Advisory Committee, School Committee fail to see eye-to-eye

The oft-stated goal of last night’s meeting between the Advisory Committee and the K-8 School Committee was “to find a way to move forward” after a very public breakdown in communication between the two groups. Whether they did that remains to be seen.

Town Moderator David Coombs said he called the meeting because he was concerned the conflict between the two committees would impact his ability to run Town Meeting in April.

“Disagreement is great. We want strong opinions,” he said. “But it’s not okay when we reach the point where people don’t want to communicate, don’t want to listen, or are afraid to talk…It’s time to clear the air and it’s time to move forward.”

At the heart of the conflict is an Advisory Committee request for school budget and other background information that they say was not handled by the School Committee in a reasonable timeframe. They also complained that the School Committee refused to make time on their agenda to engage in budget discussions.

“I was deeply dismayed. I was hurt,” Advisory Committee member John Butler said of being shut out of School Committee meetings. “It was very hard after that to believe you were opearting in good faith.”

School Committee Chairperson Marybeth Strickland said they did the best they could with limited resources to provide the information requested, and said she had been told at one point by Advisory that they had everything they needed. She said by policy the school committee does not engage in discussions with outside groups at its monthly meetings, but said they offered several times to attend an Advisory Committee meeting, but none was scheduled.

“I think there have been a lot of misunderstandings,” Strickland said. “We’ve been trying to cooperate, we want to work together.”

The exchange went back-and-forth for about two hours, but (from my vantage point) little constructive progress was made in repairing relations between the two groups.

“I think it’s a shame that we have to meet like this, because we’re all adults,” Advisory member Tim Langella said. “We’re all big boys and girls.”

Advisory Committee Chairperson Claire Reynolds said she would provide the School Committee with a list of information they still need to do their budget analysis. The two groups are scheduled to meet jointly with selectmen on February 28, to discuss the K-8 budget.

You can read another account of last night’s meeting in the Metrowest Daily News.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
John Kendall
12 years ago

And so it continues. I don’t know what folks really think, but enough is enough! The Advisory Committee, as well as the taxpayers have a right to the information, and I still have this question: Is it time to notify the Attorney General? Are there any sections of any law, including Freedom of Information, Open Meeting, etc., that are being broken by OUR school committee?

Al Hamilton
12 years ago
Reply to  John Kendall

John Kendall:

Your question is has there been a violation of the Massachusetts Public Records Law. I have reviewed the excellent guide provided by the Secretary of State

My conclusion is that a violation has occurred but there are qualifications:

Was the email from Mr. Butler and Mr. Shea a valid request for Public Records? – YES. There is no particular form required and the definition of a request is very liberal (this is Mass after all). The Guide is clear:

“Must my request be in writing and do I need to use a specific form?”

“A written request is not required but it is recommended. An oral request, made in person (not by telephone), is valid under the Public Records Law. To appeal the records custodian’s response, however, a request must be in writing. There is no specific form that must be used to request records, nor is there any language which must be included in such a request. A records custodian may provide a specific form for your use, but cannot demand that the form be used.”

Does the Law Cover Computer Records – YES, the guide is clear:

“Does the Public Records Law apply to computer records?”

“Yes. The Public Records Law applies to all government records generated,received or maintained electronically, including computer records, electronic mail, video and audiotapes.”

Was the request by the K-8 School Committee about the reason why the request was made lawful – NO The Guide is clear:

“Is a requester required to disclose the intended use of the public record

“With the possible exception of situations where the records custodian is anticipating the withholding of records pursuant to Exemption (n), a records custodian may not ask a requester the reason for the request or the intended use of the requested records.”

So, I believe it is clear that the K-8 School Committee Violated the Public Records Law.

They failed to provide written justification for why they did not comply within 10 days.

They asked the requesters about the intended use of the records

What can be done? The next step would be an appeal to the Secretary of State (and possibly the AG). I believe that Mr. Butler and Mr. Shea as the originators of the request (regardless of their status as members of Advisory) would have standing to file an appeal and would likely prevail.

After that it gets murky. Mr. Butler and Mr. Shea were working as agents of the Advisory Committee and an argument could readily be made that any Advisory Member could complain that their expressed will was being thwarted by this violation and have standing to appeal.

