Thompson delays continue; project manager chosen for AHS

Superintendent Kathy Bodie appeared to edge toward "plan B" as continuing issues with the Thompson School addition could mean it might not be completed for the beginning of the school term.

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 At its next-to-last meeting before the summer break, on June 8, the School committee revisited its ongoing budget deficit, explored approaches to evaluating the superintendent, approved the superintendents' goals for 2017-2018 and heard updates on school-building projects.

Of the latter, all were positive, except for Thompson. Bodie reported "that as we get closer to the opening date for the Thompson, we are homing in on plan B." That will will include keeping the modular classrooms for the first part of the school year until the six additional classrooms are completed. She announced that the building "was coming together in an odd way."

She said the contractor is still waiting for steel beams for some sections, while for other parts of the addition, he is installing dry wall. Overall, she concluded, "It was looking doubtful for opening on time."

Bodie has not given a complete description of plan B. It was first reported in YourArlington's April 13 meeting summary. At that meeting, she cited continued use of temporary modulars and perhaps the library for classrooms. In addition, she said at the time a plan B would depend on kindergarten sizes and configured buffer zones, both still to be determined.

In other projects, she said, the high school has selected a firm to oversee its rebuilding, still years away. Chosen as project manager is the Skanska Co., an international firm with projects worldwide.

By the end of September, the committee is expected to have chosen an architect, the next key step in the lengthy process.

The Stratton School is almost complete, with gym construction expected over the summer. A lack of some temporary storage space is the only outstanding issue.

The contractor for the Gibbs renovation is expected to begin construction July 1, when all the tenants are expected to have vacated the building.

The Hardy committee continues to meet to discuss construction plans and how outdoor play areas might take shape.

'Tight budget': Transfers remedy deficit

In her monthly budget report, Bodie explained how over the year the School Committee made plans to cover the projected budget deficit of $478,000. That was an amount mainly incurred by unexpectedly higher special-education costs and underestimates of other items.

The plans included temporarily changing the way the school department uses the special-education account from state extraordinary-relief funds as well as taking $335,000 from the town special-education stabilization fund. [See links to reports here >>] The current deficit has not changed from September, Bodie told the committee, but how it has been addressed has changed over the school year.

She reminded the committee: "The budget is very tight."

Financial consultant Tony Mertz, stepping in to fill the gap left by the February departure of Chief Financial Officer Diane Johnson, reassured the committee about the current deficit. She said it had arisen only because the allotted money from the stabilization and special-education funds have not yet been transferred to the budget account.

By the end of the year, she expects that the budget for the current year will be balanced. Bodie added that the work at the moment is to look for additional unspent monies by closing out line items.

Committee member Jennifer Susse reported "great frustration" in keeping track of what has been spent from the revolving funds and when the spending occurred. She recommended that there be a better way for "the process to be communicated throughout the year."

Committee member Paul Schlichtman commented that despite the numerous questions about line items, which are constantly being reformulated, the committee understands much more about the budgeting process that it did three and four years ago. He recommended that when the new CFO, John Danizio, begins work in July, the budget subcommittee should meet with him to improve ways of informing the School Committee and the public about the current state of the budget.

Superintendent's goals: Aspirations vs. requirements

An extended, wide-ranging discussion took place in considering the superintendent's goals. Based on previous deliberations, the committee members reviewed goals for practice, student achievement and district improvement.

The first goal consumed most of the committee's attention. Member Cindy Starks pointed out the practice goal of three visits a year per school was not really a goal but a requirement. A goal, she argued, "should be something other than a requirement."

Moreover, a school visit was difficult to evaluate. "The real challenge," Schlichtman said, "is that we do not follow around the superintendent." He asked rhetorically, "How can we get to a point where we can put a value on it?"

Rising to the challenge, committee members made numerous suggestions for capturing the substance and impact of these visits. Chair Jeff Thielman concluded that the goal of school visits was to increase principals' performance. However, he admitted that he "was not sure how to get data" about this goal.

Member Kirsi Allison-Ampe proposed the superintendent could offer "introspection on how her visits lead to improvement."

Bodie suggested just listing the visits as a goal had value because it was "a way to keep it more front and center" on her school calendar. Moreover, she continued, just making a goal measurable would not make the goal meaningful, because "what is measurable can be trivial."

Moving on to district-improvement goals, member Len Kardon asked for wording for a plan "to get community feedback as necessary." Bodie thought this statement "too vague," and the committee decided that there should be mechanisms for seeking feedback from the community, including a plan for how and when the committee will do it by Sept. 30.

Finally, Thielman ended the discussion and moved that the four superintendent goals with the discussed additions be approved. The motion was seconded. Starks pointed out that only three goals for the superintendent were sent to committee members and discussed at this meeting.

Thielman explained the superintendent's goals included the third one from the district goals. Saying she had not been informed of this additional goal in terms of the superintendent's evaluation, Starks abstained, and the superintendents' goals as amended with additions passed, 6-0-1.

Various reports

In other business, the committee heard reports about athletics, technology, professional development and voted unanimously to approve district goals for 2017-2018

At 9:30, the committee voted to adjourn for executive session to discuss negotiations with the Arlington Education Association and to adjourn the meeting following the executive session.

The final meeting of the committee is set for Monday, June 19, 5:30 to 6:30 p.m., in the School Committee Room at the high school. 

This news summary by YourArlington freelancer Jo Anne Preston was published Friday, June 16, 2017.

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