Schlichtman takes reins
By Brooke Leister / Staff Writer

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Paul Schlichtman was sworn in as School Committee chairman Tuesday evening, while committee members Jeff Thielman and Martin Thrope moved into the vice chairman and secretary spots.

"We are a committee of equals... We do more than operate our schools, we nurture hopes and dreams," Schlichtman said.

Schlichtman took over the chairman position from Suzanne Baratta Owayda. He is also the out-going vice chairman, while Joani LaMachia is the out-going secretary. The committee rotates positions on a yearly basis.

At the start of Tuesday's meeting, Schlichtman said when he ran for School Committee in 2001, he raised the issue of fair pay for teachers. While he could not discuss the ongoing contract negotiations with Arlington teachers, he said he and his colleagues are working hard.

"We are doing our best to present a fair negotiating contract," he said.

Schlichtman said he would like to appoint a citizens' advisory committee and continue the monthly working meetings started by Owayda.

"I don't need to have all the answers, all the expertise and carry all the burden," he said, adding the committee's charge is to come to consensus when possible.

Schlichtman also serves as president of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees. He has been involved with the MASC since joining the Minuteman Regional High School Committee seven years ago. He served four years on that committee before his election to the Arlington committee in 2001.

The 1983 Brooklyn College graduate works as the coordinator for research, testing and assessment for the Lowell Public Schools. He earned a master's in education from Harvard University in 1989 and has worked on his doctoral thesis.

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Remarks upon election as chair fo the Arlington School Committee, April 13, 2004

I want to take this opportunity to thank my colleagues for allowing me the honor to chair this committee. We are a committee of equals, and it is my goal to do my best to facilitate our work, and support my colleagues, as we face another year of challenges and opportunities.

We do more than operate nine schools. We nurture hopes and dreams.

We may be planning to build a new Dallin school, but what we really build are the futures of our children and our society.

I feel the need to make a few remarks before we begin this year together. While I was re-elected to this committee in an uncontested election, I am under no illusion that the voters have given me any more of a mandate than I would have received in a close, contested election. While I thank the people who came to the polls and marked the bubble next to my name, I know there are many people who stayed home, and other people who left my bubble blank. I think I met one of the voters who came to the polls for the purpose of not voting for me at Town Hall. When she saw me, she said, Mr. Schlichtman, you need to support the teachers.

There is a large issue hanging over our heads, and I regret that I could not give a satisfactory response to her remarks. When I ran for the committee in 2001, I raised the issue of a competitive compensation package for our teachers. That need has not vanished. However, in the past year, we have sustained a 20% reduction in our state funding, a failed override, and cuts in the workforce that hinder our ability to deliver an adequate education.

It would be a violation of the law to publicly disclose our negotiating position to the community, which has allowed for considerable speculation. We cannot comment on these reports. We cannot refute misinformation or misconceptions. We are doing our best to present a fair and responsible contract settlement. Our negotiating team is laboring at an arduous task, and I reappoint Ms. Owayda and Mr. Thielman to negotiate on our behalf with continued support, encouragement, and gratitude.

I also want the community to know this committee fully respects and appreciates the skills, talents, and hard work of our teachers. I want our teachers to know we understand that our admiration for your work, and our gratitude for the difference you make in the lives of our children, does not put food on your table.

This budget breaks our hearts. Members of this committee are spending considerable effort to change the environment in which we work. We exist in a world where Barbara Anderson wrote the municipal finance laws, and every letter from the state or federal level contains a new mandate or a reduction in funding.

There's a court case, Hancock v. Driscoll, where school committees and teachers have joined with others to challenge the state's failure to meet its constitutional responsibilities to our schools. I sincerely believe the pending court decision must provide the solution to our funding problems. I doubt relief will be ordered in time for the next school year, but I cannot do this work without the belief that permanent statewide solutions must and will be enacted.

The most important lesson I learned in the past three years is simple. I don't need to know all the answers, have all the expertise, carry all the burden. I have six great colleagues, and we are supported by a great staff. Governance as a board makes an individual school committee member powerless, as we need four votes to make any decision. Our job is to come to consensus where possible, and to record our votes and thoughts when consensus does not exist. I will do my best to facilitate this process.

I know that important decisions should not be made late in the night, so I will attempt to make our meetings more efficient. In the future, I would ask that we use the parliamentary process of adopting the agenda at the start of our meetings. If we adopt an agenda, we would commit ourselves to working within the time constraints of individual agenda items, unless the committee votes to extend discussion. I will also ask unanimous consent for routine votes.

This committee has strived to be open and accountable. In an effort to allow for even greater openness, I will ask that all proposed votes of substance are communicated in advance of the meeting. We need time to think about potential votes, and the public needs the opportunity to ask questions and communicate concerns. There are special circumstances when we will need to take immediate action, but I hope those times will be few.

I will also ask that you allow me to appoint a citizens' advisory committee to look at how we can use technology to be more productive and improve communications to the community.

Suzanne Owayda has done a great job leading this committee. I intend to adopt her use of a monthly working meeting to provide a less formal discussion on issues of concern. Most of this discussion will focus on teaching and learning. The first will focus on the search for our next superintendent, and I have invited MASC executive director Glenn Koocher to join us at our next meeting. Our tentative schedule for the superintendent search will likely require significant work at our second meeting in May. I would like to schedule that meeting for Thursday, May 27, and I would like to start that meeting at 7:00.

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