EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

June 7, 2013

City picks new school finance chief

Salary of nearly $80,000 expected

By Shawn Regan
sregan@eagletribune.com

---- — HAVERHILL — The allure of the School Department’s Central Office has tempted another retired administrator back to full-time work.

Following public interviews last night of two finalists to be the school district’s interim business manager, the School Committee voted unanimously to offer the job to Leighton O’Connor for a one-year term.

O’Connor, who retired in 2008 as business manager for the Gorham School District in Maine, has worked as a budget consultant for Haverhill schools for the past three years.

O’Connor also was Lawrence’s administration and finance director from 1988 to 1998 when Haverhill Superintendent James Scully was superintendent there. Scully also came out of retirement to work in Haverhill.

Scully said he expects the city will pay O’Connor close to $80,000.

“Given the complications of an urban budget, O’Connor has more experience and we worked well together in Lawrence,” Scully told the committee in recommending O’Connor for the position. “When we arrived in Lawrence, their budgets were packed away in shoe boxes, but we made it run well for 10 years.”

Scully said O’Connor has been working as a consultant for Haverhill schools for about three years. He was initially hired to analyze the budget at the city-funded Silver Hill Horace Mann Charter School, Scully said. More recently, O’Connor has been reviewing the district’s health care systems to identify potential cost savings, the superintendent said.

“He has worked well with Kara, which will help with the transition,” Scully said of O’Connor.

Kara Kosmes, Haverhill’s longtime assistant superintendent for finance and operations, is leaving July 1 for a similar job at Whittier Regional Technical High School.

Mayor James Fiorentini raised concerns that because O’Connor is collecting retirement benefits, he can receive pay for no more than 900 hours annually, or about half a year, according to state retirement rules. O’Connor said he has no plans to stop his pension, but that he will “volunteer” his time in order to fulfill his year-long commitment to the district.

Scully also was retired three years ago when he agreed to become Haverhill’s interim school superintendent. He eventually accepted the permanent position and stopped collecting retirement payments in order to resume working year round.

Scully still has to negotiate a contract with O’Connor, but he said after the meeting that he expects O’Connor’s annual pay will be in the $70,000 to $80,000 range. Kosmes salary is about $95,000 per year.

The School Committee chose O’Connor over Ruth Quinn Berdell, a former school business manager in Wellesley who was fired following a financial scandal there. She told the committee during her interview that she left Wellesley as a result of “politics” and because she opposed the efforts of a new town manager to take control of the school finances.

O’Connor said he is familiar with Haverhill’s accounting and budgetary systems and that he is looking forward to making them better. He said he and his wife, Karen, recently sold their home in Florida and are looking for a new home in the area. His wife is a school teacher and is also looking for a job, he said.

O’Connor was also a finance director for the Concord, N.H., school district from 2005 to 2007, and he worked for the Rhode Island Department of Education as a senior financial analyst in the late 1990s, according to his resume.