Sunday, July 12, 2009

School Committee: Can you see through this?

I am a big proponent of transparency in government. I could rail about the gang on Beacon Hill, who voted to exempt themselves from the Open Meeting Law, but that would be as productive as talking to your garage wall.

Instead, I want to comment on an intriguing article in the July 10th edition of the Sandwich Enterprise, written by David Fonseca. Entitled “School Budget Goes From ‘In The Red’ To ‘In The Clear,’” it’s an accounting of how Sandwich Schools Superintendent Dr. Mary Ellen Johnson wrestled with the school department’s fiscal year 2009 budget, turning a $1.4 million deficit into a balanced budget.

Several things are interesting about this situation. For one, we all go to town meeting in May and vote on a balanced budget. That seems inherently out of sync with the superintendent having to deal with an imbalance of that magnitude. Yes, we vote on an finance committee-controlled emergency fund ($400,000 in the FY09 budget), but it’s meant to be a “mop up” account for things that run long here and there; not to be a bailout fund for bad budgeting.

Another interesting point is that, according to David’s article, Dr. Johnson recognized as early as September 2008 that there were several underfunded budget items and revenue sources that were iffy. The other interesting thing is the timing of public discussions regarding this $1.4 million problem. I decided to reread all of the school committee minutes to see how and when this issue was handled at their meetings.

I went to the school department website (http://www.sandwich.k12.ma.us/index.htm) and clicked on the link to “The School Committee.” On the school committee page, there is a link called “Meeting Minutes.” Perfect. No. Wait. That link takes you to the 2009/2010 meeting schedule. The link called “Meeting Schedule” also takes you to the 2009/2010 meeting schedule.

Time for Plan B. Unlike the general public, I get copied on the emails distributing the school committee minutes and, also unlike the general public, I never erase an email. Searching through my 30,000-plus archived emails, I found all of the meeting minutes that were emailed to me. Unfortunately, the minutes I was privy to via email did not cover all of the meetings held by the school committee.

This “transparency in government” thing was becoming a little cloudy, but I eventually found documentation of the FY09 budget crisis in the school committee’s minutes starting on March 4, 2009. It was at this meeting that Dr. Johnson announced that she had started a mid-year review of the budget in January.

She noted that, in September 2008, $420,000 of budget line items had to be “moved around to address unfunded personnel.” Looking back at the minutes from the school committee’s August and September 2008 meetings, I found no discussion or any vote authorizing the “moving around” of such budget items. I don’t know if the school committee is required to ratify “moving around” budget items, but I’d think that it might be cause for discussion when the “moving around” approaches a half million dollars.

And that begs these questions: Were all members of the school committee aware of this half-million-dollar (soon to balloon to a $1.4 million) switcheroo? If so, how was that communicated to the committee? And why was there no public deliberation about it? I assume there could not have been any nonpublic deliberation about it because there’s no exception in the Open Meeting Law for talking about budget problems in secret.

The following meeting held on March 18th produced this description of the fiscal year 2009 budget deliberation:

Dr. Johnson reviewed the budget printout dated February 27, 2009. She and Mr. Funk have been working on encumbering all expenses and salaries through the end of June.

Mrs. Marshall questioned why she had to read about the Forestdale School Special Education Teacher and Tutor layoffs in the newspaper, and said Forestdale needs the most help in preparing for MCAS testing. She thought the whole budget should be reviewed. She said the last budget report indicated either overspending or underfunding.

Dr. Johnson said FY09 started off with almost a $400,000 deficit because of 8.5 ESPs and 4.4 teachers that were planned for under the previous administration but never included in the budget.

In January she performed a midyear audit and announced no additional funds would be spent. Dr. Perrin recommended the abovementioned reductions after working closely with the Principals. No other reductions in personnel are expected before June. Dr. Johnson is hoping and planning to receive Circuit Breaker funds in the amount of $552,000. Special Education transportation was budgeted at $583,000 for FY08 with expenditures coming in at $715,000. The FY09 budget reflected the same amount of $583,000 for Special Education transportation – it was underfunded. She and Dr. Perrin are looking at a lease/purchase agreement or purchasing a small van to reduce transportation costs.

Dr. Johnson said she should have a clear estimate of the year-end budget by the next meeting. Retirement costs are also coming up, and budget outcomes are dependent on whether employees retire by June 30th or after July 1st.

Mr. Guerin summed up the FY09 budget situation as “precarious”. He said there should be a closer tie within the Business Office to look at the delivery of services and costs and wondered if a full or part-time resource was necessary for this purpose. Dr. Johnson said things are moving in the right direction but that emergencies do come up.”


