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.