Wednesday, April 8, 2009

FM #37 - Focus group recap

This is #37 in the series of podcasts on what matters in Franklin, MA. In this session I recap the feedback from the two Focus groups that the Financial Planning Committee held on 4/2/09.

Time: 14 minutes, 14 seconds

MP3 File

Session Notes

I spent some time going back through the Focus Group notes that were published here and here to try and come up with a summary. The multiple pages of the two sets of notes can be overwhelming. Of course, the report the Financial Planning Committee is putting together is at the root of this. As much as there is in the report, it needs to be as simple as possible and answer as many questions as possible. That is the challenge!

Why were there two sessions?
To simplify the feedback, one group was given the Executive Summary and the other group was given the detailed report. Each session handled one section of the report.

Initial reactions
  • There was fear in reading this, we moved here because the school system was good, now that it appears to be going down hill, what will it be like when my kids get there (into school)?
  • This is information never really seen together, the facts are good, also left (me) with a lot of questions.
  • It's scary that this hasn't been done before.
  • I am shocked to see how much disproportionately we are dependent upon the state compared to other towns. This raises some concerns that we can do what we think is right but that the state can change and we don't have control.
  • Gee, we are getting an extraordinary value for what we are getting.

What does this tell me?
Across both sessions, the initial reactions were similar. The responses were similar whether they saw the Executive Summary or the detailed report. The numbers are staggering but they are what they are.

Interesting to find out that this (five year plan) has been done before. One indicated at least three times but each time the information was not maintained and hence obsolete quickly.
Action - Franklin does need to maintain this plan, period!

Other key comments
  • Call to action, unified communications will be key
  • Perception is that the town is always finding money.
  • One of the first things that struck me was one of the last things you say on Page 9; “our forecasts excludes certain future costs” I understand why you need to say that but will anyone of those blow up and destroy what we have done in this report?
  • I think our town needs to look at this at the community as a whole, I think there are parts of the town that look at one department or the other, there is a perception of that, starting from the top,
  • With all the issues that Franklin has, it does come down to school, it is a big part of town,we are talking of the future of this town, it drives the property values, if we don't come together now and fix it, we are talking of the future of the town.
What does this tell me?
While Jeff Nutting is fond of saying "There are no secrets here", there are quite a few folks who don't believe that. Transparency is not just a good thing. Transparency is a requirement.

A unified front will help dispel the inaccurate perceptions. If the Town Council, School Committee and Finance Committee join together in saying with one voice, this is what needs to be done, then there will be some credibility. If there are disconnects, there will be problems.
Choice: United, we will stand. Divided, we will be conquered.
Additional Explanations Needed
  • Charts need to be fully labeled
  • How do we explain the State Aid formula?
  • Tri-County funding, what do we pay per student compared to Franklin?
  • Need a better explanation of the DOE numbers where the line was added to ensure a total.
  • Can we compare the % of the Franklin school, fire, police budget to the other communities?
  • Explain tax levy (what it includes, excludes).
  • What about the consolidation efforts on the Town side, not very visible.
  • Explanation of capital versus operational dollars
  • Review pages (eg. Page 4, 5, 17) to see if graphs or pie charts would make the information easier to read.
  • Page 21, it says “what can we do about it?” but there is not enough detail here to make a decision. "Improving process efficiency" What does that mean?
  • Split tax rate, needs an explanation of why or why not.
  • Explain debt service as a part of operational dollars
What does this say to me?
As much as there were comments about "there is too much information", what ever is published needs to be accurate and simple. One page needs to tie to another. Some basic information and terms need to be explained. We (deliberately, the "collective we") need to set the table for the discussion with the proper definitions and explanations so that the discussion can proceed around the same set of facts.

Action: Some minor tweaks remain to tighten up the numbers and explanations.


This podcast has been a public service provided to my fellow citizens of Franklin, MA

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If you have questions or comments you can reach me directly at shersteve @ gmail dot com

The musical intro and closing is from the Podsafe Music Network
Jon Schmidt - Powerful Exhilarating Piano Music

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