The SAU board has made an art of grasping an issue squarely by the shoulders, looking into its eyes, and then failing to say a word to it. Last night was a masterful example. I attended the March 27th SAU meeting to hear discussion on agenda items “Assistant Superintendent Position,” “Policies (CBI, CBI-R and BBBH),” “Superintendent’s Evaluation Process.”
There was much discussion of limiting the employment search to internal candidates or opening it up more broadly. Thankfully, Mr. Barczak’s comment that a quality internal candidate will rise to the top even with a broader regional search (without the expense of a search agency) won the discussion. With this, Dr. Metzler and his staff are free to advertise the position and solicit candidates. Just one problem. No one has defined the role and responsibilities of the new Assistant Superintendent, a topic the board so skillfully danced around it would have been comical had it been less important.** Will the new Assistant Superintendent be an “Acting Superintendent” for Hampstead as Mr. Feneberg is, or will the position revert to its original function? Who knows? Dr. Metzler intimated at the meeting that the role may be determined by the winning candidate’s skill set. Forgive me, but does this seem backwards to you? Don’t you know what needs to get done and then hire the best person to perform that function? As I see it, the SAU board’s delicacy about the political issue with Hampstead trumps good management.
There was also long discussion on who should evaluate the Assistant Superintendent — the SAU Board, the Superintendent, or some combination of the two. Current policy BBH (Organization and Operation of the School Administrative Unit School Board) mentions evaluating only the Superintendent, but Procedure Code CBI-R (Evaluation of the Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent) states that the SAU board will evaluate both positions annually. No decision was reached but the consensus I perceived makes me think that when the next draft of the policy and procedure documentation is circulated, the Superintendent will be charged with evaluating the Assistant Superintendent with input from the SAU board. We’ll see.
I worry that I am seeing a pattern here in which an indecisive board passes off many of its primary responsibilities to our new Superintendent. Dr. Metzler is both capable and energetic so under his direction this may not be bad in practice, but it is ill-advised for the SAU board to formally divest itself of so much of its function. Hire now and let Dr. Metzler define a function later is a good example of this. [See note that follows]
**Update: Dr. Metzler has pointed out that the candidate search will be done with the current and unchanged job description. I welcome and appreciate the feedback, but it does not answer the question of the future Assistant’s actual role.
I suppose I should be flattered that my March 18th posting that urged the SAU Board to consider doing without an Assistant Superintendent was hailed by one member of the public at last night’s SAU meeting as evidence that the SAU Board was actually thinking of this. Though they should, they weren’t and aren’t; nevertheless, this misrepresentation of my blog did not prevent a board member from cautioning the public about listening to rumors and blogs. Let me give that board member some helpful advice, too: don’t use a third party’s interpretation to slander a perfectly good blog.
One other word of advice for this board member: don’t think the voters stupid. When discussion arose about the citizen’s petition that passed concerning the SAU budget, this same board member said that voters will not understand that the SAU budget is now a stand alone budget. Few voters follow budget issues, she said, and many will automatically vote “No” when they see another request for money on the school ballot.
Voters understood the issue well enough to vote in favor of the petition, and a complicated petition it was as the law required it to be expressed in dense legalese. Now that the SAU budget will stand alone, voters will see the cost of this administrative layer. Could this be the real worry?
Previous posts: Do we need a new assistant superintendent? https://timberlaneandsandown.wordpress.com/2013/03/18/do-we-need-a-new-assistant-superintendent/
SAU budget petition: https://timberlaneandsandown.wordpress.com/2013/02/08/why-the-sau-budget-should-have-voter-oversight/
Our current Assistant Superintendent, Winfried Feneberg, will be moving on to start a Windham School Administrative Unit (SAU) at the end of this academic year. This forthcoming vacancy in our SAU is an opportunity to think hard about the need for an assistant superintendent.
Mr. Feneberg was often referred to as the “Acting Superintendent” for the Hampstead School District. Does this strike you as a little odd? One SAU, two functioning superintendents? I don’t know the history in Hampstead that led to this administrative attention, but now is the ideal time to revisit that history to see if the SAU as a whole can’t function more efficiently.
This is not an attempt to short change Hampstead. It is simply a suggestion to try getting the SAU to function as it was originally intended – with one superintendent overseeing two school districts.
The SAU board will be meeting on March 27th to discuss hiring a new Assistant Superintendent. Before they decide on the type of search they would like to conduct, they should pause to examine whether the position even needs to be filled. Given the impressive energy of our new Superintendent, it seems prudent to let the SAU run with just one Indian chief for a while. What’s the rush to hire a $100,000+ employee? Should Hampstead prove to need a dedicated high level administrator, the SAU has the budget to hire one. If, however, our current superintendent is able to administer both districts ably, that will be a savings to the taxpayers and a justification for awarding raises within a leaner SAU.
The board may debate the elaborateness of the search methods to replace the assistant superintendent – a national search with a professional search agency or a smaller local search. There may be a skirmish between those who already have a local candidate in mind vs. those who would like to review as many candidates as possible, but the more fundamental question should certainly be asked.
Yeterday, Timberlane voters overwhelmingly approved the citizen’s petition to place the School Administrative Unit #55 budget on future school ballots. This means residents in Atkinson, Danville, Hampstead, Plaistow and Sandown will now be able to vote to accept or reject the SAU’s budget each year, which is a good discipline for the SAU.
Timberlane voters were convinced of the need for voter oversight on budgets funded by taxpayers and showed it at the polls. Unfortunately, the petition failed in the Hampstead School District, but the combined vote in the SAU area was a sound majority: 2,544 – 2,072 (as per The Eagle Tribune).
In other very good news, Sandown elected Cathy Gorman to TRSD Budget Committee with a well supported write-in campaign. Cathy is on the Sandown Budget Committee and demands value for money while very much wanting to improve public education.
Other like-minded write-in candidates were fielded in Atkinson, Plaistow and Danville but so far election results for these have not yet been released.
Stay tuned! There could be more to get excited about.
And finally, a note of thanks to Sandown voters who politely and most kindly stopped in the pouring rain yesterday to talk to me about the citizen’s petition. I was outside the polling station for 11 hours using my outside voice, but it was worth every lonely minute of it. As one kind soul said to me, “This is what makes democracy work.”
Thank you to Jorge Mesa-Tejada for initiating this petition in Hampstead and getting me onboard for Timberlane.