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Town Meeting ‘10 Session 8

I take notes during Town Meeting. They are not official in any way. As I listen to people speak, I type notes. I’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 notes 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.

The Finance Committee met at 7:30 as usual. We read the letter from the Minuteman Superintendent.  We agreed that it met the required points we’d voted on Monday. We approved a couple minor wording changes.  During discussion, it came out that this vote might actually be meaningful, even though Belmont voted against the original motion.  Minuteman is going to consult with Belmont and perhaps re-vote the motion, with the Arlington changes, at a future time.  We also approved the Town Manager’s resolution on the GIC.

The meeting started punctually at 8PM.

Jane Howard played the national anthem.

  • Juli Brazile reported on the progress of the Fund the Gap and encouraged people to visit the website.
  • Al Tosti – reported on the Minuteman vote I noted above, and said that the Superintendent’s letter was available.
  • Dick Smith announced a petition for a ballot question about single payer healthcare for voters in the 23rd Middlesex district.
  • There was a long round of applause for Josh Lobel’s excellent work in projecting details about the articles for everyone to follow along with.

Article 3 is taken from the table.
John Belskis – GIS Committee. He noted that that the Housing Authority, Assessors, and Redevelopment Board had failed to appoint members.  He talked about the inequities of the current system and how they hurt Arlington.
Lawrence McKinney – Uncle Sam Committee.
Article 3 is tabled.

Article 52 – Budgets (continued from yesterday).

Budget 18 – Public Safety. Gordon Jamieson wants a revolving fund to pay for a firefighter, but I didn’t understand what fund he was referring to. Gordon’s method of getting his point across involves asking 20 questions of some town official, in this case the Town Manager.  Sometimes I think Gordon watches too much Law and Order.

Budget 20 – Education. School Committee Chair Joe Curro asked for 20 minutes and introduced Superintendent Bodie. Some people were shouting for her address, but she’s not required to give her address – she’s a town employee, she just has to give her title.  Non-member town residents must give an address. Bodie talked about community and its importance. She noted the schools’ accomplishments. She noted that the school’s budget is driven by town money and grants and state aid – grants and state aid are down. She reviewed the budget deficit. She explained the principles they used when identifying cuts. She described the growth of special education costs. She talked about the constructive and destructive cycles of special education. She talked about the increase in enrollment, now and in the future. She got her speech done in 18 minutes or so. The first question off the bat was about the school legal budget. The school Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Diane Johnson answered that the legal costs of $300,000 were budgeted, and $200,000 for potential settlements for this year.  The amount spent on the Bouris/Coughlin lawsuit was discussed – several hundred thousand dollars over the last few years.  There was concern about the effect of the lawsuit on the schools. It was noted that only the School Committee has the power to decide where the Bridge the Gap money is spent. Diane Mahon noted that the Selectmen had approved a 1-day permit for a Bridge the Gap fundraiser. School volunteerism was discussed. Diane Mahon talked about the legal fees. She asked about foreign visa student tuition and about LABB credits. She asked about sport fees and complained that they weren’t set yet. Annie Thompson spoke about the connection between school quality and housing prices – she’s concerned that if we screw up the schools that our housing prices will drop. She talked about how the Finance Committee’s votes on the school budget were far from unanimous.  She’s quite right on this point.  There wasn’t support for her full request of $550,000 being spent from reserves – I don’t think anyone actually voted for it.  A different proposal to move $142,000 to the schools failed 10-8.  That money ended up being allocated to the expected jump in unemployment costs, snow and ice, and a couple other places. John Deyst said that he was “disappointed” that the teacher’s union didn’t go into the GIC, and many people in the viewing galleries booed him. It baffles me that people think that booing is going to get them anywhere.  The GIC is going to be discussed.  If they’re going to boo the use of the word “disappointed” I wonder what they’re going to do when the stronger language is used. Joe Tully complained that the School Committee report (which I note has 78 pages) was too condensed.  Joe Tully asked again about whether or not athletic fees were funding the lawsuit. CFO Diane Johnson explained that the athletic budget is much larger than the collected fees, and the school budget pays the difference to support athletics, and the fees are never large enough to permit distribution to the other budgets. She said that to her knowledge that athletic fees had never gone to the legal fees. The Comptroller said a similar statement, and confirmed that the audit hadn’t found inappropriate transfers. Diane Mahon tried to contradict that statement, but she wasn’t on the list to speak and was ruled out of order. I have no idea why she thinks that this happened. The athletics program is much larger than the fees – it doesn’t make sense to me that there could be a transfer out of the athletic budget when it would have to be covered by the general budget anyway. I don’t buy it.  If you think those athletic fees are being misused, show me the proof.

13 minute break.

Special education was discussed – some residential special education tuition is $350,000 per year. Al Tosti spoke about schools employment. He noted the $4million in reserves already being spent. He asked the Superintendant what the plan was for the traffic supervisors. Superintendent Bodie gave a wandering answer that finally said parental volunteers. Gordon Jamieson took 8 minutes to make his third motion of town meeting concerning PAYT. There were questions about special education mandates, costs, plans, and demographics. Other revenues, including advertising, were discussed. It was noted that special education spending is squeezing out spending on regular education. Superintendent Bodie gave an 8-minute answer about the special education rates in the town compared to the state. Earlier Al Tosti made a joke that the Minutman Superintendent had “used more words than I would – but Superintendents do that.” His words proved prophetic. There was a question on Metco students. Paul Schlictmman gave a speech about the relative spending between town-side and school-side and the importance of working together. Janice Weber asked questions about a $15,000 stipend for someone to testify – the Superintendent is not aware of it.

