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Minutes for the Regional School Committee Meeting of September 22, 2010 (DRAFT)
Submitted by WestmorelandD on Fri, 09/24/2010 - 11:32am.
Regional School Committee
Regular Meeting of the Regional School Committee
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Library, Amherst Regional High School
Rick Hood, Chair Maria Geryk, Interim Superintendent
Irv Rhodes Michael Caporello, Information Systems
Steve Rivkin Mike Hayes, ARMS Principal
Nora Maroulis Beth Graham, Dir. of Curr., Inst. & Assessment
Kip Fonsh Rob Detweiler, Director of Finance & Operations
Catherine Sanderson JoAnn Smith, Interim Director of Student Services
Debbie Gould Marta Guevara, Student Services Administrator
Rob Spence Liz Elder, APEA President
Kristen Luschen (arrived at 7:03) Public
Debbie Westmoreland, Recorder
1. Welcome 7:01 p.m.
A. & B. Call to Order and Agenda Review—Mr. Hood called the meeting to order at 7:01 p.m. and reviewed the agenda. Mr. Rivkin requested that the Superintendent Search Firm discussion be moved to the beginning of the New/Continuing Business portion of the meeting.
C. Approve Minutes—Ms. Gould made a motion to approve the minutes of June 29 and August 25, 2010 as presented. The motion was approved unanimously, with Mr. Fonsh abstaining.
2. Announcements and Public Comments 7:09 p.m.
Ernie Dalkas, School Committee representative to ACTV, expressed his thanks to Mr. Hood and Ms. Geryk for getting involved with ACTV and for the programs they have begun. Michael Aaronson, parent, read a statement regarding the choice of legal representation for the school districts. He encouraged the committee to select different counsel rather than rehiring the firm of Murphy, Hesse, Toomey and Lehane. Elaine Fronhofer, parent, made a statement regarding positive changes she has seen under Ms. Geryk’s tenure as Interim Superintendent. She stated that she believes the district will be hard-pressed to find anyone who can do the job as well as Ms. Geryk. Rebecca Woodland, parent and UMass education professor, stated that she believes it is unwarranted and unwise to go forward with a Superintendent search and doing so would amount to a vote of no confidence in Ms. Geryk. She noted that she has worked with Superintendents across the state and Ms. Geryk has accomplished more in her seven months on the job than most new superintendents accomplish in three to five years. Joshua Goldstein, parent, spoke regarding the benefits of a later school start time. He encouraged the School Committee to move forward with appointing a task force or utilizing some other method to study the issue. Claire Bertrand, parent, also expressed support for having a task force study the issue of school start times. She also stated that she believes the district has a great inside candidate in Ms. Geryk for the position of Superintendent, noting that she is doing a really good job. Alice Swift, former School Committee member, spoke in favor of the School Committee offering the permanent position of Superintendent to Ms. Geryk. She noted that she has been impressed by her ideas and long-range planning. Joan Snowden, ARHS teacher, supported the previous remarks encouraging the School Committee to appoint Ms. Geryk as the permanent superintendent, noting that the district is entering a time of stability under her leadership. Mr. Fonsh noted that he had the honor of attending the opening day convocation this school year and witnessed the standing ovation Ms. Geryk received from the staff. He said that in the 30 years he worked in the schools he never saw that level of support for a Superintendent, and he believes it shows that the staff and superintendent have made a real connection in their work.
3. Superintendent’s Update 7:24 p.m.
DOCUMENT: Superintendent’s Memo to Regional School Committee dated 9/22/10
Ms. Geryk distributed and briefly reviewed updates on the math program review; the newly hired ombudsperson, Barry Brooks; the work Dr. Rossi Ray-Taylor will be doing with a district data team on September 30th; the upcoming MSAN student conference in White Plains, NY and the ELL Mini-Conference that will be hosted by our district in November; new outreach/communication initiatives; and the expansion of the district’s partnership with Amherst College. Dr. Guevara then gave a brief update regarding the Regional MCAS scores, noting that a more in-depth report will be presented at a future meeting. Ms. Sanderson asked if the math program review work involving the comparison districts will be done in-house or by Dr. Chen. Ms. Graham reported that it is being done in-house. She noted that all of the comparison districts have been contacted and she knows the programs each is using; and she has compared MCAS results of the comparison districts with ours. Ms. Luschen expressed appreciation to Ms. Geryk for her work in expanding the Five-College partnerships with the districts, noting that these partnerships are paying dividends to the district.
