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Editorial: Botching an important message

Chariho School Committee member Robert Cardozo created a stir last week among some residents of Hopkinton who felt he misrepresented an item on the school committee’s agenda and then maligned them when they showed up. The item in question was listed as “necessity of two principals for Hopkinton elementary schools.”

Cardozo wanted to get Hopkinton folks to the meeting to let them know that it costs money to run two elementary schools with two principals in one small town. And he reminded them that Hopkinton routinely balks at the proposed Chariho budgets and voted against the spending plan three times this past spring when the budget went to referendum three times ... and still went down in defeat.

Cardozo represents Richmond for the tri-town district. Richmond voters also rejected the proposed budget. Only Charlestown residents voted in favor. But the breakdown wasn’t the focus of Cardozo’s agenda item last Tuesday. The focus, as best we could tell, was delivering a message to Hopkinton residents — that it costs money to run a school district. One of the two elementary principals had recently been named as assistant principal at the middle school, creating an opening that had to be filled ... or not. The board voted to fill the elementary vacancy.

“It was an appropriate extension of the topic I put on the budget,” Cardozo said later when asked about the reaction to the actual discussion that took place at the meeting. “When we talk about the hiring of principals, people need to realize the budgetary implications. That has to be recognized.”

Residents in attendance felt they were called to a lecture.

“It was a scare tactic to get people to come to the meeting,” said Catherine Giusti, of Hopkinton. “While I applaud their effort in wanting to get more people to come to their meetings, this might not be the right way to do it.”

Cardozo seemed to be intent on hammering home the obvious: School administrators come with a cost. And equally intent on threatening Hopkinton residents to either vote for the next budget or beware.

“The amount of money we’ve spent the last bunch of years fixing up the two schools that are a part of Hopkinton is well over $2 million,” he told them. “Hopkinton has voted against the budget all last year, all the prior year. So we’re now having the discussion on priorities, Hopkinton’s priorities. Hopkinton comes to the party, to our meetings, and keeps telling us to cut budget, cut budget, cut budget. It’s all well and good [until] it affects you. Obviously you have some concerns right now and so do I.”

A little diplomacy might have been a better approach. Instead, adults who took the time to attend a meeting were addressed as though they were recalcitrant children in need of a talking to.

He might have said that retaining the position will cost this much in salary and benefits, “and I hope everyone remembers that when it comes to budget season.”

Instead, he said, “Now that you’re here, you’re going to start to realize what we do on this committee. How we adjust our budgets does have an impact and it can have an impact … We’re going to have another budget ... If you’re going to vote against our budgets again, we’re going to have to make cuts and you’re not going to like them unless you can come up with some solutions.”

We would bet that those who took the time to attend the meeting have a fairly good idea of what school committees do. Cardozo had a valid message, but he botched the delivery. He added antagonism where plenty already exists. If he expects residents to respect the process, he needs to take the high road by showing respect and urging collaboration rather than threatening retaliation.

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