Blue Ribbon Panel for Lowell Supt. Search Set
LOWELL -- For what officials believe is the first time, members of the Lowell School Committee will sit on a screening committee tasked with narrowing the pool of school superintendent candidates.
The decision to name three members of the School Committee to sit on a 20-person “blue ribbon” screening committee passed 6-1 in a contentious, decision-filled meeting Monday night that, at one point, erupted into a shouting match.
Members also approved a job posting for the permanent superintendent position, which will be posted next Monday and offer a salary between $205,000 and $225,000.
This sum marks an increase over the $185,000 the School Committee offered former-Superintendent Salah Khelfaoui when he was hired in 2015. A four-year contract signed by Khelfaoui in 2017 would have gradually increased his pay to $204,206 by June 30, 2020.
Applications for the superintendent job are due by April 2 and the screening committee will meet on April 9 to review applications.
The committee is expected to interview candidates the week of April 22 and bring a unspecified number of finalists to the School Committee on May 1.
The names of the finalist will be made public. The School Committee will continue the rest of the selection process by organizing interviews and site visits the week of May 13. According to a timeline discussed at the School Committee, the board should make a selection by May 31.
The superintendent selection process will also include focus groups seeking input from different members of the community.
The make-up of the screening committee spurred discussion at the Monday night meeting. The structure of the group expanded, despite pushes early in the process by some members of the School Committee to keep it small -- as low as nine in some proposals.
The approved make-up includes four representatives from the United Teachers of Lowell; one representative from the University of Massachusetts Lowell; one representative from Middlesex Community College; one principal; three parents; one community member; two representatives from the Lowell School Administrators Association; one representative from the clerk’s union; three members of the School Committee; one representative from the Cambodian community; one representative from the African community; and one representative from the Latino community.
Only Mayor William Samaras voted against adding members of the School Committee to the screening committee, though School Committee member Dominik Lay also expressed reservations early in the meeting.
“I did not believe that the School Committee should be part of the blue ribbon committee. My thought was all of us or none,” Lay said. He clarified that he would want to sit on the committee if School Committee members were appointed, but opposed appointing School Committee members in general. He later voted in favor of the inclusion of School Committee members.
Glenn Koocher, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, said placing several members of the School Committee on the screening committee is “is more common than not, but neither (option) is unusual” among districts in the state.
No more than three members of the School Committee can sit on the screening committee without forcing the process into a public meeting. Koocher said a public selection process can deter candidates by allowing their current jobs to know they are applying elsewhere and opening them up to media scrutiny.
School Committee Gerry Nutter -- who has pushed for School Committee members and other new faces on the screening committee -- raised his voice during the discussion, beginning a heated exchange between himself and Samaras.
“That’s what Lowell runs on in this city. ‘We’ve ways done it that way.’ Well, we’ve always done maintenance the same way too and look how good we’re doing it,” Nutter said.
Samaras banged the gavel.
“Stop yelling ... What is that? Are you going to bully me?” Samaras said.
Nutter responded, referencing comments made by Samaras to the Sun where the mayor said naming members of the School Committee to the screening committee could intimidate other members of the group.
“Who’s more intimidating than the UTL (United Teachers of Lowell) president,” Nutter said.
Paul Georges, the president of UTL who was sitting in the back of the room, said “excuse me.” After the meeting, Georges said the comment was made in the “heat of the moment” and said he has never tried to pressure people into decisions during his role in these selection committees.
Samaras said he will likely name members of the Personnel Subcommittee -- School Committee member Robert Hoey Jr., Jackie Doherty and Connie Martin -- to the screening committee.
School Committee member Robert Hoey Jr. later made a motion to allow members of the School Committee to each pick a representative to sit on the committee.
The motion was later amended to allow only the four members of the School Committee not directly sitting on the screening committee, including the mayor, to have a representative. The motion was voted down 2-5 with only Hoey and Lay in favor.
A proposal by Samaras to add a member from the Lowell Plan failed 3-4, with School Committee members Nutter, Andre Descoteaux, Lay and Hoey voting in opposition.
The School Committee raised the number of members from the UTL from two to four. The four, they specified, should include union president Paul Georges, and teachers from each of the three levels, elementary, middle and high school. That change was approved 5-2 with Nutter and Doherty in opposition.
In a unanimous vote, the School Committee added a second representative from the Lowell School Administrators Association, which is expected to include the union president, Lyndsey Killilea, and a district-wide employee. Doherty suggested adding an employee from the central administration not represented by LSAA, like an assistant superintendent. This suggestion did not go to a vote and was not added.