4. Unfinished/Continuing Business 7:37 (C only)/9:55 p.m.
A. Law Firm Discussion
DOCUMENT: Reference Reports from Catherine Sanderson and Kristen Luschen
Catherine Sanderson reported on the last meeting of the Legal Services Subcommittee, noting that only two of the five firms—Murphy, Hesse, Toomey and Lehane and Dupere and Dupere—are able and willing to provide special education work. She noted that the subcommittee voted unanimously to recommend that the full committee vote on at least two separate motions: one for hiring general counsel and one for special education. Mr. Hood asked members of the committee to speak regarding their choice of firms. Mr. Fonsh spoke in support of retaining the district’s current law firm for all aspects of the district’s legal work, noting the importance of the support they provide in negotiations and of Ms. Tate’s historical memory regarding the district. He noted the conflict that exists between advocating for special education students and the fiscal responsibility of the district. Mr. Rhodes stated that he would like to see a change of law firms in the area of special education. He noted that there is a great deal of pain on the part of parents in the community and he believes that all of the law firms interviewed are highly capable. He also expressed his belief that there can be great merit in entering negotiations with some unfamiliarity. Ms. Geryk stated that this is a significant decision for the district, and while Ms. Sanderson called other district’s superintendents for their opinion of their current legal counsel, she was not given the same opportunity. She noted that, from a district perspective, there is not a level of concern that would warrant changing legal firms. Ms. Gould stated that she sees there is a great deal of pain in the community around special education, but she does not believe the attorney can be blamed for that. She believes it is a result of the district process and work is needed on that process. Ms. Sanderson stated that she believes it is appropriate to conduct a review of legal services. She read from several documents that outlined the historical record around inviting Murphy, Hesse, Toomey and Lehane to apply. Ms. Sanderson stated that she will vote against retaining Murphy, Hesse, Toomey and Lehane and outlined her reasons, including concerns about certain items in the negotiated contracts and parent concerns about special education. Mr. Rivkin stated that it is important for the district’s law firm to be loyal first to the School Committee, and he supports hiring separate firms for general counsel and special education. He echoed Ms. Sanderson’s concerns about the current firm. Ms. Luschen stated that she is saddened to hear that staff did not have adequate opportunity to provide feedback regarding the selection of the law firm. She stated that it was clear from the references she received that the firms of Murphy, Hesse, Toomey and Lehane and Dupere and Dupree are the only ones to consider for special education services, she heard over and over that Murphy, Hesse, Toomey and Lehane is the best. Ms. Luschen noted that, based on her discussions with the Director of Mediation, she agrees with Ms. Gould’s assessment. She believes the special education concern is an in-house issue that needs to be dealt with, possibly through policy. Mr. Hood stated that he has talked to and listened to staff, administrators, and community members and he knows he will make someone unhappy whichever way he votes. He noted that he favors a less aggressive style of attorney in the area of special education so he favors Dupere and Dupere. However, he believes it is important to keep the historical knowledge of Murphy, Hesse, Toomey and Lehane for general counsel. Mr. Spence stated that he does not believe he can support the current firm, and he believes it will be an odd arrangement if it is voted to have Murphy, Hesse, Toomey and Lehane for general counsel and Dupere and Dupere for special education. Ms. Gould expressed concern about hiring a firm on retainer because of the potential for Pelham to pay a split cost for services they may not use. Mr. Rivkin then made a motion that the School Committee vote for counsel for special education services. Mr. Rhodes seconded and the motion passed with Mr. Fonsh opposed. The Committee then voted by roll call as follows: Fonsh—Murphy, Hesse, Toomey, and Lehane; Gould—Murphy, Hesse, Toomey and Lehane; Maroulis—Murphy, Hesse, Toomey and Lehane; Luschen—Murphy, Hesse, Toomey and Lehane; Rivkin—Dupere and Dupere; Rhodes—Dupere and Dupere; Sanderson—Dupere and Dupere; Spence—Dupere and Dupere; and Hood—Dupere and Dupere. By a vote of five to four, the committee voted to hire Dupere and Dupere to provide the district’s legal representation for Special Education services. Mr. Rivkin then made a motion that the School Committee vote for general counsel services. Mr. Rhodes seconded and the motion passed with Mr. Fonsh opposed. The Committee then voted by roll call as follows: Hood—Murphy, Hesse, Toomey and Lehane; Spence—Deutsch & Williams; Sanderson—Deutsch & Williams; Rhodes—Deutsch & Williams; Rivkin—Deutsch & Williams; Luschen—Murphy, Hesse, Toomey and Lehane; Maroulis—Murphy, Hesse, Toomey and Lehane; Gould—Murphy, Hesse, Toomey and Lehane; and Fonsh—Murphy, Hesse, Toomey and Lehane. By a vote of five to four, the committee voted to hire Murphy, Hesse, Toomey and Lehane for the district’s general counsel services. At 9:35 p.m., in accordance with policy, Ms. Sanderson made a motion to continue the meeting until 10:00 p.m. Mr. Rhodes seconded and the motion passed unanimously.
