Dear Parents, Community, Faculty, and Staff:
It has been a while since I sent a written communication updating you on some important issues in the Supervisory Union. I hope you all had a restful summer vacation. We are anxious to greet all our students on September 1st. While the summer gives us a chance to recharge and update our skills, we miss the students. Many teachers and administrators have been taking classes and workshops over the summer. About twenty of us went to Boston for continued training in Collaborative Problem Solving. This is a behavior management strategy that is geared toward students with emotional dysregulation and trauma backgrounds. It was established through a significant research project sponsored by Massachusetts General Hospital. Unfortunately, we are seeing more and more of these students each and every year. It is simply the product of a stressful time in our world with families struggling to just stay afloat.
Principals have done a great job forming teams and hiring new staff across the Supervisory Union. They will be sending out announcements in the very near future introducing you to the new members of our SU community. I met every one of them and they are a talented rookie group. I think we are drawing great candidates in all of our buildings. It is a sign of strength for all of us. We should be proud.
On the administrative level, we hired an Interim Principal, Mr. Shaun Pickett, to lead the Hartland School Community. Assisting him will be long time veteran staff members Angela Ladeau (promoted to Assistant Principal) and MaryMargaret Hitchcock (Teacher Leader). This will be a great team. We will begin our search for a new Hartland Principal in the late fall. All other administrators stayed with us. This is also a good sign! Consistent leadership is key to a good school district. We did replace long-time Special Education Administrative Assistant, Doris Desrosier, with Barbara (Betsy) Howard. She comes with many years of experience in the field and will be a tremendous asset to our SU.
I am proud to say that the Central Office crew stays intact. I appreciate the experience. Our Business Office continues to manage our finances well, in collaboration with local administration. Three of our four towns have significant surpluses. We just completed another audit and we continue to get very high marks in our management reports. Our Technology Department continues to shine as well. We are known across the state as a leader in this area. We are currently negotiating with Cornish, NH, who recently separated from their Supervisory Union. They want to partner with us in Technology for the 2017-18 school year and beyond. This could be a first step toward more collaboration with them. It will always help our towns to divide the assessment to the SU across a larger number of districts.
Supervisory Union Assessment
All four towns are responsible for the SU budget that includes Business Services, Technology Services, Early Education, and Special Education. The overall SU budget since centralizing special education has risen by millions. Our special education budget alone is over 5 million dollars. Even though special education has been centralized since 2012, as required by Act 153, we still assess our member towns according to their special education population on a certain date in time (October 1st). So, towns can still see big swings in their assessment based on the special education needs on that particular date in time. I would like to stabilize this assessment so we don’t see those swings. So, I proposed assessing member towns across the SU by Equalized Pupil (EQ). EQ is a number the State gives us and is based on a three-year formula that accounts for several factors. There are two advantages to this number as an assessment percentage. First, we don’t create it – the state does. Secondly, at least for the next three years, it is capped on both ends at 3%. That would mean, after the first year of implementation, an assessment that uses this calculation for all SU costs would be stabilized at the 3%. It simply makes sense. The problem with this change is this – the first year, one of our towns may still face a significant increase as we equalize the assessment. However, this year we have a unique opportunity. The SU has a significant surplus – over $400,000. Again, due to what I believe is good financial management. We are proposing that we use this surplus as a safety net for any district that faces a substantial increase in this one-year-only scenario. The SU Board is making a final decision on this proposal on August 16th at the Central Office. It will be good to make this decision outside the pressure of a stressful budget season. I will keep you posted. It is my recommendation and I stand behind it.
The Act 46 Study Committee continues to look at options. Our next meeting will be scheduled in early September. I will notify everyone because it appears to be a significant meeting. It is time to make decisions or disband the Study Committee. I know the Chair will be calling for motions. We have the same six proposals on the table. Here they are in summary form:
- Unified Union District: This would form a PK-12 Unified District with one board and one budget. All students would be the shared responsibility of all four towns from preschool through high school. High School choice (and 7-12 choice in the case of West Windsor) would be phased out. The only high school choice would be under Act 129, which establishes permission for up to 10% of the high school population to choose another high school. All other students would go to a newly formed Regional High School – more than likely on the existing Windsor School site.
- 2 X 2 Side-by-Side (Windsor/West Windsor): This merges Windsor and West Windsor while the other two districts merge on the other side. West Windsor phases out 7-12 choice and Hartland and Weathersfield keep their current choice model. This remains an SU model managing two boards – one on each side.
- 2 X 2 Side-by-Side (Windsor/Hartland): This merges Windsor and Hartland while the other two towns merge on the other side. Hartland high school choice would be phased out. Since Weathersfield and West Windsor have different organizational structures, West Windsor has to bring back 7th and 8th grade to the newly merged district on that side or Weatherfield has to allow school choice for 7th and 8th graders. This remains an SU managing two boards – one on each side.
- 2 X 2 Side-by-Side (Windsor/Weathersfield): This merges Windsor and Weathersfield while the other two towns merge on the other side. Weathersfield high school choice would be phased out. Since Hartland and West Windsor have different organizational structures, West Windsor has to bring back 7th and 8th grade to the newly merged district on that side or Hartland has to offer school choice to their 7th and 8th graders. This remains an SU managing two boards – one on each side.
- Alternative Structure (3 X 1): This merges the three towns with school choice (Weathersfield, Hartland, and West Windsor) while Windsor remains a single district on the other side. The three choice towns do not have the same organizational structure, so West Windsor has to bring 7th and 8th back to the newly merged district; or Hartland and Weathersfield have to offer choice to 7th and 8th graders. Because we do not merge two towns on both sides (remember Windsor stays alkone), this is considered an Alternative Structure. This keeps an SU managing two boards – one on each side. The Alternative Structure requires a process in each town that shows significant research to justify operating outside of the state’s preferred structures. The guidelines for this process were published two weeks ago and are very comprehensive and set the bar very high.
- Alternative Structure (Remain As Is): This would propose that we stay as we are currently configured in the Windsor Southeast Supervisory Union. Again, this requires a process in each town that shows significant research to justify operating outside of the state’s preferred structures. The guidelines for this process were published two weeks ago and are very comprehensive and set the bar very high. In my opinion, either Alternative will be hard sell, but this one faces the most difficult challenge at the State Board level unless something significant changes in the rules.
If we can’t narrow these choices to one or two, then the other option is to disband the 706B Act 46 Study Committee. Then, each town would have to fend for themselves in finding another alternative outside the SU, or wait and see what the state proposes to do with each of our districts in 2018. No district, unless very isolated (which may be hard to argue in our case), will be allowed to stand alone after that date.
We operate very well as an SU, but we do not meet the requirements of ACT 46. This has been a tedious and heart wrenching process. I still think it is sad (my opinion) that restructuring local districts was put on the backs of local towns. These towns are facing over one hundred years of tradition. It simply an injustice to place neighbor against neighbor, town against town, and ultimately student against student. I believe all students in our four towns are all our students. I am still optimistic that we can find a solution. It will be very sad if we can’t.
So on that note, I will wrap it up. There is lots of information here and take the time to digest it. If you have strong opinions, then contact your local board chair or state representatives. Let me close by reaffirming that, no matter what happens, we have great Boards, great staff, great families and great kids. I personally, while biased, think we are a beacon of light in the Upper Valley. I have been proud to have served the Union over the last four years and hope to be here for a while longer – no matter what the structure. Keep the faith and have a great end of the summer!
Windsor Southeast SU