Finally you and I and all registered voters as Town Meeting members could argue that we have standing to file a complaint as the violation deprived us of the due consideration of the Advisory Committee which is charged with making recommendations to us on the floor of Town Meeting.

The bottom line is that the K-8 School Committee, in my opinion, has violated Town By Law with its late submission of its budget and systematic refusal to provide information to the Advisory Committee and has Violated the Commonwealths Public Record Laws for the reasons stated above. This is a very poor example to set for the children of our community.

Al Hamilton
12 years ago

I attended the meeting last night. The most curious moment came after Mr Butler spoke. He addressed the meeting and in a calm and thoughtful fashion. He demonstrating, with great authority, that the various excuses that were offered for why the financial data had not been delivered were in not concert with publically available facts. Unable to respond factually to his critique the K-8 School Committee immediately launched an ad hominem attack on Mr. Butler accusing him of addressing them in a bad “Tone” and having “Bad Body Language”. (I am not making this up)

Equally puzzling is the K-8 committee’s reluctance to ask for help in assembling data from the Superintendent’s office. This seems like a misunderstanding of who reports to whom. The simple fact is that had Mr. Butler asked the Superintendent for the information and, made it clear that the request was made under the authority granted to each citizen by the Massachusetts Public Records Law, ( the Superintendent’s office would have complied completely to the request within 10 days as required by law. I have made such requests in the past and they have been promptly and courteously fulfilled. It is hard to see what value added is gained by routing the request through the K-8 School Committee which clearly wants to vet and control the distribution of information.

The K-8 Committee did promise to play nice and provide the requested information and their statements should be taken at face value. But in the words of Ronald Regan “Trust But Verify” it would be prudent to become familiar with the following:

Dear (Public Officials Name):

As a custodian of public records I request that you provide me with the following records:

(State your Request Here, Specifics Are Helpful)

I make this request as a private citizen consistent with my rights under MGL 940 CMR 11, 32 and 33 and further under Federal Freedom of information Act 5 USC 552.

Thank you in advance for your prompt assistance in this matter. I am more than willing to reimburse the town for any reasonable copying costs.

Best regards
(Your Name)

Your request will be granted within 10 days or you should receive a written reply as to why your request is denied (there are some exceptions)

In the event of a denial, partial delivery, or non response you can use the following:

John Butler
12 years ago

Here were my suggestions for a long term improvement in the situation which I read last night at the meeting,

“There are things that could be done that would go a long way to reducing tension and ultimately to ensure continued support for the school system. These would be 1. that the school committee adopt a new permanent policy of allowing two way dialog with members of the public at their meetings, just as all other committees in town do. If the School Committee is worried about controversy, I would suggest that they attend some hearings by the Board of Selectmen, ZBA or Planning Board to see how highly charged topics are routinely handled while allowing fair public participation. 2. That when challenging information is presented, or appears, such as the Shrewsbury comparisons, presented in December by Selectman Rooney, not only is there active dialog but a non‑defensive effort to understand whether there is information that may help the schools. 3. That when requested by other committees to do so, schedule agenda items for matters of common concern, such as budgets. 4. Promptly comply with all bona fide requests for information from the public and from other committees.”

To John Kendall,
I am quite certain that their policy of not engaging in dialog with anyone at their meetings does not violate any State law. It does violate the common insight “What if everyone behaved that way?” For example, they propose as a remedy, for never allowing any impromptu or scheduled dialog, that they come to our meetings. But, of course, in saying this they assume that we don’t behave as they do, that dialog is possible at our meetings, and those of the Board of Selectmen who also meet about budgets. No other committee refuses all dialog at their meetings, presumably because they recognize it fails the simple test “What if everyone behaved this way?” Nevertheless in this regard, Mr. Kendall, no law is broken.

As for the violations of the Public Records law (the MA version of Freedom of Information), we did not frame our request as a Document request under that statute, which any citizen can do, and which would require compliance within 10 days. Therefore I don’t think they have violated any law there either. Al Hamilton said last night that I was naive not to have done so, and I wearily admit that may be true. I expected cooperation because we get it from every other group and department. I never expected to have happen what actually did happen. I am sorry to report that at this point, I have no taste for that process. Others may, any citizen can do it if they want to persist, but I have reached my limit somewhere short of trying to legally compel anything.

