The proposal to change the date of town meeting from the second Saturday in March to the first Saturday in May is a town meeting warrant article that is being brought forward by the school committee and school department.
Selectmen Chair Ted Flynn voted to recommend approval of the article, while Selectmen Shawn Dahlen and David Madigan voted against it. School committee chairman John Heinstadt said that moving the town meeting ahead two months will help the school department in its budgeting, giving it more time to get more accurate figures on items that vary annually such as state aid, special education placements, student enrollment and staffing.
He said that the schools do not have firm numbers on things like enrollment until a month or two after school begins in September, but at that same time, the school business office is already starting to create a new budget for next year because of the town’s internal early deadlines.
School Superintendent Dr. Ben Tantillo explained, “We close out our previous budget at the end of September, but by then, we are working on our operating budget and also on next year’s budget.”
School business manager Susan Nauman said that she must create a report for the Department of Education that is due on Sept. 30. Because of the budget work that falls at the same time, Duxbury must always ask for a 30-day extension to file this report. Heinstadt said the schools chose the first weekend in May, so as to not conflict with April school vacation.
“In our limited, narrower viewpoint, we do not see a negative to moving the meeting to a later date,” he said.
Selectmen discussed whether moving the date further into the spring would impact town meeting attendance, since residents might avoid the meeting to get things done in the better weather.
“It seems to be the time of year when most people are available,” said Selectman Shawn Dahlen.
“What does two months buy you?” Dahlen asked, explaining that the school department already knew the amount of revenue they had to work with as it was set in March and was limited by constraints of Proposition 2 ½.
Heinstadt said the school department’s expenses are the variables, such as out of district special education placements. Tantillo said 191 students enrolled in Duxbury schools after the start of school last year. Selectman David Madigan said town officials should figure out how to streamline town meeting to make it more “appealing” for people to attend, no matter when the date is. Town Meeting Moderator Friend Weiler agreed that town meeting must become more efficient.
“People don’t want to sit there for three days,” Weiler said.
He said he felt that a later spring date might impact town meeting attendance. Flynn disagreed, saying attendance was driven by issues.
“If we have a controversial issue then we could hold a meeting in August and people would attend,” he said.
At this year’s annual town meeting on March 9, voters will have the chance to decide whether they want to change the date of town meeting.
In related business, selectmen voted unanimously to support a warrant article that would amend the town’s bylaws to ensure that the date of the town election will always be two weeks after town meeting. The bylaws currently state that the elections will be the fourth Saturday in March.
Selectmen said that if voters change the date of town meeting, then the date of the town election must change too.