A couple of key points in these meeting minutes: 1) The administration planned for teachers and ESPs to be on the payroll but did not budget for them, and 2) Dr. Johnson said that she would bring a clear estimate of the year-end budget to the next meeting. The first point is unexplainable and inexcusable. The second makes you want to see what she presented at the April 1st meeting.

The April 1st meeting minutes included not a word about this “clear estimate of the year-end budget.” Was the discussion dropped? Or was the public discussion dropped?

Next thing we hear is that Dr. Johnson slew the budget deficit dragon and saved us all from the disastrous situation that befell the Barnstable School District and others around the state that got caught up in over-optimistic budgeting only to be foiled by that darned economy thingy.

I take absolutely nothing away from Dr Johnson’s herculean efforts in tackling this budget crisis. She freely admits in David Fonseca’s article that past administrations/school committees have presented a palatable budget for public consumption, only to play the year-end shell game to “fix” the misstated budget line items. Her transparency on this is something I could get used to.

But what’s happening in between the school committee meetings that seems to result in crises evaporating from one meeting to the next? As an example of undocumented meetings, read this excerpt from the September 10, 2008 meeting minutes:

Mr. Guerin summarized some of the work the School Committee did over the summer months. They partnered with the Administration and explored a lot of interesting questions which they will continue to discuss in public.

They spent time meeting with the Health Services and 3 Nursing staff re. legal costs, budgets and work load, and raised the question of possibly initiating 3rd party billing. They are also working with others in town to make sure they fully understand all their legal obligations in terms of services.

They also spent time with the Community School talking about the budget, understanding cash and cash flow, fields and facilities uses, space and building utilization and a vision for delivering full day Kindergarten and Pre-Kindergarten to the community. Further discussion will take place in the future.

They met with the Food Services people and asked the management to bring back a Capital plan.

Rerouting bus routes for safety and better efficiencies were discussed as well as advertising on the buses.


Where are the meeting minutes covering all of this summer activity? Subcommittees, to my knowledge, are required to submit meeting minutes per the Open Meeting Law, whether or not they constitute a quorum of the supercommittee. That’s a lot of stuff to go on without any formal documentation. (By the way, my favorite line from these minutes is: “Further discussion will take place in the future.” You can’t argue with that!)

I think we have a long way to go to get our local government in step with the Open Meeting Law and assure the citizens of Sandwich that we’re shining a bright light on everything being managed by its elected and appointed government officials.

Copyright 2009 Randy Hunt.

50 comments:

  1. I find the school department's main website, as well as the one for the specific school my children attend, just maddening. Almost every time I try to find school department information online, it is either out of date or missing entirely. Most frustrating.

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  2. First, I too am a big supporter of Open Government and transparency. While I am speaking only for myself, it is a fairly safe bet that every member of the School Committee as well as the Superintendent feels similarly.

    Thanks for checking the website and letting us know that the link to the minutes page was incorrect. It appears that when the new meeting schedule was posted recently it was linked to an incorrect line.

    Another way of handling the situation would have been to call one of us and say, “Hey, your link is broken! What’s the story here?” That would have sounded better than essentially saying “Hey, I can’t find your meeting minutes online so you must have violated the Open Meeting Laws!”.

    In any event, the minutes are available online once again.

    This discussion needs to be prefaced with the reminder that Dr. Johnson inherited the FY 09 budget when she took over on July 1. She deserves a huge amount of credit for immediately reviewing it for potential problems and taking the necessary steps to reallocate existing resources to meet student needs

    To recap the budget issue in round numbers: before deducting State Circuit Breaker reimbursements and tuition prepaid in FY ’08, the budget was at a $1.4 million deficit. After deducting those items, the real deficit would have been $710,000. This was composed of $260,000 in under-budgeted SPED transportation costs, $270,000 in unbudgeted SPED staff and ESP’s, and $180,000 in unbudgeted General Ed staff.

    These overruns were offset by savings generated from the utilities account ($242,000), Central Administration salaries and expenses ($263,000), Individual building operating accounts and Building Maintenance ($141,000), Professional Development & Grants ($51,000), and Transportation ($22,000). These were real expenses which were cut in order to balance the budget.

    (continued)

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  3. (continued from prior post)

    Every one of us is in agreement that, barring unexpected occurrences, there is no excuse for unbudgeted positions. At best it is careless and unprofessional and at worst it is deceptive. It is important to note that all parties involved with the FY ’09 budget have since found employment elsewhere.

