HomeOpinionHopkinton Should Offer Childcare at Special Town Meeting

Hopkinton Should Offer Childcare at Special Town Meeting

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If you’ve ever attended Annual Town Meeting, you know it can be a lengthy affair. Warrant items are introduced, their merits debated and discussed, and votes are taken. The counting can then take upward of 20 minutes. The cumulative effect is a meeting that lasts for several hours or even days.

According to the latest census, only 11% of Hopkinton residents are over the age of 65, but you wouldn’t know seniors are the minority by looking at the audience. Many people with school-age children do not attend; in my informal survey, the primary reason they cite is a lack of childcare. 

This makes sense. Town Meeting is always on a weeknight when parents are flooded with competing priorities; getting dinner on the table, driving their kid to a sport, helping with homework, and getting them to bed. Sitting in the Middle School auditorium listening to neighbors endlessly debating leash laws falls far lower on the list for most parents.

The consequence is that senior citizens, who may have more free time, are overrepresented at Town Meeting.

I’ve previously written on Town Meeting and that I think Hopkinton would be better served with a city council / mayoral structure. But this is the form of government we have, so why not make it easier on parents? 

Open Town Meetings are a cornerstone of Hopkinton’s community engagement. Offering childcare will usher in a broader spectrum of voices and ideas, making the meeting outcomes more reflective of our town’s diverse and rapidly changing demographics. Census takers that identify as Asian comprise almost 16% of Hopkinton’s residents, and from my observation there was nowhere close to that many that attended Annual Town Meeting last May. Why don’t they attend, and what are we doing as a community to engage them? Many of them are parents, and would enjoy the opportunity for childcare services.

Shared experiences, like attending Town Meeting, can deepen our bond with each other. By allowing more families to participate, Hopkinton can foster a sense of community spirit and unity. A more engaged community is likely to support local businesses, participate in town events, and ensure sustainability.

Demonstrating a genuine commitment to all residents, particularly those with young families, will put us on the list of forward-thinking communities. North Andover, Tewskbury, and Great Barrington all offer childcare at Town Meetings. They recognize the challenge and have stepped up to help parents.

Much is at stake at this Special Town Meeting on November 13. Voters will be deciding on the Elmwood School, a $158 million project with far-ranging tax consequences for every homeowner. There is also a warrant about the role political parties will be allowed to play in our local elections. These are serious issues that should be decided by voters from all walks of life.

From a practical standpoint, offering childcare seems feasible. There are 11 commercial day care facilities in Hopkinton. Finding a room at the Middle School adjacent to the auditorium to provide children with games, books, toys and movies for a few hours is very manageable. There are no shortage of volunteers in the form of high school Juniors that could apply their time to National Honor Society hours. 

The town is spending $14,500 to bring electronic voting to this Special Town Meeting, which I believe is a worthy investment because it will speed up the time required for vote counts, and allow residents to maintain anonymity when casting their votes. How much more could it be for a couple hours of professional daycare (if not entirely donated by one civic-minded organization)?

At a meeting last night, Select Board member Shahidul Mannan told me he had suggested childcare in the past, but it fell on deaf ears. “I was the lone voice,” he said. Town Clerk Connor Degan has also tried to move ahead on this and indicated that the process had stalled.

Let’s support our growing community by making Town Meeting accessible to all and easier for parents to attend. We can do better for our neighbors and we should.

Peter Thomas is the Editor-in-Chief at HopNews.

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  1. Given that we hold Town Meetings on weeknights childcare would be helpful, but only for a limited window. Town meetings run late into the night and most parents, even with childcare, would still have to leave the meeting well ahead of its completion. Shifting town meeting to the weekend would mean more people could attend across the spectrum of age and family status. The bigger question is do they/we have the desire to participate, regardless of what night we hold it and what level of childcare we provide? Are enough people engaged enough to show up or are they satisfied with not participating and then complaining about the outcome?

