At the beginning of the budget season, Advisory Committee member John Butler volunteered to be the committee’s liaison to the K-8 School Committee. His goal was to help the finance committee better understand the school’s budget so it could make an informed recommendation to Town Meeting about what voters should approve.
This week Butler announced he has suspended his activities, saying the school committee has refused to engage in discussion and has not cooperated with his repeated requests for information.
In a record he assembled of his attempts to engage the school committee, Butler takes particular exception to the committee’s refusal to discuss their budget with other town officials or members of the public at their monthly meetings. The school committee has a standing “Audience Sharing” agenda item, but by their own policy, they do not respond to comments shared by audience members at that time.
(You might remember that’s what happened in December when Selectman John Rooney attended the school committee meeting to share data he had collected about school cost versus quality.)
“They are within their legal rights to do this, but it is a behavior that, in my opinion, is supercilious, insulting to the public and hampering to the work we are charged with doing,” Butler wrote.
Butler said requests for an agenda item specifically to discuss the budget with Advisory Committee members, a request he said the school committee originally agreed to, was later refused.
As part of his budget analysis, Butler requested a long list of background information, including detail on budget line items, personnel costs, projected cost increases driven by union contracts, state filings, and more. It’s a request Butler said went largely unfulfilled.
In a comment on this blog, Selectman John Rooney said he was “troubled” by Butler’s decision to suspend his activities and by the school committee’s apparent failure to open its budget process to the public.
“The withholding of information results in the inability of residents to organize and seek changes in government policy or to use democratic procedures to change policies or elected representatives,” Rooney wrote.
The school committee approved a $16.99M budget at their meeting earlier this week. They will hold a state-mandated public hearing on the budget at their meeting in March.
Update 11:00 am: A reader pointed out that not all Advisory Committee members back Butler in his stance. The Metrowest Daily News talked with Chairperson Claire Reynolds who said she did not agree with Butler’s criticisms of the school committee. You can read her comments in this article.