Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A good decision!

There has been recent criticism by Alex Grant and others regarding the cost of tree debris cleanup for our town. I believe that our Select Board made a wise decision in electing to use Ashbritt to clean up tree related debris from our town streets.

Can you imagine our DPW crews trying to collect the large volume of tree debris from the streets of Longmeadow with their current equipment fleet?

Longmeadow DPW

vs.



AshBritt Environmental Services


According to recent AshBritt/ O'Brien estimates, 285,000 cubic yds of tree debris ranging from limbs and branches to 3-4' diameter tree sections were collected. Using an estimate of ~ 60 yd3 per collection vehicle, this amounts to ~ 4800 truckloads.

Using our DPW fleet of aging bucket loaders and dump trucks (+ other local contractors) it would have taken a very long time to complete this task. In addition, these types of vehicles are not well suited to tree debris pickup and would require significantly more time.

I'm sure that some of the much larger volume of tree debris collected for our town (vs. surrounding towns) was a result of town residents taking advantage of the curbside collection when they were cleaning up their own properties to reduce their own personal cleanup costs.

Using a figure of $2.5 million after FEMA reimbursement, this calculates to ~ $500/ homeowner which is reasonable given the widespread tree damage that hit our town during this storm. The final pricetag could be significantly lower if MEMA and the state of MA ante up some reimbursement funds for Longmeadow and surrounding towns.

In less than 2 months all of the tree debris has been removed from the 90+ miles of town streets including the large piles of wood chips that were generated at Wolf Swamp Road fields.  See photo below:


From what I have observed, I believe that the decision to use AshBritt was a good one and our town has quickly recovered from this effects of this devastating storm.... the money was well spent.

Can you imagine the condition of our town if we had experienced another major snowstorm in November or early December and had decided to use our DPW and local contractors to save money?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Line Item Transfers

During the course of school year the Longmeadow School Committee routinely makes a series of line item transfers to modify the allocation of budgeted monies.  These changes are usually developed by the SC Finance Sub-Committee and then presented to the full SC and adopted without much discussion.  SC meeting minutes usually do not include the details and only reference a document that is called FY2012 General Fund Revision #__ or FY2012 Grant/ Special Revenues Revision #__.

At the SC meeting last Monday night (12/12/11) there was an agenda item to discuss and approve three General Fund line item transfers- two of which included movement of budget dollars to be utilized for purposes different than originally targeted.

Here is an outline of the three line item transfers as best I could understand from the discussion...

Transfer #1-  Transfer $2500 from Williams Middle School "supplies" line item for the purchase of 5 new Apple iPads.
Transfer #2- Correct line item mistake for a Bookkeeper salary (simple entry error)
Transfer #3- Transfer $47,000 from two "salary" line items to be used for the purchase of 2 MacBook computer carts.

I credit new committee member Jim Desrochers for initiating a more thorough discussion of Transfers #1 and #3.  Without this discussion much of the detail would have been missing from public view.

Below are the highlights:
  1. Williams Middle School received 2 iPad carts (50 iPads) as part of a larger School Dept technology purchase.  They now want 5 more iPads to be used by teachers to develop lesson plans and not have to share with students and worry about having to recharge them after they had been used all day in the classroom.  Transfer #1 takes $2500 originally allocated to supplies and moves it to purchase computer hardware.

  2. LEEF provided grant money to Center/ Wolf Swamp ES for the purchase of 2 MacBook computer carts.  However, this money was used to fund the purchase of 4 -iPad carts (25 iPads each, total = 100) rather than being used for the intended purpose.  Teachers at Center and Wolfswamp Schools objected to this "repurposing" of LEEF funds so a transfer of funds of $47K from two budgeted salary lines is being proposed to correct the "error" and purchase 2 MacBook computer carts.  The 4- iPad carts will remain at Center School and Wolfswamp schools to be used in classrooms.

    According to the Superintendent Doyle, there was some miscommunication between the schools and the IT department about what type of "computing devices" were to be purchased.  Since the money used was provided by LEEF for a specific purpose, there is a need to purchase the two MacBook computer carts.

  3. Mr. Desrochers asked an interesting question:
    If Transfer #3 is needed to correct a mistake because 100 iPads were purchased by "mistake", then why is there is a need to purchase 5 additional iPads (Transfer #1)?

    It was explained by Superintendent Doyle that taking 5 iPads from the carts would cause problems with not having enough iPads per classroom and interfere with instruction.

Below is a LCTV video clip (courtesy of LCTV) with the discussion that accompanied this agenda item.



It is worth watching this short video clip to hear additional comments by Ms. Jester and Mr. Desrochers.  Here are a couple of quotes...

Mr. Desrochers stated...  "technology is a thing that everyone is focused on... but it might not be the right thing to spend our money on"

In closing remarks on this subject, Ms. Jester said:  "we need to be cognizant of the expectation by the community that we do not see unexpended funds as kind of a 'candy shop' and a new way to spend money... there is an expectation that we will turn back unexpended funds at the end of the year."

The three proposed General Fund line item transfers were approved by the SC.

Let's hope that this latest series of line item transfers is not the beginning of how the School Committee plans to fund the School Department's growing appetite for new technology!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Miracles really do happen!

Longmeadow Knights head to Nationals at Disney!

It’s usually this time of year when one notices a miracle somewhere, and it’s been one miracle after another for the Longmeadow Knights, this small town’s Cheerleader Competition Team. Placing second, and only .5 points away from first, in a qualifying competition in Boston recently, the Longmeadow Knights qualified for nationals and received a bid to attend the National High School Cheerleading Competition at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, February 11-12, 2012. The NHSCC is considered the most prestigious cheerleading championship in the country. This ESPN-hosted event is nationally televised on ESPN and ESPN2 to over 100 million homes and 32 countries nationwide each year.

It was truly a miracle that brought them to this moment. Before their qualifying performance in Boston, the cheerleaders awoke with a message from their Coach, Jessica Prokup, that one of their flyers had a badly hurt ankle, leaving the team uncertain as to the day ahead. With the high morale and spirit the team has consistently shown, the team travelled to Boston with the hope they might perform all the while anxious for their teammate, who was blessed to have a parent in tow with sports therapy skills. They wouldn’t know until moments before the performance that they were going before the panel of judges, but perform they did! Maybe it was for their wounded flyer that they performed so well, or maybe they just realized how incredible they’ve become as a team. After they finished their choreography, not one cheerleader was looking at the board to see where they placed, only at each other with relieved faces and hearts that they completed their performance. Their devotion to each other was sincere and not a dry eye from the team’s fans was found. The fact that the Knights placed second and so close to first place afterward only added to the miracle they believe will continue as they head to Orlando. It’s a significant year because half of the team will be leaving for high school next year, and this is their last opportunity to perform at such a prestigious level together.

With only two months to plan, the expenses for this Longmeadow team of 22 girls, in grades 4 - 8, are costly. The girls are trying to raise donations to help offset the expenditures of this once-in-a-life time experience and only have two months to do it.  

