Mashpee School Committee Withdraws From Meeting With Selectmen, FinCom
By: Michael C. Bailey
A meeting intended to address and perhaps resolve friction between town and school officials will proceed as planned, despite the absence of a key participant.
This week the Mashpee School Committee decided that it would not participate in a January 18 meeting between itself, the Mashpee Board of Selectmen, and the Mashpee Finance Committee—even though the meeting was requested by school committee Chairman Richard J. Bailey.
“I’m not surprised, to be quite frank,” Theresa M. Cook, chairman of the board of selectmen, said. “But I am extremely disappointed…I was hoping we could all talk face-to-face about what’s bothering them.”
“That’s not a surprise,” Town Manager Joyce M. Mason said when informed of the committee’s decision, “but it’s unfortunate…they don’t want us to air our differences in the newspaper, but they leave us no other option.”
Mr. Bailey yesterday sent out to members of the three invited committees an e-mail announcing the committee’s withdrawal from the meeting. The e-mail first cited the committee’s extremely busy meeting schedule over the next two weeks, which includes two public workshops on the Fiscal Year 2012 budget and a public hearing on the budget, and suggested re-scheduling the meeting to later this spring.
However, at Wednesday’s school committee meeting, scheduling issues were last on the list of school committee members’ criticisms.
Mr. Bailey pitched the idea of an inter-board meeting last month in an effort to defuse what he described this week as “this tension and this hostility” between the committees, much of that stemming from the Fiscal Year 2012 budget process.
The selectmen agreed and proposed the January 18 meeting, but Mr. Bailey immediately expressed concerns that the format was heading in a different direction than he had envisioned.
“It is my view that this meeting does not replace the one I proposed,” Mr. Bailey wrote in December in an e-mail to the town officials involved with the proposed meeting. “If I understand your direction [regarding the meeting on January 18], you are limiting this meeting to one that would clarify expectations, roles and procedures of the Selectmen, School Committee and Finance Committee.”
In that same e-mail, Mr. Bailey indicated the committee would attend the meeting and “will be prepared to discuss roles, responsibilities and procedures.”
Mr. Bailey said he then spoke to Ms. Cook about the meeting, which differed from his initial proposal. He said he asked of Ms. Cook, “Is it your intent that the meeting on the 18th replaces the meeting that we proposed and her answer was, ‘Yes, we don’t need your meeting. We’re going to do it this way.’ ”
“I personally very much want to meet with the selectmen in particular, and also with the finance committee, and I want to find a way to get the issues and the hostilities and the conflicts on the table and resolved successfully,” he said at this week’s school committee meeting. “Personally, I don’t think the meeting on the 18th serves that purpose.”
“I’m not sure I understand what the whole meeting is supposed to be,” committee member Kathy M. Stanley said, “and I’m certain that I don’t want to sit and just feel like, you know, it’s sort of a meeting where we’re going to be criticized and judged for the way we’ve made decisions…I’d sooner not go.”
Other committee members said they took offense at the notion of having their roles dictated to them by other town officials. “I don’t have to be told what my role or responsibility is,” Jose L. Franco said, remarking that as a parent of Mashpee students, “my responsibility is dictated to me every day.”
“I am very much for meeting with the selectmen,” he added, “but this is not a point to see who’s right and who’s wrong.”
Committee member Scott P. McGee disagreed with his colleagues’ expectations of how the meeting would play out. “I think we would sit there and tell other committees what we’re supposed to be doing,” he said.
Ms. Cook said Mr. McGee’s take was accurate. “The intent was to get us all in the same room and discuss what our roles and responsibilities are as we see them.”
Mr. Bailey also took issue that certain aspects of the meeting are playing out differently than he’d hoped. He said it was his understanding the meeting agenda would be developed jointly among the three boards instead of dictated to the school committee; he wanted the meeting to take place on “neutral ground” such as the Mashpee Public Library rather than at Mashpee Town Hall; he wanted an independent facilitator to oversee the meeting; and he “kind of hoped to avoid” televising the meeting.
“We wanted to have a level of discussion that would not lend itself to TV, in my view,” he said.
Ms. Mason disputed the committee’s remarks that the agenda had already been set without its input, and said yesterday that she had planned to solicit from every participant suggestions for what they wanted to see on the agenda.
Ms. Cook said she felt discouraged by this latest development, and said the decision is again an instance of the school committee separating itself from a bigger picture: the business of running an entire town. “This particular school committee doesn’t feel like they’re part of a bigger operation,” she said, adding, “if they don’t want to participate, that’s fine. All the others are in.”
Ms. Cook and Ms. Mason said the meeting would proceed without the school committee, and every member of the board of selectmen and the FinCom has confirmed their attendance. Ms. Mason added that of the school committee, only Mr. McGee had responded that he planned to attend.
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