Marion Town Administrator Jay McGrail appeared before the Old Rochester Regional School Committee on December 11 with a prepared written statement to address a comment he made during a November 20 Marion Finance Committee meeting, when he called School Superintendent Doug White “a lame-duck superintendent that’s got six months left until he’s gone.”
White is scheduled to retire at the end of this school year, and the Tri-Town school committees have already begun the search for a new superintendent.
During that discussion with the Finance Committee about ORR finances and the regional school agreement, McGrail made the comment, which The Wanderer included in its November 28 edition in the article titled “FinCom Chair Hints at ‘Mexit’ from ORR District.”
On December 11, McGrail told the school committee: “I appreciate the opportunity to clarify the comments made at the recent Marion Finance Committee meeting that was reported in the press (The Wanderer). These comments do not reflect the intentions of the Town of Marion and is not even a remote consideration for us.”
McGrail was referring to Finance Committee Chairman Peter Winters’ idea of Marion withdrawing from the ORR school district.
McGrail said the brief discussion about Marion exiting the ORR school district was part of a conversation about the ORR regional school agreement, which led to what McGrail said was a “productive conversation” with the Finance Committee on November 20.
“It was also during that discussion that I made comments regarding the status of the superintendent,” McGrail said, claiming: “That comment was made in the context of the discussion around the district agreement reform.” What he meant, McGrail continued, was that “…it would be difficult to accomplish a district agreement reform and present it to the Annual Town Meeting in the spring for approval, given the plan of the current superintendent to retire in the next six months. I still believe that, and I also believe that it is important for the new superintendent to play an active role in revising the district agreement…”
McGrail then described his vision for the next superintendent and said that on Monday he and Marion Selectman John Waterman toured ORR, saying, “The current administration and the school committee are doing a terrific job with the culture it is building and the program of studies available to our students.
“In my short tenure as Marion town administrator, I’ve interacted with Doug a number of times on a number of occasions; each time he could not have been more… responsive and helpful to me,” McGrail continued.
McGrail said he thinks he and White have a good working relationship, “And I really hope that continues,” especially as the fiscal year 2021 season is just starting, he said.
Waterman also addressed the school committee, saying his main concern was any potential appearance that the Town of Marion is “anti-education,” he said.
“That couldn’t be further from the truth,” said Waterman.
The problem lies in the town’s slow growth and the state mandates facing the town, such as the $7 million wastewater treatment plant upgrades. Waterman said Marion spends $13 million – 60 percent of its annual operating budget – on education, and Proposition 2 ½ remains a challenge for the town as education budgets trend toward a 3-percent increase annually.
Special education, Waterman said, “is a huge burden, and it’s a growing burden…”
School Committee member Jim Muse corrected Waterman, saying, “It’s not a burden; it’s a cost, not a burden.”
Committee member Heather Burke thanked McGrail and Waterman for their visit and said she appreciated McGrail’s apology. She suggested that the lack of a designated communications person at the school affects the school’s ability to effectively communicate with the towns, which is why, McGrail stated, he appeared before the committee that night.
“The easier thing to do after that newspaper article would be to stay at town hall and keep my head in the sand,” said McGrail. “When I read those comments,” said McGrail, “I had to reach out to Doug immediately, because I mean what I said: since my first day on the job, Doug has been nothing but helpful to work with and I think he understands that I really want to help this process and I think I ruined it all with one article; but all we can do is move forward.”
In response, White said that he appreciated McGrail taking time to appear to apologize in person, and suggested that the regional school district agreement could potentially be ready for a vote at the Annual Town Meeting in the spring.
“Waiting another year… is only stopping the ability for the work that needs to get done with the towns and the school district to get to a place where everybody feels comfortable where the funding comes from and what needs to get done,” White said, “and I’ve spent 10 years here and I think I have a lot of background and historical knowledge that can help with that process… and that can potentially get us to a better place.”
At the end of the meeting, Smith thanked McGrail for “helping to build that bridge to work with us and I think this is… going to be a great start for next year…”
“There’s no question in my mind that we have and had a dedicated superintendent who [goes] above and beyond all the time,” said Muse.
In other matters, the School Committee voted to reinstate the two-year foreign language graduation requirement that it relinquished over a decade ago. High School Principal Mike Devoll said ORR is one of the few schools in the region – and the only school on the Southcoast –that does not enforce the two-year foreign language requirement.
In response to committee member questions doubting the logic for making foreign language a requirement, Devoll stated, “I think within our Strategic Plan we want global citizens, and I think it’s important to send the message that it is important.”
ORR phased out its French language program in 2015 but added American Sign Language to its roster via an outside college course.
School Committee member Heather Burke said she preferred to allow for more time for the public to provide some input on the idea, but the vote went ahead nonetheless. Burke abstained from the vote, and School Committee member James Muse voted against the motion to reinstate the requirement.
The two-year foreign language requirement will affect the graduating class of 2024.
Devoll gave his annual report on class size relative to contractual limits. According to Devoll, there are 38 sections of Science of 26 students or fewer, with one class exceeding the 26 maximum by one student. In the 39 sections of Math, the average class size if 19.5; however, there is only one Honors Geometry section, and that section reached 27 students this year but is now down to 26.
Devoll also said he was thrilled to announce that the school is adding another two English college prep courses, and students will now be able to opt for Honors credit within those various English courses.
An Environmental Science class next year will run as a half-year course, and Forensics will also become a half-year course. Another half-year course, “Genethics,” will be added to the schedule for next year.
The next meeting of the Old Rochester Regional School Committee is scheduled for January 22 at 6:30 pm in the junior high school media room.
*The Wandererbelieves that it is the responsibility of the press to provide the public with an accurate report on town government meetings, and believes that it is the public’s right to know what its elected and appointed town officials say about topics that affect the public realm. The Wandererdoes not editorialize the coverage contained in its articles; it is up to the readers to interpret the facts and statements to form their own opinions.
Old Rochester Regional School Committee
By Jean Perry