Advisory Committee member says school committee uncooperative during budget process (UPDATED)

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.

For more, read Butler’s comment on this blog and the record of his interactions with the school committee posted on the Advisory Committee’s website.

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.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Al Hamilton
12 years ago

It is important to note that the information request was backed by a vote of Advisory. This makes it a formal request. Response is not optional. Failure to provide the requested information is a violation of Section 9-13 Paragraph D. of Town By Laws. Unless Advisory formally rescinds the request it stands as does the violation. Read for yourself

Violation of town by law (make no mistake, this is the law) is a very poor example to set for the children of our community.

John Butler
12 years ago

I don’t think there is any disagreement between Claire and myself regarding the facts, or at least she is not presenting any alternative version of what has happened. The disagreement is over what approach is best under the circumstances. She and some other Advisory Members felt that we should back off, hoping that accommodation would produce more results. On that basis, principally, I supported a proposal to drop or defer the financial analysis of 3 vs. 4 schools, and I notified School Committee of this. However, I said at the Advisory meeting that if the School Committee not only refused to talk with us at their meetings but also, after their writing that an agenda item was the way to have a dialog, refused a formal agenda item request, then in the face of such a complete insulation of their meetings from any actual discussion, I would not be silent. “Budget” in one form or another has been on the School Committee agenda for many months now, but even though I represent Advisory Committee, neither I, nor anyone else, can discuss the budget with them at their meeting. No matter what approach I take, I cannot get even a simple budget question answered there. To the best of my knowledge this comprehensive refusal to have any external dialog at their meetings, even with official representatives of another board, is a unique new practice for a Southborough committee, which I believe voters need to be able to consider. Clair opposed my publicly disclosing the Committee’s refusal to put us on their agenda. Against the further backdrop of very slow delivery of data, I could not hope to keep my promises about the remaining analyses, while meanwhile, other matters are pressing, such as consideration of the Town Manager draft legislation question. So, I concluded I had to move on, back off from my public promises for K8 financial analysis, deposit the record for the public to ponder, and admit defeat.

Neil Rossen
12 years ago
Reply to  John Butler

Defeat! Is there any provision for recalling the School Committe and voting in a completely new slate of determined reformists?
Are there any sanctions for the violation of town law as indicated by Al.

  • © 2024 — All rights reserved.