Meeting mystery: School budgeting dates added, thwarting request by City Council (updated)
The public hearing and budget subcommittee meeting held Thursday were added to the existing budget calendar as recently as Jan. 17 by co-chairs Richard Harding and Kathleen Kelly, not without causing some tension.
Vice mayor Marc McGovern, a former longtime School Committee member who now leads the City Council’s Finance Subcommittee, had scheduled a joint meeting between the committee and council to review school budget issues for the same evening.
The date was blank on the budget schedule Harding and Kelly released in December, which they referred to as “streamlined” compared with the previous year. It showed dates that jumped from a Jan. 31 budget retreat to a Feb. 7 budget retreat.
In past years, the council, which has to approve the school budget, has sometimes bristled at what members call a “lack of communication” from the committee about its budget needs. In 2013, four councillors sparked outrage from some quarters by holding up passage of the budget, wondering whether the schools were sufficiently funded or if budget priorities were sufficiently clear.
“Every year,” McGovern told Cambridge Day in response to a query, “we talk about how it would have been beneficial for our two elected bodies to have sat down together earlier in the budget process so that the council could better understand the challenges being faced by the School Committee and school department.”
To avoid that, McGovern said, he tried to schedule a joint meeting earlier in the process “so the council could be brought up to speed on the district’s financial situation.”
He set the joint meeting for Thursday – and was surprised when Harding and Kelly later added committee meetings for the same date.
“Neither of the budget co-chairs reached out to me to ask me to reschedule the Finance meeting or to explain why they scheduled a meeting for the same time, so I am a bit confused as to why that action was taken,” McGovern wrote in an email.
“Let me be really clear,” he added, “I have full respect for the responsibilities and authority of the School Committee. I was a member of that committee for eight years. This meeting was simply an attempt to get us all on the same page so we can have a smoother process and in no way was an attempt by me or anyone else on the council to overstep into the School Committee budget process.”
Neither Harding nor Kelly responded to email, phone or text requests for comment.
On Jan. 18, McGovern said he would reschedule the meeting. A notice appeared Tuesday setting a roundtable meeting between the council and the committee for 6 p.m. Feb. 14, in the Dr. Henrietta S. Attles Meeting Room at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, 459 Broadway, “for the purpose of having a preliminary discussion on the FY18 School Department budget.”
This post was updated Feb. 7, 2014, with a time, date and location for a Feb. 14 roundtable.