Marlena Gilbert

Jun 122015
 

Groton-Dunstable Superintendent Dr. Kristan Rodriguez announced the hiring of the new Middle School principal at the Wednesday June 10 meeting of the district School Committee. She told the committee that after reviewing many candidate applications, extensive backgrounds research, professional experience and on site visits to Concord, she was proud to announce that G-DMS now has a new principal — James Lin, currently the Assistant Principal at the Concord Middle School.

School committee member Stephanie Cronin brought some important new information to the committee. In April, Cronin attended “Charting the Course: An Orientation Program for New and Veteran School Leaders,” sponsored by the Massachusetts Association of School Committees (MASC). She brought back a big nugget of information — she told the board that according to Glen Koocher of the MASC, many boards, including Groton-Dunstable, may have approved student field trips “they had no business approving.”

Cronin learned that if a school committee approves field trips without having insurance coverage that extends to the field trip location and activities, it opens up the district to liability if anything occurs on that trip. Rodriguez confirmed with the MASC that Stephanie Cronin was correct. As a result of the MASC recommendations, the school committee will no longer approve field trips. Field trips plans will be presented to the school committee so that it can stay informed, but the actual approval of the field trips will shift to the superintendent.

Assistant Superintendent Dr. Katie Novak presented the curriculum adoption plan for fiscal year 2016. She outlined the text choices of Eureka Math K-8, K-4 Writing Units of Study, and Grade 6 Social Studies: History Alive.

All committee members but Jon Sjoberg voted to accept the recommendations, but Sjoberg said he was not comfortable approving the adoption of the text without as knowing the actual costs. Leslie Lathrop was unable to attend the meeting.

Novak replied that he had not realized the actual cost was required because it was not clearly outlined in the administration’s procedure, but the cost was accounted for in the 2016 budget. The school committee members who approved, pointed out that the district’s teachers had evaluated the texts, performed pilots, and that a curriculum training course had already been scheduled for June 23 and 24. Committee members were told that the exact cost will be provided this week and is expected to be at or under what was budgeted for the new text.

Rodriguez presented a strategic plan update that triggered questions from school committee member Peter Cronin. He asked how the vision was formulated and from what sources the data was collected to ensure that the entire community contributed to the strategic plan. The committee has scheduled a special workshop meeting on June 15, 2015 to review and discuss the strategy development in the Prescott School conference room at 7 p.m.

Retiring Educators Thanked For Their Service

Superintendent Dr. Kristan Rodriguez acknowledged a list of staff members that are retiring after many years of service in the Groton-Dunstable Regional School District at the June 10th school committee meeting:
Lisa Bazzinotti — Teacher 29 years
Sandy Cook — Teacher 20 years
Gail DesBois — Teacher 21 years
Susan Dougherty — Teacher 29 years
David Drew — Custodian 35 years
Dot Drew — Café 14 years
David Dubey — Custodian 10 years
Rich Hamilton — Teacher 33 years
Cindy Iannacci — Para 10 years
Linda Maillet — Teacher 25 years
Jim O’Loughlin — Guidance 20 years
Deb Ricci — Admin Assistant 21 years
Patti Randazzo — Admin Assistant 28 years
Steve Silverman — Principal 8 years
Dennis Spiczka — Custodian 28 years
Kay Stidsen — Nurse 30 years

Rodriguez also acknowledged the years of service provided by former school committee members John Giger, Lou DeLoureiro, and Thomas Steinfeld.



“The meeting is a chance for all School Committee members to review the strategy work that has been done to date, to ask questions about the 5-year strategy, and to discuss what if anything more we would like to see going forward,” Committee Chair Jeff Kubick wrote in an email.

The school committee approved the formation of a Communications and Community Engagement Advisory Committee to the school committee. Kubick asked member of the public interested in increasing transparency and community collaboration to contact him at jkubick@gdrsd.org.

At the close of the meeting, which lasted until 10:30 p.m., Sjoberg announced that he will take the MASC “Charting the Course” training class again — “It’s been about six years since I took it and could always use a refresher.”


