Category Archives: school governance

Rightsizing Vermont’s School Governance System

I consider myself a reasonable person, so I knew at some point I would be weighing in on the proposed bill on school district governance reform in Vermont. I wasn’t exactly sure when I would do so, but I have been waiting for a sign that the time was right. I thought I was close when I observed progressive educator Bill Mathis and libertarian John McClaughry to be on the same side of the issue. The piece in the Rutland Herald entitled, “Attack on Democracy” almost had me there, but it was Marty Strange’s, “The Reality of Consolidation” which pushed me over the edge.

Mr. Strange compares Vermont to West Virginia, Nebraska, Maine, and Arkansas. Really? Nothing which has occurred in these other states is on the same scale to what is being proposed in Vermont. From a national perspective, what is being considered in Vermont could be characterized as taking micro school districts and forming them into small districts. I often correspond with other superintendents from around the country on school district governance. The conversation usually goes something like this:

Other Superintendent: “Dan, school district consolidation is bad.

Me: “My school system of 2,200 students is governed 12 boards and 54 school board members, and my smallest district has 29 students and does not operate a school.”

Other Superintendent: “Oh. That’s crazy. You guys have a problem.”

Mr. Strange cites research on West Virginia. “In West Virginia, thousands of kids spend over two hours on the bus each school day.” In Vermont, this would mean the kids in Canaan would have to be bused back and forth to Lyndonville every day. The frost heaves alone would make this impractical. On the other hand, school district consolidation might actually improve the efficiency of our school transportation since many of our students spend hours on half empty school buses each day driving through other districts and past other schools in order to attend a school in their own district. Mr. Strange also cites the economic impact of district consolidation. “West Virginia spends more of its education dollar on transportation than any other state.” If school district consolidation is related to cost, Mr. Strange should have mentioned West Virginia spends about $5,000 less per student than Vermont. Actually, all of the states mentioned by Mr. Strange spend considerably less per student than Vermont.

I admire Mr. Strange’s work and the work of the Rural School and Community Trust, but I question whether or not he read the outline of the proposed school governance bill before writing his op-ed. The proposed bill is not about school bus transportation, closing small schools, the end of school choice or even an “Attack on Democracy.” The bill is aimed at addressing a long standing issue in Vermont: the overly complex structure of our public education delivery system. Mr. Strange is correct in that research should be used to guide public policy since there are valuable lessons to be learned from other states, but in the end, we need to find a Vermont solution to a Vermont problem. And yes, I think we have a school district governance problem in Vermont – denial is not a river in Egypt.

The problem in Vermont is twofold: 1) unequal educational opportunity for Vermont students, and 2) our high costs. School district governance has to be part of the solution, but I think it is more about “rightsizing” our governance structure rather than “consolidating” it.

Rightsizing means:

  • Looking for regional solutions – what makes sense in Essex County is not necessarily going to make sense in Chittenden County. The proposed bill includes a “Design Team” to take into account these regional variations. More importantly, the bill would give locals the opportunity to articulate a governance solution themselves albeit with the understanding that the goal is a Pre-K to grade 12 cohesive system and that the state will act to form up newly configured districts if a local solution is not achieved in a given time frame;
  • Ensuring the new districts (larger yes, but “Mega” no) have a better chance to achieve greater efficiency. We know from research (Baker) that single districts between about 1,200 and 4,000 students are the most efficient;
  • Maintaining local input commensurate to the number of students in the district. Vermont’s ratio of school boards to students (1 board per 282 students) is the lowest in the country and unfortunately correlates well to our very high spending per student; and
  • Creating integrated systems of school improvement by modernizing curriculum development, professional development, and assessment systems to better leverage the networked expertise of our teachers across school district boundaries so student learning opportunities are not limited by a student’s town of residence or the walls of a single school building.

I applaud the House Education Committee and our other political leaders for taking on the issue of school district governance reform. I think the conversation around this issue is an important one and hopefully not coming too late. Vermonters should engage in the conversation objectively and be prepared to shape the process so a Vermont solution can be found to a Vermont problem.

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Engaging the Community In Creating A Vision for 21st Century Learning

This was the title of a presentation I gave at the recent VSBA/VSA Fall conference in October 2012.  I was honored to have David Warlick, the conference keynote presenter, in the audience.  He wrote up some notes from my presentation and had some nice things to say about it on his blog.  His comments underscored for me how unique Vermont is in many ways.  I am very proud to be a Vermont educational leader.

