Holden Selectman Slams School District, Wants Copy Of Budget

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Holden Selectman Mark Ferguson stormed out of Monday night's meeting of selectmen in protest of the Wachusett Regional School District.
Holden Selectman Mark Ferguson stormed out of Monday night's meeting of selectmen in protest of the Wachusett Regional School District. Photo Credit: Daniel Castro

HOLDEN, Mass. — Holden Selectman Mark Ferguson turned his chair backward and left the selectmen's meeting Monday night in protest after making an impassioned speech about the school district's failure to present the town with a copy of its budget.

Ferguson's comments came before School Committee Chairman Duncan Leith, who was at the podium Monday to provide his regular district updates to the board.

"I want to protest the fact that the Wachusett Regional School District is being allowed podium time before the Holden Board of Selectmen, when frankly, they are not in good standing," said Ferguson. In an attempt to get a copy of the district budget, the town "was asked to pay some $2,300 for some 7,666 pages," he said. 

The administration has been tied up in correspondence trying to get the budget, Ferguson said, and still does not have a copy.

"This town deserves to have a copy of that budget, and it should have it on an annual basis," he said. The town makes its own budget available and puts it on file at the Gale Free Library every year, he said.

"I can't sit here in good conscience and pretend for a second that there is some goodwill from the school committee to the Board of Selectman," he added, saying that without a copy he would turn his chair and exit the room.

Leith, who was criticized by members of selectboards at a recent regional meeting on the district budget, left after Ferguson's speech.

"I don't need to be treated this by another elected official in the Town of Holden," Leith said before stepping down from the podium. "If you don't want to hear our reports, I'm fine with leaving this meeting. Our (School Committee) meetings are held on the second and fourth Monday of the month, and full reports are sent to the town manager's office."

Ferguson's remarks were his own and did not reflect the majority of the board, Selectboard Chairman Anthony Renzoni said.

"The selectboard has appreciated the relationship with Leith over the last year," Renzoni said, adding that he appreciated his continued willingness to attend meetings to answer questions.

Ferguson's remarks were uncalled for, Selectman Ken Lipka said, and he was embarrassed by them.

"It's incumbent upon us to let people speak, and say what the facts are, regardless of how we feel."

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Comments (22)

After serving for nearly nine years on the select board alongside Mark Ferguson I came to expect his outrageous, rude and nasty behavior. These were just a few of the reasons he was voted off the BOS and lost numerous political contests after including positions for state rep and town moderator. I can only guess that new voters were unaware of this man's history and will retire him once again at the end of this term. Duncan Leith has done more to advance the dIstrict's schools then anyone during the past 25 years and his efforts and achievements will be long remembered.

One other thing to keep in mind is that we should not expect the State to step in as they would also not want to expend the funds to persue any protracted legal actions. So like it or not "we the people" ultimately have to make the choice. Given how things seem to work in politics we should resign ourselves to the facts that we pay and there will be no actions to persue or prevent these types of "shenigans" in the future.

I was pleased to see that the normal audit found no "intent" in these budget problems. I did state on this site that I was reluctant to accuse the administration of personal gain and did not think that such was the case. But having said that, I also believe that no one should expect the administration to be totally forthcoming regarding the questions that the BOS's of all the towns have posed along with numerous other individuals, myself included, because I am sure that competent legal counsel has been consulted with privately by the major players. So Dr. Pandiscios no show should not be viewed as a surprise by anyone. Mr. Leiths inability to answer direct questions should also not be surprising, but really is embarassing to the SC as a whole because they, like the rest of us, have been presented with a whole host of obfuscations. Now the reasons behind this probably lie with advice from counsel to remain silent and avoid incriminating oneself. Why such a thing can happen can be explained by a legal definition.

"Malfeasance is an affirmative act that is illegal or wrongful. In tort law it is distinct from misfeasance, which is an act that is not illegal but is improperly performed. It is also distinct from Nonfeasance, which is a failure to act that results in injury.

The distinctions between malfeasance, misfeasance, and nonfeasance have little effect on tort law. Whether a claim of injury is for one or the other, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant owed a duty of care, that the duty was breached in some way, and that the breach caused injury to the plaintiff."