They are asking for support from local businesses and individuals who wish to be a part of the event by sponsoring the team in Orlando. Sponsors will receive recognition.

These cheerleaders are grateful to represent Longmeadow and the State of Massachusetts and would love to do so in the best way possible. Team spirit is soaring while the girls visit the community to seek their support. 

Read a  Letter to Potential Sponsors
Submit a Sponsor Application

For additional information on sponsorship or to learn more about the Longmeadow Knights, please contact longmeadowknights@gmail.com

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Tree Debris Pickup and Reprocessing Nears Completion


According to Bill Johnson, Senior Project Manager for AshBritt Environmental, tree debris pickup on Longmeadow town streets will be completed by the end of this week. The pile of wood chips currently located on the WS playing fields is scheduled to be removed by year end. The collection crews will take a Christmas break and will return to finish cleanup in town parks, etc. Total debris estimate is ~ 270,000 cubic yards.

Below is a video of the tree debris reprocessing operations at Wolf Swamp Road fields...

Friday, December 2, 2011

SC Considers New Social Media Policy

The Longmeadow School Committee led by member Michael Clark is working to create a new social media and networking policy for both students and teachers- one that better reflects the changes that are happening today in our rapidly changing world.  The SC recognizes the need for a more updated policy given the introduction of more advanced computer technology and resources for our students.

Last Wednesday, November 30 a public forum was held at Longmeadow HS to discuss the directions of this new policy and to obtain feedback by parents and others.

As you will see in the video below (another huge thank you to LCTV for sharing it) there are many strong opinions on both sides of this issue.  The issue feels alot like the early discussions regarding the inclusion of sex education in our school curriculum.  At this public forum some objections were voiced against any inclusion of any social media as part of the classroom... particularly with regard to the use of Facebook.  There was also strong support for educating our children (as well as parents) about the use of all social media and the need for watching your online digital identity.  Development of a new comprehensive social media policy will not be easy.

Feedback can be sent directly to Michael Clark at mclark@longmeadow.k12.ma.us.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Season's Greetings

A town leader responds....



Mark Gold responds to Alex Grant's opinion column that appeared in the November 24 edition of the Longmeadow News.  Mr. Gold is the chairman of the Longmeadow Select Board.  This letter represents his opinions and not necessarily those of the entire Select Board.
_______________________________________________________

To the Editor,

I read with interest Alex Grant’s column (Longmeadow fleeced) on the Opinion page of the November 24th edition of the Longmeadow News in which he is critical of the cost of the post-storm clean-up.  As usual, Mr. Grant pulled no punches in getting to the heart of the matter.   As I was reading the article I couldn’t help but say to myself, “What on earth would compel our town leaders to enter into such a terrible contract?  What WERE they thinking?”  But then I realized that although I didn’t know what THEY were thinking, I did know what I was thinking, and probably ought to share those thoughts with the readers of Mr. Grant’s column.  So here goes.  What I was thinking was that:
  1. On November 1st, the town of Longmeadow was in a public safety crisis.  Many of our streets were narrowed by the debris still clogging the sides of the streets.  Broken and hanging branches dangled over our public roadways and sidewalks making travel hazardous and threatening the safety of our children who would soon, for the most part, be walking or riding their bicycles to school.  Cars could barely drive down many of our streets without being scratched on the sides or the roof from protruding branches.  Many sidewalks were in fact impassable.  There was an estimated ¼ of a million cubic yards (since increased) of storm debris in town that needed to be removed.  There could be no tolerance for a delay in assuring and securing the safety of our residents as they travel through town.  If you think the clean-up is expensive, try settling a lawsuit from someone who is hit by a falling tree branch because of a delay in the clean-up.
  2. Lacking the clairvoyance of what the upcoming weather would be (or the hindsight we now have), it was a sure thing that if another snowstorm occurred prior to the debris being removed from our streets and public ways, the narrow roadways and high snow banks of last February would look like broad avenues and mole hills compared to what we would face for the next four or five months.  Time was of the essence in getting the debris removed from our streets.
  3. There was only one approved “pre-bid” contract for debris removal of this magnitude.  Yes, I would have preferred to have had several choices on the company to award this contract, but Ashbritt was the only contractor with the foresight AND RESOURCES to have pre-bid on the contract.  Taking 60 days to specify, bid and award an alternate contract was time we just didn’t seem to have.  Is $31 per yard for removal excessive?  I don’t know.  Unlike the Katrina effort quoted in Mr. Grant’s article, this price includes curb-side removal, and chipping the debris, and removal from town.  Neither the town DPW nor any other contractors we queried had the number of specialized trucks that would be necessary to clear this debris in a timely manner.  Although Mr. Grant may think that we are only paying for “at most a couple of dozen people working on this tree removal job in Longmeadow”, the facts are that with a crew of 4 for each bucket truck and two for each clean-up truck, the number is a lot closer to 75 people than to 25 people on the job.  Mr. Grant statement that “one could employ a virtual army of say, unemployed workers, to take chain saws or even hand saws, and clean up this tree debris faster and more cheaply than we are paying Ashbritt” grossly underestimates the size of the “virtual army” that would be required.  And, oh by the way, who would be purchasing the chain saws for this army?  Who would be providing the trucks, the fuel and the supervision for this army?  I for one am not in favor of hiring untrained individuals, handing them chain saws and telling them to climb trees and cut indiscriminately.  Mr. Grant’s full employment approach to solving this problem may have worked in 1932 with the WPA, but it wouldn’t work in 2011.  And don’t forget, disagree with it though we might, Longmeadow would need to pay prevailing (not minimum) wages (and benefits) to this “virtual army” as required by state law. And, in addition to these 75 or so workers, we are also paying for the 15 specialized debris removal trucks, a dozen or more bucket trucks, the tub grinder and pay loaders that are moving and processing the material at Wolf Swamp fields, and all the other specialized equipment it takes to do a job of this magnitude.  Equating the $13 million estimate to labor costs alone is disingenuous.  Without the horsepower that came with the contract, no amount of manpower was going to clean this town in a reasonable amount of time. 
  4. Oh, by the way, the town does have a tree service contract that we use to maintain the trees on town tree belts.  The cost to cut down trees under that contract (the only direct comparison we have with the Ashbritt contract) is higher per tree than what we are paying under the Ashbritt contract.  Maybe we could have extended that contract but that would have required that the contractor had or could subcontract for enough equipment to meet our timing requirements.  Remember, Longmeadow wasn’t the only town seeking tree cutting and debris clearing resources at this time.
  5. The clean-up job was more than the town could handle on our own.  We had neither the equipment nor the manpower to pick up what is now an estimated 275,000 cubic yards of debris and cut the thousands of “hangers” in a timely manner.  Ashbritt is indeed serving as a general contractor for several aspects of the job, hiring other firms to trim the trees that overhang our streets and sidewalks in order to make them safe for our children to go to school and our vehicles to drive through town.  Our DPW management team of three (reduced by one person due to retirement prior to the storm) just doesn’t have the resources to manage the multitude of contracts or contractors that have proven to be necessary to clear our town.  Our ability to deal with just one contractor (Ashbritt) has value to the town, and with that value comes added costs.
  6. The cost of “monitoring” the job may seem unnecessary, and even excessive, but it’s a requirement if the town wants to be eligible for reimbursement by FEMA.  Do I agree with this cost?  Do I like it?  It doesn’t matter, those are the rules.  Do the job without the monitors and you pay 100% of the cost.  Hire the monitors (for what is turning out to be about 4% of the overall cost of the clean-up) and you qualify for 75% Federal reimbursement.  This decision didn’t require a rocket scientist to figure out we needed to include monitors.
  7. The $13 million dollars referred to in Mr. Grant’s column was an estimate.  At the time it was made we didn’t know if the final costs would be higher or lower than that estimate.  The most recent cost estimate is now $11,227,000.  Still very high, but that just shows the uncertainty of what we were dealing with at the time the decision was made.  We just could not afford the luxury of waiting to get a pinpoint estimate of costs before we began the clean-up.  As it was, residents were (and still are) calling daily to inquire as to when their street will be cleared.  Telling residents that the clean-up of debris would have to wait until spring so that we could get the lowest possible and most accurate price, or use manual instead of automated clean-up methods, just wasn’t an option.

