Thursday, May 31, 2007

Doctorate not= common sense

Caught the Boston Globe headlines today: Blogger unmasked, court case upended

It was a Perry Mason moment updated for the Internet age.

As Ivy League-educated pediatrician Robert P. Lindeman sat on the stand in Suffolk Superior Court this month, defending himself in a malpractice suit involving the death of a 12-year-old patient, the opposing counsel startled him with a question.

Was Lindeman Flea?

Flea, jurors in the case didn't know, was the screen name for a blogger who had written often and at length about a trial remarkably similar to the one that was going on in the courtroom that day.

In his blog, Flea had ridiculed the plaintiff's case and the plaintiff's lawyer. He had revealed the defense strategy. He had accused members of the jury of dozing.
With the jury looking on in puzzlement, Lindeman admitted that he was, in fact, Flea.

Another definition of clueless behavior today.

Beware of anonymous bloggers. You never know.

Note: for some situations especially in other countries where the government threat to personal behavior is real, anonymity should be an option. Fortunately, here in the USA, that is not the case.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

RSS in Plain English

What is RSS? It is an abbreviation for "really simple syndication".
But what does RSS do for me?

Click on the video and find out. This is a well done presentation.

I use Bloglines for my RSS Reader. It is free and easy to use. It has the advantage of being accessible from any computer. All I need to do is go to Bloglines, login with my username and password, and I can view and read picking up where I left off last time.

Thanks to Commoncraft for putting this together.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

School Bus Advertising??

During the discussion on the 'pay-to-ride' program, Councilman LeBlanc asked the Committee if the busing contracts had already been signed, and if advertising was included in the contracts.

Chairman Jeff Roy responded that no, the contracts were signed already and do not include advertising. The sub committee working on advertising revenues have not completed their work so while it is not in there yet, it does not preclude it being there in the future.

Advertising on school buses?

What kind?
Would this be advertising inside the bus targeted to the students?
Would this be advertising outside the bus targeted to the community?

What would be advertised?

I don't know if the money this would generate would be worth it.

What do you think?
  1. Should there be advertising on school buses?
  2. What restrictions, if any, would you put on a program like this?

School Committee Meeting Notes 5/29/07

The School Committee meeting tonight was not broadcast so it was good to be there.

The Franklin Education Foundation (FEF) presented a check for $20,197.00 to be used for teaching grants awarded. Many of the teachers who received the awards were presented with a certificate and received recognition for this award.

The FEF has raised over $150,000 during its almost ten year life as an organization. The Trivia Bee, a Casino Night and an annual appeal (the 'backpack letter' as it travels home via the school communications) are the major fund raising efforts for this group.

The Horace Mann Auditorium was named in honor of Thomas D. Mercer, Franklin resident, long time volunteer, former school committee member, and in particular, his efforts on the building committee for the Horace Mann project were reported to have rescued it from dire straits and enable it to be opening and functioning today. There were other nominations but the selection process was primarily between Mr Mercer and Dr Bergen, current principal of the middle school. The School Committee acknowledged a tough choice. After several passionate appeals (from students, a teacher, and a parent) and some discussion the vote went 6-1 in favor of Mr Mercer.

Superintendent Wayne Ogden thanked the community for voting to pass the override to provide additional funds to restore the library services and improve the levels of service the schools will be able to provide next year.

Note that this improvement over the levels of service that would have been provided had the override not passed. What was not referenced were the cuts that remain as the complete "level service budget" was not funded.

Superintendent Ogden told the committee that he was not yet prepared to answer their request to restore Spanish to the middle schools or strings to the elementary schools. They are making progress in figuring out how to do that within the budget but still have some items outstanding, some of which were scheduled for discussion during their executive session later Tuesday night.

Superintendent Ogden did propose and the Committee did vote to approve the modest increase in school lunches, the pay-to-ride program, and the high school athletic fees. The committee tabled the discussion on a co-curricular fee. This fee would be for anyone in either middle school or high school participating in a non-athletic activity after school program. The specifics around what programs would be part of this and what would not; service programs would be exempt, for example, caused the item to be tabled for another time.

The school lunch fees would increase to
$2.00 for elementary school
$2.50 for middle school
$2.75 for high school
milk would increase from $.40 to $.50.

The pay-to-ride program would increase from $200 to $225. The usual 3 times family cap would remain.

The high school athletic fees would increase from $100 to $125 per student per sport per season.

The Superintendent also looked for the Committee to approval the new total for the FY08 budget based upon the results of the override. The Committee declined to do so as they know the total but the some of the details still remain to be determined. This is related to the executive session mentioned earlier.

School Committee meeting 7:00 PM 5/29/07

This meeting was rescheduled from May 22 due to the vote. The normal agenda page is a broken link (hopefully to be fixed soon).

Monday, May 28, 2007

Override Related News Items of Interest

Prudence Island, Rhode Island
is faced with closing their one room school house as they don't have the money for only two students to use it. The Boston Globe article can be found here.

