Friday, March 14, 2008

Oh Dear

I just read the Town Manager’s post and am afraid she has not done much to reduce the controversy. While I am confident that she is doing a tough job as best and as sincerely as she can, I do have a problem with some of her comments here.

Ms. Crosbie writes, “I never committed to a level service budget for FY09.” Well, it may be true that Robin Crosbie, public administrator, made no such personal promise. However, her superiors, you know the actual policymakers known as the Select board, did make such a commitment when they voted to support the Budget Strategies Committee proposal on the override. One wonders who’s really in charge at Town Hall.

Ms. Crosbie also made clear that she was not cutting special education by more than $350,000, but rather was merely cutting the recommended school department budget by that amount. She went on to say that many departments would not get their requested amount for FY09. For this attitude we may have the Charter’s mandated consolidation to blame. Ms. Crosbie seems to think that the School Department is just another department under her charge. This is a very counterproductive perspective. The school budget goes through a transparent and rigorous process and is voted on by the elected policymakers known as the School Committee. The number given to the Town Manager by the School Committee is not simply another request from a town department. It is the recommendation of elected policymakers, which this year was strictly governed by the agreement reached by all three town boards – an agreement now being breached by the Select board’s chief administrator. If the Select board chooses to allow Ms. Crosbie to lead them around by the nose, that is their prerogative. The School Committee, however, is not so inclined.

Ms. Crosbie’s inappropriate intent to meddle with school budgeting and administration was even more egregiously on display later in her post where she had the audacity to question the administration of our Pupil Services department. She says parents and residents have shared their concerns about SPED with her and even recommends that an “outside management study” be considered to evaluate the way we provide special education services. WOW! Our pupil services and schools in general are run extremely well. I assume this ridiculous assertion is an attempt to deflect some of the criticism being leveled at the non-school departments in town.
On the bright side, Ms. Crosbie does demonstrate an appreciation of the big picture when she writes:
As for the FY09 budget - we need to quit thin-slicing the words "level service budget". Let's face it, the proposed FY09 School and town budgets are not level service budgets. We need to look at the big picture. The Long Range Plan (remember that Plan?) identifies a number of economic development opportunities. As I said at my forum, economic development in Longmeadow must be a deliberate and intentional activity. Economic development is a school issue - the schools will be the primary beneficiaries in terms of new revenues - and school officials need to get behind this.”

This is all true, however, it in no way justifies cutting the school budget one thin dime because it is the School Committee that has routinely taken the lead in Longmeadow when it comes to acknowledging revenue needs and pushing for more responsible tax policy! This is particularly frustrating this year because it was the School Committee that got out on the street and sold the override that has kept us all afloat and made such economic development opportunities possible. As she herself admitted, without that override, we’d be in much deeper trouble. The School Committee unanimously supported that override. The School Committee has produced a wonderful strategic plan. The School Committee and the Superintendent are doing a considerable more professional and effective job than is being done on the non-school side of town. I suggest Ms. Crosbie not bite the hand that feeds, or question the competence of the most well managed department in town. Without the leadership of the School Committee she would be up a creek without a paddle. Remember, the override proposal only passed the Select board by one vote. Imagine where we’d be if Dr. Grady and Mr. Santaniello had succeeded in killing the override proposal.

In conclusion, Ms. Crosbie should not force the School Committee to take back the money she cut on the Town Meeting floor. I think town hall and the Select board have been embarrassed enough recently and should not have to be taken to task once again in front of the whole town. As someone who trains town administrators in Connecticut, I can tell you that town managers are often not particularly well suited to oversee school departments. If the charter has given our town manager too much authority over the schools it may have unintentionally produced a “tail wagging the dog” scenario that is not in the town’s best interests. I think it’s time to take a closer look at the Charter and its results to date. Clearly, unintended consequences have already reared their ugly heads.

