So, it is late, and I teach in 9 hours, and hence this will be relatively brief. But tonight was truly one of the oddest meetings we've had, and thus I wanted to get a quick update out to my blog readers.
There were two key votes taken: one selecting a superintendent search firm and one selecting a lawyer for the district. The first was supposed to be a quick vote to approve a superintendent search firm (we only received one bid from the four firms that we requested bids from). However, Kristen Luschen, from Shutesbury, made a motion (with absolutely no warning to other members of the SC) to appoint Maria Geryk superintendent, effective immediately, without conducting any search whatsoever. This motion was discussed at length -- and I encourage you to watch the meeting on ACTV - but briefly, all members from the hilltowns strongly supported simply making Maria permanent superintendent and not conducting any type of search (and they reported that this was the message they were receiving from members of their community). I was frankly shocked at this motion, in part because no members of the SC were given any notice about this motion, but also because this type of decision seems like one that clearly should have been announced on the agenda so that members of the public could have shared their views (this topic was NOT on the agenda). I was also quite surprised that members of the SC would feel comfortable appointing a permanent superintendent without any opportunity for public comment on such an appointment (which is precisely what my concern was in March when Maria was appointed for 16 months without any public comment). Moreover, no members of the SC have even seen her resume, and she has never undergone any sort of review of her performance; hence I am uncertain about our ability to evaluate her qualifications for this job and make such a major decision.
This motion was discussed at length, and ultimately was voted down, with all 5 members of the Amherst SC voting to conduct a search (and acknowledging that if Maria was the best candidate, surely she would be selected), and all 4 non-Amherst members voting to make Maria the permanent superintendent without any public comment or notice that this was even a possibility (NOTE: I have a correction to this statement below).
We then turned to discuss the legal representation of the district. Again, I encourage you to watch the whole meeting, but briefly, all members from the hilltowns spoke in favor of retaining our current counsel for all legal matters (special education and general counsel). Several members from Amherst (Steve, Irv, me) spoke about concerns with the current counsel (including concerns expressed by parents of students in special education, concerns about legal contracts such as the contract giving away control of the HS schedule and requiring spring parent-teacher conference in the elementary schools and including an invalid clause in the most recent superintendent contract). However, ultimately the vote was 5 to 4 in favor of hiring the Dupere law firm to represent us in special education (another vote with all Amherst members in favor, all non-Amherst members against), and then 5 to 4 in favor of retaining the current counsel for general counsel (all hilltown members were joined by Rick in the majority; the other 4 Amherst members voted for Deutsch & Williams).
Those were the "highlights" ... will do a more thorough update tomorrow sometime. But in conclusion, it was very clear at this meeting that SC members from the hilltowns are quite comfortable supporting the status quo -- maintaining our current interim superintendent permanently and maintaining our current law firm. And you see that members from Amherst are pushing for more change and a more open process -- requesting an open process by which we choose a superintendent (all Amherst members) and requesting a change in our legal counsel (all Amherst members with respect to special education counsel, 80% of Amherst members with respect to general counsel). The differences in view and perspective between Amherst SC members and non-Amherst SC members seems quite stark, and something I think we all need to take note of.
I am just adding a few other items of business that occurred last night.
First, we appointed a subcommittee of the three chairs to create the superintendent's goals and evaluation (Irv, Rick, Debbie). That system worked effectively last time and I believe will be useful again.
Second, we learned from Rob Detweiler that the regional schools had paid an additional $150,000 to charter schools for reimbursement ABOVE our projections, again showing that some families continue to opt out of our public schools (and more than we expected).
Third, we learned from Rick Hood that members of the CBAC group aren't so interested in continuing their work on budget stuff, which is disappointing. I've heard from members of this group that they were frustrated with the lack of support they received from the administration, which made it difficult for them to compile the data they needed.
Fourth, we agreed to appoint a task force to study whether school times should be changed (either delaying elementary and regional start times OR delaying the start times of all schools). There will be an announcement on the website for those who are interested in serving on this task force.
Fifth, we conducted a first read of several policies (attendance, anti-bullying) -- these policies will be posted on the ARPS website soon for public comment. Policy meetings are also open to the whole community for those who want to attend in person.
One final note: I will be posting a summary of the last Amherst meeting in which the Union 26 arrangement was discussed soon -- look back here if you are interested in learning more about this unique agreement!
************************************************************************************************* One more note: I wrote the initial blog posting last night after midnight and was exhausted, and thus didn't fully describe the relatively lengthy proceedings, and so I want to correct something for the record: the unanimous support from the hill town representatives was NOT to hire Maria permanently without public comment -- it was to suspend the hiring of the search firm so that we could hear from the community regarding whether a search should be conducted. However, the effect of such a vote to suspend the search would, I believe, largely be the same as simply appointing Maria for several reasons.
First, the motion initially made by Ms. Luschen (and seconded I believe by Kip Fonsch from Leverett) was to hire Maria as the permanent superintendent. Clearly at least these two people supported the immediate hiring of Maria without any public comment (although neither member from Pelham supported this motion). Second, the bid we received from the search firm expired in 5 days, and it was the ONLY bid we received to do this work. Thus, had we lost thet bid (and certainly there is no SC meeting planned in the next 5 days at which we could have voted to accept the bid), we likely would have lost this search firm -- and at the prior meeting, both Ms. Luschen and Ms. Gould (from Pelham) spoke passionately about the importance of hiring a major firm to assist us with recruiting candidates. In turn, voting to suspend hiring this firm would have led, even if the search continued, to losing this firm and thereby having to do the search on our own, which all parties had agreed was a bad idea in terms of recruiting qualified candidates at the last meeting (and is a particular bad idea when there is an internal candidate). I believed last night, and continued to believe, that even if Maria is the best candidate, she will be far better served (and in turn, our schools will be far better served) by going through a fair and open process in which her abilities/experiences/ideas are demonstrated than by being appointed in a highly controversial and clearly split vote (as it was very clear the majority of Amherst members weren't comfortable appointing her without a search).
My Goal in Blogging
I started this blog in May of 2008, shortly after my election to the School Committee, because I believed it was very important to both provide the community with an opportunity to share their thoughts with me about our schools and to provide me with an opportunity for me to ask questions and share my thoughts and reasoning. I have found the conversation generated on my blog to be extremely helpful to me in learning community views on many issues. I appreciate the many people who have taken the time to share their views. I believe it is critical to the quality of our public schools to have a public discussion of our community priorities, concerns and aspirations.