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Freetown, Massachusetts, United States
Please vote April 5, 2010!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Election 2010

THANK YOU to those of you who were able to make it to the polls on April 5. Freetown was still reeling from the floods; roads and bridges were closed; and it was the day after Easter. There was only one contested race (Assessor); there remain a number of vacancies. Those who made it to the polls certainly made an extra effort. It is much appreciated!

A mere 273 residents cast their votes on election day. That amounts to 4.8% of registered voters. Yet, 64% turned out for the Moakley/Brown race in January. I hope that we can spur new interest in exercising the right to vote, granted to us through the Constitution and defended by hundreds of thousands of brave people over the years. Voting for our representation is a privilege to cherish and uphold.

I will continue to work for the people of Freetown to the best of my ability. I recognize that these are difficult times for everyone -- made worse for us by the recent devastating weather events.

Please let me know how I can do a better job for you.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Regionalization -- What Does This Mean?

The topic of "Regionalization," or "shared services/functions," is getting a great deal of press lately. From bulk purchasing by entities and communities, to regional 911 dispatch, to shared municipal financial functions, the concept is based on the simple premise of achieving greater efficiency and cost effectiveness through partnership.

Locally, Freetown and Lakeville are engaged in an in-depth discussion of full school regionalization. I do not have any clear answers. I do have some questions. I also have some thoughts to share.

It has been said that harmonious and balanced development can be a reality through administrative and economic partnerships. Sound simple? Not necessarily. But that does not mean it cannot be done -- or at a minimum, assessed. In fact, there has never been a better time to explore regional strategies and options than now, as all communities are facing untenable reductions in state aid and receipts as well as painful cuts that will not likely be restored any time soon.

There are 351 towns and cities in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The state has over 400 school districts, with close to 70 of those being regional. Many of the regional schools are vocational technical high schools, such as Old Colony. Almost all school districts have their own superintendent and a number of other high-level administrative professionals. Many school committees exist to support all the schools as well.

Compare the Massachusetts numbers to another state with a similar student population and similar student performance: Maryland. That state has around 26 districts. Most are formed along county lines. They have far fewer superintendents and high-level administrative personnel, which clearly helps with their budgets. Newsweek Magazine found Maryland high schools to be the top performers last year. The Maryland structure is viewed quite positively by Education Commissioner Chester Mitchell and Education Secretary Paul Reville.

Freetown-Lakeville currently functions as a PARTIAL REGION. There is only one superintendent for the three school districts, each of which has its own school committee. As a Partial Region, a fourth school committee exists. The Superintendency Union -- comprised of representatives from each committee -- must vote on a new superintendent and on any modification to the regional agreement.

As a Partial Region, there is a single teacher contract and an aligned curriculum. But as a Partial Region, there are three budgets that must be prepared and voted, involving significant investments of administrator, school committee, and town time. There are costs associated with the multiple budget process.

On the surface, the immediate savings of becoming a full region are quite clear. The Regional Schools receive some state reimbursement for transportation. The rate varies tremendously from year to year, but the hope is for 45-48% this year.

The local elementary schools receive no reimbursement for transportation. (All children Grade 6 and below who live two miles from their school must be offered transportation.)

In addition, a full region permits access to the famous Emergency and Deficiency (E & D) account, while the elementary schools must look to the towns to support any emergency or deficiency. There is also a less cumbersome school committee and budget process; there would is greater opportunity to benefit from consolidated and shared resources.

On the other hand, there is the very real fear that people have about "giving up" their local school to an independent entity -- the Regional School District. Where is the local control? Where is the local voice?

One possible outlet, suggested by the consultant who first examined the benefits and obstacles of full regionalizaton, is to empower the local school councils. The councils are mandated under the Education Reform Act of 1993, and their functionality varies from school to school. They are all responsible for formulating and approving school improvement plans. Members of the community are at the table. The issue of local input is one that deserves in-depth discussion.

There are other structural issues that no regional agreement can address; namely, the built-in annual increases in the school budget due to fixed costs, many of which are dictated by contracts. Staff must be paid. Buses must run. Insurance and pension costs are escalating.

With ever-expanding school budgets, the 4-5% annual increase resulting from the fixed costs translates to big dollars, which the towns are obligated to pay. However, paying those increases means reducing other town budgets to compensate for the bigger school need.

We are seeing shrinking public safety budgets, skeleton crews in town hall; reduced hours for personnel in many departments; scarce funds to update equipment or technology; deferred maintenance; infrastructure erosion.

