By Jennifer Solis
---- — WEST NEWBURY — With an eye toward a potential $800,000 gap in next year’s budget, Pentucket Superintendent Jeff Mulqueen is proposing changes he believes will address the fiscal shortfall while strengthening what he says is the regional school district’s reputation for excellence.
The new superintendent’s comments came Tuesday night during a presentation on his recommended changes to members of Pentucket School Committee’s subcommittee on business, finance and operations.
“I want to make the arts and academics the core of what we do at Pentucket,” Mulqueen said.
The full Pentucket school board will consider the proposal at a business meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 18, at 6:30 p.m. at the high school.
Mulqueen’s plan, which is estimated to save $350,000, redistributes and streamlines resources by cutting several key administrative positions, starting in the central office. He stressed that the proposed cuts are not a reflection of “fat in the budget.”
“We have a very lean administration, but the problem is, we can’t afford what we have,” he said. “We have an operating budget. We need to operate within our means.”
Mulqueen is proposing eliminating the positions of assistant superintendent, the district-wide arts coordinator, and the leader of the community education program. In their place, he would create a director of academic and arts services to “coordinate instructional services throughout the learning community.” This position would also be the district’s key liaison for interaction and partnerships with the greater Pentucket community. Mulqueen said his goal is to “strengthen the communities by strengthening the school district.”
This flattening of the district’s organizational structure distributes curriculum decision-making to the department chairmen, who are, after all, the content experts, Mulqueen said. Principals will handle professional development decisions while “accountability for attaining world-class academics and arts performance” will be strengthened, he contended.
The superintendent also proposed eliminating the director of special education and outplacement coordinator and replacing them with a district-wide supervisor of supplemental and intervention services. This position would handle supervision for district-wide guidance and nursing services as well.
The principalships for the elementary schools in Merrimac would collapse from two to one. Principal Rob Harrison would focus on instructional delivery from pre-kindergarten through sixth grade at the Donaghue and Sweetsir schools. A school support coordinator would be hired to assist him with management decisions in both schools.
Mulqueen said he hopes to generate additional revenues by piloting an expanded, more educationally focused before- and after-school program for half-day kindergarteners at Sweetsir School that he may eventually bring to the district’s other two elementary schools. He would also like to offer opportunities for childcare services for families over February and April vacations.
The superintendent estimates his plan will save $350,000 while still protecting current class sizes and programming and maintaining his long-term vision to transform Pentucket “into the preferred educational opportunity for students, employment opportunity for educators and investment opportunity for the community.”
He will impose a “limited spending plan” that will require his principals to put staff funding requests through a more strenuous approval process.
“People will know that they have to be able to defend what they are asking for,” Mulqueen said.
Other priorities he is looking into are partnering with a local community college to allow high school students to attend night classes for credit and ways to reduce or eliminate fee structures “to ensure equity of access to academic, arts and athletics for every student.”