Thursday, May 19, 2016

Shifting Tides

This article was submitted to the LongmeadowBuzz blog by Betsy Port- a long time resident of Longmeadow.

Warm weather is finally here and it is the time of the year that I love to get out in the garden, digging and planting. Last week I went to the hardware store I love to get some potting soil and miscellaneous tools. Walking into the familiar setting, I saw Ken and we chatted. Somehow I fought back the tears…keeping my emotions in check. Brightwood Hardware is moving to Enfield, Connecticut this summer after fifty years in our town. We will all miss this local landmark! Carr Hardware will merge with Brightwood and you may have seen the truck in the parking lot recently.

Vividly I remember the first time we stepped into Brightwood and met Moe Fieldstone in the summer of 1996. His store felt welcoming and friendly in a world taken over by malls and big box stores. “I might like living here!” I thought to myself.  He could find everything easily although his inventory totaled thousands of items. When I asked for paint, he said, “Follow the footsteps!” and my little kids and I headed down the stairs. ...just like a follow the leader game, what fun! He was helpful and knowledgeable and could offer advice about the area when we asked for directions or needed something he did not carry.

Moe told us to buy lampshades in West Hartford, he suggested a place to buy plants in East Longmeadow, and he sold us a caulking and electrical supplies for our old fixer upper. It took us years, but somehow our house became updated and modernized thanks to the supplies and tools available at Brightwood. The kids loved to visit the talking parrot in the basement, while I discussed ant traps or the possible need for deer blood to keep the squirrels away from my bulbs. Speaking of bulbs, we bought many light bulbs there in all shapes and sizes, from little night-lights to large floodlights for the front yard. I found a large Welcome mat for the entrance to our home. We fertilized the garden beds, bought an ice chopper, and we even stocked up on the drain declogger that is a much sought after staple and an item we do not want to run out of. Later, as the years passed and the children got older we got a dog. We gave Dave a lot of business as Cody continually jumped on the screen door and it needed annual fixing. “let me in”, the puppy said silently. Basically, Moe and his staff became our home support system to a young family relocating to New England who knew almost no one here twenty years ago. The kids could buy candy and some small toys as I perused the aisles looking for plastic shelf paper or a spool of twine. They made keys for us and sharpened our scissors many times over. We put change in the MS donation container and got a piece of gum. Every time I bought a peppermint paddy I was reminder of my grandfather in Connecticut who gave them to me as a child.

So why am I feeling so emotional about a hardware store? I am taking this opportunity to reminisce because I know our time here will change without a local place for home supplies. The tides of change are becoming more obvious as I see mounds of dirt near the bank – are they building the pyramids? Where will the farmer’s market go? I know a huge CVS will be built but will the homey charm of this neighborhood shopping area in the suburbs still retain that local feeling I like?  The Big Y will improve and that is a very welcome change, but I might miss the small town feeling evident when we arrived here. Little businesses get swallowed up in this modern world, and I know that we must all adapt to the changing times. Bigger isn’t always better, although I know the bigger shopping options across the way at the shops will allow for a redesigned parking lot that we hope will bring with it a safer flow of traffic. I am just feeling thankful that my children knew a local old-fashioned hardware store that was warm, friendly and convenient. As for me, I will trek to Enfield along route 5 and think of the good ole days! I won’t go anywhere else – that is loyalty! I am feeling thankful that the tradition will continue nearby.

Betsy Port
Longmeadow Resident

Friday, May 6, 2016

Replacing the Wolf Swamp Road School Principal...

This letter was submitted to the LongmeadowBuzz blog by a Wolf Swamp Road School parent who is concerned by process for selecting a new principal to replace Dr. Neil Gile.

For the past 5 years, Wolf Swamp has been extremely fortunate to have Dr. Gile at the helm.  He has brought incredible energy and compassion to the school, and we are all tremendously appreciative of his tireless efforts on behalf of our school community and wish him well in his new endeavor.  Dr. Gile's departure is certainly a huge loss for not only Wolf Swamp, but the entire Longmeadow community.  

