Town Meeting - May 8th, 2023
Fifth night of town meeting. Materials are available from https://www.arlingtonma.gov/town-governance/town-meeting/2023-town-meeting-warrant.
(Greg Christiana, Town Moderator) Mr. Christiana says that part of the moderator's job is to act as a moderating force. Town meeting is a deliberative body, but there should be no cheering, booing, or intimidation during debate. He doesn't want town meeting to behave like the audience at last week's artificial turf forum. Mr. Christiana says he doesn't take a position on turf, but he does have a position about how the tenor of debate affects this institution.
Tonight's test vote: I support free speech for people I disagree with. Vote was 202--7--13.
(Paul Buckley, 68 Beacon St) Mr. Buckley is the president of Arlington's rotary club. They put up flags for heroes each year, and they're asking people to sponsor a pair of flags for $40. The money will be used to give scholarships.
(John Maher, Precinct 14) Mr. Maher says the Symmes Memorial Fund is soliciting grant applications, from organizations that do medical or wellness work in Arlington. They give an average of $50k/year in grants, with over $1M given in total.
(Alan Jones, Precinct 14) Mr. Jones recalls that town meeting adopted a Prince Hall proclamation two years ago. The Arlington Historical Society will hold a talk on his life and legacy.
Article 3 - Reports of Committees
(Alan Reed, Permanent Town Building Committee) Mr. Reed says the Permanent Town Building committee was created to oversee major construction and renovation projects involving the town's buildings. It's a nine-member committee that meets twice per month. They have two major ongoing projects. The first is the $9M renovation of the Central School, which is in the close-out phase of the project. The second is the $47M renovation of the DPW yard. The renovation includes four historic buildings, a new administration and maintenance facility, and a salt shed. There used to be a coal gas manufacturing plant on the site, and contamination and old infrastructure make this a challenging project. There are some concerns about what we'll find once we start renovating the holder, historic buildings.
Article 44 - Minuteman Regional Vocational Technical High School and Out of District Vocational Placements
(Christine Deshler, Finance Committee Chair) Ms. Deshler says the finance committee recommends that $8.9M be approved for the Minuteman Regional School District.
(Kathleen Dawson, Minuteman Superintendent) Ms. Dawson says that Minuteman's FY24 budget of $30M is a 4.5% increase over last year's budget. They've had a 6% increase in operating expenses. Arlington has a preliminary assessment of $8.9M, which excludes exempt debt authorized in prior years. Under the new member agreement, there's been a decrease in non-member enrollment. Arlington's enrollment has increased 15%, while our assessment has increased 13%. Higher overall enrollment has created the need for three new full time teachers.
In addition to district assessments, Ms. Dawson says that the Minuteman school aggressively pursues grant opportunities. OPEB requires a long term strategy. The district has $400k in their OPEB fund, and that amount needs to be dramatically increased.
(Mona Mandal, Precinct 9) Ms. Mandal submitted a letter to the annotated warrant at 10:00 pm yesterday evening, regarding the dismissal of Minuteman's principal. She's glad to see there's been a stakeholder meeting, and asks if that feedback was a budget driver.
(Kathleen Dawson) Ms. Dawson says yes, she heard about the need for continued improvement.
(Mona Mandal) Ms. Mandal says she'd asked for enrollment numbers, and was glad to see that information was shared. She'd like future presentations to include enrollment numbers. She asks if Ms. Dawson anticipated changes that would impact the budget, such as expenses to recruit and hire a new principal.
(Kathleen Dawson) Ms. Dawson says the current budget meets their anticipated staffing needs.
(Mona Mandal) Ms. Mandal asks about teacher's contracts, and if there were concern's about the union's vote of no confidence.
(Michael Ruderman, Precinct 9 and Minuteman Regional School Committee) Mr. Ruderman says they concluded contract negotiations a month ago, and have a collective bargaining agreement.
(Mona Mandal) Ms. Mandal asks if Ms. Dawson can speak to the school's waiting list.
(Kathleen Dawson) Ms. Dawson says it's too early. 46 students from Arlington were accepted, and there are 6 on the waiting list. We'll have to see if the students who were accepted go on to enroll.
(Mark Kaepplein, Precinct 9) Mr. Kaepplein asks if Ms. Dawson is working with Arlington public schools, to find a foundation between technical education, and what the Arlington High School offers.
(Kathleen Dawson) Ms. Dawson says she's always open to collaborating with member towns.
