Consolidation Will Take Time, Say School Officials

Two aspects of the “One Town” consolidation effort were on the School Committee’s agenda Tuesday night – a review of the memorandum of agreement (MOA) between the Town Council and the School Committee memorializing the town’s new financial commitments, and a discussion about the rollout of the consolidation itself, including the timeline, job descriptions for consolidated positions, and an organizational chart for who staff will report to.

School officials continue to argue that consolidation between two separate elected bodies is challenging and will take time, despite the town’s initial fast action June 30 when Town Manager Gayle Corrigan laid off three town employees and said in a memo that two school employees were now in consolidated positions, without first getting agreement from the School Committee.

That agreement still has not been given and the school department employees continue to work in their school jobs*. But the School Committee did decide Tuesday night to turn the consolidation particulars over to their personnel subcommittee and take them off the shoulders of Supt. Victor Mercurio, in acknowledgement of his current considerable workload. In addition to the start of school less than four weeks away, the district is also down a special ed director and a principal at Frenchtown Elementary.

Committeewoman Lori McEwen, who chairs the personnel subcommittee, was blunt in her assessment of the organizational chart presented July 24, saying she could not sign off on an organization chart that has a dotted line between the superintendent and the finance director but a solid line between the town manager and the finance director.

That turned the discussion to matrix managing, the method behind the chart that was lauded by Councilman Nino Granatiero July 24 for how well it worked in business. Matrix management is the practice of managing individuals with more than one reporting line, for instance, someone in sales who works under a district manager but reports to the regional manager. School officials question how that can work when there are two completely different elected bodies sharing the same employee.

Mercurio said in his research on matrix management, he had not found a model that depicted such an arrangement.

As for the dotted and solid line reporting structure, “some of the best practices are to ban the dotted/solid line approach,” said School Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Mark, referring to an article from the Harvard Business Review Mercurio had shared.

Committeewoman Yan Sun again questioned the speedy timeline for the consolidation and, after the meeting, Committeeman Matt Plain said that consolidation had to be done carefully.

“Figuring out the job descriptions and who’s going to evaluate and who’s going to supervise … that shouldn’t be done in haste,” Plain said.

The discussion over the revised MOA hinged largely on what would happen when the School Committee needed to ask for more money from the town, which has promised to reserve $500,000 for special education cost increases instead of funding the School Committee as it requested.

“The Town Council must appropriate the amount of money to meet our legal and contractual obligations,” said Plain.

McEwen agreed.

“If we decide that we need more, we make that presentation to the Town Council and there’s no discussion,” she said.

Committeeman Jeff Dronzek was wary the town would give over any additional money.

“I don’t have a high level of trust on this. This is the first time we’d done this.”

Plain said if the Town Council were to respond to a request by saying, “Let’s see how your school year goes,” the School Committee could then explore legal options.

He also had a problem with the inclusion in the MOA of “One Town,” the phrase adopted by the Town Council to describe the town-school consolidation.

The clause under debate was a new one sought by Town Solicitor David D’Agostino:

“Whereas, the Council and Committee agree to work collaboratively to further the One Town approach, which is partially codified in the budget appropriation as part of the FY18 budget as approved by the Council and the Committee …”

Mark said she accepted the new clause because of what she saw as the importance of enshrining the idea of working collaboratively.

But McEwen also objected to the “One Town” inclusion.

“If the Town Council were trying to further a ‘One Town’ approach they would have given us the appropriation we asked for,” she said, referring to the 4 percent funding increase the School Committee had requested in April. “I would be in favor of removing that term of art.”

Plain argued including the phrase was unnecessarily confusing since it could mean different things to different people. As for working collaboratively, “that’s not a bad idea but that’s not what this MOA was about.”

Rather, the MOA was intended to outline in a formal document exactly what expenses the town will cover.

In the end, the School Committee decided to strike the new clause completely, and to remove all uses of “One Town,” from the MOA.

As for the town’s assuming the school department’s $45,000 sewer bill (the sewers are a town service), that is not included in the MOA.

“D’Agostino could not commit to that at this point so we are leaving it for now,” said Oliverio.

– Elizabeth F. McNamara

* Linda Dykeman, who was named by Corrigan to serve as consolidated finance director, had already been working for the EGSD for 10 hours a week, sharing that job with another person while the School Committee was going to conduct a search for a permanent director of administration. Dykeman continues to give 10 hours of her week to the school department and has assumed the duties of the town’s finance director for the other 30 hours a week.

You can watch videos of the entire School Committee meeting here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HpkQPG6qKUU.

6 Replies to “Consolidation Will Take Time, Say School Officials”

  1. Outstanding reporting, Elizabeth! So glad East Greenwich News is back!

    I believe the Committee did the right thing by taking the ‘One Town’ clause out of this MOU. Everyone wants to work together and consolidate services wherever possible, but it will take months to iron out details. This was a budget reconciliation agreement for FY18 that needed to move forward.

  2. The School Committee members make comments they do not trust the Town Council ? Why? Do you really think the motive is to destroy the schools instead of righting potential million dollar deficit on the School Budget and protecting the tax payers? Really???

    1. Hyperbole Police: Is it necessary to think the Town Council wants to “destroy the schools” in order to not trust the Town Council to make good decisions for the schools?

  3. A. I’ve worked in business for 35 years and have never heard anyone laud the Matrix Management system. Those organizations for which I have worked that attempted such an approach ended up with confusion at the floor level and mis-alignment of goals at the department and organization level. It makes for top-heavy management by corporate sea gulls (fly in-eat your food, crap all over the place, and fly away) and significant political dynamics that creates a high noise-to-signal ratio for inter-company communication.

    B. I agree that the term “One Town” has no place in town government. It’s just new-age “branding” of what should be and always has been the every day way of doing government business. The term now allows the Brander to use it as a rallying cry for driving forth a political agenda rather than codifying a Vision Statement to guide town government and administration.

    C. Though 10 or so years from now we may look at the re-configured administration as having appropriately reconfigured resources, the actions of the Town Council may be described as being the “Right Thing Done Wrong”. For the past 2 years, the state of Rhode Island has offered assistance to the cities and towns to develop and execute Continuous Improvement plans that would include identifying and eliminating waste in administrative processes using proven tools such as Value Stream Mapping. When performed well, with the help of outside Facilitators, those employees at the process level are charged with identifying non value-added steps and either eliminating them or lessening their impact on the process cycle-time or demand on resources. Continuous Improvement is not something to rush through, it is, like government – a wheel that grinds slowly, but fine.
    It appears to me that the Town Council generated a false sense of urgency that allowed them to take a more drastic turn by hiring an outside auditor to be the judge, jury, and executioner – all based on charges that the Town Council likely had pre-ordained. The only thing that might change my mind about this is if evidence is shared to reveal evidence of gross mis-management and/or complete insubordination of the former Town Manager. This is not likely to be done, because it would also reveal, if this were the case, that the Town Council must have been asleep-at-the-wheel for a number of years while the former Town Manager was performing poorly.
    Time will tell.

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