|By Chris Maza|
LONGMEADOW – The chairs of the Select Board and School Committee voiced optimism for the future after the first of what they hope will be a series of joint meetings.
The two governing bodies met on July 25 in the hopes of bridging some of the communication gaps that have become apparent in recent years and both Select Board Chair Marie Angelides and School Committee Chair Michael Clark said they walked away encouraged by the initial progress.
“I was very pleased,” Angelides said. “I think there was a lot of exchanging of very good ideas and new ideas and I see many things that we could look at as a next step in working together.”
Clark said the very fact that the boards were able to gather in a non-confrontational fashion was a “great first step.”
“I think just getting us in a room and getting us to talk is productive in and of itself,” he said. “I also think that because there were not stakes involved beyond what we were going to do in the future, I think it was productive in breaking down some of the barriers and walls we’ve put up around ourselves the last couple of years.”
Clark said that while there was an agenda for the meeting, it was largely casual and focused on areas in which both boards had interests.
“We had been planning it for some time and we really tried to make it as least specific as possible because historically, we don’t always get along so well,” he said. “We wanted to focus on areas where there was a great opportunity to collaborate and had very similar interests, such has how we improve services to residents and how we tackle some of the larger items coming down the pike like our infrastructure issues.”
The board members were split into four different groups “to tackle some of those headline topics such as joint projects, overlapping services and the sort of items and behaviors that made last year’s budget process not that easy,” Clark explained.
Both Angelides and Clark said one of the major focuses of the discussion was on the town’s buildings and capital needs. Clark said that while both have an interest in the topic, they are different and it was beneficial for the boards to have the opportunity to see both sides.
“I think both boards need to talk about how we want to approach these topics because we have very different ways of doing things and different interests given our specific roles in town government,” he said. “The School Committee has and continues to acknowledge that there are roads that need to be repaired and sewer lines that need to be replaced and a DPW [Department of Public Works] building that is pretty old at this point. But we want to know where do our middle schools and the rest of our school buildings fit into that?”
Addressing the DPW building, Angelides said the Select Board had planned a tour of the current site for Aug. 24 adding that she invited the School Committee to take part in that tour and also planned on inviting the Finance Committee.
Angelides also acknowledged that budgeting was discussed in an effort to smooth over the process and prevent conflicts like there have been recently between the Select Board and School Committee.
“One of the topics that was discussed was the budget process,” she said. “We didn’t discuss details of the upcoming budget, but more how we can improve the process this year and moving forward.”
Clark added that in addition to adjusting the process, giving the boards the opportunity to become better educated on and communicate about each other’s concerns and focuses could help make the budgeting process easier.
“I think a lot of the problem has to do with the fact that with some of these issues we’re just starting to talk about now like infrastructure, the School Committee was never at the table for those conversations. I’m grateful to Marie for including us in the process because I think it’s important,” he said. “The other side of that is the fact that a lot of the things that we do, such as special education, are things that people don’t have a really specific knowledge of and that’s one area in which we could do a much better job in educating the Select Board and residents.”
Angelides said a joint administrative meeting has been planned for August, which would include both chairs, Superintendent of Schools Marie Doyle and Town Manager Stephen Crane.
She added that the hope was to conduct another joint meeting for September.
“We have not set up a possible list of dates yet because first we want to sit down as chairs and also we want to plan that joint administrative meeting,” she said.
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