(See past issues of the Superintendent's Corner, below.)
June 14, 2013
Dr. Hopson: Starting with this column, a school committee member and I will share a handful of “Superintendent’s Corners” throughout the year in support of the committee’s continued goal of improving communications between the school district and its constituents. The guest columnist this week is Ruth Kennedy, a school committee member from Russell. This week we’ll be looking at mandates that the school administration and school committee must operate under in providing education to our youth. As many people know, there are both funded and unfunded mandates, some established at the federal level and others at the state level.
As an indication of the extent of the mandates, and their corresponding reporting requirements, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) puts out a checklist of items to be completed by the superintendent. This year that list has been made slightly more manageable by being reduced to roughly 100 items that have due dates from early July to late June, with a handful of items requiring ongoing reporting throughout the year.
Of course, some of these items require a collection and analysis of multiple data points, which takes much time and effort while others are somewhat simpler to complete. I’ll take a moment to look at just one item enacted by law, supported by regulations, and requiring significant data collection in order to report the outcomes to the state. I’ll point out that the intent of the law was excellent and there certainly appeared to be a need to implement some sort of assistance; the problem has been the essential cost of implementing this law without any additional financial or other support from the state. I’m referring to the so called ‘Bullying Law’ that initially required several staff members to attend trainings in order to write the district protocol, many group meetings with staff, students, and community members to develop and review the protocol, and then turn this into the state for approval. Once approved, this protocol requires a significant investment of investigative time, many meetings, extensive documentation and, if bullying is found, an intensive set of plans to implement to insure student/staff safety. Let me emphasize that the law and related plans have certainly given us a better handle on bullying but that there was no additional funding provided for the commitment of time and labor made by the district. At a minimum of 2 to 3 hours for the simplest investigation to determine that bullying didn’t occur, and several times that amount of labor if bullying is found, it doesn’t take long to realize that this isa lmost like adding another administrator in the district – yet there are no funds to do so. This means that these additional responsibilities take away from the time that building administrators have traditionally used to improve student opportunities.
Dr. David B. Hopson, Superintendent
Ruth Kennedy: Thank you Dr. Hopson for sharing your Superintendent’s Corner with me. I believe this will be the beginning of a successful coming together of the Superintendent and the School Committee.
The topic of mandates is very important. By definition, a mandate is an authoritative order, an official command, or instruction from an authority. The term mandate also conjures up words like ‘expensive’, ‘unfunded’, ‘aggravating’ and ‘confusing’.I t brings up thoughts like ‘what were they thinking?’, ‘government, take them back’, ‘don’t set these without looking at results in the future’, ‘how many can we get rid of?’ and ‘who has time to deal with them?’ Not to mention funding the mandates; even though the money comes out of the pocket of the taxpayer, how can we as school committee members—and our small towns—afford them?
They are a major dilemma for the school committee and town budgets. However, if you look under the Mass General Laws on unfunded mandates (Chapter 29, State Finance, Section 27 C) you can find hope for schools and towns. Please help by contacting our state and Federal officials and asking them to stop and remove the mandates. Let us concentrate on taking care of our children without constantly having big brother looking over our shoulders. Let us—at the local level, where we know our children best—send students to school, learning how to add, read, and learn about our history and the other important things they need to be successful adults.
Feedback on both unfunded mandates and presenting a jointly written column would be appreciated.
Ruth Kennedy, School Committee Member from Russell