Friday, March 27, 2009
Supt. Doyle shares views on proposed school consolidation
School Superintendent Marie Doyle recently spoke with the Mosquito about the Carlisle School Committee (CSC) proposal to consolidate administrations with the Concord School District in a superintendency union for grades pre-K - 8. She agreed to share her views, though she admitted that it was difficult because she is personally involved. Doyle’s job will be eliminated by the fall of 2010 if the plan is adopted.
The superintendency union is being explored as a way to reduce costs by eliminating some or all of the following Carlisle administrative personnel: superintendent, assistant to the superintendent, business manager, business manager assistant, supervisor of building and grounds, computer network manager, director of student support services and the director’s assistant. The Carlisle School would retain its two principals and School Committee. (See “CSC fields questions on superintendency union plan,” Mosquito, January 30.)
The School Committee is hiring the New England School Development Council (NESDEC) to research the financial and educational impacts of a merger and plans to vote on the issue in late spring.
Q: What are your thoughts about the proposal for the Carlisle and Concord school districts to form a superintendency union?
A: “I think it’s an option that’s worth looking at to see if there are significant cost savings.”
Q: What is your opinion of how Concord administrators and community members view the superintendency union proposal?
A: “Concord has a wonderful administrative team…. I think they would welcome Carlisle with open arms and work diligently to make sure it was a smooth transition.”
Q: What is the atmosphere in Carlisle faculty and administration?
A: “I think both Carlisle’s teachers and administrators are nervous, because they wonder what’s going to happen, when it’s going to happen and how is it going to affect the school system. The school committee is trying to be forward thinking and make sure the school remains fiscally viable.”
Q: What might the school lose or gain?
A: “The biggest gain would be financial. There would definitely be cost savings.” As examples, Doyle mentioned shared employees, professional development and bulk purchasing. Besides a joint school administration, she said, “If the school schedules were aligned, we might be able to share staff to save healthcare costs.” As an example, she said the superintendency union would only have to pay health benefits once if a Chinese teacher worked half-time for each district.
Q: What would the school lose, if anything?
A: “The staff would tell you they’re afraid of losing their own culture and sense of identity if they become part of Concord.” She elaborated, “We may have less control over curriculum planning, such as the math review or the [English Language Arts] ELA review. The school would become part of a broader plan.” However, Doyle stressed, “We’d still have wonderful staff development. We’d still have school improvement plans. But I think in many ways Carlisle’s like a private school and the superintendent acts like a headmaster. And I think going into a superintendency union you lose a little of the personal touch.”
She mentioned advantages to having a local school administration, particularly regarding budget discussions, “The administration works closely with town board members and is able to have conversations with them and work through both good and bad budget times.” She added, “Part of this culture, you feel you’re part of a community team.”
“Each person on the administrative team wears several hats,” she continued. For example, Doyle said Supervisor of Buildings and Grounds David Flannery “does the most cost-effective job of any district in which I’ve worked.” She pointed out, “He pays for his position a hundred times over. He and his crew fix the air conditioning, the heating, a lot of things that would [otherwise] be contracted out. David does an amazing job.”
Computer operations is another area that would change. Doyle explained that Technology Integration Specialist Cyd McCann’s position would be maintained, but that Network Manager Carolynn Luby’s position would be eliminated. Doyle pointed out, “Cyd is the instructional specialist. The hardware is not her area of responsibility.” Doyle said Luby “takes excellent care of the computers. She does a phenomenal job.” According to the April 2008 Technology Report, the school currently has about 350 computers, with a goal of increasing the inventory to 500 by FY14. Doyle asked, “Would Concord need to hire someone to handle the [Carlisle] school? I believe they would.”
Another concern Doyle mentioned was special education, “The school takes pride in the inclusive special education model…where we try to keep the kids on campus.” She asked, “Would we continue to implement that model or would it look different under a new administration? I think it would be very important to examine the special education data carefully and have a transition plan in place should the superintendency union occur.”
