Lincoln and Sudbury officials took the first steps this week in a projected 11-month process to decide whether it makes sense to consolidate the school districts in the two neighboring communities.
“The objective here isn’t to effectively draw money out of the educational commitment…..but to re-direct that money into services delivered,” said Gary Taylor a Lincoln selectman. “A strong argument has to be made for not only the cost savings, but the educational impact.”
About 50 people attended the Feb. 2 meeting at the Grange Hall in Sudbury.
In a report issued in December, the Sudbury Budget Review Task Force (BRTF) stated that consolidation of the school systems was needed to tackle a structural deficit that required annual overrides to fund the school budgets. The task force calculated substantial long-term savings could be realized by streamlining administrative operations and eliminating duplicate positions in three separate school districts by merging the Lincoln Sudbury Regional High School with the Sudbury Public Schools, and eventually creating a combined Lincoln and Sudbury K — 12 district.
The finance committees and boards of selectmen of both towns agreed early in January, said Sudbury Selectman Chairman Larry O’Brien, that the BRTF cost-savings recommendations “are worth pursuing and worthy of investigation.”
In a Jan. 11 memo to the three Lincoln and Sudbury school committees, an outline was given on the logical next steps and a potential timeline to review the types of structural reorganizations that could be implemented to consolidate the school administrations.
“We are now calling it a ‘Consolidation of School Administrations’ instead of a ‘Superintendency Union’ (the BRTF recommendation),” said O’Brien. “We think a working group of seven to 10 might be the best way to go forward. A group that size could examine the issues, but still move at a swift enough pace to be article-ready in 2010.”
One of the issues to be settled is whether joining the school districts requires a town meeting vote or only the vote of the school committees.
The earliest any consolidation could be implemented if a town meeting vote is needed is July, 2010, officials said.
“If approval of two town meetings is required it might actually take longer than that,” said Taylor. “It might take two passes through town meetings, particularly in Lincoln, so it could be July, 2011.”
In 1988 a similar proposal came up in Lincoln that was approved by the school districts, said Taylor, but voters rejected the article at Town Meeting.
The study committee would research and analyze every aspect of consolidation from studying the operations of other regional school districts to making a detailed study of the functions of each administrative position. The deadline for completion of the study was set for Dec. 2009.
The members of the committee, said O’Brien, should include a representative from each town’s finance committee, a representative from each of the three school committees and one or two members of the BRTF.
“I think you need to broaden the scope of your working group to include teachers and citizens from each of the three districts,” said Rami Alwan, a L-S science teacher and Sudbury resident. “The group you propose doesn’t have anyone who could speak to the educational impact.”
Peter Braun, a Lincoln Finance Committee member, agreed that expertise from different resources, from IT to facilities managers, as well as staff and teachers, will be needed to complete a thorough analysis.
However, to make progress, Braun favors a smaller group, “to stay nimble, able to get together and stay functional.”
“Part of this committee’s mandate is that it should be able to tap into all of these constituencies without slowing it down,” said John Ritchie, L-S superintendent/principal.
Lincoln School Superintendent Mickey Brandmeyer favored adding one citizen representative from each of the school districts to the committee.
“It’s silly not to think about financial savings in this day and age, and if we can do it better for less money, good, but this has to be a fair and transparent process.” said Brandmeyer.
Sudbury School Superintendent John Brackett said that while the committee must “look at the cost side, we must also look at the revenue side” and the affect re-structuring the school systems would have on everything from Chapter 70 funding for public schools to METCO grants.
Tammie Dufault, a BRTF member, advised beginning efforts to educate the public on the pros and cons of consolidation to make sure that citizens’ voices are heard by the committee.
Julie Dobrow, chairman of the Lincoln School Committee, added that “there has been a lot of buzz in Lincoln” over the BRTF proposal, “and it’s time to get those conversations out of the school parking lots” and into an open forum.
“The educational aspects are the most important part of the conversation,” said Bob Haarde, a BRTF member. “This isn’t just about a high school. Our kids go through K to 12 and we have to look at the whole educational spectrum and look at the impacts and make good educational decisions.”
Selectmen Taylor and O’Brien said appointments to the committee will be made shortly as well a determination as to the town board that has oversight of its work.
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