City Manager Selection Process
The Lowell City Council’s Auditor/Clerk Oversight and Personnel Subcommittee met on Tuesday (Feb 22) to begin deciding the process that will be used to select the city’s next city manager. Chaired by Erik Gitschier with Dan Rourke and Corey Robinson as members, the subcommittee members ran the meeting and took the votes, but they allowed their council colleagues, all of whom were present, to fully participate in the discussion. The subcommittee will now bring its recommendations to the full council at next Tuesday’s regular council meeting (Mar 1).
Early in the meeting, Dan Rourke moved to establish the following timeline: advertisements for the job posted on February 25; applications due March 14; councilors submit their top candidates to Human Resources by March 18; Human Resources collates the councilor choices to identify the top three or five candidates; and interviews during the week of March 28.
At the request of Councilor Leahy, the application deadline was extended from March 14 to March 18. The initial posting date was also pushed back to Wednesday, March 2 instead of Friday, February 25, to allow the full council to formally endorse this process at its meeting on March 1. This delay was also necessary because the subcommittee voted to include in the posting a salary range from $195,000 to the current manager’s current salary ($238,000) which also must be ratified by the full council. The motion ultimately passed by the subcommittee kept the March 18 due date for applications and the week of March 28 for interviews. As I said, this will be taken up by the full council Tuesday night.
Before this motion was voted on, Subcommittee Chair Gitschier invited members of the public to speak but only one did. Then he invited comments from his council colleagues who were all in attendance.
There ensued much discussion of process-related issues. Whether to use standard questions that would be asked of all applicants got a lot of attention. Maybe five councilors were in favor of that while two preferred a more flexible approach. The rest withheld comment.
The adequacy of the job posting was also discussed. HR head Mary Callery said several times, “It’s taken directly from the statute” but then someone pointed out that compared to the mandatory licensure and professional qualifications required for even some entry level positions in city government, the manager’s posting seemed lacking in specifics. That launched the council down the path of bolstering the educational and professional prerequisites for city manager candidates. That journey was quickly abandoned with the upspoken realization that imposing detailed qualification requirements might inadvertently exclude the person most councilors want to hire.
Early in the evening, Councilor Rita Mercier clarified (for me, at least) her position on the hiring process. She still believes that if a majority of councilors have already decided on a particular person who they favor to be city manager, then the council should not advertise and invite others to apply since doing that would be misleading to other potential candidates. But she did make it clear that just because she favors a particular person, that does not mean that she would automatically hand that person the job. Councilor Mercier still wants a public interview process to ensure that the person can demonstrate the knowledge and communication skills needed to handle the job.
Upcoming City Council Meeting Agenda
The Agenda for Tuesday’s Council Meeting (March 1, 2022) is available online. I’ll watch the meeting and report on it in next Sunday’s newsletter but here’s a preview of some of the notable items:
· The minutes of the February 8 executive session at which a majority of the council apparently declined City Manager Donoghue’s request to extend her time as manager for another year is listed on the agenda although the minutes themselves aren’t in the packet. I believe the council must affirmatively vote to release minutes of an executive session so making them public before such a vote is taken would be premature. Assuming the council votes to release them, the minutes should be available in the coming days.
· The Auditor/Clerk Oversight & Personnel Subcommittee will report on its meeting last week (written about above) and the rest of the council will presumably finalize the process for selecting the next city manager.
· The council will vote on whether to bond the big Community Preservation Act awards for Rollie’s Farm and for the stained-glass window renovations to City Hall.
· There’s a major presentation on the use of American Rescue Plan Funds by the city.
· There are 16 responses to previous council motions.
· There are 13 new motions by councilors.
School Superintendent Longevity
The recent announcement by Boston Superintendent of Schools Brenda Casellius that she would leave her position at the end of this academic year after only two years on the job prompted a major story in the Boston Globe on the rapid turnover of school leadership in Boston. Here are the opening paragraphs of the story (“For BPS chiefs, a lesson plan in failure: Boston devours its superintendents, impeding progress and morale.” By Biance Vazquez Toness and James Vasnis, Boston Globe, February 20, 2022, p.1).
As Boston prepares for its third superintendent search in eight years, parents, advocates, and educators point to what they see as a troubling pattern.
When Brenda Cassellius leaves her superintendent job in June, the city’s last two permanent superintendents will have stayed on the job only three years. That relentless churn undercuts progress and morale — and the national image of a city once known for stable school leadership.
On top of all that, imagine what it must look like to the children: Most seventh-graders will likely see their fifth superintendent this fall.
The article observes that over the last 15 years in the 100 largest school districts in America, school superintendents stay on the job for an average of six years. That got me thinking about Lowell’s record of school superintendent longevity. With no regular city council meeting to write about this week, it seemed like a good time for some school department history.
