District options all back on table
Consolidation focus of new committee
PETERBOROUGH — Members of the ConVal School Board and the Selectmen’s Advisory Committee — two groups that have frequently been at odds — are vowing to work together, with plans under way to form a new committee to investigate options for the future of the district.
“Let’s start from scratch,” said John Jordan of Hancock, chair of the Selectmen’s Advisory Committee, at an SAC meeting Thursday. “I think it’s important that all towns be involved. All things need to be on the table.”
Two conflicting proposals for school consolidation, one advocated by the School Board on the recommendation of a previous District Model Study Committee and one placed on the ballot by petition, both failed at the polls in March.
Four members of the School Board — Erik Thibault of Peterborough, Fiona Tibbetts of Dublin, Rich Cahoon of Antrim and Pierce Rigrod on Hancock — had already volunteered to work with the SAC on issues related to declining enrollment, and Thibault, Tibbetts and Cahoon attended Thursday’s meeting.
Thibault asked Jordan about the makeup of the new committee. Jordan initially suggested that all the SAC members would participate, but Thibault questioned whether that would lead to an unbalanced committee.
“We assumed SAC would send equal representation and that someone from the [School Board] would be co-chair,” he said.
Antrim Select Board member John Robertson agreed that the group should not include the entire SAC membership. “There would be too many people sitting around the table,” he said.
After discussion, the group agreed that a nine-member committee, with one person from each of the ConVal towns, would be the best structure. John Kieley of Temple and Scott Carbee of Francestown agreed to serve as members from the SAC. Kieley and Carbee were asked to talk to Select Board members from Bennington, Sharon and Greenfield to complete the committee.
The group did not set a timetable for when they would meet or when they expect to have recommendations for the School Board.
At a School Board meeting two days prior to the SAC meeting, School Superintendent Dick Bergeron distributed a chart showing the pattern of administrative staffing in the district since 1974.
The chart, prepared by Business Administrator Marian Alese, is set up in five-year increments. It shows that the district had 20 administrative positions in 1974-75, with 2,234 students. In 1990-91, when ConVal had two new middle schools and was no longer part of SAU 47 with the Jaffrey-Rindge district, the district had 23 administrative positions and 2,426 students. In 2013, the district had 24 administrative positions and 2,397 students.
At the School Board meeting, Alese noted that some administrative jobs had been eliminated over the 40 year period and new ones had been added.
At the School Board meeting, Cahoon mentioned that for many years ConVal had teaching principal positions at all seven smaller elementary schools. Those jobs, he said, were not full-time administrative positions. He suggested that calculating the staffing level on a full-time equivalent basis, which would account for how much time was actually administrative, might give a more accurate comparison.
At the SAC meeting, Jordan also said revising the chart based on full-time equivalent data would be more accurate. He also listed nine other positions, including a mentor who works with ConVal teachers, a systems administrator job and two technology integrator jobs at the middle school, and asked why they hadn’t been included in the list of 2013 jobs.
“Those are not administrative positions,” Alese said. She also noted that administration staff levels cannot be directly related to enrollment numbers.
Carbee said it would be useful to know which jobs are required by law.
“How many positions are being jammed down on us by state and federal regulations?” he asked.
∎ Alese and ConVal Facilities Manager Tim Grossi described the school district’s process for obtaining fuel oil bids.
The market fluctuates daily, Grossi said, but he tracks it daily, as well, in an effort to lock in the best possible price. In the past, some of the towns in the district have joined to purchase fuel oil on the district’s contract. After listening to Grossi, Kieley and Robertson said their towns would be interested in possibly purchasing oil in conjunction with ConVal.
Jordan and Barbara Miller of Peterborough said they’d found that their towns don’t use enough fuel oil to make a joint buy with ConVal worthwhile, and Charlie Champagne said Dublin would prefer to do its own negotiation and purchase.
∎ Kristen Reilly of Peterborough spoke to the SAC about the closing of the Pine Hill Child Care Center at ConVal High School. The center’s parent organization, Pine Hill Waldorf School of Wilton, notified ConVal last year that it would not renew its lease on the space at the high school that was used for the day-care program for infants, toddlers and preschoolers. The School District decided to use the space to house alternative education students at the high school.
Now the childcare center, which is under a new name and organization, is looking at a space in Greenfield (see related story on page 2), but Reilly and the center’s director, Peggy Waterhouse, would still like to find a location in Peterborough.
“I’m asking for your help to find a new space for this indispensable resource,” Reilly told SAC members. “ConVal gobbled up the space without asking if [we] wanted to stay.”
“ConVal was not the decision maker here,” Thibault said. “We were told you were going to leave.”
SAC members suggested Reilly’s best option at this time is to speak to the School Board’s Budget and Property Committee.
∎ SAC members agreed that having a SAC liaison to the Budget and Property Committee would be useful, and voted to have Thibault present that recommendation to the School Board.