  8. Mr. Grant’s last statement is “Ashbritt’s subcontractors will be happy to sell [firewood generated from the downed trees] back to us for even more profit”.  This statement is incorrect.  The debris is ours.  If anyone wants to purchase this mixed debris, please call the DPW to arrange to do so.  Truck loads only.  I think this is what is called a “glut” or a “buyer’s market”.  We literally can’t even give the material away to the biomass fuel plants.  It’s green wood, and contains a lot of pine resins, not really the best of fuel.  But it’s ours if we want to figure out something to do with it.  For my thinking, I just want it to go away.
So those are some of the things I was thinking when I was one of the five town leaders who approved the contract with Ashbritt.  According to Mr. Grant’s article it was ”a very bad deal”.  I disagree.  It was neither a good deal nor a bad deal, it was a necessary deal; one based on the need to secure public safety in a timely manner.  More importantly it was a deal I’d approve again given the same timing and circumstances. 

Mark P. Gold

Monday, November 28, 2011

Don't Blame Our Town Leaders!

Read Full Story
In his latest opinion column in the Longmeadow News Alex Grant contends that our town leaders did a disservice to our town because they acted too quickly with a disregard to ultimate costs. Given the widespread storm damage and need for extensive cleanup in Longmeadow as well as most other towns in Western Mass and a large portion of CT, I believe that our town leaders made a good decision.

I've looked at the latest cleanup costs and have taken a different prospective from Mr. Grant...

If Longmeadow had not acted quickly to hire AshBritt Inc., the cleanup process would likely have taken much longer and be extended into the springtime.  What a mess that would be if the coming winter season is anything like last year!

AshBritt Environmental is a national turn key rapid-response disaster recovery contractor (from their website). They provide fast track logistics and contracted deployable resources for cleanup situations just like what we have experienced.  There are not many companies with this capability in the Northeastern US.

I believe that not only is AshBritt the only contractor approved by FEMA, it is the only MA state approved vendor that can be hired without using the formal bid process which can take up to one month.

If you take a closer look at the disposal costs as Mr. Grant has done, it might sound like the cost is too high.  However, here is my analysis....

Assume that the volume for the average debris pickup truck is ~ 60 cubic yards.  With the total debris volume now estimated at 275,000 cubic yards, each truckload costs the town ~ $1900 for disposal.

With a total estimated cost of $11.9 million and Longmeadow's share after reimbursement of $2.5 million, this translates to a final cost ~ $500/ property owner.

The state of MA and FEMA should work with AshBritt and other companies interested in this business to make this process more competitive and cost effective.

Just don't blame our town leaders for making a hasty decision.  They made the right decision!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Updated storm related cleanup costs

Some good news...

The latest projections of storm related debris cleanup costs are lower (see earlier report).  The total cost (worst case scenario) is estimated to be $11.9 million with Longmeadow's share after reimbursement of $2.5 million.  Below is a summary report issued on 11/18/11 from Fire Chief Eric Madison.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Facebook Comes to Longmeadow – Part II

The following article that appeared in today's issue of the Longmeadow News...
_______________________________________________________

Below is an excerpt from my latest LongmeadowBiz newsletter that I sent to 900+ local subscribers on October 24.  Little did I did I realize that within one week of sending this newsletter our town would experience one of the worst weather events to hit this region during the past 50 years and the potential value of Facebook would unveil itself.

What does Facebook mean for Longmeadow?

I believe that a Facebook community fanpage is an excellent means for sharing information. One important thing to remember is the speed at which information can be shared. Our town website at www.longmeadow.org  is not staffed nor designed to be an effective communications tool.

About one year ago I developed the Longmeadow Community fanpage  (facebook.com/longmeadowbiz) to demonstrate to town residents how we might be able to dramatically change how we communicate with each other. 

Below is a list of some of the items that have recently been shared...
  • Community/ school/ civic event flyers
  • Photographs (winter, storm related, high school building progress, etc.)
  • Issues of local interest via links to the LongmeadowBuzz blog (Turner Park, IT spending, etc.)
  • Town Government notices
If there was a weather event in Longmeadow similar to one of the storms that hit surrounding areas this past summer, Facebook would be an ideal way to share information with town residents.  It would be much better and faster than town website announcements (or emergency phone calling) because of its 2-way communication.  Residents needing assistance could post comments and/or photos so that town's public safety officials (police/ fire/ DPW) could monitor and respond more quickly.

Reporting of information on Facebook (and other social media as well) is typically 15-20 minutes ahead of the traditional media reporting.  This could be very important during an emergency.

The really great thing about Facebook is its ability to reach so many people so quickly. My initial target is to gain at least 1500-2000 Facebook fans for the LongmeadowBiz fanpage. Currently, there are 280 fans but the INTERACTIONS have been relatively low so the reach of the information is far below its potential. With greater INTERACTIONS by the existing fans (such as clicking on the Like icon or making a comment), the reach of the information will become much greater.
__________________________________________________
Some additional comments not included in the newsletter…

Our Connect CTY system- an automatic high speed phone system was a great asset to Longmeadow officials in communicating information to town residents during the emergency that we recently experienced.  However, many residents were either not registered or were without phone service so they did not receive these important calls.

Our town website- www.longmeadow.org was not a reliable source to obtain up-to-date information through this difficult period.

The Town of East Longmeadow has an “official” Facebook fanpage.  East Longmeadow’s fanpage has almost 1500 fans.  A quick check of the information that was recently posted and the interactions that took place between East Longmeadow officials and their town residents easily demonstrates the value of Facebook during such an emergency situation.

