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Concord residents seek investigation of school chief's effectiveness

Posted by Tom Coakley  January 3, 2013 01:14 PM

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By Jennifer Fenn Lefferts
Globe Correspondent

About 100 Concord residents have signed a petition urging the town’s two school committees to investigate Superintendent Diana Rigby for alleged poor planning, fiscal mismanagement and a failure to communicate.

Rigby and other members of the district’s administration have come under fire in the past year over the new high school project and the relocation of the school bus facility.

School officials say they are working hard to develop consensus in the community and deal with complex issues in the school system..

Resident Valerie Tratnyek is leading the charge for an investigation and is pushing for changes in the district’s administration by submitting a citizen’s petition for the town’s April Town Meeting warrant.

The petition is non-binding but would direct the Concord Public School Committee and the Concord-Carlisle Regional School Committee to “make new changes in the central administration of the School Department to ensure a good faith effort towards greater transparency and fiscal responsibility.’’

Tratnyek said she thinks the committees have rubber-stamped administrative decisions.

“I’m hoping to strongly suggest that the school committees look more carefully into the mismanagement style of the superintendent,’’ said Tratnyek, who has a children in middle school and high school. “I’m asking them to do their job and not just accept numbers handed to them by the superintendent.’’

The petition says a change of leadership is needed to “avoid future loss of valued faculty and an increase in tax overrides.’’

School officials said they are disappointed the petition was filed and defended Rigby’s leadership.

“Our School Administration has acknowledged that we face complex challenges and they work hard to resolve those challenges,’’ Maureen Spada, the chairwoman of the Concord Public School Committee, said in a statement. “I have tremendous confidence in their ability and students from Concord, Carlisle, and Boston benefit from their commitment.’’

Last summer, the Massachusetts School Building Authority suspended $28.8 million worth of grant payments to the $92.6 million high school project, saying it had ballooned over budget and out of scope. The project is back on track, payments have been reinstated and it is set to break ground this winter, Rigby said.

In order to make way for the new high school, the district will have to demolish its transportation facility and initially considered outsourcing its busing. The move angered many parents so now the district is searching for a new location for the buses.

Rigby acknowledged that there have been some “challenging issues’’ associated with the high school building project but said she is disappointed that the petition was filed.

“As an administrative team, we remain committed to providing the very best educational opportunities for our students and building consensus with our stakeholders,’’ Rigby said.

Tratnyek said she is also concerned about teacher morale in the district. She said the results of an annual statewide teacher survey administered by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education last spring raises some red flags.

“We have great teachers but they are very unhappy with the way they are being treated,’’ she said.

Fabian Fondriest, the chairman of the Concord-Carlisle Regional School Committee, said school officials are aware of the results from the Teaching, Empowering, Leading and Learning survey and are working with the union to address issues that were raised.

The results, for example, show that teachers have concerns about professional development, their influence on decision making within the school, and about raising issues with leadership that are important to them.

Fondriest said a committee has been set up to analyze the results and the group will present a report in the spring.

“I agree it brought up some shortcomings but we’re in the middle of that process now,’’ he said.

Fondriest also disputed Tratnyek’s claim that the district has been fiscally mismanaged. He said the town hasn’t had an override since 2007. He said the current school budget rose by just 1.8 percent and next year’s is set to rise by 1.2 percent.

Tratnyek’s petition is one of 10 citizen petitions that was filed with the Board of Selectmen’s office by Wednesday’s deadline to appear on the annual Town Meeting warrant.

There is a petition to repeal the bylaw prohibiting the sale of single-serving plastic water bottles that went into effect Jan. 1.

Other petitions would keep the bus transportation facility on the grounds of the high school, create a committee to review the town’s charter, require residents to register their cats, and establish a bylaw prohibiting cats from trespassing. One petition that would set up a recall process for elected officials was submitted five minutes late so it’s unclear if that petition will be allowed on the warrant, town officials said.

Town Meeting is scheduled to start April 22.

Jennifer Fenn Lefferts can be reached at jflefferts@yahoo.com.

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