Another chapter in Stoneham’s ongoing budget saga has been written as the Stoneham School Committee narrowly approved, 3-2, the Budget Agreement document championed by Board of Selectmen chairperson Paul Rotondi on Thursday night.
The , a non-binding accord that attempts to bring the School Committee, Selectmen and Finance and Advisory Board together under fiscal principles that would foster greater budgetary responsibility in the hopes of fixing the current $2.6 million budget shortfall for fiscal 2012 as well as prevent similar situations in the near future.
While all the School Committee members agreed with the majority of the document, leading superintendent Les Olson to recommend the board approve it, doubts lingered due to the document’s construction as what they saw as a symbol of a continued lack of collaboration between the School Committee and the Selectmen.
“I don’t appreciate how this document came about,” said School Committee vice chairperson David Maurer. “This is fundamentally not in the spirit of collaboration, this is in the spirit of my way or the highway.”
Another issue stemming from this schism between the boards brought forth by Maurer was a fear that the document would be used in a slightly coercive manner.
While the document states that individual members could freely give their opinions as citizens rather than members of their respective boards without violating the agreement, Maurer indicated that future political pressure might not make that possible.
“My concern isn’t that this document will be used to bring groups together, my concern is that this is going to be used as a prybar to bring people into doing things they may have their own personal reservations about,” Maurer said. “I don’t believe that if you disagree with one person, you disagree with the community, and I think it’s a bad precedent to set.”
Even though School Committee chairperson Shelly MacNeill agreed with most of the document and hoped that the three boards could continue to collaborate to implement the majority of the document’s points, her fears appeared to stem from recent history with similar issues such as Stoneham’s entrance into the Massachusetts General Insurance Commission several years ago.
“I have always said that I am committed to doing the best for the town, that I was elected to do a job,” MacNeill said. “So now I struggle with a that is currently in place being sort of the carrot and the stick, and it was the same with the GIC, (that) everything will be great and we’ll do a trash fee, and it never happened. So my distrust is from previous experience.”
School Committee members Jeanne Craigie, Marie Christie and Shawn McCarthy voted to approve the agreement even though they held reservations like Maurer and MacNeill, with McCarthy going as far to say he would put “until Fiscal Year 2014” next to his signature, due to concerns over a provision in the document giving it a four-year window. However, even despite this, the majority appeared to believe that there was no other option in stabilizing Stoneham’s fiscal situation.
“I said at the (last) Tri-Board meeting, we need to come to some consensus of what we’re going to do as a community, and this plan brings us to some sense of a strategic plan toward budgets and how we split up the money,” Craigie said.
Although she voted against the document, MacNeill still agreed to sign it in her capacity as chairperson to reflect the vote of the board.