Many libraries facing cutbacks due to budget problems. The Boston Globe article can be found here.

Following up on the Override Central blog posting with the override tally by community, the Boston Globe has a more complete article.

And on the more hopeful side, communities are getting together to address regional transportation needs.
Five local towns have joined the Greater Attleboro Taunton Regional Transit Authority in seeking a way to get more transportation services for their dollars.

Wrentham, Franklin, Norfolk, Bellingham, and Medway have all been accepted into the regional authority, and will use funds previously earmarked for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority to cover and potentially expand public transit.
Read the full Boston Globe article here. (free registration maybe required)

Mother Goose and Family

Mother Goose and Family
Originally uploaded by shersteve
Dolores and I came upon this family as we walked Sunday morning along Washington Street in Franklin. They managed to cross the street successfully and were content to remain by the waterside while I cautiously approached for some pictures.

The coloring of the young certainly helps to keep them hidden from predators.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

sherku: Franklin override

A sherku titled "Franklin Override"

Time: 30 seconds

MP3 File

What is a sherku?

The text version of this podcast can be found here.

MA Override Results: Tally to date

The Boston Globe Override Central published the updated results on the various overrides around the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

I downloaded the Excel spreadsheet and sorted by Result, then by declining Amount to show the following:

Scheduled Proposition 2 1/2 override votes

(updated 5/25)

Community Date Amount Result

15 SAUGUS 24-Apr $5,200,000 LOST

20 SHREWSBURY 1-May $5,000,000 LOST

5 RANDOLPH 27-Mar $4,100,000 LOST

1 CANTON 23-Jan $3,950,000 LOST

6 WALPOLE 31-Mar $3,900,000 LOST

42 WEST BOYLSTON 24-May $3,100,000 LOST

18 AMHERST 1-May $2,500,000 LOST

30 ASHLAND 15-May $1,998,111 LOST

41 NEWBURYPORT 22-May $1,580,000 LOST

31 DENNIS 15-May $1,348,150 LOST

10 EAST BRIDGEWATER 7-Apr $1,250,000 LOST

28 GEORGETOWN 14-May $1,061,822 LOST

39 GROTON 22-May $937,570 LOST

25 ROCKPORT 8-May $781,576 LOST

8 DARTMOUTH 3-Apr $750,000 LOST

29 SOUTHBOROUGH 14-May $696,000 LOST

13 ROCKLAND 14-Apr $675,000 LOST

27 RUTLAND 14-May $500,000 LOST

19 YARMOUTH 1-May $499,094 LOST

36 GILL 21-May $300,000 LOST

38 OTIS 22-May $150,000 LOST

21 TOPSFIELD 3-May $78,277 LOST

37 DUNSTABLE 21-May $675,336 LOST*

7 SCITUATE 31-Mar $3,341,729 SPLIT

14 TISBURY 24-Apr $491,081 SPLIT

32 SHARON 15-May $2,900,000 WON

16 WESTWOOD 24-Apr $2,780,000 WON

40 FRANKLIN 22-May $2,700,000 WON

3 SUDBURY 26-Mar $2,500,000 WON

11 KINGSTON 9-Apr $1,600,000 WON

2 WINCHESTER 13-Mar $1,300,000 WON

12 NEEDHAM 10-Apr $1,128,670 WON

9 HARVARD 3-Apr $763,000 WON

24 ROWLEY 8-May $590,000 WON

34 HAMILTON 17-May $461,703 WON

33 BOXFORD 15-May $401,926 WON

4 LINCOLN 26-Mar $350,000 WON

23 SALISBURY 8-May $350,000 WON

26 CARLISLE 8-May $245,000 WON

35 WENHAM 17-May $154,817 WON

22 MERRIMAC 7-May $77,700 WON

17 MARSHFIELD 28-Apr $2,000,000 WON*

43 MIDDLEBOROUGH 2-Jun $2,584,000

44 MEDFIELD 4-Jun $524,000

45 LEXINGTON 5-Jun $3,900,000

46 NORTH READING 5-Jun $3,900,000

47 MONSON 11-Jun $611,472

48 ASHBURNHAM 12-Jun $498,603

49 WESTMINSTER 12-Jun $729,309

50 BRIDGEWATER 16-Jun $2,871,093

51 STONEHAM 19-Jun $3,000,000

52 NORTH ANDOVER 19-Jun $1,650,000

53 MENDON 19-Jun $424,219

54 NORTON 26-Jun $996,177

Average request


*List does not include scheduled votes for debt-exclusion or capital-exclusion overrides.

*List may not be exhaustive as towns are not required to report when they schedule a vote.

Sources: Globe research, Massachusetts Municipal Association, municipal websites

For information sake. There are more "No" than "Yes". The reasons for and against each vote vary. Shrewsbury for example, failed to pass their override which would have put $3 million of the $5 million total into their "savings" or "rainy day" fund.

Franklin passed what is currently the 3rd largest override but that still doesn't provide for level services compared to what Franklin received last year.

sherku: Franklin override

Layoff books, Spanish, Music
Springs passionate discourse
Override votes town

What is a sherku?