B. District Improvement Plan
DOCUMENT: District Continuous Improvement Plan; District Department Abstracts and District Department Goals
Mr. Hood asked if this item should be tabled due to the late hour. Mr. Fonsh asked if it would be helpful to Ms. Geryk for the School Committee to email comments about the document directly to her. Ms. Geryk stated that it would be helpful. Mr. Rivkin asked for clarification about what this document represents since the School Committee normally sets goals for the Superintendent and it includes goals. Ms. Geryk stated that this document serves as the district plan for moving forward with the work of the district. The School Committee will set goals separately for her in her role as Superintendent, and she will be evaluated on those goals. After brief discussion regarding the method to be used to set the School Committee’s goals for the Superintendent, Mr. Rivkin made a motion that the Chair and Vice-Chair of the Amherst and Regional School Committees and the Chair of the Pelham School Committee form a Superintendent Goals and Evaluation Subcommittee as soon as possible. Ms. Sanderson seconded. Discussion followed and it was determined that the make-up of the subcommittee as proposed in the motion was not acceptable since it would constitute a quorum of the Regional School Committee. Mr. Spence moved to amend the motion to appoint the Amherst, Pelham and Regional Chairs to the subcommittee. Ms. Sanderson seconded. Mr. Rivkin called the question and Ms. Sanderson seconded. The motion to call the question was unanimously approved. The motion, as amended by Mr. Spence, was then unanimously approved.
C. Superintendent Search Firm
DOCUMENT: Superintendent Search Schedule (Revised September 22, 2010)
Mr. Rivkin reported that the Superintendent Search Subcommittee met and put together a set of criteria for bids. Of the firms contacted, two did not submit bids; one wanted to submit a bid, but did not meet the criteria; and one, Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates, submitted a proposal for services totaling $19,000.00. At Ms. Sanderson’s request, Mr. Rivkin read the list of criteria that was developed by the subcommittee. At this time, Ms. Luschen made a motion that the School Committee abandon the search and offer a permanent contract to Interim Superintendent Maria Geryk. Ms. Maroulis seconded. Mr. Rhodes stated that the motion is out of order because Union 26 is not in session and, therefore, cannot vote on hiring a Superintendent. Discussion followed regarding whether the motion is allowable or not. Mr. Fonsh stated that what seems to be really under discussion is how much we want to put the four communities through a search and what is in the best interest of the four towns, the staff and, the children in our district. He noted that if the motion fails he would like to see the matter tabled until at least two public forums can be held. Mr. Hood noted that he does not see proceeding with a search as a vote of no confidence in Ms. Geryk. He said he believes the process needs to be done in the right way. Ms. Luschen stated that she has received numerous comments from community members asking why money is being spent on a search when we have an excellent superintendent in place. She noted that this was the first opportunity she has had to bring this up at a meeting since hearing these comments. Mr. Rhodes called the question and Ms. Sanderson seconded. The motion to call the question failed. Mr. Rivkin stated that there was clearly a disagreement in Union 26 when the vote was taken to offer Ms. Geryk the position of Interim Superintendent for 16 months and expressed support for going forward with the search. Ms. Gould stated that she had been in support of this search, but she has also recently received many phone calls from members of the public expressing concern about spending money on the search. She noted that she does not believe it is appropriate to vote on hiring Ms. Geryk at tonight’s meeting, but the committee should have a civil discussion about the public’s concern. After further discussion, Mr. Rivkin made a motion to hire Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates for the cost of $19,000 for the basic superintendent search service. Ms. Sanderson seconded. Discussion followed regarding whether there would be a vote on Ms. Luschen’s motion, and Mr. Hood stated it was ruled out of order. Mr. Rhodes stated that it is absolutely essential to have a search because it would be a disservice to the schools, the community and to Ms. Geryk herself not to. He noted that Ms. Geryk is a strong person who will win or lose on her merits, not on the opinion of those who want to thwart the search. Ms. Sanderson stated that she believes it is disrespectful for a member of the School Committee to make a surprise motion of such magnitude. Ms. Luschen stated that she took her motion too far by moving to appoint Ms. Geryk to the position and apologized for that. She said she will not apologize; however, for raising the question of whether a search should be conducted based on the community comments she has received. Mr. Rhodes called the question and Ms. Sanderson seconded. The motion to call the question was unanimously approved. Mr. Rivkin’s motion to hire the search firm of Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates then passed by a vote of five to four with Mr. Fonsh, Ms. Gould, Ms. Moroulis, and Ms. Luschen opposed. Discussion followed regarding the Superintendent search timeline. Mr. Fonsh expressed his strong belief that it is important to have as much opportunity as possible for public input. Ms. Sanderson made a motion that the Chairs of the three School Committees arrange a conference call with the search firm to work out timelines and strategies for moving forward. Mr. Spence seconded, and the motion passed unanimously.
