup costs so students could occupy the building after the holiday break.
“It’s been reimbursable in the past,” Szymaniak said.
“Most of us have kind of seen this before,” Chairman Don Essen said following a lengthy discussion last month of School District capital articles on the Town Meeting warrant. “We’re aware of this issue.”
“The town’s position, through me and the Board of Selectmen, is that this is not a capital item,” Heineman said. “Obviously, the schools disagree and I respect that – we understand their position on it – but we just don’t see it as a capital expense.”
He explained that the regional agreement does not specify length of service as a qualifier for capital project status.
Committee member Fred Small, who is also a member of the School Committee, expressed a different opinion, arguing the regional agreement does include language pertaining to an “extraordinary repair.”
“If this went unresolved, I believe we would have had to close the school,” Small said during the March 17 discussion. “I don’t think you could have students in there with mold and that type of environment.”
He said children should be confident in going to school and playing in a gymnasium that does not harbor mold – caused, he said, by a leak in a roof after a decision was made many years ago that the district would try to get by without repairing or replacing the roof because of clawbacks in the cost and the fact that a new roof project was being sought before the useful life of the rood had been reached.
“I wish this hadn’t happened,” Small said. “I wish that the money didn’t have to be spent, but I don’t know that it’s a district expense. The district is a lessee. Granted, the town doesn’t charge us for the building, but we are the lessee.”
Esson asked is a bleach agent or other chemical was used to clean the mold, how long it could take and how long the remediation could take.
“I do know there is infiltration in that gym,” Building Inspector Robert Curran said, noting water has been getting in through the roof and down through the exterior. “I remember walking through inspections every year and you could smell it.”
Facilities Director Ernest Sandland has been good at getting air quality tests done, but the only way to reopen a school after a positive mold test it is to put negative pressure in the gym and seal it all off, using a safe chemical agent to clean it Curran said.
“I don’t agree that this should even be in front of this committee,” he said. “I think this is a maintenance issue. It’s not a capital expense and we don’t really have a choice because the money’s already been spent – it’s a reimbursement issue, and I think the town should reimburse the schools.”
Esson said that, while he also views it as a maintenance issue, the funding source is important.
Curran asked if Heineman thought the money should come out of the district’s operating budget.
Heineman referred back to the regional agreement.
“There’s not debate whatsoever that this needed to happen in order to have a safe environment for the kids there,” he said. “It’s just a question, for me, of the regional agreement. The regional agreement specified that capital expenses are split out in these ways.”
He agreed “100 percent” that it was a maintenance expense – which the regional agreement puts at the responsibility of the school district “full stop.”
Selectman Justin Evans said section E2 of the regional agreement places the burden of cost on the towns for “special operating costs, unique to a town for maintaining programs or services.”
“I think this qualifies,” Evans said. “Though probably not a capital cost which should be paid by Whitman, it’s unexpected, it’s particular to one town, it probably doesn’t come to this committee, but I think a warrant article to the town is appropriate for reimbursement.”
In general – with no specific school in mind – committee member Josh MacNeil asked how such mold problems could be prevented.
Curran said he does annual internal and external inspections of all schools, but said WMS has “been a problem since the day it was built.” Previous sick building problems across the state have changed codes on air exchanges for buildings, as well.
“Whatever they’re doing to keep that gym open has been really good,” Curran said.
Whitman Cultural Council brought a popular art and culture event — Champagne, Cake & Art — back to Whitman after an 11-year hiatus. The event featured cakes, cookies and other baked confections from area bakeries with tastings of champagne, prosecco and sparkling wines. Sweet Standards owner Justine Rota, above right, serves up a vegan treat to Debra Cotter. At left, portrait artist Kristy Zamagni-Twomey, who uses markers as a medium, chats with Artscope magazine publisher Kaveh Mojtabai. See column on page 8 and related photos, page 6.
Photos by Carol Livingstone
HANSON — The owners of an Anatolian Shepherd dog have until Tuesday, April 26, when the Board of Selectmen meet again to review the case after a dangerous or nuisance dog complaint was filed against their pet.
The Board would then follow up to ensure a fence has been completed, secured and inspected, and to check into whether the owners of the injured dog were offered some restitution.
“You’ve got to assure us that you take this seriously and that it won’t happen again,” Selectman Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett said. “There needs to be follow-up here.”
Selectmen held a hearing Tuesday, April 5 on the complaint filed by David and Louise Coates after an incident on Saw Mill Lane Thursday, March 24.
Animal Control officer Joseph Kenney recommended that fences be secured and non-breeding animals be altered. He also recommended the dog be muzzled and kept on a six-foot leash when walking off the property and confined on the property by a six-foot fence.
