The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, January 30, 2009

CSC fields questions on superintendency union plan

The Carlisle School Committee (CSC) held its first open discussion on creating a superintendency union with the Concord School District on January 21 before an audience that included administrators, teachers, parents and other community members. A superintendency union is a sharing of administrative resources, and can include all personnel who report directly to the superintendent, excluding principals and teachers, except for “Special Teachers” as specified by Massachusetts General Laws. (See also “Committee looks at restructuring administration,” Mosquito, January 23).

Chair Chad Koski began the discussion by stating, “I want to be sure everyone understands this is no way a reflection on the current administration and staff.” He explained it is “obviously a significant change for any school system.” The restructuring would mean Carlisle.

Process questions

Prior to the meeting some CSC members began discussions with Concord’s School Committee. Committee member Wendell Sykes, who was not included, noted the “lack of due process,” saying that “individuals have taken this upon themselves” to pursue a superintendency union. “I feel very strongly about this,” he added. “I think it is perfectly appropriate for this committee to discuss regionalization,” he explained, “but there is a proper procedure and we did not follow it.”

Cost concerns

Committee member Louis Salemy expressed concern over the town’s potential share of the regional high school budget. Due to a “bump” in enrollment, Carlisle’s assessment will experience a four-year spike, beginning in FY11 (see “$700,000 of CCHS FY11 budget may shift to Carlisle,” page 1)

Salemy continued, “We’re trying to look ahead and see what it looks like in three years. Every year we have this dance with FinCom. The fact is, our school’s been starved for capital for years. The budget has been cut to the bone.”

Carlisle School Business Manager Heidi Zimmerman noted the FY10 budget already includes expected cuts in local aid. Finance Committee member Thornton Ash said, “My pitch to the Finance Committee is that this is bigger than the school, and the town needs to prioritize. The finance committee wants to spread the pain around but we need to prioritize.” He continued, “My pitch to you is to get involved. It’s broader than the school. It’s a tough, tough situation. We need to get a good civic discussion. We’ve got to have it in a calm, cool, collective way.”

Koski said forming a superintendency union would save about $800,000, though, he noted, that may be partially offset by new hires needed to take up the extra work given to Concord administrators. “I question the savings to be had,” said parent Alex Krapf. “If we shift to the administration in Concord I suggest there will be assistants” to fund, he added. “We would be maintaining the illusion of control over our budget while actually giving it up,” he said. He noted the budget is developed by the superintendent. “I question where the savings are coming from.”

What would change, what would stay the same

Carlisle resident Nancy Pierce said the town considered regionalization with Concord in the mid-nineties. She said a report exists which looked at the fiscal, administrative, and cultures of the two school systems. “One of their main concerns was the incompatible cultures.” She urged the committee to find the report. Koski noted the CSC was not considering regionalization, and that each school would retain their own school committee.

As an example of this type of school structure, the Tri-Town Union of Boxford, Middleton, and Topsfield shares the positions of superintendent, business manager, building and grounds supervisor, director of student services, director of human resources, director of curriculum, payroll and accounts administrators, and administrative assistants. Additional positions that could be shared in a superintendency union include nursing staff, and “special teachers,” according to the Massachusetts General Laws. A Superintendency Union School Committee would be formed from members of the separate school committees. CSC member Dale Ryder noted that the Carlisle School would retain the principals.

Sykes said that Carlisle would receive substantially less attention from a superintendent within a union, “I don’t see any point in this.” In a merger, the superintendent would oversee five Concord schools as well as the regional high school and the Carlisle School. Fink said,“I agree with Wendell, we won’t get the full attention of the superintendent.” However, he said that the Carlisle School would retain control of its own budget and culture.

“We may lose things,” said Fink, “but our hands are being forced.” Ryder said, “My concern is the students, and the people they most interact with will remain the same.” Fink replied, “We would be the junior partner of the two towns. Concord-Carlisle, it’s a great high school but from a budget standpoint we don’t have much voting power.”

Effect on Special Education

Carlisle SEPAC (Carlisle Special Education Parent Advisory Council) Chair Lori Tucker wanted clarification on how the change would affect Special Education services. “It’s my understanding that the Concord Special Education person would be in charge. I’m confused about it. We’re still in charge of our budget here, but they will decide what is happening with our budget in terms of special education. Will we be truly autonomous?”

