Facing questions from the public about transparency, the School Committee voted last week to delay by three weeks the naming of a new superintendent.
WESTPORT — Facing questions from the public about transparency, the School Committee voted last week to delay by three weeks the naming of a new superintendent.
On social media and in other forums, people in the community were questioning the pace of the process to name a new superintendent by the original April 6 deadline. Now, the School Committee hopes to name a superintendent by the end of April. According to search officials, 31 people have applied to become the next superintendent and many appear to be qualified candidates.
Some residents have also questioned the openness of the process, as well as the selection of members on the Superintendent Screening Committee.
School Committee Chairwoman Margot Desjardins addressed some of the complaints at last week’s School Committee meeting, dispelling the rumors that the process was rushed.
Desjardins and School Committee member Carolina Africano noted that they were both in favor of hiring an interim superintendent for the 2018-19 school year. Both said it would give the community one year to conduct a search.
“I voiced concerns that this was a shortened process. I voiced that from day 1,” Africano said. “I am offended by the fact that we are being accused of being not transparent.”
The majority of the five-member committee voted in favor of bypassing that move after Michael Shea, a current interim superintendent for Acushnet Schools, met with the School Committee in December and told them an interim should be a last resort.
After that, the committee within a month advertised and appointed the Collins Center at UMASS Boston to conduct the superintendent search.
A screening committee then formed and some questioned the composition of the committee. Desjardins noted that not many people sought appointment on the 14-member committee and the school committee appointed available candidates as quickly as possible, trying to balance it with school personnel, school and town officials, and at-large members.
School Committee member Mark Carney at a recent meeting expressed irate sentiments, saying that because his wife works for the school district, he cannot play a role in hiring the next superintendent. Carney said he was hoping to be named to the screening committee so he could partake in that process.
Jeanne Girard, a member of the Save our Schools Facebook group, also indicated at last week’s meeting that she feels the process is rushed and there should not be an urgency to name a superintendent by early April.
Ray Shurtleff, of the Collins group, noted that many parents and some teachers expressed a similar sentiment at a forum that he conducted last week. Shurtleff said approximately 40 people attended the meeting.
Desjardins said she and other officials chose that April 6 deadline because a prospective superintendent would likely want to give his or her school district 60 days notice or more.
She and other officials expressed concern that with the deadline now changing, some qualified candidates could drop out of the race.
Desjardins also expressed concern that current School Committee member Carolina Africano will not be able to help name a new superintendent. Africano’s term expires on April 10 and she is not running for re-election. Committee member Antonio Viveiros is running for re-election but is running in a race, so there is not guarantee that he will be reelected.
Desjardins noted that Viveiros and Africano have a combined 13-year tenure on the School Committee, which is more than the eight years combined of the other three School Committee members.
Now, both may not be able to lend a hand in naming a new superintendent.
Desjardins called the timeline change a “slippery slope.”
In other business, Westport Elementary School Principal Thomas Gastall will be retiring at the end of this school year. The School Committee, unlike the superintendent position rationale, decided to advertise for an interim principal for the 2018-19 school year.
Reached this week, Africano said the next incoming superintendent can search for and recommend a permanent replacement that he or she is comfortable working with.