Click HERE to read the screening committee's letter to the School Committee
LAWRENCE — The search for a permanent superintendent to run Lawrence public schools goes on after a screening panel appointed by Mayor William Lantigua decided not to recommend any of the 17 candidates who applied.
"It is my responsibility to report that no two of the current applicants were found suitable for recommendation by the Screening Committee," Rafael Abislaiman, chairman of the Lawrence Superintendent Screening Committee, told the School Committee last night.
"We recognize that excellent and worthy candidates submitted applications but it was decided that none was the right fit for this City," Abislaiman said, reading from a two-page statement.
"The Committee was tasked with screening to a very high standard. As a result, after interviewing four of seventeen candidates, conducting extensive reference checks, and reflecting on the charge given to the Screening Committee, our committee voted not to recommend candidates for School Committee review," he said.
Abislaiman, who is executive director of the Merrimack Valley Workforce Investment Board, said "the timing and when the committee met" turned out to be obstacles in securing a good field of suitable candidates.
He noted that job advertisements that ran in various national publications "unfortunately coincided with the start of a new school year — when most high level educational leaders are already committed."
The screening committee recommends that the posting remain open and that the School Committee initiate "a nationwide search that includes the recruitment of candidates having the leadership skills, qualifications and successful experience needed to work with this committee to lead the Lawrence Public Schools in its efforts to become a high-performing school district."
Abislaiman did not release any names of the applicants and he said he hoped that the School Committee would protect the candidates by keeping their names confidential.
Interim School Superintendent Mary Lou Bergeron again declined comment on whether she applied. Bergeron, 52, of Methuen, has served as temporary superintendent for more than two years, replacing Wilfredo Laboy soon after he was indicted on eight counts of fraud and embezzlement, including charges that he used School Department employees and resources for his personal gain.
Bergeron's contract as interim superintendent expires on Dec. 31. She initially replaced Laboy as acting superintendent in May 2009 after he took medical leave amid controversy and allegations that eventually escalated to a criminal probe. She earns $175,000 per year as interim superintendent.
The School Committee previously set October as the target date to have hired a permanent replacement for ex-Superintendent Laboy, whose trial is set to begin in November.
"If it takes much longer to get what's needed, so be it," said Mayor Lantigua, who chairs the seven-member School Committee. "We're not going to leave it to the next committee ... The 'lame duck' rule does not apply," he told members last night.
The mayor said he expected the committee will select a new superintendent before its two-year term expires at the end of the year. "The search committee will review other applicants," he said.
Several committee members expressed disappointment with last night's development, particularly committee members who supported naming Bergeron as the full-time leader and those who believed the committee waited too long to launch a productive search.
"I must say this is very disturbing to me," Committee Vice Chairman Samuel Reyes said of the uncertain situation the city now faces.