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Joyce Endee

School Boards Association releases SAU 13 management study

September 29, 2011
TAMWORTH— In July, the school boards of Freedom, Tamworth and Madison that make up SAU #13 contracted with New Hampshire School Boards Association (NHSBA) to have an objective evaluation of the SAU's leadership structure and staffing. That evaluation is now available as of Sept. 15.

Unlike neighboring Governor Wentworth Regional School District (SAU #49) which is a consolidated district made up of six towns and one school board, SAU #13 is made up of three towns with three school boards. There is also an SAU board made up of representatives from each of the three school boards. Forming the three-town district is meant to reduce costs for required services that each town would have to bear the expense of on their own. These costs include employing a superintendent, food services, finance management staffing for bill paying and payroll, and special education services.

When commissioning the report, the schools boards asked for answers to some specific questions. At a minimum, they wanted to know how SAU #13 staffing compares to other similarly sized districts, what positions are mandated by state or federal laws, and what consolidation or addition of staffing or services is recommended.

According to their website, NHSBA, formed in 1916, is an organization that provides member school boards with training, support, advice and other essential services to help school board members do their job.

When doing the study, NHSBA representatives interviewed district staff, principals, elected town officials, parents, a select group of students and community members.

In the final report, NHSBA made seven recommendations. The first recommendation is to hire a certified school business administrator. The report acknowledges that full-time services of an administrator may not be needed after several initial years to "right the ship." According to the report findings, "The SAU's most significant issue is attending to its business function effectively. As a result of all related business issues, the expense reports are not known by the people who are supposed to manage their respective budgets, i.e. the principals. This causes fund balances to vary widely as principals do not wish to overspend their budgets but also wish to use the monies allocated to attend to the teaching and learning of their students. The software is not doing what it is intended which is to give all budget center managers a clear accounting of what, to-date, has been spent. All of this has contributed to delays in financial reports and subsequent tax setting deadlines. And, to add to this, the community's perception of the business functions of the SAU is 'NO CONFIDENCE.' This perception is real and will impact the approval of subsequent budgets."

The report offers suggestions under this recommendation to help the "business office get on track." The suggestions include ensuring security and organization financial and personnel records, making a priority of using the current business software to its fullest capacity or purchasing better software, consider processing payroll in-house to reduce payroll costs, and take "non-curriculum, non-instruction, non-assessment and non-professional development functions out from under the principals" and giving these functions to the administrator so principals can focus instead on "key areas of student success."

The study also suggests changing the SAU budget approval process. The present process for approving the SAU budget is for each town to put an article on their school warrant. Voters in each of the three towns have to pass the SAU article. If each does not, the budget reverts to the previous years' budget. In two of the past three years, the SAU proposed budget has failed. The report suggests instead that the superintendent prepares an annual budget, a public hearing is held, and then the SAU Board, not the school district meetings approve the budget.

The second recommendation is to hire one transportation contractor to serve all three districts. Currently, the Freedom and Madison districts own busses and run their own transportation systems while Tamworth contracts with a private bus company. One contractor, the report suggests, would handle routes, licensing, inspections, safety, background checks for drivers, and drug and alcohol testing. Contracting this service would, the report suggests, take the responsibility off the shoulders of the superintendent.

The third recommendation is to offer school board training days to help the board members better understand their responsibilities and obligations in policy development and planning.

The report notes that the current SAU staff appears to be "forgotten and unappreciated and the brunt of a lot of blame for the business inefficiencies" and the morale is low. The fourth recommendation suggests re-aligning duties and training for the staff. This recommendation is "intended to ascertain that you have the right people doing the right job who possess the right skill sets," the report states.

The fifth recommendation urges the SAU board to consider forming a cooperative study committee. Currently, the report says, the complexity of the SAU #13 office is not related to the size in terms of student population but is a direct result of the three districts and four school boards. This duplication of effort requires time, time management, and the ability of the office to multi-task. Forming a cooperative, the report suggests, may also help to curb the high staff turnover in key positions which has "proven to be a drain on the school system."

The closure of the SAU office on Tuesdays, a move meant to allow staff to get work done uninterrupted, "has resulted in significant cynicism among many outside the SAU office (and)…does not engender goodwill among the school and community." The report's sixth recommendation is that the office be open to the public daily.

The final recommendation is for the SAU to create a better space and organization for its financial, personnel and special education records, including the purchase of fireproof cabinets.

The full report is available on the SAU #13 website at www.sau13.weebly.com. The SAU #13 board will meet for their monthly meeting tonight, Sept. 29, at K.A. Brett Elementary School in Tamworth at 6 p.m.

Salmon Press
Martin Lord & Osman
Varney Smith
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