(Mark Kaepplein) Mr. Kaepplein says that enrollment is up 10% but operating expenses are up 28%. He asks why.
(Kathleen Dawson) Ms. Dawson says that most of the operating expenses go towards salaries.
(Nicki Andrea, Minuteman Business Manager) Ms. Andrea says the major drivers are teacher's contracts, inflation, and the need to hire more teachers. Supplies and materials are also operating expenses.
(Mark Kaepplein) Mr. Kaepplein asks about costs associated with recruiting teachers and new principal.
(Kathleen Dawson) Ms. Dawson says the school district has an internal team that does recruitment, and the associated costs are covered in the budget. They post positions nationally, and work with partner organizations. They expect to fill the open positions soon.
(Guillermo Hamlin, Precinct 14) Mr. Hamlin moves the question.
Motion to terminate debate fails by voice vote.
(Gina Carme, Precinct 16) Ms. Carme asks if there are any pending lawsuits or liabilities.
(Kathleen Dawson) Ms. Dawson says the school is not a party to any litigation.
(Michelle Orfanos, Precinct 13) Ms. Orfanos says there are no great schools without great teachers. She's unhappy that staff voted no confidence on the superintendent, and wishes to discuss the financial impact of a no-confidence vote. She says it takes significant resources to replace teachers, and believes that the cost to hire is about 1/3 the cost of the position's salary. That ties in with the budget. She wonders if Ms. Dawson has thought about the cost of resignation, and thinks there are far too many questions to be answered before town meeting can approve this budget.
(Al Tosti, Precinct 17) Mr. Tosti says he's put together a chart of vocational schools and their per-student costs, and the Minuteman is the most expensive vocational school in the state. He says it cost $34k per student at Minuteman, and Lawrence's vocation school costs $31k/student. Mr. Tosti says we need affordable schools too, and asks if there are things the Minuteman school can do to reduce costs.
(Kathleen Dawson) Ms. Dawson acknowledges that Minuteman has the highest cost in the state, but says they're also the highest paying. 47% of their budget goes to salaries and 12% to benefits. The only way to reduce that would be to pay new teachers less. She says this is why Minuteman actively seeks sources of grant funding.
(Leba Heigham, Precinct 15) Ms. Heigham says she's critical of the Minuteman School because of its high per-pupil costs. She asks if all programs have the same cost per student.
(Kathleen Dawson) Ms. Dawson says no. Each program has different needs, and the costs reflect that.
(Leba Heigham) Ms. Heigham asks about how acceptance and the wait-list translate into the school's budget.
(Kathleen Dawson) Ms. Dawson says that students aren't accepted based on the program they're interested in.
(Leba Heigham) Ms. Heigham says that the previous method of selection was biased towards higher-achieving students. She asks for a focus on creating a vocational pathway, and says the mandate of vocational schools is to create a different career path.
(Paul Schlichtman, Precinct 9) Mr. Schlichtman says he's a former Minuteman School Committee member. He asks how many towns need to approve the budget.
(Kathleen Dawson) Ms. Dawson says that six of the nine towns need to approve.
(Paul Schlichtman) Mr. Schlichtman asks if they've gotten those six approvals yet.
(Kathleen Dawson) Ms. Dawson answers in the affirmative.
(Bill Logan, Precinct 2) Mr. Logan introduces Claudia Donett, a resident who wishes to address town meeting on this article.
(Claudia Donett) Ms. Donett says she's a parent of a Minuteman student, and was surprised to hear about the recent developments. She's heard amazing words about the culture at the Minuteman School, and doesn't think we're ready to know what budget numbers we can project. She's not sure how that will look with the teachers union's vote of no confidence. She doesn't think we really understand the budget, and thinks this issue will affect enrollment.
(Carmine Granucci, Precinct 21) Mr. Granucci moves the question.
Motion to terminate debate passes by voice vote.
Article passes, 203--20--7.
Article 12 - Three-Year Moratorium on the Installation of Artificial Turf on Town Land
(Eric Helmuth, Select Board Chair) Mr. Helmuth says the Select Board urges a no-action vote. He feels the town already has a balance of regulating bodies that can deal with this issue. He's confident that process works, is fair, and represents different perspectives. Mr. Helmuth says the science is evolving and he doesn't feel there's a broad consensus about the risks of exposure. He feels that a site-by-site analysis by existing bodies is more appropriate, and a moratorium doesn't facilitate this. He'd like a fair study that considers all the angles.
