In an effort to provide superintendents with the ability to make decisions quickly during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education drafted an emergencies and disaster preparedness policy that school boards across that state are adopting.
“Two issues prompted me to draft this,” said Vincent Mustaro, the senior staff associate for policy services at CABE and the former superintendent of Clinton Public Schools. “The current situation requires having to make decisions quickly or change a decision quickly based upon guidance from the federal government or the state. Also, succession planning. What if the superintendent becomes disabled and it is not possible to go through the normal process of replacement?”
CABE has so far provided boards with two draft policies, the first written specifically for the current pandemic, and the second for pandemics in general.
“Twelve years ago, I put a pandemic/epidemic policy together, but most districts hadn’t put it into place,” Mustaro said. “Now they are realizing there is a real need for it.”
The new policy – which the Lyme-Old Lyme Board of Education adopted last week – includes several temporary powers granted to the superintendent. These include the authority:
- to waive board policies
- to take any lawful actions necessary to ensure education continues while providing for the health and safety of students and staff
- to enter into contracts for any reasonable dollar amount without board approval
- to close any school facility without further action by the board
- to direct staff assignments during the district closure
- to limit access to public school grounds
- to waive required advertising for bids and competitive bid procedures.
The Lyme-Old Lyme board added the word “reasonable” to the draft language: “Authority to enter into contracts without Board approval for any reasonable dollar amount for the purchase of…”
Board of Education member Steven Wilson proposed that change, saying that the idea of a superintendent being able to spend any dollar amount seemed extreme.
“Any dollar amount is a little bit scary to me,” he said. “It’s not that I don’t trust [the superintendent], but it’s a little bit loose. I want to avoid it biting us in the backside later.”
Typically the superintendent is required to inform the board before entering into any contract and the board must go out to bid if the cost exceeds a set dollar amount.
“This waives the formal billing process,” Mustaro said. “Clearly there is nothing to prevent the board from changing their language, but I think the superintendent needs flexibility during this time.”
Without a provision to sunset the emergency rules, or a need to extend or reauthorize the provisions, it remains unclear how long the extraordinary procedures will remain on the books, whether they will end with the local or governor’s state of emergency, and how or when an end to the pandemic will be determined and declared.
In edited comments to Sam Whitehead, a health reporter for pubic radio WABE in Atlanta, Centers for Disease Control Director Dr. Robert Redfield predicted that “This virus is going to be with us. I’m hopeful that we’ll get through this first wave and, and have some time to prepare for the second wave …. But for the next 24 months, you know, we’re all in this together.”
Asked about the new policy, Lyme-Old Lyme Superintendent Ian Neviaser predicted that it would not meaningfully change the functioning of the district or his relationship with the board.
“I don’t envision having to invoke this policy. We are in a great position in terms of technology and materials,” said Neviaser. “[The board has] been very supportive long before this ever happened to put us in this situation.”
These measures, proposed for school districts across the state, follow a recent executive order by Gov. Ned Lamont suspending a requirement for public referenda to approve regional school budgets.