Coates said he would not be comfortable so long as the dog was there and urged the dog be removed from the neighborhood.
“We have no authority to have that dog moved for one incident,” Selectman Jim Hickey said. “You can’t ask us to do something that is out of the question.”
The attacking dog came from the address 808 West Washington St., according to the incident report, Town Administrator Lisa Green said.
“We had a small dog that was attacked by a larger dog,” Green said of the complaint. “There were significant injuries to the smaller dog and the police were called.”
The Coates, of 59 Saw Mill Lane, said that when David had taken the dog out for it’s morning walk around 6 a.m., and was walking through his side yard to the front of the house, what he initially thought was a coyote that attacked his dog.
“I tried to get the dog off [his dog], I was holding onto the leash, and trying to kick it,” he said tearfully. “I’m fine until I have to talk about it.”
He said his dog slipped her leash and all he could do was hit the attacking dog with the leash. His dog ran to the front porch with him behind her and the other dog seemed to follow them, he added.
“It didn’t seem interested in me, it wanted the dog,” he said.
After he was able to get in the house, he called the police.
“The dog was just wandering around the front, over the neighbor’s yard … tail wagging,” David Coates said about what he could see out his window. “It didn’t seem like the police had any issues to get it under their control.”
Police walked the dog down the street.
“It wasn’t just a bite, it was a mauling,” Louise Coates said.
“The extent of the damage to your dog is significant,” Selectmen Chairman Matt Dyer agreed, looking over the photos accompanying the complaint.
Louise said they had just taken their dog to the vet Monday and said her pet had to be anesthetized so redo everything because there was so much dead skin the stitches weren’t holding.
“I’m sorry you went through that,” Selectman Joe Weeks said, asking how the Coates’ dog is doing.
David Coates said she us under medication to keep her quiet.
“Physically, they say she should be fine, mentally, I’m not sure,” he said. “She’s certainly acting different and we’re leery about going out at night, now, knowing the dog is still over there.”
Louise Coates said she arms herself with a golf club when she has to take her pet for a walk.
“You should be able to go out in your own yard and feel safe and secure and not have to take out a golf club just because there’s a dog in the neighborhood,” Dyer said.
The dog’s owners Hassan Prashkov of 808 Washington St., had just moved to the address four months ago, but had bought it two years ago.
“The dog got over the fence,” he said of a garden fence that he had just repaired. He said his dog’s breed was developed for guarding livestock.
The American Kennel Club does not recommend that the breed be around other dogs, stating that the mastiff-type sighthounds, may be aggressive toward people and dogs they don’t know, especially without adequate socialization when they are young.
“It’s an accident,” Prashkov said. “Every time the dog barks, now, I’m nervous, too. I never expect[ed] something like that from this dog, because we’re still calling him puppy.”
The dog is 2 years old. Dogs usually mature mentally at between 1 and 2 years of age, depending on size, breed, socialization and other factors, according to the AKC.
“They’re very friendly with the kids and the humans,” Prashkov said. “They’re great to protect the unprotected people.”
He suggested the dog had been chasing a fox or something when it got out of the yard and saw the Coates’ dog.
“I don’t know what pulled the trigger,” he said.
FitzGerald-Kemmett asked the Coates how much their vet bill had been. Louise Coates said it was up to nearly $3,700.
“And we’re not done,” she said.
Selectman Kenny Mitchell asked Prashkov if he was willing to help the Coates’ with their veterinary bills. He indicated he would and would secure the fencing. Prashkov said his dog has never had other incidents and is licensed. He indicated that about 75 percent of the property is secured with a chain-link fence. The remainder out back was old wire livestock fence, similar to chicken wire in appearance, because the previous property owner had horses.
FitzGerald-Kemmett asked if he was confident a chain-link fence was sufficient and if he would consider an electric fence for livestock.
“That’s, I think, one of the solutions,” Prashkov said, noting he also has friends with a farm in Maine where the dog could be sent.
“I can’t afford for this to happen again,” he said, noting the breed is hard to train.
“I understand what he’s saying,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said, noting her family owned a sheep dog when she was younger.
Hickey had questions for Hanson police officer Brian Rodday, who responded to the call, including how he managed to control the dog.
Rodday said he carries a leash in his duty bag because he frequently receives calls about stray dogs. He waited in his cruiser while the dog circled the vehicle a time or two so he could judge how it was behaving.
“It approached me, it didn’t appear aggressive,” Rodday said about its behavior after he got out of the vehicle. “It wasn’t showing its teeth, it wasn’t growling — anything like that.”