As way of further explanation, I thought I would highlight some of the ideas behind my presentation and provide some of the materials I referenced in digital format.  The process of engaging communities to develop a future orientation and to express that orientation as Ends policies is based on Policy Governance, a model of governance developed by John Carver.  To get a sense of the process I created, check out the following documents developed for the Dorset School District:

  • a script for a public engagement event;
  • flyer developed by the Chair of the Dorset School Board advertising the process;
  • a handout given to the participants; and
  • a blog developed by the Board members to organize the videos and the process.  Scroll down to the first blog posts to get a sense of the event in chronological order.

During the process we discussed education not schooling.  This is an important distinction because I find focusing on education opens up the conversation to future possibilities, whereas focusing on schooling brings people back to their own experiences and limits the basis for a common dialogue.  This distinction between education vs. schooling conforms to the Policy Governance concept of Ends vs. Means with schooling being the primary Means by which a community’s educational Ends are obtained.  The primary purpose of this process was to get clear on the desired Ends since so many of our available Means (e.g. technology, the Internet, networks, etc.) are changing rapidly and are fundamentally different than the educational means available to previous generations.

The process was designed to connect Boards (and their communities) to the work we are doing in our schools around personalizing learning.  This work is fairly innovative, and like most innovations requires discipline.  I believe public accountability is a vital component of disciplining educational innovation, and I believe this accountability should be pointed back to local communities, taxpayers, and parents, not to the federal government.  Here is a draft Ends policy produced by our administrative team as an example.

The data gathered from the Dorset process was very similar to the data gathered from the processes in our other communities.  Interestingly,  no parent or participant from any of the community engagement processes expressed an interest in improving test scores on standardized tests as a desired End for a student’s education.

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Report of the Superintendent of Schools 2009

During the 2009 school year, new administrative job descriptions were adopted. This work culminated in the design and implementation of a superintendent evaluation process that will serve as a model for the evaluation of all administrative staff. The results of the superintendent evaluation were reduced down to specific organizational priorities. These priorities can be viewed on the BRSU website.

These priorities focus on strengthening our instructional systems, personalizing learning opportunities for students through the use of technology, and improving the efficiency of our operations. In terms of operational efficiency, the accounting services for the Manchester School District were shifted to the BRSU office in Sunderland. This change will save Manchester approximately $37,000 a year and will greatly enhance our financial reporting capabilities. The Mettawee School District transitioned their accounting services to the central office in 2008. Consolidating our back office operations saves money, streamlines audit processes, and provides greater oversight to board members and the public.

Another major structural change being implemented pertains to our early education programs. The supervisory union and its districts are navigating a new law, Act 62, which provides incentives for the expansion of early education programs. Based on these changes, we will be eliminating a full-time director position at the BRSU and some of the responsibilities for administering the school-based early education programs will be shifted to administrators in the schools.

We have made substantial progress in improving the efficiency of our operations, but there is still more work to be done in this area. Since 80% of our costs are attributed to personnel, our major strategy for achieving greater efficiency will be to seek opportunities to share personnel and services among our districts. I believe this points to the necessity for governance reform; our current structure of 9 districts and 10 boards is too cumbersome and inhibits our ability to respond to changing economic circumstances and declining student numbers. Governance reform is being considered at the state level, but our districts are not waiting for these decisions to be made in Montpelier. We are engaged in a serious review of our systems and will be organizing opportunities in the coming months for broad community input on this topic as our boards establish Ends policies.

Through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA), our districts have received additional federal “stimulus” funds. These funds have been received through federal formula programs and must be spent in accordance with the guidelines of these programs. We have received approximately $90,000 in Title I and $400,000 in IDEAB or special education. All of these funds are one-time funds and must be spent in two years. The Title I funds are being allocated to the three BRSU districts that are eligible to receive these funds (Currier, Mettawee, and Sunderland), and the IDEAB funds will be spent centrally to reduce the costs of our special education programs. Most likely we will use these funds to establish special education programs at the supervisory union level in order to reduce costs for sending students out of the district for these services. We will also be reviewing the transportation costs of these programs to see if it would be more cost effective to run our own transportation services.

