HARVARD -- Harvard School Committee Chair SusanMary Redinger said Monday before the budget subcommittee meeting that she'd still not received any response from the state on the school district's request for a critical-need waiver to retain Interim School Superintendent Joseph Connelly for a third year.
During the meeting, committee member Keith Cheveralls asked about the status of the Harvard request. Redinger advised the group that she hadn't received word, but, with her laptop open before her, Redinger was able to advise the subcommittee otherwise.
The meeting began at 1 p.m. At 1:36 p.m., Redinger received an email from DESE confirming the waiver had been granted.
A collective sigh of relief could be heard. There was no plan B approach charted if the waiver was denied in the wake of the unsuccessful winter search for a new full-time school superintendent.
Before Christmas, three finalist names were announced. Within a month, all three withdrew from consideration for one reason or another.
In light of the news Monday, the budget subcommittee entered executive session with Connelly for a preliminary discussion on likely contract concerns for Connelly for the upcoming 2013-2014 school year.
Connelly has accepted the post, pending receipt of the DESE waiver. Otherwise retired in 2007, Connelly has steadily worked in a number of school districts on an interim basis under such waivers. The waiver permits him to earn a salary above his retirement income.
Connelly first assumed the interim position in Harvard for the 2011-2012 school year. Connelly replaced Thomas Jefferson, who left to assume the superintendency of Lynnfield.
Connelly's services were secured by the Harvard School Committee at that time on the basis of a critical need waiver as the committee explored other models for central administrative functions, including a then-proposed concept of "unionizing," or job-sharing, the superintendency with Boxborough's elementary school. That concept was eventually rejected.
For the present school year, Connelly worked an 80 percent workload, eliminating the need for the district to seek another critical need waiver. In light of this winter's failed superintendent search, the committee voted to apply for a second critical need waiver to keep Connelly for the upcoming school year.
Director of pupil services
In other professional services news, the budget subcommittee received a draft contract for review for incoming Director of Pupil Services Dr. Maria Harrington. Harrington, Connelly's sole announced finalist for the post, was unanimously approved by the School Committee on April 8 pending contract negotiations. Connelly advised that Harrington's salary request was within the sum included in the special education services account for fiscal 2014 -- $107,307.
Harrington will fulfill the role previously held by Special Education Director Pam DeGregorio, who retired in December. The position's title has been changed to reflect expanded duties to be performed by the office holder, such as oversight of the English Language Learner programming, and service as liaison for homeless resident children.
Connelly advised that Harrington will be offered a three-year contract with similar conditions and terms as appears in the contracts for the two school principals. Connelly said he intended to meet individually with Harrington on Wednesday, April 24, to review the draft contract.
Tech talk, needs
Chris Boyle, information technology manager for the Harvard Public Schools, said recent fiber optic cabling and networking upgrades have been completed as part of the district's three-year, $362,000 technology upgrade for the schools. But, in several instances, problems linger due to "old and hodgepodge" switches.
Upon Boyle's recommendation, the budget subcommittee supported the idea of $36,000 worth of switch upgrades to ease data "traffic jams." However, no immediate funding source was targeted.
Connelly said Boyle could "Band-Aid" the cost from the just-approved fiscal 2014 budget, passed by Town Meeting on April 6. That budget included $60,000 for the replacement of aged computers.
"We can do it, but the ideal would be to find additional money without trading off our replacement cycle," said Connelly.
Cheveralls said he'd prefer waiting until the end of the current fiscal year to see what unspent funds could be used for the project. Cheveralls balked at the use of Shaw trust fund monies for the project. "I'd rather not go there," Cheveralls said, and suggested the Devens contract revenues would be a better vehicle for funding the upgrades. The matter will be put to the full School Committee for consideration at the board's first meeting in May.
It's the talk of the education community -- making available laptops or iPads for each and every student. "But there are many approaches," said Connelly. For example, in Reading, high-school students were permitted to bring in their own devices. Near universal software compatibility for some programs made the approach viable without "large expenditure."
Connelly said technological innovation, in concert with education trends, are towards one-to-one in-hand technology devices for students. Connelly said both principals have made the pitch at recent administrative team meetings.
"We have an established budget and planning cycle," said Cheveralls. "If we're talking about a revamped tech plan, I'd suggest deferring until next financial planning cycle."
Connelly agreed, stating that was the recommendation of Finance Director Lorraine Leonard and himself. "We feel strongly that the existing tech and capital plans are the way to go unless there are emergency needs. These are preferred needs. We said, "Folks, this is what we have."
The Parks and Recreation Committee has approached the school department to partner on a proposal to bring Marcus Lewis tennis camp programming to the tennis courts behind the Bromfield School this summer. Of the 20 percent profit to flow to Harvard, parks and recreation proposes splitting the proceeds equally between the Parks and School departments.
If approved by the full School Committee, the community education office would handle only the registration piece, while parks and recreation would oversee operations with the vendor. Connelly suggested the "field test" may prove to be a successful model to partner with parks and recreation on future programming offerings.
Town Meeting follow-up
Regarding the $75,000 warrant article approved at Town Meeting for the structural and safety evaluation of the Bromfield House central school offices, Connelly said the first priority is to "identify the immediate safety matters that need to be corrected."
Cheveralls said progress is linked to an engineering study, yet to be completed, which sparks a "chicken and egg" dilemma on how to proceed with repairs in light of the need to hold off on work until after the new fiscal year begins on July 1.
The same goes for the reconstruction of the Pond Road parking lot aside the library and Bromfield School. What was presented at Town Meeting was a "really rough sketch," said Redinger. Engineering plans are needed before the job goes to bid, she added.
For specifications to "go out the door" promptly on June 30, the committee agreed that perhaps DPW Director Rich Nota, an engineer, could provide an assist on drawing up that plan. Connelly said there'd be an update provided at the full School Committee's April 29 meeting.