Other writing on the May 22 Override vote that Franklin passed

The podcast version can be found here

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Air Conditioner Calculator

We have three room air conditioners, one for each of the bedrooms. Since they were purchased shortly after we got into this house (11 years ago), they probably should be replaced simply to obtain more efficient units.

I found a nice web site to help you calculate size of the room air conditioner that you would need. You'll need a tape measure (unless you already know the room, door and window sizes). The calculation takes into effect the region, interior or exterior walls, insulated or not, compass orientation (north, south, etc.), number and size of the windows, doors, etc.

Punch all that in and it spits out the size give or take a factor so you can go shopping for the appropriate size.

Pretty cool!

(Ah, no pun intended)...

Thank you, Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers!

oh, on other note: the site is optimized for continental US locations.

Friday, May 25, 2007

New bird feeder

New bird feeder
Originally uploaded by shersteve
Franklin Agway was the source of this nice feeder for the smaller birds that visit our backyard. We used to have a wooden one but the squirrels got to it. This is supposed to be squirrel proof and carries a lifetime guarantee for replacement parts if the squirrel does chew on them.

The weather for Franklin today will be warm. I am looking forward to the weekend. The traditional start to summer.

What are your plans for the weekend?


Originally uploaded by shersteve
The lilacs are blooming. We got this bush in a smaller form from my father-in-law and it has taken its time to grow. This is the second year it has bloomed.

My wife already wants it to have more blossoms.

All things in good time.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Kind words from 2K Blogger

One of our 2Kers is a poet. Oh, I know, lots of us are. Steve at Steve’s 2 Cents reads his stuff out loud. Take a listen.

Steve’s 2 Cents appears to be mainly an educational blog, however. He supports his wife, a kindergarten teacher, and the school district where she works, and the list of books he has reviewed is frighteningly full of learning material.

This was posted by Judith Lautner today.

Thanks Judith!

Hey, don't miss the comments on this one

"sufferedsevereburns" left a comment.

"anonymous" left a comment.

Another "Anonymous" responded to both in a long and well argued reply. Thank you!

You can read the full post and comments here or click on the headline.

Greening, new growth

Greening, new growth
Originally uploaded by shersteve.
There are so many shades of green. The evergreen trees are sprouting and their tips are light green. The flower bed is greening with some purple blossoms adding contrast.

Yes, there is life after the override vote.

Maple tree blight is back

Maple tree blight
Originally uploaded by shersteve.

The trees have just about fully bloomed and the blight has already returned. These maple leaves in our yard are beginning to look like Swiss cheese.

Some of the trees on the walk to the Franklin train station are in worse condition. It seems they may be more susceptible than the maples. The red maples are also being hit hard.

What is it like in your area?
Posting and photo from last year

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Boston Globe - Override Central - Franklin's Yes

The Boston Globe's Override Central web site is still in need of an update. The left column calendar of override votes runs from Mar 26th through May 19th, conveniently missing Franklin's May 22 date.

All that is history now.

They did manage to craft a few words to post the news today.

Milford Daily New headline - Franklin approves $2.7M override

Read the full article here.

Thank you Michael Morton for good consistent coverage!

Historic Step - Reflections

With yesterday's vote, Franklin has taken a historic step to properly fund its services. We are not done yet. There will be another one required. How many more beyond that is questionable.

A 47% voter turnout is a good sign. Still an opportunity as it was only 47%. Where were the others? Wasn't this important enough for them to take a few minutes from their day to cast a vote?

The anonymous town forum was active with a small crowd. Many public officials avoided participation because of the anonymous factor. If folks don't have the decency to identify themselves, they don't deserve an answer. I walked a fine line as I did answer some anonymous comments here. I would much rather have talked or emailed with the individuals but they chose to avoid disclosing who they were. We managed to keep the discussion civil and stick to the arguments. I had also tried to join the town forum but multiple requests for access remain unanswered today.

What helped create passage this time? I think it was two factors:
  • The young voters (and students who were not able to vote) utilized MySpace and FaceBook to help spread the word, and equally important, get their parents out to vote.
  • There was less unanswered questions about the numbers. There were still questions and there still is a lack of trust amongst a good amount of the population but not enough this time to sway the vote.
What should we do for the next time? I think we should
  • Start early
  • Get clarity on the numbers
  • Present the case to make it real for the folks to understand
  • Create an online forum for open and honest discussion amongst identified Franklin residents
What do you think?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Vote tally - Override 5/22/07

These numbers were written down as the Franklin Town Clerk announced them in the field house tonight.

Franklin Override May 22, 2007

Precinct Blanks Yes No Totals
1 1 575 454 1030
2 1 592 475 1068
3 3 388 575 966
4 1 778 452 1231
5 1 551 415 967
6 1 522 472 995
7 0 936 395 1331
8 1 686 484 1171
Totals 9 5,028 3,722 8,759

0.10% 57.4% 42.5%

Thank you Franklin!