(Beth Melofchik, Precinct 9) Ms. Melofchik has filed a substitute motion, which will establish a study committee. She says that crumb rubber is dangerous and natural infill contains toxins and PFAS. All artificial turf contains PFAS. Artificial turf causes pollution, and the chemicals accumulate rather than degrade. She says these toxins are forever chemicals, and there's no safe level of PFAS exposure. The EPA is proposing an exposure limit of four parts per trillion. Chemicals from artificial turf leach into water, and turf is a contributor to climate change. Ms. Melofchik says that turf isn't recycled in the US, and it's a disposal nightmare. PFAS is the new asbestos, and states are trying to ban turf. She says Article 12 is a response to the town's land management plan. She and her group have worked with scientists, and there is no turf without PFAS, and tests will not find it. She says that all residents are affected by artificial turf.
(Sanjay Vakil, Precinct 12) Mr. Vakil has an amendment to Ms. Melofchik's substitution motion. He agrees that PFAS is a problem but says there's a massive difference in PFAS levels in turf made by different manufacturers. Incremental exposure is real, but the risks are small. He thinks the benefits of more field time outweigh the risks. The goal of his amendment is to minimize risk.
(Andy Greenspon, Precinct 5) Mr. Greenspon as an amendment to Ms. Melofchik's substitute motion, which would exempt Poet's Corner from the moratorium. He says the effect of this amendment is reduced, now that Belmont Hill has backed away from their plans to build a field at Poet's Corner. Poet's Corner is a former landfill, which was not capped properly, and the town has no money for mitigation. He has no idea who the Archdiocese will sell their land to, but if the opportunity for a public/private partnership comes along, we shouldn't ban turf. The Conservation Commission will have a say. He filed his amendment to seek a compromise. Mr. Greenspon says that Parks and Recreation should have an idea of what Town Meeting will support.
(Paul Schlichtman, Precinct 9) Mr. Schlichtman says that we saw how two administrative bodies were divided at last week's artificial turf forum. There were two narratives: protecting people vs meeting athletic needs. He says grass is a good thing but our fields aren't well-maintained and we don't have enough to meet the needs of our community. The artificial turf behind the high school is part of a contamination cap, and some turf is better than others. Mr. Schlichtman's amendment would limit the moratorium to one year, and require the study committee to provide a report and dissolve by 2024. He doesn't believe that a majority of town wants a ban, or that a majority wants artificial turf unregulated.
(Janice Pagliasotti, Precinct 8) Ms. Pagliasotti has an amendment to Ms. Melofchik's substitute motion. Her amendment would make all members of the study committee voting members. She thinks the ex-offico members have extensive expertise, and their opinions should be reflected in committee decisions.
(Greg Dennis, Precinct 1) Mr. Dennis has two amendments to Ms. Melofchik's substitute motion. The first would remove one of the committee members, in order to have an odd number. He believes this will prevent issues with tied votes. The second amendment would require the committee to look at best practices, in addition to flaws. Mr. Dennis believes the substitute motion's moratorium is also a flaw, and he asks town meeting to support the Greenspon amendment. He lists a number of communities that regulate artificial turf without a ban. Springfield, Belmont, Brookline, Andover, and Boston are going forward with turf field projects. He asks "How'd we get here?". The original presentation to the Select Board had no details of the study committee, and he asks the supporters to come up with a motion that's better thought out and more balanced.
Eugene Benson and Susan Stamps have a second substitute motion to offer.
(Susan Stamps, Precinct 3) Ms. Stamps found that Belmont Hill is pulling out of Poet's corner. Article 12 is not about Poet's corner; it's about artificial turf. Putting poisons into the ground isn't the direction we want to go in. She thinks the substitute motion that she and Mr. Benson are putting forward is better. It requires the study committee to report by 2024, or earlier, and it will establish a one year moratorium on the installation of artificial turf, which a subsequent town meeting could reverse. Their substitute motion would also exempt the high school field from the moratorium.
(Eugene Benson, Precinct 10) Mr. Benson attended last week's forum, and felt that the two sides were talking past each other rather than talking to each other. He wanted a fairer, more balanced committee; theirs would have seven voting and two non-voting members.
(Susan Stamps) Ms. Stamps notes that their motion includes a conflict of interest provision that would apply to all committee members. She wants people to look at the science.
(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says the committee would look at a number of factors, and their report would be due 30 days before the next annual town meeting.
(Susan Stamps) Ms. Stamps says that one of their goals is to get people talking together, rather than over each other.
