LAWRENCE — Mayor William Lantigua tonight is scheduled to outline his plan for conducting a search for a new superintendent of schools to a School Committee — and a city — that is sharply divided over whether a search is even necessary.
Last night, the leaders of the Lawrence Teachers Union began throwing the union's support behind interim Superintendent Mary Lou Bergeron, who was passed over for a permanent appointment to the post on May 12 when the School Committee voted 4-3 to conduct the search. The union's seven-member executive committee voted unanimously to schedule a June 1 vote of confidence in Bergeron by the full union, whose 1,000 members also include substitute teachers and nurses.
Later today, a group of Bergeron's supporters have scheduled a rally outside school district headquarters at 255 Essex St. calling on the School Committee to keep Bergeron in charge. The rally is scheduled for 5:30 p.m., so committee members may have to walk through it on their way to their 7 p.m. meeting.
"We're rallying for stability in the district," said Jen Cooper, a parent of a kindergartner and a first-grader at the Robert Frost Elementary School and a candidate for School Committee. "I hope Bergeron applies. I hope they choose her. But during the search, you can't leave these kids without a superintendent."
Bergeron has been serving as serving as acting or interim superintendent for two years, earning $170,000. She was named interim when her predecessor Wilfredo Laboy was fired after being indicted on eight counts of fraud and embezzlement. He is still awaiting trial.
Bergeron's appointment expires June 30, meaning city schools could be without a leader on July 1 if she is not retained, even with another temporary contract.
State education officials have expressed concern that time has run out to do an effective search. The Massachusetts Association of School Committees, which Lantigua has contacted to discuss its help with the search, said the effort would likely last months beyond June 30.
Bergeron yesterday reiterated her no comment when asked if she would accept another temporary appointment.
"I am not going to discuss my plans until the School Committee has finalized their plans," Bergeron said in an email response to the question.
Michelle Gugliuzza, the assistant superintendent for curriculum & instruction, is the second-ranking administrator in Lawrence schools and has filled in for Bergeron when she is on vacation. But the School Committee could bypass Gugliuzza as well if it makes another temporary appointment to fill the superintendent's job.
As was the case last week, three of the four committee members who voted to bypass Bergeron and do the search — Lantigua, Pavel Payano and James Vittorioso — did not return phone calls yesterday. The fourth, Mark Gray, could not be reached.
"I have no idea what the prevailing side is considering," committee member Greg Morris said about whether any of the four might call for another vote on the search. "I was so disgusted with the last meeting, the last thing I wanted to do was talk to any of those four."
Meanwhile, as concern mounts about who will lead Lawrence schools as the clock ticks toward July 1, a crew from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education arrived Monday for a routine review of the school district's "systems and practices," including its leadership, financial management, curriculum and student support. The crew also will visit the Arlington Elementary and South Lawrence East Middle schools to assess the progress that has been made since the state placed them on a list of 35 failing schools last year. Each of the schools has three years to turn itself around or face a takeover by the state.
Yesterday, JC Considine, a spokesman for the education department, said there is "no truth to the rumor" that the state was considering taking over the entire school system on July 1 if no one is at the helm.
Nevertheless, he noted that state law "requires school committees to employ a superintendent of schools."
"Our interest is to see that every school committee employs a superintendent who can 'manage the system in a fashion consistent with state law and the policy determinations of that school committee,'" Considine said in an email, quoting the legislation.
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