The Wanderer - Mobile Edition


BOS Says ORR School Comm Played 'Emotions Card'

Marion Board of Selectmen

By Jean Perry

Having received calls of concern over the Old Rochester Regional FY18 budget, Marion Board of Selectmen Chairman Jody Dickerson on March 21 said it was time the selectmen went ahead and gave the public "the correct information."

"The School Committee has done a great job with their propaganda machine," Dickerson said. "They're entitled to their own opinions, but they're not entitled to their own facts."

Dickerson said the ORR school district had in its original budget already appropriated money for the music program at the junior high, and he offered to show that to anyone interested. "The school committee has decided to use that money for something else, not what we appropriated it for. And I think they're doing the kids and the parents and the rest of this town an injustice."

Dickerson said the school committee should be held accountable for the financial mess it got itself into with what the board considers poor contract negotiations that provide salary increases the budget just cannot fund.

"Hold them to the fire," Dickerson said. "They're responsible to the students and the tax payers. I strongly suggest parents and students contact the school committee. Use the money where it was appropriated, not for their own pet projects."

According to Dickerson, whose opinion is shared by representatives from the other two towns, the school district would not be in this situation now if during contract negotiations the committee pushed for contracts with 2 percent pay raises rather than the 3 percent that Dickerson says happened.

"All other town employees only got a two percent raise," Dickerson said.

This just isn't fair, said Selectman Steve Gonsalves. "I spent a lot of time in my community helping," Gonsalves said, including at the schools and student events. "To say that I'm trying to take away a saxophone from junior is not true."

Even though this is his first ride at the rodeo, Gonsalves said, he feels the financial distress the school district is now experiencing was avoidable. "Then to throw it to the media as if we're here to take away something that we didn't cause," said Gonsalves, "... This is not fair. I feel this is very disingenuous, and I feel that they're manipulating people's emotions."

Gonsalves said it was unfair that the towns' selectmen, town administrators, and finance committees have been "tarred and feathered" as they have been.

"This is just not right," said Gonsalves, again emphasizing that the school budget had included funding the music department. "It was there, it was appropriated for that, so where did the money go?"

One parent from Marion approached the podium to speak her mind, but admitted that after hearing what the selectmen had to say, she would refrain from making some of her prepared remarks until she heard all sides of the story.

"A cut like this to this program would be devastating to my kid," said Sheila Gibbons. She said, as she sees it, the budget is an argument between responsible, grown-up parties arguing about teacher compensation and salaries "and the children are caught in the crossfire."

"Is there a way that all responsible parties can somehow come together?" asked Gibbons. She noted the high price tag of a new town house and commented that she personally would not support that project until the schools were fully funded.

We have always supported the schools, Dickerson replied. But there are other priorities in town as well, such as police and fire and other town departments.

"I've grown a lot of trees in my life," said Gonsalves, "but there's no such thing as a money tree. It doesn't exist."

Gonsalves said that using the music program, "the most sensitive issue," was intentional in order to manipulate the public. "I'm sorry," Gonsalves said, "I don't buy it." As for teachers and their importance, Gonsalves said, "I married a teacher."

"Please get both sides of the story and let's stop the emotion train and let's derail it," said Gonsalves.

In other matters, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has denied the town's request for an in lieu of payment offer to cover the fine the corps imposed on the town for the unpermitted seawall construction years ago at Sprague's Cove.

The corps' requirements for in lieu of cash payment options are strict, said Town Administrator Paul Dawson, and unreasonable for the town to attempt. Some options would be to replicate other wetlands in town, or create wetlands in another part of town - all within a deadline of June 30.

A lack of funds, resources, and time, said Dawson, makes the fine of $33,539 the more reasonable and cost-effective option, due by July 14.

The selectmen could add an article on the Annual Town Meeting warrant to ask voters to appropriate the sum, but the board chose to seek legal advice from town counsel to see if there is any way to appeal the corps' decision.

"With all due respect, I personally do not agree with them," said Dickerson, with Gonsalves concurring. Selectman Stephen Cushing stated, "I completely disagree with what they're (the corps) saying here."

The board voted to authorize town counsel to seek an alternate remedy to paying the fine.

Also during the meeting, the board voted to accept a land donation from Sally Durfee, after the Marion Open Space Acquisition Commission recommended the acceptance.

Dawson described the property referred to as 0 Front Street as a "very small sliver" that abuts land already owned and protected by the town.

Also briefly discussed, some residents have lodged complaints about speeding on Route 6, as well as on Route 105 between Route 6 and Interstate 195, and have called for a traffic study.

After discussions with the Southeastern Regional Planning & Economic Development Division (SRPEDD), there is little the town can do about lowering the speed limit without state intervention.

According to SRPEDD, other minor "traffic calming methods" the town could utilize would be to add signage promoting the speed limit, but selectmen doubted the effectiveness of signs.

"It's not an easy fix, and it doesn't look like it's going to be an easy fix," Dawson said. "It looks like there're a lot of moving parts there."

Whatever the board can do, Gonsalves said, should be done, especially with the crosswalk at Hermitage Lane on Route 6.

The next regular meeting of the Marion Board of Selectmen is scheduled for April 4 at 7:00 pm at the Marion Town House.

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