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Concord

Petition targets chief of schools

About 100 Concord residents have signed a petition urging the town’s two school committees to investigate Superintendent Diana Rigby for alleged poor planning, fiscal mismanagement and a failure to communicate.

Rigby and other members of the district’s administration have come under fire in the past year over the process to replace Concord-Carlisle High School and the relocation of the school district’s bus facility.

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However, district officials say they are working hard to develop consensus in the community, and deal with complex issues in the school system.

Resident Valerie Tratnyek is leading the charge for an investigation and changes in the district’s administration through a citizens petition at Concord’s annual Town Meeting in April.

The nonbinding petition would direct the Concord School Committee and the Concord-Carlisle Regional School Committee to “make new changes in the central administration of the School Department to ensure a good faith effort toward greater transparency and fiscal responsibility.’’

Tratnyek said the committees have rubber-stamped administrative decisions.

“I’m hoping to strongly suggest that the school committees look more carefully into the mismanagement style of the superintendent,’’ said Tratnyek, who has one child in middle school and another in high school. “I’m asking them to do their job and not just accept numbers handed to them by the superintendent.’’

The petition says a change of leadership is needed to “avoid future loss of valued faculty and an increase in tax overrides.’’

District officials said they are disappointed that the petition was filed, and defended Rigby’s leadership.

“Our school administration has acknowledged that we face complex challenges and they work hard to resolve those challenges,’’ Maureen Spada, the Concord School Committee’s chairwoman, said in a statement. “I have tremendous confidence in their ability, and students from Concord, Carlisle, and Boston benefit from their commitment.’’

Last summer, the Massachusetts School Building Authority suspended $28.8 million in funds for the $92.6 million high school project, saying it had ballooned over budget and beyond the scope the board had approved. The project is back on track, payments have been reinstated, and the builder is set to break ground this winter, Rigby said.

In order to make way for the new high school, the district will have to demolish its transportation facility, and initially considered hiring a company to take over the bus service. The move angered many parents, so now the district is searching for a new location for its buses.

Rigby acknowledged that there have been some “challenging issues’’ associated with the high school building project, but said she is disappointed that the petition was filed.

“As an administrative team, we remain committed to providing the very best educational opportunities for our students and building consensus with our stakeholders,’’ Rigby said.

Tratnyek said she is also concerned about teacher morale in the district. She said the results of an annual statewide teacher survey administered by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education last spring raised some red flags.

“We have great teachers but they are very unhappy with the way they are being treated,’’ she said.

Fabian Fondriest, chairman of the Concord-Carlisle Regional School Committee, said local officials are aware of the results of the Teaching, Empowering, Leading and Learning survey, and are working with the union to address issues that were raised.

The survey found, for example, that teachers have concerns about professional development, their influence on the decision-making process, and their ability to raise important issues with leadership.

Fondriest said a committee has been set up to analyze the results, and the group will present a report in the spring. “I agree it brought up some shortcomings but we’re in the middle of that process now,’’ he said.

Fondriest also disputed Tratnyek’s claim that the district has been fiscally mismanaged. He said the town hasn’t had a tax increase via override since 2007. He said the school budget rose by just 1.8 percent this year, and next year’s is set to rise by 1.2 percent.  

Tratnyek’s petition is one of 10 citizens petitions that were filed with the Board of Selectmen’s office by Wednesday’s deadline. Those with certified signatures from at least 10 voters will appear on the annual Town Meeting warrant.

There is a petition to repeal the bylaw prohibiting the sale of single-serving plastic water bottles that went into effect Jan. 1. Other petitions would keep the bus transportation facility on the grounds of the high school; create a committee to review the town’s charter; require residents to register their cats; and establish a bylaw prohibiting cats from trespassing.

One petition that would set up a recall process for elected officials was submitted five minutes late, so it’s unclear whether it will be allowed on the warrant, town officials said.

Jennifer Fenn Lefferts can be reached at jflefferts@ ­yahoo.com.
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