In spite of these additional funds, all of our districts have struggled this year to adopt budgets that are both fiscally responsive and sensitive to student program needs. The majority of our districts, however, have been able to achieve decreases in their expenditure budgets which is no small accomplishment considering many of our fixed costs are increasing. We will need your continued involvement and support to ensure we can navigate these challenging economic circumstances while at the same time ensuring our children obtain a quality education. Thank you for your support.

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Technology and the Future of Education

The following notes were shared with BRSU boards as part of a presentation on understanding the implications of technology on education in September 2009.

Most people acknowledge that technology is having and will have a tremendous impact on education. This impact needs to be considered when developing plans for the future. I can categorize this impact in two areas: learning, and operations.

Learning

Operations

  • Digitization (information systems and record management) – huge opportunity
  • Flattening – fewer intervening layers between management and staff
  • Communication and collaboration across traditional organizational boundaries; increased stakeholder participation;
  • Potential for greater efficiencies and lower costs

“Death of Education, the Dawn of Learning”

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Opening Inservice Remarks, August 25, 2009

It’s great to see you all. I hope you had a restful and enjoyable summer in spite of the rain.

I want to take a few minutes and talk about about some of the changes we have planned for this year. Some of them are administrative and others are more instructional.

MLP – We have implemented MyLearningPlan, an online system to manage professional development. MLP is a company that has a significant presence in 49 states – they are the market leader for this type of product. We are the first district in Vermont to use this system. We will see how it goes. I have observed the Vermont relicensure process now for over 10 years. Like you, I have witnessed many changes to the process over time. In spite of the talents, artistic and otherwise, of the members of our local and regional standards boards, I remain convinced there has to be a better way. Our system of relicensure is overly complicated, time consuming, and not necessarily supportive of continued professional growth. It is my hope that our experience with MLP will not only serve our needs, but also serve as a model for reform of the entire system.

We will be rolling out the “instructional catalog” feature of the system in September. This aspect of the system allows us to handle enrollment in SU or district-sponsored activities. Completion of these activities is recorded automatically in your MLP portfolio which will assist you in tracking these activities. Considering these are some of the most valuable activities from an organizational perspective, I am looking forward to promoting this aspect of the system. Keep an eye out for “Google Apps 101” trainings – we will use MLP to handle registration and enrollment in these workshops.

AMS – AMS is the new leave taking system. As opposed to MLP which is hosted on MLP’s servers, AMS is located in the BRSU office. Last year we used a similar system to handle leave requests for administrative staff across the SU, and this year we wanted to do the same for all staff. This has been a significant undertaking as we had to consolidate the leave records for each staff member into a single database. If you think there is an error in your leave balances contact Celeste Keel. If you have trouble logging into the system, email me.

Perhaps the most exciting innovation this year from an instructional perspective is bringing students into our Google Apps system preK-8. We will be rolling this out differently in each building because it requires the support of board members and parents, and also requires staff members to understand how this change can be harnessed from an instructional perspective. I have developed model usage guidelines for students and parents and will be developing some for staff members as well. I am looking forward to adding our students to the system because I think it puts in place a necessary precondition for instructional innovation – the ability of teachers and students to communicate electronically in order extend and embellish classroom activities with online resources.

Lastly, I wanted to discuss the governance work that is going on. Last year the five districts that operate schools adopted new board policy manuals. These districts now have common operational policies. We are about to begin the next phase of this work which is the creation of Ends policies. The boards will be tapping your expertise to come to an understanding of what their communities want to see as outcomes for each school. These outcomes or Ends will be set up in policy and will guide and focus the future direction of each school.

I see this governance work as being critical to the future success of our schools. We are in a time of great change in terms of the structure of public education. Some of these changes are the result of technology which will put pressure on schools to become more efficient in their operations while at the same time delivering instruction in a more personalized manner; what one of my colleagues refers to as the “disaggregation of one.”

I am confident the mission of public education will remain, to a certain extent, unchanged. The Vermont constitution defines that mission as discouraging vice and promoting virtue in order to serve the larger public good. I believe we will need to tap back into this historic mission and bring to the forefront the importance of this work. The work you do is vitally important not only to the future success of each student but for the success of our world. To that end, I want to thank you for your efforts on behalf of our students, their families and our communities. I wish you success in the coming year, and let me know if there is anything I can do to better support you in this work.