With Dr. Gile’s departure, Superintendent Doyle is responsible for hiring a new principal.  The timing of Dr. Gile’s departure and Superintendent Doyle hiring his replacement is complicated by the fact that Superintendent Doyle is retiring on June 30th, and she will be replaced by Martin O’Shea.  Therefore, Superintendent Doyle will never actually work with the new principal who is slated to start on August 1st.  

On Tuesday, May 3rd, Wolf Swamp parents received an email from Superintendent Doyle outlining a very quick application and vetting process for hiring Dr. Gile's replacement.  The position of principal at Wolf Swamp is a very important one and unfortunately, this position has been a bit of a revolving door lately.  Just during my own children's time here, we have had Kim Stillwell for a few years, Dr. Gile, and now this new hire will make the third principal in the past 8 years.   We want to ensure that the person selected will be happy, stay at the school long term, and have a productive relationship with the superintendent. 

Considering that Superintendent Doyle is retiring before this new principal would even start, I think that it is in the best interest of the school community for the entire process of hiring the new principal to be in the hands of incoming Superintendent O'Shea.   Although Superintendent Doyle's email refers to having Martin O'Shea involved in the process, I am not confident that he will be allowed to be an independent voice in the process with Superintendent Doyle holding the reins.  Also, I am interested to know how much input Superintendent O’Shea has had or will have in this process as he is not officially working for the department yet.  Did he help write the job description?  Did he create the hurried time line?  Will he help review the applications to determine which candidates are promising? Will he conduct site visits to finalists’ current districts?  Who holds the final vote: Superintendent Doyle or O’Shea?

Furthermore, the current timeline indicates that a decision will be made on June 13th, which would make this entire process only 6 weeks from posting the position to filling it, and only 3 weeks of screening, vetting, interviews, site visits, and consideration from the time of the application deadline.  There are 4 days between the job posting being closed and in person interviews.  How are these applications going to be vetted so quickly and interviews arranged in mere hours?  This would seem to limit the pool to applicants in a very restricted geographic area and raises concerns about whether the position has already been earmarked for someone.  It is hard to believe that a thorough review of candidates can be conducted in such a short amount of time.  Curiously, June 13th is the day before town elections when two of the current school committee members' terms will end and two new voices will be elected to the committee.  It would be fair and prudent to let these new school committee members have a hand in selecting the principal in conjunction with the superintendent with whom the principal will work. 

I am concerned that this process is being unduly rushed so Superintendent Doyle can select the principal and then leave without any accountability to the Wolf Swamp community.  Therefore, I am asking Superintendent Doyle to respectfully and professionally step aside and allow incoming Superintendent O'Shea to lead the entire process. With a projected start date of August 1st, there will be time for the process to be conducted entirely under Superintendent O’Shea’s direction.  I don't object to starting the process now by advertising the position; however, the review of applications, selection of candidates for interviews, interviews, and hiring decision should be entirely in the hands of Mr. O'Shea and the selection committee that is put together, even though that entails stretching the time-line.  We are talking about a delay of a few weeks, which is worth it to get the process right the first time.

I realize that the timing of hiring a principal is delicate and ideally completed prior to the end of a school year to ensure continuity between the outgoing and incoming principals.  I understand that principals undertake an enormous amount of work during the summer in terms of including planning, restructuring curriculum, and squaring away budget allocations, and leaving the position unfilled is less than ideal.  However, hiring this late in the current school year might handicap the caliber of candidates applying, as it is likely the best qualified candidates have already solidified plans for the upcoming school year.  That being said, I feel that the time line for the search and hiring is being unduly rushed to fit into the allotted time left in the current superintendent’s tenure.  My understanding is that principals usually receive 3 year contracts, and if this process is rushed to fit into manufactured timed constraints it could result in a less than ideal choice.  This would mean Wolf Swamp would have to suffer through that time and then do the whole thing all over again and perpetuate the revolving door of principals. I think it would be better to have an interim person fill in so we can take the time to do it right. I fear that a bad choice in the principal’s office has the potential to poison the whole school.  A three-year contract might not seem like a long time if the wrong choice is made, but please consider that is half of a child’s elementary school career.

