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.
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.
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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.
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.