Call from town attorney ends Rockport Select Board workshop with SAD 28 school board members

Officials met with school board to discuss SAD budget, salaries
Tue, 10/27/2020 - 8:30pm

    ROCKPORT — An intervention from the town of Rockport’s legal counsel, Monday night, Oct. 26, put an abrupt end to an impromptu workshop between members of the Rockport Select Board and representatives of School Administrative District 28 at the Rockport Opera House.

    The group had started the workshop with members of the SAD 28 School Board Oct. 26, following technical difficulties which prevented their regularly scheduled meeting from being broadcast publicly. The two groups convened to discuss possible billing abnormalities as well as salaries and bonuses paid to employees of the school district, and the discussion was to be broadcast live via Livestream.

    Livestream technology allows viewers to hear and see meetings of the municipal government remotely, and members of the public can comment or pose questions to Rockport’s Town Manager, Bill Post, in real time, which he can then share with the board. The Monday night meeting was intended to be streamed live at 5:30 p.m., but by 6:30 there was still no broadcast. 

    Both Select Board Chairwoman Debra Hall and Post responded via email that “technical difficulties” were preventing the meeting from being broadcast. In lieu of the proceedings being broadcast, the board decided to hold a “workshop” with the assembled school board representatives, Marcia Dietrich, Brianna Gutierrez and Sarah Bradley Prindiville. 

    “The Select Board did begin a workshop tonight for a discussion with the school board reps. However, after being advised by the town’s attorney, the workshop was ended,” said Post via email at 7 p.m.

    The workshop, which lasted 28 minutes before the attorney intervened, was recorded and released on the town’s website earlier today.

    Earlier, the Select Board members had worked with Post to compile a list of 10 questions to put before the SAD 28 representatives, following a lengthy resolution process last summer when administrators revealed that Rockport had been inadvertently overcharged, and Camden undercharged, for more than a decade for its K-8 public education costs.

    Hall began by asking, with regard to a 3-percent raise in salary and a $7,070 bonus paid to school superintendent Maria Libby, whether the payments were contractually obligated, how the aforementioned sums were derived, and what basis the School Board used to “award a bonus knowing the funds are from taxpayer funds?”

    “None of it is contractually required. The three percent raise speaks to format we have of recognizing our administrators; their change in salary every year is based on their performance, and it can range from zero to three percent,” said Dietrich, adding that the bonus and salary increase received by Libby represents the superintendent receiving an excellent performance evaluation. She said that school principals are subject to similar consideration.

    Dietrich said the $7,070 bonus represents 15-plus hours of extra work per week Libby performed over the past two years associated with the construction of the new Camden Rockport Middle School on Knowlton St. in Camden, and the money was paid for out of the construction budget. She said the money for the increase was taken from the owner’s representative budget line from the school budget.

    Other employees to receive bonuses were the facilities director Keith Rose ($7,500) and middle school principal Jamie Stone ($5,000.)

    “For administrators, this has been ongoing practice as part of a ‘360 review,’ so there’s a parent survey involved, [School] board members have been involved, and that’s just been the standard practice there....They did an incredible job of getting this job done and under budget, and we couldn’t have gotten it done without all of the extra work that they did,” said Bradley Prindiville, adding that the bonuses were a “one-time” occurrence.

    Select Board member Mark Kelley asked the school representatives to reiterate that the bonuses weren’t initially budgeted for, and was in fact paid by funds left over from the taxpayer-funded school project.

    The SAD 28 representatives were then asked if input from town officials were ever sought when bonuses or raises were being considered.

    “The answer to that is ‘no.’ We do talk to parents and people who are not on the [school] board and who are only receiving our services, but I don’t think any of us would expect any [select board members] to have any detailed knowledge of the job of our employees,” said Dietrich, who provided the board with a copy of the procedure used by the school district to evaluate the superintendent.