It's a YES for Franklin's override!


The votes came in to pass the first operational budget override in Franklin's Prop 2 1/2 history.

The final tally was 5,028 for and 3,722 against with 9 blanks and 8,759 total votes cast.

What could we have done?

It is a little early for this question as the tally will not be available until sometime between 8:00 PM and 9:00 PM tonight.

What could we have done?

I think the information was generated and made a better penetration (i.e. acceptance) than for the more recent overrides. A large turnout seems likely.

There is still a major negative factor out there. They are focused on a pie in the sky yesterday and not the realities of today. The one theme that seems to drive this negativism is a lack of trust in the Town Administration. I have come across this theme in multiple conversations.

I think the lack of trust comes from two factors:
  • Previous overrides primarily occurred before the budget was finalized
  • Money from the Stabilization fund was used to balance the budget to avoid major disastrous cuts.
The response to these two factors is:
  • The budget was finalized with the vote on May 3rd. There are no further changes to be made.
  • The Stabilization fund has been drawn down from its initial $11 million amount to currently $3 million if the override passes ($2 million if it fails). There is no additional money to be "found".
The Town Administration, including the Town Council and School Committee have work cut out for them to rebuild the trust. It won't be easy. Speaking fully, truthfully and consistently will over time rebuild the trust.

PS - this current administration, council and committee have spoken truthfully for what I have observed over the past couple of months.

Voter turnout busy

The family has completed their civic duty and voted today. Dolores voted first, stopping at the high school field house before she went to work next door at the Oak Street School.

Due to some car trouble, I am working from home today. My daughters and I managed to vote together.

I think the last time we were together at the polls was when they were much younger, holding tightly onto our hands as we went into the voting booth in Flemington, New Jersey. They were excited to be doing it and wanted to pull the big manual handle multiple times. As much as vote early and often is said, it really can't be done. They were a little young to try and understand that then. They appreciate it more today.

And due to the importance of today's vote, voting often is much more attractive!

Alas, one person one vote.

Franklin Override - Vote May 22

Normal blogging activity will resume after the Vote on May 22.

In the meantime, you will find information and analysis on the budget issue that Franklin faces for fiscal year 2008 and beyond.

To save some searching, I have put all that I have written in one collection here: The Franklin Override Collection

Other sources for information on the Franklin Fiscal Year 2008 Budget

New reader or regular, you should be aware that my wife is a kindergarten teacher in Franklin. My two daughters are recent (2004, 2006) products of the Franklin School system and both are doing well in college. There are a few other good reasons for me to be writing about this issue. I will continue to elaborate on them here.

The schools educate our future. Our family has worked hard to get where we are today. We'd like to be able to dream of a good future here in Franklin. Stay tuned for what happens on Franklin's 2008 Budget.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Vote May 22

The analysis is done for now. The debate is quiet for now. The time to vote is here.

May 22

6:00 AM to 8:00 PM at the Franklin High School field house.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Ben’s advice for Franklin

This is the text of a "Letter to the Editor" that I submitted to the Milford Daily News. If it gets published and is available on their web site, I'll provide a link to it.

We arrived here over 11 years ago. Yes, we were part of Franklin’s big growth wave. At the time, we came because of the good schools, the affordable housing, the central location to most of the major cities of New England, and especially the rail transportation to Boston. Those reasons are still valid today. Our two daughters have graduated from Franklin High School and are now both in college. Yes, we have two tuition bills to face. But you know, we knew that before we came here. We have planned for this period of our family life for some time.

So let’s put the Franklin budget problem in perspective. Many, if not all, of the Finance and Town Council members at one time or another have said that this budget problem was several years in the making. Continuing to draw down the stabilization fund while limiting departmental budget growth in order to balance the budget has created a situation where the slightest change in a single factor sends major cuts through the budget. This year it was reported to be the special education increase mandated by the Commonwealth. Next year, it is likely to be something else that will force further cuts. And oh, by the way, if the override fails this year, another $1 million of our savings will be forced to be spent on unemployment insurance for the town and school personnel laid off. This will leave our savings at only $2 million dollars.

Yet, the Finance Committee on April 30th reviewed all the department multi-year capital plans. They commended each department for the level of detail provided to justify what they needed.

So where is our multi-year operating plan? When will the Town Council ask the Town Administrator and Finance Committee to lay that out for us? We have an override vote scheduled for May 22, how many more will we need to pass to get out of this mess?

“Industry need not wish” is the quote from Ben Franklin visible on the wall plaque in the Franklin Town Council chambers. Ben wrote this in the early 1700’s. In those days, “industry” meant hard work. Hard work meant sweat and labor. If you worked hard, you did not have to wish for something. If you worked hard, you got something for it. The residents of Franklin should ponder this quote. There is much to gain from the insights that Ben had.

We can chose to let the Commonwealth of MA fund half our school expenses.
We can continue to solicit our loyal legislative contacts for increases in any and all aid possible.
We can continue to live as Franklin was just a “little town”.

However, danger lies down those roads.

