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SHIRLEY — As was evidenced by the 30 pages of documentation made available to the public at the Monday night Ayer-Shirley Regional Transitional School Committee meeting, the committee, as well as the Ayer and Shirley school committees, leadership teams and staff, are not letting their “non-operational region” status slow them down.

At the meeting, Shirley Superintendent Mac Reid presented a copy of the merged middle school budget “that is approximately the same as what both Ayer and Shirley would have had to spend on separate middle schools with fewer services and programs.” Reid stated that the budget supports all of the professional staff in both middle schools.

In a discussion about the importance of improving communication with students, families and staff, a list of upcoming parent information and student orientation programs was presented. On Thursday, May 13, from 7 to 8 p.m., there will be a parent information session and Shirley Middle School building tour, with childcare provided by staff and students. On Monday, May 17, from 6 to 7 p.m. there will be a student orientation and Shirley Middle School tour for incoming seventh and eighth grade students. And on Tuesday, May 25, from 6 to 7 p.m., there will be a student orientation and Shirley Middle School building tour for incoming sixth graders. These programs are open to both Ayer and Shirley families.

Some parents expressed concerns about the merger of the two middle schools in Shirley beginning this fall, and in particular over the cost of maintaining the Lura A. White Elementary School. Shirley School District Business Manager Evan Katz assured them Lura A. White is a sound building with a relatively new boiler, and that, although as with any large building, problems may arise, he does not foresee any major catastrophes that would cost the town large sums of money during its use over the next several years.

Shirley School Committee member Bob Prescott stated that, although Lura White may need some extra fixes, the money saved by leaving the Ayer Middle and High School half empty during any future renovation is likely to exceed the savings that would have been garnered via closing LAW and keeping the Ayer Middle School students in their current building. Over the next year, the two towns are responsible for the upkeep of their own elementary schools. Ayer will bear no expense for the heat and utilities of the Shirley Middle School, which would have been in use even if the two middle schools were not merged. Ayer’s budget will be 55 percent of the middle school budget, or $1,229,450, while Shirley’s cost is 45 percent, or $1,369,550. The lower amount for the Ayer budget is due to the reduction by $200,000 for Shirley students attending Ayer schools via school choice. (Once Ayer-Shirley formally becomes a regional school district in July 2011, Shirley will no longer pay for school choice students to Ayer.)

Asked how the new middle school would handle sports next year, Superintendent Reid replied that the sports teams will be combined, and that the athletic directors will be looking at ways to enhance the intramural teams. He said that one of the Shirley Middle School students even suggested combining the panther and hawk mascots of the two schools into a griffin.

Because the Ayer-Shirley Regional School District will not become an operating region until July 1, 2011, during the 2010-11 school year, the merged middle school will technically continue to be the Shirley Middle School. The staff and administration, however, will make significant efforts to make it clear that it is the Ayer-Shirley Middle School.

Brian Haas will continue to be the principal of the middle school, and Rich McGrath will join approximately 22 other Ayer staff members in Shirley to continue in his role as the assistant principal of the middle school.

Shirley Superintendent Reid presented copies of a letter by Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Mitchell Chester to the chairs of the House and Senate Ways and Means Committees. The letter states that he has officially approved the agreement for the establishment of the Ayer-Shirley Regional School District, and that state law provides for regional bonus aid for newly-formed regional school districts, to be paid in declining amounts over a five-year period. In the first year the amount payable is $50 per foundation enrollment. In FY11, the foundation enrollment for the district will be 1,893 students, so the district’s FY11 bonus aid allotment would be $94,650. Payment for the allotment will require a new appropriation to be approved by the Legislature and the Governor as part of the FY11 state budget.

Superintendent Reid also updated the public on the work of the administrative staff from both Ayer and Shirley to put together detailed lists of activities and issues that need to be completed before July 1, 2011, when the Ayer-Shirley Regional School District becomes an operating region. Transition tasks that are underway include meetings of the two presidents of the respective teachers’ organizations to discuss working conditions, insurance packages and a merged union contract that will both begin on July 1, 2011; meetings of the two business managers with the Ayer and Shirley payroll and accounts payable staff to discuss the pros and cons of the financial management systems used by each community; and, meetings of the respective school districts’ special education directors, technology directors, and Shirley Middle School principal and Ayer assistant principal. Ayer’s Director of Curriculum and Instruction Mary Beth Hamel also has been involved in many of these meetings.

For the coming school year, the respective districts’ administrators will handle special education, but student issues will be handled in the same manner, said Reid.

Reid said that he and Superintendent Frost have confirmed a conference call for Friday, April 30 with Mary Pichetti and Diane Sullivan from the Massachusetts School Building Authority. The purpose of the call is to discuss what the Massachusetts School Building Authority needs from the not-yet-operational regional district in order for it to move out of the current “pre-feasibility” stage and into the feasibility stage of the process. The goal, as stated by Reid, is to head to fall town meetings with a request to fund a feasibility study beginning next year.

Stating that the non-operational regional school district will receive only $300,000 of the $475,000 requested from the state for the transition process, Superintendent Reid pointed out that this means that the majority of transitional tasks will need to be accomplished by current administrative staff. Because there is no money for a full-time regional school superintendent for the coming school year while the district is still “non-operational” as a region, he and Superintendent Frost recommended that they post a stipend of $20,000 for someone already in the two districts to assume a position of Interim Regional School Superintendent for FY11, to be added to that person’s current responsibilities. That person would be responsible directly to the Regional School Committee beginning on July 1, 2010, and oversee tasks that have to be accomplished during the transition period. After some discussion, the recommendation was unanimously approved.

Prior to adjournment of the meeting, transitional school committee chairman Patrick Kelly discussed the improved ayershirleyregion.com website, which can also be accessed at ayershirleyregion.org, where questions can still be posted to members of the committee. The website now lists the members of the transitional school committee, includes brief summaries of the committee’s meetings, and will contain a link to a Yahoo group, Ayer-ShirleyForSchools, that includes meeting summaries and updates, and provides another avenue for communication about the regional school district.

The next transitional school committee meeting will be on Wednesday, May 19, from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Ayer Middle-High School.