Wednesday, October 8, 2014

O’Zone Exclusive: Monday Night’s School Committee Meeting

Becky Newell

On Monday night the Southbridge School Committee held a “Committee of the Whole” meeting at 25 Cole Ave.

The only non-school committee member to attend that meeting was former School Committee member Becky Newell.

She has provided us with her notes from that meeting.

On Monday October 6th, I decided to go to the Southbridge School Committee Meeting of the Whole at Cole Ave in Southbridge. This public meeting was scheduled to start at 6 pm and I arrived in the room at approximately 5:55 pm. 

The meeting had not been called to order as there were other participants entering the room when I did. There were six tables moved together to make one long table.  I sat down at the far end of the table away from most of the participants.  It was a perfect spot for me to see and hear the meeting. Immediately after I sat down, the Chair of the Committee, Mrs. McLoughlin looked at me and said, “Ms. Newell, you cannot sit at this table, the public must sit at the tables behind.” She then pointed to tables behind her that were not set up for a public meeting. I asked her, if me not being allowed to sit at the table with them, was a new policy. She replied yes, then quickly changed her mind and said that it was an existing policy. I remained in my seat. A few minutes later, Brent Abrahamson looked at me, pointed his hand toward me and said; “Do you have a problem listening? You were asked to move.” I replied, “No” and remained in my seat.

Shortly after that, Mrs. McLoughlin started the meeting at approximately 6:05 pm by saying; “Let’s get started.” No call to order or roll call of members present.

1st agenda item - Southbridge middle high school class size. Additional teachers needed.

Ms. Gardner speaks: Hire gym teacher, replace history teacher. Gym classes currently 41 to 42 kids. Pull from professional development budget.

Mrs. Quinney asks if classes would have to be split.

Ms. Gardner - yes same amount of kids but 2 teachers.

Walking, yoga, how to coach team sports are some of the athletic courses offered

Ms. Gardner says gym is small

Dr. Page asked what is the typical size of gym class supposed to be - Answer, 25

Dr. Page asked what will be taken from professional development.

Ms. Gardner gave "song and dance"...said they are struggling with understanding the budget.

Mr. Osborne piped in and said there is some breathing room for this change out of the professional and text book budgets.

Dr. Page concerned with not seeing actual numbers. He expressed that we hire a position typically for retention. Mrs. Quinney piped up saying that we don't have to hire for three years. Dr. Page replied that we should hire in good faith that it should be more than one year.

Ms. Gardner said that the position could be posted for one year.

Dr. Page still concerned that money was being taken from text books and professional development.

Dr. Page asked how much money is to be taken. Ms. Gardner said, 42-50 thousand

Mrs. Donovan asked if it could be split up with PE teacher and substitute teacher.

Ms. Gardner is wishy-washy in saying well we could try something part time...although it would not help the size of classes.

Mrs. McLoughlin asked if there are any positions underutilized at the mid/high school.

Ms. Gardner said that middle school is understaffed but; 2 to 1 ratio of positions at high school that are not teacher positions which is a concern

Dr. Page asked for a more detailed proposal for the next meeting and vote on it at next Tuesday's meeting.
No vote taken to move the agenda item...

Second agenda item was budget presentation by Mr. Osborne.

Sick time buyback program is going to be a bigger hit this year.

Ms. Gardner said that she is not a budget person. She then said, when Buzz got here the budget was a mess.

Mr. Osborne stated that when we own the budget, he will have a better handle on it

Dr. Page requested that the budget presentation be changed to have columns added where it shows positives and negatives.

Additional budget information included: Town will pick up copier lease agreements and servers at elementary schools. School will be giving the town money back for this change. Ms. Gardner looking into copy centers.

Mr. Osborne said he believed that increases based on negotiation are included in encumbrances.

Dr. Page expressed concern about additional hires for example, a new 60 thousand salary would wipe out a lot of 2% increases.

Dr. Page wants to bring up compensation issues. Mrs. McLoughlin said that the town told them that this compensation was set up by the town in the1960's and that the school department has to go with the 50% compensation that the town employees receive.

School lunch program budget is allowed to hold up to 3 months surplus and right now we are under but within a safety net.