    As shown in the minutes, this was on the October 8 agenda and continued until October 22 so that additional data could be reviewed. Prior to that meeting, all members received a detailed break-out of current “problem areas”. The Committee approved several account transfers that evening and discussed the application of savings produced by the elimination of the position of Tech Director as well as other projected savings. (Motion was made by Simmons & seconded by Marshall).

    It was at this meeting that I stated for the first of several times that the problem was found because the Superintendent sat down with a payroll register and the budget and cross-checked every position and every employee to make sure all were accounted for correctly.

    Following a mid-year review of accounts (and completion of the FY ’10 Budget proposal), Dr. Johnson briefed the Committee again on the status of the FY ’09 budget in March and did a final year-end review of the budget in June including producing a summary of Budget “challenges” that were resolved and a final list of account transfers requiring Committee approval (which was unanimous).

    All of these changes were publically discussed and documented. June minutes aren’t done yet – but I promise they will be online once approved.

    In addition, the workshop discussions held last summer on Health Services, the Community School, etc. were all held in open public meetings (with members of the public and the press in attendance) and the minutes are available online. The only subcommittee meetings held last year were for labor negotiations which do fall under Executive Session. We certainly don’t claim Executive Session for budget discussions.

    If you had asked us we could have told you that.

    Finally, I am offended by the title of your essay ‘’ School Committee: Can You See through This?”. The title implies that someone is being deceptive and seems to question if the School Committee is bright enough to notice.

    I assure you there is no deception intended, and, yes the School Committee is bright enough to notice. But, thank you for your concern.

    Bob Simmons

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  4. Thanks, Bob. You make some excellent points. Some of my reactions are:

    1) If you peruse this blog, you will see a clear pattern of offensive titles, such as “Mind If I Look Up Your Dress?” and “You’re In (Urine) Trouble” just to name two. They’re meant to attract readers, not define the post. I have to admit that I can’t beat the Cape Cod Times’ headline the other day, which read “Two Involved in Fatal Crash in Good Condition.”

    2) Thanks for correcting the link on the website. You wouldn’t want me to call you when I write these blog posts. 5 a.m. on a Sunday morning is sacred sleeping time for most people. But I do admit I was over-the-top in my sarcasm.

    3) Though couched in a metaphor of slaying dragons, I really do appreciate Dr. Johnson due diligence and dealing with this budget problem. I appreciate even more her candor with the press on the matter. She certainly did not attempt to sweep it under the rug.

    4) Kudos to all of the school committee members for dealing with the personnel issues and not being afraid to make changes at the top.

    5) Regarding the October 22nd approvals to move $261,734, it is referenced only as follows: “Mr. Simmons moved to transfer requests #1-5 in the amount of $261,734 as submitted, seconded by Mrs. Marshall. VOTE: Unanimous.” The March 4, 2009 minutes state that $420,000 was moved around in September. Those are very different numbers, for one, and the timing is different as well, but the real issue is that the handout should be part of the minutes, in my opinion. The board of selectmen is also terrible about including handouts as part of the minutes, so I know that I’m the proverbial pot calling the kettle black, but we do post all of our agendas complete with all of the handouts that are available at the time of distribution. What we don’t do well is to include materials handed out at the meeting as addenda to the minutes.

    6) I yield to you the point that the summer workshop meeting was posted and that there are minutes online for this meeting. Unfortunately, it was not one of the minutes that was distributed to the board of selectmen via email (and I couldn’t locate it at 5am Sunday morning). My bad.

    I congratulate the school committee for its progress during the last year.

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  5. On Mr. Hunt's response above to Mr. Simmons. Me thinkest that you are caving in to the School Committee. They are the least transparent of the boards in Town. They cut off speakers during open forum and they mention the voting record of the people who are critical of what they want. Also, they don't want to talk about things because they have already been settled. Well, does this mean that if I don't vote, and if I want to say that they had a vote that I disagreed with, that I can't speak?

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  6. Randy, for what it's worth, I too appreciate Supt. Johnson's work this passed year in unravelling an inherited FY09 budget. Mary Ellen's candor in surfacing this "faux pax" goes a long way with me in establishing her credibility with the community, something her predecessor had diffulty in doing, now we know why. Frank

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  7. I appreciate the time taken and the information Bob has brought to this forum. It is also an excellent suggestion that all boards make sure to include in their minutes all documentation that comes to the meeting tables.
    Linell Grundman

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  8. Good evening MR Hunt

    With out a doubt in this persons opinion The present School committee under MR Simmons and the Past one under Mr Guerin have been some of the most open and forthright committees since I have lived in the Town of Sandwich.

