By Ann Needle
An overflow crowd jammed the Nashoba District superintendent’s office March 3, as the School Committee tried to address a proposed reorganization of the district’s central office. The proposed reorganization is still not part of the proposed 2016/17 budget, which was outlined before the SC’s planned vote on the package March 10.
Unveiled at last week’s School Committee meeting, highlights of the central office reorganization call for placing special education, management of 504 plans (to accommodate disabilities), Guidance, and social workers together under a director of Pupil Services. It also would align Finance and Human Resources into one department, under a director of Finance and Human Resources.
“I know change is difficult,” Interim Superintendent Dr. Curtis Bates told the audience. “I know you look at it as a major change, but I look at it as a minor change. It should not affect the delivery of services to students at all.”
Bates explained that, when he came to Nashoba in January, he was asked to observe what is going on within the district, then make any suggestions regarding how to more directly address students’ needs. He pointed to moving the management of 504 plans from the head nurse’s supervision to Pupil Services, given these plans are often not health-related. He also noted that the overall department changes have been successfully adopted by other districts.
SC Chair Lorraine Romasco of Bolton maintained that the only changes from the new structure would be at the highest level. And, with the social/emotional well-being of students becoming more of an issue for many schools, the reorganization would be better able to address those issues, she said.
“I’ve witnessed the impact on children of a system that is not coordinated,” agreed Lancaster SC Rep. Kathy Codianne. Saying that she was speaking as an educator, parent, and grandparent, the emotional Codianne said, “As a School Committee member, I’m frustrated by a school district that does not work for all children.”
“Why does this have to happen now?” Stow Rep. Nicole Odekirk asked, pointing out that a new, permanent superintendent was expected to be in place in a few months. She maintained that making these changes now would show “poor leadership on our part.”
With some SC members questioning whether the reorganization could be approved for the 2016/17 school year, Bates said he would happily meet with community members in some way before that budget is approved. Romasco agreed to discuss it with the towns before the planned March 10 budget vote.
How current personnel would be arranged in this reorganization was not discussed, though Bates mentioned that the director of Special Education would step into the head of Pupil Service’s role. He also reported the reorganization would be “cost neutral, because you still have some contractual obligations.”
“Most of us have lived long enough to know a reorg. means layoffs,” remarked Mary York of Stow, during the Citizens Comment period that followed. Another resident expressed disappointment that the assistant superintendent’s job would be eliminated with the plan.
Nancy Fleming of Stow asserted that Bates had mentioned proposals of this scale usually come after a year of observing an organization, and therefore his plan seemed to hint at addressing an emergency that did not seem to be there. “Were you tasked with this by someone in the School Committee? Will we lose people with expertise by June 30?“ Fleming asked. In the same vein, Cathy Petter of Stow termed herself “horrified that you would vote on this by next Thursday.”
Outside of the proposed reorganization, Assistant Superintendent George King commented that the budget does not feature many changes, with a total hike of 2.84 percent to approximately $54.1 million. Outlining the budget’s main points, King noted the increase would be accompanied by a 4.35 percent average assessment hike across the three towns.
Among the major items in the proposal are another SPED teacher at Nashoba Regional High School; some new positions to free NRHS’s department heads of some teaching responsibilities; continuation of the grade 8 one-to-one program (loaning each eighth grader a Chromebook through high school); sustaining district technology purchases; and eliminating two teaching and four paraprofessional positions due to enrollment changes.
Turning to some of the more prominent items in the proposed budget, Director of Facilities Bill Cleary argued that cutting the Custodial Services manager would put a big burden on the department, especially concerning facilities scheduling. But the SC decided to stick with its decision to cut the position, with Kathy Codianne remarking, “I’m still averse to that position when there are direct services to kids that need to be restored.”
Asked about an annual OPEB (other postemployment benefits) contribution, the SC agreed to $25,000 as a manageable target. King said he would look for places in the budget to help offset that contribution. He also noted the Excess & Deficiency (free cash) account was at about $1.3 million.
The currently proposed budget should be online for viewing before the SC’s March 10 vote.