The head of the IRS was fired by Obama but Obama failed to mention that he was quitting in a couple of weeks. If Obama wanted to find out the truth he would call for a special prosecutor. So much for having an open administration.
Just in case anyone is interested in a little truth while the Republican attack machine and the lazy media go nuts over Benghazi and the IRS scandal, here is an interesting article about the tax-exempt status the Tea Party was applying for. It turns out they - or more likely Tea Party front organizations were applying for a tax exemption on the basis that they were "social welfare" organizations and primarily doing "educational" work on issues like... the Constitution, patriotism and so forth. What a joke.
Now if this article is correct the IRS has every reason to investigate the Tea Party phonies if they want a tax exemption and want to hide the names of their contributors under the guise that they are social welfare organizations. Of course the IRS should apply the same standards to "liberal" groups who do the same thing. If not, that would be the real scandal.
But it is interesting that in scanning the massive numbers of media reports on this over the past few days, I have not yet seen any mention of a rather important issue.... do these political groups in fact deserve to be tax exempt? And of course if you are going to investigate their political activities - which you should if they are applying for tax exempt status as primarily non-political organizations - you will be checking out their front groups which have words like "patriot," "tea party" and "constitution" in them
But of course ignoring fundamental details - whether liberals or conservatives do it - is all part of the lazy media scandal machine.
The school committee may not be"looking for help" with the GMRSD budget (I suspect if the issue is framed that way you will get a negative reaction). But let's just say a standard /consistent set of documents at the various meetings with an agreed upon way of analyzing them would improve the situation.
No I do not think the town boards should replace the school committee in terms of its oversight budget role. I have never said that and I absolutely do not think that. But I have never understood this rather arbitrary distinction you make between the role of the finance committee and the role of the school committee. It is not clear what the basis of this is or what its practical value is.
The reality is, whatever your philosophy or theory, the school committee has hearings and goes before town boards and town meetings. They present data and information to make their case for their budget. Board members and town meeting members ask questions about that data and all sorts of other issues. Doesn't it make sense to have the right data so we can have that discussion? Doesn't it make sense to solve what is obviously a problem rather than get into a philosophical discussion about the roles of committees?
Also as a practical matter, the fin coms tend to be better at budget analysis (it is what they do) so they can in fact help the school committee which has a tremendous amount on its plate and whose members tend not to specialize in budget analysis. I am not talking about replacing the SC oversight role but simply helping to improve the situation, which really is not good.
Sitting back and saying "that's not our role" may be somewhat true but does not solve the problem. And in fact is contradicted by what actually happens at these hearings/town meeting etc.
I should add that I personally do not think that the ideal situation is that the town boards get a lot of detailed information from the school district that they can spend time analyzing. I think that the ideal situation is that the school committee does the analyzing, and that the town boards simply confirm that they are doing it, along with having discussions about trends in the town assessments, educational health of the school system, etc.
I get the impression (maybe I'm wrong) that you've written the school committee off in this process, leaving the town boards as the only check on a district that is careering like a driverless bus. If that's the case, I think it's a problem that will not be solved by the town boards taking over the process -- it will be solved by the school committee stepping up to the plate and taking its proper role in the budget development, analysis, and presentation.
Yes, a meeting early in the process for FY15 sounds like a good idea.
Beyond that, I think you and I have a communication problem. You refer to "a budget hearing with no budget" -- what are you talking about? GMRSD had a budget hearing on 2/12 at which they presented a budget (not much detail -- or explanation -- but it was a budget; in fact, it was the only handout they'd prepared for the hearing). The hearing on 3/6 was technically about the _assessment_, not the budget, although we had asked for "T1-T2 like" information (i.e. somewhat detailed budget). We didn't get it, and so we asked again in the follow-up email -- how does that translate to "no one on the finance committee says, 'hey where's your budget?'"?
Maybe we could have been more aggressive during the meeting in asking for the information -- I think that's a judgment call, and I'm not going to say we clearly did the right thing. But there were a number of factors at play; one was our desire to get good information; another was the district's obvious reluctance share more than they felt they had to, based on their concern (for whatever reason) that town boards were trying to meddle in their budget process; and a third (and I think important) one was that their budget was changing rapidly -- on 3/6 it was over $200,000 lower than it was on 2/12, and by 3/29 it had dropped another $25,000, only to drop another $25,000 by 4/2 (the day of the fin comm's final vote). Joyce Phillips said during that period that providing updated budget information every time there was a change would be "confusing" -- arguably, she has a point, and how to provide useful information that isn't confusing should be one of the topics of the meeting mentioned above. I think it's pretty clear that the district did not feel up to the task this time around.
