One Board Member’s View Regarding
Shared Services and Joint Employment Agreements
By Claude Rolo
Guest Opinion to be printed in Lakeville Journal,February 25, 2015
I would like to share my personal perspective as board chair for the Salisbury Board of Education and thus a member of the All Boards Chairs (ABC) Committee as to why the Region One Board of Education (R1) and the ABC are working on evaluating our current governance policy, the 7000 Series and how each school district employs a superintendent.
Although steps have been taken in the past to fine tune school governance in our region, issues clearly remain. The desire to further improve how our region’s school districts work with one another was most recently spurred by the seven budget referenda in 2013. Out of that tumultuous time, it became apparent that the role of the ABC was not clear and was rejected by some. The 7000 Series Policy, the template for how the seven school districts in our region are meant to work together, did not, as some have said, serve us well. Also, over time, direct accountability from the R1 to each town’s elected Board of Education has shifted as several towns have changed that governance structure to electing rather than appointing their R1 representatives. R1 has fine-tuned regional budgets sometimes at the expense of regional initiatives put forth by local school boards, The interests of the elementary and middle schools are no longer adequately represented. Does six school districts that have no direct budgetary authority over the regional services they share and pay for make sense?
One needs only look at the 2013-14 Region One budget to see that the cost-saving regional technology initiative (not the iPad initiative) supported by the ABC was eliminated. I would hazard a guess that most of our region’s principals are still feeling the financial burden of losing that initiative. Let’s not forget the discussion over who had authority over the superintendent’s contract. How do we deal with declining enrollment throughout our region without having a governance structure that allows for the hard decision-making ahead? This lack of clarity and accountability is why the ABC and R1 are taking on both a joint employment agreement and Region One’s governance.
One might question why if governance is the bigger issue, why then change how the seven school districts share paying for a superintendent’s compensation? The simple answer is that there was agreement amongst the R1/ABC that a joint employment agreement was needed and thus we should tackle that first. As part of that agreement, the ABC/R1 discussed at great length cost-sharing methods for the superintendent and how that should be handled in the budgetary process. Well I am certainly not the first ABC member to question why we have an equal vs. a weighted vote on the ABC, some have advocated over the years to apportion the vote. This would mean that some school districts like Region One would have more power than the six other school districts representing the elementary and middle schools. Well if I want that equal vote, why then would I think it fair to handle apportioning a superintendent’s compensation any differently since we seem to utilize that position fairly equitably? Over several ABC/R1 meetings, this was discussed and the consensus was to go back to each of our local boards to discuss the recommendation of sharing equally the superintendent’s compensation.
Although all but one school board supported this method, I feel it is unfortunate for some to have focused on this part of the discussion as much as they have, in that solving how our seven school districts govern ourselves has far more significance for both tax dollars and influence. I question the apparent appetite some have for suggesting litigation or threatening to vote down budgets over the “1/7” option. Will continuing to have a threatening environment for school board members to evaluate these matters really serve our region’s interests or will it skew the decision-making to avoid any conflict? Wasting over $48,000 on referenda as we did in 2013 certainly should not be our MO going forward.
I do not see this being in the best interest of anyone, especially our students or taxpayers.
Some worry that sharing a superintendent’s compensation equally is a slippery slope. Let’s be clear, our school districts and thus our taxpayers could never pay equally for anything other than a superintendent. State statute requires everything other than the position of superintendent to be allocated such that each town pays an apportioned amount based on their enrollment. One reason the position of superintendent is singled out in statute is because a superintendent’s job is to oversee and collaborate with administrators and boards of education. Because a superintendent does not interact directly with students, the job then is not affected by the size of the student population.
When I look at the winners and losers using the “1/7” method, I see that $15,500 is how much more the smallest school district would have to pay this year representing about 0.50% of that district’s budget. The largest school district would save nearly $14,000 representing 0.17% of their budget. Although these dollars are important to each of these schools, the percentages are not quite as significant, nor will they dramatically change year to year. The larger concern might be, what would changing each school district’s equal vote on the ABC mean? The ability to equally determine regional programming and thus control the district’s expenditures seems a far greater benefit. Might this trade-off potentially be worthwhile, especially if one looks at pupil services or shared services whose budgets this year are over $5 million?
I urge community members to understand why our Boards of Education are taking these matters on and see that change, although challenging, is advisable. Go to our joint meetings on these matters, and share your thoughts not just at the beginning and leave, but listen to the ensuing conversation and then give your input in the 2nd public comment period. Do it again, when these matters are before your local boards as well. Again, these are my views alone; I am only a volunteer trying to see the forest through the trees.