I understand that hiring principals is at the sole discretion of the superintendent and the selection committee has no real power.  I am respectfully asking Superintendent Doyle to slow this process down to ensure that we have a thorough search of qualified candidates rather than a hasty rush to get the first available person who meets the minimum qualifications.  Furthermore, I am asking Superintendent Doyle to cede the entire process to her successor, Marty O’Shea, since she will not work with this new principal.  I truly think it is important for the new superintendent and the new school committee to have ownership and accountability for their choice. If the new principal turns out to be a disaster, Superintendent O'Shea should own it - he should not be able to blame Superintendent Doyle. And if, as I hope, the principal turns out to be wonderful, then he should get all the credit for it.

I am writing this as not only a concerned parent of 3 children who are progressing through Wolf Swamp and the Longmeadow schools, but as a graduate of Wolf Swamp. For 30 years I have had a connection to Wolf Swamp, and I care very deeply about this wonderful school.  It would be disheartening to see a rash process diminish the spirit and quality of the school. 

Please remember that we all want what is best for our children at Wolf Swamp.  They should not have to suffer because there was a rush to check off a box before time expired.  The Wolf Swamp community deserves a thorough process entirely under the direction of the incoming leadership team. 

If you support this effort, please join the group of Wolf Swamp parents at the School Committee meeting on Monday, May 9th at 7 PM at Longmeadow HS in room A15 (central office).  A strong show of support is vital as we work to ensure that the process of selecting a new principal for our children is handled with the importance and time it deserves.  Please also take the time to contact Superintendent Doyle and the members of the School Committee.

Laura Gebhardt
Wolf Swamp Parent

Another Town Resident Expresses His Concerns About Articles 29-31

This letter was submitted to LongmeadowBuzz by a Longmeadow resident and local attorney to address the potential legality and litigation cost the town will face should the bylaws under consideration in Articles 29-31 be enacted

I would like to correct some of the misinformation in the recent Republican editorial as well as some of the general misinformation regarding the so-called “gun articles” on the Longmeadow Town Warrant. 

All three articles are unnecessary and essentially are a non-solution to a non-problem. To my knowledge, Longmeadow has not had and does not now have any gun crime. Article 29 seeks to ban all firearms from any building owned by the town or on any grounds owned by the town. This article was so poorly drafted that it would prohibit all law enforcement personnel from having a firearm anywhere on town property. It is already illegal to have firearms in schools and this article would ban law-abiding gun owners from bringing any firearm past their own driveway. 

Article 30 requires all owners of firearms to register their firearms with the police department when they renew their firearms license. This is redundant because all firearms are now registered with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the police have access to that information. This would take valuable police personnel time and valuable town resources to put in place again what is already in place. 

Article 31 would seek to ban “assault weapons” or “large capacity feeding devices”. This law also contains no exemption for law enforcement personnel. The law refers to the Massachusetts definition of an assault weapon. If one is already legal in Massachusetts with either of the two items , why would there now be a need to make either illegal in Longmeadow? 

So anyone outside of Longmeadow could own one but not anyone who resides in Longmeadow.
  • How would that make us safer? 
  • Is Mr. Grant suggesting that Longmeadow residents are inherently more prone to violence than any other resident of the commonwealth?
The implementation of these articles are not only unnecessary and redundant but are very divisive and will be very costly to the Town of Longmeadow. Not only will there be a cost to implement these articles but there will be legal challenges to their implementation which could run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. I would suggest that a better use of town funds would be the creation of programs to help stem the tide of the current opiod epidemic which is harming our young people.   

Thank you,

Gerald B. Berg/ Longmeadow resident

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Another town resident speaks out about Articles 29-31

This letter was submitted to Longmeadow Buzz by Longmeadow resident Mary K. Lewonchukis in reference to the recent letter posted by Alex Grant in the Reminder, and in reference to his previous letters posted in various town publications, as well as his televised appearances.

My biggest reaction to the Reminder letter is one of disgust.  I am disgusted that Mr. Grant is using the tragedy at Sandy Hook to further his poorly drafted and ineffective legislation.  He continually references the Sandy Hook tragedy and the children’s deaths to his proposed Articles, and he is clearly comparing Longmeadow to Newtown.  At the end of this article he then states “…all the “No” vote offers is a shrug of the shoulders and lockdown drills for our kids.”  Well, this letter will address each of the points he makes so that no Longmeadow resident thinks my “No” vote is simply a shrug of my shoulders to the Newtown tragedy.

