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Superintendent salary left unscathed

December 22, 2010
After two weeks of heated discussion, the Budget Committee voted down a motion to cut $175,000, approximately the amount of the superintendent's salary, from the district budget.

With a 6 to 6 vote on the motion Thursday night, a tie resulted in defeat and the funds for a superintendent will remain in the budget.

Some committee members argued that the proposed cut of $175,000 was about money and not whether to keep a superintendent in place, but others said the two issues were difficult to separate.

Faces from the School District and the community voiced their opinions on Thursday night after hearing from former Hampstead School Board and Budget Committee member Jorge Mesa-Tejada, who was invited by the committee to discuss the legalities of not having a superintendent.

Prior to Tejada's presentation, Gilford resident Alida Millham said she wanted to speak first.

"I am representing the ghost of School Boards past when I once served," said Millham. "This superintendent discussion is not a new issue Ö the subsequent School Board decided not to rid of the superintendent position (after breaking off from Laconia)."

Millham warned committee members that sometimes rash decisions can have some unexpected consequences.

Tejada then took the stand and said despite local newspaper headlines, he did not consider himself to be an expert but instead an individual that could offer the committee a wealth of information he had gathered over the years in his related experiences.

He said he was asked by the committee to explain if the school district could operate without a superintendent, if this operation would be legal, and if so, how this model could be achieved.

With reports in hand including, "Simplifying the Administrative Structure of the New Hampshire Public Schools," by the State Board of Education and the New Hampshire General Court, as well as a report of the Gilford SAU Planning Committee's findings in 2007, Tejada attempted to answer these questions.

"Yes, you can operate without a superintendent, and it is legal (for a single district SAU under certain provisions)," said Tejada. "If you look at today's facilities, now you have so much information on site. Most of the work done by the SAU can all be done through principals and through computers right off the bat."

Tejada referred to this formula without a superintendent as "site based management" where decisions are made by the people they affect, and then move up the chain as needed.

Budget Committee member Kevin Roy pointed out that each school principal and School Board members already have enough on their hands, and that the model seems to rely heavily on assistant principals as well, but the Gilford Elementary School principal position was eliminated two years ago. He said a GES assistant principal would more than likely be needed to meet the model and would defeat the purpose of cutting the superintendent salary in the first place.

Committee member Terry Stewart, who said he was for cutting the $175,000, asked if this model would jeopardize the school's accreditation.

Tejada said since the model was approved by the School Board of Education, Gilford schools would not lose accreditation, and although he said there should be no legal woes, he could not give a confident answer on a possible increase in legal fees.

Either way, Tejada added that legalities are always present and that the School Board would still have access to a legal assistant.

After Tejada finished answering questions from the committee, resident Joe Wernig said as a parent and an educator for 23 years, he was not in favor of taking on a new model.

"We do have an incredible group of teachers, administration, and parents, but 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it,'" said Wernig.

He said that committee members should visit the schools and shadow the superintendent before considering themselves qualified enough to make such decisions. Wernig added that he also didn't want to see his remaining children in the school system become "guinea pigs" for a model that no other New Hampshire district has taken on.

"As a parent, I want people to come into this district because of all things that we offer. This is a bad economy and people won't want to come to our schools if we don't have a superintendent. This is not business, this is education," said Wernig.

School Board Chair Kurt Webber said the board planned to continue with their superintendent search to replace retiring Superintendent PauL DeMinico regardless of the Budget Committee's vote.

"The fact that this model has not yet been adopted in New Hampshire is pretty telling," said Webber. "There are a lot of things that cannot be done in the schools without this superintendent position. We will continue this search; it is in the best interest of the students and the community."

In the end, the proposal to cut $175,000 from the school district budget did not pass, and the superintendent's salary will remain unscathed.

Instead, a motion was made to cut $23,000 from the budget for School Board members' stipends and to cut administrative raises. The motion passed 8-4 and the district budget was reduced to $8,575,258.

Martin Lord Osman
Varney Smith
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