GROTON -- "While there have been a few episodes of dysfunction, I have to say that my overwhelming experience has been that the committee has operated in a collegial and largely consensus-oriented manner throughout my two terms," said James Frey, member of the Groton-Dunstable Regional School Committee.
"Given that the committee is comprised of volunteers, few of whom have any real educational background from a professional perspective, it works quite well."
Frey has represented Dunstable on the School Committee for six years. He has decided not to seek re-election.
"I'd like to move on to other opportunities and challenges," said Frey.
Frey is an 11-year resident of Dunstable and the father of three sons, all of whom have passed through or currently attend the Groton-Dunstable school system.
"I wanted to contribute in some way to support that which I believe is one of the most important responsibilities of any community, to educate and prepare the youth in our community to be ready and able to contribute to our society and nation," said Frey. "I came from an education household; both of my parents were teachers, and have thus always had a high regard for the value of a good education."
"My goals were simply to represent my fellow town members, provide adequate and appropriate oversight, improve communications between the district and the communities, and help guide the district towards sustainable excellence," said Frey, a high tech industry analyst. "I believe all of these goals were met as much as was possible."
Unfortunately, there was one serious setback to Frey's goals, one that cropped up at nearly the end of the committee member's second term. In the closing weeks of 2013, an accounting error was discovered that revealed the district's books were out of balance.
The shortfall in revenue resulted in the need for cuts in spending and more revenue.
In Dunstable, town officials have chosen to pursue an override to cover their share, a move that Frey said he supports.
"I think we have done the best we could do, given the circumstances," said Frey. "It was a serious issue, rooted in faulty practices by some of our staff and inadequate controls at the committee level. Our approach was to be as open, honest and transparent as we could about what we found, take ownership of the failures and proceed with plans to correct them and ensure that such failures would not recur in the future. I believe this has been accomplished successfully."
Frey, however, thought that the fiscal clouds may have had a silver lining in that they might offer a chance for school officials to rethink how the district delivers education to students.
"Any time of crisis, financial or otherwise, should naturally cause everyone involved to reconsider priorities, strategies and commitments," said Frey. "The district is long overdue in refreshing its Strategic Plan, which is exactly the right way to conduct such a review. Our incoming superintendent will have the project high on the priority list, and I look forward to contributing to the process."
Reviewing how education is delivered in the district could be a complicated process involving as it must a number of federal and state programs, including Race to the Top, No Child Left Behind, Common Core, Education Reform, etc.
"I believe that all of these initiatives have their roots in well-meant efforts to make sure that every child in our state and country gets the opportunity to receive an excellent education," said Frey. "And taken on the whole, most if not all have had some positive effect in that direction. But that said, my personal opinion is that they have all fallen far short of their ultimate goals because it is immensely difficult to implement them fairly, consistently and perhaps most importantly, cost-effectively. But unless and until we radically change the priority that our society puts on education, this will be the best we can do as a country; to slowly and painfully push our systems in the right direction."
Another question school officials will have to consider is the decline in enrollment at Groton-Dunstable.
"The district is subject to continuously rising costs of operations, as is any organization, that is balanced somewhat (but not completely) by reduced operating costs resulting from slowly declining enrollment," commented Frey. "If we were in a time of expanding enrollment, increased cost would be a bigger problem, but then again, town revenues would likely be higher as well."
For all of these issues and more, Frey felt that in the future, the School Committee will need to become more involved.
"Incrementally, the committee must take a more hands-on approach by maintaining more regular focus on budget reports and getting ahead of potential overspending or revenue shortfalls," said Frey. "The process changes made as a result of the recent crisis will improve the situation dramatically.
"But in the end," he said, "the School Committee is an oversight board, and not a hands-on manager. We must hire and entrust staff that can execute the administration of the district effectively and reliably. I have every measure of belief and faith in the current (and incoming) district staff to properly and responsibly manage the institution."
"It's been a privilege and an honor to serve Dunstable (and Groton) over the past six years," Frey concluded. "I believe the primary objective of sustaining excellence has been accomplished as much as has been possible. I look forward to staying involved with the schools and supporting them as a parent and citizen."