In the years that I have been following our budget cycles, the Town Council, the School Committee, there was nothing to compare to Wednesday night, October 26.
You can spin what happened that night in any number of ways (there will be at least two, and folks will, if they haven't already).
My bottom line: the Town Council played their power card and reversed their decision of passing the budget in June by reducing the school budget by $350,000. They may have said this was not against the teachers. This was not against the union. They may have said this was a funding issue. But rather than work to find the funds, they cut. Rather than help the children of Franklin whose educational opportunity has been in a decline for years, they cut. Rather than attempt to work together with the School Committee, they buried them.
In January 2008, probably the last time the entire Council and School Committee were in the same room together (other than on a 'candidate night'), both were together to listen to the Forensic audit report. That event started in the 2006 budget cycle when the Finance Director position was cut from the School Department budget. The assistant was moved up, did not get certified, the school department did not ask for a waiver, the person made incorrect transfers and then got caught in an audit. The incident was attempted to be buried in the news over the Thanksgiving holiday and ultimately wasn't. Franklin voters are smart. They know when something is being pulled over them.
Why do I raise that dark day? A few times Wednesday night many folks recounted the hours they spent working to get an over ride passed. The two most recent both failed. The two most recent were focused on the school budget. The one that did pass, the only one in Franklin's history was truly a Town wide budget override. It passed in 2007. Yes, 2007 before the forensic audit incident. No override will pass in Franklin if it is for the schools until such time as trust is restored in the school budget. Wednesday night was not a night that will go down as turning the tide.
Since that January 9, 2008 meeting neither the School Committee nor the Town Council has done much to truly try to be transparent and build trust. Despite all the talk, actions speak louder than words. So we are left with a choice.
1 - If the Town Councilors can't be trusted, you'll believe that they played their power card. It was a pure play power move. Us versus. them. TC vs. SC. To save their bruised egos, they cut the school budget to correct a decision they made based upon incomplete info in June.
2 - If you can believe the Town Council can be trusted, then there is more 'found money' in the school budget. Despite taking the $350K away from the schools, they feel the school budget has the money that will enable them to not add more damage to our students education.
There are no winners in this situation.
Educational opportunity in Franklin takes another hit.
Trust in Franklin takes another hit.
Now, there may still be hope.
Maybe there is a third choice.
This Town Council has one more meeting (Weds Nov 2).
Maybe. Just maybe, in the light of a new day, with a clearer head than they expressed on Wednesday night, they will reconsider the implications of their actions.
Maybe, just maybe, the School Committee will attempt to explain their budget and the impact the cut would have.
Maybe, just maybe, we might all get past this without further scarring the educational experience of our 6,000 students.