Saturday, August 20, 2005

1909 Wing- School Policy and Procedure

At the last school committee meeting a discussion of the 1909 wing of the old High School, now housing the Collicot and Cunningham Elementary Schools, occupied much of the meeting. Parent groups have spoken to the committee as a whole and to individual members about the conditions in the building, including what is perceived to be an overcrowded situation.

As a possible way to reduce the student population, a motion was made by Committee member Beirne Lovely to have the Superintendent’s office study the feasibility of moving the entire 5th grade from the 1909 wing to the Pierce Middle School. The motion formalized for discussion and vote a request Member Lovely had made a month earlier in a memo to the Superintendent. After discussion the committee voted against the motion 3-2.

This week’s Milton Times contains a letter to the editor in which the writer offers the opinion that if a School Committee member requests an analysis from the administration, the analysis should be done and provided. But is that really a wise procedure? Certainly there are requests of a routine nature which committee members might from time to time make in the performance of their jobs. The initiation of a substantial, time intensive project is another matter.

The Superintendent of the Milton Public Schools, assisted by two Assistant Superintendent’s, has responsibility for the education of 3600 students, 2/3 of the Town’s employees, ½ of the Town’s operating budget, and a physical plant as large as the rest of the Town combined. This is a very challenging job, requiring long hours at a frenetic pace. If six individual members of the elected board are free to request projects requiring a substantial commitment of time, the risk exists of overburdening the administration and affecting performance on their central function. Furthermore, what safeguard is there that the issue being raised by an individual member even enjoys the support of the majority of the committee? And without that, why would you want precious time to be spent on it? I think the proper procedure in these instances is for the committee to discuss the question and vote on it.

On the particular issue of moving the 5th grade students to the Pierce the very first thing that should have been done was a poll of every 5th grade family to find out how they felt about their children being placed in a Middle School environment. Otherwise you run the risk of parents coming to the committee after substantial work has been done to oppose the move. The committee, in essence, would be chasing its own tail. Let’s recall that last November, in response to parents concerns, the suggestion was made in a school committee meeting to move all the students in the 1909 wing, disbursing them throughout the system. A few months later when a budget crisis threatened the closure of the 1909 wing, hundreds of outraged parents attended School committee meetings, the Selectmen’s meetings, wrote letters and emails, and made phone calls protesting the very action which was contemplated a few months earlier.

Sometimes it’s a fine line between being responsive and being reactionary. We need to make sure we have a handle on what all the stakeholders to an issue think before we rush to act. We don’t have the time, nor the money, to be chasing our own tails.


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