School Leader Wants Change

Chairman David Rossi Proposes Reopening Regional Agreement to Create Single Committee; Merits Debated, Not Voted

By RACHEL KOVAC

The chairman of the all-Island school committee this week called for reopening the regional school agreement, which is nearly four decades old, with an eye toward creating one school committee to create more accountability and efficiency in the disparate Vineyard school system.

At Wednesday's all-Island school committee meeting, David Rossi, a school committee member from Edgartown who took over as chairman of the board at the start of the fiscal year July 1, asked the members if they would be willing to look at the regional agreement that was created in 1956 and think about combining the high school committee and the all-Island school committee into one group.

"Why do we need to have two boards to discuss regional issues?" Mr. Rossi said. "I don't have to go on about how confusing it is. If you sat in the room for the last 45 minutes your head's spinning."

Mr. Rossi said he does not want to regionalize the schools, but simply combine the two committees into one.

Mr. Rossi's suggestion comes just nine days after James H. Weiss took over as the new superintendent of Vineyard schools. Mr. Weiss takes the helm of a structurally complicated and rapidly changing school system, where among other things, three principals and one superintendent resigned this year, and the up-Island regional school district is under scrutiny for possible disbanding. Throughout the Vineyard schools enrollment is flat or declining while costs are on the rise.

Mr. Rossi thinks combining the two committees would help resolve some of the confusion. He said a single committee could come together to discuss school issues and educational concerns at one sitting, instead of the current system, where meetings are held in a variety of places and at a variety of times. Currently the Island has six different school committees, including the regional high school committee, the up-Island regional committee and three down-Island elementary school committees. Mr. Rossi said the idea is to create government and administrative efficiency, from the central office to the office of the superintendent.

Currently Edgartown, Oak Bluffs and Tisbury each have a school committee. Representatives from Chilmark, Aquinnah and West Tisbury are members of the up-Island committee, which oversees the Chilmark and West Tisbury Schools. Representatives from each of these committees also sit on the nine-member regional high school district committee.

The 14-member all-Island school committee, formerly called the union school committee, deals mainly with hiring the superintendent and negotiating teacher contracts.

"The fact is that all our issues affect all the towns on the Island," said Robert Tankard, a school committee member from Tisbury who was elected vice-chairman of the all-Island school board Wednesday night. "The high school affects the whole Island. Every elementary school situation affects the Island. If you can get all the participants in one room and go over all the issues and get solutions that's best. We are saving time, definitely money and we are getting a lot of territory covered," he said.

Mr. Rossi said one regional committee would make good common sense for a school system that has nearly 3,000 students and a combined budget of $30 million.

Opinions at the meeting were varied.

"Education has changed a lot since 1954," said Leslie Baynes, a school committee member from Edgartown. Mr. Baynes said with a single school committee, board members could spend more time on regional issues such as curriculum, centralized purchasing and trends in education.

Right now there is often overlap between the all-Island school committee and the high school district committee. For example at the high school committee meeting on June 28 the issue of a three per cent raise for administrators surfaced, but no one was sure how the process worked to approve such raises. The issue came up again at the all-Island school committee Wednesday, where everyone at the table had also been at the high school meeting.

Some school board members had reservations about Mr. Rossi's idea, in part because it would mean that the regional high school committee would first need to dissolve itself. Priscilla L. Sylvia, a school committee member from Oak Bluffs, said she did not want to make any moves until she had talked to her town leaders and gotten feedback from her constituents.

"I don't think we should go forward. This is a big decision, and I can't make any decision without talking to the leadership of my town," she said.

Margaret T. Harris, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said the committee should tread lightly because people might misunderstand and think the committee wants to regionalize the schools. Ms. Harris also reminded the board that any changes in the school system will require approval from the state Department of Education.

"You want to look at the broader framework," she said. "It's a long process, but that doesn't mean you still don't look at it."

Mr. Weiss, who remained mostly quiet during the discussion, encouraged committee members to at least take a look at the regional agreement and consider how education in the country and on the Island has changed. He said his priorities include reorganizing the superintendent's office, creating a strategic plan, professional development and examining the requirements set forth by the No Child Left Behind legislation.

The meeting ended with committee members at least in agreement to keep talking about the idea.

"I think right now we're in the dark ages the way we are doing things," Mr. Tankard said. "We need to look at this."