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Town Meeting, 5/16, Session Eight

I take notes during Town Meeting. They are not official in any way. As I listen to people speak, I scribble notes. Iā€™m sure that, at times, I mishear or misunderstand the speaker, but my notes represent what I hear at the time. I then publish the notes every night after the meeting. I do go back and make a few edits as errors are pointed out to me.

I do not try to reproduce my entire notepad for this online version. Sometimes I relay a quote from a specific speaker. Most of the time I only summarize the discussion. At points I give a purely personal opinion; those are clearly labeled like this: Personal note. When I remember to note the time, it looks like [8:05].

The meeting was called to order promptly at 8:00. Town Meeting member Jane Howard played the national anthem. The invocation was delivered by Dr. Ronald Ramsey.

  • The moderator announced that plan to vote for an Assistant Moderator tonight or Monday so it can be completed.
  • Chris Loreti reminded members that they can review the town planning presentation in the lobby.

Article 2 – Reports

  • School Committee member Ron Spangler introduced Superintendent Levenson who gave the report of the School Facilities Working group. He explained the process that produced the recommendations that would be debated later.
  • John Cole gave the report of the Permanent Town Building Committee. He reported on the status of schools and the Park Circle fire station.

Article 47 – Minuteman Vocational High School. [8:27] Finance Committee member Stephen DeCourcey requested and was granted 30 minutes for the presenation. He introduced Laura Morrissette, Arlington’s representative to the Minuteman board. She spoke about the role of Minutman in Arlington’s education system and the benefits and programs that it offers to Arlington. She noted that Superintendent Callahan is retiring this year. [8:39] Superintendent Callahan spoke next. He talked about the overall budget increase of 3.8%. He talked about changes in salaries, transportation costs, and academic program costs. It was clear that he was wandering off the presentation and off the script. When he was done, there were only three minutes left for the detailed budget numbers. More problematically, there was no written version of the budget. There was a slide presentation, but no paper. This clearly ticked off a number of members who expect written reports. I agree; if we’re going to spend $3.28 million dollars, we should get more backup documentation than a slideshow. He brought up Assistant Superintendent Tom Markham who ran through a few slides before he ran out of time. Diane Mahon asked about the number of special education students at Minuteman. Clarissa Rowe asked several questions about Minuteman’s upcoming capital needs, how they were being determined, prioritized, and funded. I was the third speaker. I noted that much of Minuteman’s activity wasn’t as a traditional high school, and that the non-traditional activities mask the high per-pupil cost at Minuteman. I said that that we couldn’t actually change that tonight because the Minuteman budget is a forgone conclusion. I encouraged people to join me in voting “no” so as to send a message that Minuteman’s curriculum review should consider the sending towns’ willingness to pay such high prices. My first draft of these notes included a detailed explanation of my analysis of the Minuteman budget. It was too long and confusing. I’m going to try to write a blog post about only that topic, maybe this weekend, and try for clarity. I’ll restrict myself to a few comments right now.

  1. In my speech, I said that Minuteman had 930 FTE (Full Time Equivalent students), but only 445 FTE as regular 9-12 students. The Superintendent pointed out that there are 200+ out-of-district students, so my statement that only half are regular students wasn’t correct. His correction is valid, but my main point still stands. Only half of Minuteman is doing what we expect it to do, which is provide a vocational education to in-district students. Also, those out-of-district students are only paying $13-15,500 in tuition, less than the cost, and less than Arlington.
  2. I said in my speech that Minuteman costs perhaps $24k per regular 9-12 pupil. Superintendent Callahan’s correction of the out-of-district students doesn’t change the math. When I write my blog post you’ll get to see the data and draw your own conclusions. I think I can convince almost anyone that Minuteman’s figure of $18,900 is too low. I can convince most people that $21,500 is a more accurate number. The state says it is $25,562. I can show a way of looking at it where a reasonable person would say that the cost for the regular pupil is $27,150.
  3. After my speech, a town meeting member said to me in private that the way I segregated special education costs as different from regular education costs was insulting. I apologized to him and I apologize to anyone else who was insulted. I did not intend to belittle or denigrate special education. My intent was to talk about different pools of money within the budget process, without any intent to make a judgment about who was being educated.

Paul Schlichtman suggested that one way to resolve the under enrollment problem is to modify the governance structure and recruit other larger sending towns. The new structure would give less power to sending towns with very few students. He also suggested that Minuteman provide additional services such as busing or medicaid reimbursement or other supprot service. It could do this through a non-profit collaborative. There was a question about Minuteman’s recruitment in Arlington. A speaker suggested that the town should compete with Minuteman by providing its own vocational programs. There was a question about whether Minuteman was changing fast enough to offer careers in newer technology like biotech. Charlie Foskett spoke for the Finance Committee and said that voting the article down would create an adversarial relationship that would make it harder to produce change in the future. The budget was approved. There were many “no” votes, but no one felt strongly enough to ask for standing count. I wonder how many people agreed with me, and how many people were just ticked that there was no written budget.

Article 4 – Assistant Moderator election, taken from the table. No one objected to a secret ballot. Joe Daley nominated the current (former?) moderator, John Worden. Annie LaCourt nominated Rich Carreiro. Worden was clearly caught off guard by this. He was trying to think quickly about whether or not it was a good idea for him to take the job. I can see reasons why he’d be a good and a bad choice. Logistically, I don’t see who would chair the debate. My regular readers will be unsurprised that I’ll vote for Rich Carreiro when it comes up on Monday.

Article 31 – Parmenter and Crosby. The selectmen recommended what the school committee requested, that the properties be turned over to the redevelopment board again. Patricia Worden gave a long speech about how the recommendation wasn’t for long enough period and how it would result in the loss of tenants. She avoided her usual level of venomous speech by making her villains anonymous rather than naming them. She seems convinced that someone is out to destroy the town by turning all the schools into condos – the details of the plot escape me. I was amused that at the same time she defended private education she demanded that the town “discontinue studies” of the property issue. I guess she doesn’t subscribe to the “knowledge is power” line of reasoning. Other speakers talked about the reasons to keep the schools and study their disposition. Approved 113-2.

Article 52. Finance Committee Vice Chair Charlie Foskett presented the amended recommendation of the Finance Committee. Bill Shea presented a substitute motion. He thinks that the Thompson will not be on the state list in 2-3 year timeframe and that 8-10 years is more likely. He thinks the town should engage the state and start building without the state list, and collect the funding whenever (if) it is ultimately approved. His motion calls for $700,000 this year to create detailed building plans. Several speakers spoke against the substitute motion arguing that the proposed funding mechanism violates the promise to the voters in the school building override by spending money without state reimbursement. They argued further that the state has made it clear that it wants to design future buildings, and the town risks reimbursement by going out on a limb by itself. Bill Shea’s argument included the phrases “I firmly believe” and “I swear to you . . .” He’s asking the town to take a flyer – first a $700,000 and then a $15,000,000 flyer – that he can work with the state closely enough that they will reimburse us in a few years. Even if he wins his gamble, his financing requires the town to pay millions out of the operating budget. It’s a bad idea and I’m voting against it. Shea needs 2/3 vote to approve the bonding that he recommends. I don’t see that he can get that many votes.

Several notices of reconsideration were made.

The moderator reported that he hadn’t decided whether or not to accept the nomination.

UPDATE: 5/17/07 12:30PM – I corrected my summary of Paul Schlichtman’s suggestions about Minuteman; the original note was not accurate and this one is (I hope) better.