D. Later Start Time Task Force Consideration
Mr. Hood asked for consideration of whether to form a task force to look into the pros and cons of a changing to a later start time for the secondary schools. Ms. Gould expressed support for having a task force look into this issue. Mr. Rivkin stated that the task force would need to work with the administration to make a quick study of costs that would be associated with changing the start time for schools. Mr. Rhodes made a motion that a task force be established, with representation from the public, school committee and administration, that will be charged with gathering information on the possibility of a later start time, for presentation to the School Committee. Ms. Sanderson seconded. Mr. Fonsh noted that he believes this is much too important an issue to decide so quickly at 10:20 p.m. so he will vote against the motion. Mr. Fonsh called the question and Mr. Rhodes seconded. The motion to call the question was approved unanimously. Mr. Rhodes’ motion was then approved with Mr. Fonsh opposed and Ms. Luschen abstaining.
5. New Business 9:29 p.m.
A. Policies for First Reading:
DOCUMENTS: Policy CHCA—Student and Staff Handbooks; Policy JH—Absences, Excuses and Truancy; and Policy JICFB—Anti-Bullying
Mr. Fonsh reviewed the list of three policies that the School Committee has been presented for first reading. Mr. Hood asked the committee members to email any comments about the policies to Elaine Brighty. Ms. Brighty will incorporate any suggestions for changes and the policies will be brought back to the full committee for a second reading. Mr. Rivkin noted that the policy regarding absences and truancy has been raised as a social justice issue. He suggested that there be an opportunity for public input or that Dr. Ray-Taylor have an opportunity to review it. After brief discussion, it was agreed that Ms. Geryk will ask Dr. Ray-Taylor to review the policy when she is in the district on September 30th, and Ms. Westmoreland will post the revised policies on the district website to solicit public input.
B. MSBA Application Request—Mr. Rhodes made the following motion:
Having convened in an open meeting on September 22, 2010, the Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee of the Amherst-Pelham Regional School District, in accordance with its charter, by-laws and ordinances, has voted to authorize the Superintendent to submit to the Massachusetts School Building Authority the Statement of Interest dated September 22, 2010 for the Amherst Regional Middle School located at 170 Chestnut Street, Amherst, MA which describes and explains the following deficiencies and the priority category(s) for which Amherst-Pelham Regional School District may be invited to apply to the Massachusetts School Building Authority in the future for replacement, renovation or modernization of school facility systems, such as roofs, windows, boilers, heating and ventilation systems, to increase energy conservation and decrease energy related costs in a school facility. And hereby further specifically acknowledges that by submitting this Statement of Interest, the Massachusetts School Building Authority in no way guarantees the acceptance or the approval of an application, the awarding of a grant or any other funding commitment from the Massachusetts School Building Authority, or commits the Amherst-Pelham Regional School District to filing an application for funding with the Massachusetts School Building Authority.
Ms. Gould seconded and the motion passed unanimously.
C. FY10 Budget Final Report:
DOCUMENT: Amherst-Pelham Regional School District FY2009-2010 End of Year Budget Report
Mr. Detweiler distributed and briefly reviewed the 2009-2010 end-of-year budget report. Ms. Sanderson expressed concern that the Charter School cost was $150,000 more than projected and asked if Mr. Detweiler has a sense of why the projections were off by so much. Mr. Detweiler said that the Regional group of charter school students has been fairly stable in past years. He will do an analysis of the Charter costs and email it to the School Committee.
B. Accept Gifts:
DOCUMENT: Memo from Mary Wallace, Treasurer, to the Regional School Committee dated 9/16/10
Ms. Sanderson made a motion to accept $67.97 from the Target Take Charge of Education fund for the Middle School; $516.12 from the Target Take Charge of Education fund for the High School; $500.00 from the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts for the Backpack Project; and $50.00 from the ARMS PGO for the First Day Celebration banner. Mr. Rhodes seconded and the motion passed unanimously.
6. Subcommittee Reports 10:23 p.m.
A. Budget Subcommittee—Mr. Hood briefly reported on the last meeting of the Budget Subcommittee, noting that the items discussed were the line-item budget format and cost sharing between Pelham, Region and Amherst.
7. School Committee Planning 10:29 p.m.
A. Calendar Review
B. Items for Upcoming Meetings—Members will email Mr. Hood with their rank-order preference for the agenda items that were included on the agenda. Ms. Sanderson asked that CBAC be added to the list and Ms. Maroulis requested that Norms of Behavior be added.
5. Adjournment 10:30 p.m.
Mr. Hood made a motion to adjourn at 10:30 p.m. Mr. Rhodes seconded and the motion passed unanimously.
Note: A copy of all documents discussed at this public meeting are on file with the Regional School Committee agenda for September 22, 2010.
Last updated September 24, 2010