CHICOPEE — The Committee of the Whole discussed adopting Chapter 329 of the Acts of 1987, an act increasing local control over the annual school budget, during its May 6 meeting.

The committee was tasked with making a favorable or unfavorable recommendation to the City Council.

After discussing the act, the committee denied the favorable motion.

The item was proposed by City Councilor At-Large Timothy Wagner and he discussed his reasoning for sending this item to the committee.

Wagner said, “I know a lot of School Committees have adopted the way of adding the mayor to the School Committee whether as a member or as a chair to bridge the gap between executive and legislative, and School Department. There are still some times, we’ll reference Greenfield, when the mayor proposed substantially less than what the School Committee asked for. I think it could potentially be a good tool if the City Council wanted to, to be able to have a little more financial control within the city of Chicopee rather than voting up or down whatever the mayor puts in front of us.”

If the City Council was to adopt this act, it would take a 2/3 vote and they would give them the power to appropriate an amount up to what the School Committee asks while not exceeding the limits outlined by Proposition 2½.

Wagner said they is no pressing matter that would require this act at this time but having “additional tools in our belt could be a good idea.”

Wagner added that this administration has always given a guarantee that whatever the School Department needs, it would give it but wanted to discuss this act for potential future mayors.

“Let’s say we have a mayor somewhere down the line that doesn’t think that way and thinks the School Department needs less money. There is no recourse for this council being able to get that money back. It would take a two-thirds majority vote of the council and I get there are good concerns but I think we ought to adopt this and ought to be able to reappropriate some money if we see fit.”

Mayor John Vieau’s Chief of Staff Michael Pise was at the meeting to explain the possible rationale of the act.
He said, “I had some trouble finding the requirements as to why that act was proposed and why it was adopted but I can tell you back in 1985, when that reform was passed, there was a lot of tension between the executive branch and the School Committee.”

Pise added that back then, the mayor would state that the reason the Police and Fire departments weren’t receiving raises was because the school salaries were increasing, and the school budget was going up. At the same time, the schools were stating they didn’t have enough funds to do programs because the mayor is funding his city projects.

In 1987, to make sure net school spending would be met, Pise said he believes the state decided to include this provision so that you can go up to the School Committee amount and reach net school spending.

Pise added, “The way Chicopee I think adopted it and the way we tried to solve the problem at the time but I believe Mayor [Richard] Kos at the time, decided to get rid of the animosity between the branches and have the mayor appointed chairman of the School Committee. By making the mayor responsible for the School Committee and its budget, I think that resolved all the issues in Chicopee and we really haven’t had a lot of problems since then that I know of.”

Ward 5 City Councilor Fredrick Krampits was against adopting the act and he provided his reasoning.

He said, “It is an interesting tool, but I can see the potential problems with that. As most of the councilors are aware, when it comes to School Committee budget, we can either pass it or we can reduce it, but you can’t reduce certain sections of the budget. You can’t say we are going to take let’s say $2 million out of transportation or something like that or if they ended up in this case if this was passed and they came up short and say we need $2 million extra to fund this program, we could put that money in the budget if we pass this but that’s not necessarily when it would end up going. I understand why this was filed and it’s an interesting concept, but I worry about potential for good intentions going awry.”

Ward 6 City Councilor Samuel Shumsky echoed the same points made by Krampits but added, “It’s like a checks and balances system that we have already. I know in the past; I believe it was two or the years ago when [the School Committee] came in front of the City Council for an additional $1.5 million. I believe at the time that council said they would be willing to grant that money to the School Department if they needed it. I feel like that is kind of the same thing the language we are talking to tonight that happened two or three years ago.”

Superintendent Marcus Ware said after listening to the conversation and reading the act, he was in favor of what the City Council would like to do and welcomes any support they would like to provide to him or the School Committee.

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