For school budgets, there is a minimum contribution each community must make, and that is determined by the state. Much of that determination is based on the community's wealth; it is also based on each town's school investment history. There are penalties for failing to meet the minimum.

In the case of Freetown, the Special Education and Vocational Education budgets continue to be included in an analysis of the elementary school number. This results in a seriously distorted view of the town's per pupil cost at the elementary level, which results in fewer state dollars to support the school.

The impact is known to all: unwieldy elementary class sizes that will tax any educator and impact the achievement of the students. The impact becomes long-term, with student performance continuing to decline in higher grades because of a lack of sufficient intervention and support at the elementary level.

Here is another impact: Increased numbers of students being diagnosed as requiring specialized services to meet their learning needs. When learning issues are not addressed in the early years, they become special education issues down the road. The costs associated with special education are far greater than regular education and MUST be funded by law. Locally, Freetown has had to divert regular education funds to cover rising special education enrollments and costs.

The country as a whole is seriously evaluating how schools are funded. In the "Race to the Top" federal grant opportunity, accountability is a key requirement. All states submitting a proposal had to demonstrate a commitment to accountability. Massachusetts is one of 16 finalists. The state recently passed legislation that addresses that issue. Schools are categorized up to Category 5. The position of a school is based on performance. If a school is yielding results bad enough to end up in Category 5, the district will be placed in a form of receivership. The state will come in and take over the entire system. We are not even close. And we never want to be!

The President is also exploring another strategy: Rewarding schools that do very well.

That is where we all want to be. We are obligated to provide a strong public education to all our children. As a workforce development professional, I can assure you that without a good foundation, future educational, training, and career options become very challenging. Income earning potential suffers; the requirement for social services (taxpayer support) rises exponentially for those without a good education.

So far, the local numbers are good, with about a 1.6% dropout rate. Of course, we will continue to strive for a 100% graduation rate, but we must pay attention to what happens in the early years.

So the discussion will continue. I urge you to follow along and provide your thoughts along the way. The meetings are open, and questions/comments from the audience are often entertained. At the very least, you will have an opportunity to get to know the folks who are meeting on this issue and perhaps offer up an opinion to one of them "offline."

(Of course, feel free to contact me on this issue. I am not on the committee, but I am current on regionalization efforts throughout the state. What I do not know, I will make every effort to find out and share.)

One thing is certain: Freetown has ALWAYS supported the education of its children. No one can challenge our commitment to doing the best we can for our future workforce. The economic future of Freetown, the SouthCoast, and the United States is fundamentally and inextricably connected to educational attainment. The old factory jobs are gone. The new economy is knowledge-based and "lean." Our schools CAN prepare the children. But not without the proper support and structure.

Another thing is true: In the current economic climate, and with the current budgetary structure, we are not in a position to maintain the level of support our youngest residents deserve. That affects each and every one of us, today and tomorrow.

In the News: Other regional discussions are ongoing. SRPEDD has some grant money to look at how communities can share some services and functions. I have been working with them on this and am encouraged by the willingness of towns to begin a dialogue.

So far, it is clear that like communities will be more successful. In addition, regionalization efforts must seriously weigh any potential impacts on loyal public employees. The least controversial regional effort is likely to be an expansion of shared or bulk purchasing and possibly some shared equipment. I will keep you posted.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Forge Pond Dam

On February 25, Dam Safety (part of the Department of Conservation and Recreation) concluded that significant precipitation and snow melt had led to perilously high water levels in Forge Pond, causing untenable stress on the 300-year old dam. Lt. Wes Vaughn of the Freetown Fire Department serves as the town's Emergency Services Manager. He and Ed Hughes of Dam Safety examined the structure and determined that the high hazard structure's integrity was in danger of being severely compromised. Wes and Ed contacted me, and the so the saga began.

Wes and Ed were concerned about potential loss of life and significant property damage, should the dam breach. The forecast called for continued rainfall, which added to the dire situation.

My first order of business was to contact the legislative delegation: Rep. David Sullivan, Rep. John Quinn, and Rep. Stephen Canessa. I reached Dave Sullivan immediately. He was still on Beacon Hill. Dave went straight to the Governor's office and alterted the Governor and his staff to the Forge Pond problem. Reps. Canessa and Quinn also followed up later in the day. I also contacted the state police, MEMA, and other agencies listed on the town's Emergency Management Plan for the dam. In short order an Emergency Management meeting was held at the Central Fire Station at 6 p.m. DCR, MEMA, Freetown Public Safety people, and I were present, as was Rep. Sullivan.