Budget 21 – Libraries. Question on technical specialist.

Budget 23 – Retirement. Treasurer Stephen Gilligan said that if the state legislation is not passed, he will still have to pay the larger amount to the retirement fund.

Budget 25 – Reserve Fund. Gordon Jameison moved to increase the reserve fund from $600,000 to $850,000.  The moderator ruled the amendment (and the previous one about the schools) as out of order.

Enterprise Fund – Youth Services. Marvin Lewiton asked about all the cuts in it. Town Manager Sullivan explained that the group’s deficit had been growing over the years. He said that this is a transition year to develop a new model. The line item numbers might change within the constant bottom line. Question about fund balances.

That was the end of discussion on the budget, so we moved to votes.

  • First vote was Adam Auster’s amendment to lower other expenses in DPW by $108,000. Defeated by voice vote.  I had been assuming that someone would make a motion to raise the school budget by $108,000, because I don’t think that was explicit in the original motion.  If my understanding is correct, and this budget had passed, the $108,000 simply wouldn’t have been appropriated – it wouldn’t have been spent at all.  I don’t think that was understood at the time.  Since the amendment failed the point is moot.
  • Auster’s second amendment, to reduce snow and ice by $62,000 defeated by voice vote, but it was closer than the previous.
  • Treasurer Gilligan’s amendment lost on voice vote.

The budget was approved on voice vote.  That was the longest budget discussion I’ve seen in town meeting.  In general, I think it was time well spent.  $100 million in spending warrants 5+ hours of debate.

Al Tosti gave notice of reconsideration on Article 52, as did Diane Mahon. Meeting was adjourned.

With the budgets done and the GIC compromise on the horizon, there is a chance that Town Meeting will complete on Monday.  I think I’ll put my money on Wednesday, though.

Comments

Comment from Quantum Mechanic
Time: May 20, 2010, 7:00 am

Let the teachers keep up their idiotic recalcitrance. Then they’ll get to see how many of them will lose their jobs when an override next year fails. Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face. If it weren’t for the harm it would do to the kids, I’d be rooting hard for the override to fail to teach them a lesson they oh-so-richly deserve.

Comment from Pcnct 11 Parent and TM mbr
Time: May 20, 2010, 9:31 am

Thanks, Dan for doing this. Reading this was just like being there – and your details are good. I appreciate your thoughts on the matters discussed also. I email my thoughts on weekly TM matters to the bishoptalk@yahoogroups.com. Hopefully folks that have been interested in the work TM is doing from my emails will find your your material good reading too!

Comment from Len Kardon
Time: May 20, 2010, 11:44 am

Can you tell us what the BOS resolution on the GIC was?

Comment from Joe Tully
Time: May 20, 2010, 2:49 pm

Dan, the document we received from the school committee/department was called “Budget” not “Report.” It’s not the number of pages that matters, it’s what it really tells you in terms of information. My use of the word “compressed” was a quote from Ms. Johnson, the school CFO. It was *she* who initially suggested the budget (i.e. the actual spreadhseets and the hard numbers – not the list of where ’09 graduate went to college and all the other text that rounded out the rest of the 78 pages) was a “compressed” version of the budget. You may recall that this statement from her came after a long period of awkward silence when Mr. Hayner asked her where the legal fees are listed and she couldn’t figure it out. 78 pages and three town meeting hours later, we still don’t know where in that document the legal fees are. And yet, we are constantly asked to simply accept these people at their word.

Comment from Ron Spangler
Time: May 21, 2010, 9:41 am

Not quite, Joe. You know exactly what the legal fees are, because the school dept’s been reporting them for three years. Our finance people are way overstretched as it is, because we have cut administration to keep money in the classroom. How about you stop harassing them just because the truth isn’t the answer you want?

After having the voters of this town thrice decline to put you in a position of oversight, one would think you’d have gotten over yourself by now.

Comment from Tim Moloney
Time: May 21, 2010, 9:50 am

Dan, Can’t agree with you more regarding time spent discussing the budget. Needs to be done. The fact we spent close to the same amount on dogs is another matter.

Quantum – Your comment is applicable to all town employees, correct? Police, Fire etc.? And what “lesson” do they deserve?

Comment from Lissa McB
Time: May 21, 2010, 10:45 am

Mr. Spangler and mr. Tully:

Please remember that you are elected officials when you post comments on a public web site. Your choices here can bolster or undermine our confidence in Alrington’s leadership, and at this time more than ever, we need to believe that the people chosen have the maturity and steady hand to guide us through.

Comment from dunster
Time: May 23, 2010, 9:15 pm

@QM I’m hoping the resolution is a change of heart, and everyone gets to the table and a resolution quickly.

@P11 thanks

@Ken I’ve added a link to the resolution in the very beginning of my post, when i’m talking about fincomm

@Joe – I’ve had plenty of beefs with the SC/CFO/Super’s budget presentation and have been vocal about them. It’s a big reach to go from “bad presentation” or even “can’t answer questions” to “there’s a conspiracy to hide things from me.” I don’t see the conspiracy.

@Tim – at risk of putting words in QM’s mouth, I think he was referring to the teacher’s union refusing to come to the table on the GIC.

Pingback from Dan Dunn’s Podium » Town Meeting ‘10 Session 9
Time: May 25, 2010, 9:25 am

[…] 58 – Minuteman Feasibility Study. Al Tosti moved the substitute motion the Finance Committee approved last week, and made two small changes to the text. Tosti walked through the decision process. The Finance […]