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Combined school district management proposed in Orange

  • Ralph C. Mahar Regional School in Orange Nov. 28, 2016. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • The Ralph C. Mahar Regional School. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz



Recorder Staff
Thursday, December 28, 2017

ORANGE — The superintendent of schools for Ralph C. Mahar Regional School and Union 73 has proposed an agreement between the three school districts she oversees and the Pioneer Valley Regional School District to share administrative services as a way to save money.

The four districts would share a superintendent and director of finance, under the plan put forth by Tari Thomas, who is superintendent for the Orange Elementary, Ralph C. Mahar Regional and Petersham Center school districts. She suggests that her districts join with Pioneer Valley Regional School District because they’re all struggling with lower enrollment and rising health care and special education costs.

“We suffer from lost potential capacity due to our small size with no easy solution in sight,” Thomas wrote in a project proposal. “Working together with our neighbors on what makes sense for kids and communities is an important next step, yet the best solution for one district may not be the best for another.”

Thomas, proposes trying the experiment for Fiscal Year 2018-19 on an interim basis.

Emphasizing that the discussion must start at the school committee level, Thomas said she sent copies of the project proposal to Chairwoman Pat Shearer of the Pioneer Valley Regional School District, Chairwoman Stephanie Conrod of the Orange Elementary School District, Lynn Peredina of the Petersham Center School District, Peter Cross of the Ralph C. Mahar Regional School District, and Bernardston Selectboard member Robert Raymond.

Thomas explained she first thought of consolidation and proposed it to the Athol-Royalston Regional School District in the spring when Athol-Royalston Superintendent Steven Meyer announced he was leaving for a job in Clinton. But the ARRSD committee appointed Darcy Fernandes to replace Meyer.

Thomas said she had the idea again in June, when Pioneer Valley Regional School District Superintendent Ruth Miller announced she won’t be returning after this school year.

“Our school management system designed 200 years ago may no longer be the right system today,” Thomas wrote in her proposal. “The role of the central office needs to be re-examined and redefined as well as embrace technology, innovation and effective education strategies. With lagging student achievement, it is necessary for our school districts to make sure every school dollar is spent wisely, and that often means experimenting with different solutions, ideas, and strategies to improve educational outcomes.”

The proposal’s objectives are to share the work of a superintendent that will serve as chief executive officer to the PVRS Committee (including recommending all policies and the annual budget), to support the school committee by providing good information for decision-making, to oversee the educational program, and to develop and support a district-wide administrative team working to improve teaching and learning.

The other objective is to share a School Business Office for Management that develops and administers the budget and manages aspects such as business and financial matters, bids and contracts, facilities and transportation.

If the districts come to an agreement on this, Daniel Haynes, who is now serving as director of finance for Mahar and the other districts, would be in line for the job.

“The end result,” Thomas wrote, “would be a central office collaboration/sharing that will reduce costs and grow strong the educational programming for the students of Bernardston, Leyden, Northfield, Orange, Petersham, New Salem, Warwick and Wendell; additional consolidation and cost-saving measures have the potential in Year 2.”

The first phase of the proposed agreement, the Pioneer Valley Regional School Committee designates two members to serve on a joint supervisory committee and join into a contractual agreement to share a superintendent of schools and director of finance in February.

The Orange Elementary, Petersham Center and Ralph C. Mahar school committees previously authorized Thomas to investigate ways to secure financing to explore regionalization “in order to better educate our students.” Her districts earlier this year learned they would receive a $53,000 grant from the state to examine regionalization.