Minuteman rendering 400 121418Superintendent finalists to tour campus, be interviewed this coming week

“This was a complicated meeting with three very different, complicated topics,” said Jeffrey Stulin of Needham, chair of the Minuteman School Committee, as he concluded the second of two meetings held back-to-back Monday, Jan. 29. “Get ready for intense, intense work.” He meant this:

- The unanimous adoption that date of the Minuteman Regional Vocational Technical School distrcit fiscal 2025 budget, whose assessments soon are to go before town meetings of Minuteman's member communities, including Arington's;

- A decision by early March as to which of three recently publicly identified finalists should become permanent superintendent-director of the district that has a sole campus, Minuteman High School; and

- The committees continuing hope to derail a proposed plan at the State House to have future entry to "voc-tech" distrcits such as Minuteman possibly be determined by a single statewide blind lottery. 

Of the district’s nine member communities, Arlington has by far the most students at Minuteman -- 215 out of the total of 686. Its representative, Sarah Montague, was absent Monday. She told YourArlington afterward that she had been recovering from the flu and could not attend, noting, “I am a member of the Fincom [the committee’s subcommittee on finance] and have seen four versions of the budget as it developed. The Fincom, including myself, [previously] voted unanimously to recommend the budget to the full school committee for approval. The Fincom approval was noted at the [Jan. 29] School Committee meeting.” 

Basics of the FY '25 budget

On Monday, at what was technically a public hearing but at which no one from the public spoke, the committee voted 8-0 to adopt the recommended budget for the Minuteman Regional Vocational Technical School District of $31,517,219. YourArlington has requested access to an online copy of the budget.

“You will be defending [the member assessments] in front of your [municipal] Fincoms and in front of your Town Meetings,” Stulin had told his colleagues at the previous committee meeting, Jan. 16; Arlington’s share was estimated to be $8,583,875. Steve Ledoux, head of Minuteman’s Fincom, on that date credited Acting Superintendent Kevin Mahoney and Business Manager Nikki Andrade, saying that he was happy with their work.

On Jan. 29, Stulin reiterated that the budget process had been handled in a professional manner that had begun with input from faculty and administrators. “People were listened to and greatly appreciated.” The presentation that date re-mphasized that the district’s three priorities are continued emphasis on writing and literacy across the curriculum, on the intersection of academic and career technical education, and on strengthening both internal and external communication. The budget’s cover sheet states, “Our budget priorities reflect our values,” and the subhead says, “Budget — behind the numbers.” Drivers of the budget included the following, according to a slideshow Jan. 29:

      • a collective bargaining agreement with staff;
  • reduction in hours of two positions: assistant director of career technical education and a human resources post;
  • restoration of grant-funded positions that had been cut during the acute portion of the pandemic, including a library aide, a health-tech aide and a co-op coordinator;
  • continuation of the foreign-language teacher post;
  • hiring of an athletic trainer;
  • continuation of funding of curriculum development;
  • adding a third 3:30 p.m. bus to facilitate student attendance at after-school activities;
  • decreasing the allocation for utilities, based on fiscal-year 2023’s actual use;
  • level-funding health insurance based on anticipated FY24 lower premiums; and
  • investment into cybersecurity.
Three finalists identified for top job

In what has been the most high-profile issue for the past nine months and continues on what immediate past committee chair Pam Nourse of Acton on Jan. 16 termed “a tight timeline,” the goal is to choose a permanent district superintendent-director by early March.

Details about the three finalists -- all female, two working for the same employer -- and their backgrounds were posted online over the weekend.

Heidi Driscoll, assistant superintendent of public schools in Scituate, is to tour Minuteman and be interviewed Monday, Feb. 5. Christina Favreau, director of academic programs at Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical School District in Fitchburg, is to do likewise Tuesday, Feb. 5. Kathryn Whitaker, development coordinator at the same Fitchburg entity, is scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 8. Zoom links have not yet been made available.

Nourse, who has spearheaded the search at the School Committee for months, said that, following the job’s posting, 27 applications were received and that the 12-member screening committee met six times and narrowed the field to seven, who were interviewed, with the three above-named ultimately deemed finalists. All this was on a confidential basis, but now, she said, it is “a public process, an open process,” including this coming week’s in-person interactions with the candidates. The School Committee’s deliberations planned for a meeting Feb. 15.

