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Process for superintendent search discussed

Date: 3/13/2012

March 14, 2012

By G. Michael Dobbs

SPRINGFIELD — Should a relative of a School Committee member be allowed to serve on the search committee that will chose the finalists for the new superintendent of schools? Should the committee spend $10,000 to advertise the position in the New York Times?

Those were two of the many issues discussed by committee members during its meeting on March 8.

The committee's consultant, Patricia Correira of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, joined School Committee members Christopher Collins, Antonette Pepe, Barbara Gresham, Denise Hurst and Norman Roldan. Mayor Domenic Sarno and Attorney Peter Murphy did not attend the meeting.

Committee members had worked on March 3 to develop the brochure that will contain information on the school district and the job expectations as well as on the city itself. The committee was to continue the work on this brochure at the meeting, but other issues were brought up.

Hurst expressed serious concerns about an anonymous letter that many of the committee members had received challenging the transparency of the process for superintendent and charging there are people working privately on behalf of a candidate.

"What can we do to preserve the integrity of the process?" she asked.

Correira advised ignoring the letter since it was unsigned. Hurst's question, though, prompted a review of the process the committee has set up. Correira explained that the committee would pick 13 Springfield residents to serve as the search committee. Residents have until March 16 to apply for the committee.

Applicants responding to advertising or job postings will request a brochure from Correira's office. If they decide to apply, they will receive the brochure.

Once Correira's office has all of the applications, she will turn them over to the search committee that will have a list of criteria determined by the School Committee and based, in part, on public input at the recent series of meetings and an online survey.

No member of the School Committee can serve on the search committee.

Although they did not take a vote, most of the School Committee's members agreed that the search committee should be required to sign a confidentiality agreement. Correira noted the same state laws concerning personnel that bind the School Committee would bind the search committee.

Collins said that 27 or 28 people have applied for the search committee. He added he would like to see double-checking that any candidate is a Springfield resident.

The search committee will pick a range of finalists, again determined by the critera set by the School Committee. The names of the finalists will be revealed and their interviews will be part of public meetings.

Collins noted that if the School Committee doesn't receive the number of finalists it set, the job could be reposted.

Hurst asked, "Can we make a decision about family members [serving on the search committee]?"

Collins, the vice chair of the School Committee, acknowledged that his brother Timothy, who is president of the Springfield Education Association, could be a potential applicant for a seat on the search committee.

Pepe, whose daughter is a teacher in the district, expressed her concern about nepotism and said, "We don't want to get into it, because it's not a good practice."

Collins ended the discussion by saying, "It's not a decision we're going to make this evening."

Correira said right now an ad for the job is scheduled to go into two editions of Education Week, a trade newspaper and in the Springfield Republican. The ad will also be listed online.

Although at its March 1 meeting a $10,000 ad in the Sunday New York Times was also mentioned as part of the ad schedule, at the March 8 meeting no vote was taken to include it. Collins said that Sarno and Murphy should be included in that vote.

A presentation about a random telephone survey to gather more public input, which would cost between $10,000 and $10,500, was met with the decision to also wait for a vote from the full committee. The results of such a survey would not be returned until the end of May or early June. The School Committee intends to have the new superintendent hired by June 1.

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