    It is unfortuned that past ills by a previous Administrator and Business manager have resulted in some of the changes with in the budget process, that did in deed created problems that should not ever have been made. The present adminstrator dealt with them head on, as did the school committee. No lies or devious plots, but sincere application of diligent and hard work to correct some one else's serious mistakes.

    I also must respond to one poster that apparently does not understand public forum and the use there off. Every speaker is allowed so much time to speak and if you are not prepared to make your case in the alocated time that is your fault, not that of the Chairperson. The timely process is in place to allow your opinions to be heard. The Chair has the perogitive of responding or not, depending on the schedualed adgenda and if it may cause a disruption of the business part of the meeting.

    Public Forum is not a place where one asks a question and expects an immediate answer. It is a place where you express a concern in an professional manner and is not confrontational in nature. We all have opinions in important matters that concers every one, but how we convey that opinion can determine a positive or a negitive outcome. You also need to prepare your self to speak in the allocated time frame and not go before the committee with drawn out guns.

    C.A.Johansen

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  9. Mr. Johansen is one person that I would hate to disagree with because he is ALWAYS right, but, I believe that open forum is whatever the committe or chairperson wants it to be.

    Example #1 Last year, often at Selectmen Meetings, speakers went over 5 minutes without anything coming from the chair.

    Example #2 Also last year, speakers were given ONLY the five minutes unlike in Example #1 when the chairperson let their friend speak.

    Example #3 School Board, this year, the chairman someitme would tell people that what they have to say would be covered later. What did he mean?, that the person who wanted to speak should not speak because the board would discuss it later.

    Example #4 School chair told the rest of the board, audience and anyone on cable who voted, who he was not afraid of..Mr. Johansen, it this non confrontational.

    Example #4 Selectmen through the years have let people ask questions. One of those people is the man who usually follows Mr. Johanson almost every week during the budget debate. He always asks questions which could be answered elsewhere.
    Although I agree with Mr. Johansen, it is not a rule as it is allowed.

    Open forum to all those who are on boards is great when it praises the committee and terrible and hostile when it does not.

    I am afraid of government and do not vote, but as an American who served well, I can say what I want (almost). I commend Mr. Johansen for his caring and bringing to attention many things, but he too is afraid or he would run for office (probably getting my vote).

    Scared of Government

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  10. I love people that always have answers, but are never in the position of an elected office or on a committee. It is very easy, as most of us who participate in this blog know, that spitting out our thoughts is one thing, doing something else about it is something else.

    Sign me as follows:

    Unwise girl, a concerned citizen from the great town of Sandwich (This sets me aside from others because I know more than they do)

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  11. Mr. Hunt,

    In your opinion was the question of transparency ever settled to your satisfaction. I not the brightest bulb on the Christmas Tree, but I don't think that it was. If it was settled, please let me know how.

    Thanks

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  12. I agree with much of what the prior person wrote. What struck me most was the writers wanting to know more about the YMCA program. As a fairly well informed taxpayer, I can not find exactly what types of programs will be a part of the special education project. Specifically, I would like to know whether the proposal answers whether or not the district needs the same number of teachers or aids as the private schools where students now attend. If not staffed the same, why and is it legal. I am all for saving money, but let us make sure we are saving.

    A very concerned citizen of the most beautiful village of Forestdale

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  13. Am I hearing that voters want answers?

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  14. Carl, conerning your post of August 9, 2009, Where do you get the information about public forum? You indicate that someone should be prepared and have their say in the alloted time, yet Mr. Simmons and Mr. Guerin, as Chairmen did let people go over the three minutes, but only to those who were saying good things about what was happening. Not so much in Mr.Guerin's time as chairman, but many times in Mr. Simmons' time, people were interrupted because the chair did not want to hear what they had to say. Why can't someone ask questions? They just may want someone to acknowledge the question and say that they will get back to them. Open forum is a perverted way of saying that the Committee is transparent when it is not. It is the opposite. If the chairman does not like what is said, people are held to three minutes; if the chairman likes what is said, he will respond to what is said and then allow more time. Just the other day, a person actually went up to the microphone and said that by "Roberts Rules", if he did not finish in the alloted time, he could get part of someone elses time. How perverted, how un-Anerican, how cowardly. Can you imagine how some of the disruptive negative people could ask for the same? Open forum is defined differently by different people. It should not be, it should be defined by the board. If everyone was allowed to do what that gentleman asked, then everyone could...a true perversion of the system.

    What this town needs in the next year for sure, is a task force to determine what transparency is and how it can be extended to all town government. People are turned off by the crap we see at meetings. The same people hogging the microphone because they think their election makes them better than others. I am in the majority. Remember, 85% of the voters DO NOT CARE. Change the system so that it is transparent and we hear a diversity of voices.

