HANOVER — The South Shore Vo-Tech School Committee on Wednesday, June 21, heard a report from its Regional Planning Subcommittee on progress made concerning revisions to the district’s regional agreement.
Superintendent-Director Dr. Thomas J. Hickey provided a PowerPoint overview of edits to the agreement recommended by consultants from the Mass. Association of Regional Schools.
“We have a little more work to do,” Hickey said. “It’s our intention to bring to you, as a full committee, a proposed revised regional agreement at our July meeting. I think we’re almost there.”
He said there remain some “small language items” that still need clarification, and that the subcommittee wants the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to weigh in on the document changes.
No vote was sought June 21, but Hickey said, the subcommittee wanted to present a draft that would help the committee feel comfortable in bringing the updated agreement to the eight member communities for town meeting votes soon. The timing was gauged to provide time over the summer for boards of selectmen, town administrators or other stakeholders to give early feedback on some of the proposed changes.
“If the feedback from our communities is neutral to favorable, then I would probably want to bring [this matter] back to you for a vote to move this as a potential warrant article for fall or special town meetings,” he said. “If we get feedback that [it] requires further study, there is no rush. There is no looming deadline hanging over our head.”
The possible admission of the town of Hull to the district is a separate topic, Hickey stressed.
“This presentation is not word-by-word, it’s really just a view at 5,000 feet,” he said, noting he would review the proposed changes to the agreement only.
Among the proposed changes are:
• Moving mention of Whitman and Hanson to the preamble — as the last time the agreement was revised was the mid-1980s when those two towns first joined the district — and removal of specific mention of them in the rest of the first section as no longer relevant to mention of the “original member” towns.
• Updating member community status to reflect the one-member-one-vote process now followed. The subcommittee and consultants spent the most time in sections IV and V to reverse them and revise the budget and assessment procedures. In the previous version assessments were addressed before how budgets are built.
• Dealing with capital on a three-year rolling average and makes clear where a year refers to a July-to-June fiscal year and where it refers to a calendar year.
• Handling debt as a fixed number.
• Referring to a specific statute, MGL Ch. 71 Sec. (d) or (n), on how communities would be asked to incur debt. It is not now referred to in the agreement.
“This law is very challenging,” Hickey said, noting that a debt service could be passed with only two-thirds of member communities voting in favor. “But, any community that votes no doesn’t have to pay their share, and any community that votes no could have their enrollment restricted from any part of the building where an addition or a renovation might take place.”
He said he does not know how the district would address that restriction should the renovation be to something like a septic system or a cafeteria.
“I certainly don’t understand how that promotes district harmony,” he said. Currently debt must be accepted by a unanimous vote of member communities.
Future amendments to the regional agreement not involving debt, however, would only need a vote of two-thirds of member communities. Admission of new member towns would be covered by that change.
For withdrawal from the district, more clarity is included on necessary notice, procedure and post-departure financial obligations.
Chairman Robert Molla said he would like to see enough time built in that process to ensure the freshmen of a departing town would be able to complete their education at SSVT.
“In a nutshell, the bulk of this work is updating to current practices, aligning with current statutes, looking to give this and future committees greater flexibility as permitted under the statute in many cases,” Hickey said.
In other business, the committee overruled Hickey’s self-evaluation rating of “proficient” in all categories and insisted he be rated “exemplary” despite Hickey’s objections.
“I think Tom was very conservative and underestimated his abilities,” Molla said. “He’s been a 24/7, 365-day superintendent.”
“His ability to sit with you and talk with you is unbelievable,” member Kenneth Thayer of Norwell said of Hickey’s willingness to discuss concerns with School Committee representatives. “Thank you for everything you’ve done for us.”
Hickey kept shaking his head “no” during the comments.
“I appreciate the motion, I appreciate your support,” he said. “I would, however, like to go on record and say that I do believe my self-assessment more accurately reflects the rubrics of a superintendent. I will sign the evaluation if you vote this way, but I do so under protest because I think that “proficient” is a more accurate reflection of my performance.”
They didn’t listen to him and voted for the higher ranking.