After the organizational meeting, during which a variety of scenarios and strategies were explored, we all went to the dam. Larry Ashley joined us there. Trudging through the mud, it was clear that the full fury and force of Mother Nature were in motion. Larry and I voted to call an emergency. We called for a voluntary evacuation of homes in the greatest danger. Those calls were placed through Dispatch.

By the next morning, with the water level continuing to rise, the mechanics of a formal Emergency Declaration with the state were in place. By afternoon, the plans for a "fix" were coming together.

Water level checks were conducted hourly for 5 days. The levels continue to recede; the immediate danger is behind us. By mid-April, the dam will be lowered, and the public safety threat will be averted.

While we would prefer to be able to construct a new dam, that prospect is not feasible. Even shoring up Forge Pond Dam is not an option, because the next dam downstream, the Monument Dam, is also "high hazard," meaning it's integrity is also severely compromised. Neither dam can tolerate the stress of another weather event.

We are fortunate the the local and state governments were able to come together expeditiously during this difficult time. We are thankful to the residents who agreed to vacate their homes in the event the dam should let go, in the interest of safety. We are especially grateful that the dam did, in fact, hold (with sandbags); that the rains subsided; that the danger to residents, homes, and four corners -- including a possible environmental impact, if the gas station were to have flooded -- was averted.

For all who helped and supported the town in this effort -- THANK YOU!

A few photos from the Dam:

One of the partially breached sections:

Fast flowing water:

Interview with local media outlets:

Downriver from the dam. You can see that minor flooding was taking place even though the dam hadn't fully breached:

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Census 2010 -- Time to Be Counted!

Did you know that not participating in the decennial census -- Census 2010 -- could hurt our community?

Federal dollars are distributed based on the population count for services like education, transportation, health care and job training.

Participating in the Census is one of the most powerful ways of having a voice in the United States.

Were you aware that political districts are determined based on population (in fact, Massachusetts lost 2 seats in Boston after the last Census)? Were you aware that the number of Electoral College votes is based on how many people live in a state? The numbers give political representation to those who are counted.

Those are some of the reasons that we must all complete our U.S. Census forms. Ten minutes. Ten questions. This is the shortest form in history, asking name, gender, age and date of birth, race, household relationship, if your home is owned or rented. It does not ask for bank account information, salary and income, citizenship or immigration status. It does not ask for your Social Security Number. It asks much less than a credit card application!

The U.S. Constitution requires that everyone be counted -- citizens and non-citizens. Every 10 years since 1790, the Government has worked hard to make sure every person is counted. All Census information is confidential and protected by law. Your information is safe.

I urge everyone to make sure that all individuals are counted. Remember, our tax dollars should be used for us. But without the right numbers, those dollars may not come back to educate our children, provide public safety, and maintain our infrastructure, among other things.

The forms will be arriving soon. Watch for yours. Census 2010 will paint a "Portrait of America." Please be counted!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


I served on the Zoning Study Committee that provided new guidance and support to smart growth in town. Prior to this effort, approved by town voters, the town was zoned 83% general use, which affords little protection to residents preferring to have their neighborhoods remain residential and businesses preferring to be situated near other businesses. We met regularly for two years, convened a number of information sessions, and listened to residents’ concerns and suggestions, many of which were incorporated into our final product. We have completely revamped zoning and updated our zoning bylaws, affording the town far greater protection as it grows. SRPEDD was extremely helpful in this effort, securing grant funding to assist the zoning effort.

Southeastern Regional Planning
& Economic Development District (SRPEDD)

As a member of SRPEDD’s Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) as well as the Commission, I have been able to advocate for Freetown’s transportation infrastructure needs. We will soon see construction on Exit 8B commencing; the Elm Street Bridge repair work should be going out to bid in the next couple of months. Together with Senator Menard, and Representatives Canessa, Sullivan, and Quinn, I have been involved in seeing these projects through. The MPO is comprised of the mayors of Fall River, Attleborough, Taunton, and New Bedford plus representatives from 4 of the other 23 SRPEDD communities. The 4 appointees must submit an application and attend a commission meeting to be selected. I am very proud to have been selected and to be able to represent Freetown. At the Commission meetings, regional issues are discussed, and committee reports are shared. I find it helpful to meet with officials from neighboring communities and to have a regional perspective on transportation and economic development.

Together with a number of town officials and stakeholders, I have been part of the effort to identify priority development and priority protection sites in the community as well. With those areas clearly identified, we are now studying the entire South Main Street Corridor in preparation for the expected development arising from the new interchange, the Riverfront Park area, the SouthCoast Rail Station, and Fall River’s industrial and commercial expansion. The South Main Street Corridor committee is diverse and energetic. With SRPEDD again providing significant technical assistance, great strides will be made here as well.