My detailed review will begin further below with the retirement of George Tsapatsaris in 2000, but here’s a quick review of the superintendents who preceded him:
Vincent McCartin became superintendent in 1933 and remained in the job until 1969, leaving only because he reached the mandatory retirement age of 70. (36 years).
Wayne Peters was hired in 1969 but he wasn’t the school committee’s first choice. By a 4 to 3 vote the committee selected Dr. Thomas Shaheen of Rockford, Illinois, but when Shaheen flew here to negotiate his contract, he backed out. The school committee dipped back into the pool of applicants and elected Peters who was from Harvey, Illinois, on the third ballot by a 6 to 1 vote. In 1972, the school committee “denied tenure” for Peters. (3 years).
Hugh McDougall, a New York City educator, was hired in August 1972 by a vote of 6 to 1. McDougall left the job one year later when his contract expired. (1 year).
Earl Sharfman was the Lowell Title 1 director when he was elected superintendent by a 4 to 3 vote in 1973. In 1977, the committee voted not to renew Sharfman’s contract. (4 years).
Patrick Mogan was hired in 1977. He had been principal of a school but had also served as the head of the Model Cities Program. Mogan retired at the end of the 1982 school years. (5 years).
Henry Mroz was the Assistant Superintendent under Mogan when he was hired to be superintendent in 1982 by a 6 to 1 vote. In 1990, the school committee negotiated a contract settlement with Mroz who then resigned as superintendent. (8 years).
George Tsapatsaris, an Assistant Superintendent, was unanimously selected to be Mroz’s successor as of January 1, 1991. Tsapatsaris served until his retirement in June 2000. (9 years).
Now comes more detailed accounts of the arrival and departure of the city’s school superintendents since 2000.
2000 – Karla Brooks Baehr – 2008
In the 1999 city election, voters re-elected Timothy Golden, Regina Faticanti, Kevin McHugh and Joseph Mendonca to the School Committee. Joining them were newcomers Connie Martin and John McQuaid. Eileen Donoghue was elected mayor.
In August 1999, Superintendent George Tsapatsaris announced he would retire effective June 30, 2000. The School Committee convened a Blue Ribbon Panel to recommend candidates to succeed Tsapatsaris.
On April 20, 2000, the school committee elected Dr. Basan Nembirkow, the superintendent in Greenfield, Massachusetts, to be the next Lowell superintendent. Voting for Nembirkow were Mayor Eileen Donoghue and school committee members Joe Mendonca, John McQuaid, and Connie Martin. Committee members Regina Faticanti, Timothy Golden, and Kevin McHugh all voted for Lowell Deputy Superintendent for Personnel Helen Flanagan. Other candidates were Karla Brooks Baehr, Carol Kelly, Lowell High headmaster William Samaras, and Lowell Assistant Superintendent Rosemary Leblanc-Considine.
However, after meeting with the school committee in May to negotiate his contract, Nembirkow revoked his acceptance of the job, citing “internal strife” on the school committee as one of his reasons. The school committee reconvened on May 17, 2000, and unanimously selected Wellesley superintendent Dr. Karla Brooks Baehr to be the next Lowell superintendent.
In the 2007 city election, voters re-elected Regina Faticanti, John Leahy, Jackie Doherty, Jim Leary and Connie Martin. Joining them was newcomer David Conway. Bud Caulfield was elected mayor.
Shortly after the election, Superintendent Baehr announced she would not seek an extension of her contract which would expire in June 2008.
2008 – Chris Augusta Scott – 2011
On March 24, 2008, the school committee selected Dr. Chris Augusta Scott, the superintendent in Norfolk, Massachusetts, to be Lowell’s next School Superintendent. Scott received votes from Jackie Doherty, Connie Martin, Jim Leary, and Mayor Bud Caulfield. Regina Faticanti and Dave Conway voted for LHS curriculum director Wendy Jack. John Leahy voted present, arguing to reopen the search. Scott took over on July 1, 2008.
In the 2009 city election, voters re-elected school committee incumbents David Conway, John Leahy, Jackie Doherty, James Leary, and Connie Martin. Joining them was newcomer Alison Laraba. Jim Milinazzo was elected mayor.
In January 2011, School Superintendent Chris Augusta Scott announced she would leave Lowell when her contract expired at the end of June, citing the school committee’s failure to offer her a new contract as the reason for her departure.
2011 – Jean Franco – 2015
On April 23, 2011, the School Committee unanimously selected Deputy Superintendent Jean Franco to succeed Scott. Other finalists for the position were Attleboro Superintendent Pia Durkin, Sandwich Superintendent Mary Ellen Johnson, and education consultants Ferdinand Fuentes and Charles Wilson.