  2. It’s not that childcare has never been offered at ATM or STM. When my daughter was about two or three years old (she’s 15 now), we attended town meeting and they offered child care, because it was expected to be very well attended. I believe it was sponsored by the HPTA, and they brought in high school students to help. We were at the high school and they had several rooms with activities, crafts, and (I think) a movie. That was the first time we had left my daughter with a babysitter, who wasn’t a family member, and it went well. She had fun and we were both able to be at the meeting together to get our questions answered. I can’t remember if they asked for a donation, but this kind of set up would be a lot cheaper than hiring a sitter for a few hours.

  3. I’ve lived in town for almost 30 years. When my kids were little, my husband or I went to town meeting. We either got a babysitter or my husband or I stayed home while the other went.

    Its insulting to read the sentence” The consequence is that senior citizens, who may have more free time, are overrepresented at Town Meeting.

    I still go to Town Meeting, and although I’m older, I am still working, so I’m deciding to use my free time as I see fit. Sorry that you feel that I’m over representing my age group. Priorities Peter, Priorities!

    • The fact remains that Town Meeting is heavily skewed to seniors. Being insulted by an obvious fact is your decision. But it doesn’t change the fact.

    • It’s really great to be so privileged that you feel that you are allowed to disenfranchise individuals who are unable to attend a, frankly, absurdly long and drawn out argument. You state that only one of the voting adults in the town went to the meeting due to your children. How did it feel to be disenfranchised? Both of you are residents and have an equal say in the functioning of the town. You had to give up your right due to lack of basic social services.

      We should be encouraging more participation, not less. Having child care and other services to allow more people to attend the town meeting benefits everyone with zero downsides.

      • How did we conduct town business 30-40 years ago at town meeting without “basic social services”?
        Oh, right, parents hired babysitters. Having children is a decision, it’s a responsibility as well.
        Why should the town be responsible to provide this “service”?

        • If the Town wants to encourage more people to attend these meetings, than I think it is absolutely okay to expect that the town will provide means to make it more accessible. The cost of hiring a babysitter could also deter people who want to participate from coming to the meetings.

        • Why should the Town provide any service? We got along just fine before the government even existed! Let’s go back to the 1720s. It worked then, why won’t it work now.

          Being a part of a society isn’t a decision, it’s a necessity. Part of being part of a society is working with others.

          Go and live in the woods but yourself if you feel that it isn’t your ‘responsibility’ to help others.

          • Don’t assume I don’t believe in helping others. Maybe your suggestion of going back to the 1720’s would be a good idea, back the they didn’t assume the government would pick up the bill for their responsibilities.

  4. There are at least a half dozen huge signs on Hayden Rowe screaming “Vote NO on Elmwood School”. Where are the proponents? The entire concept of Town Meeting is ridiculous in modern times. It is also extremely unfair to busy working parents who would benefit the most by investing in the new school. We need a Mayor. Our town is currently being managed by unpaid amateurs on the Select Board. We need to grow up and enter the modern age, instead of using an antiquated concept from the 1800’s called Town Meeting.

  5. In my opinion, the town should not pay for this, because the next thing people will want is sitter for their pet. If people feel that baby sitting will bring in more than the 6% thata shows up to town meeting, then reach out to the High School and offer Community Service Hours to the students thast need it to graduate. The HPTA can step up and make babysitting an annual project and not a service to get you in to vote when school article are on the warrant.

  6. A couple of adult volunteers to organize and outreach to hs volunteers and the school department is all it takes to get started. I have had kids be watched and those same kids have volunteered to watch when they got older for the meetings when childcare has been offered.

    Volunteers to watch kiddos is a great idea that i am pretty confident the Town would welcome everytime whenever it is available. It certainly helps some folks more easily attend and participate – all good. It has worked in the past. A few invested folks to organize the endeavor would be the first step . And then several responsible adult volunteers to supervise would likely be necessary.

    Another thought – perhaps it is possible with electronic voting this year that parents could be present in the space their kids are in and still vote when alerted. This idea would need to be vetted, but possible. So perhaps there would simply need to be a more kid friendly space to make attendance more accessible. Worth exploring.

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