When another officer arrived, they used treats to try to calm the dog and get it into the cruiser, but walked it home when it refused. Rodday said there was an incident over the summer when the puppies got out, which was how he recognized the breed.
“It’s a unique dog for around here,” Rodday said, indicating that Prashkov owned the male involved in the March 24 incident and a female that was at the property in July when the puppies were born. He said the litter of puppies was not planned.
“I’m a cat person,” Hickey said, “but I’ve never had an ‘accident’ with my cats. … We’ve always had our cats spayed or neutered.”
He asked if the dogs were altered. Prashkov said he was waiting until the dog involved in the attack to become 2 years old before having it neutered. Kenney said he was on vacation during the incident, but had been called when the puppy got out last summer.
“It sounds to me like it’s a perimeter issue and a security issue,” Selectman Joe Weeks said.
Voters going to the polls in Town Elections on Saturday, May 21 will have fewer reasons to complain about a lack of choices on the ballot than in past years.
In Hanson, there are eight candidates in the running for two seats on the Board of Selectmen, and Whitman has four candidates running for two seats on the Select Board.
The lone incumbent in contention is Whitman Selectman Justin Evans, running for his second term.
In Hanson, Water Commissioner and former Selectman Don Howard is running for re-election to the Board of Water Commissioners as well as making a bid to return to the Board of Selectmen, running for the three-year term opened when Kenny Mitchell decided not to run. Joining Howard in seeking that three-year term are Financial Advisor Kelly Woerdeman, ZBA member and Board of Health Vice Chairman Kevin Perkins and Edwin C. Heal of Pine Grove Ave.
Running for the two years remaining on Selectmen Chairman Matt Dyer’s seat are Health Board member Arlene Dias, Marc M. Benjamino, Ann M. Rien of State Street and Health Board member Denis C. O’Connell.
Candidates have until Tuesday, April 19 to withdraw from the race, if they so choose.
“It feels weird to say it, but now I’m a candidate with experience,” said Evans, who is completing his first term as a Whitman Selectman. “I was a fresh face three years ago.”
He said his plan is to focus on continuing to maximize state aid.
“Getting more bang for our buck has been a huge focus and I’m happy to continue to do that and looking at some new, let’s say, creative revenue opportunities,” he said. “We’re looking at revisiting the marijuana prohibition this year; expanding services for the first time since I’ve been involved, either on the FinCom or the Board of Selectmen, we are, I think, adding positions and we’re paying for the full operating budget, including the schools’ full assessment — we can pay for the whole thing without one-time money.”
He said he still has his eye on implementation of 40R development near the MBTA station, which had been derailed by COVID, but is now the focus of the state’s MBTA Communities Law, signed by Gov. Charlie Baker last year.
“Navigating through COVID was an incredible experience and it put off a couple of priorities I’d like to get done,” Evans sad. “I’m not finished yet.”
Finance Committee member Rosemary Connolly, former Police Chief Scott D. Benton and Forest Street resident Shawn M. Kain are also seeking a three-year term. Incumbent Brian Bezanson did not return nomination papers.
Kain said his candidacy is an attempt to bring an independent voice to the Select Board as he continues his work bringing strategic planning to the town’s budget process.
“I’m really trying to do it right,” he said. “I’m from Whitman and I love our community and I love our traditions, so it’s not that I want to go into the role and change things in a big way — I really want to protect the traditions that we have and make slow improvements to the things that we can do better.”
He said the budget document remains something that requires work so the town can better communicate its financial needs.
“I think the town has made a lot of gains, financially, over the last couple of years,” he said pointing to the focus on the town’s finances as well as its relationship to the school district.
“The strategic plan and the financial policy that we recently adopted are both pieces of the puzzle that will really help us, moving forward,” Kain said.
Benton and Connolly did not return a request for comment.
In Hanson, while there are some familiar faces running, they are pointing to the need to change things as their reason for seeking a seat on the Board of Selectmen.
“I’ve always said things need to change, and I don’t see that happening,” Dias said. “I’ve decided that maybe I need to help that change.”
She said conflict of interest in town is a problem.
“I feel like there’s so much of people being interested in doing things at Town Hall for their own personal benefit and I’m tired of it,” Dias said. “I’m tired of things being done behind closed doors and people have their little networks — and sometimes you have to break them up in order for the town to move forward.”
Perkins returned a call for comment from the Express via an email explaining why he was not in a position to be able to say much.
