By DAN TOMASELLO
LYNNFIELD — Better late than never.
After an almost hour-long delay, Spring Town Meeting finally reached the required 150-voter quorum requirement on Monday night. Voters were able to conduct the town’s business in just over an hour.
There was an extensive debate about the town’s proposed operating and capital budgets, which appeared as Articles 6 and 7 respectively. The $62,827,639 operating budget for FY23, which appeared as Article 6, represents a 3.3 percent increase over FY22’s $60,843,554 operating budget.
Main Street resident Frances Fleming, who works as Lynnfield High School’s library/media center aide, explained that her position along with the three other library aides’ positions are being eliminated from the School Department’s $28,515,911 spending plan for FY23. She urged Town Meeting to reinstate her position along with Summer Street School library aide Linda Rugato’s position into the FY23 school budget.
“We are some of the lowest paid people employed by the town of Lynnfield,” said Fleming. “We work one-on-one with students and teachers every day. If our positions are cut and Lynnfield schools only have one person working in the libraries, we will not be in compliance with the staffing recommendations made by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges and the American Association of School Librarians. The Lynnfield Public Schools’ library programs, which have been praised and copied by other districts, will be dramatically changed by the loss of the library assistants. The library and Maker Space programs will suffer as a result. It will negatively affect the students and staff of Lynnfield Public Schools. Let’s keep the amazing library and Maker Space programs that we worked so hard to build and flourish. Let’s not tear them down.”
Durham Drive resident Ellen Crawford made a motion to amend Article 6 by adding $30,000 to the School Department’s budget as part of an effort to reinstate the four library aide positions. She said the additional $30,000 would come from Free Cash.
“As a Realtor, I can say people are coming to Lynnfield because of the incredible school system,” said Ellen Crawford. “After all we have done to maintain our schools to optimum levels, how can we remove these vital library aides that provide so much support for our teachers and students? Their work extends beyond their official duties. We as a voting body need to reinstate these positions into the budget.”
School Committee Vice Chair Stacy Dahlstedt responded to Fleming and Ellen Crawford’s concerns about the four positions being eliminated.
“The School Department created a budget to reflect a 3.5 percent increase over last year,” said Dahlstedt. “This increase includes contractual obligations for our educators and a significant increase in special education costs in response to the pandemic. As a result, the district found efficiencies in every area of the budget before having to consider eliminating positions. The district prioritizes educators who provide direct instruction to our children. This was a priority this year.”
Due to the district’s budget challenges, Dahlstedt said the School Department was forced to eliminate “all of the media center aides and the high school health center aide instead of a second grade classroom teacher.” She said eliminating the second grade teacher would have increased class sizes to 25 students.
“We recognize that many of the people who serve in these positions have done so for many years,” said Dahlstedt. “We appreciate and value all of the years they have given to the district. These are always difficult decisions, and we make them with a focus on what is best for our children. If Town Meeting votes to put the money back into the school budget, Town Meeting does not determine how the funds will be spent. That is a decision that will be made by the School Committee in collaboration with the superintendent and her leadership team. The School Committee stands behind the school budget. If the money is restored, it will not be used to bring these positions back. Our priority will be to support our students’ academic and social-emotional needs, which are significant due to the pandemic. We anticipate the impact of the pandemic on student learning will likely continue in years to come, and we will do what is necessary to support these learning needs.”
Windsor Road resident George Bloom asked if there are any new positions in the school budget.
Dahlstedt said no.
After the discussion, Town Meeting voted to reject adding $30,000 to the school budget. Subsequently, Town Meeting approved the recommended $62.8 million operating budget for FY23 by a 102-22 vote.
The school budget debate mirrored a similar one that occurred at the 2018 Spring Town Meeting, which voted to appropriate an additional $30,000 to reinstate Fleming’s position as well as the LHS nurse’s aide job. Retired Superintendent Jane Tremblay agreed to reinstate both positions.
More road funds OK’d
There was also a lengthy debate about Article 7, which pertained to the proposed $2,274,851 capital budget for FY23.
Finance Committee Chairman Chris Mattia made a motion to amend Article 7 that sought to reduce the proposed allocation for the DPW’s road construction program from $600,000 to $500,000. He said the rest of the FinCom supported amending the proposed capital budget.
“This is not a recommendation against road construction,” said Mattia. “We all live here, drive on the roads and know their condition. With the appropriation we are recommending along with state funding, we are looking at spending the most on road construction that the town has ever seen, which is over $1.2 million. History has shown we are not able to spend anywhere near that amount of money in a given fiscal year.”
Mattia said the Finance Committee is concerned about current “market conditions” that have been caused by inflation.
“Things are getting more expensive,” said Mattia. “We need to have available cash on hand if something else is needed.”
Mattia proposed that Town Meeting wait until the fall session before adding the additional $100,000.
“We are not saying no in total,” said Mattia. “We are saying no right now.”
Chairman Phil Crawford said the Select Board board decided to add the additional $100,000 to the road construction program to fix “some of the worst road damage the town has ever had.”
“After our discussions with the town engineer and the DPW director, it was clear our capacity could go up another $100,000,” said Crawford. “After discussions with D&R Paving, they agreed that if we book it now, they can get the work done. Everything they do is booked at this time of year, and they will only book it if the town funds the project now. You can’t come back in the fall and fund anything at that time because it will never get done. The only way to get the roadwork finished is funding it now. There is nothing more needed in this town than getting these roads repaired.”
DPW Director John Tomasz said D&R Paving is “very reliable.”
“This additional money will allow us to start things earlier so we are not competing with other cities and towns for the same contractor,” said Tomasz. “I have confidence that we will be able to spend the money.”
Pine Hill Road resident Anne Patriquin asked which streets will not get repaved if the additional $100,000 was not added to the road construction program.
“We have changed the name of our road from Pine Hill to pine hole,” Patriquin joked.
Tomasz said the DPW uses the engineering firm, Beta Group, Inc., to rate the condition of the town’s streets.
“We have 11 streets that we are planning to get done,” said Tomasz. “With the additional $100,000, we can get another street or a street-and-a-half done. Pine Hill is not on the list for this year, but it is for next year.”
After the discussion, Town Meeting voted to reject Mattia’s amendment. Town Meeting subsequently approved Article 7.