The term "Agreement”, in my personal view, is an inaccurate reflection of the document as it was not agreed to by the Board of Selectmen, nor was the Board of Selectmen ever asked to review and respond to the dictates within an “Agreement” that would bind the Town of Sturbridge to a contract within the district. I am unclear as to who actually drafted the “Agreement”, as the Sturbridge BOS was never asked to participate, review, or provide an official response to a document that would fundamentally alter its role in the appointing process.
The Board has twice publicly stated that the "Agreement" would be placed on the 2012 ANNUAL TOWN MEETING Warrant, once the Board has had ample time to review the document, publicly discuss and deliberate on it, while inviting public comment and engaging in dialog with representatives from the School Committee. This would be and has historically been the normal process of review prior to submitting Agreements to the Legislative Branch for further discussion, deliberation, and action on items that impact the community’s rights/roles and/or bind the Town of Sturbridge or its political entities into agreements.
The Town Charter identifies the BOS as the Executive Branch and as such collective bargaining agreements, vendor agreements, service agreements, contracts, etc., as well as any regional agreements that bind our community to a contract or a particular course of action, must first be reviewed, vetted, and subject to collaborative and collective discussion between those seeking to enter into an agreement with the Town. Once appropriate review, public discussion, and collaboration with the parties to the agreement have been adequately addressed, the document is then placed before the Legislative Branch for its final determination. The "Agreement" sent to the Board of Selectmen by the Tantasqua Regional School Committee has not been publicly reviewed, discussed, nor deliberated upon by the Sturbridge BOS, nor has the appropriate public vetting, consistent with every other agreement that binds our community to a contract, been initiated prior to its placement before the voters for action. In addition, it is worth noting that even the School Department budget which is part of the overall Town Budget presented at Annual Town Meeting, is a component of the line by line review conducted by the Board of Selectmen and Finance Committee months prior to any recommendation at Town Meeting by either entity.
In consideration of the aforementioned, it would be - in my view - irresponsible for the BOS to forward an "agreement" that has not yet been fully reviewed, publicly discussed, and deliberated upon so as to ensure the best interests of our community are preserved or advanced. Such is the case with all agreements the Board of Selectmen puts forward for consideration, just as it is the case with every article that is eventually placed on the Warrant for voter deliberation. Noteworthy is the fact that even those articles placed by way of a Citizen’s Petition, which are allowed without reservation by our Town Charter, are first publicly discussed by the Board of Selectmen, along with the Finance Committee and those residents proposing said Citizen’s Petition prior to its placement. Equally, every other proposed warrant article undergoes the same process. How then could one argue any degree of logic or equity in placing proposed “agreements” in a manner inconsistent with the same degree of public review attendant to a Citizen’s Petition (automatic by way of our Town Charter) or that tendered to any other proposed warrant article? Perhaps, those requesting the placement of this article might find pause for a moment to reflect upon the larger issue, and in so, doing may come to recognize that we are all hopeful for an equitable agreement, but one that has undergone the proper process.
Perhaps, this explains why every other member community, with the exception of Brookfield, is holding this item for their ANNUAL TOWN MEETING. Perhaps, it is merely for the sake of time and convenience. Regardless of the individual or collective reason, there inexplicably appears to be an unusual amount of energy being expended in pursuit of the immediate execution of this “agreement” by the Town of Sturbridge, to the exclusion of other members.
The appropriate public vetting of the "Agreement" submitted by the TRSC – similar to that afforded every other proposed warrant article - would allow a comprehensive discussion as it relates to the equity of the “agreement”. For example, one might challenge what could be characterized as a distinct disadvantage specific to the “joint appointment” process in that the Sturbridge Board of Selectmen (responsible for advocating on behalf of its residents) is the only Board of Selectmen in the Regional District that would participate as a minority entity in the “joint” appointing process.
Consider the following make up of the regional Boards of Selectmen and the corresponding School Committees:
- Brimfield: Board of Selectmen -3 members, Regional School Committee – 3 members
- Brookfield: Board of Selectmen – 3 members, Regional School Committee – 3 members
- Holland: Board of Selectmen - 3, Regional School Committee - 3 members
- Wales: Board of Selectmen - 3 members, Regional School Committee – 2 members (one of which is also a member of the Wales Board of Selectmen, (the Wales Town Charter does not prevent Selectmen from holding additional elective offices)
- Sturbridge: Board of Selectmen - 5 members, Regional School Committee - 7 members
In considering the numbers, a reasonable argument can be offered that it is truly not a "joint appointment" process as it relates to Sturbridge, but rather an appointment made solely by the School Committee with the Board of Selectmen in attendance. One could equally argue that the "joint appointment" in Wales is also not a joint appointment, but rather an appointment made solely by the Wales Board of Selectmen, with the School Committee in attendance. Now, I recognize that the School Committee configuration is dictated by enrollment figures, but those figures do not necessarily dictate the composition or the values attended to joint appointment votes. In recognition of such, the majority viewpoint on the Board of Selectmen - as publicly stated several times - is one of equity in the appointing process wherein, the joint appointment is truly a joint appointment. Perhaps such is achieved by agreeing that regardless of the numbers involved, each entity would be afforded the same number of votes during a "joint appointment". Thus, no entity would enter into the joint appointment process at an advantage or disadvantage.
On the surface this would level the playing field and perhaps ensure a real desire to seek collaboration and find cooperation in terms of any joint appointment? Currently, the Regional Agreement on record with the State Department of Education, as agreed to by all members of the regional district via Town Meeting, clearly identifies the Board of Selectmen as the sole appointing authority for elected vacancies with the regional school committee. Recognizing that the current agreement we are all bound to, is in itself, equally as inequitable as that presented by the Regional School Committee, the majority viewpoint of the BOS fully supports and welcomes a joint appointment process that is not dictated by one side or another; one however that truly is a joint appointment, as opposed to one that exists in name only.