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Clark: 'Neither side truly happy' with budget compromise

Date: 4/18/2013

By Chris Maza

LONGMEADOW — A tentative compromise on the school budget still requires approval from the full School Committee and the Board of Selectmen.

A compromise is necessary in order to avoid a dispute on the Town Meeting floor.

"From my perspective, the majority of the committee is on board," School Committee Chair Michael Clark said.

The School Department budgets originally proposed by the School Committee and the Select Board differ by more than $700,000. It has been the School Committee's position that without the additional funding it seeks, programs and staff would have to be cut.

While originally taking a stance that the matter could be debated at the Annual Town Meeting on May 7, Clark, along with School Committee member James Desroshers, accepted an invitation from Select Board Chair Paul Santaniello and Vice Chair Mark Gold to begin a formal dialogue to find a middle ground.

A potential deal was tentatively agreed upon and discussed at the School Committee's April 8 meeting.

"I think between Jim Desroshers and myself, we did a pretty good job of laying out the situation," Clark said. "The compromise is not desirable and neither side is truly happy, but that is kind of the sign of a good compromise."

Clark added that the proposed arrangement would require some sacrifices by the school department, but would ease the need for serious cuts.

"I think the committee recognizes that with this compromise number, there will still be some pain, but it won't be as drastic," he said.

While the School Committee appears to be amicable to the renegotiated budget numbers, Clark said that there is still a great deal of uncertainty, specifically regarding whether or not the Select Board as a whole would agree to the compromise. The board was scheduled to discuss the matter at its April 16 meeting.

"We really have no idea where the Select Board stands on this," he said.

He noted that Gold and Selectman Marie Angelides have voiced support for working out an agreement and Santaniello has been involved in the discussions, which he said have been very positive, but overall, uncertainty, he said, has been a major reason for the perceived hard feelings in this budget cycle.

"I think the way things were handled and the decisions that were made by the Select Board have left the School Committee uncertain about the future, which is why there was so much need for this dialogue," he said.

Clark said it was his hope that the Select Board would recognize the School Committee's willingness to negotiate in good faith and make sacrifices.

"We've conceded quite a bit and for a long time have had to make concessions," Clark said. "Hopefully the Select Board sees that and is willing to work with us."

While no subsequent meetings between the two sides have been scheduled, Clark said he would be open to more discussions to clear up any concerns either side may have.

"I don't think that would be a bad idea," he said. "Jim [Desroshers] and I have been willing to speak and if there are any impediments to the process, we want to make sure that those are cleared up."