The School committee on Wednesday, Aug. 24 approved a 10-member Regional Agreement subcommittee — made up of a School Committee and Select Board member from each town and both town administrators as voting members; as well as a finance committee member, citizen at large from both towns, the superintendent, assistant superintendent, the district business manager as non-voting members.
The School Committee will vote on membership of the subcommittee at its next meeting.
The Committee rejected a proposal by member Fred Small that the subcommittee be charged with hiring the Mass. Association of Regional Schools (MARS) to facilitate the work to ensure it is legally sound, following a discussion of the feedback received from both select boards regarding the Regional Agreement.
Chair Christopher Howard met with the Whitman Select Board on Tuesday, June 21 and both he and Superintendent of Schools Jeff Szymaniak attended a meeting of the Hanson Select Board on Tuesday, July 26. Both meetings, broadcast by Whitman-Hanson Community Access (WHCA-TV) are available on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/user/WHCA9TV/videos).
“If we’re forming a committee among our partnership [between the towns], I have full confidence we can lean on [the committee] to do due diligence,” Vice Chairman Christopher Scriven said of the MARS requirement. “Of course we’re going to consult with MARS. I feel it’s a bit of an overstep at this point.”
Both select boards indicated a preference for a more streamlined subcommittee with fewer members than worked on the last review of the document.
“They both would like to move forward,” Howard said. “They both see the need to update the regional agreement for a variety of reasons, and the general consensus — general, because I think we got there in both meetings, but there was certainly some discussion — was to probably start small.”
Howard said there was clarity around the opinion that it was “a really big committee” last time.
He suggested the School Committee could form the subcommittee right away unless some members needed more time to review the select board meetings. The committee indicated its willingness to proceed with that discussion.
The panel would be a subcommittee of the School Committee, and Howard’s suggestion was to include one School Committee member from each town, one select board member from each town, both town administrators as voting members; with the superintendent, assistant superintendent, the district business manager and a finance committee member from each town as non-voting members.
Howard told both select boards it was preferable to start small and add to it, if necessary.
“I’ve never seen a committee get smaller,” Howard said. “The charge right now is we’ve got to build something, then we can figure out who’s going to be on it.”
Committee member Beth Stafford agreed with that approach.
“If you start with a smaller group you’re more likely to get full participation,” she said.
Member David Forth suggested adding a citizen member from each town, regardless of their voting status.
“The question I had is how would the quorum work for voting members and nonvoting members?” he said because any changes to the agreement must go through the School Committee and both select boards and town meetings in both communities for ratification.
“There’s a lot of opportunity for participation and transparency from anyone that wants to along this entire way,” Howard said. He also said his thinking was that the quorum requirements would only apply to the voting members.
But Forth argues that because it goes through town meetings, it is important for citizens fro both communities involved in the review.
“I also kind of like that you’d have three from each town, so if it’s three to three, it kind of forces [them] to find consensus,” he said.
Small, however, recommended a subcommittee of two School Committee members from each town, a select board member from each town, and a citizen’s representative from each community as voting members. He suggested the administrators could be nonvoting members without finance committee members included.
Member Dawn Byers agreed with Small’s voting members, but argued that two members from town finance committees were important more than citizens at-large for an eight-person committee.
“I think that (the Mass. Association of Regional Schools) MARS should be consulted and ask them to come in and help construct [the committee],” Small said. “Granted, we have a foundation to work off of, but they would know what updated laws and rules and regulations are, even compared to four or five years ago.”
Howard said placing two School Committee member from each town, it opens the door to two select board members from each town.
“Now we’ve gone from a committee of six to a committee of 10 just like that,” he said, snapping his fingers. “If I was a member of either select board I’m not sure I would say, ‘Yeah, we’re going to have two School Committee members, but we’re only going to have one select person.”
Small said it’s important to have citizen members in order to gauge their opinions.