EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 11, 2012

Pelham, Windham on track for friendly breakup of SAU

By John Toole jtoole@eagletribune.com
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — PELHAM – Windham and Pelham are on track for a friendly breakup of their SAU.

The communities have one more scheduled meeting as School Administrative Unit 28 next May 15 when School Board members will formally settle questions about who gets to keep the furniture.

But the breakup is going so smoothly at this point that Windham may temporarily put up Pelham administrators while their probable future home is renovated.

Officials, meanwhile, already are thinking in terms of how the school districts can cooperate in the future to save money.

Last night the joint SAU 28 board convened for its next to last scheduled meeting. Windham voters decided at the last Town Meeting in March to split from Pelham. Pelham will keep the SAU 28 label when Windham becomes the new SAU 95 next July.

Superintendent Henry LaBranche is retiring.

Pelham already has what Windham School Board member Stephanie Wimmer called “a fantastic superintendent” in Amanda Lecaroz, LaBranche’s deputy. Lecaroz, recently hired, formally takes over in July but is already taking the lead on Pelham school issues.

Wimmer briefed the SAU board on Windham’s superintendent search, which is expected to culminate in a selection as soon as January. Recruiting is under way. Community focus groups meet next week to consider the qualities Windham’s superintendent should have. “We hope there is a strong turnout,” LaBranche told the SAU board.

A screening committee that will include parents and educational staff is expected to narrow the field to three to five candidates for the School Board to review.

Lecaroz reported that Pelham selectmen have given their OK for the School Board to study renovating space at Town Hall for the future SAU 28 offices.

Under consideration is the Pelham School Board, selectmen and Budget Committee sharing meeting space. No final decision has been made, pending an architectural and engineering review.

LaBranche said renovation could take four to six months and administrators have concluded it would make sense for Pelham and Windham to share the existing SAU 28 offices in Windham during that time. “For those several months, we’d like to think we could work together,” LaBranche said.

That would spare Pelham rental costs and let officials put the money to better use.

The communities will have to decide how to divide about $60,000 in furnishings, but business administrator Adam Steel sees no major obstacles to the breakup in technology or transportation services. Steel said each district will have to determine whether to hire someone to work with the busing contractor or make that part of another administrator’s duties.

Windham School Board member Michelle Farrell asked Steel whether there would be opportunities for the two districts to continue to work together for savings on purchases.

“You’d be crazy not to,” Steel said. “I think that would be advantageous for both districts.”

LaBranche called for the last SAU 28 board meeting to take place in Pelham.

He suggested that is fitting because it was the location for the first SAU meeting as a two-town district more than two decades ago.