HANSON — By the end of the month, Whitman and Hanson officials and School Committee officials are expected to be named to a new Regional Agreement subcommittee charged with updating that document, regardless of the path Hanson decides to follow regarding de-regionalization.
The Hanson Select Board met on Tuesday, July 26 with School Committee Chair Christopher Howard and Superintendent of Schools Jeff Szymaniak, who noted that no matter what is decided, the towns will have to operate within a regional agreement that needs revising.
Howard noted that, as both boards are aware, the agreement is more than 30 years old.
“We looked at it several years ago — Hanson had actually voted it and then rescinded it — and there’s a lot of feedback from the School Committee that it is a 30-year-old agreement and there are areas we’re concerned about that are on the fringes of compliant or not compliant,” Howard said.
The last time a Regional Agreement Committee was formed, the School Committee just created it as a rather large committee, Howard said. In the spirit of better communication, he said he and Szymaniak wanted to talk with Selectmen in both towns to get their thoughts before another committee is seated.
It comes down to two questions:
• What is the appetite to consider negotiating a revised regional agreement, a process to which all three boards must accept; and
• What the composition of such a committee should look like.
Szymaniak offered to walk the new members of the Select Board through all the DESE and other state regulations.
“Some of the general feedback we’ve looked at and heard is, maybe smaller,” Howard said. “Whatever is drafted should be done in public and it has to go back to the full School Committee, it has to go back to the selectmen and it has to go to each town meeting.”
Select Board Chair Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett said that, while the board hasn’t discussed the proposal, a strong and consistent concern they’ve heard involves representation and use of the statutory method of calculating town assessments.
She said her first preference was to keep any committee small.
Select Board member Jim Hickey, who served on a previous Regional Agreement committee, said there were 24 people on that board.
“There are still wounds over that,” she said. “The feedback we get is, ‘We’ve still got the same number of seats, but we’re paying more money.”
That said, FitzGerald-Kemmett recognized the state regulations that require it.
“Even if we were to get another seat, it would be a weighted seat,” she said. “In essence, out votes would total up to the same number of people.”
She asked her board if they wanted to open up that conversation and enter negotiations on the agreement.
“I would love to know how we got there,” said Select Board member Ann Rein. “I have a serious problem with the way that thing was negotiated, I’m sorry. … I don’t understand how a town could have more students and pay less money.”
Select Board member Ed Heal also said he neeed that information.
FitzGerald-Kemmett agreed, saying she fought bitterly on that point.
“Even if [School Committee representation] was five/five with weighted votes, a School Committee vote is never going to end in a tie,” Hickey said. “If the School Committee is doing the right things for the students, it’s going to be 9-1 or 8-2 one way or the other.”
Hickey also said it had been a mistake to hold monthly meetings of the previous committee, arguing that meetings should be held weekly until the work is done.
He was to meet July 27 with Hanson’s De-Regionalization Committee and will relay those recommendations in view of the estimated cost to the rest of Hanson’s Select Board Aug. 9.
Howard said that process works with the School Committee’s scheduled project work, with their next meeting slated for late August.
Regardless of that committee’s recommendation, FitzGerald-Kemmett said it would be beneficial to renegotiate the Regional Agreement as a way of improving communication and relations.
“Something has severely jumped the tracks and we have got to get back to a place where we are having ongoing conversations,” she said.
Howard also touched on state regulations.
“There is a Mass. General Law that clearly articulates — not my personal opinion, but articulated the state’s law — the composition of school committee representation,” Howard said.
The Select Board expressed interest in obtaining the pertinent background information.
“I want everyone brought up to speed,” she agreed. “I think it’s very important, moving forward, that we’ve all got this baseline established.”
An open session on that background is important to moving forward.
Select Board Vice Chair Joe Weeks also said the previous Select Board as well as Hanson School Committee members fought it, too.
“There’s a lot of unsung, humble people that weren’t … banging the bells, saying ‘I’m doing this really, really hard work,’” he said. “There were a lot of people trying to get that representation that were on that committee that have either moved on or are still there. They were working hard on getting us what we wanted.”
He agreed it was worthwhile to proceed with revisiting the Regional Agreement with a smaller number of committee members — and better direction.
“There was no guidance or organization to that meeting,” he said. “We didn’t have an entire leg of the stool.”
Rein and Heal agreed that a conversation has to be conducted.