State officials headed to PVRS Thursday

  • Pearl Rhodes Elementary School in Leyden, May 30, 2018. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • Warwick Community School on Winchester Road in Warwick, May 30, 2018. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • Pioneer Valley Regional School. ANDY CASTILLO

Recorder Staff
Published: 6/4/2018 9:01:24 PM

NORHTFIELD — Two special meetings this week will begin to address the fiscal distress that Pioneer Valley Regional School district has found itself in.

Today at 3:45 p.m., the School Committee will hold a marathon of four back-to-back interviews with interim superintendent candidates in the Pioneer Valley Regional School library.

The interim school head will be an important player in helping the district understand how it came to be about $1 million in debt and how to dig out.

The candidates are Jonathan Scagel, a teacher at PVRS with certification to be an administrator; Suzanne Scallion, a former superintendent for Westfield public schools from 2011 until her retirement in 2016; Bob Clancy, the principal of Bernardston Elementary School since 2011 and Pearl Rhodes Elementary School since 2017; and Robert Gazda, a former superintendent and principal of the Gilbert School, a private school for grades 7-12 in Winstead, Conn.

The contract for the interim superintendent will be for one year, with an option of extending it for another year, depending on how the search for a long-term superintendent goes. It will be a part-time job because that is what the district budgeted for.

According to the agenda, the committee will make a decision on which candidate to hire after a 20-minute recess. School Committee Chairwoman Pat Shearer said she hopes the committee does not delay the vote to another meeting. With Superintendent Ruth Miller leaving at the end of the month, the committee has no time to procrastinate, she said.

Deficit discussions resume

Then on Thursday, the conversation about what to do about the district’s financial deficit resumes at 6 p.m. in the PVRS auditorium. The School Committee will be joined by representatives from the state’s Department of Revenue and Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to discuss what options the district may have if it decides to seek state help to sort out the mess it finds itself in.

There will also be representatives from the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, of which PVRSD is a member. Representatives from the Massachusetts Association of Regional Schools, of which PVRSD is also a member, may be present, too. These associations provide guidance and expertise to school committees that find themselves in problematic situations. PVRS Committee members have been in contact with these associations for several weeks now.

State Reps. Paul Mark (D-Peru) and Susannah Whipps (I-Athol) may also be at the meeting. Mark and Whipps are preparing legislation that would allow the Pioneer Valley Regional School District to spend at a deficit for some period of time while it corrects its root problems.

“I am hopeful that will help prevent a situation where rash action needs to be taken, and buys time for a thorough accounting and long-term solutions to be proposed,” Mark said. The budget deficit came to light following financial review by state officials from the education department, although it’s unclear how the budget imbalance grew. About a quarter of it was in the school lunch program.

Since the deficit was discovered late in the school year, administrators have suggested a range of options for beginning to close the gap, including closing the district’s two smallest elementary schools, Warwick Community School and Pearl Rhodes School in Leyden, and cutting a range of programs, including sports.

More money from towns

At its Thursday meeting the committee will also discuss an item brought up by Northfield resident Deborah Potee to explore the options that may exist for the towns to give more funding to the school district. At a May 24 meeting, the district’s administrators presented a list of “necessary additions/corrections” to the proposed budget for the 2019 fiscal year. (Three of the four towns have already approved that budget. The fourth, Bernardston, has its town meeting on Wednesday.) Potee said she hopes that extra funding from the towns might reduce the extent of the cuts that the district will need to make.

Help desk

On top of all that, Pioneer Social Studies teacher Ken Mullen will be holding a help desk at the front entrance of PVRS on Tuesday and Thursday from 4 to 7 p.m. Mullen will be sharing information about how concerned residents can petition the various “levels of government (that) have failed the students of this school.” The help desk was rescheduled from May 30, after the School Committee’s meeting that day had to be canceled due to inadequate public notice. (Under open meeting law, the School Committee’s meeting have to be posted at least 48 hours beforehand.)

“I think what we’re lacking is connection,” Mullen said. “I think all we’re getting in this district is conflict. We need to start exchanging ideas, making connections, coming up with solutions, instead of pointing out problems.

“Change is going to happen,” he said. “It’s just going to be, who’s making the decisions? Is it going to be the towns … or is it going to be the state? If we don’t act now, we are going to lose some decision-making power, and I don’t want that.”

Contact Max Marcus at
or 413-772-0261 ext. 261.

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