Thursday, May 15, 2008

Town Meeting: No to WRSD spending, but will it matter?

Sterling’s town meeting, which began at 6:30 Monday evening, finally ended Tuesday about 20 minutes before it would have been Wednesday, much to the relief of the 100 or so exhausted townspeople who took over nine hours to slog through 77 articles across two warrants. The decision that was potentially the most important was the town meeting’s vote to reject one of the proposed amendments to the Wachusett regional School District Agreement. From Article 61:
To see if the Town will vote to approve the amendment of Section 16. CAPITAL EXPENDITURES FROM SURPLUS of the Amended Wachusett Regional School District Agreement, as recommended and approved by vote of the Regional District School Committee on January 28, 2008, or act or do anything relative thereto....

Summary: The proposed amendment deletes the words "Regional District School" where they precede the word "Committee", deletes the clause after "Section 16" which reads: "not to exceed $250,000 in any fiscal year or for any single project, and", and by inserting the fraction (2/3) after the words "two thirds", a copy of the proposed Amendment is on file with the Town Clerk in a report entitled "Wachusett Regional School District Committee Recommendations for Changes to Regional Agreement Annual Town Meetings 2008."
The article was one of five articles regarding changes to the district agreement. All of them appear to essentially be an effort to modernize the language in the agreement. The other four articles were easily approved, but this article is a little different. In addition to modernizing the language, the amendment would strike the provision which requires the school committee to get approval from member towns to spend more than $250,000 from the district’s surplus funds. The town’s Finance Committee recommended against passage because removing that language would give the school district carte blanche to spend whatever they please from the surplus without any oversight. The article failed by a rather large margin.

The townspeople at the meeting probably believed, as I did, that we had killed the amendment because we had voted it down, but it appears the amendment could still pass over Sterling’s objections. During discussion of the article, I asked the members of the School Committee if all five towns in the district had to approve a change in the agreement in order for it to pass or it the rules only required three or four towns to approve. I and the rest of the town meeting were assured that all five towns needed to approve any changes. Unfortunately, that is incorrect:
This Agreement may be amended by recommendation of the Regional District School Committee and approval of member towns of the District by majority vote at an annual or special town meeting provided that not more than one town disagrees.
So while we thought that the amendment was dead, in reality it only takes four of five towns to approve the amendment in order for it to take effect. Paxton and Princeton have approved the amendment; Holden and Rutland have yet to hold their town meetings. If either Holden or Rutland rejects the change, it will not pass. If both approve, then the amendment will take hold regardless of Sterling’s vote.

(Just to be clear that I am not accusing the members of the school committee of any sort of deception here. I honestly think that they probably hadn’t thought about it before the question was asked and believed that a unanimous vote was necessary. The more I participate in government--town meeting, Democratic Town Committee, etc.--the more I am coming to the conclusion that if one is going to be involved and hopes to be make the most informed decisions possible, he or she needs to be prepared. While it would have been nice to get the right answer when I asked the question, I could have looked it up before the meeting or brought a copy of the charter with me. As it is, the information on whether or not five or four towns is needed to pass an amendment wouldn’t have changed the vote, but it would have helped voters understand the impact—or lack of impact—of their decision.)

blog comments powered by Disqus

Post a Comment


No Drumlins Copyright © 2009 Premium Blogger Dashboard Designed by SAER