Thank you.

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Transforming Vermont’s System of Public Education

The State Board of Education has embarked on an initiative to transform Vermont’s public schools. This initiative is focused on making our schools, and high schools in particular, more relevant to students. Although this is important and timely work, I believe the focus is off target. The quality of Vermont’s public education system is already very high. We should be directing our transformative energies towards a commonly accepted but rarely examined aspect of our public school system: it’s poor organization and inefficiency. The current economic situation makes this inefficiency especially intolerable, but I believe it is through the current economic crisis that we can finally find the necessary political will to transform these systemic deficiencies.

Vermont’s system of public education is actually not much of a system, but rather a very loose confederation of local districts that can choose to work together, or not, when they see fit. This semi-structure is rife with duplication of effort and wasted time and money. The chief cause of this inefficiency is the political nature of the system. Politics always makes systems more inefficient, and our educational system, from top to bottom, is overly political.

In Vermont, the political nature of our education system is frequently expressed in a blind allegiance towards “local control” even though there is truly not much local control, and some of the things that are controlled locally (hiring, purchasing, contracting, etc.) are the very things that make public education in Vermont at times inefficient, complex, and costly. From a mathematical perspective:

LOCAL CONTROL=OPERATIONAL COMPLEXITY=INEFFICIENCY=HIGH COSTS

To become more efficient, we need to start thinking of our public education structure as a true system. At the heart of this effort will be the need to re-examine issues of local control vs. centralization. This will not mean abandoning local control altogether. We need to consider, however, what aspects of the system should remain within the purview of local decision making and what areas should be managed centrally in order to achieve a greater efficiency.

A compromise between local control and centralization would seem to be the creation of a regional school district system. A series of policy initiatives should be introduced that makes the regionalization of educational services more attractive or maintaining the status quo too expensive. Such strategically designed policy initiatives when considered within the context of our current economic crisis can provide the necessary energy to start transforming our current system into one that is more efficient. I suggest the following areas for policy consideration:

  • The small schools grant should be reduced to support only those small schools that meet newly created socio-economic and geographic guidelines. These guidelines would establish funding criteria based on the socio-economic status of a community and the relative distance of a small school from other schools.
  • Districts that do not operate schools should be forced to consolidate with other districts. Even if a district does not operate a school, it presents a cost liability to the system by being a corporate entity that can, and will be, sued. These districts are also required to meet the same regulatory, policy, and financial reporting requirements of districts that do operate schools. Eliminating these districts would reduce administrative costs.
  • The current configuration of school districts and supervisory unions should be reviewed for consolidation. A commission similar to a “base closing” commission should be formed to oversee this process.
  • New regional school districts should be formed with expanded authority over the major operational areas that affect cost:
    1. Hiring – These regional districts should be the only entities allowed to employ individuals. This would force the consolidation of union master agreements and allow staff to be shared among schools more efficiently.
    2. Business Services – All business services should be housed in these regional school districts in order to reduce duplication of effort and to provide better control and reporting systems.
    3. Purchasing and Contracting – These regional districts should be the only entities allowed to make purchases and to contract for services. This would promote more efficient purchasing and would allow services, including student transportation, to be better coordinated within a region.
    4. Charter Schools – These regional school districts should be given statutory authority to create innovative learning structures along the lines of charter schools. These structures would employ new technologies and provide greater flexibility for students and families at lower costs.
    5. Consolidated Grand Lists – The formation of regional school districts allows for the consolidation of education property tax grand lists within these regions. Such consolidation would likely reduce the statistical volatility of the Common Level of Appraisal, a major cause of property tax increases in recent years.
  • A state-wide student information system, special education management system, and financial accounting system should be implemented. We currently do not have a uniform approach to data systems. Public education is a very complex business; we need to have standardized data systems matched to uniform governance entities so we can better manage our programs and their related costs.

These are examples of the types of policies I would introduce to start transforming our public education system. We need to move beyond pedagogical debate, reactionary tinkering and political rhetoric to take advantage of this important moment in history to restructure our public education system so that it can become more efficient, manageable, and sustainable. This work will no doubt require significant political leadership, but if we do not act now we jeopardize the future social and economic well being of our state.

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UCLA Report on State Departments of Education

UCLA has come out with an interesting report on how state departments of education are configure to support student learning.

