The Towns of Marion, Mattapoisett, and Rochester will be reviewing its regionalization agreement for the Old Rochester school district, and Mattapoisett will be leading the way.
During the September 6 meeting of the Tri-Town Boards of Selectmen, Mattapoisett Town Administrator Michael Gagne announced that grant money provided to the Town of Mattapoisett by the Baker-Polito Administration’s Community Compact program would fund the initiative to review the regional school agreement, something that was discussed during prior meetings with school committees and town officials.
As pointed out by Gagne, the agreement has not been reviewed or revised in 24 years and is in need of modernization.
Gagne said he has been in contact with the Center of Local Government at UMass Boston, which is providing Mattapoisett with a work plan and schedule for early October to get the review underway.
“Their proposal is that they would come up with different options that they would present to the communities for discussion and deliberation and potential for choices,” said Gagne. “Hopefully we can get some answers to … questions that we haven’t had answers to.”
The two other towns would need to provide information as requested, and Superintendent Doug White has already been involved in discussions with Mattapoisett, Gagne stated.
“Excellent,” said Marion Town Administrator Paul Dawson. “So that’s a great thing. That’s wonderful, thank you for that. … This is something I think we’ve all been looking for and looking for a way, a path to get there.”
The selectmen also discussed its contract with ORCTV, which at times grew relatively contentious as Marion Selectman Norm Hills asserted the notion of the three boards exerting more control over the independent non-profit corporation.
The purpose of the meeting with ORCTV Station Director Rob Chiarito was to review information requested by the three towns pertaining to finances and programming, as the three towns are obligated within their contracts with Comcast and Verizon to make quarterly payments to ORCTV. There currently is no updated contract with ORCTV as Mattapoisett has not completed its negotiations with Verizon, and the boards did not meet last November as anticipated when the discussion about ORCTV first came up.
“We’re a kind of quasi-department because the payments come through the towns,” said Chiarito. “The agreement is not with us and the cable company, it’s with you and the cable company.”
Hills, who was not a selectman during the last time the three boards met, said his understanding was that ORCTV made a unilateral decision not to honor its contract with ORR; however, as Chiarito pointed out, there never was a “contract” with ORR.
“Let me correct that. Our agreement was a grant,” said Chiarito, and he urged Hills to review the recording of that meeting. “The grant was never meant to last forever,” he said, rather it was meant to be used as “seed money” for the school districts to establish a school TV production program of their own. “And they never did,” said Chiarito.
Hills said he thought the cable contract stated that ORCTV was supposed to have a contract with ORR. Chiarito told him “no.”
“It just says that we are supposed to provide a channel for education,” said Chiarito.
Another concern, said Hills, is that the towns don’t get to choose their own representatives for ORCTV’s advisory board or its board of directors. Hills referred to the Carver, Marion, Wareham Regional Refuse Disposal District, and compared it to ORCTV, saying, “We should be able to pick who our representatives are.” According to Hills, the selectmen should be in a position “where we know what’s going on and have some control other than just sending money.”
“We are an independent corporation, so I don’t understand why the town should pick the board,” said Chiarito, advising Hills that the towns get to choose the members of their own cable advisory board. The ORCTV boards are comprised of individuals nominated by its public membership and others on the board of directors.
Mattapoisett Selectman Jordan Collyer confirmed that, saying, “We don’t have any say … in accordance with every other corporation that exists in the Commonwealth.”
Collyer pointed to the contract where it states the towns should receive an annual report from ORCTV, and an audit of its operations and finances, and Chiarito said he had turned those into the towns. For Collyer, he stressed that the selectmen were entitled, not to an oversight of ORCTV, but to an understanding of its operations.
ORCTV has been performing annual reviews, not audits, Chiarito specified, saying that the corporation was advised that it would be fiscally irresponsible to spend $8,000 annually on an audit given its revenue.
“We’ve given you the reports every year,” said Chiarito.
For Rochester Town Administrator Suzanne Szyndlar, she wouldn’t agree to less than one full audit every two to three years, saying, “I personally would like to see an audit because we deal with a small non-profit. By the time there is a problem, everybody’s stuck holding the bag and wondering what went wrong.”
Marion Selectman Jon Waterman said he would be more comfortable with an annual audit.
“I don’t question the educational value,” said Waterman about ORCTV’s programming. He just wants to be certain, “Are we getting the best bang for our buck?”
Gagne suggested a peer review of ORCTV to assess efficiency and “to look at the totality of their operation.
“… And understand if – the money they have – is it being effectively used for what we are getting,” said Gagne. “Is it ineffective, is it just the right amount? Are there tweaks, are there industry practices … It’s not a bad idea to take a look at the operation.”
Hills said the contract states that ORCTV would have to fund the endeavor.
“I’m a big person on controls,” said Waterman. “An annual audit makes sense.”
Gagne suggested he, Szyndlar, and Dawson work together to produce a plan by October’s end for a review.
In the meantime, Hartley asked Chiarito to forward minutes of ORCTV’s quarterly meetings, and Chiarito invited anyone to attend them before turning it over to ORR Principal Mike Devoll to comment on ORCTV’s involvement with the high school.
“It’s been a great partnership for the high school,” said Devoll. “It’s what we wanted in an education component to inspire our students … and I’ve been thrilled [with ORCTV’s] willingness to work with schools to educate students. … I’m proud of the work that’s been done.”
Chiarito said the original grant to ORR did not get spread out into the elementary schools, as was the intent. “Now every school in the system is getting instruction,” said Chiarito. “So we do have a plan, and we are executing it, and we’d be happy to share it with anyone who wants to come in.”
Hartley stopped Hills from going any further, saying, “We are in a good place here. We’re gonna stop because we are in a very good place here.”
“I agree,” said Chiarito.
In other matters, Marion Public Health Nurse Kathleen Downey approached the three towns seeking leadership for a regionalized Emergency Dispensing Site at ORR that she was asked to establish back in 2014 by a state agent that has been corresponding with Downey. After a lengthy discussion, the three boards suggested the three boards of health should get involved, and each board of selectmen will approach their respective board of health, share the information with each town, and proceed from there.
Tri-Town Boards of Selectmen
By Jean Perry