Finally, I think you are completely wrong in suggesting that I consider "even the mildest criticism of the finance committee" to be off-base. What I consider to be off-base are statements about the finance committee that are simply not true, especially when you accuse us of not knowing how to do things that we definitely do know how to do. Dealing with grants data isn't that hard -- they're just another revenue source, although one with (usually) some restrictions on what they can be spent on. We deal with these every year for the town budget, and GMRSD is the same idea. First, you separate out the grants for those things that exist because of the grant and will end if and when the grand ends. Those are interesting, but unless you have reason to believe the grants will go on forever you consider them to be add-ons to your basic mission. Then you have the grants that fund things that will need to be funded whether the grants are there or not. Those are much more interesting, in that the trends in grant funding may end up affecting trends in your overall budget (examples on the town side are the COPS grants in the past, and Chapter 90 monies). The information we got this year did not make a distinction between the two types of grants (yes, we did ask), so it wasn't useful for understanding how grants affect the core budget, but it was more than we've gotten in the past, and I hope we can do better next year.
So the bottom line is that rather than go back and forth over email for months next year the boards should meet early in the process and hopefully agree to a common set of documents for the various presentations, including a good list o budget assumptions. I would add that a) try to avoid different sets of docs with different formats every time there is a hearing. and b) maybe even have some discussion of how to analyze this material.
And yes I think it is a very serious communication problem when you have a budget hearing with no budget and no one on the finance committee says, "hey where's your budget?" The communication problem is caused by going back and forth over email rather than sitting down and trying to come to an agreement. Also as far as I can tell the members of the school committee were never involved in the discussion and I am not sure the finance board members were either.
I really do not think the various points about state law etc. are relevant if they were used as an excuse not to share information. State law does not specify what information regional school districts should share with member towns and yet all districts I have seen share a certain amount of information because of course they want support for budgets. The problem is the quality is very low. To use state law as an excuse for that, if that happened, is a smokescreen.
But I think the other bottom line here is that we can take pot shots at the school committee all the time but even the mildest criticism of the finance committee (as in my comment that members were not sure what to do with the grant data they asked for*) is a "slur" and you take this very personally. Just so I know what the rules are around here.
*BTW I am not sure what to do with the grant data either so I guess I am insulting myself. Just to make you feel better.
I don't think it's a communication problem -- I think the town boards were very clear about what we hoped to receive. I think the district (meaning the superintendent and the school committee chair, as well as others) didn't want to share any more information with the towns than they had to until they had everything buttoned up.
Would I have preferred that they share more than they did? Yes, I would have. Were they required to do more? I don't think they were. The chair made a point at more than one meeting of enumerating the district's responsibilities under state law, the district agreement, and their budget process, and I think they met their obligations.
As for being "defensive", I felt a need to respond to your claim (5/6) that "[t]he key oversight committees, particularly the school committee but also the finance committees do not seem to understand why [budget assumptions are] important for proper budget analysis" by pointing out that the finance committee did consider them important, and in fact asked for them several times.
You followed that up with the claim, on 5/9, that "did not seem that anyone was quite sure what to do with [grant information provided on 3/6], or how to analyze it." Jeff, I think you have to recognize that when you made that statement you were talking about me, among others, as I am on the finance committee and I received that information, and so I take that charge personally (just as I take the charge that we didn't understand why budget assumptions are important personally).
In my opinion, the information we were provided about grants was useful in that it was more than we have seen in the past, but it was insufficient to provide a real understanding of how grants figure in to the ongoing GMRSD budget. I think it would be useful to understand that, but right now I don't think we have enough information; if you disagree, perhaps you can explain to me why I'm wrong.
But I really find myself wondering why we're even having this conversation. You've noted that information flow and communication were not ideal during this past budget process, and I've agreeed. You've suggested some improvements for next year, and I've agreed they would be helpful. Is there a reason why we need to keep talking about this?