As a favor to my fellow Advisory Committee members I must find some way to emphasize enough here that I speak only for myself when posting here. I am pleased to report that your Advisory Committee is a bunch of independent minded people who are as likely to argue fiercely among themselves as with anyone. The frequent unanimous votes reported at Town Meeting mask a lot hammer and tongs along the way, which have been loudly singing their metal melodies lately. (This is a test of this unusual emphatic disclaimer to see if it satisfies my fellow members.)

John Kendall
12 years ago
Reply to  John Butler

Thank you Mr. Butler for your response. I just find it difficult to comprehend that the members of the School Committee, who are elected officials, can behave the way they do. And knowing Mr. Gobron, well I guess I expect more from him. As for Advisory, while over the years I have disagreed with some of the stances they have taken with certain departments, I applaud all of you for committing so much time for no pay on the Advisory Committee! Thank you!

A Concerned Voter
12 years ago
Reply to  John Butler

I am a bit perplexed by this exchange. It would seem a rather simple task for the chair of Advisory to meet with the chair of the School Committee to look into the lack of production of requested records and obtain the records in question. I do not understand why such an informal meeting did not take place. I also do not understand why there are so many critical posts on this blog regarding issues under Advisory’s review from multiple Advisory members.

It seems a bit odd to see the frequent posts from Advisory on this topic and try to determine the tone inferred by the frequent critical and caustic comments directed at the School Committee. The tone of the posts seems to suggest a desire to “extract a pound of flesh” from the School Committee, in addition to production of the records. Yet that punitive role is the voters’ exclusive right which is exercised at the ballot box not by Advisory’s caustic posts full of innuendo and hand wringing.

It is vitally important that voters receive fair and unbiased information on topics relative to the efficient operation of the schools and all other town entities. I always believed that was the role, purpose and actual operation of the Advisory Committee over the past years. I questions why it appears to have changed course.

Perhaps there should be a consequence to the failure of the School Committee to produce the requested records. Let’s get the facts from both sides before we rush to condemn. It is the voters’ role at the election booth to judge whether someone should be elected to the School Committee. Perhaps that is the ultimate demonstration of the voters’ displeasure. It is NOT Advisory’s role.

There are open seats for the School Committee for the spring election. Perhaps we could entice some folks from Advisory to run for election to the School Committee? It might be a good idea to have some members who are fiscally oriented as a balance to the current composition of the School Committee.

Frankly, all this hostility and gridlock has caused me to question the advice and comments I have seen on television and read regarding the Town Manager issue that have emanated from Advisory.

And the “personal comment” versus official Advisory disclaimer just doesn’t cut the mustard. It is as if President Obama wrote a letter to the newspaper commenting on a bill before Congress, yet claiming he wrote it as a private citizen. You can’t be the frequent public face of Advisory one minute, then comment on the same issues “as a private citizen ” and truly believe your comments will not be perceived as representing the official position of the Advisory Board.

I hope these Advisory posts do not represent an intentional public discussion/debate. I dread another Southborough Open Meeting Law violation debate.

Southborough is a wonderful town filled with mostly wonderful people. End the hostility and the “he said/she said” drivel. Sometimes it is not worth it to try to always get in the last word.

You volunteered to serve your town and you spend hundreds of hours on the budget review every year. You can do better than this and the town deserves it.

I thank the members of the School Committee and Advisory Committee for their service.

Al Hamilton
12 years ago


First, only 2 of the 9 members of Advisory have posted comments relative to this issue Mr. Butler and Mr. Boiardi and they have been relatively restrained. The open meeting laws only come into play if a quorum engages in discussion in this case 5 members.

I believe that I am the source of many of the caustic comments and I am not a member of any town board except Town Meeting.

Several informal meetings did take place and the result was nothing. Mr. Butler and Mr. Shea were tasked by the Advisory Committee to act as liasions because there were a number of very important issues on the table relative to the largest budget by far and to review that budget effectively a large amount of data relative to school operations was necessary. All of this data is in the public domain. It is data that any citizen could have by right in 10 days by making a simple request to the Superintendent. So, ask yourself, why has the K-8 school committee dragged its feet for 2 months?

So, what would you suggest Advisory do when faced with the failure to deliver public information?

