SBRSD board, leaders are failing their towns
To the editor:
We find it is time to speak out after seven months of working towards cooperation with the Southern Berkshire Regional School District's School Committee and administration.
Boards of Selectmen from the five towns that make up the district have come together three times to try to find a resolution to the assessment error made by the district. These five boards created a municipal agreement whereby all five towns agreed to work together with the district to find unspent monies throughout the year to help reduce this error. The School Committee all but laughed in our faces and spoke with complete disrespect to Rep. Pignatelli, who was instrumental in bringing the towns to the table for our first meeting.
The five town boards have worked tirelessly to review the district's budget line by line. Board members have asked intelligent questions that required some deep analysis of spending and staffing needs. Spotlights have been shown on areas where cuts could and should be made. Yet the superintendent has taken no action, and in the case of being advised that there is no state law that a district as small as ours is required to have a SPED director, he moves forward with the process to renew this contract at the cost of over $100,000 in salary and benefits.
The one action that has been taken by this School Committee was a vote of no confidence against its business manager, which was handled in a moment of anger and quite unprofessionally. This action did not did save the district money, it actually cost the district more money as a contract was bought out, legal funds were spent and the replacement was hired at a much higher salary.
This is one of the most serious errors that a district can make. The School Committee and administration were able to find $218,000 within a few days to help correct part of this assessment error; a few weeks later as the five town boards applied pressure, the committee and administration found funds from the income side of the budget to apply which further reduced the budget. One member of the School Committee suggested that there were 5-6 positions that could be cut to help reduce the spending further, yet there still have not been any reductions to staff.
On two occasions the superintendent has come to our chairman and suggested that he may be able to make this assessment error go away by use of the district's excess and deficiency fund. E&D is money in reserve for unanticipated needs. This error should qualify. A discussion regarding the use of E&D was listed on the most recent School Committee agenda. This information is critical to the Sheffield Selectmen as a warrant article needs to be placed before the voters to pay for the shortfall.
Just before that meeting the superintendent stated the discussion on E&D was not going to take place because they were not ready to discuss what may be available and would not be ready to discuss it until April 28. This date is much too late for the Sheffield Board of Selectmen to place an exact amount before our voters.
SBRSD has very weak leadership. The School Committee is filled with egos and many feel it is more important to be right than to do right. A good School Committee must find the balance between education and affordability to the towns and work with its member towns. This committee does not have the ability or the desire to operate in this way.
We will be calling for dramatic changes in the make-up of this committee in November. If change is not realized we will see this district continue to unravel.
Nadine Hawver, David A. Smith, Jr., Andrew G. Petersen Sheffield The writers are members of the Sheffield Board of Selectmen.