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The new School Committee convened on Tuesday with Mayor Thomas Bernard and new members Ian Bergeron and James Holmes, at left.

North Adams Schools Select Interim Manager for Business Office

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The School Committee on Tuesday authorized the superintendent to enter into a contract with a business management firm for up to 60 days. 
 
The School Department has been unable to replace Business Manager Nancy Ziter, who retired effective Dec. 31. 
 
"We are now past Dec. 31, Nancy has ridden off into the sunset," Superintendent of School Barbara Malkas told the committee. "But we are in the position where we are without a school business administrator and yet the district still needs to operate and to move forward with our business and finance operations."
 
The department will contract with The Management Solution of Auburn, with a scope of work expected to be submitted to the company by Wednesday. 
 
The initial posting for the job a few months ago attracted six applicants, but only two of them where licensed and both withdrew prior to interviews. Two other candidates were versed in municipal finance but had no extensive experience working in school finance. 
 
Two of the original six applicants reapplied along with several other candidates when the job was reposted but out of that group, only one was licensed. Malkas said she could not recommend that candidate upon review of the individual's work history and references.
 
The posting will remain open while TMS takes over the day-to-day operations. Andy Paquette, a founder of TMS with David Lockwood, explained to the board their background and long experience in school finance. 
 
Both men worked as lead examiners with the state's former Office of Educational Quality and Accountability, reviewing more than 100 school districts to determine how effective they were in meeting educational standards. 
 
"If you look at the literature back then, it was the highest rated accountability system in the country," he said.
 
Paquette said they found that school districts most struggled with business and financial management and human resource support. When it became apparent the semi-independent agency would be subsumed by the Department of Eduction, the decided in 2006 to combine their financial acumen and knowledge of best practices to form TMS. They are state and nationally in a number of programs and associations.
 
"We have a wide range of resources, we're implementing best practices in our clients we serve," he said. "We don't come in with a canned way of doing things. We absorb ourselves into the culture of the district and we work and we do speak truth to power regarding site-based management." 
 
TMS is currently in 13 school districts, including Mount Greylock Regional School District that has also had difficulty finding a qualified business manager. It offers both long and short-term services. For example, it ran the business office of the Greenfield Public Schools for a year until that district could find a business administrator several years ago; that person has now left, and TMS is back in Greenfield for the interim. 
 
"It's nice to hear that we're coming into a district that the business manager had a solid operation going on," Paquette said. "Because a lot of the time, we're being invited into a district that's in trouble."
 
The company has 10 full-time staff and another 15-20 part-time bullpen ranging from former school business managers to retired superintendents to facilities managers. It offers a broad array of services including accounting, bidding, contract and accounts analysis, audits, and development of policies and controls. 
 
School Committee member Heather Boulger questioned if these services should go through the bidding process but Malkas said it was not required because it was temporary and she expected to come to the committee with candidates within the two months.
 
Ziter had indicated a willingness to continue in some capacity until her post could be filled but was unable to get a waiver of the 60-day no-contract period from the Retirement Board. 
 
"In 60 days, we could potentially contract with her but I'm hoping within 60 days, we would have an agreement to bring forward to the School Committee for consideration," Malkas said.
 
This was also the first committee meeting for new Mayor and School Committee Chairman Thomas Bernard and new members Ian Bergeron and James Holmes. 
 
The mayor briefly welcomed the new committee and those attending the meeting. Officers re-elected were Boulger as vice president, a post she's held for many years, and Karen Bond as secretary. 
 
Bernard made appointments to the negotiations subcommittees of Karen Bond, Nicholas Fahey and Chairwoman Tara Jacobs for professional employees and Bergeron, Boulger and Chairman Holmes for nonprofessional employees. Bergeron, Jacobs and Fahey, as chair, were appointed to the finance & facilities subcommittee and Bond as chair and Holmes to the endowment committee. 

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