“Unfortunately I cannot comment due to the ongoing independent investigation the selectmen voted to conduct on the entire zoning board, myself included,” Perkins said. “It is very unfortunate that my hands are tied during a critical time where candidates are campaigning. However this investigation is still ongoing which leads me to think there is motive behind the prolonged investigation in order to sway potential voters.”
Howard, who had retired to care for his ailing wife, said he is ready to return now that she has passed and that he sees a lot of problems on the Select Board that he doesn’t like and there is a problem with water retention and detention areas not working properly. Heal, Rein and Benjamino did not return requests for comment.
Howard is not alone in seeking to take on extra responsibility in Hanson, as Selectman Jim Hickey — whose seat is not up for a vote this year — is running for Board of Health and Health Board member O’Connell is running for re-election to that board as well as seeking a Select Board position.
“I just want to give back to the community,” Woerdeman said.
O’Connell expressed concern with the possible loss of autonomy for the Health Board if Hickey wins a Health Board seat and Dias is elected to the Select Board.
“I just like to have a voice,” O’Connell said, noting that the Select Board would have a majority on the Board of Health should he lose. “I don’t like where this leads to. I feel the Selectmen have been micromanaging all the departments.”
A former electrician and 30-year resident, O’Connell characterized the situation as a “tangled mess,”
Hickey, for his part, cited communication problems at Town Hall as his reason for seeking a Health Board seat, noting if both boards meet on the same day, he could get information to Selectmen might need in a more timely manner.
“Nobody talks … I think this will help both boards tremendously,” he said. “It’s every department. … As a member of the Board of Selectmen and now a liaison to the Senior Center, with the population shift in town, it just makes sense.”
The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has reimbursed districts based on a mileage calculation, and would be amenable to considering a mileage-based non-mandated busing formula for Whitman-Hanson rather than the current per-pupil calculation, according to Associate Commissioner for District and School Finance Jay Sullivan.
He made the comment in a Friday, March 25 Zoom call with district and Whitman Town officials.
“That’s a viable methodology for allocating your costs,” Sullivan said, noting few districts use the mileage method, but it is viable and it is an acceptable methodology.
“That would count every student in the district, whose butt is in a bus seat,” Superintendent of Schools Jeff Szymaniak said. “That’s what we’re working on through the Budget Subcommittee here.”
He said they are calculating based on every student to whom they must provide a seat based on distances from school of between a half-mile and 1.5 miles from schools.
School Committee members Christopher Howard, Dawn Byers, David Forth and Steve Bois as well as Galvin, Selectmen Randy LaMattina and Justin Evans and Whitman Town Administrator Lincoln Heineman joined the March 25 call with DESE.
“That makes a lot of sense,” Sullivan said of Szymaniak’s question, but he cautioned that every rider has to be assigned some level of cost, with two options for calculation — per pupil or mileage.
“The good thing about the mileage method is, the houses don’t move,” Sullivan said.
W-H has been using the per-pupil method, having just encountered the mileage method.
The Budget Subcommittee planned to meet Wednesday, March 30 to get a turnaround on a formula method to DESE as soon as possible, because time is a concern.
“If we can come up with an alternative methodology that allows us to appropriately capture a higher reimbursement amount, which will benefit both towns in the district, then that is our goal,” Howard said.
Sullivan said such a method could maximize the district’s reimbursement, which Szymaniak said is the ultimate goal.
Galvin and Whitman Selectman Randy LaMattina reached out about a second meeting following the March 14 call, feeling there was a better way to explain their methodology to DESE.
“After watching the last Zoom Call you had with the superintendent, the town has a position that some of our concerns and points we were trying to look for clarification on, may not have been addressed fully,” LaMattina said.
While being part of a region comes with some benefits — one being regional transportation reimbursement, he conceded, the board feels, as things stand right now, the district is not submitting their true mandated or what you classified as eligible, bus costs.
“We think that by using the district’s own documents, that we can actually prove that,” he said, noting that they forwarded a copy of Whitman residents John Galvin and Shawn Kain’s proposal to DESE. “We feel the actual cost of non-mandated busing is slightly higher than $1.6 million as opposed to the 1.1 million, which gets submitted.”
LaMattina said his point was bolstered by a vote at the last School Committee meeting when a vote was taken against funding non-mandated transportation.
Galvin pointed to a Feb. 9 School Committee meeting when Szymaniak outlined what would happen if Whitman opted against providing non-mandated busing.
“Several scenarios were presented. … There were discussions in the last Zoom meeting that these were simulations,” he said. “I don’t really believe that to be true, because for several year now, Whitman has had a significant concern over the way we were being charged for non-mandated busing to the [point] where the superintendent felt the need to address it to the School Committee on what would happen if, this year, Whitman decided not to fund non-mandated busing.”