The first Article drafted by Mr. Grant will not allow a licensed Massachusetts resident to carry a gun in any town building or on any property owned by the town, without facing a fine.  Please be aware that there are already laws prohibiting possession of a firearm in the schools.  This Article has nothing to do with Sandy Hook or Newtown, and would not have prevented that tragedy.  Adam Lanza had some serious mental health issues, and he would have completely disregarded any law that did not allow him to carry.  This Article is drafted to keep law abiding residents from carrying guns – it will have no effect on any person who is unlawfully carrying a gun, or has ill intent.  Criminals and people with mental health issues that intend to do harm just don’t care what the town laws say.  All this does is keep a licensed, trained firearm holder from perhaps stopping a person who intends to do harm.  A much better alternative is to have armed police officers or retired law enforcement present in the schools.  That would have stopped Adam Lanza.

The second Article drafted by Mr. Grant would require any person renewing their state issued gun license to give to the local police department a list of firearms, rifles, or shotguns possessed by the applicant, and require applicants to certify their compliance with an already existing state law that requires their firearms to be secured in a locked container.  This Article would also not have stopped the Sandy Hook shooting in any way.  The firearms located in the Lanza household were already required to be locked, but Adam Lanza had access to the combinations to the safes the guns were stored in.  Every time a firearm is purchased in Massachusetts a background check is performed and the gun is registered with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.  Any listing given to a local police department is subject to a Freedom of Information Act request, can be obtained by any newspaper, and can then be published (this was done in Westchester County New York).  This listing gives criminals a blueprint for houses to target to steal firearms and houses to target that do not have any firearms.

The third Article drafted by Mr. Grant would ban all assault weapons and large capacity feeding devices manufactured prior to September 13, 1994 in Longmeadow.  Adam Lanza did not carry out the shooting at Sandy Hook with an assault rifle manufactured prior to September 13, 1994, so this Article would also not prevent a tragedy like Sandy Hook.  The first thing that Mr. Grant should clarify is that I cannot purchase an “assault rifle” such as you see in movies used by the military.  I cannot purchase a rifle that is “automatic” – such as an Uzi or machine gun.  I think there is a misconception out in the minds of residents of Longmeadow that gun owners in town have these guns that can shoot hundreds of rounds a minute.   Generally speaking, these guns can be purchased by terrorists or criminals outside of the boundaries of any law, but a law-abiding citizen cannot purchase or possess these guns and magazines.

None of the Articles Mr. Grant proposes would have stopped the violence at Sandy Hook, and I find it extremely offensive that he is using that tragedy to promote his agenda.  I have a child in the Longmeadow school system, and it is my worst nightmare that a mass shooting will occur in Longmeadow.  That is every parent’s nightmare, and Mr. Grant is playing on these fears to get his legislation passed.  Mr. Grant says the “No” votes have no answers to reducing Longmeadow’s risk of mass shootings and ordinary shootings.  He then goes on to cite Virginia Tech, Columbine, and San Bernardino as examples.  Sandy Hook, Columbine and Virginia Tech could have been prevented with stronger responses and requirements for people with mental health issues, especially those with access to firearms.  San Bernardino was a mass shooting by terrorists – and Mr. Grant is proposing to restrict residents from protecting themselves, their families, and their community against terrorism.  Terrorists have never been concerned with local, state or federal laws, and Mr. Grant’s Articles would most certainly not deter them at all.  Mr. Grant’s third Article would leave our community completely exposed to terrorism at a time when ISIS has indicated increased attacks against the United States. 