Longmeadow needs a multitude of methods to communicate information especially during an emergency.  What we currently use does not work.  As more and more people purchase and start utilizing “smartphones” and have Internet access “in the palm of their hand”, Facebook should be considered a vital communication tool.

Please take a look at the new Longmeadow fanpage (facebook.com/longmeadowbiz) to see if the posted information is of interest to you and your friends.  If it is, click on the "Like" button to become a FAN.  Share information that is useful with fellow town residents.


If you are interested in receiving the LongmeadowBiz newsletter that is published about 4-6 times per year, simply visit www.LongmeadowBiz.com and use the easy signup form.

Food Drive to Benefit Open Pantry

photo courtesy of MassLive
ri•val
noun \ˈrī-vəl\
a: one of two or more striving to reach or obtain something that only one can possess

The Selectmen’s Cup
a: the trophy awarded annually to the winner of the East Longmeadow vs Longmeadow Thanksgiving Day Game

When you add these to definitions together, you get a thrilling, on the edge of your seat, “How did that happen?”, football game played by two intense rivals.

On Saturday, November 19th, the rivalry gets pushed aside in a show of unity for their fellow man, the players of the East Longmeadow Spartans and the Longmeadow Lancers football teams will join forces to orchestrate a two-community wide Selectmen’s Cup FOOD DRIVE to benefit the Open Pantry of Greater Springfield.

The FOOD DRIVE takes place from 9 am – 2 pm at The Longmeadow Shops parking lot in Longmeadow and the Stop and Shop in East Longmeadow.  Players will be on hand to accept donations on behalf of the Open Pantry.

Also, TD Banknorth branches in East Longmeadow and Longmeadow are accepting donations as well, as part of the Selectmen’s Cup Food Drive.

Not wanting to miss out on the fun, students at East Longmeadow High School and Longmeadow High School are participating in the Food Drive by collecting items this week at school to add to Saturday’s total.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Two Weeks Ago- Looking Back

Below is a slide show of photos from my front and back yards as well as my neighborhood after the Halloween snowstorm on October 29-30.  Our neighborhood was quite fortunate with no personal injuries nor significant property damage- just a lot of tree damage.  Most of us were without power for six days.

The Cleanup Continues- Part II

Kudos to Fire Chief Eric Madison, Select Board Chair Mark Gold, Select Board member Paul Santaniello and other town leaders who decided early (Monday, October 31) to engage the services of Ashbritt Environmental to cleanup our town.  As highlighted in an earlier story, the total cost is expected to be ~ $13.2 million with Longmeadow's share after reimbursement to be ~ $3.3 million.  When finished the indirect cost to the average homeowner/ taxpayer will be ~ $600- which is quite a reasonable cost given the enormity of the cleanup effort (expected to be ~ 250,000 cubic yards of debris).

Most of the storm debris cleanup is expected to be completed by December 31.  The large trucks (County Waste) can be spotted all over town picking up the debris and hauling it to the Wolfswamp Road fields for processing into wood chips (see video).  My wife and I watched in amazement as one of the trucks picked up the storm debris in front of house.... one large step forward toward normalcy in our neighborhood which was hit pretty badly during the storm.
Storm Debris at Treebelt
Storm Debris Being Removed
Back to Normal!
After watching the collection process I was simply amazed at the great skill demonstrated by the Ashbritt employee who removed the large amount of debris with only minimal damage to my front yard while at the same time avoiding the overhead power, cable and phone lines.

The Rest of the Story....

I believe that consolidation of utilities under one umbrella makes good financial sense for our town. Increased purchasing power for the "entire town" so that we can negotiate lower rates. If this is combined with tracking of energy units for all school and town buildings as suggested by Curt Freedman at last night's meeting, we should be able to more easily identify additional cost savings.

Last night (Special Town Meeting, 11/08/11)  it was interesting to watch the extremely strong opposition expressed by School Committee chair to retain budget line items that are clearly not aligned to their primary mission of the School Department which is the education of our children.

The School Committee is not held accountable if energy costs unexpectedly go higher and the budgeted energy monies are insufficient. However, if there are energy/ utilities savings due to a mild winter and/or energy conservation measures, the saved money is not directly returned to the town's general fund but can be shifted to a different line item for other uses by a simple SC vote. If there was consolidation of town and school utilities, these savings would return directly to the town's General Fund since line item transfers on the town budget are not allowed.

I understand that according to the opinion of our Town Counsel, consolidation of utilities under the Town Manager is in accordance with our Town Charter. The Town Manager's budget instructions for FY2013 states a separate utilities budget for all town buildings including the schools will be established.

It sounds like we haven't heard the end of Article 4.... perhaps only for the current FY2012 budget year.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Longmeadow Storm Cleanup Costs

At the special Select Board meeting on November 10, costs for the tree debris cleanup from the October 29-30 snowstorm were discussed.  Below is a video clip from this meeting during Fire Chief Eric Madison provides Select Board members with an estimate of the cleanup costs.



Below is the summary report written by Eric Madison/ Fire Chief and Chris Reed/ DPW Asst Superintendent....
click here to enlarge above summary

The total cost of cleanup is estimated to be ~ $13.2 million of which the town's share after reimbursement by FEMA is expected to be $3.3 million. 

Longmeadow will need to pay the entire cost of $13.2 million upfront and then await reimbursement by FEMA.  Paul Pasterczyk, Longmeadow's Finance Director has done his homework and it appears that the cash flow squeeze can be managed without dramatically affecting the town's operation.  In the video clip shown above Mr. Pasterczyk describes the various financial options available to the town.  Interestingly enough, one approach that would not be approved by the Mass Dept of Revenue is the use of available cash from the new HS project bond.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Price Gouging for Tree Removal Services

Jonathan David of MassTree- made comments at last week's special Select Board Meeting (11/10/11) stating that he has witnessed widespread price gouging by certain companies engaged in tree and debris removal services within the town of Longmeadow.  In the video clip below he asks that our elected officials as well as the Police Department take an active role in protecting the residents of Longmeadow from such abuse.  

Price gouging is a term referring to a situation in which a seller or service provider prices goods or services much higher than is considered reasonable or fair. In precise, legal usage, it is the name of a crime that applies in some of the United States during civil emergencies.



I've known Mr. David for quite some time and he has completed a number of tree removal related projects on my property. His expertise and that for his team is high and his prices are fair.

A similar price gouging situation took place last winter when many town residents feared for the personal safety of their families because of possible roof failures caused by the large amount of snow. There were a number of instances where companies and individuals charged exorbitant prices for their snow removal services.

In a possible response to Mr. David's call to action, our Town Manager issued the following press release earlier today which I would consider a "too little too late" passive action.

