Norwood town meeting approves budget Monday night

NORWOOD, MA — Norwood kicked off its annual town hall Monday night with the approval of city and school department budgets as well as the approval of six projects to be funded through the Community Preservation Act.

Historical Moments

The night made history when Gerri Slater presided over the city as the city’s first moderator, succeeding attorney David Hern, her veteran predecessor. It was also the first time that two female Selectman board members, Helen Abdallah Donohue and Amanda Grow, served concurrently as board members at a town meeting.

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“Tonight is going to be a night of new traditions,” Slater said.

Slater’s first “new tradition” was to ask Hugh Galligan, who was recently named Massachusetts School Administrators Association High School Principal of the Year, to lead the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance.

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It was also a moment of reflection, as Matt Walsh, longtime Norwood resident and building commissioner, who died on May 4 at the age of 59, was honored in a moment of silence.

Special town meeting

Members got to work, starting Monday’s three-and-a-half-hour session with the 10 items from the city’s special assembly. Passing easily, they were essentially of an administrative nature and related to the transfer of communal funds.

The most widely discussed of these was Item 4 regarding the distribution of the city’s $10 million proceeds from the sale of Forbes Hill to expand the Moderna campus.

The article, which was approved after some debate, allocated $6.2 million for a newly created open space stabilization fund. In addition, $2 million has been allocated to the Priority Stabilization Fund. If the item was not approved, the money would go into available cash, where it could be put to various uses.

“We felt it was a good use of that money, and we need an open space,” said Anne Marie Haley, chair of the Finance Committee. Others agreed that the money would be available to buy scarce open spaces. A potential purchase mentioned by members was the 20-acre property of Cofsky Farm.

However, not everyone agreed. A few members wondered if this was the best use of the money, including Donohue. She was the only selectman to vote against this proposal at a recent Board of Selectman meeting.

Donohue suggested that the funds be better spent going toward electrical repairs and maintenance at City Hall or toward the construction of the new Coakley Middle School building.

“I don’t think we should be in the real estate business,” she said.

The measure, which had to be adopted by a two-thirds majority of 120 to 27.

Article 6 also caused some debate, but it was adopted unanimously. He transferred $67,000 of available money to the school department to purchase computer equipment. Some wondered why the allowance was not part of the school budget.

Managing Director Tony Mazzucco explained that to take advantage of the state and federal grant cycle to fund this type of technology, funding needs to come in now rather than in the fall when traditional capital requests are presented.

School superintendent David Thomson added that technology needs to be added while school is not in session so that learning is not disrupted.

“We can’t shut down our network in the middle of the year,” he said. “It’s just not possible.”

Section 9, approved unanimously, earmarked $14.1 million to pay for the costs of upgrading the Norwood Light and Broadband distribution plant to upgrade its broadband capacity from a hybrid fiber coaxial cable to a fiber optic system. The city is one of the few in the state to have its own lighting department.

Article 7 created a local water and sewer company fund.

Annual Municipal Assembly: the budget

The town meeting approved the proposed town budget of $215,376,945 in items 4-7. The school department’s budget request of $52,801,033 generated the most discussion before approval, as Thomson explained the challenges to serve an unexpected wave of students with disabilities or whose main language is not English.

He noted that this school year, 26.9% of students speak a first language that is not English, and that many of the new students in this category speak little or no English. There are also approximately 812 special education students in the district.

“We have a moral and legal obligation to meet their needs,” he said. “And we are working diligently to achieve that.”

The number of students leaving the district this year has skyrocketed, requiring more staff, Thomson noted. The requested special education budget increase was $352,896 for new staff; for instruction of English learners, it was $210,553.

Questions have been raised about meeting these needs, which are expected to grow over the next few years. Some of the problems for young learners may have arisen because their early years were spent in online classrooms rather than classrooms due to the pandemic.

Community Preservation Articles

Members also approved the following projects, which will be funded through the Community Preservation Act:

  • A request for $10,000 to join the Regional Housing Services Organization for one year. It would allow the city to have access to housing experts to draw up an inventory of subsidized housing.
  • A request for $10,000 to restore and preserve the original coating of the City Hall building, as well as another $14,500 to restore and preserve the City’s annual reports.
  • A request for $72,000 for a pocket park on a city-owned parcel at Stearns and Elliot streets.
  • The creation of a park on the Saint Street lot that will be named in honor of Bernie Cooper, the late assistant general manager who worked for the city for 49 years.

The Annual Municipal Meeting will continue Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at Norwood High School. If a third night is needed, it will continue next Thursday, May 19, at the same time and place.

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