Adamowski: New London school district autonomy to have caveats

New London - State-appointed Special Master Steven J. Adamowski said Thursday night that he intends to recommend that New London be released from the state's supervision by July 1, but only if the Board of Education first meets certain conditions.

Additionally, Adamowski said he will recommend that the district "should be closely monitored" by the state Board of Education even after being released from full state involvement.

Adamowski presented the Board of Education with a three-page outline of "technical requirements for release from state supervision" at its meeting Thursday night and said the conditions he set must be met by June.

"These items represent, in my mind, the agenda of some of the important things that have to be accomplished," Adamowski said. "This in no way constitutes the entire work of the district, which includes other very important things to do."

Before Adamowski will recommend that the state cease its direct oversight, the Board of Education must:

1. Agree with new Superintendent Manuel J. Rivera on a superintendent evaluation process that is based on student achievement and "the development of high-performing magnet schools."

2. Arrange for an independent auditor to conduct a separate annual audit of district expenditures beginning with the current fiscal year.

3. Complete all memorandums of understanding which are required by city ordinances or state legislation, including the agreements to merge the city and district finance departments, to define responsibilities for the maintenance of school buildings and outline the partnership between the district and the Garde Arts Center for an arts magnet high school.

4. Reach an agreement with the city about how the annual state grant the city receives for transporting out-of-district magnet school students is to be budgeted and spent.

5. Begin a comprehensive review of its entire policy manual and revise district policies to comply with existing state law and to "reflect principles of best practices as contained in the Reform Governance in Action training received by the board."

Adamowski said he will also recommend that the state continue to provide New London with $1.1 million for each of the next three fiscal years to assist in meeting the goals established in the district's strategic operating plan.

The continued oversight Adamowski plans to recommend would be in place under the direction of the Commissioner of Education until "governance of the New London district is able to achieve greater stability and continuity through local charter revision or state legislation." The City Council recently established a Charter Review Board to conduct research into potential revisions to the city charter and most city leaders have said the constitution of the Board of Education should be a priority for the new body.

"To sustain its progress, the district needs a governance body in which members serve four-year, rotating terms, either elected or appointed or a combination thereof, comparable to the majority of Connecticut school districts," Adamowski wrote in his outline.

The hiring of Rivera, who began his tenure as superintendent this week, is "the primary factor that allows us to now discuss and consider a future that involves the release from state supervision," Adamowski said.

For nearly three years, the state has had a direct role in guiding the school system out of dire financial straits and through the early stages of becoming the state's first all-magnet school district.

In 2007, the state began working with the school system on a District Improvement Plan and in 2011 the state board intervened by assigning former Groton Superintendent James Mitchell to monitor school board meetings, which had been marred by dysfunction, politicking and arguments over things like whether hot dogs at a school field day were served on bread or rolls. In May 2012 a state audit deemed the Board of Education's leadership and governance "incoherent" and suggested that only "powerful, transformational and systemic interventions" could turn the system around.

The next month, the state appointed Adamowski to serve as special master, and the city began moving full speed ahead to transform itself into an all-magnet system.

c.young@theday.com

Twitter: @ColinAYoung

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