Jerold Duquette

Some corrections and comments about the FY09 Budget

All I can say today is, thank goodness the weekend is here. It has been a rough week for all those involved in this budget process. We should be grateful, because of the November override, that we aren't wresting with the terrible shortfalls and decisions facing Greenfield or Northampton. Instead Longmeadow is embroiled in a situation of harsh words.

As a public official, I have become used to being mis-quoted. However, even my harshest critic from the past will tell you, as he has others, that I always told the truth, even if it wasn't what he wanted to hear. So here are two truths that need to be said:

The first truth is that I never committed to a level service budget for FY09, despite written assertions to the contrary by others. In fact, I have been quite open about some unaddressed needs in the town and identified these in writing last summer.

The second truth is that I am not cutting special education. I only make a recommendation on the bottom-line number for the school budget. Any reductions in special education will be a choice made by the School Committee. I want parents of children with special needs to understand that.

Now that I am on the topic of special education, let me say that residents, including parents of special needs students, have expressed concerns to me about the effectiveness and costs of the special education program. No one doubts or disputes the intentions and commitment of the school department to serving these students and families. But it may be time for the town to fund an outside managment study of the organization and effectiveness of pupil services. System assessments, whether of human or capital infrastructure, can be very helpful in seeing the big picture, developing specific remedies and recommending long-term planning and funding. Such an assessment would be extremely helpful, as the recent water and sewer system studies have been.

As for the FY09 budget - we need to quit thin-slicing the words "level service budget". Let's face it, the proposed FY09 school and town budgets are not level service budgets. We need to look at the big picture. The Long Range Plan (remember that Plan?) identifies a number of economic development opportunities. As I said at my forum, economic development in Longmeadow must be a deliberate and intentional activity. Economic development is a school issue - the schools will be the primary beneficiaries in terms of new revenues - and school officials need to get behind this. We need the internal resources to pursure opportunities - I can tell you that there are developers who want to come to Longmeadow, but we lack the resources to undertake process of zoning change and community engagement necessary to accomplish real economic develoment. My budget includes that resource.

On to consolidation - the schools and the town, as a result of the Charter, are now joined at the hip. If one partner falters, the other stumbles. The town now processes payroll and benefits for more than 400 school employees; pays school bills; handles purchasing and procurement of school services, goods, building and capital projects; maintains school grounds and fields; maintains school buildings and parking lots; manages school capital projects from design to completion. Every aspect of the finance operation principally benefits the funding and operation of the school department. It is time to understand that we are part of a system, that we are interconnected.

Here are some other things I really need to get off my chest:

I want to thank the School Committee for adopting the MUNIS format for the school budget. It has been the most intelligible budget I ever received from the schools. Although I thanked her once, I'll do it again - thank you, Jahn, for your work on this.

Also, I am pleased to be serving on the group helping to move the LHS building project forward. This group includes Paul Santaniello, Bobbby Barkett, Chris Swanson, Jahn hart and Larry Berte. I appreciate the collegial dynamic and the fact that we all leave our muddy budget-boots outside the door when we meet.

I am happy we have Tom Mazza on board as the school Business Director. With his help we are sorting through myriad financial issues and making progress.

And I am so excited to see so many capital building projects rolling along! (Thanks, Capital Planning Committee, Mike Wrabel and Adrian Phaneuf!). Am I the only one who gets excited about this? Especially all the work on the school buildings - I am thankful for DPW Director Mike Wrabel's focus on school projects and his personal involvement in improving athletic field maintenance. Mike Deary has been great to have on the team and his support of improving field maintenance has been truly appreciated.

So, you see - even at the end of a rough week - there is a lot of good news to report!

Post Script:

I declare Bryan Long town employee of the week! Bryan has been with the town since forever and still looks like a young guy. Last week, he literally stumbled on the mystery of half the town's unaccounted-for water. His discovery will save the town $100,000 in water charges in FY09. Great detective work, Bryan!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

FY09 Budget Forum- Questions/ Comments

Below is series of video clips of questions and comments from the Town Manager's FY09 Budget forum held on March 6 and is provided by LongmeadowBiz, LLC. Video segments used for these clips were provided through the courtesy of Longmeadow Community TV and is gratefully acknowledged.

