News Feature

Blue Hill
Originally published in The Weekly Packet, May 22, 2014
Union 93 office to expand into shared space

by Rich Hewitt

The Union 93 central office will expand into shared space in the former Curves portion of the district’s existing building.

The union board, at its March 30 meeting, approved a plan to share conference room space with the new tenants of the space that has been vacated by the Curves operation. The Free Clinic, which has outgrown its space at the First Congregational Church of Blue Hill, will lease the other half of the building.

The agreement will give the school district shared use of a 300-square-foot conference room, a function that, according to Superintendent Mark Hurvitt, has been needed by the central office staff. The Union board had earlier nixed a proposal to lease the entire Curves space and the office staff was in the process of developing a reconfigured office to create space for a dedicated conference room. That project would have required the school union to move records currently stored at the central office to another site, either a new, outdoor storage building or the attic of the Blue Hill Consolidated School. Neither of those sites was desirable.

Office staff supported the expansion, and both Sheila Irvine, the union’s director of special education, and Rachel Kohman Ramos, the curriculum coordinator, stressed that it was important for office staff to have a place where they could meet privately and maintain the confidentiality required for some of their interactions.

Ramos noted that, currently, her office serves as the conference room, which means that both her functions and the conference room functions often conflict with and interrupt each other.

“There’s a level of privacy that can’t happen in there,” she said. “There needs to be a space for private conversations where there can be a level of confidentiality.”

Both Hurvitt and board chairman Joe Spinazola of Castine recommended the expansion.

“It fits well with what we’re trying to do,” Spinazola said. “It gives us private office space and a dedicated conference room.”

He added that, if the district did not lease the extra space, they would still have the need to reconfigure the office to provide space for confidential meetings, which would mean moving the stored records. With the added Curves space, there is no need to move any records.

Under the agreement with the Free Clinic, the school union would have the use of the room during the day and the clinic would use the room at night, although Hurvitt said both entities would be accommodating if the need arose.

The proposal will require an expansion of the district’s lease and will cost the union $325 a month in new rent, Hurvitt said. Plus, the district will provide $30 a month to the Free Clinic to cover a portion of the heating bill for the shared space.

The increased costs will total $4,260 annually, which will be divided among the five towns in the union with Blue Hill paying $1,370; Brooksville, $670; Castine, $644; Penobscot, $741; and Surry, $836.

Mission statement rejected

In other action, the board rejected a proposed draft mission statement that had been developed. Jim Goodman of Penobscot prepared the draft.

There was little discussion of the meat of the statement. Ben Wootten of Blue Hill noted that one of prime functions of the union—reporting to state and federal entities—was not mentioned. He said the document was wordy and smacked of “bureaucrat-ese.” Marlene Tallent of Surry agreed it was lengthy and said it read more like a job description than a mission statement.

Although more of the board members present voted to approve the mission statement, under the board’s weighted voting system there was not enough support to adopt the document. There was even less support for sending the statement back to the drawing board for reworking.

Teacher evaluation process

The union is in the process of adopting a new evaluation process for teachers as required by the state. There have been a number of changes to the rules under the legislation that requires the new evaluation policies and procedures, which must include student achievement as a significant part of the evaluation. Hurvitt said the district plans to adopt one program for the entire union and that the individual schools will have a pilot program in place by September and have it fully implemented by the 2015-16 school year.

The committee that has reviewed the potential model has recommended one developed by the national board and planned to review it at a meeting May 12. That model provides for teacher input into the evaluation, and Hurvitt said there will be teachers from the five schools at that session. He also got commitments from the five boards to have a board member present as well.

Hurvitt noted that he plans to dedicate professional development time during the coming year to train principals and teachers together on the new evaluation process.

Other business

Hurvitt reported that the union has received video conferencing equipment under a program with ePlus Technology in Portland. The program provides video conferencing equipment, including monitors and cameras, for all five schools in the union.

Hurvitt said he had applied for the program three years ago, but was surprised when the equipment arrived, because he had not heard much about the program since then. The equipment is already up and running in Blue Hill, and he said the schools would use the new technology in a variety of ways to connect the schools with classrooms, with other schools and with outside courses.

The board accepted the resignation of business manager Carolyn Heller with “sincere thanks for her services,” and agreed to pay her for 10 unused vacation days, a total of $1,923.

The union has advertised the business manager position and Hurvitt said they would interview candidates on May 8. At the meeting, the board revised the job description to require that the new business manager be available to attend individual school board meetings as well as municipal meetings in the member towns, and also removed the requirement that he or she provide technical support to the office. The union now has a technology coordinator who can provide that assistance.