Though Former North Shore School District 112 Superintendent Dr. Michael Bregy began his new position as superintendent of the Beverly Hills Unified School District in California on Feb. 1, he has been “following from a distance” the comings and goings of D-112, and he agreed to be interviewed by DailyNorthShore to help explain why he left the district and share his hopes for the future.
“The hardest part as D-112 superintendent was that the challenges for reconfiguration were emotional and people reacted differently based on their roles,” said Bregy. “BDR3 was very consistent, and that was hard for me because I refused to change what I believe was the best course of action for the district.”
The district’s plan, known as BDR3 (Budget Deficit Reduction), was to close Lincoln and Ravinia elementary schools, Elm Place Middle School and the Green Bay Early Childhood Center to save an estimated $5 million a year.
Bregy said three parents stopped him after a choir concert at Edgwood Middle School to express three different opinions about reconfiguration:
“You already have a community that’s divided and if you have a board that’s divided on reconfiguration, I don’t know how to find the answer,” he said. “If there were eight days in the week, I would’ve worked on it. When you have two district leaders and two board members leaving, there’s a broken system between the community, the cabinet and the board.”
The other district leader Bregy was referring to is Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning Jennifer Ferrari, as well as Board Members Michael Cohn (former president) and Jacqueline Denham. Adam Kornblatt took over Cohn’s two-year term, while Lauren Klayman will complete Denham’s term which ends in April.
“You don’t lose a superintendent, an assistant superintendent and two board members just because things didn’t go our way, it’s because there’s so much work and effort that is often times sidetracked and it’s political,” said Bregy. “If a group of people do not agree with the plan there will be an opposition group, and if the Board of Education (BOE) is not agreeing with the plan then this cycle of dysfunction will continue, and continue, because it is not sustainable where we are right now.”
Bregy explained the relationship between the superintendent, the cabinet and the school board:
“I felt like it’s the superintendent’s responsibility to make a recommendation and that’s why you hire a superintendent,” he said. “I’m very collaborative and the team (the cabinet) that I had is the best team that I’ve ever worked with in my career. It was a very special once in a lifetime chemistry and we worked very hard together. It wasn’t about not winning or not being able to follow through with our recommendation. I think the catalyst was the cabinet made a recommendation and because we were not viewed as experts in our field, board members tried to get us to change our recommendation.”
Bregy said the superintendent gives a recommendation, the board votes and then it’s the cabinet’s job to carry out the expectations. “We’re not elected officials, so how board members work with other board members is and must be different then the way that the board works with the cabinet. In other words, we make a recommendation and for us it doesn’t matter if the vote is 7 to 0 or 4 to 3. It’s our responsibility to carry through with the majority vote.”
At the February 16 D-112 meeting, BDR3 was approved by a 4 to 3 vote, with those voting no saying they needed more time to make an informed decision. BDR3 was created as a backup plan in the advent of a failed March 2016 Referendum. The failed $198 million dollar referendum was to build a middle school campus and to renovate the six remaining buildings to be elementary schools.
On December 10, Bregy announced his resignation, and on January 3 the board voted “not to implement” BDR3: “I understand that calling off BDR3 was a very convenient statement to make, because I was leaving,” said Bregy. “That was very unfortunate, because all of the work was finished. We even had plans for every building.”
Bregy explained that the building administration worked with their specific PTOs and PTAs so that students would be able to visit their new building, meet new teachers, and some of the kids had already gone on school visits. “It’s unfortunate that my departure was used politically and that’s fine I get it,” said Bregy. “I knew that was going to happen and the bottom line is that the problem still exists.”
Fortunately, Bregy is optimistic about his successors, D-112 Co-Interim Superintendents, Mr. Edward Rafferty and Dr. Jane Westerhold:
“Collectively Ed and Jane have had much more experience with boards of education than I’ve had in the last seven years and both have had experience with complex issues,” he said. He believes the co-interim superintendents will continue to make recommendations and try to work with the board to be successful. My advice is for the board to allow the superintendents to lead and run the school district; otherwise you will have a revolving door of superintendents and that is difficult on the staff and the community,” he added.
Bregy said there are many similarities between Beverly Hills and Highland Park which made for a smooth transition. Beverly Hills is also a “generational type community” where kids grow up, go to school and come back. “The communities share the expectation that we provide the highest level of an education and a robust curriculum. They both have similar values, but it’s a lot warmer and sunnier in California.” Beverly Hills Unified School District in California has five schools including Beverly Hills High School with a total of 4,200 students.
“Financially it would be great if D-112 had enough money in the next 20 years to keep all 12 schools open, because that would’ve made our jobs a lot easier. But there is a problem and it’s easy for people to say at public comment “all you have to do is…’ It’s not that easy and if it was this would’ve been solved 20 years ago.”
Bregy shared his thoughts on the future of D-112:
“I don’t think a new middle school will be built,” said Bregy. “I just hope that for our kids we’re able to fix the financial problem and give them the facilities they deserve, as our neighboring competitive districts are way ahead.”
Bregy told DailyNorthShore he misses the cabinet and so many people. “The board should be reflected like a team that has their own voice and opinion, yet is still able to work together,” he said. “That’s what I’d like to see happen for any BOE, and if our cabinet of nine could do that, seven board members should be able to do that as well. I’m proud that my name and the cabinet’s name will go into the archives, because in five or seven years when people look back they’re going to say that’s what we should’ve done.”