"Please be cautious when hiring tree service companies or other disaster recovery services. Make sure they are reputable firms. Contact the Better Business Bureau at 508-755-2548 or www.bbb.org or the Attorney General's office at 617-727-8400 for information."

Here is a link to the TM's  full press release.

I would urge the Select Board to take some stronger action on this issue.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Cleanup Continues....



Ashbritt Environmental- http://www.ashbritt.com/ of Deerfield Beach, FL has been removing tree debris from the streets of Longmeadow for the past 11 days after rare Storm "Alfred" dumped up to 12 inches of snow on October 29.  The heavy burden of snow toppled many trees and limbs as well as power lines, phone lines and Comcast lines.  Many residents were without power for up to 8 days.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Help Storrs Library!

The Storrs Library receives a percentage of the purchase price of all items ordered through Amazon if the link below is utilizedConsider using the link below when ordering any type of merchandise (not just books) from Amazon.com.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Something to Consider

[click here to read article]
There was an article by Esther J. Cepeda in this morning's Springfield Republican on the Op-Ed page that should be required reading for the School Superintendent, IT Director, School Committee and Select Board members.  Town residents should read it as well to make sure that our limited financial resources are not squandered on high priced technology in our schools.

The closing message in this editorial "old-school methods such as high-quality instruction and hands-on experimentation must take precedence over the theory that today's children aren't capable of learning without the aid of fancy electronic devices".
_______________________________________________________

On a related note, I watched a CBS- 60 Minutes special this past Sunday (click here to view video) in which the use of i-Pads showed great promise in the development of improved communication skills and the education of autistic children.  

The Longmeadow School Department should consider deployment of the new i-Pad computer technology for specialized needs rather than broad implementation in all classrooms.

Tax Relief Sought for Senior Citizens

On October 20 a group of about 75 Longmeadow town residents (mostly senior citizens) listened to John Bowen, Chairman, Longmeadow Council on Aging at the Adult Center present the details of a new tax relief measure.  This measure is being drafted to help provide some tax relief for low income senior citizens in Longmeadow.


In attendance were Mark Gold- Chair, Select Board chair, John Fitzgerald- Member, School Committee Jonathan Fein- Chair, Board of Assessors and Brian Ashe- MA State Representative.  Below is a video clip of the presentation and Q/A provided by LCTV.


Bowen explained that the towns of Hamilton and Sudbury recently passed a tax relief measure (Means Tested Property Tax Relief Program) to supplement the existing statewide Circuit Breaker program.

Under the Circuit Breaker program (click to view details) property owners and renters who meet income limits and other eligibility limits can receive a check from the state up to a maximum of $980 (2011).  Home owners may claim a refund if they paid more than 10% of their total income for real estate taxes, including water and sewer debt charges. Renters can count 25% of their rent as real estate tax payments.

Currently there are 353 Longmeadow residents that qualify for the Massachusetts circuit breaker, not all are receiving the maximum amount.

The Sudbury tax relief measure which Mr. Bowen's group plans to model provides a refund from the town of Longmeadow for property owners who qualify for the Circuit Breaker program + property taxes of greater than $5000. The refund as proposed are as follows:
  • Up to $980 for town residents with incomes of $25K or less 
  • Up to $500 for town residents with income of $25K- $35K 
  • $0 for town residents with incomes greater than $35K.
According to Mr. Bowen this tax relief measure would cost the town approximately $150,000 - $175,000/ year.

The Town of Sudbury appears to be very proactive in providing guidance and assistance to senior citizens in these difficult economic times.  Here is a link to Tax Relief Guide for Sudbury Seniors a publication that Longmeadow should consider publishing as well.

The COA group plans to work with the Select Board, Board of Assessors and others to move forward with this tax relief proposal with tentative plans to include it as an article on the Annual Town Meeting warrant in early May.  Mark Gold suggested that because this property tax refund may end up as a budget line item that work needs to move forward quickly since the FY2013 budget planning process is about to start.

Note:  The Sudbury experience with their tax relief measure included a Town Meeting warrant article, approval by voters at a town-wide election and then approval by the Massachusetts Attorney General's office.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

IT Capital Spending- Longmeadow's #1 Challenge

Between 2007 and the Fall of 2013 when the new high school is opened, Longmeadow will have spent over $2 million on Information Technology (IT) related infrastructure.  This spending is not in the planning stages... This money has already been approved by taxpayers and/or Select Board/ School Committee and does not count any new IT program spending that will be developed.

Late last year, the IT dept for the town was consolidated under the School Department with a single operating budget for FY12 and a proposal for its own capital budget separate from town government.  During the past 9+ months, approximately $368K of IT related expenditures were either appropriated by individual warrant articles at the Annual Town Meeting or individual line item transfers by the School Committee and Select Board.  For details of this IT spending read the Longmeadow Buzz article- Future IT Spending- Can we afford it?

The upcoming Fall Special Town Meeting on November 8 includes two new IT related warrant spending requests- $50K for "computer replacements" and $15K for "building wireless".

My concern is that this IT spending has not been prioritized (or vetted) by the Capital Planning Committee and is being spent without regard to its affordability or urgency relative to the other capital needs of our town.  Contrary to what some elected officials and town residents believe, we are not a community of unlimited resources.


Given the technology vision of our school superintendent for IPads and eventual 1:1 student/ computer learning, our IT spending will likely grow significantly over the next 3-5 years and we will need a means to "ration" our finite resources.



I took the opportunity last night at the Select Board's first "Open Forum" to express my concerns and to hear feedback from the Select Board.  Below is a video clip of this discussion courtesy of LCTV.


This is an important issue and all town residents should be concerned and ask our elected Select Board members to have all IT and other town related capital spending "prioritized and vetted together" by our established Capital Planning Committee.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Christine Swanson will leave Longmeadow Select Board

Christine Swanson, Select Board Vice-Chair announced at tonight's meeting her family's decision to leave Longmeadow and move to Savannah, GA. for business and personal reasons. She will continue to be a Select Board member until plans finalize but expected to leave Longmeadow by the end of the year. Ms. Swanson resigned her position as Vice-Chair at tonight's meeting and Paul Santaniello was elected as the new SB vice-chair.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Flawed School Committee Judgments

There was a discussion of FY2013 capital needs at the School Committee meeting last Monday night (Sept. 26).  The current year capital needs list (FY2012) included replacement of the Williams Middle School lockers (cost = $70K) at a very high priority.  At last week's meeting Michael Clark recommended to the SC that this locker upgrade again be ranked at a high priority behind the upgrade/replacement of the fire alarm/security systems at GMS and WMS (#1 priority) and upgrade of the WMS ventilation system (#2 priority).  School Superintendent Marie Doyle strongly supported the high priority ranking of the WMS locker upgrade.

Interestingly enough, Adrian Phaneuf, Facilities Director- who reports to Mike Wrabel voiced quite a different opinion as to the need to position this locker upgrade as a high priority capital project.  Listen to short video clip from this same meeting (courtesy of LCTV) for his thoughts.