While Franklin’s growth in the last decade has started to slow a little due to the current economic conditions, it is here and with us. It will not go away as much as some might wish it too.

It is time to roll up our sleeves and get to work.
It is time to start paying our own way.
It is time to start planning for what the next couple of years budgets will look like.

What do we do?

The override vote on May 22 needs to be passed.
The home of the first public library can not let it close.
The birthplace of Horace Mann can not let our own children suffer the education cuts proposed if this override fails.

Then the Town Council needs to start working with all parties to provide the Franklin voters a multi year plan. It is possible, it can be done. Their leadership is required. To do otherwise would be fiscally irresponsible.

Vote “yes” on May 22. Then let’s get the appropriate folks to work on the multi year operating plan. As Ben said, “Industry need not wish”.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Yes, the Brick School should close as a classroom

I have not spent much time on the Brick School issue because I see it as a distraction from the real big issue facing Franklin. Today, Tracy MacLoed has a good letter to the editor of the Milford Daily News calling for the Brick School to close, so I'll add my 2 cents.

As a one room school, Brick is well past its usefulness.

Consider the disadvantage those kindergarters have compared to their counterparts in the other elementary schools. Yes, they have a fine teacher and assistant. Do they have in school access to the remainder of the school facilities like
  • The gym, to play with others in their grade? No.
  • The cafeteria, to mingle with others in their grade level? No.
  • The library to explore for books and resources to use? No.
  • Upper grade students who can "buddy" with them on collaborative learning projects? No.
Consider the safety factor. There are two adults with the class but they are separated from all other assistance normally provided for by the elementary school facilities in Franklin. Heaven forbid, some crisis situation occur there and the root cause analysis come back and say that the school should never have been operating as it was.

Franklin has set a record for operating a one room school. No one can take this from us. There is no need to continue. In today's environment, it is no longer a valuable experience to be educated in that room. I do not want to condone an imperfect education being granted to some students while a much better experience is provided to the remainder of their peers.

The Brick School build can be useful for some other functions but as a classroom to provide a quality education, the time has come to close it.

The cost of the Brick School is a drop in the bucket. The more important issue overall is how we handle the budget override. As you may be aware, I have written extensively on those reasons over the last several weeks. If you are not aware, you can read the Franklin Override Collection here.

Vote Yes, May 22
Vote in person or via absentee ballot

Friday, May 18, 2007

Country Gazette full of Override stories

Franklin Override Vote Tuesday

Franklin students show online support

Students help register voters
in Franklin

Officials take town budget pitch on the road

Franklin officials pitch town budget in homes

Residents, groups step up with Override tactics

Franklin Council encourages residents to vote Tuesday

Override failure may mean fee hikes

If override fails, Franklin Library will face cuts

Thank you Country Gazette, for providing so much information on this important issue!

Look at Mendon and Milford, their Chapter 70 story

Our neighboring communities of Mendon and Milford have issues with the Chapter 70 funding formula as outlined in the Milford Daily News article. I provided some insights into Franklin's position earlier.

Milford has the wherewithal to pay more, and is in fact paying more than the formula calculates so the amount of Chapter 70 aid will be declining.

Franklin has the wherewithal to pay more but is in fact paying less, and our growth is slowing so we will be forced to pay more.

Sounds to me like we need to start figuring out right after May 22, what next year will look like.

Get informed about the override vote coming May 22

Vote May 22 either in person, or via absentee.

Recall that Natick (also approximately our population size) had a tie vote in April.
Your vote counts.
Every vote counts

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Library Cuts Headline Milford Daily News Today

Michael Morton's article covers the cuts facing the Library in the Milford Daily News today.

Should it be a surprise?

No, this has happened to the Library before.

We have a choice. Raise additional funds or cut the Library this year and face deeper cuts in other departments, Fire, Police, Dept of Public Works next year.

Franklin voters get to speak on May 22 by casting a ballot on a single question.

There will be one question on the ballot and it will read as follows:

Ballot Question 1

Shall the Town of Franklin be allowed to assess an additional $2,700,000.00 in real estate and personal property taxes for the purposes of the operating budget from which this assessment will be used for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2007?

Vote May 22.

Note: if you can not vote in person on May 22, obtain an absentee ballot by contacting the Town Clerk's office.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Lesson from Seth's Town

Seth Godin wrote today about the results of his town election yesterday. In part, he says:

As usual, several hundred people voted no. In fact, every year approximately the same number of people vote no. The budget passed, it almost always does, but the naysayers get their say.

The naysayers always get their say. Yes, I agree.

That is actually the glory of the election. The voters get to decide. Everyone entitled to vote should vote. It should not be some number of the populace that is motivated to vote that directs the whole.

I am hoping this year that the yes-sayers will actually show up in a better number this time around and that there will be a good overall percentage of voters casting their ballots.

Then the results will be clear.

Franklin voters need to exercise their civic duty on May 22!

You can read his full posting here.

anonymous response - continued

anonymous wrote:

I will disagree on two points.

