Task force plans first meeting

Published 8:42 pm Saturday, September 6, 2014

Members of a recently created Joint City/School Task Force say they’re eager to get to work, but questions over whether the group would be able to meet in closed session have delayed their first meeting.

An initial meeting in July was postponed only hours before it would have started in closed session.

City Councilman Mike Duman, who proposed the task force and is one of two City Council members appointed to it, said the city attorney looked into the issue and decided the meetings must be open to the public. It went against his personal preference, he said.


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“My original desire was for the meetings to not be open. (Closed) meetings can always be somewhat more productive, especially if there’s negotiations involved or there’s a need for more open conversation,” Duman said. “It’s easier to have a conversation when you don’t necessarily have to worry about being politically correct.”

Even so, the members say they hope to move forward with their tasks as soon as possible.

In a May 21 letter to School Board Chairman Michael Debranski, Mayor Linda T. Johnson said the task force would “focus on the development of a strategic funding plan to address the compensation needs of our school teachers and other employees, as well as other school priorities.”

The task force also would evaluate the results of an upcoming compensation study for the school system, Johnson wrote.

Vice Mayor Charles Brown also is appointed to the task force, along with School Board members Linda Bouchard and Judith Brooks-Buck.

The mayor, the School Board chairman, the city manager and the superintendent are not on the task force, and that was intentional, Duman said.

“I feel like a fresh group that had not been quite as involved with the prior process would be able to have a more objective look at the obstacles we may or may not have,” Duman said.

Duman said he hopes the group will be able to discuss how the two bodies can work together through joint services, outsourcing, health benefits, reallocation of funds or any number of other methods.

“It’s a fiscal issue, not an education issue,” he said. “It’s strictly dollars and cents. Through this process, it’s also my hope the city’s going to benefit from this. This isn’t a one-sided issue. Hopefully we’ll also be able to find savings within the city’s budget as well, so it’s not a one-way deal.”

Brooks-Buck and Bouchard said they hope the task force ushers in a new era of understanding and cooperation between the two bodies, which in recent years have developed a tense dynamic that at times has been aired publicly by both sides.

“My hope is that we build relationships so we can get some things done,” Brooks-Buck said. “Anybody who’s willing to talk about trying to resolve some of the funding issues, we’re willing to have those conversations.”

Bouchard said the task force could serve to open lines of communication.

“Ever since I’ve been on the School Board, I have been frustrated about the lack of communication flowing back and forth between the School Board and the City Council,” Bouchard said. “I think if we could understand each other better, the City Council would have more knowledge about how we spend our money and why we spend it, and we would have a better understanding of what they are expecting of us.”

Bouchard summed up the accusations that have been lobbed between the two bodies in recent years: “The problem right now is we’re telling them we don’t have enough money to give our teachers a raise, and they’re telling us there would be enough money if we spent the money a different way.”

She said she hopes for “some real, honest interchange of ideas.”

“I hope that’s not pie-in-the-sky,” she added.