The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, November 27, 2009

Carlisle School trims leadership

CSC votes to combine superintendent/principal roles

The crowd of 50 who attended the eventful Carlisle School Committee (CSC) meeting on November 18 witnessed the CSC reach agreement with the teachers union on a new three-year contract; heard Superintendent Marie Doyle announce her resignation, effective June 30 (see article, above); and, over objections raised by concerned citizens, saw the CSC vote to restructure the administration in such a way that next year four administrators will handle the work currently done by five.

The administration now includes a superintendent, two principals, a director of student support services and an acting business manager. The CSC voted to reorganize the administrative roles to include a combined superintendent/principal and one full-time principal in addition to a director of student support services and business manager. The reason given by the school committee for the new format was to reduce costs.

Earlier discussions

This was the third meeting to discuss the reorganization. The CSC had hired New England School Development Council (NESDEC) consultants in September to review the administrative structure and report on the possible impacts, both cultural and educational, a change may have on the school. On October 21 the CSC and a small audience heard three options for restructuring the school administration in a presentation by the NESDEC consultants (see “Carlisle School considers administrative changes,” Mosquito, October 30).

The consultants described three options: combining the superintendent and business manager positions for an estimated savings of $86,000; employing a part-time superintendent for a savings of $116,000; or combining the roles of superintendent and principal for an estimated savings of $169,000. The consultants said that all options were viable. While they said that the superintendent/principal model was most cost-effective, they noted that it involved asking administrators to practice new skills and take on new responsibilities.

The options were discussed again at the November 4 CSC meeting, this time with a much larger audience and members of the Board of Selectmen and Finance Committee (FinCom) (see “Carlisle School heads toward administration reshuffle,” Mosquito, November 13). After this meeting CSC Chair Chad Koski said, “The committee is leaning more toward the superintendent/principal model than the other two options.”

The CSC invited NESDEC consultant Donald Kennedy back on November 18 to answer questions about the original presentation, which is available under the title “NESDEC Administration Reorganization Presentation” on the school website: Kennedy summarized how an administration with a combined superintendent/principal position might function:

• Workloads for all administrators would have to be reviewed.

• Problem resolution would be addressed lower down the administrative heirarchy. He said it would lower the administrative workload if parents learned to take their concerns to “where the problem is,” such as contacting teachers instead of principals, or the principal instead of the superintendent when there is an issue. He suggested the school may have a policy saying parents must raise questions and concerns “at the level that it is occurring” so less administrative staff time is involved in an issue.

• Any reduction in staffing likely would affect school atmosphere and culture.

• Currently the superintendent is involved in many areas including curriculum development, technology and the school building project. This allows the two principals more time to be in classrooms and interact with parents and staff. This may change in the superintendent/principal model.

• Some work currently done by the superintendent might need to be shared, or done with less detail.

• Responsibilities for the many state-mandated annual reports might be shared among the superintendent/principal, principal, and director of student services.

• Kennedy said the school committee should consider reducing their meetings to once a month to reduce the superintendent’s workload, esitmating that preparing for and responding to each school committee meeting generates two days of work for a superintendent.

• The consultant suggested looking at non-administrative costs to save additional funds, as well as explore sharing services with other districts. For instance, he said the school handles professional development well and might offer this service to educators in other school districts.

Superintendent/principal redux

Koski said that one reason he felt comfortable with the combined superintendent/principal option was because the school has used it in the past. The school had five superintendent/principals during the years 1972 to 1998 – Hugh Mill, James Van Amburg, Matthew King, Vincent Simone and Davida Fox-Melanson. The last to hold the position, Fox-Melanson was promoted to superintendent in 1998.

In 1998 the school enrollment was growing and increased from 747 in 1998 to a high of 852 in 2001. Since then the enrollment has dropped back to 703, and is expected to drop further.

Audience shares concerns

Koski thanked Kennedy and opened the meeting to questions from the audience. Former CSC member Christy Barbee expressed concern that having four instead of five administrators would leave them overwhelmed with work. Mary Storrs, noting she has attended almost every school committee meeting in the last two years, said she has not heard the committee hold a “public debate on what will be different [after the reorganization] or discuss the pros and cons.” Peg Gladstone encouraged the CSC to get in touch with those districts which have a combined superintendent/principal.

Laura Snowdon, noting the need to have the superintendent involved in the school building project, said making the change was “irresponsible at this time. We need a point person at all times to answer questions. There will be construction workers alongside small children. I don’t think you have thought it through.”

Philip Gladstone expressed concern about the additional responsibilities that may be added to the job of director of student support services. He said the savings would be lost if just one extra student were to receive out-of-district services as a result. The consultant said Director of Student Support Services Karen Slack spends a great deal of time attending special education Individual Education Plan (IEP) meetings and suggested other staff members might run some of the meetings.

Lori Tucker, co-chair of the Special Education Parent Advisory Council (SEPAC), disagreed, “Her [Slack’s] presence at team meetings has directly contributed to parents remaining generally happy” with their student’s special education services. She added Slack spends much of her day “putting out fires” and her ability to understand issues would be impeded if she were not involved in the development of the IEPs. “I don’t know that you guys understand how special education services are handled and you should not approach it lightly.” Committee member Bill Fink replied, “The point of this is reducing the budget and if we are putting the budget at risk we would work with the superintendent and take Karen [Slack]’s advice on what is best to do.”

While most public comments were critical of the proposed changes, Vaughn Harring said, “I think it is a well thought out plan.” Hunter Hutchinson said she appreciated the time and effort that the CSC members volunteer and said, “I wouldn’t take the job for a million dollars.”

Financial considerations

Alex Krapf said he thought the smaller administration led by a superintendent/principal would not solve the town’s financial problems and suggested further cuts will have to be made. Carlisle Finance Committee Chair David Guarino said the savings would be important for the town. He pointed out that other town departments are facing steep cuts and said, “Any savings here will help the town financially.”

Board of Selectmen Chair Tim Hult, in a response to whether the school should ask for a tax override said, “We’re not against overrides, but we don’t want to lose them.” He said because of the current economy, it would be hard to pass an override. State law limits real estate tax increases to 2-1/2%, unless voters agree to an override.

CSC member Louis Salemy said they should vote on the administrative change soon, in order to start a superintendent search. At the next meeting, he suggested, they form a search committee. Koski called for a motion on the superintendent/principal model. The motion passed, with CSC member Wendell Sykes casting the single dissenting vote. ∆

© 2009 The Carlisle Mosquito