Question: Does the School Committee (including the School Superintendent) even listen to our town professionals who have greater expertise to make these judgments?

Note: I have to congratulate Mr. Fitzgerald in asking whether or not the window upgrade at WMS for energy savings and improved student comfort should be ranked higher than the locker upgrade project.

This is not the first time that the SC and Ms. Doyle have been involved with factually inaccurate assessments of conditions at WMS and GMS.  The Select Board and School Committee had lengthy discussions in January 2011 when "updated" SOIs were being submitted to the MSBA (see related Buzz posts).

With such faulty judgment, I seriously question some of the conclusions and recommendations made by Mr. Clark and Ms. Flynn during the earlier Middle School Study presentation on the condition of WMS and GMS.  Given the above inaccurate assessment concerning the WMS lockers and the earlier SOI submission episode, I question the objectives and motives of the SC.  Are we simply setting up to go through the same "playbook" as was used for the high school?  Make the conditions appear to be as deplorable as possible so that residents will be easily convinced that we have no choice but to tear down and rebuild new.

On Monday night, at a joint meeting of the SB and SC two new members will be appointed to the School Committee.  Hopefully, the selected candidates will bring some improved fact gathering and decision making skills to the School Committee.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

"Game On" for the new Middle School(s)

When someone says 'Game on!', it means that they are accepting a challenge or ready to get something done.

This is certainly what I think that I heard at this week's School Committee meeting (9/26/11).  Committee members, Michael Clark and Laurie Flynn presented the results of their study this summer to review the conditions of the two middle schools and to recommend a forward action plan for the School Committee.

Below is a video clip- courtesy of LCTV with their presentation as well as the SC's followup discussion.



Here are some highlights and comments from this presentation:
  1. Both Glenbrook and Williams Middle Schools are in deplorable condition with poorly functioning heating, plumbing and ventilation systems, alarm systems + other issues. Both schools were built more than 40 years ago GMS-1967 and WMS- 1959) and are at the end of their useful lives (Where have I heard that before?)
  2. Both schools do not measure up to 21st century learning standards- size of classroom, inadequate science labs and facilities, physical layout, etc. (Where have I heard that before?)
  3. GMS is not ADA compliant because of its multiple levels and the use of a "frightening" contraption for moving wheelchair bound students is not ideal. (Where have I heard that before?)
  4. Locker rooms at WMS are in very "rough shape". (Where have I heard that before?)
Below are the main recommendations that were presented...
  1. A new Middle School Working Group should be formed with 12 participants including 2 SC members, 1 Select Board member, Town Manager, Town Facilities Manager, School Superintendent, both Asst. School Superintendents, GMS + WMS principals and 2 town residents.  This group will be charged to develop a strategic plan for fixing both middle schools.  Because this "working group" is not an official committee or board it will not be required to post meeting notices or minutes.

  2. The two middle school SOI's should not be updated and resubmitted this year.
    Both Mr. Clark and Ms. Flynn encouraged the SC to use the Middle School Working Group's effort to help build "political will".  They both felt that there was not strong enough support to undertake another large school building project just as the tax impact of the new high school project was going to start (see Longmeadow Taxes- Part II).
My reactions:
  1. This "working group" proposal sounds very similar to the School Building Committee.  The recommendation seems like it is trying to "jump start" the whole feasibility process without any official sanctioning.  The town cannot afford to commit the efforts of all these town employees to a "working group".

  2. The SC and SB should put together a joint taskforce to look at the all of the town's infrastructure needs- not just those that are school related so it can develop and properly support a prioritized list of projects.

  3. Hopefully, the SC and school administration will not embrace the same tactics as those used to gain support for the new high school in which normal maintenance and updates were deferred for many years.
    Example: If (as Ms. Flynn reported) the current locker room space at WMS is in such deplorable condition, the WMS principal should submit work orders to fix it.  It is amazing how appearance can be improved with simple relatively low cost repairs (paint, floor replacement, etc.).

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Lucky to be in Longmeadow

The article below entitled Lucky to be in Longmeadow written by Alex Grant appeared in the September 22 edition of the Longmeadow News and is reprinted here with permisssion of the author and thanks to the Longmeadow News.
__________________________________________________________________
My wife and I read this article and as parents and now grandparents we could visualize the situation quite vividly.  This article is a great commentary on the excellent work provided everyday by our Longmeadow Police and Fire Departments.  My wife and I have been lucky to never have been put in the traumatic situation as Mr. Grant and his wife recently experienced.  We are very happy for the Grant family that things worked out very well.
__________________________________________________________________

If you are lucky, you will live in Longmeadow, you will pay your taxes, and you will never use the police and fire services.  You will pay for their salaries and their offices, you will fund their equipment and supplies, their gasoline and their buildings.  You will help to pay tens of thousands of dollars for fire trucks and ambulances you will barely see, the years will go by, and these fine pieces of machinery will fall into obsolescence, and they will be replaced for still more money.  And you will pay for it all, but you will be lucky.  You will be lucky if you never call 911, and you will be lucky if the police and fire professionals never have to come to your house.

But if you do need to call 911, and you live in Longmeadow, you will still be pretty lucky.  That is what I learned a week ago when my scariest moment as a parent came to pass.  My two year old son had been having a bit of a fever, some sort of viral infection that kids get all the time, we supposed.  My wife and I gave him some Tylenol, his temperature came down, and pretty soon, he was rampaging about the house.            

Later in the afternoon, he seemed a little lethargic, and his forehead felt a little warm.  Another dose of Tylenol, a bath, and early bedtime seemed in order.  As my wife was washing him in the tub, rinsing his hair, he suddenly slumped forward.  She grabbed him, wrapped him in a towel, and yelled down to me to call 911.

I scrambled to find the cordless phone, which I located quickly, thank God.  9-1-1, ring, ring, ring, and the dispatcher was on the line.  I was talking to the lady, and I could see my son, slumped over, in his mother's arms, out of it.  The dispatcher got the most essential information from me, and then she told me she was going to send EMS right away.  The dispatcher returned to gather more information.                                                                            

Meanwhile, my wife and I were freaking out.  My son was becoming more limp and lethargic.  All I could think was that if he stays awake he won't die.  We rushed downstairs to the front porch, to be there when the paramedics arrived.  And then his eyes rolled back in his head, his face took on a bluish tint, and my wife started screaming, "he's not breathing!"  Is this how you lose a child?  How long can a kid not breathe before he is gone for good?

Remembering my Boy Scout training from way back, I took my son and tried to listen for breathing.  But it is all well and good to say to listen for breathing, but when events are racing by and your wife is screaming, one cannot tell, or at least, I could not tell.  So I tried to blow in his mouth, assuming he was not breathing; I remembered the instructors saying how a couple of breaths is often all it takes for CPR to work.  Again, I could not tell if it was working, and the truth is, I was useless in this situation, and all I could really do is wait for the professionals to come.