You, of course are free to perceive comments anyway you want, that is not a matter that is under Mr. Butler’s or Boiardi’s control. Nor should it disqualify them from entering into public discussion. However, they made it clear that they spoke only for themselves. If you choose to perceive their comments in a light contrary to their stated intent then so be it. I can assure, as a former Advisory member, anyone who claims to speak on behalf of the Committee without the benefit of a recorded vote is a fool.

You are correct, the fundamental solution to this impasse is at the ballot box. However, voters should be aware of exactly how your elected representative have been behaving in order to make an informed decision.

carrie alpert
12 years ago

you sum it up nicely A Concerned Voter. I have not perused these board in some time and for good reason, the tone has gone from caustic to crossing the line into what I feel is the “red zone” by Advisory with posts that are derogatory and biased; aimed at tearing down. Never once is there the use of the word “children” or “learning” and we are talking about our school system.

Frank Crowell
12 years ago
Reply to  carrie alpert

And this post would be a perfect example of trying to quiet a person who is simply searching for the truth on behalf of the tax payer. I was wondering when the BOE apologists were going to show up. Yes, yes – derogatory and biased comments and none of us care about the education of our children. Shameful of me to think the budget could possibly be reduced by 2% – what was I thinking.

12 years ago
Reply to  carrie alpert

You have not been paying attention. The School Committee is stonewalling and has been rude to both Mr. Rooney and Mr. Butler. The have not delivered the requested information, have denied Advisory a standing agenda item, and view the public having public information as undesirable. Is this acceptable in your opinion? It seems to me that the people who will throw any amount of money at the schools with no questions asked are the first ones to leave once their children graduate.

John Boiardi
12 years ago
Reply to  carrie alpert


You never hear increased taxes way into the future, the seniors, retirees on fixed income either. If we don’t get a handle on taxes the children will only have debt and unemployment when they graduate . They will face what economies in Europe are facing thanks to the economic path we are following. The teachers, thanks to overly generous contracts, will be the upperclass.

Al Hamilton
12 years ago
Reply to  carrie alpert


Actually it is because all of us are very concerned about the education the children of our town receive that this tempest in a teapot is occurring.

Mr. Rooney has presented data that suggests that our costs of education are substantially higher than comparable communities. Shouldn’t the School Committee be discussing this and presenting information about whether Mr. Rooney’s analysis is correct instead of calling him “irresponsible”?

Mr. Rooney has also presented data that suggests that when compared with communities that the Commonwealth considers our peers our MCAS based measure of educational effectiveness is the worst of the group. Shouldn’t we be having a very public discussion about what this data means and if it paints an accurate picture of our effectiveness. Mr. Rooney might be wrong but it will take facts and figures to demonstrate it, not name calling.

I have suggested that the public data indicates that for the most recent 5 years teachers in our system have received 7+% raises on average outstripping the average teacher raises in the Commonwealth. What is the response? “I don’t know where this data came from” (The ultimate source of this data is the Superintendent) and “That is not the data I have seen” (Of course this data had not been made public).

When I made the school population forecast the response was not what method did you use but “I don’t know if I can trust these numbers” (They all came from public sources). It turns out that the method I used was nearly identical to the one the Superintendent used in his analysis and the results differed only in minor detail. But, the School Committees response to my analysis was “we disagree” presumably they agreed with the superintendent’s numbers which leads to a curious logical inconsistency.

People are beginning to wonder if we really are delivering a cost effective quality education to the children of our town. Shouldn’t the School Committee be leading vigorous discussion on this very important topic? Aren’t we all trying to make sure that we get the maximum benefit for the children of our town with the taxpayers hard earned money?

These are important issues which deserve through public discussion in order to maintain the public’s confidence in our schools and to continue our towns generous funding thereof.

Of course the very curious format employed in the K-8 School Committee meetings makes open discussion impossible. Coupled this with a reluctance to trust the public with public data and a penchant for smearing anyone who questions the established order and you have all the ingredients for parade where the Emperor shows the public his new suit.