First, I don't know if $4 million is required to provide level services. We do not have access to the detail budget and are left with little more than blind hope that the budget is appropriate. It may be, but since the full budget isn't provided, who can tell.

Second, I don't think a 5 year operating plan is much good. That long a window typically assumes an economic environment similar to the environment that exists when the plan is made. Over a 5 year cycle, that is rarely the case. The capital plan is a prime example - it was created when the newspapers were talking about Dow Jones Averages of 39,000, NASDAQ was above 5,000 and there were more paper millionaires than actual ones. Following an economic plan that was built in that environment doesn't make much sense today, as the climate has changed so much.

If you are correct in that the $1.5 million in new salaries and benefits is in one line, then the school budget increase is more than 13% originally requested, because the majority of those salaries under contract go to the teachers and school staff.

The comment on another one of your posts, you said you didn't follow the logic of how to arrive at the 6% budget increase. Assuming level services, the cost of providing those services should increase roughly by the increase in the student population multiplied by a factor for inflation. This assumes level service, not an increase in service requirement as implied by your comment. So in Franklin's case, a reasonable proxy for the budget increase would be:

Student population factor: 101.4% (assumes student population grows by 1.4%)
Multiplied by an inflation factor of 1.04 (assuming 4% inflation).

This would imply that a reasonable proxy for the increase in the budget should be 5.5%. The school, factoring in the separate line for wage increases under contract, is asking for something on the order of 3x this amount. That seems way out of line.

My response:

To your first point, the details of the budget can be found here --> FY08 school budget (PDF). My review of this, including observation of the detailed discussions during the School Committee meetings, the Finance Committee meetings, and ultimately the Town Council discussions on the school budget has left me with a comfort level that yes, the $6 million requested. $6 more than the FY 07 budget, is justifiable. The Town Council decision was to fund $2 million of this request due to the Special Education mandates that are out of the School Dept (and hence Franklin's control) and to fund another $2.1 million via the override (600,000 of the override would go to the town side of the budget to restore Library and other department cuts from the $2.7 million override total).

If after review of these details, you still have questions, then I would suggest that phone calls or emails to the Superintendent or members of the School Committee would provide some answers.

On your second point, the 5 year plan I refer to is a rolling plan updated every year based upon what is known and provides additional insights to the future. The 5 year plan for the capital budget I referred to was presented during the Finance Committee meeting on April 30th. It was just updated by each department this year with in most cases an outlook longer than 5 years for the individual departments.

I believe such a plan should be prepared and would indeed provide some value with regular updates. As a parent with two daughters in college, the family did some planning to prepare for this event. It was not going to be a surprise to us to be paying double tuitions. We could calculate several years in advance to know what what coming. No, the crystal ball couldn't tell us where each would end up but we knew that there was going to be an overlap of two years where both were going to be faced with tuition bills.

I believe similar fiscal prudence should be exhibited by our elected Town Council. They have been telling us this override is not a surprise. That they have known for several years this override was coming. Okay, I'll accept that. I'll also look for an estimate of what it will take to get Franklin into a self-sustaining budget. What will it take to get us to a level of income to support our continued growth? How much will next years override be? How many years will there need to be an override? Or are there other options to consider as sources of revenue?

Let's pass this one. And then focus the discussion on the future.

Note: on our tuition bills, my wife and I have worked out the arrangement with our daughters to split the tuition. We pay half, they pay half. Any scholarship or grant money comes off their portion. This helps to reinforce the need to maintain good grades which in turn maintains their eligability for the scholarships, grants, etc. They both were Franklin High School honor students and are doing very well in their respective colleges.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Myths vs. Realities

Ed Cafasso has a good summary of some of the myths making the rounds with the reality behind them. The article is posted on the Franklin School Committee blog.

These are the myths covered:

MYTH: The Town and the Schools don’t have a long-term plan.
MYTH: The Town and the Schools don’t have any fiscal discipline.
MYTH: The Town and the Schools are not doing anything to address ongoing budget problems.
MYTH: The Town and the Schools have negotiated sweetheart deals with all the public employee unions.
MYTH: The schools have laid off teachers as a scare tactic to get more people to support the override.
MYTH: The Town should have done more to plan for a revenue shortfall.
MYTH: The schools have never tried to reduce spending.
MYTH: The fact that all these new buildings are going up, like the new fire station and the new senior center, must mean that the Town has the money it needs.

Read the realities behind each of these here.

Response to Anonymous' Questions

Anonymous stopped by today to make comments on four of the override related postings. I have responded to each of them and to save multiple clicks digging for them, collected them here.

If you care to identify yourself Anonymous, we can have a real conversation.

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "Pink slips delivered":
Why would the town and school department deliver pink slips before the end of the school year? Isn't this de-motivating for the teachers? This action doesn't make any sense unless the purpose was grandstanding prior to the vote on the override.

I replied:

Anonymous, you might have missed the discussion at one of the School Committee meetings but the teacher contract calls for notifications by a specific date. The Superintendent has determined to provide as much advance notice as practical in order for the fine folks who are in danger of losing their positions to find work elsewhere.