When a state education agency (SEA) undertakes to provide a statewide system of support for school improvement, it realizes that its organizational structure, resource streams, communication channels, and ways of interfacing with districts and schools fit like a straitjacket. … While compliance monitoring requires precise definition, circumscription, certain boundaries, and standardization, school improvement demands agility, responsiveness, keen judgment, and differentiation. – Sam Redding

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Comments on Supervisory Operations, March 2009

I would like to take this opportunity to reflect upon various operational aspects of our districts with an eye on identifying areas of future work.

Collective Bargaining

We began the school year with three out of our six teacher contracts settled.  All six were settled as of December 2008.  Two contracts required mediation to achieve a settlement.  The chart below summarizes the FY2008 salary schedules as compared to the FY2009 salary schedules.

BASE BA HIGH MA BASE MA HIGH
FY2008 FY2009 FY2008 FY2009 FY2008 FY2009 FY2008 FY2009
BRSU $32,983 $33,801 $48,316 $50,506 $37,708 $38,643 $56,368 $58,783
Currier $32,679 $33,858 $57,566 $59,642 $37,277 $38,622 $57,566 $59,642
Dorset $28,776 $32,065 $59,048 $61,813 $32,833 $36,251 $59,048 $61,813
Manchester $32,895 $34,237 $53,594 $55,781 $36,691 $38,187 $60,691 $63,167
Mettawee $29,242 $30,277 $56,144 $58,131 $33,628 $34,818 $57,606 $59,645
Sunderland $29,617 $30,417 $53,607 $55,055 $34,060 $34,980 $53,607 $55,055

The next time we bargain we will have to bargain as a supervisory union in accordance with the requirements of a new law.  This law requires that each district involved in negotiations convene a “bargaining council” that will meet with the other bargaining councils in the supervisory union.  The result of this process will be a unified contract.  Currier and Sunderland contracts expire a year before the other contracts.  As a first step towards a unified contract, I believe we should attempt to seek common language in those areas that are already very similar.  These areas of similar language represent approximately 80% of the language in our contracts.  This could be achieved by starting with new language or by using one of our current contracts as a prototype.  I recommend beginning this work in the fall of 2009.

Centralization vs. Local Control

We have begun to explore how to leverage centralization to our advantage.  This work is represented to date by our common approach to organizing board meeting agendas, hiring staff, purchasing heating oil and photocopiers, a board policy framework, job descriptions of the superintendent and principals, and related evaluation processes.  In most supervisory unions, the rationale for such centralization is more readily apparent because these organizations operate schools K-12: there is a natural tendency towards centralization in supervisory unions when a primary requirement is to ensure a seamless educational program for students as they transition from one school to another within the same system.  This is the system that was anticipated by the law; the relative roles and responsibilities of board members, the superintendent, and principals were set out in the law to support this type of structure.

Our supervisory union is more of a federal system.  I have suggested, however, that our districts would be well served by re-examining what systems might be centralized and what systems should remain at the local level.  To that end, I recommend we consider the following specific areas for review:

