WHITMAN – School Committee Chair Christopher Howard met with the Select Board on Tuesday, June 21 to gauge the board’s appetite to get together and rework the regional school agreement and thoughts on makeup of the current subcommittee.
“I think Whitman is committed to our partnership and definitely looking to stay in the region and fully aware we need to do something with the agreement,” Select Board Chair Randy LaMattina.
A scheduled discussion with Superintendent of Schools Jeff Szymaniak concerning mold remediation at Whitman Middle School was tabled as Szymaniak was out on bereavement leave.
“In several School Committee meetings we have continued to talk about the regional agreement,” Howard said. “As the board knows, that agreement is 30 years old.”
A “subtle amendment” has been done to include statutory changes on the state level, but it is an old agreement and, Howard noted a subcommittee of two select board members and two School Committee members from each town, both town administrators and at least one citizen at-large sat on that “fairly large group,” he said.
“We wanted to approach both the Whitman [Select Board] and the Hanson Select Board and just really ask two simple questions,” Howard said. “One — what is the appetite for us to, because it is a tri-party relationship between the schools and both towns, to get together and rework this? And then two —do you have any feedback on the composition of the committee?”
In the spirit of cooperation and collaboration, Howard said his committee felt it was a good idea to at least have a preliminary conversation to get thoughts from the select boards in each member town before creating the subcommittee
“From an outside persepective, looking in, I thought that committee was a little too large,” LaMattina agreed. “[The size] could have ham-strung things a tad bit, and I think, probably, a lot of the legwork with the regional agreement has been done.”
He said the remaining sticking points to be worked out would require narrowing down the size of the subcommittee.
Select Board member Dan Salvucci asked how Hanson’s Select Board feels on the issue [See story, page one].
“We haven’t met with them,” said Howard, who added he planned to attend the next meeting of Hanson’s board on July 12. “Obviously, it’s a three-way tango, if you will, so we need all three dancing partners to come to the table and do this together.”
Any revised regional agreement would have to be approved by both Town Meetings.
“A lot of the legwork is already done,” said Select Board member Justin Evans, who was one of the Whitman Select Board representatives to the last subcommittee. “I agree with our chairman that less is more in this kind of situation, especially where it has to come back to the full School Committee, both [select] boards and then Town Meeting for final approval. We’re not leaving out any opportunities for public input, it’s just trying to get an agreement together.”
Select Board member Shawn Kain said he would like to see, in the interest of best practices, someone who has been involved in these negotiations and has been involved in regional agreements be consulted for guidance as far as how things are often done.
“Having somebody involved that can really speak from experience … can be helpful, because there’s certainly some hot-button issues that could be a sticking point,” he said.
Salvucci said the subcommittee was able to have input from Whitman’s Finance Committee chair as well as legal counsel, helped update the agreement, but some of the issues such as the statutory formula for assessments was either not discussed, or was assumed to have been. He advocated for a member of the Finance Committee or the state to join the committee. Salvucci worked on the agreement revision in 2017 and Evans did so in 2020.
“We’ve done this a couple of times recently,” Evans said.
Howard said they are reaching out to the Massachusetts Association of Regional Schools (MARS) and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) also must approve any revised regional agreement.
“I think smaller is better because it has to go through a rigorous approval process,” Howard said of the committee size. “I just don’t know what capacity you’d feel comfortable [with].”
LaMattina said it would require a Select Board member and the town administrator, which Evans agreed to.
“I would say no more than 10 members,” Evans said. “Even 10 is a lot, but it’s manageable.”
On other busines, Auburn Street traffic delays have generated a “Significant amount of complaints from the public, LaMattina said, but he said that, while there is significant impact to area residents and people driving on the street, the sewer force main work being done is crucial for the town.
“We’re trying to work through it,” he said. “We ask people to be patient and follow the signs. … It’s quite a large undertaking, but it is critical infrastructure for the town. It needs to be done.”
LaMattina emphasized that it is not just a developer inconveniencing residents and motorists.
“This is major water and sewer work, and it needs to be done,” he said. “We are trying to figure out, on a daily basis, a better way to do things.”