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In The Arena

In the Arena: A mind of its own

When laypeople use words like “baffling and “illogical” to describe a school-related public policy decision, it is more likely than not to be greeted with a somewhat dismissive shrug by the policy’s architects.

It’s a little harder to blow off those words, however, when they are being spoken by the person who has run your school system for much of the last decade.

“I really don’t understand it, and neither do the other administrators,” Greenfield School Superintendent Susan Hollins said, in reaction to last week’s School Committee vote not to accept new School Choice students for the 2014-15 school year.

“We only accept a School Choice student if we have space in an already existing program, and we accept maybe six students a year, and it gives us a small amount of financial stability with extra things we do for our students, like offering fee-free programs,” Hollins said. “So the logic of it doesn’t make sense, particularly since we still have districts driving to Greenfield every day to bus our students out.”

Fortunately for Hollins, the School Choice issue — and this committee — are no longer her problem after this year. That headache will belong to Jordana Harper-Ewert, whom Hollins declined to discuss directly — even though she clearly recognizes the potentially difficult position her successor is being placed.

“If I were coming into a district with a history of struggling with (financial) stability, for me, I would want to take a really good look at the entire financial situation before ruling out any options,” Hollins said. “Philosophically, School Choice shouldn’t cause harm, but I don’t think our particular choice guidelines harm anyone.”

Clearly, at least four members of the School Committee felt differently on the night of the vote, that now has to be repeated because no public hearing was held prior. That hearing, and the subsequent re-vote, takes place at 6:30 Tuesday night at the Greenfield Middle School Cafeteria.

Greenfield parents, feel free to show up and make your voices heard, even though a majority of this committee appears to already have its mind made up on this one.

Credit clarification

One rule of thumb when campaigning for office: If you are going to take credit for a record of accomplishment, make sure it’s yours.

Greenfield Town Council President Mark Wisnewski seemed to forget that during last week’s candidate’s debate, were he touted all his council has done to foster a more business-friendly environment in Greenfield.

“We’re going to have Kennametal bringing in 60 jobs. That’s because we, as a council, have set a climate to promote business,” Wisnewski said. “They like Greenfield because we’ve have made it better.”

It was compelling rhetoric, but I prefer to look at the actual record. The specific successes Wisnewski cited were moving public comment from the end to the beginning of council meetings, establishment of a capital budget, increased stabilization funding, a stable municipal budget, creation of a municipal broadband system, the aforementioned Kennametal deal and an increased commitment to solar energy.

The first three, Wisnewski and the council definitely played a leading role in, especially on moving the public forum and the development of the capital budget process, and it did vote this past week for a tax increment financing package for Kennametal. But almost everything else on that list, including the “supremely stable” budget, originated with the mayor. In fact, there were certain members of the council last year who wanted to tax up to the full Proposition 21/2 levy limit and bank the money, even though William Martin’s budget came in $670,000 below said levy when it was submitted for council consideration.

The most surprising part of that debate, aside from Alfie Siano’s incredibly solid performance, was the amount of mayoral admiration expressed by almost every incumbent. We’ll see how many of them are still feeling the love next month, when it comes time to vote on Martin’s reappointment of Roxann Wedegartner to the Planning Board.

The past, present and future

Isaac Mass’ electoral “dog whistle” to old guard Greenfield Democrats will be blowing loudly again tonight in the downtown area.

The at-large council candidate will host “Politics at the Pushkin” from 6 to 8 at the Pushkin Gallery, a fundraiser that will include a number of bipartisan names from Greenfield’s political past.

“This town has a rich political history, and this is a chance to honor that,” Mass said. “I’m proud to have the support of people on both sides of the aisle during this campaign.”

Tonight’s keynote speaker is former Greenfield Mayor Christine Forgey, who has been working in her own way to encourage as many voters as possible to get to the polls on June 10.

“It’s really important,” Forgey said. “There’s a lot at stake in this election, and I’m just hoping the voters realize that.”

If they don’t by now, I’m not sure they ever will.

Chris Collins is the Franklin County News Bureau Chief for WHAI, WPVQ and WHMP Radio. He is a former staff reporter for The Recorder, and is a Greenfield native.

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