Board of Education Chairman Susan Glennon did a great job reining in a difficult situation at a special meeting last week.
The meeting was tricky, triggered by several board members who wanted to undo language in the 2014-15 budget assumptions, assumptions that had already been followed to create the first draft of the budget. The assumptions are the guidelines that administrators use when creating the budget: In this case, the administration assumed that the school grade configuration would remain as K-2/3-5/6-8 and 9-12 for the next school year. To change the budget assumptions would clearly mean going back and changing the budget, something that board member Tracy Casey tried desperately to point out. But it was too late to change the budget because the process runs on a schedule, and to change the budget based on a new and ambiguous guiding assumption would not have worked.
New board member John DeRosa was at times relentless, insisting that the budget assumptions be changed to reflect the fact that the board was not committed to sticking with a K-2/3-5 organization for the next school year. He was running up against a wall, though, because it seemed the majority of the members, and the school principals who showed up to speak, were pretty much set against realigning the schools for the 2014-15 school year because it would allow too little time to get the move done. Glennon kept pointing out that the Long Range Planning Committee is expected to make several recommendations about school configuration in March, and that from there the board has to discuss and weigh the various options.
While DeRosa’s request may not have been practical, it is understandable, and it does show the level of commitment he has to his constituents and promises he no doubt made when campaigning. The organization of the schools has been a sore point for parents, who say it doesn’t work for them. Regardless of the educational benefits of arranging schools as K-2/3-5 — if in fact that is one of the best arrangements — it just doesn’t work for local parents who have to get several children off to the bus stop before getting themselves off to work.
As the meeting progressed, it became clear that DeRosa simply wanted some kind of acknowledgment from board members that they realized how unpopular the current grade configuration is and some sort of pledge that it would change.
Instead of getting angry at this roundabout way of securing the board’s opinion, Glennon did the logical thing and offered DeRosa what he wanted: the board’s opinion. She calmly and respectfully asked each board member how he or she felt about the current grade alignment, and the consensus was that most of them expected to vote for a change. They, too, had heard local families say they don’t like the way it is now.
DeRosa, having gotten what he and his constituents wanted — which was a promise for change — dropped the matter and withdrew his motion to alter the wording in the budget assumption.