Sorry Litchfield, No School Budget Surplus to Return to Taxpayers

July 10, 2015


by Len Lathrop

As school years wind to a close in mid- to late June, most superintendents must take a deep breath.  However, we can’t be sure what kind of breath Brian Cochrane took.

Superintendent of the Litchfield School District, Brian Cochrane offered his resignation to the school board effective June 30, 2015.  In a statement released June 20 by Litchfield Education Association’s president, Nate Cooper, it was announced that its members had voted no-confidence in Cochrane as the district superintendent; the term super majority was used to describe the results of the vote.  According to the LEA statement there were several factors in the decision but most reasons for the decision focused on its belief that the students’ needs in Litchfield were not being served by the district.  The statement continued to fault Corcoran’s unilateral decision-making and micromanaging of teachers, programs and building maintenance.

Following several school board meetings, Cochrane resigned, but was appointed as interim superintendent beginning July 1, and ending August 31, 2015, with 14-day notification clauses viable for both Cochrane and the school district.

Cochrane’s service as Litchfield superintendent began July 1, 2012; prior to that he was assistant superintendent of the Nashua school system.

Brian Bourque, on behalf of the school board, issued a press release thanking Cochrane for his three years of service to the district and wishing him well in future pursuits.

School board member John York spoke with the HLN this week and was candid in his conversations.  Although eh was not able to answer all questions because many things happened in nonpublic session, he did indicate that as the school board came out of nonpublic session they voted to pay severance to Cochrane in the amount of one-year salary. York stated it is roughly $135,000 along with about $20,000 in other payments due to Cochrane from his contract.  York was quick to emphasize that the school board had this money in surplus from the budget at the end of the year, and while the plan was to return it to the taxpayers as required under New Hampshire statues, it was encumbered to close out Cochrane’s tenure at SAU 27.  York, when asked about the LEA vote, said he didn’t see it coming, but felt that the decision was the best for the district, as the school board couldn’t find a way forward, and any other resolution discussed would have split the board.  The hope is to have a new interim superintendent in place before the beginning of the next school year.  York commented that he felt that Cochrane had done what the board had asked him to do, that he has changed the direction of the district in many fronts instituting a student and teacher information system, and  changing how the building access is granted as just two of many.

Cochrane was also very candid during a phone conversation this week stating he was surprised by the vote of no-confidence, and felt that the LEA’s largest issue focused around the school calendar and how teaching hours were to be used.  Cochrane continued that he felt he had strived to meet the school board’s goals and that student learning was always at the forefront.  Voters had supported the school district by granting a teachers contract for three years which on top of a cost-of-living increase allowed some step increases for teachers who had gone without them some for five years time.  Also the voters approved a warrant article for student information system and new math tutors.

In a statement, Cochrane listed successes at the district under his leadership, ”Much has been accomplished in the schools and district, with some of the more noteworthy including the negotiation and approval of a new three-year teacher contract, enhanced school access control to provide greater security for students and staff, rebuilding our technology infrastructure and improving our smart classroom technology allowing us to better utilize digital learning resources in classrooms,” said Cochrane.  “Next year the district is also scheduled to pilot a 1:1 computing program and implement a new student information system.  Over the last three years, Campbell High School in particular has seen significant improvements in academic achievement with the most recent state assessment results showing the school’s best results ever in each of reading, writing, math and science.  SAT scores have also increased significantly with the last two years of reading and writing scores showing double digit increases over prior years.  Advanced Placement exam results have also trended up with increases in student participation, average score and the percentages of students scoring three or higher and four or higher on their exams.  The high school has also maintained a very low dropout rate during this time.”

The Litchfield School Board has 170 employees which roughly includes 115 teachers, the board will meet next Wednesday, July 15, where new interim superintendents will be discussed.  John York mentioned that there were two or three good candidates at this time.

Nate Cooper, the president of the Litchfield Education Association, was reached out to via email but as of press deadline there was no reply.