The guns are not a problem in Longmeadow, and never have been.  Should these Articles be passed, there is no doubt in my mind that the Town will be sued, either by a resident of Longmeadow, or someone who is passing through the town and is fined for possessing a legally owned firearm.  The town will also face increased costs to enforce these Articles and make the police focus shift from the really important issues faced by the town to enforcement of these non-existing issues.  The town will also lose any lawsuit – and anyone who doubts this only needs to google “McDonald versus City of Chicago”.  This case struck down two restrictive handgun laws in Chicago and Oak Park, Illinois.  The Supreme Court of the United States determined that the Second Amendment applies to individual states.  The Supreme Court held that the right of an individual to keep and bear arms applies to the states.  The cost to the City of Chicago was over $3,000,000. 

As residents of Longmeadow, we would be much better off focusing our attention and budget on the things that are really needed in town, such as the DPW project, new middle school funding, or the Senior Center.  I urge all Longmeadow residents to vote no to the Articles proposed by Alex Grant that will do nothing to further protect our town or children, and will be extremely costly to our town. 

Mary K. Lewonchukis
Longmeadow resident

Friday, April 29, 2016

Longmeadow's Proposed Gun Control Bylaws

This opinion/ comment letter was submitted to LongmeadowBuzz by Walter Lamon, a Longmeadow town resident in response to Alex Grant's recent position paper on proposed gun control bylaws at the upcoming Longmeadow Annual Town Meeting on May 10.
It is with sadness that we saw the recent legislation proposed by selectman Grant on firearms which attempts to bring nasty national politics into the otherwise peaceable and largely crime-free town of Longmeadow.

Warrants 29, 30, 31 could only succeed in dragging the citizens of Longmeadow into a long, costly and deeply divisive legal fight with the well-resourced gun lobby that will suck taxpayers’ money away from our schools and harm our community.  All Grant’s proposed legislation succeeds in doing is criminalizing tax-paying citizens and their families in their own town, while drawing deep divisions in a happy and prosperous community.

There has never been a problem with Longmeadow’s gun owners, who already abide by the strictest rules in America under Massachusetts state law, as well as the police chief who has absolute discretion in issuing permits and who maintains a close relationship with all permit holders.

In fact, the warrants are so poorly drafted they even outlaw our police officers - who do an excellent job keeping us safe from some of the urban crime problems nearby -  from carrying service weapons to protect us, let alone introducing confusion. For example, if you return from shooting clays or skeet for example, as between 20 and 40 million Americans do on weekends including President Obama, are you a criminal if you pick up an elderly relative at the Greenwood Center with a shotgun locked in the trunk of your car? Mr Grant will try to make sure that you are.

If Mr Grant was concerned about our residents having firearms why didn’t he simply reach out to his fellow 1000 or so families in town who have permits and start a dialogue on how we can all improve the safety in our schools, protect our children and ensure the town continues to run as it has for decades without problems? In a recent editorial Mr Grant bemoans the paralysis on this issue on a national level while he engages in the same angry politics, trafficking in fear, that causes that deadlock. He has wasted a valuable opportunity to achieve what no national political leader has done: forge a partnership with gun-owning and non-gun owning citizens alike for the better of the community. Many permit holders have small children in the schools here, and many moved here for the crime-free nature of Longmeadow. We feel just as strongly as Mr Grant that the safety of our children is paramount, true of every parent whether you are a gun owner or not. 

But, instead of using that opportunity, he has mounted an aggressive political campaign acting independently of his elected select board role, forgoing the endorsement and advice of the police, while alienating all gun owners who comprise both Democrats and Republicans, business owners, doctors, lawyers, veterans and other members of our community and their families, along with non gun owners appalled at the infringement of their civil liberties.

In a ‘challenge’ to Longmeadow Citizens for Liberty he suggested a debate likened to the Lincoln vs Douglas debates on slavery. But Mr Grant is no crusading leader fighting for social justice instead he’s hijacking the town’s strained budget for his own personal agenda. Long after Mr Grant has left office his toxic legacy to Longmeadow will be to draw our town into a long, rancorous and ever-expensive litigation with groups like the NRA, which taxpayers will underwrite and which the town will lose because of constitutional guarantee and recent Supreme Court cases like District of Colombia vs. Heller.

Don’t fall for it. Reject his self-serving agenda on May 10th so that we can raise our children and work for our families in peace.