The BOS's would be the plaintiff in this case as representatives of the taxpayers and the children of thier respective towns.
The administration and to a lesser extent the SC would be the defendants.
This is an overly simplified explanation of the relationship that currently exists between the parties whether they chose to admit to it or not.
The real holdback to a final resolution lies with the Bos's and thier justified reluctance to commit public funds to engage legal counsel and pursue all legal avenues available. I believe that unless and until that commintment is made and vigoriously persued we will have to accept all the current "dart throwing" and "posturing" and no satisfactory resolution as inevitable. The BOS's should not be faulted for this as I am sure they are doing thier level best to get to the bottom of all this without additional expenditures but we must recognize thier limitations, not personal, but rather legal limitations. As always we need to keep in mind that generally only the lawyers walk away smiling.

Ms. Deminimus Maximus has mentioned returning K thru 8 to the towns to gain more control over school spending. To give each town control over their own spending.

What a great idea as Duncan Leith and his senior committee members Margaret Watson and Cindy Bazinet have clearly lost control of school spending.

Or perhaps Ms. Deminimus thinks their $3+ Million in budget mistakes is acceptable.  Perhaps she condones their latest snow plow contract fiasco.  Perhaps Ms. Deminimus found it acceptable for the SC to give their new business manager an $8,400 (7.9%) raise at the same time they were threatening to lay off 15 teachers in the midst of their $3+ Million budget mistakes.  Perhaps.....

It is time for Duncan Leith, Margaret Watson and Cindy Bazinet to admit their continued financial failures and resign.

In her post Margaret Watson claims: “Information regarding the Wachusett District's budget is readily available” at wrsd.net.

Perhaps Ms. Watson could give us the exact link to their 7,666 page line item budget information since it is NOT listed on the wrsd.net site as she claims.

Perhaps she can explain why Duncan Leith wants to charge the Town of Holden $2,300 (at 30 cents per page = 7,666 pages) to provide a copy of their roughly $90 Million annua budget if they have already given this information to the town.

Perhaps Ms. Watson can also explain how she, Duncan Leith, Cindy Bazinet et al missed more than $3 Million in budget mistakes this year alone or how she justifies their latest snow plow contract fiasco.

Margaret claims Duncan Leith “has been given a bad time by
the Holden Board and also by the Regional Board of Selectmen”. The Regional Boards of Selectmen called a special meeting to ask questions about the WRSD’s $3+ Million budget fiasco but their $200,000 per year salary superintendent Tom Pandiscio was a NO Show and Duncan Leith was unable to answer a number of the questions brought up by the Regional Selectmen.

Why was superintendent Tom Pandiscio a NO Show? Why didn't Duncan Leith have answers to their questions? This is their idea of transparency?!?!?!

It is time for senior school committee members Duncan Leith, Margaret Watson and Cindy Bazinet to admit their continued failures and resign.

Thanks for the correction on my calculation, Ed. 30 cents a page, not 3.3 cents. I should have known better when I saw it because it just wasn't logical for the school district to charge so little. I believe there was a time when they tried to charge you something close to $3 a page, and the state wrote them a letter and told them it was excessive and to provided more reasonable charges, no?

Thanks for the correction on my calculation, Ed. 30 cents a page, not 3.3 cents. I should have known better when I saw it because it just wasn't logical for the school district to charge so little. I believe there was a time when they tried to charge you something close to $3 a page, and the state wrote them a letter and told them it was excessive and to provide more reasonable charges, no?

I think the question to ask at this juncture is why did the district even reach this point? Why is confidence and trust so low, and how can it be restored? The verbal sparring and logjams do nothing toward resolving the issues so that we can move on and do the best job for our communities and children. I have felt for a long time that the Wachusett District needs a skilled outside mediator to deal with fallout and get it back on track after the damage done years and years ago. Perhaps a shift in administration will bring balance, resolution, and closure. But if there is one thing we all should come away with, it's the lesson that greater transparency and accountability will save us from just this kind of quagmire.

You haven't seen grandstanding until you have seen the meeting. Verbal descriptions don't begin to convey the cringeworthy contempt shown by Mark Ferguson toward Duncan Leith, the school committee, the district, and his own chair.

No one with an ounce of self-respect would have remained standing at the podium after that bullying temper tantrum. Watch it, then ask yourself if, as an elected official, you would have remained to answer "accusations" and subject yourself to any further abuse.

I am not sure why you would think that I have not watched the meeting but again I am not surprised at allegation. That seems to be very common on here from both sides.
If you read my post you would read that I do not agree with the way Mr. Ferguson handled himself and nearly suggested that Mr. Leith could have been the better man but understood.
The passion that both sides feel but fail to see is that the behavior will not move the town or the schools forward. We need leadership that can listen and work to resolve the issues and impasses created by all sides.

