HARVARD — Boxborough School Committee members talked with their Harvard counterparts Monday night about a proposal to potentially share central-office personnel for mutual financial savings.
They called the concept “unionization” but it’s more analogous to “job-sharing” of key personnel. The Harvard School Committee voted unanimously to establish a study panel to give the idea a closer look.
Boxborough has regionalized grades 7 through 12 in the Acton-Boxborough High School District.
However, since September, Boxborough has been exploring “different scenarios” to determine what path to take regarding kindergarten through grade six at the town’s only school, Blanchard Memorial School.
To provide the Boxborough Committee time to study alternative administrative models, Boxborough School Committeewoman Maria Neyland said their school superintendent, Curtis Bates, is holding down two other key roles on a temporary two-year basis — principal and curriculum director at the Blanchard School, which provided $85,000 in savings.
“It gives us the flexibility to make changes but also gives us a deadline,” said Boxborough School Committee Chairman Mary Brolin.
Without providing extensive data, Neyland said Boxborough has preliminarily identified $117,000 to $216,000 in annual savings with different unionization models and different jobs in the sharing mix. Harvard School Committee members expressed interest in exploring the notion further and setting up a study committee to research the idea.
Neyland said there’s resistance in Boxborough to simply regionalizing its elementary school students with Acton, restating what she said is an often-uttered sentiment – a desire to “retain local control …retain our culture,” said Neyland.
The Boxborough study team has already interviewed the tritown School union of Middleton, Boxford and Topsfield, as well as the Western Massachusetts job-sharing arrangement between Williamstown and Lanesborough. Both unions reported savings, no difference in administrative commitment to the towns and the maintenance of local control over elementary schools.
A benefit of unionization over regionalization is that unionization requires less Department of Education oversight, they said. Posts such as superintendent, business manager, directors of special education, food, and information technologies are all possible job-sharing situations as well as professional development opportunities.
Neyland said some in Boxborough have voiced concerns “that we not reach out to another community that doesn’t have the same test scores as ours. That is the biggest sense,” she said.
Another view opposes any change “but that’s not necessarily realistic. It’s very difficult to continue to justify that for the rest of the taxpayers,” said Neyland.
The three-hat-wearing superintendent move was made in Boxborough because of their administrator’s knowledge.”We don’t like to make management decisions based on personalities (but) we know Curt. He knows our school. He knows our system. He’s been very honest. He doesn’t think more than two years.”
Neyland said the concept has been broached with the Boxborough teachers union, too, “by myself… to say ‘This is what we’re thinking and what do you think of that?’ They were very honest because it was just us.”
A parents forum, which lasted an hour-and-a-half, started with division, but the consensus at the end of the night was “OK, this isn’t as scary as we thought,” Neyland said.
“Nothing’s binding. It’s a conversation,” Neyland said, adding they’d like to know what surrounding towns, if any, are interested in studying the matter further by September.
Littleton balked, Neyland said, feeling it was a covert effort to regionalize the Littleton and Boxborough school districts. No one else responded.
But Harvard School Committee members expressed interest. “I think it’s a fascinating idea,” said Committee member Kirsten Wright.
“I think the next step is a subcommittee,” said committee member Piali De.
“I think this is absolutely fabulous work,” said Chairman Keith Cheveralls.
“We have no idea where it’s going to go but I do see tremendous potential for creative thinking. It’s got to be the wave of the future.”
In other committee news:
* The committee unanimously approved the granting of a guarantee to a Worcester contractor building a $39,420 photovoltaic array atop the “W” shaped roof line at The Bromfield School. Ostrow Electric Co. sought assurances that in the event that the defunct Commonwealth Solar program doesn’t honor its commitment to give the School Department $5,000, the town will pay for the company’s work to build a solar system.
* Selectman Ron Ricci visited the committee and asked what interest there’d be to provide Lyme disease education for students.
“It is a serious issue. I never realized how bad it is,” said Ricci.
“We have one of the highest incident rates in the state for Lyme disease,” he said.
Chairman Keith Cheveralls said he’d convey to the town Board of Health the committee’s initial interest in helping spread the word about the deer-tick threat that’s hit Harvard especially hard.
* Ricci conveyed that selectmen were establishing a Devens Economic Assessment team to determine “what it costs to run Devens without MassDevelopment.”
Ricci wants a school representative on the team. Key factors to be researched are the affects of the Devens educational contract. Committee members Virginia Justicz and Patty Wenger were to talk over who would serve on the team.
* “It wasn’t neglect. These things take a long time,” said Harvard Teachers Association President Kathleen Doherty of the extra weeks that went into editing the teacher’s new one-year contract, ratified April 12 and which takes effect Sept. 1 through Aug. 31, 2011.
“They couldn’t be rushed. There were a lot of things that needed to be discussed,” Doherty said of final edits to the contract terms.
The committee signed off on the contract Monday night. The union membership will meet in the fall to sign off on the agreement that’s already set to go into effect, Doherty said.