Feb 182013

Tony Bent

Tony Bent

After a fast-paced but inconclusive search for a superintendent to replace interim superintendent Tony Bent, the Groton-Dunstable Regional School Committee is looking forward to a year of uncertainty and change that ripples from the committee’s makeup to the superintendent’s and budget and finance office, and further downstream to the schools.

Several factors are in play, and they are intertwined — how one plays out is likely to effect the others:

  • Bent is working through a one-year contract that expires in July. He and the committee are in talks about the possibility of extending the contract for a second year, but neither side is commenting on how likely that may be.
  • If Bent signs a new contract, a second search for a permanent superintendent will start this fall. If Bent and the committee don’t reach an agreement, the committee will need to start a search immediately for either a permanent superintendent or another interim.
  • Bent and his administrative team are floating a preliminary budget this spring that increases spending moderately to catch up after several years of level funding. The level funding budgets forced delays in key areas such as the district’s technology infrastructure and its use of technology in the classroom. The increased budget is a tough sell though, and is likely to increase taxes in both Groton and Dunstable when the total district enrollment is declining.
  • A search has just begun to recruit a new Director of Budget and Finance to take over from Gerald Martin, who is retiring. The job posting information, released last week, specifies a tentative start date in July. Because this administrator is a key player in the district and works closely with the superintendent, the uncertainty over this year’s budget and who will ultimately fill the superintendent’s office could be a factor in recruiting for the B&F slot.
  • Two Groton School Committee members, John Giger and Leslie Lathrop, have pulled nominating papers that indicates each is seeking to hang on to their positions in this year’s Town Election on April 30. No challengers have pulled papers yet. Last Wednesday, seven-year committee member Berta Erickson announced that she was resigning. As of Monday, February 18, though, the Town Clerk had not received a letter of resignation from her. Until the letter is filed, the method and timing of choosing a replacement is up in the air, Town Clerk Michael Bouchard said. Depending on when Erickson’s resignation takes effect, the school committee and Groton Board of Selectmen could appoint a replacement to serve the remaining two years of her term, or they may have the option of adding a slot on the April ballot so voters could fill the unexpired term, he said.

The committee appointed a 15-person search committee in early December that met during the week before Christmas to review the 26 applications they received. They prepared a slate of five finalists for the larger school committee to interview. Public forums and site visit followed and two candidates withdrew. The three finalists were Ann Bradshaw, superintendent of the Mashpee school system; Marie Galinski, superintendent of the Beverly school system; and Maureen Ward, superintendent of the New Hampshire towns of Franklin and Hill.

Each candidate had much to recommend them, different committee members said, but committee members had differing views on how they might fit with the goals of the district. After the markedly unenthusiastic public discussion of the three remaining applicants at the January 17 School Committee meeting, the result isn”t much of a surprise and illustrates that the committee has learned that just because a slate of candidates is offered it doesn”t mean the committee is compelled to hire one of them. In the end the committee was not able to rally around a single applicant and felt it was better to take the time to do a second search.

Jim Frey

Jim Frey

Speaking on behalf of the Committee, Jim Frey said it has “… not yet taken up planning for the next round.” When asked if the failure to find a good match indicated that the search process might need to be changed, he replied, “there are lessons learned each time we go through such a cycle, but whether or not that will change our approach going forward has yet to be determined.”

During the committee’s budget discussion on Wednesday evening, member Leslie Lathrop noted that the outcome of this year”s budget process — which may include an override — will affect how the district appears to potential candidates during the next search. She explained that some candidates cited budget issues among the reasons they chose withdraw from consideration.

Bent”s success as an interim superintendent may have influenced the committee”s decision to reopen the process in search of an ideal candidate, sources close to the search said. Having observed Dr. Bent”s upbeat, collaborative, and hands-on leadership style during his short tenure with the district, it could be that the committee felt unwilling to settle for a less capable leader than the man currently at the helm.