New subcommittee to consider pros and cons of leaving, staying in Union 28

Erving Elementary School.



Staff Writer

Published: 11-03-2023 5:00 PM

ERVING — The subcommittee devoted to examining the pros and cons of a theoretical departure from School Union 28 convened for the first time Wednesday evening, establishing its mission and planning first steps.

The seven-member subcommittee includes town officials, school staff and faculty, and other stakeholders. The group’s purpose will be to research, survey and present details relative to both staying with and leaving Union 28, a superintendency union that includes Erving Elementary School, Leverett Elementary School, Shutesbury Elementary School and Swift River School in New Salem. The subcommittee is not intended to offer any opinion regarding which option would be advantageous, nor does it invite public comment at its meetings, which will occur monthly.

Subcommittee Chair Mark Blatchley, who also sits on the School Committee, explained that formation of the group was catalyzed by a letter that Erving resident Richard Newton shared with the School Committee in May. In his letter, Newton cited the potential for cost savings and Erving’s “seemingly adversarial relationship with Union 28” as the two drivers behind his proposal that the town leave the union.

Newton describes the “adversarial relationship” as being a product of poor communication from Union 28 administrators, Union 28’s mishandling of confidential information and more. Some specific examples Newton cited in his letter include jobs being advertised or job descriptions being changed without School Committee approval, and a lack of transparency regarding staff being hired or resigning that has resulted in payroll problems. Newton also referenced late and poor communication surrounding a projected deficit of more than $300,000 for fiscal year 2023, news that alarmed town officials in May.

“For me, the bottom line for doing this is to have the School Committee have total control over the administration, which in turn should assure that everything done is in the best interests of the town of Erving and our kids,” Newton wrote.

Subcommittee member Dan Hammock voiced interest in how other communities view unionization as part of the subcommittee’s research.

“My concern is … we limit ourselves a little bit to factual stuff,” he said. “I’d like to know what Leverett, Shutesbury, New Salem and Wendell school committees [think about being in the union]. What are they seeing? Do they see some benefits?”

The subcommittee also intends to pool perspectives from the public to present to the School Committee.

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“I think at some point, something we should put on our agenda is a community survey and a staff and faculty survey to see how our community actually feels,” subcommittee member Melanie Burnett said.

Blatchley expressed that it is essential the subcommittee explores the viability of either option by analyzing factors such as financial implications, what personnel are required in either scenario and how long a departure would take procedurally.

“At some point, we just need to say, ‘What does it require?’” he summarized.

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