A Gap To Bridge

It is not unusual that during public discussions about the schools for there to be an undertone of “us versus them.” School committee members and school officials appear to feel they are at odds sometimes with town hall. Likewise, selectmen and other town officials appear to perceive the school system as an entirely separate body of government. We sensed this undertone in several Town Meeting discussions about school issues, particularly during debate of the special education stabilization fund.

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Some very good points were made that clarified the issue. A stabilization fund, any stabilization fund, should be set up to cope with expenses that are difficult to predict. And there was good discussion about whether there are or could be too many stabilization funds.

But in the middle of it, one Town Meeting member said funding of the special education stabilization fund should come out of the school budget. “Let’s keep the town and the school separate.” That statement was not an undertone but all-out adversarial sentiment bubbling to the surface.
This is not a healthy state of mind. No town department should be considered in competition with the rest of the town. The schools, the DPW, the police and fire departments are all assets to the town and should be viewed equally so.

It is understandable why separatist thinking exists: the town’s organization invites it. The superintendent of schools is somewhat on parity with the town manager, each overseeing about half of the town’s budget. Yet only the town manager reports to the selectmen and the schools

superintendent reports to the school committee.

We are not suggesting there should be a radical change in the town’s charter. Rather we would look to the selectmen and the school committee to find a way to close ranks. Or maybe it should be up to the town manager and schools superintendent to create better ties and communications. Either wayi it should be a public process.

The town and the schools are not separate. It is all “the town.” We are all “the town.”

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