3277 – Former School Committee member Stu Sklar lobbied for Supt. Thomas Jefferson to wear the elementary school principal hat, too, on a temporary basis until a permanent replacement can be hired for the school. (Nashoba Publishing/Mary Arata)
3280 – HES Principal Mary Beth Banios leaves July 1 to become Asst. Supt. of Schools in Maynard. (Nashoba Publishing/Mary Arata)
By Mary E. Arata
HARVARD — Two speakers appealed to the Harvard School Committee Monday night, June 14, asking the group to reconsider its June 4 decision to hire an interim principal for Hildreth Elementary School. Principal Mary Beth Banios will to become Maynard’s Assistant Superintendent of Schools on July 1.
Former School Committee member Stu Sklar had sent an e-mail appeal to the Harvard Hillside, — and an unknown number of other town residents, if any — earlier in the day, urging more e-mails be sent to the School Committee membership, seeking instead to have Superintendent Thomas Jefferson hold down the Hildreth Elementary principal post temporarily.
Sklar’s e-mail, entitled “It’s Time for the HES Playground,” argues that the money saved by giving Jefferson a monthly stipend for fulfilling the added duties instead of paying for a full time temporary principal would save $7,500 a month, or enough to have a new playground installed at the school in time for the coming fall semester.
“The math here is quite simple,” Sklar wrote. He calculated the savings at $75,000 total for the year, it’s tentatively projected to take to cast a net at the right time to pull in a new permanent principal. The committee agreed the summertime was not the best time to cull candidates in time for the coming school year, opting instead to hire an interim for one or two years,
Sklar advocated for dipping into the Shaw Trust, a school-department controlled account, to fund the playground work over the summer, with savings from the Jefferson double duty apparently being funneled back into the trust later. Jefferson titled the e-mail, “When opportunity knocks-answer!”
In addition, Sklar argued that an interim “caretaker” would not have the same vested interest in the town or school that Jefferson has. “Why waste the money when the fiscal environment is so tough?”
Mike Thornton of 39 Mill Road appeared before the committee Monday night and urged more deliberation over the interim approach, citing concern with the selectmen’s 4-1 vote. “It seems there was very little debate and question,” he said.
Thornton said he never heard justification why the committee would incur the interim principal salary expense he pegged at $90,000, “Maybe there’s a good one (reason) but I haven’t heard it yet.”
School Committee Chairman Keith Cheveralls immediately addressed the notion following the public input portion of the meeting. He noted that the June 4 meeting wasn’t the only time the committee deliberated over Banios’ departure. The board also discussed routes to take in executive session on May 24, the day Jefferson broke the news of Banios’ resignation.
“It was not something that was summarily discussed as was discussed here,” Cheveralls said, adding that the matter was discussed in executive session because it was a contract-related matter.
“The superintendent fielded his proposal at that time,” Cheveralls said. “We challenged that. We investigated that proposal, I’d say thoroughly. We agreed then to have a public, June 4 meeting.”
Jefferson’s “documented proposal with financial implications” was a model that intrigued a number of people on the School Committee, Cheveralls said.
“At the end of the day, all factors considered … the School Committee offered a thorough discovery (and) a thorough commentary period when members of the (Hildreth) School Council offered their opinions.”
Three members of the School Council were present for the Friday, June 4 morning meeting, called specifically to address the Hildreth Principal post. The council members were Carlene Philips, Deb Barton and Mary Traphagen. Hildreth first-grade teacher Kristina Lazaro was also present. All four provided varying view points on how to proceed to fill and School Committee members Virginia Justicz, Piali De and Cheveralls borrowed heavily from the comments the four offered during deliberations.
As to Thornton’s challenge of the openness of the Committee’s deliberation process, “I would consider that an unhealthy pursuit to head down that path,” Cheveralls said before thanking the “community for voicing its concern. It’s received too late for us to take action on this.”
While the decision on who to hire as Hildreth principal rests in Jefferson’s hands, he has assembled a panel to help in the screening process. Cheveralls congratulated Jefferson on choosing parents, teachers and members of the Hildreth School Council to participate.
Jefferson noted, too, that an advertisement for the interim principal post failed to run as scheduled in the Boston Sunday Globe. Jefferson projected the mistake to cause only a slight disruption to the timeline and hopes to hire an interim by July 1. “It’s a matter of a week or two” delay, Jefferson estimated.
PLAYGROUND WORK NEEDED FIRST
In any event, there’s “no feasible way” to install a playground this summer, said Committee member Patricia Wenger, who noted that a buried oil tank behind the school is to be unearthed first and that a vendor has not yet been selected from the three who’ve expressed interest in the project.
Cheveralls said funding sources for the playground is also unclear, but he dismissed the notion of dipping into the Shaw Trust. Jefferson said the balance is about $200,000 and the approach to those funds has been to leave the principal sum alone to grow it over time. “We’ve asked Tom (Jefferson) to be moderate with that,” Cheveralls said.
Between the Shaw Trust and town funding methods, Cheveralls said the required sum may be split “50-50.”
“What’s the policy around the Shaw Trust?” Justicz asked. “We could fund it all there? I’m just saying that’s within our purview? I’m not saying we would.”
“Absolutely correct,” said Cheveralls. “Historically, we’ve typically tried to manage that so it replenishes and maintains a $200,000 standing balance. But you’re right. We have control of that.”
De asked for the playground to be placed on the meeting docket for June 28. “It’s too big of a project,” she said. “I don’t know the process we’re following. I hate to see decisions made on the fly. … Now’s the time to think it through.”
In other School Committee news from Monday night:
* The committee announced Deb Barton and Sarah von Conte were elected from to serve upon the Hildreth Elementary School Council. In the Bromfield School Council elections, the deadline to express interest in candidacy was Tuesday. Bromfield principal Jim O’Shea said as of Monday night there were three people interested for one parent representative spot on his school’s council board.
* Also at Bromfield, O’Shea said a parent survey that was planned to go out by the end of the school year will instead go out in September.
* The committee voted unanimously to support a proposal put forth by the Suburban Coalition, as presented by Sklar to the committee on June 4, to endorse the coalition’s proposal for revised federal Circuit Breaker reimbursements for special education expenses. The proposal is to be further deliberated by the Massachusetts Association of School Committees in July for possible legislative lobbying. The stated goal is to “incentivize” school districts to save money by keeping special education services increasingly in-house or in-regional public collaboratives instead of private, and typically more costly, out-placements. Jefferson noted that Circuit Breaker assistance has dropped in recent years from a 75- to 42-percent contribution towards special education expenses.
* Both Banios and O’Shea presented their schools’ annual improvement plans, outlining how the schools were striving to meet their own internal, in conjunction with the district’s overall, strategic goals.