Hayner's effort to see evaluation rebuffed; length of term to be considered

Echoes of the $1.5 million shortfall discovered 19 months ago reverberated in the School Committee Room on Thursday, March 22, as the body voted, 5-2, to pursue negotiation of a new contract with Chief Financial Officer Diane Johnson.

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Following that vote, Joseph Curro Jr. requested that negotiators with the CFO consider changes to the term of the new contract, the role of the School Committee in performance review and potential changes to the notification deadline for contract renewal. That motion passed, 6-1.

The five supporting Superintendent Kathleen Bodie's recommendation to renew praised a number of specific areas of Johnson's work since 2009 and, in general, said they sided with consistency of leadership over change.

Those who voted no raised questions. Member William Hayner's comments were the sharpest.

"I am deeply disturbed that I have been forced to make this decision without seeing the evaluations" of Johnson, he said in a statement he read. "I have had to make my decision based on personal observations and statements made to me from constituents." (See those comments in the full text of Hayner's statement, below.)

Curro said he could not support Bodie's motion for a number of reasons and asked that a new contract make clear that the School Committee does not have a formal evaluation process for the CFO.

Reviewing Johnson's tenure, Curro said, "... we’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly." He said he was unhappy with a lot of aspects of the way the FY2010 shortfall was handled, but he did not think it should be placed entirely on the CFO's shoulders. (See further comments by Curro, below.)

Johnson listened with little change in expression as discussion continued.

Support for the motion came most strongly from Leba Heigham, who cited the difficulties the business office faced following the abrupt resignation in August 2008 of Superintendent Nate Levenson. Starting in September 2009, Johnson "took us from one format, gracefully weathered MASBO audit, maintained professionalism. ... We would be ill-served to jeopardize the stability."

Judson Pierce said he took Bodie's "recommendation to heart," adding that how Johnson has transformed her office is "something that School Committees have not seen before."

Kirsi Allison-Ampe, Chair Cindy Starks and Jeff Thielman voted to support Bodie's motion.

"It's important that we allow people to come here," Thielman said, "This sends a message: You can grow in your job, and you can stay here."

The $1.5 million shortfall from fiscal 2010 discovered at the beginning of fiscal 2011 drew two audits and a Special Town Meeting in the fall of 2010. Those audits turned up a series of administrative issues related to budget confusion but no allegations of fraud.

Citing Johnson's own goals from 2010-11, all of which she said were completed, Bodie backed her CFO, whose contract ends June 30:

-- Post budget documents on the schools' website (see them here >>).

-- Share monthly budget reports with the committee.

-- Develop a position-control system for 900 employees (all positions have a budget-related number, allowing them to be tracked; Bodie called this a "major change to keep track of where we are").

-- Review purchasing procedures.

-- Develop a singular budget format for all stakeholders.

-- Develop a standard chart of accounts.

-- This year's "substantial body of work that has been put into place" includes collection of kindergarten fees and green grants for Stratton.

"I trust her with the budget," Bodie said.

The committee faced letting Johnson know about a new contract by April 1.

Thielman moved the adoption of the superintendent’s recommendation regarding the chief financial officers' contract, seconded by Heigham. Voted: 5-2, Hayner and Curro voted no

Curro moved to request our negotiations for the contract of the CFO consider the issues of term of contract, School Committee’s role and performance of evaluation, and potential revision of notification deadlines for contract renewal, seconded by Hayner.

Voted: 6-1, Heigham voted no

Hayner's statement

"I have advocated in the past and will continue to advocate for a fair and balanced evaluation tool for all school employees as a determiner of renewal.

"The Chief Financial Officer’s contract requires the Superintendent to perform an annual review of the Chief Financial Officer.

The contract also provides a corrective action plan section to afford the CFO the opportunity to show improvement in any area the superintendent deems in need of improvement.

"I sought to review the evaluations of the Chief Financial Officer in order to make an objective decision concerning the renewal of the CFO’s contract.

"I am deeply disturbed that I have been forced to make this decision without seeing the evaluations. I have had to make my decision based on personal observations and statements made to me from constituents.

"There are many concerns about the Chief Financial Officer’s performance that have come to my attention through direct conversations and e-mails. Here are but a few that have been repeated throughout the past year:

"Constituent groups question the fees we charge for different programs even after the Chief Financial Officer provided a public explanation.

"Constituents relate how the Chief Financial Officer communicates with them.

"Constituents continue to ask when someone is going to hold the CFO responsible for the 1.5 million dollar short fall.

"Again I regret that these are the determiners I must use.

"I will vote

"NO

"on the renewal of the Chief Financial Officer’s Contract."

Curro's statement

Curro, who spoke from some scrawled notes, recopunted March 23 what he said at the meeting:

"I recognized that there were some other factors, including the insufficiently conservative revenue estimates that had been worked up by Ms. Johnson's predecessor and the fiscal meltdown.

"I acknowledged the improvements that have been made in monthly budget tracking and some of the analysis that we have been given. I also acknowledged cases in which I felt that there was too much push-back against School Committee requests, and I concurred with Mr. Hayner regarding reports of customer service problems. I cited the push-back that we received when we asked for an update on the actuals-to-budget late in FY2010, and I also cited that a recent request for long-range analysis was more reasonably responded to by presenting us with the choice of expediting this and receiving monthly reports a little late.

"I recognized the good work on the Stratton Green Repair grant.

"I stated that I appreciate that Ms. Johnson is a straight shooter, and that this can also -- in some situations -- be a source of frustration.

"I stated that I was happy that substantial progress has been made on most MASBO recommendations, but that I would like to see some of the last outstanding items addressed. I also noted that MASBO cited frequent administrative turnover as a big part of Arlington's management challenges.

"I stated that I could not support an open-ended renewal motion, and I stated that I could support a renewal of up to 18 months, if a number of issues were addressed in the contract, including clarification of the School Committee's role in performance review and oversight and changing the notification date for contract renewal, so that we would never again be presented with this decision at the worst time of the year: when we are preparing to go to Finance Committee and Town Meeting with our budget.

"Part of my reasoning for a shorter-term contract included: the imminent roll-out of a new evaluation system, which encompasses senior administrators, and the potential reorganization of financial management personnel, should the School Committee choose to pursue some form of financial consolidation with general government."

Heigham was asked to provide a statement. She responded by saying that she spoke extemporaneously and had none.


This story was first published Friday, March 23, 2012. It was updated the next day with a statement from Curro and to add a vote. It was updated March 26 to mcorrect a vote and add the wording of two motions.