Walter Lamon/ Longmeadow Town Resident

Monday, April 18, 2016

Gun Control in Longmeadow

At the Longmeadow Annual Town Meeting on Tuesday, May 10, voters will be asked to consider the following three articles (#29, # 30 and # 31) regarding proposed gun control bylaws in our town. Each of these three articles was submitted via a citizen petition.....

 [click image to enlarge]

Below is an article written by Alex Grant, a member of the Longmeadow Select Board who submitted these articles explaining his position.

It was 39 months ago that I wrote in this space about the killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, “[t]he issue is nothing less than whether the honored dead in Newtown will die in vain.  Sympathy, prayers, and grief are not enough . . . If the deaths of the Newtown kids do not matter, then we as a country are dead inside too, and God have mercy on us all.”

Adam Lanza used a Bushmaster AR-15 assault weapon against children who were between the ages of six and seven.  Thirty-nine months later, they would be turning 10, on their way to adolescence.  The kids who entertained themselves in December 2012 with Dora the Explorer would be reading Harry Potter now, imagining themselves as wizards on their way to Hogwarts boarding school.  There will be no Hogwarts nor any other school for them now.

What if the dead could speak to the living?  What would Charlotte Bacon, then six years old, and Daniel Barden, then seven years old, say to us?  What would Rachel Davino, then 29 years old and devoting her professional life to working with autistic kids, say?  If those once-hopeful souls wanted to believe that their deaths had made a difference, if they had represented some sacrifice toward a greater good, what would we say?

If we were honest, we would have to say that precious little has changed for the better.  Rather than coming together to reduce gun violence, there has been a surge in applications for gun licenses in the United States, in Massachusetts, and in Longmeadow.  In fact, the numbers of Licenses to Carry (LTCs) have increased 25% in Longmeadow since Sandy Hook.  For our kids, all we can offer are more lockdown drills.

On May 10, voters at Town Meeting have a chance to make Longmeadow safer and to advance the debate about gun control beyond paranoia and misinformation.  The three gun control bylaws which I have proposed as citizen petitions represent reasonable regulations that will make mass shootings and ordinary shootings less likely.

One bylaw would strengthen the ban on assault weapons that exists under Massachusetts state law by eliminating the exception for assault weapons that were lawfully possessed in 1994 or before.  Owners of these assault weapons would have until September 1, 2016 to remove them from Longmeadow.  The AR-15 used in the Newtown shootings, which is a semi-automatic rifle capable of shooting 45 rounds per minute, would be illegal in Longmeadow.  The AR-15 is the gun that Lanza chose over a number of other weapons at his disposal.  The weapon left the children not just mortally wounded, but in the words of one parent who saw the remains of her dead child, “butchered.”

Another bylaw would require license holders to provide a description of their guns and to certify their compliance with the state law requiring safe storage of firearms when they obtain or renew their licenses.  This occurs every six years, and it is less onerous than our annual registration for dogs.  With this information, police will better be able to keep track of lost, stolen, or transferred firearms.  Moreover, they will know what kind of arsenal they are facing when they respond to emergency calls at a home.  Finally, the certification will remind and reinforce the obligation gun owners have under state law for keeping their guns under lock and key.  This will help to prevent accidental shootings and access to guns by children.

The third bylaw would bar guns from town buildings and town-owned property, much like state law already prohibits guns from schools and universities.  The bylaw would protect places like Greenwood Center, which houses a daycare facility for infants, toddlers, and pre-schoolers, as well as programs for the elderly.  It would keep guns away from the Green on Longmeadow Days and away from youth soccer games in places like Wolf Swamp fields.  It would not apply to sidewalks where residents own the land and the town only has a right of way.

When we truly care about keeping a public place safe, guns are in the hands of trained police and military officers and nobody else.  At airports and courthouses, guns are not allowed because we know that is the best way to keep those places safe.  In those places, we do not imagine that having some percentage of the public armed is a way to thwart bad guys with guns. Gun owners may make the individual choice to possess guns in the event they want to use them to defend their homes.   But as taxpayers who own and maintain town buildings and town property, it is our collective choice on how to secure these places.  And why shouldn’t we strive to make Greenwood Center as safe as a courthouse?