Next topic is MCAS testing and protocol

Ms. Gardner said this falls on the high school principal. What went wrong last year falls under previous...the current principal is well aware of what is required of her.  Ms. Gardner said that it does not fall on the superintendent but on the high school principal. There is a form that Ms. Gardner said she has never seen in her 17 years that the principals are going to sign this year.  It is a form that the Superintendent is to have each principal sign acknowledging proper MCAS protocol. Also there is a booklet with all the ways to do these tests.

Mr. Abrahamson went on at length wanting answers as to why things went wrong. An investigation should be completed. He presented points that the superintendent has roles in MCAS and he presented bullet points of such.

Who was listed last year as the coordinator? Mrs. Earls is listed this year.

Ms. Gardner said, Allen no longer with us, test person not with us so she doesn’t know the answer to that.

Ms. Gardner also expressed that she, “doesn't want to go on a witch hunt about last year”.

Dr. Page said that the people last year were not new people; they were seasoned people who should know better

Ms. Gardner believes that what was done last year was historically done in the district.

Some issues were anomalies in scheduling due to some students coming into the district and some leaving.

Dr. Page asked, “Why wouldn't the curriculum director be a part of the process?”

Ms. Gardner kept saying that is the high school teachers’ responsibility; the only time director of curriculum gets involved is when results come in for the director to seek teaching opportunities.

Mrs. McLoughlin asked, “What are the numbers now?”

Ms. Gardner side stepped and said, “I think there are no ELA and little of others.

Ms. Gardner also said that MCAS will be reviewed on a quarterly basis now.

Mrs. McLoughlin wants to know why DESE wasn't more involved in the anomalies.

“Can they do more hand holding?”

Ms. Gardner defended her staff and that it would be crushing if DESE comes in. “Let us watch it and do this. If it is done wrong it should lead to dismissal.”

Mr. Osborne said that a DESE auditor has been in and gave them a clean bill.

Mrs. Quinney asked if there were students last year who graduated without an EPP?

Ms. Gardner said that could possibly be the case.

Mrs. Congdon got a letter from a parent who received a letter from DESE in 2013 about not getting an EPP. She said,”If that had been brought up to the school committee then, maybe something else could have been done?”

Due to a meeting scheduled for 7:30pm and it was now 7:40 pm, Mrs. McLoughlin asked for a roll call to adjourn the meeting.

The subject of MCAS issues was only discussed for approximately 20 minutes.

No other citizens attended this meeting.


  1. "Ms. Gardner said that she is not a budget person." WOW!!!

  2. Thank you Becky for going to the meeting - and thank you for not allowing yourself to be bullied into 'moving your seat' - can they be any more disrespectful ?!?! - they say they want community involvement, citizens & parents to come to the meetings - what a joke!!! and do we not all remember the Brent rants (before he was on SC) when he was 'disrespected' ?!?!?!

    It would be great if a group of hardy souls like yourself could band together and show up at the meetings and challenge these people - of course, you would most likely not be allowed to speak, but perhaps your mere presence might give them pause. Unfortunately, many of the people - parents, teachers, administrators (people who have the knowledge & facts about what went on) are unable to do this due to fear of retribution & ongoing lawsuits - this applies not only directly but indirectly as in spouses, close friends etc.

    Ms Gardner says she's not a budget person - PLEASE - then she should not be a Superintendant - or even a Principal - because budget and numbers are what it's all about - especially in those positions !!! Again - glaring evidence that the wrong people have been put into positions of authority & power; 'geez, I can't be out of $$$, I still have checks in my checkbook'..and frankly, I don't find Mr Osborne too swift either....Dr Page can demand to see the numbers till he's blue in the face, but what recourse is there if they are not produced - and how can you even trust the numbers IF you get them?

    I also think the items, comments, discussion w/regards to pulling $$$ from different areas of the budget - and Ms Gardner's pathetic explanation of what the 'Director of Curriculum & Learning' does, clearly indicates that the budget is TOP HEAVY - way too many administrators that have way too much time on their hands....

    Where is the 'fact-checking' before you make statements at a public meeting - on tape - where it is difficult to take it back????

    I still say - all roads lead back to BUZZ....he was going to fix all these things - work his magic - and I will admit, I fell for his charm in the beginning and had high hopes that things would get straightened out - WHOA...what has he done for the past 18 months!!

    Sad, sad, sad - and the kids lose out the most.


  3. Understaffed school, over staffed administration? "Not a budget person"? Only 20 minute discussion of MCAS debacle??? Good lord!

    Thank you for your notes Becky Newell, and kudos for refusing to move your seat.


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