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Rowe mulls supt. options

Mohawk Trail Regional School District Superintendent Michael Buoniconti
Recorder file photo

Mohawk Trail Regional School District Superintendent Michael Buoniconti Recorder file photo

ROWE — Should Rowe hire a new superintendent by next summer or try to extend its contract with Mohawk Superintendent Michael Buoniconti beyond June?

That was one of several heated debates after the School Committee heard a presentation from North Berkshire School Union Superintendent Jonathan Lev.

Former Superintendent Alan Genovese was one of two retired educators who offered to help the School Committee as either a consultant or interim superintendent. Genovese had been the Mohawk-Rowe-Hawlemont shared superintendent until 2005, when he left for another superintendent job, and Buoniconti was hired.

Last week, the school board discussed joining the North Berkshire School Union, as a way to share state-required superintendent services while having more control over the town’s elementary school.

The question of whether Buoniconti has too much control over the Rowe Elementary School has been a conversational undercurrent ever since Buoniconti decided not to renew former Rowe School Principal Robert Clancy’s contract in 2011. Clancy has since become principal of the Bernardston Elementary School, but the issue of the Clancy decision surfaced again, when Clancy’s wife, School Committee Chairwoman Lisa Miller, suggested the School Committee consider hiring an interim superintendent for this year.

“We’re already paying for (superintendent services) — whether we use them or not,” said School Committee member Lisa Danek Burke. “This would be an additional cost.”

“But it would be nice to have someone here who knows what we know,” said Miller. “We don’t want to be penny-wise and pound foolish. We have immense decisions to make that are going to have a big impact on our wallet.”

The town is about to start rebuilding an elementary school, to replace the one that burned down in 2012. But extra revenues that used to come in from School Choice enrollment have dropped and Danek Burke questioned whether the School Committee could even afford a consultant without going back to voters to ask for more money.

Miller said she believes some additional insurance reimbursements may cover the cost but will have a better idea next week, when the School Committee meets with Buoniconti and the business manager on Thursday at 5:30 p.m. in Town Hall.

Some school parents at last week’s meeting were concerned that changing superintendent offices — and taking Rowe children away from some events they now attend with Hawlemont and Mohawk elementary students — would make it harder for their students to transition into Mohawk in seventh grade. Others worried that the administrative break will lead to Rowe’s taking its high school children out of Mohawk all together.

When questioned about paying for two superintendents in the same year, Miller said the committee has important decisions to make and she would like to have professional advice, apparently from someone other than Buoniconti. “What we pay our current superintendent is not that big a loss,” she said, adding that Rowe’s 7 percent share of his salary is somewhere between $10,000 and $15,000.

“Why would you leave Mohawk?” asked Jeffrey Parent, who has five children in the Rowe and Mohawk schools. “Why aren’t you meeting with Mohawk, and why is it going this way?”

Miller explained: “They wanted to negotiate at a time when we didn’t know if we were going to have a school or not.”

“I think it’s a personal issue for you,” Parent replied.

“That’s your belief,” she answered.

When another woman asked why the School Committee can’t talk to the superintendent, Miller replied, “I can’t answer that. The lawyer is here and there are reporters. In general, I don’t think that things are going well for Rowe with the superintendent.”

When an audience member remarked that Buoniconti “doesn’t want us,” Danek Burke said Rowe was given notice because the School Committee didn’t join Mohawk and Hawlemont when the new contract was being negotiated, last spring.

Another consultant interested in working with the school district, Francis L. Gougeon of Hatfield, recommended a feasibility study on the three options available to Rowe: joining a school union, keeping the current superintendent, or hiring a separate, part-time administrative staff. “I think it would be important to develop a transition plan,” he added.

Wayne Zavotka expressed concerns about bringing in an interim superintendent and “changing ships in midstream, before it has to happen.”

School Building Committee Chairwoman Susan Zavotka suggested appointing a small advisory group of residents to look into the issues the School Committee doesn’t have time for.

To hire a consultant for $10,000 or more, the School Committee would have to get at least three bids and go through a state procurement process.

“A consultant doesn’t make decisions,” explained school lawyer Russell Dupere. “A superintendent would have the legal status to set your budget, hire and fire staff.”

“But you have to move — you don’t have much time,” he warned.

You can reach Diane Broncaccio at::
dbroncaccio@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 277

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