While many are grandstanding on both sides of the issues we need the community to come together and move the schools and town forward.
I do not agree with how Selectman Ferguson acted and we should not condone that type of behavior from our elected officials. There are ways to disagree and to continue to ask the right questions but this just makes you look like a bully and that you have a weak case. This unfortunately has been Mark’s M.O. since rejoining the board.
While I appreciate his appetite to save the town money I cannot take the grand standing, showmanship, bullying or whatever noun you would like to call it. He is our elected official and I expect that he represents and respects the town positively and not as some angry individual with a chip on his shoulders.
That being said, I do not agree with Chairman Leith’s reaction although I can see his position and response. He should have demonstrated that he was better and provided the updates and listened to the concerns of our citizens and Select Board and rise to the top.
I am not being fooled that there are many issues that need to be dealt with from the overspending, misspending, miscalculated (however you see it) monies and what appears to be misguided actions with no answers. I am not sure nor have we heard why the district went and hired a snow removal company from outside the district and why the bidding process was not followed or why we hired a new business manager with an 8% raise. These are questions that should be asked, responded too and discussed with the citizens. No group of elected officials is higher than anyone else and answers to all of us.
If you are unhappy with the School Committee, the Select Board or any other elected position I suggest think about running for an office and pulling papers and most importantly come out and Vote in the spring. There was a high turnout this year for the election lets show that same turnout for the local election and send the right message and have citizens’ step-up to make our schools and town even better.

Duncan Leith and his senior school committee members (Margaret Watson and Cindy Bazinet) preside over more than $3 Million in budget mistakes and Ms. Deminimus Maximus talks about eroding the credibility of our Board of Selectmen?!?!?!?

What part of the school districts more than $3 Million in budget mistakes did she miss? What part of Duncan and crew giving the new business manager an $8,400 (7.9%) raise in the midst of their $3+ Million financial disaster did she miss? What part of their latest snow plowing contract scandal did she miss? What part of fiscal reality doesn’t Ms. Deminimus Maximus understand?

The five town regional Boards of Selectmen called a special joint meeting to discuss the WRSD financial disaster and Tom Pandiscio was a ‘NO Show’ leaving Duncan Leith to field questions that he was unable to answer. What’s wrong with this picture?

At this time the credibility of Duncan Leith and his School Committee is at absolute ZERO! It is time for Duncan Leith, Margaret Watson and Cindy Bazinet to resign and quickly but quietly follow Al Tutela, Tom Pandiscio, Peter Brennan et al out the door.

What a disgrace, sideshow and blow-hard Ferguson is to the Town of Holden. This is reason # 129 why I didn't vote for him. C'mon already with the grandstanding ! You should have ZERO input into the school budget issue until you enroll your own children in Holden schools. Gimme a break !

I am sure Duncan was not going to speak about the snow plowing contract scandal! Or explain why the salary of the new business manager is 7.9% higher!
This school committee and especially it's leadership has no credibility left!
Mark was right!

He was invited to speak by the majority on the select board. Then he was told not to speak by Mark Ferguson or Mark would "exit the room!"

That's an odd way of soliciting information. Plus it demonstrates a breakdown of select board protocol, good order and plain old manners.

You do realize this sets a precedent. Whenever a select board member objects to a speaker, even an invited one, he sticks his fingers in his ears, turns over the table, and flounces out of the room.

Makes for good soap opera but it solves no problems and in fact erodes the credibility not of the school committee but of the select board.

Watch the tape.

The select board invited Duncan Leith to the meeting in order to report on district matters. He was on the agenda. When he went to the podium Mark Ferguson loudly proclaimed that the school committee is not in good standing, that Chair Leith is in denial, that the select board should not give him podium time. He threw around further accusations then issued his threat if Mr. Leith spoke: I turn my chair, I exit the room.

And he did. Mr. Renzoni then offered Mr. Leith the opportunity to respond to Ferguson's accusations (Mr. Renzoni's word).

Not surprisingly, Mr. Leith declined, objected to the treatment he had received, and left.

Holden, you have elected a bully in Mark Ferguson. Watch the meeting. "Courage of his convictions"? Rather, grandstanding, bellicose, destructive behavior that does nothing to promote a productive partnership with the school district. What the citizens and especially the parents of Holden must keep in mind is that Mr. Ferguson doesn't want a partnership with the district. He wants Holden out of the district K-8.