This is a good move on their part, one more sign of good management by the Superintendent.

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "Franklin Charts Summary":

Does per pupil spending include the fees that are paid for busing and activities? Is the school department comparing spending to towns where these fees do not exist? What is the per pupil spending if you include the impact of activities and bus fees?

What about the impact of a charter school in town? Is the cost of running this school included in the budget? What about the children? Are they included in the denominator of this equation?

If the children are included in franklin's school population, but the cost is not included because it is state funded, then the calculation of per pupil spending is skewed.

I replied:

Anonymous, the numbers are calculated by the MA Dept of Education to ensure comparison across the 351 communities of MA.

The Charter School is funded by our tax dollars. The same per pupil rate that we pay for schooling our Franklin students is what the Charter School gets.

For further analysis on the per pupil costs, I would defer to the DOE web site I linked to. They are the experts on this.

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "Back to the drawing board, again":
If the schools are the town's highest priorities, then why isn't that budget fully funded? Why isn't the override about funding the lower priority items in the budget rather than saving schools and library.

The two steepest cuts in the budget are the school and the library. Schools asked for 58 million and even with the override will get 54. The library asked for 928k and will get 653k. Why is the town council focusing on these critical areas?

There are two other areas of the budget that are confusing to me. Under the benefits section of the budget summary, there is a new line item of $1.2 million of teacher health insurance. There is no equivalent line item in the 2007 budget. Is this a new cost? And below that there is something called a compensation reserve of $350k. What is that? That is $1.5 million in costs that didn't exist in 2007 but are now necessary to provide equivalent services?
I replied:

Anonymous, as to why the town council isn't funding the highest priorities, I would put that question to them. I think they should have gone for the $4 million override to fully fund the level service budget for the schools and the town. They chose otherwise.

They chose to ignore the advice of the Finance committee on the override amount and the use of the stabilization funds. They are accountable for their decisions. They put us all in a bad position.

I will continue to ask them for a 5 year operating budget plan. The town departments have all drawn up a 5 year capital budget. The operating side of the budget could be just as easily prepared. Clearly, it is a forecast and can be adjusted as it goes, but they should at least let us know what the future looks like. Doing otherwise is fiscally irresponsible.

The answer to the new line item as I recall being provided at the May 1 open forum was that this was the line item to cover for the union contract negotiations. All the contacts are due this year. What increase is expected is lumped into the one line for the budget. It did not exist last year as a separate line as the increases were part of the existing contract and found in the normal salary and compensation lines of the budget.

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "Override Vote on May 22 - Yes or no?":

I am undecided on my vote, because I lack the information to fully support a yes vote. This will sound bipolar, but I am for fully funding the schools in Franklin, while fundamentally against voting yes to additional taxes.

I look at this issue in two sections. First, is the school budget appropriate for this town and the service level we expect.

Once the town and school department finalize a fair budget that supports the mission, the issues moves to the town level. If the town believes that the schools are the most important service offered for tax dollars, why aren't the schools fully funded. To me, the override isn't to pay for the schools, it is to pay for the lower priority services.

In order to get comfortable with issue 1, I have specific questions on the school budget?

#1 - why does the school budget need to increase 13% when the student population over the past 5 years has increased at a rate of 1.4%? Even factoring inflation in at 4%, the increase should be more on the order of 6%. see and calculate annual growth rate.

#2 - what are the $1.2 million in teacher health insurance and $350k compensation reserves? I remember hearing that a change in teacher health care would save the town money. This appears to cost an addition 1.2 million. And the $350k appears to be total fluff.

#3 - Where is the full budget and operating plan for 2008? Why is this not available on line?

From a town level, I'd like to know what services would be eliminated if there was a mandate to fully fund the school budget. Would the town eliminate 100% the library and recreation departments? Would DPW projects be delayed or eliminated? I'd rather have an override choice on these matters as opposed to fully funding DPW and mostly funding recreational activities at the expense of quality of schools.

At a town level, what other ideas have they pursued to fund things like recreation, library, senior services etc. Many towns have sponsorships for recreational teams and have advertising around fields. These items could replace tax dollars and provide a benefit to businesses operating in Franklin. I'd like to see some creativity as it relates to funding operations, especially recreation.

What do you think? Why are you comfortable with these items?
I replied:

Anonymous, I don't follow your analysis on school population increases versus budget increases. The growth in school population has been less recently but the special education and other state requirements are increasing faster than the population hence the increase in the budget. So the factors to understand the increases lie beyond Franklin. I don't pretend to understand them all, which is why much of my information is linked to the DOE web sites.

As for the town council priority, they should explain. I do not endorse their position. I think they should have fully funded a level service budget for all the town services which would have meant voting for a $4 million override. We don't get to cast that vote however. We only get to vote for $2.7 million. So voting no, would leave us in a worse position and that makes no sense to me.

As for the options and creativity, the time is past for those questions right now. I recommend participating in future town council and Finance committee meetings to raise those points. They are valid but moot at this time.