  • Business Services – Last year the business operations of Mettawee were brought into the supervisory union.  This consolidation reduced costs slightly while providing greater efficiency because it eliminated duplication of effort and enhanced our reporting capabilities.  The business operations of the Dorset School and MEMS should be reviewed in a similar manner.  I estimate one additional staff person would be necessary at the supervisory union level to replace the work being performed by two positions in these districts.  This consolidation would improve our audit process which is taking too long largely due to the necessity of central office staff to perform a pre-audit on the books of these districts.  This consolidation would also enhance our ability to utilize financial information in order to better meet our strategic planning needs.
  • Coordination of Curriculum – The supervisory union employs a curriculum coordinator.  The curriculum coordinator has worked with the principals on an annual basis to develop a curriculum work plan that guides and coordinates the curriculum in each district.  This work has led to the development of supervisory union curriculum in most subject areas with grade level teams of teachers from all districts meeting regularly to develop common local assessments and to share instructional strategies.  At the same time, several of our schools employ their own curriculum staff in the areas of math, reading, and science.  This structure should be examined from a systems perspective to see if it could be streamlined or better focused to support the larger curriculum work.
  • Special Education Administrative Staff – The supervisory union employs an assistant superintendent for student services and two special education directors.  Dorset and Manchester each employ their own special education directors.  The roles and responsibilities of these positions should be examined to see if it would make more sense to have all special education administrators be employees of the supervisory union.  Such a structure might allow for greater flexibility in assigning administrative responsibilities as student needs change, and could enhance our ability to supervise secondary student programming needs across all sending districts.  I also believe this change would eliminate redundancies and duplication of tasks while promoting a more consistent implementation of frequently changing rules and regulations.
  • Early Education – The supervisory union oversees the operation of five early education sites.  Two of these sites are located in private child care centers and one is located in the Mt. Tabor town office building.  These programs serve special needs students and students deemed to be at risk.  Manchester has expressed an interest in expanding the program located at MEMS to include all four year olds.  The process for considering this expansion will be started in the spring of 2009.  A natural outcome of this process will be to examine if the early education programs should be administered by the supervisory union, the districts, or some combination of both.
  • Transportation – Three districts (Dorset, Manchester, and Sunderland) operate their own busing and Currier and Mettawee contract their transportation out to their member districts.  Rupert and Pawlet just went out to bid for a two year transportation contract.  This new contract will expire at the same time the contract expires for Danby, Mt. Tabor and Currier.  Before these contracts are renewed in two years, I believe we should examine all of our student transportation systems to see if a more efficient system could be achieved.  A particular area of concern is special education transportation.  We are frequently required to provide student transportation for special education students as a related service under their Individual Education Plans.  Our costs in this area are high, and due to the lack of a systematic approach our special education administrators have to spend a great deal of time to trying to develop and secure transportation services for their students.
  • Information Systems – We have implemented several information systems to increase efficiency and to provide greater functionality.  These systems include Google Apps (mail, calendaring, instant messaging, and collaborative documents and websites), SpEdDoc (a centralized special education data management system), AlertNOW (emergency messaging system), and Web2School and PowerSchool (student information management systems).  To move forward with technology both from an operational/efficiency perspective and from an instructional perspective will require us to standardize the networking hardware in each school.  An emerging concern is the need to expand wireless connectivity within the school buildings to meet increased demand from students and staff for access to networked resources.  These needs will be best met by adopting a common hardware approach among all of the schools.

Policy Work

Our districts have engaged in a significant policy revision process.  All districts that operate schools have begun to work on adopting a new policy framework that includes mandatory policies, local policies and ends policies.  The ends policies should serve as a helpful structure in guiding conversations about the future goals of each school.  I will begin working with the districts that do not operate schools to create a policy manual that meets their needs in a similar manner.  The last phase of the policy work is to review supervisory union policies and procedures.  Much of this effort will be focused on revising financial procedures, curriculum coordination policies, and professional development policies.  It is my hope that we can begin this work in the fall of 2009.

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Maine School District Consolidation

Here is an update on school district consolidation in Maine.  The state forced district consolidation through a legal framework that includes a series of economic carrots and sticks.  Vermont should consider a similar approach.

Consolidation Consternation
Bangor Daily News, Jan. 28
BANGOR, Maine — At least eight of 18 proposals to consolidate school administrations into regional units were defeated at polls around the state Tuesday, according to unofficial results. Residents from Allagash to Brewer and from Deer Isle to Jackman cast ballots to sink reorganization plans in their areas. Three consolidation plans were approved to serve communities in the Old Town, Orono and Bucksport areas, according to unofficial tallies. The results on proposals in other areas were not available Tuesday night.

No matter what the voters decide, there still will be a lot of work to do, state Department of Education spokesman David Connerty-Marin said before the polls closed Tuesday. “Some who vote no will want to go back to the drawing board,” he said. “And we’ll encourage them to do that and we’ll support them in any way we can.”

Eighteen plans to consolidate school administrations for 110 individual school districts with an estimated enrollment of 34,888 students were voted on Tuesday. Thirteen of 22 plans voted on in November and earlier this month already have been approved by voters. The state’s deadline for referendums on the proposals is Jan. 30. Those districts whose voters approved the reorganization plans Tuesday will have to work to implement their plans so that the new district will be ready to begin operations on July 1 as outlined in the consolidation law. Among the steps involved in becoming a new unit are electing a new school committee, hiring a superintendent and developing a budget for the newly formed district.

