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School Comm Looks at Non-Union Staff…May 4, 2016

By Ann Needle
The Nashoba School Committee’s Personnel Sub Committee had sharp words at its April 26 meeting for the district’s Human Resources Dept., calling its work with non-union contracts “sloppy.” The tone was more positive elsewhere, with discussions on lifting some of the restrictions on student free time at the high school, and deadlines for selecting a new superintendent.

Reporting on the Nashoba Personnel Sub Committee’s ongoing scrutiny of the district’s non-union contracts (which include those for most administrators), SC Rep. and Sub Committee Chair Kathy Codianne of Lancaster listed a number of stark concerns over the inconsistencies in benefits and compensation between these employees.

Presenting spreadsheets of non-union employee names, salaries, and benefits each has access to, Codianne pointed to differing numbers of paid holidays being given, along with a paid time off clause missing entirely from one building administrator’s contract.

The rules for reimbursing for degrees, certifications, and professional development have been missing from several contracts, leaving a wide disparity in how much employees receive for these courses. One instance the Personnel Sub Committee cited of questionable use of this money was an employee who was reimbursed almost $22,000 for four years of professional development. Codianne mentioned that the district also paid travel and lodging expenses for some of these courses and conferences — in one case, $518 for the conference and $1,032 for airfare and hotel.

Codianne’s biggest criticism was of a “longevity cause,” which allows some non-union employees to apply for a 10% salary bonus after 10 years on the job. The Sub Committee reported these payouts have ranged from $9,386 to $15,793, and that the district inconsistently awarded this clause among non-union contracts.

“This is sloppy,” Codianne asserted. Reading from the Sub Committee’s written findings, she stated, “These contracts could impose financial obligations on the district that administration did not intend and that the School Committee was not aware of.”

The Sub Committee is recommending Nashoba replace any longevity clauses with performance-based scales of increases. They also recommend setting a limit on how much and when professional development courses can be reimbursed, as well as blocking the use of district money for travel and housing that courses involve, Codianne said.

As the SC discussed how to replace the longevity clause with a merit-based raise system, Codianne remarked, “I believe excellence should be rewarded.” But Stow SC Rep. Nicole Odekirk cautioned that the SC should carefully consider that some aspects of any merit system — and the rest of the contracts in general — should be left up to the superintendent.

Given that some non-union contracts expire June 30, Codianne said she would discuss with legal counsel how the SC should proceed with any changes.

More Freedom for Seniors
Nashoba Regional High School Principal Dr. Parry Graham presented a recommendation to the SC that could bring the notion of an “open campus” to the school’s seniors. Graham reported that, after years of discussions about privileges for seniors at the school, a class presentation to the School Council by Senior Jonny Gjeltema of Stow in March persuaded the Council to recommend allowing certain seniors to leave NRHS during particular lunch periods.

Most classes have a “long block” once every 7 days, and this always falls during the lunch period, Graham explained. He said the Council is proposing that seniors be allowed to leave NRHS if they have a study during that period. Along with requiring written permission on file from parents, Graham said administration still is considering what other requirements would come with the privilege, such as good academic and behavior records.

“This is treating them a little more like young adults rather than kids,” and could help ease crowding a bit during long-block lunches and studies, Graham said. However, he acknowledged that safety is a top concern, especially for students driving off campus.

Most SC members agreed they would want to hear the district Safety Committee’s opinion on the proposal before administration makes a decision, especially considering district liability if anything happens to students off campus during a school day. Kathy Codianne asked to see data from nearby districts on whether and when they allow students off campus during the day, given, “I know they are young adults, but they are still adolescents.”

Superintendent Decision Looms
SC Chair Lorraine Romasco of Bolton noted that the SC’s meeting on Wednesday, May 4, will be devoted to deliberating between the final three candidates for Nashoba superintendent, ending with a decision on who should be offered the job. And, at Romasco’s suggestion, the SC voted unanimously to add a meeting on May 5 if it cannot finish deliberations on May 4.
In other news, the Committee also voted unanimously to once again not offer school choice to out-of-district students in 2016/17. Stow Rep. Nicole Odekirk explained that, though school choice is no longer offered to new students, the Committee must vote on it annually or the district automatically becomes open to school choice students. Last spring, the SC suspended the program for this year, concerned mainly with the burden of adding more students to an already overcrowded high school.