John Butler
12 years ago

Concerned voter, as a fellow concerned voter I have written repeatedly here that I write only as citizen, not speaking for the Advisory Committee. I have tried saying that in boring legalistic ways and unusual emphatic ways. You should assume that other members may strongly disagree with me and that only votes of the committee speak for it. I do not give up my right to speak by being a member. The Obama example is a poor analogy because he is one person. If a member of a 9 person congressional committee emphatically and repeatedly says, “I don’t speak for the committee.” is there something hard to understand about that?

You seem to regard the facts presented as relevant to your possible votes, but dislike what you feel has been “caustic”. Here is the blandest possible summary regarding how we came to receive a copy of the main financial reporting tool in use in Massachusetts schools:

Aug 1: The State Dept of Ed writes to all school districts “all districts must file their End of Year Reports (EOYR) on Excel templates” by Sept 30, adding “school and municipal officials sign and submit these data reports to the Commonwealth under the penalties of perjury” See

Sept 30, or thereabouts: Southborough school district sends a copy of the Excel spreadsheet as required to the State.

Dec 16: Brian Shea and I, acting as liaisons from Advisory, email the school committee requesting, among other data items: “7. Copies of ‘cost of operation’ filings with the State, particularly any filed electronically.” We are unaware of the specific existence of the excel files sent to the state at this point in time.

Dec 20: Brian Shea and I meet with representatives of the school committee who ask us if we plan to publish on the Advisory Web site data they provide. When we explain that that is our standard practice for everything, they say that they are uncomfortable with this as “the public distorts data”. We assume that in spite of these reservations they will be cooperative.

January 12: Brian Shea and I receive an email from Kathleen Polutchko containing an email forwarded to her from Jean Tower of the District. It says “The data we submit is a record of each and every individual student and educator and is confidential. It is not something we could share, nor would the DESE [Dept of Elementary and Secondary Ed] be allowed to share.” Polutchko notes that this closes out item 7.
I email someone at the state DESE, whose name I have picked off the website asking if they can help. At this point we have received absolutely no electronic form financial information for either historical spending or budget from the Schools and I am feeling desperate.

Feb 13: Someone from the State DESE emails me the Excel spreadsheets that had been sent to the State by Southborough schools revealing their existence to me for the first time. He adds “ As you know, we don’t just make this stuff up, we get it from the districts.” Of course, I didn’t know until then. It was just a blind attempt. The spreadsheet contains all the financial operating records for the last three years plus this year’s budget, and no student records. It is huge, exactly what we asked for, exactly as sent by the schools to the state, and complete. We post it to the Advisory web site.

This history is interlaced with the fact that by their rule we are unable to get budget questions discussed with us at their meetings even though every meeting contains “budget” as a topic. Their minutes say “This should be an item for a future agenda.” When we ask for an agenda item, it is refused.

That completes a bland statement of the facts.

I agree with you that ballot box questions are not a matter for Advisory Committee, however, as I repeatedly point out, as emphatically as I can, I am writing here as citizen aware of certain facts, not reporting votes of the Advisory Committee, its only method of speaking. In this case Advisory Committee sought mundane financial information central to its mission, of the same type it seeks and receives for every budget. While on that humdrum path, surprising events occurred which, according to you, may be relevant to the ballot box. I, as a citizen, do feel you should have this information available to you regardless of what you do with it. Your consideration of them as possibly relevant to your vote seems, in my view, to confirm the importance of your having them.

John Boiardi
12 years ago

A concerned voter.
Your logic concerning ” personal comment” is flawed. If President Obama wrote on the blong using the name ” a concerned voter” in place of his own name would you assume he was representing congress?

Neil Rossen
12 years ago

As you know, I never expected more from Gobron or the School Committee. I have always and will continue to believe that they act on behalf of the teachers and their unions – not taxpayers. If you accept that, their actions become clear, and one can move on to debate what should be done about it. I think we are running out of time to do just that.

John Boiardi
12 years ago
Reply to  Neil Rossen


Watch one of the SC meetings on our local channel. What you will see is a total love in where never is heard a discouraging word. You will never hear the SC utter such words as “what will it cost?, Can we reduce-?, how effective is the program?”. All you get is giggles and yes votes for anything and everything.

Frank Crowell
12 years ago

“….there have been a lot of misunderstandings” 

Nothing to misunderstand from what I see. Requests for information are blocked or some set of excuses used so as not to provide. One person from the BOS asks some questions after a little comparison is done, and the BOE attacks (just like what happened with Mr Butler the night before – what group of people are acting like children?). Questions from this blog about the teacher’s contract and then we hear there’s a anti-teacher sentiment.

