October 21, 2014
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How many is 'too many' on school planning committee

At what point does a committee become unwieldy?

School Superintendent Richard D’ Agostino doesn’t have a precise number but he feels the 19-member long term facilities planning committee he inherited from former Superintendent Peter Horoschak meets the definition.

D’Agostino has charged the committee to come up with a long-range plan to take into account the downward trend of enrollment that could include the closing of one or more secondary schools. He wants recommendations by Jan. 14, 2014, as directed by the School Committee.

So far, the committee has met once since a sub-committee narrowly voted to close Gorton Junior High School this year. Although closing the school would have saved about $1.1 million in the current year, the School Committee chose to keep Gorton open for at least another year so a comprehensive and longer-range plan could be drafted.

The size and composition of the committee is the latest hot spot.

Last month, D’Agostino announced he was taking three administrative members off the committee and that he expected other members to decide among themselves how they should trim their ranks. He said Tuesday that some members have said they would step down to trim the committee. Others have questioned whether a smaller committee would be preferable, suggesting differing points of view and ideas would make for a better plan.

One member questioned why the School Committee doesn’t appoint the committee.

“That may be an option,” said School Committee Chair Bethany Furtado.

She favors a smaller committee, saying the “sheer numbers stymies the process.” She pointed out the larger the committee, the more difficult it becomes to coordinate agreeable meeting times. She said the committee needs to get things done and reach consensus.

“We will see how it works,” D’Agostino said of his call for volunteers to step off the committee, “because it is really too big.”

He said he would be comfortable with a committee of 12.

Asked what he considered long-term, D’Agostino focused on five years.

As he sees it, the department has already gone through five years of a plan with the consolidation of four elementary schools. Going beyond five years, he thinks, could be counter-productive as technology is changing so rapidly. He said online education, for example, could dramatically affect the school system and its needs.

“Things are changing so quickly,” he said.

D’Agostino does not envision a fixed plan. He expects the plan would undergo revision in response to changes and that this should be an ongoing process.

He said it would be “too late” to wait to the end of a five-year plan to start planning for the next five years.

The next committee meeting is July 11 at 11 a.m. in the school administration building.


Comments
3 comments on this item

The well-intentioned citizen volunteers not withstanding, isn't the superintendent paid and the school committee elected to make these decisions? Or, does this committee exist for the purpose of absolving the supt. and school committee of any responsibility for the inevitable (and divisive) ?issue of closing a high school

HI John, I agree with you and it is good to have outside objective discussion with the public prior to making these types of decisions. I hope there is objective discussion and I hope a decision is made to move forward.

I agree, the role and expectations of this committee are unclear to me. This type of planning process requires a committee (such as the one established) comprised of people representing the different stakeholders and whose role is to provide oversight, input, and feedback regarding both the process and key findings/recommendations throughout plan development. However, this type of committee, like any planning co.or board, cannot be the planning workgroup required to develop a comprehensive plan, that is an internal responsibility and should be a small group of professionals with the expertise and experience required of developing this type of plan. As a first step, that workgroup should be presenting a detailed planning process to the larger committee for approval that includes all the steps required with specific timeframes, dates to present key information/findings/recommendations to the larger committee, and opportunities for broader presentation and community input throughout the process. They should also build regular updates(and possibly approvals) to the school committee into their process. One of the committee's first responsibilities should be to review and approve the presented process and determine if all the key elements, in terms of both substance and consensus building, are incorporated. Six months is a tight timeframe for the type of comprehensive plan that our schools require and that the school committee has requested. If a detailed process with all the key elements is not defined and followed, we will be in the same position that we were in regarding the last recommendation and another year behind where we should be regarding planning for the future of our schools. The size of an oversight committee is far less important than the composition. All stakeholders should be represented and many public and private organizations have multiple committees of stakeholders and several levels of approvals for this type of planning engagement to ensure input and consensus.

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