ANDOVER — The incoming school superintendent will make about the same amount of money as the outgoing one, School Committee Chairman Dennis Forgue said.

In March, the School Committee selected Marinel McGrath from a field of four finalists to succeed Superintendent Claudia Bach, who has been with the district for the past 12 years.

Forgue and fellow School Committee member David Birnbach then worked with McGrath to negotiate a contract. After at least one meeting and a series of phone calls, they agreed on a three-year contract with a base salary of $195,000.

The $195,000 amounts to $36,782 more than the $158,218 base salary Bach received in fiscal year 2010. McGrath's contract will also include $3,500 for conference reimbursement, $3,000 for in-district travel and $500 for additional membership fees.

But Forgue said McGrath's contract is "simpler" than Bach's, which makes it "cost neutral" for the district. For example, McGrath did not take the School Department up on its offer of health insurance benefits, longevity and annuity, which Bach received.

"In the way that we structured the agreement, we did not add to the cost that we currently incur in employing a superintendent," Forgue said during a School Committee meeting after the contract was signed in March.

In all, the district spent $208,372 on Bach this year, and will spend $205,195 for McGrath next year. That amounts to a savings of $3,177, Forgue said.

However, Bach agreed to a 3.53 percent salary reduction this year, according to the town's Human Resources department. That effectively brought her base salary to $152,823 and the total cost of the district down to $202,977. That means the district will actually spend $2,217 more for a superintendent next year.

McGrath, who served as Andover's assistant superintendent from 1995 to 2002, is currently making $175,676 in Hamilton-Wenham, where she has served as superintendent for the past eight years.

During the superintendent search, Forgue said the salary range was listed between $180,000 and $200,000 based on a recommendation from Michael Gilbert, field director for the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, a consultant for the search.

"We looked at similar districts and their projected superintendent salaries," Gilbert said.

Those districts included Brookline, Lexington, Natick, Needham, Reading, Wellesley, Westford and Winchester. Gilbert said the superintendent salaries in those districts ranged from $152,000 to $199,000.

"To be competitive, this is the amount that was recommended," Forgue said. "We wanted the best person we could find."

Former selectmen candidate Larry Bruce, who lost to incumbents Jerry Stabile and Alex Vispoli in the March elections, was critical throughout his campaign of the salary range posted by the School Committee.

"They started with what Claudia (Bach) was making after 12 years with the district," Bruce said. "The town is notoriously bad at negotiating."

He said the School Committee could have hired an equally qualified person for less, noting that employers often look to fill open positions at a lower salary.

But former School Committee member Deb Silberstein, who helped select McGrath but did not participate in the salary negotiations, said the market for superintendents is highly competitive, and the money being spent is well worth it.

She said the committee had to look at the market when it developed the salary range and when it came to negotiating a contract.

"It is hard to get good people, and when you get good people it is hard to keep them," Silberstein said.

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