Friday, October 30, 2009
Carlisle School considers administrative changes
The Carlisle School Committee (CSC) heard financial and educational implications of three options for restructuring the school administration during a presentation by the nonprofit consulting group New England School Development Council (NESDEC) consultants on October 21. NESDEC reported possible savings of $86,000 by combining the superintendent and business manager positions; $116,000 by employing a part-time superintendent; and $169,000 by combining the roles of superintendent and principal (see Table 1 below). The School Committee said the proposals will be discussed further at future meetings.
When the CSC hired the consultants last month to review the administrative structure, they outlined their goal in the charge to the consultants: “The fundamental mismatch between Carlisle’s revenue growth and the school’s budgetary needs has resulted in pressure to run the district in a more efficient manner. The challenge...is to generate cost savings that will minimize the impact upon the educational process.”
Last spring the School Committee hired the same consultants to study the viability of the larger step of combining the Carlisle and Concord school administrations by forming a superintendency union. In that case, five positions were identified to be shared with Concord: superintendent, business manager, director of student support services, psychologist and network technical support. Possible impacts to the educational program were also described. The CSC concluded at the time that the ultimate savings of $200,000 to $250,000 would not be enough to justify a merger (see “CSC hears superintendency union offers limited savings, Mosquito, June 19.)
Recommendations and cautions
“Are the three models do-able?” asked CSC member Louis Salemy. “Yes,” replied consultant David Tobin, “but they will change the culture of Carlisle. Right now you are paying the money and you are getting big returns on the money you are spending. You are in the most favorable situation – good players in all positions, quick, thoughtful responses to parents and teachers, issues are resolved – if there are fewer people, there will be less response.” He added that he commended the committee for thinking through all options.
“The most cost-effective model is superintendent/principal but it may be dependent on [the other administrators] picking up skills they don’t have,”said Tobin.
The consultants, praising the school’s achievements, suggested moving with care. “If you pull the goalie in the hockey game,” said Tobin, “you can’t play the game.” He said he has worked with many school districts. “It’s fragile when you make those changes. It is dependent on the skill sets of the remaining people.” He also noted it is difficult to find part-time superintendents.
Consultant Donald Kennedy emphasized the importance of the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) initiative, adding, “If there are fewer players on the field … it would be unfortunate if this is one of the balls that got dropped.”
Tobin noted the low rate of out-of-district special education students at the Carlisle School. “I can’t point out enough that keeping students in-district is important. One student going out-of-district” removes the savings from any of the new models, he pointed out.
Administrative structure and enrollment history
In their charge to the consultants, the CSC noted, “Enrollment is down by roughly 150 students from the peak in fiscal 2002, yet we have the same administrative structure.” Table 2 (below) shows total enrollments since 1993, including special education. The administrative structure from 1993 to 2001 was made up of superintendent, principal, director of special education and business manager. In 2001 an assistant principal was added. In 2003 the assistant principal was promoted to principal, giving the school two principals. In 2004 the principal position was reverted to assistant principal. In 2006 the school returned once more to superintendent, two principals, director of special education and business manager, where it remains today.
Per pupil costs explained
When managerial costs are compared between Carlisle, Concord, the Concord-Carlisle Regional High School and the state average, Carlisle’s administrative costs per pupil are similar to those of Concord-Carlisle. Consultant Donald Kennedy noted that school administrators who are trained in management are now expected to be “instructional leaders,” taking on more roles in the school, such as helping teachers learn to improve student achievement. Unlike larger school systems that hire personnel such as director of curriculum, or administrator of professional development, those types of roles are handled by Carlisle’s administrators. When the instructional leadership role is taken into account in figuring costs per pupil, Carlisle’s cost is in fact lower than Concord, Concord-Carlisle, and the state average.
While researching the options, Kennedy said the consultants took certain considerations into account:
• Carlisle parents enjoy a close relationship/access with administrators
• The School Committee holds more meetings than other school districts.
• Reductions in staff will likely affect the school atmosphere or culture.
• Reducing the superintendent’s involvement would require the principals to take on more managerial roles, leaving less time for instructional leadership.
• Giving more responsibilities to the director of special education may lead to reducing that person’s attendance at Individual Education Plan Team Meetings.
• All remaining administrators would have to step in to handle over 110 yearly state reports.
Kennedy said he “commended the administrators on how fully and graciously they gave us information.” He added, “I also knew how many hours they were working: early in the morning, late at night, attending parent and student events. I don’t know of any school district where the administration is working harder. They are working more than 100% of the time.”
CSC Chair Chad Koski replied, “We didn’t undertake this research to diminish the hard work of the staff. Everyone around here works very hard. We are faced with budget constraints. [We have a] request from the town to control costs.”
Salemy added that they “understand the tradeoffs.” He said, “If we decide to lay off teachers, which I’m opposed to, there will be pain in the classroom.” However, he added, “What we currently have is not sustainable.”
Keep the community informed
“I assume you will run the conversation beyond people in this room, said Tobin. Koski replied, “We will have more conversation about this.”
Carlisle resident and former CSC Chair Nicole Burkel commended NESDEC, “You have a really good handle on our district. People play multiple roles here and a lot of things are not visible.”
She urged the School Committee to “move in a thoughtful manner,” noting the very small audience and saying it would be good to get more people involved. “We don’t adapt to change very well,” she said. “That was an understatement,” replied Salemy.
Koski said the committee will be discussing the options at multiple meetings. The goal, he said, is to create a sustainable model. “We have to live within our budget.”
Committee member Wendell Sykes said, “If we don’t ask for the budget we want, we’ll never know if the town will support it.”
Dale Ryder said, “This is all evolving. We’re not trying to hide anything. I saw this material for the first time tonight. We made it very clear what we are up against. I don’t think parents in this community have any clue what we are up against. None of us are happy at taking these steps. We can’t leave thing the way they are.”
The NESDEC consultants suggested the CSC also “examine non-administrative cost areas for potential savings,” and look into sharing or trading services with other districts such as Concord. “Your professional development is good, so maybe that would add revenue” by sharing professional development with Concord, said Kennedy. ∆
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