Of Student Support Services (Special Education) Director Karen Slack, Doyle said, “If her position were to be eliminated and we relied on a central office administrator, that might result in more out-of-district placements. She provided a copy of special education expenditure data from the EDCO collaborative. It showed that in FY08 Concord used 41% of its special education funds on out-of-district placements, compared with Carlisle, where 17% of special education spending was for out-of-district placements.
Doyle said that providing special education services within the school was less expensive than out-of-district placements, but concluded, “There’s no right or wrong. I believe students in both get an excellent education.”
Q: Would there be effects on the Carlisle school culture? If so, what?
A: “The principals pay a key role on helping to shape that culture.” She added, however, “I think there would be some changes.”
Doyle noted that Carlisle teachers participate in certain administrative functions such as making district goals and hiring new teachers: “Our culture is shaped by teacher involvement at many levels.” Professional development may be one area that is affected by the consolidation, she said: “If you have a larger district, a lot of professional development comes from the top down. Here a lot is recommended by teachers and teachers have an active role in choosing” the speakers or programs.
Q: Would the community at large be affected at all?
A: “The school is really in many ways the heart and soul of Carlisle. People tell me they come to Carlisle for two reasons – the trees and the school. It is our uniqueness that we’re a K-8 school that people choose to come here. Would that change if we were part of Concord?” Other than home buyers, Doyle did not see other impacts on townspeople. Regarding community-school events such as Chinese New Year or intergenerational events with the students and Council on Aging, she said, “I really hope that would continue.”
Q: Would the school building project be affected?
A: “The building project would continue.” Doyle explained that Diana Rigby, superintendent of Concord and Concord-Carlisle Regional School Districts, would take over for her, while Deputy Superintendent John Flaherty would take over for Carlisle School Business Manager Heidi Zimmerman. Doyle added, “We do not know how the MSBA [Massachusetts School Building Authority] would react to that announcement….We have not ever brought it up with them.”
Q: Do you have any recommendations for structuring a superintendency union?
A: “If they were to do a superintendency union, it’s critical to have a transition plan, to outline a time frame, look at who’s going to assume what responsibilities, and to consider the talented people we have on staff in Carlisle, should Concord need to expand their staff to meet our needs.” She added, “Clearly the superintendent should hire her own staff. However I would hope that some of Carlisle’s outstanding staff would be considered when hires are needed.”
Q: Are there any documents or research that you could recommend?
A: Doyle noted that last September the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents published a report, “The Effectiveness, Value, and Importance of Small School Districts.” The document states, “The most powerful rationale for consolidation is economic efficiency, followed by increased curricular offerings. However, neither of these rationales have any strong support in research. Several studies over the past 50 years… have shown that over time consolidation has not resulted in any significant savings and reductions in per-pupil costs have been very little if at all.” The report notes, “The research suggests that early administrative savings tend to be very short-term only, as larger organizations have a strong tendency toward creating more extensive and costly administrative bureaucracy within a few years; thus explaining why administrative savings are typically lost within the second year.”
Q: Are there any alternative cost-saving measures you would suggest in addition to or instead of the superintendency union?
A: “If we continue to experience these fiscally challenging times, we could look at combining the business manager with the superintendent and sharing some of the town hall services. For example, we’re in the midst of the building project. The superintendent could focus on the educational aspect and work with the architects, while the Town Administrator and Treasurer could take on more of the technical details and work with the MSBA.”
Both Town Administrator Madonna McKenzie and Town Treasurer Larry Barton are members of the School Building Committee and are familiar with the project. Doyle said, “The business manager/superintendent is a model that could be implemented now…. I think that it’s very viable and it’s something we should look at.”
Asked for any additional suggestions, she said, “While I wouldn’t recommend it, we could look at having a single principal and build supports other ways.” Doyle offered two possible structures: one principal working together with curriculum coordinators; or a full-time principal serving with a person who works half-time as a principal and half-time as a teacher.
“When the consultant gives us the numbers, I think at that time we should look at all the options.” Doyle concluded, “We’ve done a very good job working with the town. The school is still thriving.” ∆
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