Watch the meeting. Is this how an elected representative who has been invited to the meeting by the select board should be treated by one of its members? What if you had been invited to a select board meeting and had then been subjected to a browbeating ambush such as this?

Watch and decide for yourself if this is how business should be conducted at the Holden Select Board.

Mr. Lipka was embarrassed? Mr. Renzoni said Ferguson's remarks were uncalled for? I unwisely voted for both of them. Now I'm embarrassed. When will you two stand up for the voters who elected you? All 4 selectmen should have walked out. Sad but only Mark Ferguson has the courage of his convictions. The other 4 just show up to keep their seats warm.
PS to Jim Jummonville: Has your "civility" gotten the best of you? Very sad to see that you didn't stand with Mark in this fight. Please don't bring me a lawn sign at the next election.

The taxpayers of the Wachusett Regional School District give Chairman Duncan Leith an annual budget of nearly $90 Million and now Duncan wants to charge the Town of Holden $2,300 to ‘BUY’ an absolutely unbelievable 7,666 pages of his budget.

Duncan Leith wants to charge the town $2,300 to find out how he spends nearly $90 Million per year of our taxes?!?!?! What’s wrong with this picture?

Kudos to Selectman Ferguson for standing up to this outrageous attempt by Duncan Leith to charge us $2,300 to see how they spend nearly $90 Million per year of our taxes.

The taxpayers have endured enough multi-million dollar mistakes and wasted spending. It is time for Chairman Duncan Leith and senior school committee members Margaret Watson and Cindy Bazinet to resign.

It is time to let newer members of the SC to step up to fix the latest multi-million dollar mistakes made during the Reign of Error of Duncan Leith, Margaret Watson and Cindy Bazinet.

Come on, Ed. Just put it on the town's credit card. A little $2,300 charge won't make much of a difference when spread around to all of those Holdenite's wallets. It's only 15 cents a person. (For anyone who needs the obvious pointed out, this is a facetious statement.)

While I may not agree with his having left, I am hard pressed to disagree with Mr. Ferguson's message. They're going to charge the Town Selectboard over $2,000 for a copy of the budget ? And how about just burning it to a disc ?
This is the sort of arrogance that only serves to create even more lack of faith in this school system.

This Town needs to have a serious dialogue about dismantling the regional school district, as do all the member towns.

3.333 cents a page is not bad, Mark, considering what they tried to charge Ed Meyer and myself back in 2006. I seem to recall Ed was quoted something like $10 for 60 pages. I have it in writing somewhere. But your points are sound about the school district's budget being available to the public. Why don't you ask the school district to give a copy to the library where everyone can read it? Having been asked to speak on a radio show in Georgia regarding retaliation by school districts a few years ago when the US GAO (Government Accountability Office) was looking into the use of taxpayer dollars by school districts to commit unethical acts against "challenging" parents, one can conclude that school district slush funds can get whittled away on "nonessentials" without leaving a trace. I for one do not want my taxpayer dollars spent on unethical acts against fellow citizens under the direction of school district administrators that in some cases border on human rights violations. So more power to you for demanding greater transparency, which will go a long way toward prohibiting such violations. Such transparency also would save us from having to pay for a copy of the budget because it would be protocol to have it available to the citizenry from the start.

Information regarding the Wachusett District's budget is readily available.
A booklet entitled "Annual Report and FY 13 Appropriation" (hard copy)
was sent to the town administrator, and another copy was sent to the
Gale Free Library. The budget information is also posted on the WRSD
website (wrsd.net). The budget is listed line by line, even to the amount
spent on textbooks at the individual schools. Any person can examine
this information. If there are further questions, then pose them at a
School Committee meeting during the public session.

There was no need for the type of posturing that occurred at the meeting
of the Holden Board of Selectmen on Nov. 19. The Holden Board
requested that the Chair of the Wachusett District School Committee
give monthly reports for better communication, and Duncan Leith
was there to do only that. Duncan has been given a bad time by
the Holden Board and also by the Regional Board of Selectmen
(an unofficial organization).

One cannot request better communication and advocate better
cooperation and then behave in a rude manner. The Holden Board
should function in good faith. It needs to do its homework and
take a look at the data already available. It also needs to extend
its sincere apologies to Duncan Leith and the Wachusett District
School Committee for the behavior of its members.

Margaret Watson