With a stiff budget cut hanging over Gloucester Community Arts Charter School, Executive Director Tony Blackman slashed his own job to keep the teaching staff intact.
Blackman resigns after running the fledgling charter school for about 2
1/2 years. His final day will be Oct. 20. The school’s Board of Trustees was ready to sign a several-year contract with a raise, but Blackman said he’d rather leave than have teachers or the program cut to keep him on.
“If I’m going to see (the school) that dream continue to become a reality and maintain the option of choice for kids in Gloucester, we need to be sure that this school (stays open),” said Blackman. “You do what’s necessary to make that happen.”
When the school opened this year, its enrollment of 130 students came in short of the school’s expectations. The charter planned on 180 students enrolling and a $2.25 million budget. The enrollment shortfall created the need for a budget cut of $550,000, which will hit come December. The state has already given the school its funding for the first quarter, and bases the second funding payment, due in December, on actual enrollment in October minus any overpayment made to school in the first quarter.
Much of the $550,000, said Blackman, was covered by not hiring to fill several positions and by some donations to the school’s Gloucester Charter School Foundation. But, a gap still remained. Blackman said the only way he could close the gap without cutting teachers or changing the school’s educational program was to take the cut himself.
He figured cutting his position would save the school around $80,000.
“Basically it came from the numbers” said James Caviston, chairman of the board. “We took a big hit.”
The board has spent roughly six executive sessions negotiating Blackman’s contract, Caviston said. But around Labor Day, when enrollment looked to come in well below expectations, Caviston said Blackman recommended privately that the board cut his own position.
Board members accepted that recommendation Wednesday night. The board spent the last two executive sessions negotiating a separation agreement, instead of a contract. Blackman’s separation agreement, said Caviston, has him leaving on Oct. 20, but staying on in a consulting capacity until January, to help with the transition.
He’ll receive his full salary, $110,000 in his previous contract, until Dec. 20. His salary will be paid from the school’s first quarterly funding payment from the state, which came in based on 2012 pre-enrollment figures. Caviston said the board will release the separation agreement in a few day; it’s in the hands of the school’s attorney, Colin Zick.
Caviston said Blackman took a pay cut last year, and put in longer hours to keep the school afloat when its budget was cut in the 2011-2012 school year.
“I doubt a lot of people would put up with what Tony’s put up with over the last two years,” Caviston said.
With Blackman stepping down, Caviston said Director of Education Beth Del Forge and the school’s administrative staff, with some help from the board, will handle his job for the rest of the year.
Blackman is essentially the school’s superintendent and most of his job involves managing money. Del Forge is essentially the school’s curriculum director.
The board, Caviston said, is still figuring out how the transition will work. Blackman resigning, he said, is a drastic measure to keep the school’s program intact.
“It’s money that forced the hand here,” he said.
Del Forge said the coming months will be about more than just holding down the fort after Blackman leaves. The staff, she said, know what they need to do to run the school well.
“We’re going to keep at what we’re doing and Tony and I are going to talk about the transition,” Del Forge said. .
Blackman weathered two previous cuts to the school’s budget as executive director, and faced a parent petition calling for an independent review of his time at the head of the school. Submitted along with the petition was a list of allegations, all of which were unverified.
While that review did its fair share of damage to the school, Blackman said it didn’t come into his decision to leave. It came down to preserving the program, and Gloucester Community Arts Charter School, he said.
“It doesn’t do me any good to stay on if my staying on actually cripples the school’s (program),” Blackman said.
Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.