In June of 2009, the Blue Ribbon Commission (BRC) presented its final report to a Joint Board of Selectman meeting.  That report found that the Hamilton Wenham Regional School district had above average cost compared to the cohort districts in the study.  The BRC found those above average cost were due to:

  • A higher number of teachers and aides, resulting in a lower student/teacher ratio – and not the costs of administration, teacher benefits, facilities operation, maintenance or materials.”  
  • The district’s spending on special education, as a percentage of total spending, is at the top of the peer group for the school year analyzed (2007).

Further evaluation of the numbers by a post BRC group and the DESE found similar results.  These results were to be expected given that the community has valued lower class sizes for many years and the school district placed a priority in maintaining lower class sizes. There are also a number of other factors contributing to the situation.

Given their findings the BRC recommend that the two towns and the school district should agree upon and proceed with an RFP for a detailed 3rd Party Review of Instructional Operations at HWRSD to clarify gaps between the district and cohorts. 

On March 8, 2010 a citizens’ petition was filed asking for an amendment to the HWRSD Regional Agreement to require an operational audit of the HWRSD.  We are aware that counsel for the HWRSD School Committee has advised that an audit can not be mandated through the Regional Agreement since the school committee holds the authority to determine spending and it cannot be required to pay for or implement any recommendations of the audit. 

We would urge the Hamilton Board of Selectman to work with the Wenham Board of Selectman, the Regional School Committee, the citizens’ petition supporters, and others supporting an audit to move forward on a third party audit of the district without seeking an amendment to the Regional Agreement.

SOS supports an audit of instructional services as recommended by the BRC in June 2009.   If there are other areas which can cost-effectively be included in the audit, and which are reasonable targets for evaluation, SOS will support an expanded scope.

The audit should be funded by the towns of Hamilton and Wenham and be under the direction of a joint committee of representatives of both towns and the Regional School Committee.  Once this audit is complete, it should be presented to the School Committee for consideration of whether any recommended changes can and should be implemented and whether any additional audits or studies should be undertaken.  The results of the audit should be made publicly available, so voters have an opportunity to understand the results and recommendations of the auditing firm and can seek to influence the School Committee’s decision-making.

With the planned departure of the HWRSD Superintendent at the end of this school year, now is an optimal time to identify areas of change that can benefit the budget and quality of education provided in our schools.

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