Advisory Committee, School Committee to discuss budget communication woes

A week after an Advisory Committee member publicly called out the K-8 School Committee for refusing to engage in debate over the school budget, the two committees will meet on Wednesday to hash out their differences.

Advisory Committee member John Butler, who volunteered to act as a liaison to the school committee during the budget process, announced last week he was suspending his activities. Butler said he had no choice because the committee refused to discuss the budget with him at their meetings and was not cooperating with his requests for background data.

The school committee has not formally responded to Butler’s accusations. In a January email to Butler, school committee member Kathleen Harragan acknowledged that some requests for information had not been fulfilled, but said the district provided as much data as it could given limited resources.

“Unfortunately, at this very busy budget time, there are no central office resources available to devote to the outstanding items,” Harragan wrote.

The Advisory Committee and School Committee will meet on Wednesday at 7:35 pm at Cordaville Hall (Senior Center). According to an agenda for the meeting, the groups will discuss the liaison role. Town Moderator David Coombs is also expected to attend.

The meeting is open to the public.

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Al Hamilton
10 years ago

Anyone interested in attending this meeting should first read Mr. Butlers most recent posting (yesterday) on the Advisory web site. http://southboroughadvisory.shutterfly.com/26/701

The long and short of this is:

Advisory asked for a substantial amount of cost of operations data in a spreadsheet format so it could perform financial analysis in support of the budget. Ms Polutchko responded:

“We have never had the need to export the voluminous budget data into an .xls or .csv format so that will take some extra time to see if we can accomplish that with this proprietary software program. The next time I meet with Cheryl on this topic, I will go through the list and annotate which items are available in paper or type of electronic format.”

A few days ago Mr Butler Discovered:

“On Friday, somewhat out of the blue from someone I had not emailed at the State, I received a what I had always hoped existed, a very large excel spreadsheet that has ALL the financial reporting and was in fact prepared and submitted by the District to the State. It produces the reports visible on the web site, so it is possible to see how those summaries are developed. I followed up with a request for some of the surrounding data: for Northborough, for the Region, and for fy09 (for reasons I’ll explain). I received this today and am posting it to the files section of the Advisory web site. They are too big to attach to a single email.”

“I was also pointed by the State to the part of their web page which describes how the districts create this spreadsheet. It is a major reporting project for each district from what I can see, using the spreadsheets provided to me, and submitting them by September 30.”

So, in-spite of the School Committees protestations to the contrary the data did exist in the desired format and could readily be provided.

Mr Butler concludes:

“You can draw your own conclusions about whether such a large project on the part of the district, done every year in excel, could ever be “forgotten” even though we requested excel format data, or whether it is part of an intentional effort to avoid disclosure. ”

I encourage every citizen in the Town to read this shameful account.

that the K-8 Schools and in particualr

Karen
10 years ago
Reply to  Al Hamilton

This is absolutely mind-boggling. I just don’t understand the resistance to Advisory’s requests, especially since it is now clear that the information was readily available. I truly hope the meeting on Wednesday evening will provide some much needed discussion between the two committees, with the result that there can be mutual cooperation going forward.

Parent
10 years ago

I for sure will be attending. Somewhat mind bogling no it is not. I think and have thought since the begining the school committee is in lock step with what the schools, superintendent and unions want. And they are quite easily minipulated and dazzled. But, again, why if the School Committee and the Superintenedent clearly know of this information in spreadsheet, why didnt they just produce it. Why the bolgona? We have unpaid good personnel on Advisory, BOS, and Capitol that put unpaid time in and the school folks want to continue to play games and snub their noses at the rest of us. I dont get it. Please explain.

John Rooney
10 years ago
Reply to  Parent

Parent, I understand your frustration but believe you are mistaken in your feeling that the school committee’s and Dr. Gobron’s objective is to satisfy the teacher’s union. I have always believed, and continue to believe, that the school committee’s and Dr. Gobron’s singular objective is to provide the best possible education for the town’s youth. Their dedication and commitment to this town is beyond question, and I have never been witness to a single incident that questioned their devotion to providing a quality education.

As a resident and not speaking on behalf of the Board of Selectmen, I do have disagreements with the school committee. Disagreements are not always a bad thing, especially when a dialogue results. I disagree not with their objective, but their apparent unwillingness to temper their unremitting thirst of requesting budget increases and their avoidance in explaining whether those budgetary increases are making any difference on the quality of education. I disagree with their stand that a small reduction in their budget will absolutely correlate in the decline of educational quality. I disagree with either their unwillingness or feeling of indifference in response to my requests, as well as others, on how lower budgetary models in other towns produce equal, if not better, educational results. And, I disagree with their selectivity and apparent paranoia in sharing information with the public.

In the past I have asked for answers on our school spending and its relationship to educational quality. I was criticized at Town Meeting for publicly venturing into a an area considered to be within the exclusive jurisdiction of the school committee, and was labeled as irresponsible when I offered a comparison between Southborough’s school funding and that in Shrewsbury. My research, which was made available to all, revealed that our per pupil costs were much higher yet our students scored lower in standardized testing. The response, as I understand it, is that Shrewsbury is “not an appropriate comparison.”

For purposes of discussion, accepting the school committee’s objection with using Shrewsbury, the State Board of Education also engages in comparative analyses. Using the State comparables should provide me, one would think, with an impenetrable shield deflecting the slings and arrows of “comparing apples and oranges.” The results are neither flattering nor acceptable from where I sit.

Open the following website, http://www.doe.mass.edu/apa/dart/districts.xls from the State Board of Education. Pick Southborough from the top drop down box at the left Go to the “Curriculum” tab and scroll down to the second chart. You will see that among the 10 towns the State believes are comparable, Southborough’s MCAS Growth is the lowest in the group.

MCAS Growth is used to measure the progress that students are making compared to what they “ought to” make given their background and performance. This is a tool used to measure what a school’s contribution to performance is. The MCAS growth standard is explained: “Massachusetts, along with several other states, decided to use this student growth percentile model because, compared to many other growth models, this model provides a fair way to evaluate the progress of students. Every student, regardless of his or her level of achievement at the beginning of the school year, has the same opportunity to grow at the highest or lowest rates.” Charges that these results do not mean anything ignores the fact that the State, along with other States, believe they mean something.

Go to the “Finance” tab. We spend more than Sudbury per pupil and Sudbury spends more than the state average.

To my knowledge, these results, which have been published for nearly two years, is important information for residents to know about, yet was not provided by those elected to advance the education of our children. Information needs to be provided, and not parceled out only if it is positive. Parenthetically, the State’s comparative results are strikingly similar to the results I discovered in Shrewsbury.

There is no need for anger, name calling, or harsh words to enter the discussion. As a resident I only seek answers to these questions and full disclosure of documents that support or disagree with those answers.

Neil Rossen
10 years ago
Reply to  John Rooney

I would suggest that dedication is one thing, but attention to taxpayers and results is another. If their interests are not in accord with the unions one can only question competence. What is it to be?

SouthboroDave
10 years ago

I’m sure they just forgot they put this excel workbook together every September… preposterous.

Neil Rossen
10 years ago

From my reading this is a meeting about COMMUNICATION, NOT the budget. Read the headline – “to discuss budget communication woes”…
If so, a awaste of time.

Al Hamilton
10 years ago
Reply to  Neil Rossen

It would appear that it is not possible to discuss the budget because the information requested has not been provided.

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