Koski pointed out the superintendent would be in charge of hiring and staffing. “All of the budget decisions would come from Concord,” he explained. “It will just be a different superintendent making the choice. I don’t have all the answers,” he added. “No decisions have been made on what parts of our administration we put in [the superintendency union] and what parts we keep.”

Parent Carol Yelle said, “We have a superintendent and principals, and not many schools can say [the administrators] know every name of every student that walks through the doors, let alone their parents. We have a Director of Students Services that attends every IEP meeting. .... You’re going to have a change in the feeling of the school.” Ryder said the decision facing them is whether they are willing to accept change in order to preserve other aspects of the school.

Ryder pointed out that the three Concord elementary schools have “different personalities.” She said, “My sense is that there is a certain amount of autonomy. The principals here would set the tone and make our school unique. My sense is that the superintendent would not interfere with that at all.”

Building project

Carlisle School Building Committee Chair Lee Storrs said he understands the difficult financial situation. “I am a little concerned in regards to the school building project.” Both he and Sykes praised the overtime work by Business Manager Heidi Zimmerman and Superintendent Marie Doyle on the project, as well as the work they have done with the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA).

Parent Mary Storrs said, “I think there are a lot of people looking for reasons for voting down a new building. Who’s going to vote for an override when we don’t have our ducks in a row?” Koski replied, “I propose a different perspective on that. This shows a school committee that is turning over every rock to fund both the school and the new school building.”

Sykes pointed out that the educational specifications that drive the school building specifications are the decision of the superintendent. “We are surrendering the control of the educational specifications to the region,” he said. “It would make perfect sense for he MSBA” to require the specification to be rewritten,” he added. Lee Storrs said, “I don’t know if I would go that way, but it has been a significant effort with the MSBA.” The current building plans include administrative spaces, which may need to be eliminated.

Process and next steps

Former CSC member Nicole Burkel said, “I think you should look at and pursue this.” However, she added, “you need to carefully think the process.” She suggested forming a subcommittee, with members from multiple organizations, to look at the advantages and disadvantages of a superintendency union.

Koski explained that he had wanted to discuss the possibility with Concord before having a public discussion. “The people affected by this most are going to feel most stressed than any of us will.”

Parent Sarah Hart asked, “What is the process? Will there be an opportunity for community feedback?” Koski said there will be another discussion at the next CSC meeting on February 4, and there will be discussion with Concord at the next Concord-Carlisle Regional School Committee meeting on January 27 (see “RSC discusses superintendency union,” page 1).

Ryder said, “Given the dire straits that we are in, it is our responsibility to talk about it. Obviously our partner in Concord has to figure it out, too. Tonight we are here now and should start from where we are now.” It is a very difficult topic,” agreed Fink. “It’s always going to be difficult.”

Carlisle School computer network manager Carolyn Luby asked, “Is it true that the CSC can make this decision without input from the Board of Selectmen, or a vote at Town Meeting?” Koski replied, “Yes.”

“Is your intent to try to have this come to a head before the next fiscal year?” asked Luby. “Yes,” said Koski. “We think we owe it to the administration to make a decision.”

“Are you planning on reaching out to others?” Tucker asked, adding, “People need to get behind you, and it has to be sold. It seems like you don’t feel comfortable sharing information at this point.”

Salemy replied, “This is the first possible time we felt comfortable sharing information. We had to approach Concord first.” Fink added, “Your points are well taken. We don’t have all the answers and we need to collect that and take input from as many organizations as possible.”

“One of the remarks earlier on that made me nervous was in regards to a single vision for K – 12,” said parent Philip Gladstone. “I’m very proud that Carlisle has its own educational vision. Our scores are significantly better than Concord in MCAS. You only have to consider what would happen if a single educational vision drove us down from an excellent situation to just a very good situation in Concord.”

Middle School Principal Joyce Mehaffey said, “Many of us wear multiple hats. I think you should explore all positions. There may be one title but that person does multiple tasks that you might not be aware of. The ripple that occurs when you eliminate that person is much larger than you imagine.”

Koski, said that the tough financial situation is a “simple reality.” The school is “primarily driven by people costs,” he explained, “so we can cut people or administrators.” Instead of cutting teachers, he said, “this is another option to explore.” ∆

© 2009 The Carlisle Mosquito