    Ben Franklin
    Franklin Pierce
    Franklin Roosevelt
    Fanklin Covey

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  15. Public forum regs (3 mins & no response) were passed years ago and are always subject to change by the committee. They are announced every week and also posted on the table, and on the website. -- Chairs always have the option to modify the rules based on the size of the crowd & the agenda. People needing more time can always ask to be put on the agenda. There's no legal requirement -- Some towns don 't provide any public speaking time at meetings.

    I was surprised that the Chair allowed Carl to get away with "borrow the time" routine -- that could easily turn into chaos. BUT it is the Chair's right to conduct the meeting as she feels appropriate.

    When I see the forum on TV, its obvious that some people get up there and completely and purposely distort the facts and give false speeches about things they have absolutely no understanding of. Rather than asking somebody for an explanation, they jump in front of the camera and make crazy unfounded comments.

    If the Board strictly adheres to the no response policy, people think that the nonsense is fact. When did you stop beating your wife?

    How the hell can the system be changed if 85% of the voters will only sit on their ass and complain. Why don't YOU start a task force?

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  16. Carl,

    I realize you don't respond to me directly, but again I would ask you to respond, at least to Mr. Hunt, your answers. The person who wrote just before this post did not tell me anything. Where did he or she get the information. Is it written? Can it be changed without mentioning at the meeting, rendering it a useless policy. You see, open mike is just one of the reasons 85% of the people do not vote. Basically, the rule should be, let the chair do as he or she pleases.

    It gets confusing for the ill informed such as ourselves when you look at one meeting that is so strict about the rules, except when it serves their interest not to follow the rules and then look at the Selectmen, who over the years, have done their best to get some response out to people if they had the answer to a question. Why do you, Mr. Johansen say that one should be able to get everything they need to say in three minutes, yet ask for someone to finish up for you. Also, do you not almost always take five minutes at the selectmen meeting. You would not answer Braless 32A's question. Maybe she's onto you.

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  17. Randy,

    Do you know what the sad part of this subject is, its that your original question about shuffling money was never answered. Tomorrow our School District will vote on Dr. Josnson's contract. I, for one, do not know if she should be given an extension or not. All the guano on this board and no answers. How do we stand compared to other Districts, how do we know whether or not Dr. Johnson's moving of money is just a smoke and mirrors deal, how do we know whether or not she will fire more people, how do we know?

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  18. Mr. Smith, you are absolutely correct.

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  19. As one who consistently watches or attends public meetings, I have to say, Mr. Johansen, that whether or not it's technically allowable, having someone in the audience cede you their time so that you can pontificate to your heart's content is just obnoxious. Nobody could ever argue that you don't get your say around town. Is it really too much to ask that your wandering discourses be held to 180 seconds? Mercy.

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  20. Sam the Eagle,

    You are right on on your message to Mr. Johansen. He talks about decorum at times and he is the authority on on town ethics ( a true legend in his own mind). What troubles me the most is that he told our blog readers about what they should and how to prepare themselves so that they can say all they want in three minutes.
    Lesson here: What is good for the goose sometimes is not good for the gander, especially when the gander is the town moralist. Easier said, Mr. Johansen, you remember that some good people, well meaning people, sometimes do not agree with you and sometimes they are right. Once respected by all, you have aligned yourself with the wrong people, people who only care about their children, no one elses' children, just theirs. They do not care about you and they will destroy this town by not allowing Shari to do her job. Wake up Johansen and smell the coffee.

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  21. What we need in Sandwich is for an explanation of rules in our discussion of political events. Part of our ability to interact with each other exists with blogs such as this one. One of the problems we have is getting to the bottom of what it is that we are saying. Example, Trish Lubold said that MCAS results are outstanding. If what Trish Lublold is saying is true, then how did they get that way through the work of this superintendent or that of Mr. Cannone and Mrs. Young? How can things be going downhill and people (who support the current superintendent as does Trish Lubold) complain about what the others have done? Explain someone, I do have an open mind.

    Mr. Pez

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  22. There are an awful lot of Republicans that are pro Johnson. Do I detect something here?

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  23. Is Trish Lubold still around or is she just posting anonymously?


