Wellesley’s Annual Town Meeting, which this past week was back in-person at the middle school for the first time in 3-plus years, brought to bear the sort of spirit you just couldn’t muster online. The WMS jazz band performed, the Wellesley Fire Department honor guard brought dignity and bagpipes, red-shirted Wellesley Educators Association members made their presence felt outside and inside the venue, and both the masked and unmasked seemed happy to be together serving as the town’s legislative arm.
Here’s a recap of some of this past week’s highlights, which took place Monday and Tuesday in what will be just 2 nights of what Moderator Mark Kaplan warned Town Meeting members would likely be at least a 6-session affair. Look for Town Meeting to skip ahead to Articles 19 and 20 (Hardy Elementary School funding, Warren Building HVAC funding) on Monday, April 3.
We’ve embedded Wellesley Media’s recordings of nights 1 and 2 near the bottom of this post, and you can find the warrant, Advisory Committee report, and more at Wellesley’sTown Meeting page.
Memorial resolutions for town servants who passed
Memorial resolutions were read for 6 public servants and Town Meeting members who died over the past year (resolutions are embedded below):
- Nancy Wiswall Erne
- C. Joseph “Joe” Grignaffini
- Sarah Higgs Pedersen
- Gordon Francis Kingsley
- Angela Ryan Donovan
- Helen Pogue Laird Robertson
Among the impressive accomplishments: “As a resident of Precinct F, Angela [Ryan Donovan] developed an interest in Town Meeting and served as a Town Meeting Member with perfect attendance from 1978 to 1994.”
Technical difficulties & Go Bruins!
For the most part, electronic voting via handheld devices worked, though it took some trial-and-error.
One of the test questions asked was whether the Boston Bruins would win the Stanley Cup, and Town Meeting voted resoundingly that they would.
Story time at Town Meeting
As Wellesley Public Schools Supt. Dr. David Lussier likes to say, “budgets do indeed tell stories.” So do some elected town officials, especially those that grew up here, as seen during Town Meeting.
Board of Public Works Chair Scott Bender, sharing his respect for the town’s DPW workers before summarizing the budget, harkened back to his days as a 2nd grader in Wellesley when a teacher asked him to make a board showing what he’d like to do when he grew up. “I had 2 things on my poster board—it was an astronaut and a sidewalk plow driver…so I was quite taken by the DPW at an early age…”
School Committee Chair and Town Meeting member Leda Eizenberg, in introducing the first school budget segment, referenced the last time she stood at a mic at that spot in the middle school was as a student in 1992 when she sang “a very shaky solo in a Gershwin medley.” She shouted out music teacher Ann Tomashefsky, who taught her then and now teaches Eizenberg’s kids at Upham Elementary School.
Smooth sailing through start of Article 8
As seen in the Town Meeting Scorecard, motions have passed easily so far at this year’s meeting, with roughly 200 of 240 elected Town Meeting members voting on most motions, and not more than 4 votes against any motion yet.
Motions addressed so far include the Consent Agenda, split across 2 motions under Article 3. That knocked off 12 articles in a flash.
Article 2 merely acknowledged the presentation of the town-wide financial plan and 5-year capital plan by Executive Director Meghan Jop and CFO Sheryl Strother, and a motion on this passed easily. One feel-good moment from that presentation came via a slide titled “Budget Guidelines FY24” whose first bullet point stated: “No Override.”
Jop was back on the second night of Town Meeting for further budget discussion under Article 8, along with presenters from the Board of Public Works, Board of Trustees of the Wellesley Free Library, and Wellesley Public Schools.
The town’s revenue, such as from licenses and permits, has bounced back strongly since the height of the pandemic, Jop said. Some 87% of the town’s revenue comes courtesy of your ever-soaring property taxes.
On a non-budget note, Jop also warned the crowd that “your cut-through is ending,”referring to the shutdown of Town Hall for the next 18 months beginning next week, as it undergoes interior renovations. Town offices will be taking up residence at 888 Worcester St. (Rte. 9 east).
More discussion will take place this week at Town Meeting when members dive into the FY24 omnibus budget, which includes town spending plans, including for schools. The town has presented a balanced operating budget totaling $201,363,593, with the proposed school budget at $87,832,188.
In some foreshadowing of what to expect when Town Meeting tackles Article 29 for establishment of a stormwater utility enterprise fund, DPW Director David Cohen and BPW Chair Bender were asked several questions by Town Meeting members about that fund, including its tax impact on the department’s budget. The DPW over the past year-plus has marketed the stormwater utility enterprise fund as not an additional tax, but rather a fairer way to pay for the town’s stormwater management efforts.
Among the good news shared about the DPW, the department made its smallest request ($225K) in 9 years for supplemental funding to handle snow removal and other such winter costs.
Before the main act—schools—Marla Robinson shared an update on the libraries, which as it turns out, will be conducting a cybersecurity audit, as has the town, and as the schools are planning.
Dr. Lussier was clearly the town official that Town Meeting members most want to query. He shared the school budget’s context and details (which includes assumptions that take into account settling with the teachers/staff union), and gave an update on the “rare, once-in-a-generation opportunity to build 2 new elementary schools” and the smoother-than-expected swing space efforts that have allowed construction of Hunnewell to move along. Lussier also answered factual and clarifying questions only—as instructed by the moderator—during his hour or so at the mic at Tuesday’s roughly 3-hour meeting.
Questions were raised by Town Meeting members on several topics, including the 14% increase in out-of-district tuition that the state hit Wellesley and the rest of Massachusetts towns and cities with, and that put schools slightly over the town’s 3% budget increase guidance. Communities have been used to less than 3% annual increases, with FY23 being 2.54%. Town meeting members also wanted to know about WPS administrative costs and where that money was coming from to conduct various surveys.
Town Meeting members also asked about enrollment, such as how the school handles exit interviews for those leaving WPS before graduating and whether overall staff size is increasing (even as enrollment falls). The schools have gone to great lengths to explain a dramatic decrease in enrollment in recent years, as more families chose private schools or home schooling in the face of uncertainty about public school rules during the pandemic. Lussier pointed to projected declines more in line with those pre-pandemic, and cited research showing the impact of lower birth rates on the school population here. Wellesley Public Schools expect a drop in enrollment of 76 students in the next school year, even as new housing such as The Nines have added a few dozen kids to the system.
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