These bylaws are not a complete solution to gun violence in America.  The debate over gun control is paralyzed at the national level and even at the state level.  But in a Town Meeting form of government, we are not helpless, we are legislators, and we are called, as Theodore Roosevelt once said, to “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”  In this time and place, we can make the next mass shooting, the next accidental shooting, the next suicide less likely, and we can serve as an example for other towns which want to do the same.

Alex J. Grant is a member of the Longmeadow Select Board.
His email address is

Monday, March 28, 2016

Article 32- Save Wolf Swamp Fields

The possible selection of a portion of Wolf Swamp Road Fields as the site for the construction and operation of the new DPW facility has precipitated a large outcry from many town residents.  The following warrant article (by citizen petition) has been approved and added to the May 10 Annual Town Meeting for consideration by voters:

[click to enlarge]   
The 2016 Annual Town Meeting will be held on Tuesday, May 10, 2016 in the gymnasium of Longmeadow High School starting at 7 PM.

For additional information visit the Save Wolf Swamp Fields Facebook page.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Caring about Kindergarten

This article about support for all day free kindergarten was written by Longmeadow town resident Betsy Port and is posted here for reading by LongmeadowBuzz blog readers...

What do you remember about kindergarten? I can recall a lot! My best friend and I met in Miss Bixby’s class over fifty years ago in Public School #8 in Yonkers, New York. We are still close friends, both living in Massachusetts. We learned our letters and our numbers. We played with blocks and read books. Teachers taught us to share and to care. We learned to clean up and we took a nap on our mats. As a substitute assistant teacher at the kindergarten level at both Blueberry Hill and Center Schools, half a century later, I know how much has changed in the world of a 5-6 year old! We need to create a firm foundation for all children, and that should be our priority!

We now have national common core requirements. There is no more naptime because there is so much to accomplish. You might call the free time similar to play time of decades ago, but most of the time is devoted to learning, doing and work. Over 90% of Massachusetts children attend full day kindergarten and 85% attend for no additional cost to their parents. Longmeadow is a follower not a leader on this topic. We are the only Western Massachusetts community not to offer funded full time kindergarten to all kids. Why? Children are happier and healthier with full day kindergarten according to the NEA, National Educational Association. The benefits are intellectual, social and emotional. The NEA also states on their website that there is $3 saved long term for every $1 spent on full day kindergarten.

Does Longmeadow really have a choice on this subject? Studies show that most communities nationwide do offer full day kindergarten. Remember this is 2016… and your children and grandchildren will deal with a very different world than we did when we were school age. We need to fund this and we need it now! Habits and learning tools need to start young! Problems can be identified sooner in the full day situation and we can correct issues that need attention. This early intervention will save money down the road. Children who do not attend full day kindergarten will fall behind meeting the standards set by common core. Many teachers will agree! There is also a national trend to fund public nursery schools, so that is the direction we are headed towards.

How can you help?

A decision will be made at the Select Board Meeting on Thursday, March 17 at the High School from 7-9 PM in room A15.

Get vocal! Stand up for the children of this community. Do we want Longmeadow to be a leader in public education? I think we would agree that the answer is yes!

Betsy Port
Longmeadow, MA

Monday, February 8, 2016

Mark Gold Announces Re-election Bid

With a commitment to continue to serve Longmeadow residents and bring balance to the select Board, I am announcing that I am seeking reelection to the Longmeadow Select Board for a three year term.  Over the next three years the town of Longmeadow will face important issues that include tax rates, water rates, and decisions on major capital projects, and I believe I have the experience, understanding and common sense approach to positively contribute to the resolution of these issues.

Since being elected to the Select Board I have demonstrated my commitment to serve the town.  I have advocated for maintaining the level of town services that Longmeadow residents have come to expect and holding the line on residential property taxes.  I have taken a leadership role in setting the financial plan for Longmeadow, being particularly proud that the Select Board has presented the town with balanced budgets during each of my years on the Select Board.   This fiscal control was the result of planning by the select board that maintained the level of town services residents have come to expect.  I have been instrumental in several achievements that will have a positive lasting impact on the town, including securing trash hauling contracts that have saved the town tens of thousands of dollars, and defining the surrounding community mitigation settlement with MGM.