The question for May 22 is simple, do we provide $2.7 million more to provide some level of service comparable to last year or do we live with less services?

My vote is yes to provide more and avoid the service cuts.

Then I'll get to the Finance and Town Council meetings to press for a 5 year operating budget so we will have a better understanding of what the future holds.

I hope to meet you there.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Oak Street Kindergarten Show

The four kindergarten classes at Oak Street School put on their Spring Performance on Friday, May 11, 2007. The combined classes are shown on the risers in the auditorium.

The performance was attended by many parents and family there to enjoy and capture the moment with any number of electronic devices.

The last piece performed was "What a wonderful world". It was a multifaceted performance in that the large poster (held by the children in front) had been prepared by some of the students while others in the class were learning sign language. As the song was performed, those who had learned the sign language, signed along.

After signing and singing the song, the large screen in the auditorium was used to project a slide show of photos taken in the weeks prior as the students worked on the posters and learned sign language.

After the performance, the families were invited back into the classroom for refreshments and to explore the classroom.

This is Mrs Sherlock's kindergarten classroom.

The exploration of the classroom was a wonderful thing to observe.

What will this day be like next year? There are four kindergarten classes at Oak Street this year, there may only be three next year. Simple math: 80 divided by 4 or by 3. The class size averaging 20 this year may grow to 27 next year. At this critical age (kindergarten) where exploring and learning need to take place within a developmentally appropriate environment, will the same amount of attention provided to the class of 20 be provided to the class of 27?

Your vote on May 22 is important for the education of Franklin's future.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Happy Mother's Day

Wishing a happy, healthy and enjoyable family day to all the Mothers in this wonderful world!

A special note for all Mothers in Franklin, especially those with school age children, please be informed about the pending override and vote on May 22.

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Friday, May 11, 2007

Franklin makes news in Maine

Yes, the world is flat, what we do here is indeed watched elsewhere:

For a small window on what life might be like in a world "post TABOR" one has only to look to our former "motherland" to the south where "Prop 2-1/2" has brought about great distress among educators and town leaders alike.

Steve Sherlock an educator/blogger has been describing, in a series of entries, the daily anguish taking place in his town of Franklin, MA where proposed budget cuts, "pink slips" and efforts to "override Prop 2-1/2" have taken over. And it's not apparently limited to school personnel; the town library, police and fire department are all facing drastic cuts. All because a piece of legislation was put in place that makes the cuts automatic. And, all this in a town that has $4 million in a savings account from a lawsuit settlement several years ago.

Note: TABOR is an acronym for "Taxpayer Bill of Rights"

You can read the full story from our northern neighbors here

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Pink slips delivered

The pink slips to the teachers that could be affected by the failure to pass the override were delivered yesterday.

Not a good day for Franklin.

"Franklin is broke folks, this is not a surprise." Town Administrator Jeff Nutting said, during one of the budget discussions.

Franklin has grown more than the Prop 2 1/2 funding will allow. Franklin voters now must approve the increase in the tax base to provide for the level of service they have come to expect.

Actually, if the Town Council had put forward the $4 million override, that amount would be closer to maintaining the same level of service next year as this.

But that choice was already made for us. We have only a poor option of approving the $2.7 million override which provides some funds but still requires hurtful cuts.

Be informed.
Vote May 22.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Back to the drawing board, again

The School Committee meeting sent the Superintendent back to the drawing board to see if the proposed language and music cuts could be kept even if the override passes.

A gallant effort.

You know folks, cuts are going to be painful. The budget is so tight, any one thing will trigger an emotional reaction from the affected parties.

The time it takes to do the analysis delays getting the message to the entire community. It delays getting the layoff notices out to the teachers that would be affected.

Let's get real folks. Cuts hurt. There will be hurtful cuts no matter what happens if the override fails.

Let's focus on getting the vote out for the override to pass!

That is a challenge that will require a whole lot of effort and we have so little time.

May 22 is rapidly approaching.

Teachers face uncertain future

Michael Morton of the Milford Daily News reported on a teacher meeting held on Tuesday at the high school.

"It brings the teachers together," said Mary Doherty as she left the information session. Doherty, a Franklin parent and fourth-grade teacher at Oak Street Elementary School, said, "There are a lot of teachers in there getting cut."

During the meeting, staff also received an update on contract talks, with union President Chandler Creedon Jr., the Horace Mann Middle School psychologist, later confirming that negotiations are on hold until the fate of a $2.7 million Proposition 2 1/2 tax override is known. The schools' portion would be $2.14 million.

The session focused on budget issues with three main concerns, according to union Vice President Donna Grady, who is a kindergartner teacher at Helen Keller Elementary School: staff reductions, larger class sizes if teachers are lost, and trying to get information out to parents in an appropriate and ethical manner.

"It's very discouraging," she said of the situation, adding that not having immediate answers before the May 22 override vote increased the frustration. "It's really just waiting for what the budget is going to be."

For the full article, you can read it here.