    Seeing as all managerial positions within the Camden-Rockport school district received a raise of between two and seven-percent, Hall asked if a yearly wage study was conducted. Bradley-Prindiville said that a yearly wage study does take place, and that the School Board’s goal is to have all employee salaries within the 75 and 90-percentile statewide. She said that salary raises are typically between zero and three-percent but some positions, such as a the information technology director received a seven-percent increase.

    “[Libby] is in the 86 percentile, overall our teachers are in the 93 percentile and some custodians are in the 100 percentile,” Gutierrez said.

    “It’s not unusual for schools to be largest part of the budget... A concern for [the Select Board] is that it’s a rising part of the budget, it’s a huge part for us, and it’s always 68-percent or north. It’s also something taxpayers don’t understand because they’re not billed directly from the school...They don’t pay attention to how much of that overall tax amount is attributable to the school. Those frustrations are constantly being expressed by this board,” said Hall.

    “Taxpayers perceive they’re not getting anything from their money because they have potholes in their streets or sidewalks that are crumbling. I don’t know if you have any wonderful ideas for us of how to respond to that or how to address those concerns.”

    “You could refer them to the budget committee meetings we have. Our finance committee meets every month and would welcome public input,” said Dietrich.

    Kelley said that if the School Board received payments directly from taxpayers, rather than being paid to Town Clerks along with Rockport and Knox County taxes, they may have a better understanding of the frustration residents feel and often express at the Town Office or to municipal officials.

    “I have been completely impressed with how managed this [fiscal year’s] budget is....About 68-percent of the budget is salaries and benefits and those are contractual,” said Bradley Prindiville.

    At this point in the workshop, Post intervened.

    “The attorney has advised that we should not hold the workshop because the public has not been notified in time for them to be here. According to the executive orders from the Governer’s Office, the public has to be able to hear what’s happening at the meeting,” he said.

    The workshop then ended. A date to continue a discussion between the Rockport Select Board and members of the SAD 28 School Board has not yet been scheduled. Below is the complete list of the questions compiled by the Select Board and Town Manager.

    Questions for SAD 28 board members

    1. It is reported the superintendent received a 3% raise and a $7,070 bonus, which is unusual for a government entity, raising these questions.

    a. Are the above contractually required?
    b. How was the 3% raise derived?
    c. How was the $7,070 bonus derived?
    d. What basis did the school board use to award a bonus knowing the funds are from taxpayer funds?

    Did other employees receive bonuses? If so, what positions and what amounts?

    2. What is the goal setting and review process for the school district/school board/superintendent? How does that correspond with salary increases and bonuses?

    3. Is there any input sought from the towns when raises or bonuses are being considered?

    4. It is reported that all the management positions received anywhere from a 2-7% raise. How were they derived? Was a wage study done to include the superintendent and, if so, how recent?

    5. Given concerns in the spring arising from the pandemic about job losses and the ability of taxpayers to pay for anything ranging from taxes to groceries, did the school board consider requesting the superintendent to review the proposed budget after it was delivered to her for potential additional savings to help the tax payers? If so, what were the reductions in the budget? If not, why not?

    6. Did the school district reduce expenses during March to June during the pandemic? If so, what was the savings and where is that funding now? Was it used to help offset the FY21 budget? If not, why not?

    7. Will you as Rockport’s representatives on the school board instruct the superintendent to bring in a budget reflecting no increase for FY22?

    8. Did MSAD 28/Five Towns CSD receive any federal/state funding due to the pandemic? If so, how much, what has it/will it be spent on? Does this help offset expenses that were in the FY21 budget?

    9. In light of the fact that the assessments to Camden and Rockport for MSAD 28 have not been accurately calculated for years ( as early as early 2000s), what procedures are in place so that when administrations change (superintendents, business managers, etc.) we are assured this, or other errors, don’t happen again?

    10. How can the school board representatives from Rockport and the select board better work together/maintain communications/better engage going forward to assure the best interests of students and taxpayers of Rockport are maintained?