The police officer was the first arrive, and he grabbed my son, and what a relief it was.  There is no way he can die now, I thought.  The officer could tell right away that yes, our limp little guy was breathing.  EMS came about 20 seconds later, put an oxygen mask on, and my son quickly "pinked up," as the paramedics said.  I got in the back of the ambulance, expecting a mad dash to Baystate, but the paramedics took the time to get everything set and stabilized.  The moment of danger and our worst fears were over.

We went to Baystate emergency.  At first, we thought it was a seizure brought on by a spike in the fever, but the doctor finally said there had been no seizure.  It was all the fever, and my son probably never was in mortal danger.  He quickly bounced back; in fact, my son had rallied to the point where he gave a high-five to the paramedics when they left.

We were lucky that day.  My wife and I stared into the abyss, and then we were pulled back into the daylight where 2 year olds do not die but live on to make merry mischief.  It was like waking up from a bad dream, and it was Longmeadow's police and fire fighters who made it all OK, or at least that's how it seemed.  They cared for my son, they even had a little stuffed animal in the ambulance for the ride to the hospital.  They consoled and explained everything to my wife.  Heck, someone even walked our dog, probably knowing that's just the thing hysterical people stress out about on the way to the hospital.

What else can I say?  Thank you to the guys who responded.  You were there when we needed you.  And if we are really lucky, we will never need you again, but we will sleep easier at night knowing that you can handle an emergency when it arises.

Alex J. Grant is a lawyer living in Longmeadow.  His email address is alex.grant68@yahoo.com.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Longmeadow Property Taxes- Part II

This past February I researched historical property taxes for Longmeadow and compared them to the surrounding towns of East Longmeadow, Hampden and Wilbraham.  These results showed that Longmeadow has had significantly higher property taxes for the past 20 years vs. all of these surrounding towns.

This past week, information regarding a second bond ($17.5 million) that will be issued by Longmeadow in mid-October for the remainder of the required $44.1 million financing was presented to the Select Board.  This second bond will have a duration of 20 years at an interest rate estimated at 3.65%.

With this information I have now projected Longmeadow property taxes for the next 10 years (--> 2020).  These projections include both the allowable 2.5% increase and the financing costs for the new high school.   There are no additional capital projects (e.g., new DPW facility) or operational overrides included with these projections.
Click chart to enlarge
For the average property owner (assessment = $351K), taxes will increase from $6,584 (FY2012) --> $8,824- an increase of 37.5%It should be noted that 27.1% of this increase is related to the 2.5% annual increase that is allowed by law without an override.

Individual property owners can take the projected mil rates ($/$1000) + their current assessed values (see Vision Appraisal Database) to estimate their future taxes.

The official FY2012 mil rate will be established in December so the first steps of the LHS financing impact will not be observed until the 3Q (due Feb 1, 2012) and 4Q (due May 1, 2012) tax bills are issued.

It should be noted that these projected numbers are not official and are subject to change as the specifics of the actual school project bond issuance are finalized.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Now that the dust has settled....

During the past couple of weeks, there has been some pretty harsh words spoken by Select Board chair Mark Gold about the School Committee's manipulation of the budget.   School Committee chair Jennifer Jester voiced her displeasure of these remarks during comments of the September 12 SC meeting.  A video clip of Mr. Gold's comments were posted in a previous Buzz posting.  Below is a LCTV video clip of Ms. Jester's comments....



In Ms. Jester's remarks she states that "the budget is managed in "a transparent and open manner so that all residents are aware when line items are changed".   This was certainly not the case with regard to the new Superintendent's salary. See two previous Buzz posts- Longmeadow Town Manager and School Superintendent Contracts (10/6/10) and Here We Go Again! (7/3/11) for details.

Until recently the only FY12 Budget that was posted on the Longmeadow School Department website was dated 2/11/11.  It was only recently on Sept 14 (through my request) that a more accurate FY12 budget dated 6/24/11 was posted for town residents to view.  However, this latest posted budget does not reflect recent salary increases for key school department administrative personnel.

It would be helpful for people interested in current school dept budget information if the some of the key salary line items were subdivided.... For example, High School Principal line item contains 4 FTE's.  It would be more "transparent and open" if the individual administrative salary items were listed and not grouped together particularly since such a large portion of the School Dept's budget is salary related.

The School Committee should post updated School Department budget information on the LPS website on a quarterly basis.

The School Committee as well as the Finance Subcommittee meeting minutes are not posted in a timely manner.  For example, the May-August SC minutes were not posted until September 7 and Finance Subcommittees May - August minutes were not posted until September 14..  See list of posted SC meeting minutesThe Operations Subcommittee does not post meeting minutes.

I would recommend that meeting minutes of both the SC and the Operational/ Financial Sub-committees be posted as they are approved, not 3 months later.

The Select Board does post minutes on the town website but not in a timely manner- the last set of SB posted minutes were for the June 28 meeting.  It should be noted that the Select Board Operations and Finance Subcommittees do not post meeting minutes on the town website. The Select Board needs to do better.

I do want to commend one earlier action by Rob Aseltine when he initiated as Chair the posting of all information relevant to SB meetings before the meetings take place- here is the link to this information.  These documents particularly those containing budget information are very useful when watching meetings.  The School Committee should consider a similar initiative.

The SC and SB need to work together- not against each other and both should strive to operate in an "transparent and open manner".  There is still room for both groups to improve.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Another SC Candidate Provides Answers

Before the joint SC-SB interview session for the two vacant SC seats on September 12, I invited the eight candidates to provide answers to four questions.

Hal Etkin has already provided his answers in a previous post.

In this Buzz posting James Desrochers provides his answers ...

I would like to preface all of my answers below with the perspective that if I were to be selected as a member of the school committee my first object is to gain an in depth understanding of the issues and challenges of our school system. This knowledge that I gain will in all likelihood modify my thoughts and therefore the answers I have provided below.

 1.  What is the best way to improve the quality of education in our schools?

Having had my daughter graduate from the Longmeadow school system and currently having my son in high school I feel the school system does a fine if not excellent job of education in many areas. However as in everything there is opportunity to improve. I believe the following actions would improve upon the current high level of education our students receive.
  • Strengthen our ties between the high school and local colleges. The focus should be on mentoring and guidance to individual students and clubs.  
  • Strengthen the ties between the high school and middle schools for the same purpose.  I would like to see the current high school club process strengthened. They provide a key opportunity to create excitement with the students and link what they are learning in class to fun and exciting activities.  We need to take more advantage of the Science Technology Math and Engineering (STEM) money available to help students explore areas in math and science.  
  • We need to continue to fund and build our music program. With my whole family involved in music I have found that it creates excitement and creativity of thinking that otherwise may be missed.  Ensure that the physical facilities provide an environment that teachers and students feel positive about.   
  • We need to create a clear vision on where our educational system is going which will allow our entire community to rally behind the vision to move forward. 
2. What is the biggest challenge the school district faces, and how would you try to solve? 

