School Commissioner Report

Hi neighbors —

The School Board met on April 4 (a week early) to reorganize itself following the March elections. The Board welcomed two new members, Julia Curry (Ward 3) and Katherine Chasan (Ward 1). As the most senior member of the Board, Commissioner Keith Pillsbury presided over the meeting until the election of officers. Commissioner Paul Hale was re-elected as Chair, and I was re-elected as Clerk of the Board.

The public comment period was brief but enjoyable: the Board was introduced to the coaching staff and members of the Burlington High School state champion boys basketball team. The Board gave the team a well-deserved round of applause for their successful season.

Superintendent Collins reported that the search for a new principal at Edmunds Middle School is underway. A teacher/parent group is meeting to review the applications and select finalists, who will then be interviewed by a group headed by Supt. Collins. She expects to have the new principal selected sometime around the end of April or beginning of May.

The report of the Finance Committee took a little bit of time, since we had three meetings over the last two weeks. The main purpose of the meetings was to approve the bids for the new elevator at the high school, the new heating system at Hunt Middle School, and the renovations and repairs of the high school athletic fields. The initial bids for the athletic fields came in roughly a million dollars over the authorized bond amount, so negotiations took place between the low bidder and the administration to reduce the cost of the project. Those negotiations successfully wrapped up last week and the project will be getting underway shortly. The administration still expects that the Seahorses will be able to play their fall football schedule on the new field.

One uncertainty right now is the proposed woodchip boiler for the high school. Part of the plan calls for the renovation and repair of an access road behind the high school to enable trucks to come in to deliver first the boiler and then the woodchips needed to run it. The project was based on an assumption of 90% reimbursement by the state, but the initial indication is that the state will only reimburse the district 30% of the cost of the road portion of the project. The difference is substantial: approximately $250,000. The administration has appealed the initial decision; if that is denied, then the Finance Committee and the Board will have to determine if the project is still feasible.

Under old business, Superintendent Collins updated the Board on the final status of the District’s contract with Lyman Amsden. He was hired by the Board as an adviser on July 1, 2005 on a 202 day contract for $130,000, with prorated payments of $26,000 scheduled over five years. When the Board hired Jeanne Collins as Superintendent in mid-January, the understanding was that Lyman’s work for the District would be significantly reduced, and that Supt. Collins could use the savings to cover administrative needs pending the hiring of a new special ed coordinator. Supt. Collins and Commissioner Hale then negotiated an official ending date to Lyman’s contract of December 31, 2005. As part of the agreement, Lyman waived payment for the balance of the 2005-06 year; payments in the amount of $12,646 will be made over the next four years to honor the balance of what he is owed. The savings to the District from the early termination of his contract are significant: the reduction in the amount payable to Lyman amounts to $53,400, of which Supt. Collins spent approximately $10,000 for administrative assistance in the early spring.

Lyman’s willingness to forego a significant portion of his income from the contract of the District is completely consistent with the dedication and commitment that he has shown towards the Burlington School District and its students over the past five years. While I understand the concerns that some people have, I think that it is important to remember that he stepped into a very difficult, contentious, and fiscally challenging situation when he agreed to become superintendent here. His attention to detail and fiscal responsibility literally saved the District (and Burlington taxpayers) millions of dollars. Along the way, he negotiated long-term contracts with each District bargaining unit, helped train a superb replacement, launched (admittedly somewhat awkwardly) a vitally important debate about equity in the schools, and played an integral role in creating a environment in which the school budget could pass three years in a row. He left the District in far better shape than he found it, which is no small feat.

On Tuesday of this week, Commissioner Hale sent out the committee assignments for the coming year:

Finance: Fred Lane (Chair), Kathy Connolly, Julia Curry, Thom Fleury, Erik Hoekstra
Curriculum & Policy: Keith Pillsbury (Chair), Marrisa Caldwell, Katharine Chasan, Jurij Homziak, Amy Werbel
Technology: Barbara Crook (Chair), Wally Elliott, Chris Haessly

That’s it for news right now. Over the course of the coming week, I’ll be sending out summaries of the twenty or so seminars that I attended at the National School Board Association conference. It was deeply inspiring to spend the weekend with roughly 8,000 other school board members from around the country. The commitment to public education is simply tremendous.

If anyone has any questions, please let me know.


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