Apr 192015
 

We would like to open this letter by acknowledging the 6 years each of public service from the two current School Committee members running for re-election. They ran for office unopposed, willing to step up and take on the great responsibility of guiding our School District. We believe that they are good people and dedicated members of the community. We recognize that they have served with good intentions and we sincerely thank them for their service.

We believe the voters now deserve a choice at this critical juncture of our School District. That choice, as framed by both candidates seeking re-election in recent Letters to the Editor, is the choice between the status quo, their track record and experience, and the new energy and vision for change offered by the challengers.

We chose to run for election because we could no longer stand idly on the sidelines watching a long-term pattern of passive leadership and poor choices that led our School District to the brink of financial crisis. These choices are outlined in the independent audit of the District’s finances from 2012-2014 conducted by Melanson Heath & Company, P.C. Most prominently, they include running significant operating budget deficits and the repeated use of funds from the Excess and Deficiency account (E&D) to cover those deficits until the funds were depleted.

The audit outlines several factors that contributed to the budget deficits. Some were “ominous signs” that were not considered back in FY2012 when building the FY2013 budget. These included maintaining the same level of services for the schools despite (1) the loss of funds from the one-time FY2012 “Education Jobs” grant, a $328K+ mistake that the School Committee carried through to FY2015; and (2) multiple years of underfunding special education accounts.

In the FY2012 budget the School Committee had a $900K deficit (per the audit) in special education accounts, and covered it using its health insurance account surplus and various utility accounts. But the committee failed to address the issue in the following year, and in fact increased the deficit to over $1.1MM. This time, there weren’t sufficient surpluses in other accounts to cover the deficit and funds from the E&D account were needed to cover a $300K operating budget deficit at the end of the FY2013.

These issues were still not addressed in the FY2014 budget. In fact they got worse. Special education transportation costs were estimated under $600K despite being over $700K in the previous two years. More egregiously, special education tuition costs estimates were actually reduced from $650K to $485K, an amount that was less than half of the actual $1MM+ spent in both 2012 and 2013. This resulted in another significant deficit, $800K+, which could no longer be covered by the E&D account. In essence, the rainy day fund was used to pay for these mistakes in multiple years instead of addressing root cause issues until it was gone.

Some may say that the School Committee must rely on certified administrators with financial expertise for their information. And that those resources were not in place due to the number of changes taking place at that time. However, reviewing and approving the budget is one of the School Committee’s major responsibilities. They must oversee these numbers and question their validity regardless of the circumstances. If the School Committee lacks the expertise to do this, we must bring in new candidates with the skills and experience to ensure that these mistakes are not made again.

This becomes a leadership issue when, despite making the same mistakes year after year, the SchoolCommittee falsely reassures the voters that they have learned their lesson and that everything would be fine in the future. The 2013 Town Annual Report states “we [The Administration and School Committee] are confident that with these measures and careful monitoring of expenditures FY2014 will not end in deficit.” Well, the reality is that in FY2014, the District faced a deficit so large that had the debt exclusion vote not passed, and the cuts proposed by the School Committee were realized, we would have increased class sizes to 26-30+ students in all schools and decreased if not eliminated Art, Music, and Foreign Language programs in the high school and middle school, potentially jeopardizing those schools’ NEASC accreditation.

Experience is more than just tenure. It is, in the words of Henry Adams, “an arch to build upon.” We are running for office because the School Committee failed to learn from their mistakes, many of which started as early as 2009, after careful review of past budgets. In 2010 those rerunning stated “so many cuts have been made, and we are down to the bones”, yet still year after year they cut and pulled from E&D rather than ask OR accept more money offered from the town. This is most evident in FY2012 when the town offered 2.5% yet they only took 0.08%. Money that could have been used to reinstate much needed supplies and General Ed and SPED services cuts in FY2010 and FY2011. In 2013 they assured the voters of Groton that the problems were addressed. We know how that played out. In 2015 they are, again, asking the voters to stay the course. We are asking you to vote for positive change.