Most of the details for forming the new units are included in the plans themselves, but with five months to go before the start of the new school year, it is still a tight timeline. Connerty-Marin said the department will provide assistance for the districts to develop an educational plan for their schools. The department has created a reorganization education planning team to assist the new Regional School Units and Alternative Organizational Structures with their educational planning. “The idea is to assist them as they work together to adapt their educational systems as they bring several systems together as one,” Connerty-Marin said.

The team will include a group of facilitators headed by former Portland superintendent Mary Jane McCalmon who will be able to work with the new districts on their educational planning. Use of those facilitators is voluntary. They will be paid by the Education Department, which also will provide small $5,000 grants to the districts who use the facilitators to support the educational planning. In districts where the plan has been rejected by the voters, the planning committees may opt to try to develop a new plan. Connerty-Marin said it was unlikely that those plans will be ready for the districts to begin operating in 2009. “It’s not clear that folks who return to the table will in fact be able to begin operations by July 1, ’09,” he said. “They may be working for creation of a new district the following year. It’s a very tight timetable to be operating by July 1.”

Those districts that have rejected the reorganization plan face penalties for their failure to reorganize. The consolidation law provides for reductions in school subsidies in those districts. It is unclear how those districts will continue to operate at the beginning of the new school year. School unions would be dissolved at the end of this school year, although there has been some debate about the intent of the law and some have argued that the law prohibits only the creation of new school unions. Connerty-Marin has suggested that they will need to develop new interlocal agreements to allow them to perform some joint functions such as hiring a superintendent.

The proposals and the referendums are in response to the law passed in June 2007 requiring that the state’s 290 school districts be reorganized into approximately 80 regional school units governed by regional school boards. The law was amended by the Legislature in April 2008 to address problems some communities encountered, including issues of local control, cost-sharing, and minimum numbers of students per regional school unit, among others.

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Report of the Superintendent 2009

The supervisory union embarked on several structural changes to its operations in 2008. Hiring procedures were centralized and uniform personnel provisions for non-teaching staff were implemented in all districts. The business operations of the Mettawee Community School were transferred to the supervisory union office providing greater efficiency and control for that district and at no additional cost to either the district or the supervisory union.

Our five districts who operate schools partnered with the supervisory union to consolidate photocopier leases and to go out to bid for these services together under one contract. This process took about 7 months and will ultimately result in a predicted savings of $85,000 in the first five years of the new contract with even greater savings in the future as old leases are paid off.

All districts and the central office were moved to Google’s free communication platform for educational institutions. This platform gives staff the ability to use a common messaging and calendaring system. Federal grant funds were used to implement a computerized student information system in our four schools that did not operate such a system. These systems will enhance school-parent communications and give staff better access to student achievement data. Grant funds were also used to purchase an emergency messaging system for all of our schools. This system, AlertNOW, gives each school the ability to contact parents instantly by sending a single message through a web-based interface.

A central special education database was established in the supervisory union office over the summer. This centralization required the consolidation of approximately 15 separate databases throughout the supervisory union. The new configuration allows staff to access the database over the Internet, and gives staff better data on special education programs across all districts. This consolidation of databases allowed the supervisory union to eliminate a clerical position.

The boards began a process to revise administrative job descriptions. A particular focus of this work is the examination of the responsibilities of the superintendent as compared to the principals. This work will be helpful in clarifying expectations for all staff, and will lead to the establishment of evaluation processes for administrators that are closely tied to meeting organizational objectives.

The boards embarked upon a major revision of their policy manuals with the intent of standardizing the mandatory policies required by the state while at the same time maintaining local flexibility in areas of special interest to their communities. Having standardized mandatory policies will provide common policy language to support the training of staff in areas of emerging legal concern. The new policies articulate how each board will operate and describe the organizational objectives of each district. The policy process will culminate in a mass policy adoption in the Spring of 2009.

The work described above represents the earnest support of many volunteer board members who have given countless hours on behalf of their districts. Their ability to work together to leverage centralization where prudent and to maintain local control when necessary is indicative of their exemplary dedication to public service. This work also represents the commitment of our building level staff to serve all our students and families. I thank them for their work. Such dedication will be necessary to navigate our current economic circumstances. I feel confident, however, that we are off to a good start and have formed the basis of a productive working relationship. We will continue to seek opportunities to become more efficient in our operations but not lose sight of our primary mission to meet the educational needs of all of our students.

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