Selectman Degen’s Advice to School Committee
The Groton-Dunstable Regional School Committee met on July 6 to discuss whether to accept or reject the ‘carry-over’ budget in the face of the defeat of the second override vote in Groton and its approval in Dunstable. The board has 30 days from the June 30 override vote to accept the carry forward budget, which includes an increase of $1.6M over last year’s FY’16 funding, or to reject the budget and make a third attempt to procure a budget increase through a “super” town meeting or a special town meeting/third override vote in Groton. After siting through a long, frustrating meeting, a meeting during which some school committee members questioned town officials and voters commitment to education, Selectman Josh Degen gave the following extemporaneous comments which we think does a good job of summarizing the situation with the Groton-Dunstable regional school budget. [These comments have been edited for continuity and clarity and were approved by Selectmen Degen.]
TEXT of COMMENTS to SCHOOL COMMITTEE
"I don’t think there’s a person in this room and nary a person in Groton or Dunstable that doesn’t value education. We need to make that clear. To disenfranchise people by saying they don’t value education is not the way to build consensus.
What you [members of the School committee] need to do is to be better salespeople and you need to educate yourselves better. By that, I mean that you need to listen to people. This meeting tonight has gone on for two hours and 17 minutes, you’ve taken two votes, and you haven’t allowed public comment or participation. You have a policy in place that doesn’t allow public participation until set times during the meetings. At Board of Selectmen’s meetings, whatever we’re talking about, before we vote, we open it up to public comment because you can learn something.
When you certified your 40 million dollar budget, back in February I believe, you didn’t take a single bit of public input because you were talking about the football program. Then, without taking any questions, you went to a vote on the $40 million budget. Every member of the Board of Selectmen of Groton was there and we wanted to offer comment, but we didn’t get a chance.
And comments from Selectmen and the public might have helped frame the fabric of how you moved forward with funding the needs assessment. The failure of the override votes in the town of Groton and the one failure and one success in Dunstable were predicated on your ability to sell a bill of goods. And that bill of goods is the needs assessment.
The problem with the needs assessment was that it was leaving an open checkbook for taxpayers of both communities without having the knowledge of a capital and a technology plan and the associated costs of what those were going to be year over year moving into FY’18, FY’19 and beyond. There’s no three-five year plan available and, as a businessperson, I and many other people struggle with how it was going to be funded moving forward.
So the failure of the two override votes in Groton isn’t because people don’t value education; it’s because people don’t like laying an open check on the table not knowing what the future’s going to hold. And I think what’s important is to be successful in anything takes time. To buy a car that doesn’t have a hood or a trunk that costs a lot of money isn’t necessarily in the interest of both communities.
The thought and concept of having a district-wide town meeting is going to disenfranchise some people and create divisiveness beyond any belief that you’re already seen. You have a budget that is in place. And I think that you made a request of the superintendent to look at some numbers within that budget that can fund some of the deficiencies such as guidance, nursing and librarian. If she can make that work from an administrative point of view that’s fine. Hopefully it will work.
But I think there is a bigger thing that you need to look at: If you go to a district-wide town meeting and achieve success with that, in the future you don’t have a snowball’s chance on Main Street today at noon (it was 90° outside) of success of getting any future funding that’s going to require a proposition 2.5 override.
So I hope you take that district-wide town meeting off the table and live within the means of what’s been voted and stop the divisiveness that’s already occurred.
You need to work to build a consensus for what you need to fund the needs assessment and/or portions thereof on a year over year basis as well as the technology and capital plan. Then you need to work together with the leaders of both Dunstable and Groton. And you need to collaborate with the taxpayers in order to get that buy-in that you need.
So I implore upon you to take this district-wide town meeting off the table, certify the budget for what’s been approved at both town meetings and let’s move forward collectively and together.