(Sandy Pooler, Town Manager) Mr. Pooler would like to say a few words about Belmont Hill School. He received written notice, saying that the school is pulling their funding of Poet's Corner. He hopes that Town Meeting supports the Select Board's recommendation of no action.
(Gary Goldsmith, Precinct 11) Mr. Goldsmith says this is a debate about artificial turf, woven with a debate about Poet's Corner. Belmont Hill School wants more fields and the Archdiocese wants to sell their land for money. He wonders how valuable the land will be. He supports the Benson-Stamps substitute motion, which calls for a decision in twelve months or less. He has questions about what happens to the site, and the long term prospects of turf.
(Jordan Weinstein, Precinct 21) Jordan Weinstein says this is a worthwhile conversation. He's a proponent of the Melofchik substitute motion. The Vakil amendment makes the case for why we need a study committee, because it doesn't consider precursor chemicals, and the standards mentioned don't consider all chemicals. He says that turf destroys ecosystems and habitat, and will create heat islands. Turf is an impervious surface, and PFAS are bio-cumulative. They build up and cause cancer. These chemicals can be inhaled, and enter the body through abrasions. The Pagliasotti amendment is okay, if you think all of the committee members should be voting members. The first Dennis amendment takes away the committee's democratic freedom to choose a chair, and the second Dennis amendment expands the scope to include best practices. However, it doesn't extend the study of best practices to include grass fields. Mr. Weinstein says there will be plenty of time to study best practices later, and he thinks the original substitute motion is the best choice.
(Robin Bergman, Precinct 12) Ms. Bergman says that artificial turf fields are personal. The chemicals are a class, but are regulated one by one, and the industry can tweak regulated chemicals to turn them into unregulated ones. In high school, the mother of her friend started dying of cancer. They lived near a Superfund site. Only a few of her friends haven't been affected by cancer, and the site is still in litigation. Artificial turf creates toxic sites. Artificial turf has multiple toxins and new research comes out regularly. She says that sports teams have clusters of cancer. She asks "why would we ban plastic bags and bottles, and then install a plastic field?"
(Christoper Moore, Precinct 14) Mr. Moore says we're seeing a moment where our understanding is changing and unclear. He asks what happens if town meeting takes the Select Board's recommendation of no action.
(Sandy Pooler) Mr. Pooler says that if town meeting votes no action, he would appoint a committee to look at turf issues. There's a lot to look at. He'd want the committee to look at the composition of fields, test standards, and the environmental impact of all playing fields, both turf and grass. Also health issues associated with playing on turf fields, playing needs, and the feasibility of organic field management. He'd want this committee to produce a report by 2024.
(Christopher Moore) Mr. Moore thinks that's a sign that people are being heard. It puts together a committee of different boards. Mr. Moore supports the Select Board's recommendation of no action. He thinks it's a sensible way forward.
(Andy Greenspon, Point of order) Mr. Greenspon has a question about dividing the question.
(Greg Christiana, Town Moderator) Mr. Christiana says he'd be inclined to divide the motion, if what we're left with is susceptible to division.
(John Hurd, Precinct 18) Mr. Hurd says he's always baffled by the amazing work that Arlington does. He understands where the proponents are coming from, and Massachusetts has pending legislation on artificial turf. He thinks this is a state issue. The state can bring in experts and make an informed decision. The state can also create a level playing field for athletics. He talks about the importance of having playing fields for kids and is worried we might be taking something away from them. There's a lot of demand for Arlington's playing fields. In the last week, 5--6 games were canceled because of weather, and only 2--3 were played. He thinks the imposition of a moratorium would be unfair to our children. He urges a yes vote on the Dennis amendment, but a no vote on the substitute motion as a whole.
(Phil Lasker, 1 Claremont Court, and chair of the Parks and Recreation Committee) Mr. Lasker says the Parks and Recreation committee was devastated by Belmont Hill's decision to withdraw. The committee opposes the moratorium on artificial turf. Organically managed fields are not the answer to our field shortage. The way to accommodate our playing needs is with artificial turf.
(Ed Trembly, Precinct 19) Mr. Trembly says he almost got involved in picking up an artificial turf field. It was somewhere around Sudbury. Their artificial turf field was damaged by water, and parts of it started to float away. He'd like to see the town buy the land by Poet's corner, and make a field with natural turf, so we could use it as a snow dump.
It's a little after 23:00, and we adjourn for the evening.