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Letter to the Editor: 'Little Has Been Accomplished' on Operational Audit of Schools

The founding members of Enough is Enough write to schools superintendent Dr. Peter Gray saying that few of the recommendations made in the operational audit of the schools have been implemented.

To the Editor:

An open letter to Interim Superintendent Peter Gray 

Comments about Operational Audit Presentation:

Dear Mr. Gray,

We were disappointed, but sadly, not surprised at . It’s been almost a year since the HWRSD and your presentation leads us to believe that little has been accomplished.

Further complicating the lack of progress is your desire to merge the OA recommendations into the upcoming budgeting process. If this is done, it would delay actions even further, with some items not being addressed until late 2012 and even 2013. We believe focus on OA recommendations should be to tackle the items that are more easily doable first, and thereby demonstrate to the community that the OA is being taken seriously.

Everyone needs to keep in mind that the OA was passed almost unanimously at two Town Meetings (Hamilton and Wenham) and a special town meeting for funding it.  Our citizens overcame many efforts to obstruct, confuse and delay the OA, yet prevailed. Also, the School Committee should have noted that .

At your presentation, we were troubled by the description (repeated over and over) of “ongoing” in reference to OA recommendations. “Ongoing” can mean that an item has been completed or it can mean that it was talked about “at the water cooler.”

When you were asked for clarification of “ongoing” at the meeting, your answer to define “ongoing” was vague.

For the purpose of full disclosure, we are founding members of Enough is Enough. Robert was the citizen who first brought up the idea of an Operational Audit to EiE. He did so because our group was being ignored. It was our hope that everyone would embrace the idea of a qualified, independent outside look at school operations. Based on the lack of progress it is clear to us that the OA is still treated with disdain by many of the school leaders. This is a shame for one would think that we all want the same thing - great schools run well and efficiently. Apparently, this is not the case.

Instead, we are left with the lingering impression that many on the SC feel entitled to the public’s money but once taken, dismiss questions from the public and see no reason to run the schools like the $30 million business that it is.  Why be concerned that we pay $2,000 more for each child per year than our equivalent peers? Our children are doing well, but they are not the only stakeholders in school operations. People that are paying exorbitant real estate taxes need to know that they are listened to, and that their concerns are addressed.

There are many recommendations in the OA that should have been dealt with by now. Having clearly written HR policies should have been completed and in force long before our meeting last week. We use this as an example, because it is difficult to put a dollar figure value on having the policies in place, but if just one lawsuit is avoided, it would be worth the effort. We do not believe that HR policies can wait another year.

Another example is continuing to operate food service at a loss. This is completely unacceptable, whether it means quickly (not three months) implementing the point of sale system, or taking other steps. We have no idea why contracting with an outside food service vendor is not being considered seriously, except, perhaps, as an attempt to save jobs. While we are concerned with employment, our school system is not a local taxpayer paid jobs program.

Recently, the SC voted to keep the so-called “school choice” program. While it costs $12,000+ to educate a child, we seem to be happy to reduce the costs of neighboring districts by doing it for $5,000. No amount of “smoke and mirrors” can hide this reality.

The last example we will include in this response is the current lack of a technology handbook. The reason given is that the current technology director is going to retire in January. This tiny project could be done long before this position ends. Simply put, if you can’t do the easy things in a year, how can the community believe that the major OA recommendations will ever be met?

We are impressed with your new team. They seem serious and well-intended. But this is no substitute for substantial progress. We have taken the time to listen to a broad representation of our citizens. They are not expecting every to be implemented as written in the report. Citizens agree that the OA recommendations need to be addressed with clarity of actions, with definitive implementation dates or understandable reasons for their not being considered. The community desires clear and concise updates. The recommendations are not just to save money. They are to improve business effectiveness and restore community trust.

In time, and if there is an open mind, we (and others) would be willing to discuss and support creative ways to look at the OA report recommendations. This is an offering of help, not an attempt to “run the schools.” One of our suggestions made earlier this year that seems to have been lost is to have some kind of oversight committee to assist you with this process. There is a great deal of talent and expertise in our community beyond the SC and their supporters. The time has come for our schools to be part of the full community.

We respectfully request a response to this correspondence and look forward to assisting you in any way we can.

Thanks for listening,

Robert Sica

Bruce Wadleigh

Warren (Bob) Gray

Jay Burnham

George LaMontagne

Beatrice Britton

Edwin Howard

Jay Burnham November 09, 2011 at 08:50 PM
Residents of Hamilton & Wenham...You should weigh in on this. You voted to appropriate the funds for the Operationa Audit of the Regional School District and you deserve some answers about how the fiscal recommendations from that report will be implemented. It's been almost a year now with very little progress. EiE will not give up trying to see that the fiscal recommendations are taken seriously...and neither should you. Demand action.
Tom Rogers November 09, 2011 at 10:14 PM
With all new administration in place, many of which are temporary, it's easy to understand that things are not proceeding quickly. It's certainly not a conspiracy to avoid implementation as suggested. I do disagree with the notion that a technology handbook can be cranked out by year end because it's a "tiny project". It would be good however to conduct an exit interview with the outgoing IT director. It seems to me that this task would end up being coordinated by the new director, and it will take a while for him/her to get up to speed. So don't expect anything quickly!
Hamilton Resident November 10, 2011 at 02:34 AM
I am new to town, and have only recently heard of this operational audit and the EiE group, so I can only respond to what I read in this letter. Regarding school choice, it doesn't make sense to only get $5000 from another community to educate their student if it costs HW $12,000, unless we are being reimbursed in some other way. Is the school system reimbursed by the state or feds for the difference or is the difference paid for by HW property taxes? One of the reasons my family moved here and are paying the high property taxes is because we want a good education for our child. We accept paying the taxes, even though we are far from rich, but expect that our town taxes will be carefully spent and go towards our community and students. A quick comment about the private food service idea. I don't think privatizing formerly public services ends up saving much in the end, for the simple fact that the private companies are for-profit. It think it's better to revamp the food service that is in place already. I'm sure there are creative ways to save money while focusing on improving and maintaining the quality and nutrition of school lunches. I accept that thoughtful and careful changes take time. I would be more interested in making sure that the decisions and changes that are made would be changes that are good for our students and community than quick. I would want to see continuous progress and perhaps a timeline set for decision making and implementation.
Jay Burnham November 11, 2011 at 11:19 AM
Tom, no one said anything about a "conspiracy". Everyone clearly remembers, however, that many of the members of the School Committee, and the Chairman of that committee in particular, publicly opposed, hindered and openly VOTED AGAINST the operational audit and the funding of that project. That knowledge alone is sufficient reason for strong skepticism.

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