Gifts policy review
The W-H School Committee will be considering an update in its policy governing the acceptance of gifts — largely to ensure that technology gifts to the district are compatible with current computer systems.
The committee also received an update on Indian Head School roof repairs and the start of the 2015-16 school year during its Wednesday, Sept. 9 meeting.
Concern over the gift policy was spurred by a Duval teacher’s donorschoose.org fund drive through which she raised money for 10 Chromebooks, which were accepted as property of the district by the committee.
“Within the last few years there are a number of websites available on the Internet that allow independent people to apply for grants for schools for Chromebooks for teaching materials,” said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Ruth Gilbert-Whitner. “They can do this because they are good people and they know we have a tight budget and they’re trying to help.”
But she expressed concern that items acquired become assets of the district, which may not be compatible with the existing IT network. Gilbert-Whitner was seeking direction from the committee on how to handle that.
The Policy Subcommittee is being reconvened to review the issue, with a report due back to the full committee by the Wednesday, Oct. 14 meeting. Committee member Robert Trotta urged that principals and curriculum coordinators be represented in that review. Gilbert-Whitner agreed, noting IT director Chad Peters would also be involved.
“The technology department needs to be able to order things that are in line with what we already have,” she said, noting that many of the websites are advertising.
Committee member Dan Cullity agreed that Chromebooks, Kindles and iPads are “all different flavors” and need to be supported differently.
“You’d hate to get computers and have them sitting in an office for two years because they can’t be supported,” said committee member Robert O’Brien Jr. “I’m all for getting [the Duval gift] as long as we can support them, but we need to put something in place.”
Committee Chairman Bob Hayes said he also saw a problem with online solicitations.
“It could be through other organizations that weren’t quite done properly, though not on purpose,” he said.
Committee member Fred Small said, via remote participation, that there should be some consistency in which fundraising operations are used and why some schools participate and others do not.
“Maybe some of these concern are more narrowly confined to technology,” member Kevin Lynam cautioned. “What we have to know is how often it happens that gifts actually cause a problem.”
Gilbert-Whitner declined to characterize it as causing a problem.
“The bottom line is you need to know what you have,” she said. “It’s all been done in good faith.”
Hanson Selectmen Bruce Young, James McGahan, Kenny Mitchell and Bill Scott attended the School Committee meeting as a posted session of their board to review progress on the Indian Head roof. That project is 95- to 97-percent complete said Hayes, who is also a member, with Young of the Hanson Roof Repair Building Committee.
The smoke hatch, also called the “dog house” or the “penthouse,” is one of the final aspects of the project to be completed. It had to be specially fabricated and was the subject of one of the repair project’s change orders. The building’s lintels and associated masonry work has been completed.
Facilities Director Ernest Sandland shared an anecdote concerning the smoke hatch’s many names.
“I think we have a lot of names for it,” Sandland said. “[Principal] Elaine White was telling me about a third-grader on the second floor who wanted to know when the club house was going to be finished.”
Young added that for years no one knew what the smoke hatch was for because it was nailed shut, and it was the first such roof feature the contractor had encountered. The hatch was designed to vent the auditorium in case of fire.
“It’s been a project,” Hayes said. “It’s going on and it’s going good and we’re getting the Indian Head School back in shape.”
Young noted the change orders that cropped up in the repair process were the subject of a great deal of speculation on social media, but stressed all changes were backed up with the necessary paperwork.
“The contract ran under the amount of money that the town had allocated for the entire project,” Young said. Engineering and bid process costs ran about $112,000 to $115,000 and the actual bid came in at $635,000. That left between $85,000 and $100,000 for contingencies such as change orders.
“You have people commenting on things which they have no inkling of what they are talking about, and they make these comments and people chime in so this thing feeds off itself,” Young said. “This is different than private work.”
Municipal projects are governed by the bid documents and required certifications, as well as prevailing wage laws, he noted.
“The town is protected against all those things people were worried about on social media,” he said. “Once you are a public official you have a target on your back, so it’s hard to go in and respond to these things even though you see things that are totally off the wall. That’s one of the hazards of being a town official.”
First day review
In other business, Gilbert-Whitner reported that the first day of school went smoothly, noting the start date was the same as in 2014, but that Labor Day was later this year.
“Back to school is always interesting,” she said. “You never know what’s going to happen. This year it was definitely unprecedented heat.”
Food Services Director Maureen McKenzie made bottled water available, especially in the elementary schools where air-conditioning is limited, to ensure students were properly hydrated. Sandland worked with the towns to provide cooling assets for some of the schools, according to Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources/Safety and Security Patrick Dillon. High School history teacher Kevin Kavka helped identify some areas that needed attention, Dillon said.
“Pretty soon we’ll be talking to you about ‘It’s too cold out,” Gilbert-Whitman said.