Fincom Withholds Recommendation of School Budget

            On April 21, Mattapoisett’s Finance Committee voted to withhold recommending the local school line item in the overall FY23 operating budget in a 3-4 decision.

            Center and Old Hammondtown elementary schools are requesting a total of $7,950,000, an amount the majority of the committee believes deserves further research and discussion. The main question that has been raised by committee Chairman Pat Donoghue is why the local schools’ per-pupil costs are some 40 percent higher than the Old Rochester Regional schools.

            FinCom member Paul Amoruso stated in a follow-up that he has long asked the question why the school committee is in favor of school choice when the town is only reimbursed a mere $5,000 per student against costs that average $20,000 per student. “There is a huge disparity between what Mattapoisett pays per student and what Marion and Rochester are paying. Why?”

            Amoruso said questions have gone unanswered, and while he said he isn’t blaming anyone, the questions need to be asked and answered. “This hasn’t been explained enough by the schools. Are they using school choice to offset the shifting population?”

            Amoruso also questioned why expenses have continued to climb, given that teaching positions have been cut by 25 percent. “Have they added support staff?” He also noted one problem is likely the fact that Mattapoisett has two elementary schools. Amoruso said the majority no vote is an effort to “get Town Meeting and the town to think about what we are doing.”

            “For years I’ve tried to get people to think about this,” said Donoghue. She said that at town meetings she has brought up the increasing expenses of the schools, lack of information and cooperation on the part of school administrations but has done so in segments. Now speaking to what has been described by her as “escalating unsustainable costs” at the local-school level, Donoghue said, “I vote no (to recommend) until such time as we get answers. I can’t support it the way it is.”

            At this stage in the FY23 process, Donoghue believes there must be meaningful dialogue with the voters regarding the disparity in per-pupil costs and other financial matters. In her view, one way to inspire the voters to ask questions during the Spring Town Meeting is by forcing discourse via the withholding of the committee’s recommendation.

            To that end, the committee decided to separate the local schools’ budget line item from the town’s overall operating budget. The mechanics of going through that process during Town Meeting was explained by Town Administrator Mike Lorenco, saying a motion could be made to approve the overall operating budget except for the local school line item. Offering that as a separate item to vote on gives voters a focused pathway to engage one another, the Select Board and FinCom on what has become a high-profile topic.

            Speaking to the matter of working with the schools on future budgets, Lorenco said, “I now know where to find the data; this hasn’t been presented in the past. We need to tell the community we are an outlier (regarding per-pupil costs), but I don’t think giving them zero is a solution.”

            Lorenco said that it would not be prudent to make enemies out of the people they need to work with and that cuts would amount to cuts in such programs as music. He said, “Put it out there, open their eyes and give them a year to work things out.”

            The FY23 local schools’ budget now stands at $7,952,394. ORR is at $6,353,695 and Old Colony $875,719.

            On the plus side, Lorenco said that local receipts are now anticipated to be $31,509,793, which includes local receipts of $1,858,000, Cherry Sheet contributions $1,660,241, $70,000 from the new meals tax and the balance from real estate taxes.

            On Monday, the Select Board met to take a final look at and to approve the FY23 budget, the May 9 Town Meeting warrant and the May 17 Annual Town Election ballot.

             Before those votes were taken, the board met with Capital Planning Chairman Chuck McCullough, who appeared to let the board know that the committee moved to remove what it termed a “convenience vehicle” for the Fire Department from the list of capital expenses to be presented at Town Meeting. Although there is sufficient free cash to fund the request, McCullough said the expense is not necessary at this time.

            The motion read: “Move – to eliminate from the FY2023 Capital Plan, the additional vehicle requested by the Fire Department to be assigned to the Fire Inspector. Apparent benefits of this proposed $50,000 expenditure, as detailed by the Chief, include 1) transport of firefighters to offsite training activities, 2) an additional vehicle to dispatch to public safety summons, 3) for use by Fire Inspector to respond to nonemergency in-Town inspections.

            “The Fire Department has a staff of three full-time first responders with two staff vehicles currently assigned for Department use. Based on the information provided, the Committee classifies this vehicle request as a ‘convenience’ vehicle; an addition to the Town’s fleet that will have little influence on the effectiveness of the Department and minimal impact on the safety and security of the Community. The Committee encourages the Fire Chief to negotiate with other Town Department Heads for the occasional use of other Town vehicles during periods of inactivity to fill the Department needs.”

            The Select Board accepted the change to the draft warrant.

            McCullough went on to share that it was the opinion of the Capital Planning Committee that any unallocated free cash should be used for drainage and other roadway repairs.

            Select Board member Jodi Bauer brought up the capital expense planned for a new Police Department motorcycle to replace the Harley Davidson currently in use.

            McCullough said that the motorcycle had been described as needing replacement due to age and high mileage and that it is a fully equipped emergency vehicle. The Capital Planning Committee views it as a necessity, even though it had scored low on the committee’s list of priorities.

            Bauer said that the department’s motorcycle was purchased via a grant and believes a replacement unit should be funded in kind. She said she has also been looking into electric motorcycles called Zero Motorcycles that might be better suited for the conditions such as beaches, bike trails and wooded locations. In a follow-up, Bauer said that if the town decided to move towards becoming a Green Community, vehicles of this sort could be funded via grants including charging stations.

            The warrant was approved with the replacement motorcycle as listed.

            The board also approved the town’s FY23 operating budget $31,880,274 and the annual Town Election ballot.

            Earlier in the proceedings, Lorenco said that empty seats without candidates exist on the Board of Health, Mattapoisett School Committee (two) and Water and Sewer Commission. He said write-in candidates are an option for the voting public.

            In a follow-up, Lorenco said a winner can be decided by a simple majority of the votes cast. “If the write-in candidate does not accept the position, it would go through an appointment procedure which is different for each elected position,” he stated.

            No new meetings were scheduled by either the Finance Committee or the Select Board at the time of adjournment.

Mattapoisett Finance Committee

Mattapoisett Select Board

By Marilou Newell

Leave A Comment...