By Becky Harvey
OXFORD—Oxford School Committee Chairman, Daniel Coonan opened Monday night’s meeting by discussing the responsibilities of the school committee and superintendent. He mentioned that parents may complain to the school committee about teachers, but it is the superintendent, and he alone, who employs the teachers, whereas the superintendent is employed by the school committee.
Neil Trahan, the technology coordinator for the district, started the meeting agenda by updating the committee on the fact that there is an excess of technology which needs to be retired from service. On the list are televisions, computers, and monitors. Many of the items date back to the year when the high school opened in 2002. Others were older equipment that previously resided in the middle school. Printers and laptops also appeared on the list. None of them are “worth” fixing or repairing.
The school will remove all the usable parts (including hard drives) and the units are all given to a local recycling company. Trahan noted that the school doesn’t get paid for the items, but neither are they required to pay any disposal fees. He also noted that computers are purchased with a five-year life planned. All of the items which are slated for retirement have been out of service for some time now. Susan Rivelli, committee member, worried that the retirement might leave teachers or students lacking. Trahan reassured her that these items would not be missed.
Committee member Brenda Ennis raised the question of what it would cost to bring technology to each student in the district. Trahan spoke to this by stating that he has looked into it and he is interested in forming a committee to gather information regarding one-to-one technology for all Oxford students. As it stands, he has been able to provide iPad carts for students in both the middle and high schools. The benefit of one-to-one initiatives includes the ability to purchase eBooks at a better price than a traditional text book.
Coonan brought the discussion back to the disposal issue. He inquired as to why the school only scheduled computers to be used for five years. He worried that families used computers that were over five years old without issues. Trahan retorted that the high volume, multi-user use of these machines, along with upgraded programs, and the like, made it necessary for newer technology. Upon hearing these explanations, the board approved the retirement of the items presented by Trahan.
The next item, brought by Richard Mathieu, the School Business Manager, was to have the board approve Lincoln Investments as an additional 403B vendor for school employees. This would not be a replacement of the currently available plans, but only an addition. Rivelli asked what the cost would be to the town, and Mathieu replied there would be no cost at all. With that, the motion passed unanimously.
RE/MAX Acclaim donated twenty backpacks full of school supplies. They were dispersed to the neediest of students within the district. Allen Himmelberger, superintendent, gave his thanks to the RE/MAX office.
Student representative Zachary Tremblay welcomed all of the seven new teachers. He also said that school had started off on a great foot. He noted that there seems to be a new and improved “feeling” in the halls of the high school. He asked the advice of the committee regarding fund raising, including the possibility of selling prime parking spots at the high school to raise money for the student council. Coonan suggested the student council meet with the principal and student council advisor.
Michael’s Law, named for Mike Ellsessar, has gone into effect within the state. The law, which requires all schools to have defibrillators available by September 4th of this year, was named for the Oxford football player who died of heart failure while playing. Himmelberger was proud to announce that all Oxford schools are now equipped with defibrillators. There is a plan being finished by Friday that will lay out all of the guidelines for their use. Ennis noted that former school committee Chairperson Peterson and his family donated two of the units.
In addition to having these devices available, the school system offers CPR and First Aid training to all teachers within the district during professional development. All coaches are required to have certification in both trainings prior to taking on the role of coach.
Himmelberger gave thanks to the two long-time bus drivers of the “big yellows” who retired this year, Beverly Marrier and Shirley DeLuca. He joked that between the two of them, their years of service were more years than he is old.
The middle school is slated to have the entire HVAC system replaced next summer, along with all exterior windows and doors. The job will go out to bid soon, with the hopes that the entire project can be finished within the eleven weeks of the summer break. By the time the roof is replaced and all these repairs are made to the HVAC, the building should be, according to Himmelberger, very eco-friendly and energy efficient.
State audit of ARRA grant
Himmelberger also addressed the recent state audit of the Oxford school system with reference to the federal grant that Oxford had received from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and awarded by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. The findings stated that the town had not sufficiently documented how funds were distributed. The notification from the state auditor said that Oxford had a lack of controls. The superintendent claimed that, indeed, Oxford does have internal, existing controls, but they are not specific to the grants. This caused the minor discrepancy that was cited. The town’s finance director will be making sure that there will be, in the future, specific guidelines to disperse any and all funds from grant money. Of major note is the fact that the amount of money the auditors showed concern over was extremely small in terms of the overall grant. The full amount was for $459,249.00. The amount of money at issue was roughly $2700.00 and it was not misappropriated, but rather was sitting in a town account, untouched because the professional development for which it was intended did not get used.
Additionally noted was that the town’s auditing firm did not agree that Oxford needed to implement a risk assessment due to the fact that it was the DESE, which received the funds, not the town itself. Despite this initial belief, the town will provide a risk assessment now that they are aware of the need to do so Himmelberger stated that an audit is not necessarily a bad thing. It provides the opportunity to correct mistakes and make sure that funds are dispersed in a most efficient way. One of the audit findings was that Oxford had federal monies sitting dormant. This is not allowed. The town had not requested the particular amount until after a particular date, so it was not prepared to spend it at the time it was dispersed. The town is in the process of rectifying the situation. “We will comply,” was the basic response by Himmelberger. “We are very comfortable with where we stand. I am very proud of the way in which we handle the town’s finances.”
Coonan voiced his confusion over the “three-day window in which to return funds.” He stated that when towns return unused money, even if it is later needed, it usually is not returned back again to the schools.
Himmelberger believes that receiving “Race to the Top” money was worth the effort, including the efforts that are now necessary, following the audit. The funding helped to defray many costs that might have further eroded the education in the town as well as to help the town keep many municipal services like fire and police. Overall, for Oxford, and many other districts, the monies, though highly scrutinized, were essential in keeping services at an acceptable level within the towns.
Ennis took issue with the auditors, stating that the ways in which the auditors conducted themselves was deserving of an investigation by Martha Coakley. Donna Foley, according to Ennis, stated that the audit was a “clean” audit. The only real issue was over only a fraction of the monies dispersed, only just over $2000. Himmelberger stated that Oxford goes out of its way to comply with any and all requirements. He also commented that the findings were quite minor in terms of infractions. Had they been “major,” the town would’ve heard a lot sooner. Coonan is “very well satisfied” with the response to the audit.
Mathieu spoke in reference to classifying roads with regards to student pedestrian travel and safety issues regarding the bus routes. He also thanked the many town custodians who had prepared the schools so well for the start of the new year. Alice Walker remarked about the excitement she feels over the fact that the town is in a fairly decent place, especially with regards to the finances. She also remarked about the beautiful state in which the schools can now be found. Rivelli remarked that by Tuesday night, the search committee for a special education director ought to have some very strong candidates. She also voiced concerns about the lack of signage for the Superintendent’s office. Ennis requested to do some kind of recognition for Judy Hodgerney, who has taught in the school system for 43 years. She isn’t retiring, but she has been a “moving force” in our community, according to Walker. Ennis also requested some form of recognition for the retiring bus drivers. Additionally, she addressed the issue of having school committee members and employees follow all rules, most especially the no-smoking rules.
- Wednesday, 29 August 2012
- Posted in Categories: : News