We each believe that positive change means listening to our constituent groups, thinking strategically, working collaboratively, advocating tirelessly, and communicating directly and freely. If elected, each of us commits this to the voters of Groton. In addition, we each bring unique skills and experience to the table that will allow us to make significant and immediate contributions to the important work that needs to be done. We look forward to sharing that with you individually over the next six weeks. Together we will address the issue facing our District and move our school system forward.

In service,

Marlena Gilbert, candidate for 1-year term
Angela Donahue, candidate for 3-year term
Peter Cronin, candidate for 3-year term.


Mar 112015
 

March 10, 2015

My name is Marlena Gilbert and I am a candidate for the one year school committee seat in the upcoming May election. I am also a tax payer & a parent of a child in the school district which makes me a highly invested candidate in both my son’s education as well as the town.

I would like to formally thank the Board of Selectmen, the School Committee and the residents of Groton for allowing me the opportunity to speak at the March 9th joint School Committee/Board of Selectmen meeting. I believe that my concerns were received in a professional & encouraging manner. I understand from the individual explanations provided to me during the roll call vote that I was not appointed the temporary school committee seat mainly because it was such a short period of time. Understandably the majority vote would prefer to fill the temporary position with someone that would be more likely to have the ability to pick up where Mr. Giger left off. I feel that it was a missed opportunity to “get my feet wet” and to allow the residents an opportunity to evaluate my ability. I do however respect that decision. It has not altered my enthusiasm or passion to run for the one year school committee term in the upcoming May election.

My goals are unwavering. I will work tirelessly to do my part in creating positive change in our schools as well as our town with any position I may hold within the community. I will use this time to further my knowledge on all the regulations, agreements and laws that govern both the town and the schools.

“The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next”. This quote rings true to me now more than ever as our children deserve to live in a great community offering an exceptional education. I will continue to bring positive change to both the town and the schools. I have done that as a parent. I have done that as a basketball/soccer coach. I have done that as a Cub Scouts Den Leader. I have done that as an APEX member and if afforded the opportunity I will also do that as a School Committee member.

Thank you for the opportunity to earn your vote.

Marlena Gilbert
Marlena71@live.com
978-857-6847


Feb 272014
 

February 26, 2014

Dear Editor,

My name is Marlena Gilbert, just one of the many concerned resident and parents of the Groton-Dunstable Regional School District. As you know our school district is struggling with a 2.7 million dollar deficit that will require both Groton & Dunstable residents to come together to obtain a viable solution that will educate the whole child.

There have been many public hearings & meetings with the school committee that was to inform residents of Groton & Dunstable of the budget crisis and to gather input for proposed revenue & cuts within the school or town budget in effort to provide our children with a well-rounded education.

As of February 19, 2014 the school committee has recommended cuts that not only increase class sizes to a level that would result in 3rd & 4th grade class room sizes to increase to an average of 26-30 students and to decrease if not eliminate the Art, Music and Foreign Language programs in the high school & middle school.

The recommended cuts have been publicized via this link: http://www.gdrsd.org/view/1301.pdf

What the school committee and most importantly the residents of Groton and Dunstable need to be aware of is the Groton-Dunstable Regional High School is accredited with the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC). These cuts to the Arts and Foreign Languages programs may cause the schools to lose its accreditation with NEASC. This is a serious issue and needs immediate attention. Many students graduating from such a high school will be unable to be accepted at most colleges and universities in the United States, especially considering most higher education institutions require at least 2 years of a foreign language as admission criteria. School accreditation is good for usually 10 years. The NEASC accreditation is like the “good housekeeping seal of approval” for colleges to know your high school has at least minimal standards in curricular content and facilities. Without it, most colleges simply will not want to accept our graduates.

This petition formally requests the school committee to NOT eliminate the Art/Music/Foreign Language programs and to NOT increase our elementary school classroom sizes. Instead of such cuts we ask the school committee to restructure the budget, research for any and all possible sustainable income and to consider a possible financial solution through an override.

Petition Link: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/392/450/994/save-art-music-programs-stop-the-increase-of-class-sizes/#

I ask the residents of Groton & Dunstable to sign this petition to make your voice heard and to work
towards our goal to educate the whole-child and offer a well-rounded education

Thank You,
Marlena Gilbert
Concerned Groton Resident