This all started with the rah-rah speech by the superintendent at last TM to jam through the school budget. A day later the BOE votes on the teacher’s contract when it could have been voted on earlier so the details could be discussed at TM. It has just gone down hill since. 

I do not know whose advice the BOE seeks when they determine how to deal with the citizens of Southborough, but they might want to change their tune. This has the potential to be a big back lash – for good reasons. Since it is obvious the budget has not been given a thorough and independent review (what should be expected from the BOE), the new budget should be at least frozen to this year’s level or reduced by 2%. This has been nothing short of infuriating.

12 years ago

Frank, You’ve got one of your facts inccorect. I am told the terms of the teachers contract were agreed to before TM and the schools refused to tell us.

John Boiardi
12 years ago

Frank and Resident

The SC effort to hide contract details from TM is reason enough to vote the encumbents out.

Resident (another)
12 years ago

FYI, everyone is entitled to the information which Mr. Butler and Advisory have requested from the School Committee. What that means is that anyone who is outraged by the refusal of the school committee to provide this information can request the same information, in writing, from the school committee, wait 10 days, and when it is not provided, register a formal complaint with the department of public records. Mr. Butler and/or Advisory do not have to be the ones to register a complaint regarding this matter. If any of you out there want it done, then do it!

Frankly, I would like to see the short list of individuals who complain about the school budget and committee incessantly on this blog actually DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!!! Stop waiting around for someone else to act from the comfort and keyboard of your own home. Stop hiding behind the excuse that “they are our neighbors, blah,blah, blah” and take action. Others have gone out of their comfort zone, stuck their necks out and made a change. You can (and should) too. Trust that a lot of people are behind you and you have right on your side.

Neil Rossen
12 years ago

And I’d like to see everyone post under their real name rather than nom de plumes. Trust you’ll be one of those behind anyone sticking their neck out.

Frank Crowell
12 years ago

You seem to have a problem with people expressing their opinion. If the posts here by me and others who are not buying the BOE Kool-Aid cause to you irritation, I can think of two remedies: Don’t read them or maybe the BOE can start remembering who they represent. I believe that if you run for and win office the least the taxpayer can expect is that person to do the job. This board is forum to help understand what is going on and, I hope, a catalyst for change.

Resident (another)
12 years ago
Reply to  Frank Crowell

No, I don’t have a problem with it at all. I completely agree with you Frank. I just wish someone close to the issue would do something about it AS WELL AS expressing their opinion and informing us all about the problem through this blog. It will take years to vote the school board out of office and I don’t think there are enough people reading this blog to do so. If they are violating the law, something should be done about it and, maybe, by the people who post on this blog and look to be close to the situation.

Expressing an opinion is all well and good, but doing something about it is even better.

And Neil, thanks, as always, for your contribution.

John Boiardi
12 years ago


I agree with you on Dr Gabron’s rah rah speech.

I would like to see Al Hamilton’s presentation on school enrollment shown at the next town meeting. It will open some people’s eyes to the direction school costs are going.

John Boiardi
12 years ago
Reply to  John Boiardi

I promise to spell Dr Gobon’s name correctly.
I will write the sentence ten times.

John Boiardi
12 years ago

For the record.

To bloggers on My Southborough.

I am a member of Advisory. When I post to the blog I am posting as a private citizen.
I do not in any way speak for or represent any position taken by the 9 person committee.
I support decisions voted on by Advisory although I don’t always agree with them..
As John Butler eloquently explains in his posts, he defends his right to speak out on issues as a private citizen dispite being a member of Advisory.

So when I post I may forget to include the disclaimer the I do not represent any position taken by Advisory. Rest assured I am posting as a private citizen

Frank Crowell
12 years ago

This is interesting – 

“That financial analysis comparison is only available through fiscal 2008 at the education department’s website. Earlier this month, the School Committee presented an updated analysis it conducted using 2010 figures in which Southborough ranks near the bottom at per-pupil spending at $13,036, with Lincoln the highest at $21,812.”

Did anyone know this analysis existed? I must be behind on the news from the BOE.

  • © 2024 — All rights reserved.