A comprehensive reference-checking effort then is to follow as a key part of the hiring process, Nourse said, possibly alluding to complaints last year by many teachers and parents that this has not been done sufficiently in the past. The person hired is scheduled to start work July 1.

‘Potential element of chaos’

In what, on Jan. 16, School Committee Vice Chair Alice DeLuca of Stow termed “a potential element of chaos” and that Stulin that same date termed “unfortunate,” there is a move on Beacon Hill to have the already limited space at voc-tech schools statewide go into a lottery that potentially could sever the relationship between what a community pays and how many seats its teens get.“We have already testified before the [State House] Joint Committee on Education” where H.538 has been for months, Ford Spalding of Dover said that date, adding, “It won’t be the last time.”

Besides what they see as the inherent illogic and unfairness of the lottery concept, officials both Jan. 16 and Jan. 29 noted that instituting a lottery would add no more seats despite the continuing situation of more demand than supply. They also observed that, at least at Minuteman, current students now for the most part are proportionate with respect to protected classes in their home communities, such as low-income, English language learners, BiPOC and those with special-education needs. A lottery, they fear, could be a step backward in that regard.

On Jan. 29, the committee spent most of its time on this issue, noting that this coming Wednesday, Feb. 7, is the theoretical deadline by which the joint committee is expected to take, or not take, action on all pending legislation before it, though Stulin said he thought there would be an extension granted.

“It’s important to get our communities to understand this issue as well as we do, or we could be spending a lot of money for nothing,” Stulin said.

Letters, lobbying sought

“A lottery makes no sense” and “doesn’t add a single seat,” said Steven C. Sharek, executive director of Massachusetts Association of Vocational Administrators, or MAVA, at the Jan. 29 meeting. He said that it provides no accommodation for local agreements. “How is that fair?”

Also speaking was Anthony Abdelahad, general counsel of Ventry Associates, which has been advocating for MAVA for more than two years. Abdelahad said that the statewide demand for vo-tech seats already exceeds supply by at least 6,000 studemts, that many teens value the “engaging, hands-on” training that leads to good careers and added that, unlike at many comprehensive high schools, especially post-pandemic, there is no chronic absenteeism at voc-tech schools.

“Our [voc-tech] schools [now] reflect the demographics of the sending populations,” he said -- something that would by no means be assured under a lottery.

He said his firm has letter templates and suggested talking points available to anyone interested.

Committee members voted unanimously Jan. 29 to have a formal letter opposing H.538 prepared by its Feb. 15 meeting.

Among the approximately two dozen people viewing the Jan. 29 meeting via Zoom were two Arlington parents of Minuteman students – Courtney Hadly Zwirn, president of the Minuteman Parent Association, and Claudia Donnet, who both indicated in Zoom’s chat feature that they also were willing to send letters protesting the bill.

In other Jan. 16 meeting news, the committee:

-- Acknowledged that Spalding would resign effective Feb. 1 due to moving outside of the district, to be succeeded by Maggie Sharon, appointed by Dover’s monitor, who is a veteran professional educator and “passionate about education,.” per Spalding. However, given  Sharon's other commitment, she may not be able to attend meetings regularly until June, so Spalding plans to continue to attend in a non-voting capacity. He said it has been “a privilege and an honor” and a “huge learning experience” to be a committee member. Moreover, because of a longtime Minuteman policy, Spalding will continue on three subcommittees, following three unanimous committee votes confirming this.

-- Voted unanimously to begin the search for a permanent principal, to start work July 1; Katie Bouchard is interim principal through June 30.

-- After an executive session voted unanimously to hire Amy Perreault, who has held at least two previous positions at Minuteman, as interim assistant superintendent of student services, to serve Feb. 1 through June 30 for $175,000 annually; and

-- in that closed session apparently discussed two legal matters, both seemingly related to the turmoil that began in spring last year. One was a lawsuit filed in September and still pending against the district and its former superintendent-director Kathleen Dawson, who resigned under pressure in late summer for reasons that have never been fully disclosed. The other was an apparent threat of litigation by former Principal George Clement, whose contract Dawson last spring refused to renew – likely her single most controversial decision and one that was vociferously condemned in the second half of 2023 by hundreds of students, parents and employees.

July 19, 2023: 2 closed sessions in one week for Minuteman School Committee about embattled schools chief

This news summary by YourArlington Editor Judith Pfeffer was published Friday, Feb. 2, 2024.