NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The School Committee on Tuesday night voted to offer a short-term contract to Business Manager Nancy Ziter — at least until they can find someone to replace her.
Ziter is scheduled to retire on Dec. 31, but Superintendent Barbara Malkas informed the committee there has been difficulty in hiring a qualified, licensed candidate.
"We have some options, we would be able to work out a waiver to have [Ziter] continue beyond her retirement date ... we could go the way of Williamstown and Lanesborough and hire a consultant, they did with Management Solutions," she said. "Doing one of those two things while we really think about the potential of shared services with one of our neighboring districts."
Time was running out, Malkas cautioned, to have someone in place on Dec. 31 to ensure the school department's financial house was in order.
A posting for the position drew six applications, four of which Malkas and Ziter deemed qualified to move forward to interviews. However, two candidates who both were licensed as school business professionals withdrew their candidacy prior to the interviews. The two left had financial and accounting experience but were not licensed and not have specific experience related to school finance, Malkas said.
Then one of the licensed candidates who had withdrawn asked to move to the next step and two more applications were received, but neither of them were certified.
Malkas said she had contacted the Massachusetts Association of School Business Officials for some input on the potential of a waiver for a qualified, but not yet licensed, candidate.
"Their feeling is that the [Department of Education] has become very critical of districts hiring nonlicensed personnel and they do not consider the school business official a critical area regarding a shortage waiver," Malkas said, "because on the eastern side of the state, they're not having the issue we're having."
MASBO's suggestion was repost the position before any attempt at a waiver. The job is currently posted on BerkshireJobs.com. Malkas said leaving the posting up would still run into the Dec. 31 deadline, while Ziter had assured the district she would not "leave us high and dry."
Committee member John Hockridge, also chairman of the Berkshire County Education Task Force that has encouraged school districts to consider collaborations on the way to a countywide district, asked about the possibility of sharing a business manager.
Malkas said the most obvious possibilities were the Northern Berkshire School Union or Adams-Cheshire Regional School District. But any shared services would have to be negotiated on hours, pay, health insurances and other aspects of a contract.
"Each school committee of a district would also have to agree," she said. "The contract for that individual becomes a shared document."
Both other districts had qualified, licensed business managers and the Malkas said the School Department had received a grant to begin conversations on sharing services.
Mayor Richard Alcombright, chairman of the committee, said committee might keep that in mind when hiring a business manger.
"If it was somebody that brings the same strengths that Nancy brought," he said. "The right person could take the lead on shared services."
He suggested entering negotiations with Ziter and allow the incoming School Committee and mayor to make any further decisions regarding how the business manager post would be filled.
"We don't have the time to make that decision, nor would it be wise or us to make that decision," he said.
In other business:
• Malkas noted that coach James Buffoni is retiring at the end of the year and wished him and his wife "the very best." Buffoni was hired as a physical education teacher at Drury High in 1993 and coached boys and girls cross country and track, football and basketball. Lead them to multiple Western Mass individual and team championships and regularly attends games around the county. He transferred to Brayton School in 2015.
• Malkas reported the electronic device policy is in draft form but still needs wordsmithing. Two groups are working on the elementary and secondary levels of the policy with the expectation there will be something for the committee to review at February's meeting.
• A fence and gate will be installed shortly along the front of Colegrove Park Elementary School to prevent children and balls from making their way into the bottom of the park and into the road.
• Malkas said the district received a Resource Allocation and District Action Reports (RADAR) grant toward the new collaborative special education academy. The district was one of only nine in the state to get a grant. The Northern Berkshire Academy, a partnership of North Adams, North Berkshire School Union and Adams-Cheshire Regional, will allow students with specialized needs to be serviced locally. The academy will open in the North Adams Armory on Jan. 2.
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