Saturday, March 13, 2010

Longmeadow Residents Speak Out

The public forum last Tuesday night (March 9) at Longmeadow HS on the proposed FY11 budget was a chance for town residents to provide some guidance to the Select Board as they make the necessary final FY11 budget cuts. At this meeting town residents provided balanced feedback citing the importance of schools, library, parks and recreation programs, senior center, police/ fire.... not wanting cuts from any of these important town programs.

Below are a couple of video clips (courtesy of LCTV) of comments made by town residents expressing their concern for cuts in various programs. [A web rebroadcast of the entire public forum is posted on LCTV's website.]

The first video shows town resident Jamie Cass- a Springfield teacher commenting on the town’s outstanding Parks and Recreation program and the Storrs Library and asks that the Select Board not cut funds to either program.

The second video is town resident Irene Madden- a career school librarian and Storrs Library board member overviewing all of the many programs provided by the Children’s Library staff.

The third video clip shows town resident Saul Finestone appealing to the Select Board not to cut the Longmeadow Adult Center budget because of all the important programs that it provides for senior citizens in our town.


I think that it's important to understand that there have been many more cuts proposed than will likely be needed to create a balanced FY11 budget. The ongoing budget discussions involve identifying potential budget cuts and then prioritizing them.

The latest information yesterday from the state legislature recommended that towns prepare for a 4% maximum cut in local aid. This should provide some relief for the FY11 budget and allow the Select Board to restore some of the proposed budget cuts.

The Select Board has another goal and that is to create a "sustainable budget" so the current fiscal problems do not reappear year after year. "Our expenditures are too high and the rate of increase too great to be sustainable and must be reduced." This message is repeated at virtually every SB meeting since November. It will be very interesting to see how budget process ends up... it is the not the first time that our town leaders have tried to tackle the imbalance of expenditures vs. revenue growth.

It is not too late to provide your inputs to the Select Board regarding proposed program cuts in the FY11 budget. The Select Board will meet again on March 15 to discuss the budget and there is a public comment period at the beginning of the meeting.

On March 22 the SB will approve the final FY11 budget (town + schools) to be presented at the Annual Town Meeting on May 11.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A New High School…Finally

I am a retired music teacher who lives in Longmeadow. My great grandfather, grandfather, and father taught me what they knew best, the building trade. They built homes featured in Better Homes and Gardens for Mike Wallace and Ginger Rogers. They also built churches and schools for more than 80 years.

Longmeadow High School was built nearly 60 years ago. In response to Leo Vartanian’s Reminder article, a school is not at all like a personal residence. It’s building, design, maintenance and use are all different. Most folks today don’t spend 60 years in a home. A school facility plays host to thousands of students, as well as hundreds of parents and community events. Many school buildings are seeing an expanded role for the future.

I came to Longmeadow in 1973 and entered a “newly renovated” room. My dad and I looked at the work and contacted officials to have many things changed or corrected. Unfortunately little was ever substantively changed and I worked in this facility for the next 35 years. For example, a door designed for the purpose of moving the piano on and off the stage was 2” too small. The crumbling asbestos covering a pipe in the music lab would stay in place until 8 years ago when a parent finally demanded its removal.

During my tenure, the music program grew to number almost half of the high school population. We were recognized with several Grammy and other awards for excellence. Our auditorium remains one of the poorest in the region from every perspective. It has only 614 seats and a small stage that doesn’t really accommodate some of our groups. Our local fire department has asked us to limit the enthusiast attendance at our concerts because the facility is too small it and can create an unsafe situation. The inadequate ventilation can be louder than the music and therefore is best when turned off. Our seats, finally recovered by the Hampden County Jail inmates a few years back, still feature an “individual broken spring massage” which make them difficult to sit in for very long. The lighting was finally replaced when a school committee person’s daughter was nearly electrocuted. The new lighting board was replaced with the cheapest available board and only functions nominally.

As a past Department Chair and Coordinator of Music grades K-12, I also respect the fact that the other departments have similar stories to tell. The science lab situation is one good example.

Longmeadow real estate has maintained its value for many reasons, not the least of which has been the reputation of the schools. The excellent teachers, motivated students, and successful parents are responsible for this continued success, despite the conditions of the facilities, books and equipment. Successful private industry looks to improve its tools and facilities to maximize the results. Shouldn’t education do the same? Imagine the new standards that we could establish at the high school with better conditions.

Each year we are told of economic hard times and uncertainty. This has been the consistent story since 1981, although it has not always been true. This year it is the truth and the town’s operating budget reflects that fact. The music department’s string program was reduced last year and may be eliminated in this budget. Is this the price of excellence?

The new school is a capital improvement that will be paid for over a long period of time and contribute to our community for the next 60 years. It is fiscally wise to separate your yearly operating budget from long-range capital improvements. I also understand that a negative vote on this school will put us at the end of the reimbursement line for as much as ten years. Can Longmeadow afford that? Mr. Vartanian suggests that we consider spending the money as though it is our own, and I agree. We sent this money to Boston in our taxes and fees. Let’s be smart and reclaim our money though the 30 to 40 million-dollar reimbursement a new school will yield. Vote for the new school that our kids and town both need and deserve.

Peter Thomsen
Longmeadow, MA