MJ, I watched some of the meeting last night down in the village. I also was quite surprised with the Montague School Apartment vote.( Any one that thinks the change was not made just for the anticipated deal should get their heads out of their butts). All the talk on here and at the committee meetings it is quite obvious folks that care about the village are not town meeting members. As I said the old dude I help was one of the 13 against. There was a case for an OPEN town meeting as I've ever seen. Any one have a count on attendance by preceinct (sp.)? Mainly #1 and #2.Folks in Millers lost Highland so more of them should have been more supportive. My dude says the gent in front of him didn't vote on it either way. Oh well. Happy Mothers Day to all the MOMS .....Ed
I don't have my notes right on hand, nor is the warrant readily available, so I am recalling from memory a $8200? approval to update Town Hall technology, right?
I know it's been said here before, but this town does have a shockingly behind-the-times and scarce means of updated information for the public. Every department has a limited website and seems to ignore the importance of broadband and it's capabilities. (How amazing would it be if Wendy at a Selectboard meeting or Deb at a Town Meeting had an open chat feature, available to those at home, watching MCTV? If all related documents to the agenda were posted in one easy section? )
I appreciate both Jeff and Mike's attention to detail in both posting here and when speaking at Town Meetings. I just wish there was more of an detailed blog/site for the Selectboard, the School Board, etc. Updated minutes, next to video of the meetings, etc. Surely there's intern opportunities to embrace the internet?
As for this meeting, to ask us to ignore all tag sales, weekend chores and beautiful weather was a lesson in Yankee politics for me. Months of online discussion and demanded meetings on several articles, then several 30+ minutes of debate, then a generally unanimous vote? Huh? Say WHHHHAAAAT?
Well maybe I should not have made the last comment. about rocket science but a simple list of documents should not really be all that hard to get. After months of back and forth over email between the fin com and school committee the school district presented a budget to the fin com with NO BUDGET and no budget assumptions. I mean really don't you think there is a communication problem here?
This is why people get frustrated with local government and say the hell with it.
You seem to be getting a bit defensive, especially as someone who has been a frequent sharp critic of the school committee on this corkboard.
I agree with you that the process can be improved, and that a meeting early in the budget cycle next year to clarify and establish expectations on all sides would be a good idea.
As you know, though, we don't always agree on the extent to which town boards should be involved in the district's budget process, and I don't see how your gratuitous slurs of those boards serve any useful purpose.
You've been on the school committee, and on the finance committee before that, and the GMRSD budget process has been an ongoing interest (obsession? ;-)) of yours. If all this "really is not rocket science", why didn't you just set it all straight when you had the chance?
Well the bottom line is that this crucial document was requested repeatedly. We got it at the beginning of the process but then it disappeared.
At the finance committee hearings on the GMRSD BUDGET in early March (the March 6 meeting Mike refers to) there were NO budget assumptions and in fact no line item budget of any kind. That is, a budget hearing with no budget. At that point someone should have realized there was a serious communication problem and encouraged the boards to resolve it.
After constant badgering by me we got something called "budget assumptions" at town meeting but it was in a completely different format from the original and did not contain the basic numbers, only percentages. It was essentially useless. At a certain point one wonders if the goal is to drive me nuts. Probably not but if so, this strategy is succeeding.
Meanwhile Finance Committee members had focused on the issue of grants and in fact did get a list of grants at the March 6 meeting. But it did not seem that anyone was quite sure what to do with this list, or how to analyze it.
I think the Finance Committees, Selectboards and School Committee should meet next December and decide what documents should be part of the budget process (and perhaps how to analyze them). This really is not rocket science.
Just to set the record straight on one point: budget assumptions were asked for (by Jeff) at the public hearing on the GMRSD budget on 2/12. I was present, and I would have asked for them if Jeff hadn't.
In preparation for the meeting on 3/6 between the selectboards and finance committees of both towns and GMRSD to discuss their budget, I emailed the interim superintendent and school committee reminding them of the questions that had been asked so far, so that they could be prepared to answer them at that meeting. Budget assumptions were on the list.
At the 3/6 meeting, some questions were answered ,but others weren't, and new questions arose, and as a follow-up to that meeting I sent another email to the district listing the what we were still looking for. Budget assumptions were on that list.
