Sticking point remains School Committee’s desire for a finance staff person who reports solely to the superintendent, but the panel has few alternatives other than to comply.
By Elizabeth F. McNamara
A proposal outlining town and school finance and human resources consolidation found a welcome reception before the Town Council this week, while the School Committee continues to struggle with the concept.
Both elected bodies have had a chance to review a memorandum of agreement put together by schools lawyer Matt Oliverio after extensive meetings in recent weeks between Supt. Victor Mercurio and Town Manager Gayle Corrigan.
Members of the Town Council said Monday night they were ready to go ahead with the plan, though Councilman Nino Granatiero said he didn’t understand why the School Committee felt it needed a memorandum of agreement to seal the deal.
“I read through it. It will work. But I just kind of shook my head that we need it,” he said.
Alternatively, the School Committee at their meeting March 6 tabled the MOA, still uncertain about the proposed consolidated finance office reporting structure.
“The deputy director of administration reports to the director of administration, not the superintendent,” said Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Mark, hitting on the issue that has challenged the committee since consolidation talks (under the “One Town” banner) last summer.
“I would have the same access that I have now,” Mercurio responded, noting that the town and schools have been sharing a finance director since June.
“I talk to [school department finance clerk] Christine Spagnoli now, without going through [joint Finance Director] Linda Dykeman,” he said.
Mark conceded that the access would remain the same, but wondered about the hiring process.
“The memorandum of understanding addresses most of my most pressing concerns but it doesn’t address the hiring or firing of the deputy director position,” Mark said. “I’m just concerned about that person not being a direct report to the superintendent.”
The plan, as put forth March 6, closely resembled Town Manager Corrigan’s ultimatum from December, when she said the town and the schools needed to decide whether they would “marry or divorce.” Divorce would mean the school district would need to rebuild staff that had been shared with the town since 2005. Marriage would be complete finance consolidation.
But Oliverio argued that the MOA he drafted and which was approved by Corrigan and town lawyer David D’Agostino provided safeguards for the schools, including a “non-interference clause” for positions that would report to both the town manager and the superintendent.
“In the decision-making process between the town manager and the superintendent, should they not agree, there is a dispute resolution process,” Oliverio said.
He added, “The only way that I could recommend this proposed consolidation was to have an opt-out provision that would be agreed upon by the Town Council and the School Committee.”
If either the town or the schools decided the arrangement wasn’t working, they could opt out at least 60 days before the end of the fiscal year.
However, Supt. Mercurio said at an earlier meeting – and several School Committee members agreed – that rebuilding a standalone school finance department was a fiscal non-starter; several positions were taken over by the town years ago, so it would necessitate hiring multiple staff members with money the school district doesn’t have.
Meanwhile, Dykeman said the money saved through the consolidation would be $70,000.
Another important aspect of this consolidation would be to move some school administrators over to Town Hall. If approved, the superintendent’s office would move to the second floor of Town Hall and special education would move to the ground floor. The Planning Department and IT would move to the school administration offices at 111 Peirce Street. The as-yet unrealized position of director of teaching and learning (i.e. curriculum director) would also be located at 111 Peirce Street. Public Works would undertake the renovations with the town picking up the cost.
The School Committee will take up the MOA at its meeting next Tuesday, March 20. If the School Committee approves the plan, the Town Council will vote on it at their next meeting, March 26.
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