Galvin said a document produced by district Business Manager John Stanbrook broke it all down. Even removing Whitman only saved a total of $131,000, Galvin said, yet Whitman is being assessed $487,000.
He argued the actual cost for Hanson is $101,000 — not $121,000.
“It didn’t make sense to us that the district wasn’t filing for what it would actually cost them if the two town meetings voted not to support non-mandated busing,” he said.
“Number one, the town meetings can’t tell the School Committee how to spend their money,” Sullivan said.
“It was a little concerning hearing that the towns were making the decision as to whether or not to transport non-mandated students,” said Christine Lynch of the DESE District and School Finance office, repeating what she had told Szymaniak on March 10. “I don’t know what might happen moving forward.”
LaMattina said where they came up with 20 buses is because, by the district’s own admission, according to the district’s bus structure documentation, that is the number required to provide mandated transportation.
“Why is that number not the true mandated cost?” he asked, noting that, in addition, the School Committee voted at its last meeting not to fund non-mandated transportation and asked if that was their decision to make.
“It’s the School Committee’s decision to set the policy of who they’re going to transport and who they’re not going to transport,” Sullivan said, asking if that meant the district would not be transporting between 750 and 900 students to school next year.
School Committee Chairman Christopher Howard said it was not correct.
“We looked at the regional agreement … and we looked at that section specifically related to transportation,” he said, noting it reads that transportation shall be provided by the regional school district, with the cost apportioned to the member towns as an operating cost. Every year the committee votes to decide whether non-mandated busing will be paid for by the regional school district.
“The vote that was taken was that the regional School Committee would not be paying for the cost of non-mandated busing,” Howard said.
If the School Committee decides against providing non-mandated busing, which Howard stressed, they did not do, an article for Town Meeting would be presented to the selectmen of each town for approval by the voters. He said the School Committee would be seeking clarification from legal counsel what the intent of that second section means, but right now the focus is on calculating the cost.
“We’re talking about a subjective scenario here, that really has not come to fruition,” Sullivan said, noting that in 2019 — before the pandemic — the district transported between 3,000 and 3,200 students. While mandated busing is required for students living two miles or more from school, but towns are reimbursed for transporting students more than 1.5 miles of a school.
“That’s the incentive to provide the service,” Sullivan said, noting that reports from the district over the past five years indicate two-thirds of students (more than 1,500 students) live 1.5 miles or more from school and nearly 725 under 1.5 miles away. Last year the cost was $1.6 million for bus transportation — $1.12 million over 1.5 miles and $543,000 for under 1.5 miles.
Sullivan also said buses must run at least 75-percent capacity.
“The way this has always been handled is we vote the assessment, and there is a non-mandated busing cost that has been provided to both towns, and that has been handled, I believe, in both towns as a separate article,” Howard said.
Heineman clarified that, for many years, after the School Committee votes against funding non-mandated busing, it then gets a separate assessment number … only to be interrupted by Howard, who countered that it was a decision of the School Committee and not the Budget Subcommittee, while agreeing it does pertain to the town and transportation.
Later in the video meeting, Heineman was able to ask his question about whether DESE agreed with Whitman Town Counsel, which has opined that the school district may only assess an operating and a capital assessment — and not a separate non-mandated busing assessment. An article for the latter must be done via a separate article unless non-mandated busing costs are included in the operating budget. Whitman’s town counsel is also a legal representative for several school districts.
“I’m not necessarily suggesting it’s illegal,” Lynch said of separate busing assessments. “I’m suggesting it’s problematic” because if one town does not approve it, services would not be equal for all students in the district.
She said most regional agreements divide the cost by number of students, but recently districts are looking for new ways to calculate costs when methodology no longer works for them.
“You can’t steer the conversation away from topics you don’t want to address,” LaMattina said, explaining to DESE that the towns receive an operating assessment, a capital assessment and line for non-mandated busing that the district calls a special operating cost.
“If Town Meeting votes not to fund it, then we’ve got a problem,” he said.
Howard asked if DESE would approve changing mandated busing costs based on the analysis they have.
“Right now there’s no intent to do it this way,” he said.
“Somehow this world is turned upside down here,” Sullivan said. “A decision’s got to be made by the School Committee about the service that they’re going to provide, they send the bill to the town and, if they don’t want to fund it, that’s fine — then you won’t have a budget, then you’ll have to go through the 1/12 process.”
“It should be one assessment number, first of all,” Lynch said. “But regardless, it is, again, the School Committee’s discretion in terms of what it’s going to offer the preK to 12 population — In both towns.”