Three weeks later, and four days before Montague's absolutely final deadline for making any more budget decisions, the district provided some of the items we had asked for. Budget assumptions were not among them, and in any case there was not much time to consider them, and no time to seek clarifications or further information. The only budget assumptions we actually received were those provided to us along with town meeting members last Saturday.
I don't think it's accurate to say that the town boards did not understand the importance of this information: we thought it was important, we asked for it, and we didn't get it. There were also other things we thought were important; we got some of them, we didn't get others.
Although GMRSD's final assessment request was one that I felt comfortable supporting, I have a much poorer understanding of the process by which it was developed than I have in past years. I hope this can change next year, and I think a meeting early in the process to confirm what information will be provided, and when, is a good first step.
Congratulations to Jhanold and SusanSanSoucie for being the closest in the "When Will it End?" poll. They chose 3:30 from the list and Town Meeting actually ended at 3:18.
Next up, MikeNaughton and Clegg chose 4:00; Newbie and JohnTobey chose 4:30; Lithium, GGarrison and I chose 5:00; AbtFace chose 1:30; three other poll takers chose 6:00, 6:30 and 7:00.
The question of whether Article 7 (Town budget) will take more than an hour was chosen by me, MikeNaughton, MichaelNelson, Newbie, clegg, JohnTobey, Dominique and SusanSanSoucie, and we were WRONG. I don't have my notes in front of me, but I believe that only took about 35 minutes.
The question of whether Article 27 (the Zoning by-law change) would take more than two hours was chosen by me, MichaelNelson, Newbie, SusanSanSoucie, Rob and AbtFace, and we were also WRONG, as it took exactly one hour.
Fun stuff. Thanks for participating. We should do this more often.
Well I think there is a very serious problem with transparency and oversight re the school budget. The bottom line was very good and the budget passed unanimously for the third year in a row. Hopefully this will help us get out or level 4 (which in my opinion we should never have been in in the first place!). But there is a real question as to whether the budget was propped up by one time revenues.
A crucial document called "budget assumptions" handed out at the beginning of the process showed that the budget in fact increased by over $900,000, which is around twice available revenue increases for the district. The budget was brought into balance by reducing a line item by $379,000 apparently using grants and revolving fund surpluses. Also assessments were reduced by what appears to be a one-time $130,000 increase in medicaid reimbursements. The total of these revenues, which may not last, reduces the budget and assessments by over $500,000 and makes them affordable.
But will this last? Maybe, maybe not but no one but me seems to be asking the question. Part of the problem is that the school district leadership despite repeated requests has been unwilling to hand out an updated version of "budget assumptions" similar to the one we got in January.. After numerous requests prior to town meeting we got a very inadequate, stripped down version with no numbers that really does not tell you much.
The key oversight committees, particularly the school committee but also the finance committees do not seem to understand why this information is important for proper budget analysis. So it has now become a weird obsession that Jeff Singleton brings up at every meeting. This really is not fair. We have frequently gotten budget assumptions in the past for a reason but it seems to come and go for no apparent reason.
Mike Naughton also raised the issue of an "all funds" line item budget
(which shows specific uses of grants etc) that is consistent with the budget on the assessment sheet. I have some technical questions about this (his proposal might not leave room on the spreadsheet for previous years) but it is a fair point - we essentially now have documents handed out that show two different ways of calculating the budget. Mike's legitimate request was simply ignored by the school committee.
The school committee and finance committee should meet at the beginning of next year's budget process and commit to a consistent set of budget documents that tell the whole story. This really should not be so hard.
Being a Town Meeting Member from Prec. 2, I understand the discouragement, many others from other precincts left as well. Very disheartening when there are many complaints on what is going on in town. Maybe town elections should be before the Annual Town Meeting so that the ones that are opting out on re-election don't pass on the meeting.
Down in the village taking my old dude to Food City. He wasn't too happy with the prec. 2 folks that split before town meeting was over. Also a few no shows. Also VERY upset over the zoning change vote. He and a dozen others were the only ones against it. Very weird with all the folks that went to the hearings. I feel bad for the folks by the school if the plans for all those apts. come to pass. Sure as heck wouldn't want it next to me. Oh well. Happy May 5th all. Ed