    Carl A. Josko

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  24. Trish Lubold has resigned from watching the special interest school committee and schools implode. Just checked back in after yesterdays absurd CCT article. Enjoying family time,the canal and half the taxes we paid in Sandwich. Plus the refuse truck shows up on Mon. at 9 AM and picks up all my trash for FREE!
    KKK spray painted on our street and my daughter being harrassed during 15 months of SEA negotiations was enough for my strong stomach. Sandwich is not the town we fell in love with 33 yrs ago. Apathy, uninformed malcontents have taken over. Best of luck for the families with children in the schools, the SEA Union, Community School and Sherry's gang have their own interests in mind, not your children's. Talking about mud in hallways is more of a priority than the 2.4 million deficit that has been coming for a long time. Peter Cannone search group will be hired and suggest a big puppet super to do whatever the above groups dictate the super to do. Dr. Johnson's mistake was doing her job too well, firing drunk teachers and uncertified teachers expecting teachers to update their curriculums, etc. But in the end Dr. Johnson will win her suit and walk away with a payoff and bundle of cash for damages to her reputation. Where is Bud Dunham and the town's legal counsel? Best of luck to the children, parents and great teachers!

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  25. Good Morning Mr. Hunt To answer some of the above commontary and sort of put a better process in place in regards to guidlines set forth for public forum. I made a presentation, perhaps you were looking in, I suggested that every public forum provided at any committee meeting held [no matter if it is school,finance or selectman,conservation]be conducted in the same manner. One single guidline that would be placed before town meeting and incorperated into our bylaws that shall be followed when ever a public forum is allowed at any meeting. Time limits, sharing of time allowed , decorum,while protecting every ones first amendment rights of free speach.

    At this time Sandwich has never placed any process in regards to public forum in any bylaw and must fall back onto MGL for guidance.

    If we have one process that all understand, including the Police, it would make for a more refined approach to how the public can better take advantage of this right and opportunity to express themselves, especially during the times when issues take on nasty subject matters.

    Carl Johansen

    A concerned citizen of Sandwich

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  26. Stop paying for haircuts for cops and giving them clothing allowances. I work in an insurance office. The men pay for their haircuts to look professional and I believe they buy their own suits, jackets, pants, shirts and ties.

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  27. Mr. Johansen,

    With all due respect, I am not sure what you mean by "sharing of time allowed", but if you mean that two people can speak for a total of more than what is allowed for one, then one have a time limit, just get all you friends together and speak for an hour.

    In your remarks, did you mean commentary and not Commontary.

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  28. Good Morning Mr Hunt, in an attempt tp once again explain guidlines for public forum. At present we have severel versions of how much time can be used to make a point. Plenty of flexability depending on the Chair at the time and if they may or may not agree with your point of view.I watched and attended many meetings where the Union leaders during public forum were granted more then the allowed time on many occassions at the School Committee meetings.
    The same can be stated in regards to the general public comments.

    Because we do not have a universal standard [A written Bylaw] upon how this process can take place we get many different understandings as to how one may forfill this First Amendment Right. Time sharing has been a long time process in other venues, when speaking before the public was shared by different speakers or allowing one to finish a statement on anothers time. Again that would need to be defined as such a procedure if it were to be allowed at all. I have watched the school committee allow this on a few occasions and it does not really take away or continue the comments in a negative way. If it is done within reason. Again to those that do not or will not express your self during public forum, how do you think your silence is better served by being one of the imaginary citizens that the four Union led school members keep alluding too.?

    We need a By Law that is enforceable and uniform for every venue of town participation that allows citizens to partipate in public forum . That takes away the quess work, as to what is the process, when we the general public that come before any board or committee to vent any issues that may be on our minds.

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  29. I think it's unfortunate that this site has become another forum re: ME Johnson.
    She is hardly transparent (overly used word these days). There is often an undisclosed agenda to what she does and/or requests of the SC. Most recently it was the change in job description for the SPED directors position - well what do ya know - Matt Bridges fit the description. Has anyone noticed Matt's lack of SPED rules (aka the law) knowledge? Has anyone noticed that her new SPED classroom (in the woods no less) was intended to have 11 or so students. Well here we go again - not only was the classroom just recently approved by DOE, but there will be, at last count, 4 students. I think the number of staff will exceed the number of students. OK blah blahs to the stimulus money, but that's gone in a year. Hmmmm now what will happen? Do you suspect MEJ didn't know that parents could, and apparently did, just reject the Ed Plan. That means until there is a Mediation meeting and/or a formal hearing, the student stays put aka out of district. Parents would have a very easy time winning via mediation.
    So, imo, the present sc has voted correctly. It's time to end her tenure and hire a supt who will actually be honest in their approach. No more hidden agenda.
    Julianne

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  30. Julianne, Wow! You are one of the first to really give us a reason why MEJ should be canned. I am trying to put the pieces together and I think I have solved some of the puzzle.

    Bridges praises MEJ at a school open forum, MEJ changes the job description to fit Bridges, Bridges gets the job, Bridges can't do the job. Wow!