In the 2013 city election, voters re-elected school committee members James Leary, David Conway, Connie Martin, Kim Scott and Kristin Ross-Sitcawich. Joining them was former city councilor Stephen Gendron. Rodney Elliott was elected mayor.
In June 2014, the school committee offered Superintendent Jean Franco a two-year contract extension. She accepted but later that same month the committee voted six to one (Steve Gendron opposed) to delay ratifying the contract. The committee then reduced the contract to one year which would end in June 2015. In November 2014, Franco informed the committee that she would retire when that contract ended.
2015 – Salah Khelfauoi – 2018
On May 7, 2015, the school committee selected Dr. Salah Khelfauoi to be the next superintendent on a third ballot, four to three vote. On the first ballot, Khelfauoi, the superintendent in Winchendon, Massachusetts, received votes from Kristin Ross-Sitcawich and Mayor Rodney Elliott. Committee members David Conway and Kim Scott voted for Kriner Cash, the superintendent in Memphis, Tennessee. Committee members Steve Gendron, Connie Martin and James Leary all voted for Lowell Deputy Superintendent Jay Lang. The three stayed with Lang on all three ballots. On the second ballot, Scott switched her vote from Cash to Khelfauoi. On the third ballot, David Conway did the same, giving Khelfaoui four votes.
In the 2017 city election, voters re-elected school committee incumbents Jackie Doherty, Robert Hoey, Connie Martin and Andy Descoteaux. Joining them were newcomers Dominik Lay and Gerry Nutter. Incumbent Steve Gendron did not run and Robert Gignac ran (unsuccessfully) for city council. Bill Samaras was elected mayor.
In July 2018, committee members Jackie Doherty, Connie Martin, Gerry Nutter and Mayor Samaras voted to begin the process of terminating the contract of Superintendent Salah Khelfauoi who was placed on leave. Voting to retain Khelfauoi on active duty were committee members Robert Hoey, Andy Descoteaux and Dominik Lay. In November 2018, by the same vote, the school committee terminated Khelfauoi’s contract
2018 – Jeannine Durkin – 2019
With Superintendent Khelfauoi ousted in November 2018, the School Committee named Assistant Superintendent Jeannine Durkin acting superintendent. In January 2019, the School Committee voted to begin a formal search process for a new superintendent rather than just making Durkin’s appointment permanent. Durkin announced she would not be an applicant and retired at the end of the school year.
2019 – Joel Boyd – present
On May 18, 2019, the School Committee unanimously selected Dr. Joel D. Boyd to be the next Superintendent of Schools. Boyd had served as an academic superintendent in the Boston Public Schools since 2017. The other two finalists for the position were Sergio Paez and Stacy Scott.
To recap, here is the longevity list of Lowell School Superintendents from 1933 to the present:
· Vincent McCartin – 36 years
· Wayne Peters – 3 years
· Hugh McDougall – 1 year
· Earl Sharfman – 4 years
· Patrick Mogan – 5 years
· Henry Mroz – 8 years
· George Tsapatsaris – 9 years
· Karla Brooks Baehr – 8 years
· Chris Augusta Scott – 3 years
· Jean Franco – 4 years
· Salah Khelfauoi – 3 years
· Jeannine Durkin (acting) – 1 year
· Joel Boyd – tbd
Lowell Supporting Refugees
Also in the Boston Globe last week, Metro columnist Kevin Cullen wrote about a family of refugees from Afghanistan who recently found a home in Lowell. (“Coming to America: In Lowell, Afghan refugees try to get by with a little help from their friends.” Feb 22, 2022). The story was a nice shout-out to Lowell’s history of welcoming refugees. Here is some of what Cullen wrote:
Abdul Jalil Kamawi, Bibihadya’s father, stood there too, gesturing toward the four-bedroom apartment he, his wife, and their six children just moved into.
The staff at Lowell General Hospital and the Lowell Public Schools have been terrific, welcoming, accommodating. Bibihadya loves school. English is her favorite subject.
Eventually, about 2,000 Afghan refugees will be resettled in Massachusetts, many of them in Lowell, a city that has always assimilated immigrants. The Irish came here first, in the mid-19th century, then French Canadians, Greeks, Poles, Lithuanians. More recently, the immigrants were from Southeast Asia, mainly Cambodians.
On Saturday, Bibihadya Kamawi helped her 4-year-old brother, Waisahmad, up the stairs to their new home, because everybody needs a hand sometimes.
Thanks for the updates and refresher on the school situation. I look forward to the minutes of the executive session.