Given the economic times we are in the challenge of balancing the needs of the teachers, parents and community while delivering a quality education is one of the biggest challenges that I see. I would work with all the stakeholders to develop plans forward that create the value we want to deliver for our community. This isn’t a silver bullet for this type of effort. It requires working together and compromising where needed to create a plan that everyone can support and work toward.

3. What is the attribute(s) you bring to the board that should cause School Committee/Select Board member to vote for you?

I am an energetic person with a great deal of experience in the corporate world. I am now in a position to use my energy and skills gained over many years to help the school committee address the challenges it faces and add value. I believe that my desire to participate in the process of clearly understanding the challenges we face in providing the best education for our children and my willingness to work as a team member to create solutions is key. My background in leading and participating on teams, large and small, to create solutions to significant challenges in the engineering environment will help me provide value to the board and the town.

4. If appointed to the School Committee, name two priorities you'll bring to the position over the next 9 months? 

I will focus on is gaining a deep understanding of the many challenges in front of us. I believe that gaining an in depth understanding of the challenges will allow me to add value to the committee, school system and community.While I am working on learning as defined above I will work with the stakeholders in addressing the biggest challenge that I see today which is delivering value in today’s economic environment as previously stated. 
____________________________________________ 

The remaining six SC candidates who have not as yet participated are invited to submit their answers for posting on the Buzz prior to the SC/SB meeting on October 3 during which the two vacancies will be filled.

These two appointments to the School Committee (2 of 7 members on the committee) will be very important to the future of our town.  These two new SC members will likely be casting deciding votes on a number of important decisions over the next 9 months.   

I would encourage all town residents to make their choices known to School Committee and Select Board members.  Select Board email addresses can be found on its webpage

School Committee member official email addresses are as follows:
jjester@longmeadow.k12.ma.us
jfitzgerald@longmeadow.k12.ma.us
awray@longmeadow.k12.ma.us
mclark@longmeadow.k12.ma.us
lflynn@longmeadow.k12.ma.us

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

School Committee Candidates

On Monday, September 12, 8 candidates were interviewed for the two vacant seats on the Longmeadow School Committee in a joint session of the Select Board and the SC.

Below are photos of the candidates who participated.
I listened to this 2+ hour session and found many of the questions- particularly those from current SC members- focused upon asking the question as to whether or not the candidate supported education in Longmeadow at whatever cost.  Questions included asking whether or not the candidate was in favor of Proposition 2½ overrides or whether or not the candidate supported the new high school project. Answers that were tempered with economic reality were in some cases greeted with obvious disappointment and framed to suggest that the candidate was against quality education.  It's interesting that one of the vacant SC seats was caused by a job loss and subsequent relocation and one of the candidates applying for the position was also affected by a recent job loss.

A number of these questions/ answers were captured and can be replayed below.


The School Committee clearly needs a change in membership to better balance the fiscal responsibilities between the education needs of the child and the needs of our town.  After listening to the questions/ answers during this interview session, it is quite clear that the voting for these appointments is setting up to be along Democrat/ Republican party lines even though SC Chair Jester stated during these interviews that the SC itself is strictly non-partisan.

From what I heard the top choices that would improve this fiscal balance would be to appoint Jeremy Powers and Gerard Kiernan to the vacancies on the School Committee.  Both individuals are strong candidates with very different skills and knowledge and would clearly strengthen the School Committee.  I urge all SB + SC members to make their candidate selections based upon what's best for our town.

I ask all town residents to watch the full replay on LCTV and then to email, phone, Tweet, Facebook, etc. all of the Longmeadow SC + SB members with their two choices. Appointments to the two vacant seats will be made in another joint SB/SC meeting on October 3.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

9/11 Longmeadow Remembers Memorial Event

Here is the video produced by LCTV for the 9/11 Longmeadow Remembers event on the Town Green- 9/11/11.



Sunday, September 11, 2011

School Committee Candidates Answer Questions

Below is a summary of the candidates seeking an appointment to one of the two vacancies on the Longmeadow School Committee.  They will be interviewed at a joint Select Board/ School Committee tomorrow night (Sept 12) starting at 7 PM.  The interviews will be broadcast live on LCTV-12. The two appointments are currently scheduled to be made at a second joint SB/SC meeting on October 3.

School Committee Candidate
Resident
Occupation
Applying?
Charles Gebron
45 yrs

*
James Cass
15 yrs
Teacher
1
Gerard Kiernan
16 yrs
Dir., Business Operations
1 + 2
Jeremy Powers
1 yr
Attorney
1 + 2
Dan Zwirko
21 yrs
Legislative Aide
1 + 2
Owen Humphries
17 yrs
Retired- Project Manager
1 + 2
Diane Nadeau
23 yrs
Local Business Owner
2
Hal Etkin
10 yrs
Attorney
2
James Desrochers
27 yrs
Local Business Owner
2

There are 5 applicants for the School Committee vacancy #1 and 7 applicants for the School Committee vacancy #2.
*Rev. Deacon Gebron unofficially informed LongmeadowBuzz that he was withdrawing his application.

In an effort to provide town residents as well as School Committee/ Select Board members with a better knowledge of who the candidates are and why they should be appointed, last week I asked each candidate to provide answers to a series of four questions.  Only one candidate (Hal Etkin) elected to share his answers which are shown below.  Hopefully, during the interview process the other candidates who decided to not participate will be able to share their answers.

Hal Etkin's responses

  1. What is the best way to improve the quality of education in our schools?
I would investigate the possibility of creating a system among the teachers and schools in which each is rewarded based upon the students’ academic testing and performance.  Teachers, guidance counselor and administrators who are exceeding performance objectives should be noted and compensated accordingly.

  1. What is the biggest challenge the school district faces, and how would you try to solve it?
Fiscal management and accountability.  The School Committee should constantly seek ways to save money.  Many of the citizens in the community live on fixed or reduced incomes.  Governmental officials must work hard to save money in this difficult economy.  The school budget is one of the biggest expenditures to the town.

  1. What is the attribute(s) you bring to the board that should cause School Committee/Select Board members to vote for you?
I have been told that I work well in a team environment.  I am also a good listener.  As a school committee member, I think the ability to listen to and work well with others on a committee is extremely important in getting things done quickly and efficiently.  In addition, we are the proud parents of a student in the system and I have experience in teaching and education.

  1. If appointed to the School Committee, name two priorities you'll bring to the position over the next 9 months.
Fiscal management and accountability.  Although these two issues are very important to me, I also want to listen to and consider the priorities of other committee members and Longmeadow residents. 

These two appointments to the School Committee (2 of 7 members on the committee) will be very important to the future of our town.  These two new SC members will likely be casting deciding votes on a number of important decisions over the next 9 months.  Let's hope that our elected SB/SC members avoid political squabbling and appoint two qualified people that will protect the interests of all town residents.