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Finance Committee – Sidewalk and Schools

Black text is mostly objective, red text is mostly subjective in nature. These are notes from 2/25.

The minutes were approved.

Article 26: Stephen Harrington was there to make the case for plowing some sidewalks in town. He gave a presentation showing pictures of various curbcuts and unshoveled sidewalks. He showed a map of several miles of sidewalk that he thought should be plowed, covering Mass Ave, the schools, the senior center, and the connections between them. He shared information he got from Lexington about costs. From the figures provided, the cost of plowing the sidewalks would be $20,000 per year at most. There were several questions about whether the anticipated cost figure was realistic; some members did not think they were. I asked if this really was a bylaw, and if there was text available; it was, and there wasn’t. I also suggested that this might be better as a year-long trial, rather than a permanent bylaw. I think I would support a $20,000 experiment. Put it out to bid, see where the market is. If we really can do it that cheaply then maybe it is a good idea. My suggestion was rejected, and, to my mind, not reasonably. The argument against a trial seemed to be “we’ve waited too long, and morally we have to do this.” The argument didn’t hold water. If it is too expensive, we can’t justify it, period. We should do the trial and decide. The issue did not get to a vote before time ran out.

School Budget: Superintendent Levenson and School Committee Members Theilman and Spangler came. Levenson gave a presentation on the current budget draft. He spelled out the challenge of rising salaries and special education. He went into areas where money was being saved, where additional revenue was found, where cash accounts were drained, and cuts that he was considering. He talked about the challenges of maintaing class size when there are only 2 or 3 classes of a given grade in the 7 elementary schools. He answered further questions on special ed costs, special ed transportation costs. He was asked about the cost of Metco, and whether the tuition received matched the marginal cost of additional students. He talked about special ed “circuit breaker” funding from the state. He suggested that redistricting wouldn’t save significant money. There was discussion of whether and how special ed should get special handling, like health care, in the next financial plan. Kingergarten costs and potential savings from the GIC were discussed. I was again impressed with the superintendent. He writes and delivers an excellent budget. I was troubled by some of the cuts suggested. I think it is fair to say that the school budget is experiencing more distress than the town side. One of the notable themes: on more than one occasion the cost of having seven elementary schools came up. It showed up in things like class size – how do you divide 54 students? 2 of 27, or 3 of 18? There is no good choice. We would not be having this problem if we had fewer schools! The hour was late, and the meeting adjourned.


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Time: May 9, 2008, 12:44 am

[…] I still support the Finance Committee’s vote of no action on the original proposal; passing a bylaw at this point is a bad idea. That said, I think Harrington’s pictures tell a convincing story: we’re not doing a […]