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Schools Superintendent Jeffrey Young repeated a plea from May for the ability to focus on changes under way in the district.

Schools Superintendent Jeffrey Young.

School Committee members voted 6-1 to notify the superintendent they want to enter into negotiations for a new contract. The one-line motion put forth by Mayor David Maher was the first official move in a potential third term for Superintendent Jeffrey Young. His contract is up July 2015, but the committee had to inform him by next month if they intended to enter into negotiations for another contract or begin a search for his replacement.

Committee member Patty Nolan warned before the roll call that she was voting against the motion “because I think five to six years is a long time, and I look forward to new leadership at the end of this. But if this motion passes, I will enter into good faith negotiations with my colleagues.”

Committee member Richard Harding tried to add some “context for the benefit of the public” before the vote. He clarified that the committee was “up against a contractual requirement” to make a decision whether to begin negotiations. “I want to be clear to the public that at this point it doesn’t mean that we are going to go into a contract, but it is our duty as School Committee members looking forward to having substantive conversations about this possibility of further employment.”

There was no further discussion before the vote. The committee also voted unanimously to retain the Boston law firm of Deutsch Williams to guide the negotiations.

061814i School Committee tensionCommittee member Fred Fantini said after the meeting that there will be an “interim review” of the superintendent at the summer committee meeting on July 29. The new instrument for reviewing the superintendent’s performance passed at the June 3 meeting, which moved the traditional annual review from the summer to December. Fantini explained after the meeting that the reviews often slipped until late fall and it seemed more realistic to plan for it at the end of the calendar year. He stressed that the evaluation of the superintendent and the decision to enter contract negotiations are two separate processes that do not need to coincide, but that he and the superintendent had agreed to add an interim review this summer.

Political dueling

A motion by Fantini that the committee “work with the administration to review and improve family engagement” started tension rolling. Fantini, referring to a Citywide School Advisory Group meeting the previous night focusing on family engagement, said he had discussed with school administration staff the idea the committee should work in partnership with the school department on a family engagement initiative based on work with consultant Karen Mapp. CSAG is a school department-sanctioned group of parent and caregiver representatives from each school. Fantini suggested that the committee join through its school climate subcommittee, whose members are Kathleen Kelly, Richard Harding and Mervan Osborne.

Nolan, who had attended the CSAG meeting, suggested that it may better fit in the purview of the community relations subcommittee, which is made up of Nolan, Fran Cronin and Osborne. Or, she suggested, they could include the committee at large. Osborne said a combination of the two subcommittees or the committee at large made sense.

Asked directly by Nolan if he was open to a broader configuration, Fantini said, “no, it was my intent to leave it with the climate subcommittee … I think it is the best way to go … This subcommittee will engage the committee as a whole.”

At that point, Nolan “calendared” the motion “to work out how to be truly inclusive.” Moving the motion to the calendar stops discussion until the next meeting.

Fantini, clearly upset, retaliated by immediately calendaring Nolan’s motion up next, even before the mayor finished reading the motion’s first line.

Nolan’s motion was that the committee ask the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and the legislature to “refrain from adding new mandates, including new tests and other initiatives, and to revisit the mandates already imposed … with a view to reducing interference with classroom instruction, thus allowing educators to do their work.”

Reached after the meeting, Nolan said it was a shame her motion was frozen, because it was time-sensitive – to become a delegate resolution for a November conference of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees it needed to be passed by June 30. The wording of the motion, she said, was approved by Young and has the support of MASC and the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents. The amount of externally imposed mandates and regulations has increased fourfold in the past two decades; the superintendents’ group, citing information on the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education website, says that between 1996 and 2008, an average of 312 mandates requiring action and reporting from schools were issued every year, and it has since increased to more than 1,000 per year.

Other business

Public comment: Rules were waived to allow comments unrelated to the agenda. A parent from the Fletcher-Maynard parent teacher committee thanked the committee for “helping to bring Spanish back to FMA this year.” Six high school students spoke about the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School’s newspaper, The Register Forum, which they said was first printed more than 120 years ago. Alerted that the journalism classes they feel are critical to the paper’s success were jeopardized, they came to urge the continuation of the classes letting the writers and editors create the paper during the day while staying involved in other extracurriculars. Having been assured by the superintendent before the meeting that the writing and editing journalism classes would be offered next year, they shifted their comments to highlighting the paper, which has doubled in pages every year since the establishment of the journalism courses and recently came in third place in a school newspaper competition at Harvard.

Unfinished and new business: Moved to the next meeting without discussion was a motion to hire a consultant to provide meaningful feedback to K-5 and middle schools, originally proposed in July.

Removed from the calendar was a motion to re-examine the designation of high school “college preparatory” classes, originally proposed in February, after confirming it is replaced by a June 3 motion to schedule a roundtable with the committee, high school principal and staff and get student input about the designation and naming of “college preparatory” and advanced placement courses.

A report on the advanced placement program at the high school, requested originally for fall 2013, is still awaited.

Superintendent’s agenda 

Moved to a second reading were state-mandated revisions of department policies on head lice, social media, HIV/AIDS, administration of prescription medication and management of life-threatening food allergies. These motions were also approved in final form after suspending the rules so they would be finished with the school year’s end.

Approved were state-mandated revisions of the department policies on anti-bullying, the anti-bullying section of the rights and responsibilities handbook and governing criminal history records..

Approved were contract payments from the next year’s budget, with expenditures to begin July 1, of $29,000 for residential program services not available in the district; $1.3 million for custodial and maintenance supplies, including funds for locks, panic bars and security devices; $300,000 for classroom materials; $258,000 for iPads and Macs for kindergarten through second grade; and $165,000 for a professional development contract to Group Dynamics & Strategy for the Office of Special Services staff. Also approved was acceptance of a state Department of Early Education and Care grant for $125,200 for kindergarten training.