Friday, May 23, 2008
Carlisle School Committee welcomes new members
In the next year they will manage a $9 million school budget in lean financial times and negotiate a new contract with a strong teachers’ union. They will weigh in on the proposed building project, the Superintendent’s evaluation, and their own long-term goals. After being sworn into their new positions, Bill Fink and Louis Salemy attended their first meeting as members of the Carlisle School Committee (CSC) on Monday night, hearing more about the job’s demands and how to handle their new public role.
Outgoing Chair Nicole Burkel handed out binders with a handbook she said she created as a resource and guide for the group to assist them with the issues they will encounter.
After sitting through sometimes contentious meetings over the last two years, Burkel cautioned members not to debate issues with the public at meetings. She also gave some dos and don’ts, reminding members they need to be prepared for meetings, and they should not disagree with each other in public.
New Chair Chad Koski, who just completed his second year on the school committee, explained some of the difficulty of group decisions. “Once the board makes a decision, the entire board must support it. Sometimes it’s pretty hard when the board makes a decision and you don’t agree with it. But once a decision is made, you have to let it go.” He advised members not to give their personal opinions about an issue to the public, “Don’t let the board be divided.”
The School Committee is responsible for keeping information on their web site pages updated, including upcoming meeting agendas and minutes from previous meetings. They typically discuss a topic at one meeting and vote on it at the next, though this can vary.
The committee discussed how open meeting laws require all public meetings to be posted 48 hours in advance. Members were also advised not to hold group discussions by e-mail that could violate the laws. The law allows executive sessions without public attendance under certain circumstances, such as when specific personnel issues are discussed. Minutes from executive sessions may sometimes be withheld from the public until after the issue is resolved.
The only reference to the year-long consultant process taking place behind the scenes at the school was when Burkel said the consultant suggested the School Committee needs mentoring during the transition of new members.
The committee may hire an attorney to help them negotiate the new teachers’ contract up for renewal next year. Koski said the teachers’ union hires its own attorney to help negotiate the contract.
Superintendent Marie Doyle said new enrollment projections required by the state for the school building project will influence plans for the new building addition. The school committee will have the chance to give their feedback on the plans and they will also vote on the School Building Committee’s recommendations, she said.
People now have a chance to give their opinions in a comment period near the start of each meeting, rather than waiting hours until the meeting closes to speak, as they had to in previous years.
Dale Ryder, who just completed her first year with the committee, asked what the protocol should be when someone sends a letter to the School Committee. School Committee assistant Claire Wilcox said she forwards e-mail letters she receives to the chair.
Ryder said people have told her the School Committee does not always respond to letters. “At the very least we owe each person a response that we heard their concern.” Wendell Sykes, now the longest-serving member, said letters often concern day-to-day issues at the school. Daily school operations are not the responsibility of the committee, he said, and parents sometimes need to be reminded of the correct channels of communication. If parents have an issue in a classroom they should contact the teacher first. If the issue is not resolved, the parent should contact the principal, followed by the superintendent, he explained. The group agreed they need to send a response letter in all cases, if only to let parents know where to address a problem.
Fink and Salemy will attend a one-day workshop with the Massachusetts Association of School Committees to learn more about their responsibilities. The School Committee plans to hold an off-site meeting or retreat this summer to examine long-term goals and issues in depth.
Ryder and Salemy, each of whom has a student who will graduate from the Carlisle Public School this year, will hand out diplomas on June 18, Graduation Day. ∆
© 2008 The