    Scott

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  31. Julianne: Forget transparency the key word is sustainable. The Sped budget is regulalry over spent by $500,000 to $1 million. Out of district placements have run amok without supervision. The system must change or it will collapse. The schools now face a $2.5 million deficit. Besides fireing the Super what do you suggest is the Sped solution? I see your complaints but not one positive, pro active anything toward a real fix. Status quo isnt going to work. And, the days of giveing the loudest sped parents evrything they want are gone too. Give us your 3 best actionable ideas to fix whats wrong.

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  32. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  33. I can see why SPED parents would love to have the district continue to send their kids off cape to private schools. From their perspective that makes sense. I can also see why they dislike Matt and Dr. Johnson for suggesting that SPED costs are an issue and are seeking in District lower cost solutions. I can also see why the witch hunt has ensued. I just wish these SPED parents were a little more honest when they complain about whats wrong. Whats wrong is that they're not getting what they want, when they want it, how they want it anymore.

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  34. Lets be clear folks: There are a small number of Special Ed families in this District who have managed to get their kids placed in very expensive out of District schools. Schools costing $80,000 - $90,000 per student or more a year.
    Dr. Johnson is seeking to bring those kids back into District and provide comparable, appropriate services to them here in District. The cost savings per student is huge.
    These parents have targeted Dr. Johnson and Matt because they want to maintain the status quo. They like what they’ve got and to hell with the costs. From their perspective this complaining makes sense.
    However, this taxpayer sees the issue very differently.
    And, it would nice for these complainers to make clear where their child goes to school, how much they pay for the school and how much the District pays. With those facts on the table the conversation and the accusations could be put into proper context.

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  35. Hey Sunshine,

    You may be correct about most of what you wrote, but you were in correct in thinking Mr. Bridges knows his new job.


    Mr. Happy

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  36. Mr. Sunshine,

    I hope I did not misunderstand your statement about special education families "in this district who have managed to get their kids placed in very expensive out of district schools" to mean that "manage" has a negative connotation.

    My belief is that each of us as parents have as our primary responsibility in life to provide for and seek the best possible outcomes for our children even if we must manage those outcomes.

    I believe that the "small number" as you say of special education families have worked with the special needs of their children perhaps for years and may very well understand what is best for those children better than the school system.

    I remain unconvinced that the district's in house program is at least nearly as good as the overnight programs that are in the $80,000-$90,00 per student and above range"
    Convince me that this is the case. I as a taxpayer do so much want to have to pay as little as possible, but as a human being I want the best for all students whether it b
    Your argument should be less with the "small number of special ed parents" than with the general court and governor who refuse to make recommendations to pay for the special needs children.

    I take no sides on the current superintendent controversy.
    I only want to see what is best for the children. I mean it.

    Dan DiGiandomenico

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  37. JTD What parents of sped kids want is for them to get the best possible education. I would think you would too for any child you might have. MEJ has still not answered the question, how can she deliver the same program for tens of thousands less money. If she answers that, then I am with you. You pro MEJ people throw out what she has done but fail to back it up.

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  38. You also can't blame the Sped Kids for all the money woes. No Child left behind act insures that these kids get all needs education aides, classes, support they need regardless of were the money goes. That means if a child has to go to a residential school, they go!! Forget new texts or a roof. They want you to find that money else were. As a parent of a Sped child I know my kid takes up more money than yours may, but their contributions to the school and society have the same right to find a way to shine.

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  39. You can try every way you can to get kids back in the district,but they went out of district after exsusting all possiblities in district. THe stay put law maitains that a parent can not be forced to take a child out a school that is beneficial to that child. just look at the new Excel program.. 5 students and none from anywere out of district. All were at the High school. So with a full staff is it saving any money? May be if someday these kids weren't sent out of district or if next year someone changes their minds and comes back.

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  40. If the last poster who spoke of 5 children, all from the high school are the only children in the Excel program, then why are the majority and the minority questioning the superintendent.

    In my opinion, they should all be recalled.

    Mr. Johansen, I know you are too good to write to me, so why don't you tell Mr. Hunt how the program saves us money.

    Remember, if the parents don't trust it, it will not work.

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  41. In the current school year in Sandwich, Special Education spending, including Special Ed salaries, is $7,553,957 or roughly 25% of the total District budget.
    Special Education services are provided to about 600 kids or about 16% of the student population.
    Of the 600, 45 or so Special Education students are provided out of district placement services at a cost of about $3,453,233 or 44% of the Special Education budget and 11% of the District budget.

