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.