Friction emerges between boards
Less than a month into their terms as newly elected officials and before they’ve even met together formally, members of the Winchester Board of Selectmen and Board of Education began experiencing some friction this week, which may not be a good sign of things to come.Mayor Maryann Welcome presided over a meeting of the Board of Selectmen Tuesday night that many people thought would be a joint meeting between the board and members of the school board, but Welcome chose not to include school officials in the discussion of school-related issues. Instead, selectmen quickly passed two motions; one to begin talks on settling a lawsuit brought by the school board regarding funding the minimum budget requirement (MBR) this year, and another to fund the MBR with the condition that selectmen must work to reconcile numbers in previous budgets and come to an understanding with school officials regarding proper accounting procedures.Since all of that sounds like a tall order, Mayor Welcome chose not to include agenda items for discussion with school board members, presumably because the discussion could have lasted until the wee hours of the next morning, and she wanted to get the business at hand completed in a timely fashion. Kudos to her for that decision.On the other hand, Board of Education members appeared miffed that they didn’t get a chance to discuss the issues, and it seemed last week that Welcome had wanted to engage them. She did, after all, invite them to the meeting. Inviting someone to a meeting and then not allowing them to speak is a bit dictatorial, and when the meeting ended Tuesday night there was a palpable tension in the air.Now that the Board of Selectmen’s agenda items have been settled, it will be up to the Board of Education to decide how it wants to respond when it holds its next regular meeting on Dec. 8. The sane advice would be for board members not to get too upset about being snubbed this week and to recognize the fact that the Board of Selectmen is actually showing renewed support for the school board by funding the MBR. Asking for proper accounting procedures in exchange is not an unreasonable request.In the future, it would be nice to see an actual joint meeting between the two boards, or their representatives, in which a candid discussion of past accounting problems can be forged and school officials can be given a chance to explain their contention that complicated accounting rules, and nothing more, are responsible for what appears to be a more than $600,000 discrepancy in the 2009-10 budget. If that does not happen, there is a vocal minority that will capitalize on the issue and use it to discredit and dismantle the town’s current leadership.