Working with the Freetown Library Director, Dorothy Stanley Ballard, our Library Trustees, and our local legislative delegation, I attended hearings regarding our requested waivers. The Library Board of Commissioners did not grant our initial application for a waiver, despite a comprehensive explanation of the budgetary issues in town. Without the waiver, the town libraries became decertified. Freetown residents were not allowed to be part of the regional library network; nor were they permitted to use other libraries. A few libraries opened their doors to Freetown patrons; many others slammed the door in our face. At a final meeting in Boston, Dorothy and I were able to state our case again, and the waiver was granted, even though we were still not at the requested funding levels. As it turns out, Freetown led the way with library waivers. This year, the Board of Library Commissioners has loosened its requirements to ease the financial burden on cash-strapped towns.

I am one of 9 Bristol County women serving on the Bristol County Commission on the Status of Women. Our goal is to identify the greatest obstacles facing area women and bring them to the forefront on Beacon Hill. We have held one hearing so far (in Taunton), and plan two others in March (Fall River) and May (New Bedford). We heard from victims of domestic violence; we discussed pay inequity and childcare costs; we talked about the lack of facilities and services for female armed forces personnel returning from duty; and we identified the challenges of being a single parent. After all three hearings have been conducted, we will synthesize the information for formal presentation to the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women. Please do contact me with issues that concern you!

As a workforce development professional with the Greater New Bedford Workforce Investment Board (WIB) and a former Regional School Committee member and Chair, I am attuned to the need for a good education and opportunities for additional training and education. Freetown has managed to provide an excellent educational environment for its students, with unprecedented parent involvement. At the regional level, a commitment to excellence has been driving the decision-making process for many years. We find ourselves in a difficult spot these days, with state aid down, and class sizes up. We know what impact that will have in the near future: many of our children will not receive the quality education they deserve and need to be successful wage earners and contributors to the community. What a vicious cycle we have created in this country! We expect young people and their families to pay extraordinary amounts for the education that will help them earn an honest wage. Fewer and fewer families are able to sustain those expenses, so more and more young people are trying to enter the work force ill-equipped. As a result, they face significant obstacles, and some must rely on social services to support their young families. We must make education and training affordable to all. In my discussions with the State Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and with our local delegation, I continue to press this point. I have submitted testimony on Beacon Hill in support of legislation that improves educational opportunities for all.

I am very proud to have committed 16 years to the Parade and Fireworks Committee. We rely on donations and fundraisers to celebrate the birth of this fine nation every year. Since the year prior to the town’s 325th birthday, the committee has grown in number, and is now an active group committed to continuing a time-honored tradition. This past year, the fireworks vendor, American Thunder, donated the beginning of the show in memory of Freetown's fallen hero, Tyler J. Trahan. Tyler was also recognized by many parade participants, including the Girl Scouts. In fact, the banner that Lisa Patrick's Brownie Girl Scouts had made for their float now hangs in town hall. The Parade and Fireworks Committee raised over $1,000 for the Tyler Trahan Memorial Fund.

Other areas in which I have been active:

Scholarship Committee
325th Committee
Regional School Committee (6 years)
Building Committee (Freetown Elementary and GRAIS)
Freetown Elementary School Council\
Freetown Elementary volunteer
Leukemia and Lymphoma Society – Parent/Patient Outreach

I seek re-election as your selectman not because of personal ambition, but because of my long-term commitment to my community on so many levels. Freetown has been good to me. It is my obligation to give back whatever I can to a town that consistently rises above the fray, demonstrates pride and spirit in its history, and embraces its future by committing to smart growth.

More on Petty Officer 2nd Class Tyler J. Trahan
Thanks to Freetown Elementary Principal Bob Frizelle and the Freetown Elementary Community, the gymnasium at FES bears Tyler's name as well. Tyler's mother and many dignitaries spoke at the dedication, which was a moving testiment to life too soon ended, but representing the epitome of commitment to honor, duty, and country. The students -- ALL OF US -- have Tyler in our hearts and will never forget his sacrifice. We thank his Jean-Pierre, Maureen, Molly, and Tyler's extended family for sharing him with us.

Sunday, January 31, 2010


Hello and welcome to my blog! I'm Jean Fox and I'm running for reelection as selectman. This blog is one of the ways I'd like to communicate with you. Here, I'll update you with the status of the campaign and answer and questions or concerns you may have. Please feel free to post comments with your input or questions. I'd really appreciate hearing from you. Please check back regularly as I will continue to update. Thanks for your support!