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  42. Harvard University — $48868 per year; Tabor Academy — $45700 per year; 45 Sandwich Special Education students $3,453,233 or $76,738.00 per student per year. This represents 11% of the total district budget spent for 1% of the student population.
    Doesn’t this suggest that Special Ed placement costs need to be examined? Doesn’t this suggest that reviewing these specific expenditures and seeking more cost effective alternatives is a reasonable exercise? Does anyone really think this level of spending can be sustained in a school district that 2 years ago increased its budget just 1.5%, last year increased its budget 0% and this year is cutting $2.5 million?

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  43. JTD, 11% of the budget to 1% of the students. How about my mom, she is but .000125% of the real estate taxpayers, but pays a much larger percentage of the budget. She does not drive, have children in schools, go to the dump, tear up soccer fields, get any handouts from the governments, yet she pays. This is part of the price for democracy and freedom.

    I am in agreement that we should look at SPED costs, but the real culprit is not the kids, its not the parents, its not the school committee or Superintendent. IT IS THE STATE. They should pay. If you are so hell bent on getting us more money, then why don't you put something on next year's ballot to get a vote on it. That would be great. I would sign the petition.

    You need to vote and vote over and over (different elections of course) for those people who have your back. Those people that are pragmatic and understand that the average Joe doesn't like to pay taxes especially when we are all being set up by the state. They tax us more and give us less...is that not double taxation.

    Where is Sam Adams when you need him.

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  44. Interesting to me that Special Ed spending draws so much attention. Next set of budget questions, I’d think all of us might ask specific to Special Ed might be: (1) how does the District determine value received for dollars spent? (2) What are the District’s management supervisory controls? (3) How is service provider performance benchmarked by the District? (4) How often are alternative service providers identified and benchmarked? (5) Are we spending enough on the 550 or so in-district service recipients?

    Also interesting to me that Teacher Salaries doesnt draw too much comment. Salary is 71% of the budget and individual teacher compensation grows by contract about 5.5 % a year. Our school budget has not grown by 5.5% a year since forever. I cant quite grasp how you increase teacher compensation by 5.5% per teacher when budgets grow just 1% or 2% a year. Suggestions?

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  45. Bob,

    I think it is teacher's salaries that make for the problem. I am somewhat conflicted because I want good teachers. I have no idea what is going on with negotiations and thus have little say and no control so I do not have any comments other than maybe they should give back the equivalent of their steps etc. for the first year.

    As for Special Ed. I think that as these, our children in Sandwich, are given the right by law to get the best possible education, then that is fine. Two things I would ask you because I can not get the answer. First how many children in the program? Is it 550 or 45. What is the total cost of Special Ed? Second, how many of the 5 children at the Y were out of district kids and how much did we pay for them last year?


    Kim Fillion

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  46. You would think that our crack reproters at the Broadsider, Enterprise or Times would pick up on all the equipment, cars etc.

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  47. Dr. Johnson told the school committee what happened to all the children in overnight schools in the SPED program. She gave a number who were actually at the high school. She did not say anything about two who are not in school, but may be assigned elsewhere. Why does she not come clean?

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  48. Borrowing to repair Town buildings: I voted against this. I would have voted to fix the fire station, police station - anything except the school roofs. Why? I'm tired of the School Dept not caring for their buildings on a timely basis. I recall the roof at Oakridge leaking at least 10-12 years ago, yet the schools have let it ride till the cost is now out of sight. For those of you who remember the High School roof and updates several years ago, the then sc promised voters we'd never have such large expenses again. Well, here are again. And yes I know the police and fire dept have needed repairs for many years. However those depts have not drained us as has the school dept. As for me, I support the fire and police 100% and am sorry it was decided to package this on yesterdays vote.

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  49. OK - so the supt has had her day to discuss the budget. And now some are buzzing about the settlement over the ass't supt firing. Well, does anyone remember johnson saying (many times) that she has been preparing for "this year's budget" since 2007? Hmmm she seems to be saying she knew funding was heading south. So, my question is: why did she think she could afford an ass't supt? Ya know, she had all this insight to what would be going on in 2011?
    It really is time to call her bluff. The Sandwich school budget is nothing short of a shell game. Not sure about other folks, but I consider the entire amount of available Town money when I look at the School budget. Yup, Johnson says she's saving School Money, but we're all paying extra at the other end. We, the taxpayers of Sandwich haven't savened a cent.
    She claims to care about Sandwich HA! If she cared she would have packed her bags, acted like a professional, and found another position. Or do you suspose she's more interested in finding an early retirement pot of money. Or do you suppose there is something hidden in her closet.
    Julie

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