November 14, 2018REGION—Last week's draft budget review illuminated the trajectory planned by district leadership, including a newly consolidated position of 'student services coordinator,' and attempts at trimming costs. The meeting also included a robust defense of Superintendent Pierre Couture by members of the Consecutive Board.
Starting this year, SAU 35 will employ a full-time student services coordinator, who will consolidate elements of the role of special education director, and replace what had been a contracted special education consultant.
"There is a need for someone who can put people in touch with services," explained Kristin Franklin, the district's Business Manager.
Superintendent Pierre Couture observed that situations at home had major implications for student and school success. He said that his guidance counseling team had encouraged him to implement a social worker-esque position, and that the new role would help the school play a role in "strengthening families."
"We need someone to make that connection and bring in the families," Couture said. "We have a lot of students in the SAU that are really suffering right now."
Speech therapy, psychological counseling, occupational therapy, and student health services are all to be reorganized in the draft budget. Starting this year (2018/19), and moving into next, SAU 35 will have an in-house psychologist to service to the district's several schools.
Centralized professional services helps SAU 35 spread the cost of essential, but expensive, roles among its several schools according to their degree of need.
"The districts are charged for the services they use, and they reimburse the SAU dollar for dollar," Kristin said. "It has been found to be cost effective."
Administrative reorganizations in the central office have included reductions in days worked per week, one promotion to full time assistant, and at least one retirement, for a net total of $19,000 in savings. Franklin cited the savings as proof of increased leanness in administration. At the same time, some employees have stepped up to fill unanticipated gaps in payroll services, and have received raises that reflect their additional responsibility, she said.
Franklin said a key goal of the central office has been to improve oversight and strengthen internal controls, for example by implementing policies where staff members double-check each other's work.
The district confidently expects only modest increases in medical and dental insurance costs this year, in the range of single-digit percentage points.
The district plans an across-the-board two percent raise for any employee who did not receive a larger increase, which was necessary to maintain "marketability" relative to competing employers. Unemployment stands at 2.7 percent, less than Massachusetts, and competition for workers is expected to help boost wages this year, should those conditions continue.
Board Chair expresses support for Superintendent
During public input, Cynthia Burnell, a member of the Lafayette Budget Committee, asked the District Committee about the vote of no confidence against Superintendent Pierre Couture, by Profile teachers last Spring.
"In my mind, there is still this issue pending," she said. "It needs to be resolved before we can move forward."
At the time of the vote of no confidence by the teachers' union, tempers rose over cuts to the special education department, and the perception among some parents and teachers that Couture was exercising a high hand.
Executive Board Chair Luther Kinney pushed back against that assertion. He said that evaluations of Couture's record had been "overwhelmingly positive."
"It's really a Profile Board issue," he added. "To date, there has been no formal complaint to the E-Board about Pierre."
The Executive Board, or E-Board, hires, reviews, and fires the district superintendent, and plans to sign a re-upped, three-year contract with Couture at the conclusion of the present budget season. A 'done deal' must wait until the new budget is approved at a full district meeting.
"We have sat back and said, let the Profile Board address their issue," Kinney said, and added, "There is concern about how the process has gone at Profile."
Last Spring's meetings revolving around the uptick in anti-Couture sentiment became quite personal, and resulted in a two-hour, closed-door meeting in which legal counsel was present.
"There has been nothing brought to my attention that would make me question a new contract for Pierre," Kinney concluded.