News Feature

Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, July 6, 2017
U76 board seeks collaboration in more than administration

by Anne Berleant

t a June 27 meeting of the Union 76 Board, members from the Deer-Isle Stonington CSD 13, Brooklin and Sedgwick school boards took a concrete step towards collaboration, overwhelmingly approving a motion directing the superintendent to work with principals and staff to “brainstorm and implement ways to share instructional opportunities and services for the benefit of all students in the union.”

These include negotiating a single contract for staff and similar policies across the three districts. The schools have already collaborated on a K-3 literacy program, teacher training, and a school calendar.

The vote followed a discussion, led by consultant Mary Jane McCalmon, on ways for the three school districts to work together while they explore whether the union structure is a benefit or hindrance to a shared goal: delivering high-quality education to students in a cost-effective manner.

“This will make the next step easier, whether we join another union or go our own way,” said Marti Brill, of Sedgwick.

The three districts’ school boards have each spent months discussing the future of their schools and the union. They share the goal of delivering high quality education but have varying tax bases and taxpayer support. While districts in a school union share the costs and services of a central administration, each district operates independently in all other ways.

McCalmon, a former superintendent of Portland and Oxford Hills school districts, who is also working with CSD 13, outlined how the state is encouraging collaboration of schools across districts through financial incentives and grants. Collaborating on school policies, contracts, and teacher evaluation programs may not be enough to qualify Union 76 for these but would give the superintendent considerably more time to focus on other goals.

“The union superintendent is one of the toughest jobs,” McCalmon said, juggling “multiple boards, agendas, and meetings.”

The union decided to wait on hiring consultant services—McCalmon ran two board workshops—and continue to collaborate in small steps.

“As [Union 76 board] chair, I’ve been hesitant to [take] a public-facing position,” Mike Sealander said. “This has possibly been a mistake…I think we’re doing better than our reputation suggests.”