|By Chris Maza|
LONGMEADOW At the May 20 Select Board meeting, the Select Board agreed to direct Town Manager Stephen Crane to negotiate with the School Committee in an effort to recoup some of the $353,000 in additional funding to the school budget that was approved at the Annual Town Meeting on May 7.
Select Board Chair Paul Santaniello's proposal, which four of the five members the board accepted, stated that any educational funding from the state that exceeds the anticipated levels used when developing the budget should be used to offset the difference between the Select Board's zero percent increase budget, which was rejected by residents, and the actual amount awarded to the schools.
Selectman Marie Angelides was not present for the vote.
"According to the Senate Ways and Means budget, there will be additional money for Chapter 70 for schools," Santaniello said. "There's also potential for increases in special [education] money. That was not anticipated when we were doing the budget."
Santaniello went on to say that it was his belief that the $353,000 increase represented the School Department's needs and that belief was justified by the fact that the majority of the School Committee voted against a second proposed amendment to the budget on the Town Meeting floor to increase the school budget by $706,000.
He later stated, "What I'm looking for is a common-sense dialogue ... If revenue comes in and there's an additional $170,000 and I'm making numbers up in Chapter 70 money, then I think it's common sense that there was a need for $353,000 [and] that $170,000 should come back to the general fund to offset that increase."
Selectman Mark Gold originally offered a different method for getting some of that money back.
"I see this process being [that] we go to fall Town Meeting to balance the budget and one of the things we do is say [that] the School Committee got an additional 'X' number of dollars from Chapter 70 and therefore, we're going to change the raise and appropriate [that amount] for the School Committee for an equal amount," he said. "That way we're not over-taxing the citizens of Longmeadow."
Santaniello replied that he didn't believe the Select Board had done anything like that before, to which Gold said, "We haven't, but maybe we should."
Selectman Mark Barowsky agreed that the conversations should be had and an agreement should be reached prior to the receipt of the additional funding.
"The problem that I see in the short-term is that historically the School Committee has revised their budget in June giving additional raises to people in the system that was not proposed in the budget that got passed in May, but was in anticipation of the additional revenues that were coming to them," he said. "You've got to have an agreement done pretty soon before they start on that path again."
Santaniello also addressed assertions made by some, including Select Board candidate Alex Grant at the Annual Town Meeting, that there was no capital plan.
Santaniello held up a large binder labeled "FY2011-2015 Capital Report" and said, "This is a five-year capital plan."
The Reminder reported on March 14 that former Acting Town Manager Barry Del Castilho said in an interview that there wasn't a capital plan, but one was being developed. Video on Longmeadow Cable Access Television (LCTV) also shows Del Castilho stating that there wasn't a capital plan.
"Our town manager actually stood up and pointed out that he believes, and I believe as well, that Barry was referring to there's no funding for the capital plan because if we were to use this capital plan and fund it, there would be no operating budget," he said.
Santaniello added that the capital plan is readily available to the public.
"If the person who stated those comments took a little more time and went to the town of Longmeadow website, they probably could have found the capital plan on there," he said.
Santaniello described it as a "rolling plan," explaining that as projects are completed, other projects are added.
He also addressed complaints regarding the Maple Road repaving project that was recently completed and what he said was a false statement that the project ended up costing the town more money due to the lengthy delay in its completion.
"It's disingenuous to tell people that Maple Road is a waste of money," he said. "You need to understand that project was in the hopper. It was done because of a need that the town had and it would have been done years earlier had we committed the funding to it instead of cutting the capital budget to fund the school budget over time."
Santaniello went on to say that confusion regarding these issues signify a larger issue for the community.
"Politically expedient statements, which get a nice round of applause at Town Meeting are nice. They make for good slogans and good advertisements, but what it does is it shows there is a definite lack of communication with the public and I think some of that is on us," he said. "We need to communicate this a little better to the public."
With that said, Santaniello urged the community to support funding for capital projects, calling the new high school a "shining example" of what the town can do when they put funding towards a town need.
"The problem with the rest of the capital is it's underground and you're not going to see it," he said. "But when you go to flush your toilet, turn on your lights, drink your water, you know it's there. And it has to be done ... We will be coming forward with you over the years to tell you why we need additional funding for that."
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