Through my background as an engineer and my experience on the Select Board I have demonstrated an understanding for the programs and systems of the town and my ability to lead the discussion about each of the issues that the Select Board faces.

My wife Ellen and I raised two children who attended Longmeadow public schools and I believe that our 39 years of living in Longmeadow has given me a strong sense of the issues, sensitivities, and characteristics of the town that residents of Longmeadow care most about.

I am honored to have been elected to the Select Board by the residents of Longmeadow over the past seven years.  I hope that the level judgement and balanced approach to addressing the town’s issues that I have demonstrated resonates with town residents and I ask for their votes this year so I can continue to advocate for the greatest good for all the residents of the town.

Mark Gold
Member, Longmeadow Select Board

Challenging Times Ahead for Longmeadow- Part II

The Full Cost of Education in Longmeadow

Almost $10 million of school related expenses are not included in the School Department's annual budget but are instead combined with town related budget line items.  Some of these expenses include school department employee/ retiree benefits (health insurance/Medicare, pensions, etc.) that can increase significantly from year to year and which must be covered on the Town side of the budget.

Here is the rest of the story....

Mid-February is the time of the year that the School Committee approves and then submits a School Department budget to the Town Manager.  The TM is responsible for creating the Town Budget which is then approved by the Select Board to be voted on at the Annual Town Meeting in early May.

Given ever increasing costs and limited increases in town revenue, this process can be difficult.  This year the School Committee is considering three budget options as shown below in order to begin a transition to all day FREE kindergarten which is the state is likely to mandate sometime in the near future.
  • Tier I includes FREE full day kindergarten; requires an additional $277,144 in general fund revenues or cuts will need to be made.
  • Tier II includes a full day kindergarten fee of $1,250; requires an additional $155,645 in general fund revenues or cuts will need to be made.
  • Tier III includes a full day kindergarten fee of $2,000; requires an additional $61,895 in general fund revenues or cuts will need to be made.
Before deciding which Tier should be chosen, it is useful to consider how the budget is constructed.  The data used for this example is the current FY2016 budget as it was approved at the Annual Town Meeting last May.  It should be noted that the budget numbers change continuously and are not finalized until the fiscal year is over.

Revenue Sources
There are many different sources of income for the town including property taxes, Chapter 70 state aid, water and sewer fees, etc.  Table I below shows the sources and amounts of money used to fund the FY2016 budget.  Water and sewer are treated as "free standing" Enterprise Funds meaning the fees collected cover the cost of operations including capital projects.

Table I- FY2016/ ATM Sources of Income
[click to enlarge]

Note that the Total Sources increase from FY15 --> FY 16 was only $506,000 or 1.3%.  Increase in Property Taxes was 2.8% or $1.28 million.  Increases in Property Taxes are controlled by Proposition 2½ limitations.

In Table II below is a summary of all of various expenses (or uses) for the Town of Longmeadow.

Table II- Uses Summary- FY2016
[click to enlarge]
It is interesting to note that the School Department budget as presented at the Annual Town Meeting does not include expenses such as employee/ retiree health care and pension benefits, school maintenance, school crossing guards or debt service (interest + principal on outstanding bonds for school building projects).

There was a significant increase in the cost of providing health care/ retiree benefits for school department (and town) employees from FY2015 to FY2016.  For school department employees this cost increase was $292K which is a significant amount relative to the increase in annual revenue for the town.

At the 2015 Annual Town Meeting the School Department FY2016 budget was presented as $35.3 million.  With the additional school department related expenses included, this number increases to $44.9 million, an increase of $9.6 million or 69% of the total town budget.

With 2882 students attending Longmeadow schools in FY2016, the cost of educating our children is ~$15,600/year.

When asking the Select Board (and taxpayers) for additional money to support new programs, the School Committee should consider the impact of other school department related budget increases that are being covered in the Town side of the budget.

There is a Public Hearing on the FY2017 Budget being held by the Longmeadow School Committee on February 9 starting at 7 PM in Room A15 at Longmeadow High School.  

Here is a link to the FY2017 School Department Budget presentation by School Superintendent Marie Doyle to the School Committee on February 1.