By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff Updated 09:38AMPrint | Email
Update: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the extent of communication between a school committee member and the district's business manager prior to her resignation.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The interim superintendent of the Lanesborough-Williamstown public schools sought Tuesday evening to allay concerns about the stability of the central administration.
"Through this process, I do need everyone to recognize there have been some constants," Kim Grady told a special meeting of the school committees that govern the Tri-District. "Our administrative assists at the building level have been constant, I've been a constant."
Grady spoke to the members of the Mount Greylock Regional School Committee and Superintendency Union 71, the joint committee of Williamstown's and Lanesborough's elementary school committees.
Her comments came as the committees decided how to deal with the latest departure from the central office: this month's resignation of Business Manager Nancy Rauscher.
Coming on the heels of November's departure of Superintendent Douglas Dias, Rauscher's resignation means the Tri-District will be looking for its fourth business manager in four years while employing four superintendents (counting interim appointments) in the same time frame.
The school committee members opted for some stability on Tuesday by voting unanimously to extend Grady's interim tag through June 2018 while the districts undergo a search for a permanent replacement in the 2017-18 academic year.
Grady said that despite the appearance of uncertainty at the top of the administration, the Tri-District is on solid ground.
"It can be done if we scaffold correctly and work together and have this open communication that I'm hearing," she said. "It can be done. And we're not drowning. We're not dysfunctional. We're running our schools. Our kids are learning.
In the near term, the school committees Tuesday authorized Grady to hire an interim business manager to replace Rauscher. She told the committee members that she had been in contact with the Massachusetts Association of School Business Officials, and there is a qualified candidate ready to step into the office as soon as Monday.
She asked and received permission to hire the interim replacement at a per diem rate of $345 per day. In response to a question from LES Committee member P.J. Pannesco, Grady said that the per diem cost probably will end up costing the districts a little less money during the interim appointment.
Rauscher, who resigned effective Friday, did not attend Tuesday's meeting, which included a regular Mount Greylock School Committee meeting in addition to the joint session with SU-71.
LES Committee Chairwoman Regina DiLego did attend in her capacity as a member of the SU-71 Committee.
It was DiLego's email to Rauscher over a budget mistake that the business manager cited as a reason for her resignation.
After Tuesday's SU-71 meeting, DiLego said she had not had a chance to speak with Rauscher since her resignation.
DiLego said her Feb. 4 email was not intended to be "threatening," and she was surprised to receive the emailed resignation letter.
DiLego indicated that high turnover in the central administrative office is symptomatic of the complicated relationship between the three districts, an idea that also was discussed during the joint meeting of the school committees.
"These are tough positions," DiLego said of the jobs shared by the three districts. "You have to do four of everything and three of everything. There are a million meetings and several different committees."
WES Committee Chairman Joseph Bergeron, who chairs SU-71, made the same point during the meeting.
"When I read this [business manager] job description, there are a lot of 's's' after various job descriptions," Bergeron said. "Three budgets, three sets of licensed schools and business filings associated with those with the state, three sets of accounting systems.
"Nobody likes to have two bosses, and this is a job where your supervisor is the superintendent, but you're also beholden to four committees who have their own budgets."
School committee members have said they want to hold off on searching for a permanent superintendent until the member towns of the regional junior-senior high school, Mount Greylock, decide whether they want to expand that district to include the towns' elementary schools — a move that would substantially streamline administration.
On Tuesday, the principals of those three schools sent the school committees a joint letter recommending that Grady be kept at the helm of the administration on an interim basis.
That led the SU-71 and Mount Greylock committees to change direction after previously planning to employ Grady, the district's assistant superintendent, as an interim superintendent for six months and then bring in a different interim superintendent starting July 1.
"The principals understand the strengths and the challenges of our structure better than anyone else," Mount Greylock School Committee member Carolyn Greene said. "I think that's a very strong message from the principals and not the first time they've gotten together to support Kim.
"I was one of the supporters of the plan to hire her for six months and then bring in another person. But I think we've seen it works well, and as long as it's working well, it makes sense."
Greene said a national search for a permanent superintendent, "will be a lot easier when we know what we're searching for."
To that end, the committee members Tuesday discussed a timeline that will send the question of expanded regionalization to the two towns' voters in the fall. Previously, the Mount Greylock School Committee discussed bringing up the vote in the spring, but Greene said after talking with town officials, it was decided that the district should aim for a special meeting in the fall instead.
Whether voters decide to join the three schools in a more permanent relationship or go their separate ways, it is increasingly clear to school committee members that the current arrangement is not sustainable.
"I just want to say that these are really hard jobs, the central office positions," Greene said. "That's why we need the regionalization vote. It's only so long we can do this. We've gone past the natural life of this structure.
"I have seen more in the last six months than ever the complexity of it. I appreciate [Grady's] willingness to continue on."
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