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Interim Lawrence Superintendent Mary Lou Bergeron

LAWRENCE — Mayor William Lantigua denied a motion last night to consider offering interim Superintendent Mary Lou Bergeron a permanent appointment to run the troubled Lawrence Public Schools.

"I think that if you wanted to discuss the subject, you should have put that item on the agenda," Mayor Lantigua told School Committee member Martina Cruz before the close of last night's meeting.

"So, I will not entertain a motion," the mayor said.

Cruz is advocating a three-year contract for Bergeron, who has been overseeing the city's school system on a temporary basis for more than two years.

"In light of what's going on, I'd like to make a motion," Cruz said, noting that the hiring of a school superintendent remains the chief concern of officials of the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Hiring a full-time superintendent as soon as possible was the top recommendation of a highly critical report about the city schools released by the agency last month.

Lantigua said he would allow discussion of Cruz's motion if the rest of the School Committee members wanted to discuss it. But nobody backed up Cruz, so the meeting adjourned after several routine announcements.

In an interview after the meeting, the mayor declined to elaborate on recent discussions he has been having with state Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Mitchell D. Chester over the superintendent's post.

"My hope is that the School Committee hires somebody," Lantigua said.

But, the mayor also said "all options are open," including the possibility of extending Bergeron's interim contract, offering her a permanent contract, hiring another temporary superintendent — or, still hiring a new school leader based on the recommendations of the superintendent search committee, which rejected all 17 candidates last month.

"We'll do what's best. We just care about the district," the mayor said.

In an interview after the meeting, Cruz said she was disappointed that the mayor would not allow the committee to at least discuss the matter of Bergeron's contract.

With the possibility of a state takeover of the Lawrence Public Schools looming, hiring a candidate from outside might even be more difficult, she suggested.

"Look at where we are now, with this state report, and we want to bring somebody new into the system? With all of these problems, we're going to be in a transition period," Cruz said.

"It takes time to adjust. Every time you change somebody, you don't see results immediately. The most important thing we need now is stability. We have somebody who is already familiar with the problems and what we need to do. We're in the middle of the school year, and we know what we need to be working on," she said.

"My concern is that with the politics that are being played here, it's going to be challenging to get somebody to work in the system. People know what's going on and they won't want to come here. Do we want a state takeover? If we don't take the responsibility to do what we need to do, there are consequences," she said.

School Committee member Mark Gray said in an interview after the meeting that he doesn't like the way the search for a superintendent was conducted nor the delays that put the committee in the current dilemma it faces.

With Bergeron's interim contract due to expire at year's end, there is uncertainty over whether she would agree to another extension or another interim leader would have to be appointed.

Gray, who has been a chief critic of Bergeron and once called on the committee to fire her, said he'd like to see members appoint a qualified person before their term expires at the end of the year.

There is also a possibility the current School Committee will have to pass the responsibility of picking one onto the committee that takes office in January.

"The problem is some School Committee members will feel pressured to act when they should be holding their ground and fighting to choose the best superintendent possible," Gray said.

"If not, they shouldn't be on the committee. To me, the biggest problem is finding somebody to run the school system. That should be our focus," Gray said.

"Lawrence can't afford to hire a superintendent just because they're up against the clock. If it takes time, it takes time. Just don't make the kids pay for everyone's failure on this. We should be thinking about the kids."

During the public participation segment of last night's meeting, Gray took to the podium, to express personal concerns he has about the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Gray took umbrage with recent comments made by Commissioner Chester about ongoing discussions he was having with the mayor and elected officials in Lawrence.

"How is it that I'm one of the people that this man (Chester) didn't talk to," Gray said.

Gray added the public needs "to keep a diligent eye on the Department of Education and what they do ... because I don't trust them," he said. He said the commissioner and other agency officials have ignored his calls.

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