AUBURN — Newly elected City Councilor Jim Pross was questioned by a School Committee member Wednesday night about the focus of the four neighborhood meetings city officials are hosting over the next four weeks.

The purpose is to hear from residents and work to improve the quality of education for Auburn students, said Pross, Ward 1 councilor and the mayor’s representative on the School Committee. He said the new council wants a new and improved relationship with the School Department, unlike what’s happened in recent years.

Ward 2 School Committee member Bonnie Hayes stopped him, saying the meetings are not just about schools. It’s for regular citizens, regular old taxpayers, she said. “It’s not just focused on schools.”

If the focus is education, that “is kind of too bad,” she said. “That should have been initiated from the School Department and not the City Council or the city side.”

Pross said the meetings won’t just be about education, but the hope is to draw people to their neighborhood schools to talk about the subject because education is a big part of what the city does.

Again, Hayes said if the meetings are about schools, they should have been initiated by the School Department.

Pross said he didn’t see a problem with how the meetings were organized.

“We’re all sitting in this building,” he said.

The meetings are opportunities for people to express concerns and understand the larger picture in the community, including “what’s driving things from an education perspective, what’s important to schools, what’s important to PTOs,” Pross said.

Superintendent Katy Grondin said the meetings were “not planned to be school-focused but neighborhood-focused.”

Pross also shared that the new council is rearranging subcommittees to help improve future policies. The new committees will keep a better eye on what’s happening in different committees throughout the city. For instance, Pross said, one committee will pay more attention to what’s going on in Auburn schools.

“We applaud that interest,” School Committee Chairman Tom Kendall said. Additional eyes would be helpful, he said.

He cautioned that the use of the word “policy” is troublesome to the School Committee, because the committee is charged with implementing school policy, not a City Hall committee.

Pross agreed, saying the goal of a new council subcommittee would provide a clearer picture to the council about what’s going on in schools, which will help councilors make better citywide decisions.

“We’re not going to be drafting school policy,” Pross said.

He also encouraged School Committee members to reach out to their ward’s city councilor and establish a professional relationship.

He’s encouraged councilors to do the same, Pross said. The sooner members start talking to each other about the needs of their neighborhoods and city, the better off everyone will be.

“Regardless what anybody thinks, we did reach out to the City Council last year — three times,” Hayes said.

She agreed a better relationship between the two bodies should happen.

“There is a lot of water that needs to go under that dam,” she said. “It’s a good thing we’re doing this.”

When everyone does come together, she hopes that “everybody is attentive. The iPhones and laptops are put away. Everybody from the mayor down to the janitor is listening to what we’re all saying. I think this is going to be a good start for this.”

Pross agreed, saying the new City Council “is a good group.”

In other business, committee members were given reports on where the School Department is in implementing the new proficiency-based diploma; the Class of 2021 being the first to graduate based on what they know rather than seat time and credits.

Also, another report was given on a new teacher evaluation system. During the next two years, teachers will be given one of four ratings: ineffective, partially effective, effective and exceeding effective.

Teachers rated as ineffective for two years could face dismissal, Assistant Superintendent Michelle McClellan said.

Auburn neighborhood meetings

Jan. 21 — At Edward Little High School, intended for residents of Wards 1, 2, 3 and 4, and parents of Park Avenue, Washburn and Edward Little schools.

Jan. 28 — At East Auburn School, for residents of Ward 1 and residents and parents with students at East Auburn and Washburn schools.

Feb. 4 — At Walton School for residents of Wards 4 and 5, and parents of Walton and Sherwood Heights students.

Feb. 9 — At Auburn Middle School for residents of Wards 2, 3 and 4, and students of the middle school and Fairview Elementary School.

All meetings begin at 6 p.m. They’re hosted by the city to get input and share ideas before budget deliberations begin.

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