Monday, March 10, 2008

School budget cuts are not level service

As I read and understand it, the town manager is asking the School Committee to cut their budget for FY2009. This is unfair to the schools and to the children.

This is not what was agreed to by the Finance Committee, the School Committee and the Select Board in September of 2007, when they agreed to put an override vote before the town on 6 November 2007.

The vote of the School Committee was unanimous to support the override. The Finance Committee vote was 5 to 1 in support.
The Select Board vote was 3 - 2. Grady and Santaniello voted "no".

Source: The Longmeadow News, 20 September 2007, page 1.

The voters voted approval of the override. It was close, but the override passed.

Here is the tabulation of that November vote.

Precinct A B C D E Total

Voters 1051 931 869 983 841 4675

Yes Voters 654 480 334 418 453 2339

% 62% 52% 38% 42% 54% 50.03% (Winner)

No Voters 397 451 535 564 388 2335

% 38% 48% 62% 58% 46% 49.95%

If we want to revisit that kind of division, the current proposal invites that level of conflict. People voted in good faith in November for the override because of the belief that it would provide a level service budget for the future.

A cut in the school budget is not a level service budget.

For further information, lets look at the record:

The Republican

Override passes by 4 votes

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

LONGMEADOW - Town officials clapped and cheered after learning that residents had approved - by just a four-vote margin - a $2.15 million Proposition 2½ override at yesterday's special Town Election.

"This is a great day for Longmeadow," said School Committee Chairman Geoffrey P. Weigand, who waited for the results at the Community House along with members from several boards. This is the third override the town has passed in 16 years.

Town Clerk Katherine Ingram said 40.65 percent of the 11,487 voters in town came out to vote.

In September the Select Board, School Committee and Finance Committee voted in favor of the override, which allows the town to raise property taxes above the annual 2½ percent limit set by state law.

During two public forums members from all of the boards told citizens that severe cuts would be made if the override did not pass.

Resident John J. Fitzgerald was part of the Friends of Longmeadow, a group of citizens gathered under a tent with signs reading "vote yes" and "support the override."

"This override will help maintain our quality of life," Fitzgerald, a retired teacher, said. "We have to pay to keep the level of services provided to the town."

The $2.15 million was an amount created this summer by the Budget Strategies Committee, which was made up of two members of the Finance Committee, two members of the School Committee, and two members of the Select Board.

The override will balance the fiscal 2008 and fiscal 2009 budgets. The money is also expected to fund some of the 2010 budget.

At a Nov. 1 town forum Select Board member William G. Scibelli said the town is $1.4 million in debt and is expected to show a deficit of $2.5 million next year and $3.3 million in 2010. The current budget totals $53.7 million.

Select Board Chairman Hal W. Haberman said he was glad that residents recognized the importance of the vote.

"Longmeadow is a great place to live," Haberman said. " This override will help us pay for the important services the town provides."

The money from the override will be allocated at a Town Meeting to be held at the high school Nov. 27.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

FY09 Budget Forum- March 6, 2008

Below is a video clip of the FY09 Budget presentation by Robin Crosbie, Longmeadow Town Manager. This clip is approximately 20 minutes in length. The best method for viewing is to print out the set of slides used by Ms. Crosbie because the details are difficult to read in the video. Due to a technical problem the first 10 minutes of the presentation are missing. Questions and comments will be posted during the followup Q/A will also be posted.

[Make sure that you "double click" on the viewer start button.] If problems are encountered with the above embedded video player, try clicking on the link below...

[This web broadcast of the Town Manager's FY 2009 Budget Report is provided by LongmeadowBiz, LLC. Video used for the broadcast was provided through the courtesy of Longmeadow Community TV and is gratefully acknowledged.]