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Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, November 10, 2011 and The Weekly Packet, November 10, 2011
Webster to retire; Deer Isle-Stonington considers leaving Union 76

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Union 76 Superintendent Bob Webster

Union 76 Superintendent Bob Webster

Penobscot Bay Press file photo

by Jessica Brophy

At a November 2 Union 76 meeting, superintendent Bob Webster announced his intention to retire at the end of his current contract, after the 2012-13 school year. Webster has served as superintendent of Union 76 since 1994.

Board members of the Deer Isle-Stonington Consolidated School District shared several administrative cost-saving measures under consideration by the CSD. These potential changes, which had not been formally discussed with the two other Union 76 schools, Brooklin and Sedgwick, include moving the central office from its current rented location in Sargentville into one of the Island schools, streamlining the superintendent’s role by combining school boards and adopting a union-wide curriculum, and the more radical step of seceding from the school union altogether.

Over the last few budget cycles, CSD has paid more than 60 percent of the central office budget. Brooklin and Sedgwick roughly split the rest of the cost, at about 20 percent each, with Sedgwick paying a percent point or two more than Brooklin.

The discussion began with the draft of the 2012-13 central office budget, which was drafted under the assumption the superintendent’s office is moved into one of the Island schools. Webster estimated the savings per year would be around $18,000.

Brooklin school board member Mary Cummins asked why the budget had been drafted with that change included. “I thought we would discuss that move, we haven’t made that decision,” said Cummins. Cummins expressed her concern that moving the central office down to the Island could save the union money, but cost the individual boards more.

“Not all of us have toll-free calls to the Island,” said Cummins. “Having a more central location benefits the mainland schools.”

Central office bookkeeper Julie Mattes expressed some of the concerns she and other central office staff have about moving into either the high school or the elementary school in Deer Isle. “There’s the security issue of having angry parents, terminated employees returning to the school,” said Mattes. Other issues include concerns about general disruptions like fire drills, bells and announcements, as well as the need for a separate phone and Internet system.

Cummins asked what kind of lease agreement the CSD would be willing to sign, to guarantee the office wouldn’t have to relocate again in a short period of time.

At this, Vaughn mentioned the need to open up a broader discussion about the union, and the CSD’s role in it.

“We have to ask [if the CSD] wants to keep the school union the way it’s configured,” said Vaughn. “For the Deer Isle-Stonington schools, if we were not part of the union we could save $120,000 to $150,000 to have the principal be the same person as the superintendent.” Vaughn characterized the CSD’s portion of the central office budget as “subsidizing” the other schools in the union.

Cummins recalled the recent consolidation discussions over the past few years. “The small towns in between Blue Hill and Deer Isle were caught between a rock and a hard place,” she said. “What would the state say about Deer Isle-Stonington leaving the union? You would be leaving Sedgwick and Brooklin high and dry.”

CSD board member Linda Nelson said the CSD needed to consider all cost-cutting avenues. “I think there are several options that are more cost effective,” said Nelson. “The percentage of administrative costs need to go down, we need to put more money in direct services. I think we need to have this conversation now, especially with Bob [Webster] retiring.”

Sedgwick school board member Ashley Pesek said she thought it would be a bad idea to make any decision about moving the central office in the light of the talk of the CSD leaving the union.

CSD board member Skip Greenlaw suggested a committee of board members to study the different choices. That committee will be formed in December.

Greenlaw then brought up the issue of hiring a curriculum director. Given the current discussions about curtailing administrative costs, Greenlaw admitted it “seems almost ridiculous to consider this” but he emphasized that successful schools tend to have unified K-12 curricula headed by curriculum directors.

“If we could find a way to afford it, I think we should have a similar curriculum across the three schools,” said Pesek. “I think it would be beneficial for our children. If we could afford it, it makes a lot of sense.” The question of whether that could be made part of the superintendent’s job was raised.

“I see two sides,” said Vaughn. “There’s a declining enrollment union-wide. One of the things I have observed is how many pressures there are on Bob [Webster’s] time. Bob has to deal with three boards, individual board members, crises that come up, there’s not enough hours in the day for him to [work on a curriculum]. We should consider having one school board across the union.”

Webster said he thought it was premature to discuss having a union-wide curriculum or union-wide contracts. “You need to have a conversation about the future of the union first,” he said.

The next Union 76 meeting will be held on Wednesday, December 7, at Brooklin Elementary School.