EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

May 12, 2013

Politics drives away school finance chief candidate

Business manager contender cites politics

By Shawn Regan

---- — HAVERHILL — The city’s political tension has chased away the top candidate for the job of school spending director.

David Jack, a retired Amesbury school superintendent who was on track to be hired as the district’s interim business manager, unexpectedly withdrew his candidacy. His decision came after Superintendent James Scully told the School Committee he planned to hire Jack, but the committee refused to approve the appointment until it could meet Jack and question him.

On Thursday, Jack sent Scully an email withdrawing his candidacy.

“Given the initial reception of your idea by the School Committee, I think that I am going to withdraw any interest into that position,” the email said. “I would have enjoyed the opportunity to work with you and am sure that we would have been very successful.”

School Committee President Paul Magliocchetti said Jack might have been scared off by the committee’s history of political squabbles and infighting with administrators.

“The disagreement we had was with the superintendent over the process for bringing this person on,” Magliocchetti said. “It had nothing to with (Jack), but maybe he got the wrong the message.”

Jack retired in 2011 and has since filled in as interim business manager at several large public school districts in the area. The School Committee scheduled a public interview of Jack for May 23, following which the committee was expected to vote on his appointment. He would have replaced Kara Kosmes, Haverhill’s longtime assistant superintendent for finance and operations. Kosmes is leaving at the end of the school year to become business manager at Whittier Regional Vocational Technical High School.

Jack was also in line to become the city’s highest paid employee per day, at a rate of $750 for every eight hours worked. However, Superintendent James Scully said Jack would work only about 10 days a month, limiting his salary.

Scully informed the committee of Jack’s email at a special early morning meeting Friday, at which the committee interviewed and then approved the appointment of Theresa Senio as the district’s new special education director, another top-level job that was vacant. Scully told the committee he was unable to speak to Jack directly since receiving his email because Jack was traveling in Canada.

Scully wanted the committee to approve Jack at a meeting earlier this month, based on Scully’s recommendation and without a committee interview, but the members insisted on posting the job opening and interviewing candidates. The committee agreed that any applicants, including Jack, who are certified school business managers, would get an interview at the May 23 meeting.

“It’s a high-priority position and the committee is justified in wanting to interview the candidate and validate the superintendent’s recommendation,” Magliocchetti said.

Committee member Scott Wood, who argued strongly against Jack being appointed without a School Committee interview, noted that state law specifies that school committees have authority over hiring superintendents, business managers and special education directors.

“He has a solid and impressive resume,” Wood said of Jack. “But we need to have a chance to meet and question the person before we appoint someone to this key position. I also think this needs to be a fair and open process in which any other candidates are given a chance.”

Now that Jack has withdrawn, Scully said he will review the pool of applicants to see if there are any other suitable candidates for the interim position. If not, he said he might look at hiring an accounting firm for a few weeks or months. He warned that using an outside finance consultant could get expensive, however.

According to a proposed contract for Jack, the city would have paid him $750 per eight-hour day for approximately 10 days per month. That would bring him $7,500 per month or $90,000 per year.

Jack’s proposed $750 per day rate of pay would have brought him $195,000 annually if he worked a traditional five days a week.

Scully stressed Jack would have actually saved the school district money, because he was only going to work the 10 days per month. In that scenario, Jack would cost less than Kosmes, Scully said. Kosmes was making $95,000 per year in Haverhill. The Whittier-Tech business position was advertised with a salary between $100,000 and $130,000.

“There just aren’t a lot of experienced, available, certified school business managers out there,” Scully said, noting that Whittier-Tech received only four applications for its opening from people who are certified business managers, out of dozens of resumes that came in.

“I won’t hire a neophyte in school finance,” Scully said. “Everyone knows our finances are precarious,” Scully said. “This is a very complicated and difficult job. Jack is an experienced business manager and a former superintendent who did the same thing for Whittier when they needed an interim business manager.”

Since retiring two years ago, Jack has served as interim business manager at Whittier-Tech, Pentucket Regional and Amesbury public schools.

“I won’t be rushed or pushed to hire someone I’m not confident or comfortable with,” Scully said. “One of the most important jobs of the School Department is to keep the finances stable. We need a good person who is an expert. That’s why I sought him (Jack) out.”