By Ann Needle
The Nashoba District is aiming to make the technology needed for learning a top priority, after the release of a report by a state-wide professional organization of school administrators. The Nashoba School Committee used most of its May 18 meeting to begin analyzing the results of a study by the MA Association of School Business Officials of the district’s operations, and to begin prioritizing which areas are most crucial to address in the coming school year.
Looking at MASBO’s 89-page report, SC Chair Lorraine Romasco of Bolton explained that MASBO was charged with looking at all aspects of the district’s business operations, and to make recommendations where needed. Given both the SC and Nashoba community at large have had many questions since last year’s Nashoba budget was approved, she noted that the time seemed right for looking into how to make some of Nashoba’s most crucial business areas more efficient. The non-profit MASBO was contracted by Nashoba last winter about doing the study, at a cost of up to $6,500.
Romasco asked each SC member to identify his or her top area of concern and/or interest from the report, though she stressed it is too early to begin looking into what should change for these departments. The SC universally agreed that technology and related areas would be the top priority, followed by Food Services/revolving accounts, then the district budget process/communications with Nashoba’s towns on finances.
Focus On Technology
Offering her perspective on MASBO’s analysis of district technology operations, new SC Rep. Jennifer Leone of Lancaster said she was alarmed by its comments regarding E-Rate, a federal program that has refunded up to 40 percent of the cost of items such as internet connectivity. The report urged Nashoba to assure it is meeting federal requirements for these funds, given, “Many of these [requirements] are overlooked. If audited and found out of compliance, you will not receive payment. If you have received payment and have been found to be out of compliance, the fund must be paid back.”
Leone remarked, “We could lose money, and that scares the hell out of me.” She added that Nashoba does not appear to be taking full advantage of its technology, given some employees are still using paper time cards.
Bolton Rep. and Technology Sub Committee Chair Neal Darcy said he was enthused about MASBO’s recommendation that the district bring in an outside consultant to do a thorough analysis of what the Technology area has, how it is used, and what may be needed. Romasco agreed, saying that the district needs to know what an auditing process would involve, along with the estimated cost.
The SC also agreed it was worth looking into establishing what Leone termed a “leadership connection” between the Technology and Digital Learning areas. MASBO did recommend, as a possible district priority, “Identify a high ranking staff member of the organization who has knowledge of I.T. systems to take on the role of Chief Information Officer.”
In another top area of interest, the revolving accounts of Food Services and other areas caught the SC’s attention. Pointing out there currently is about $332,000 in the Food Services revolving account, Romasco questioned how that money could be used, especially given what Darcy mentioned was an unprecedented 30 percent drop this year in revenue.
Assistant Superintendent George King reported there currently is an outstanding balance of more than $11,695 in lunches, and any unpaid balances will likely be paid out of the revolving account. Along with suggestions on more easily recouping unpaid lunch money at the end of the school year, SC members also questioned whether some of the account should be used for new equipment purchases and to certify more cafeteria employees in “serve safe” methods.
Turning to the district budgeting process and communication with the towns, Jennifer Leone, a former Lancaster Selectman, stressed that letting Nashoba’s towns know as soon as possible of any substantial changes in district finances is crucial to building trust between Nashoba and town administrators. Citing the towns’ perspectives on something like the jump in special education costs over the past few years, she commented, “Knowing when it came through would have been helpful. The more people know, the less they feel they’ve been blind-sided.” In that vein, Darcy said he would like to see the district’s ongoing 5-year capital plan brought forth sooner in the budgeting process.
SC Rep. Mark Jones of Stow noted that the Finance Sub Committee would be presenting, at an upcoming meeting, a tentative schedule of the budget development process for fiscal year 2018. The SC planned to discuss other priorities from the MASBO report at its remaining meetings for the school year.
In its annual election of officers for the next year, the SC unanimously voted Lorraine Romasco as chair, Mark Jones as vice chair, and Stow Rep. Lynn Colletti as secretary.