METHUEN — After the last superintendent resigned over licensing issues, school officials are prioritizing proper credentials in their search for a new leader.
School Committee members said Monday they only want to consider candidates who have a state-issued superintendent’s license – or an out-of-state equivalent – for the district’s top job.
“I do not want to be looking at applicants who are just eligible for their license. I only want to be looking at applicants who have a license,” said member Jana DiNatale.
Former Superintendent of Schools Judith Scannell abruptly resigned late last August following reports she did not have the superintendent’s license required for her position. Assistant Superintendent Brandi Kwong, a licensed superintendent, has been leading the district since, first as acting superintendent and now as interim. She has said she intends to apply for the permanent position as well.
The School Committee is undertaking a “full search” for a new superintendent, opening the door for both internal and external candidates. The Massachusetts Association of School Committees (MASC) is aiding in the process, and Field Director Dorothy Presser appeared before Methuen’s committee Monday night to finalize the details.
School Committee members voted to do away with the requirement that anyone who applies for the superintendent’s job that lives or teaches in Methuen automatically be granted an interview. That’s typically the case for other open positions in the district, they said.
“I want the screening committee to review all the candidates, but I don’t want them to feel obligated or held to that standard that they have to interview,” candidates from Methuen, said Vice Chairman Nicholas DiZoglio, who was re-elected to his position on Monday for another year.
“I think people and families of Methuen deserve to have the very best candidates. I don’t want to automatically be interviewing people just because they’re from Methuen,” she said.
Among the requirements the School Committee set Monday is that candidates have 10 years of experience in education, including classroom and administrative work. Some questioned whether it was necessary for candidates to have experience in both areas, but member Susan Nicholson, a former superintendent, argued the importance of both.
“People want to know that you understand the job that they have,” Nicholson said.
School Committee members also squabbled over the potential salary for the superintendent's position. While most school districts offer a salary range, some members initially argued for making pay negotiable.
Presser said it was not uncommon for school committees to undergo “sticker shock” when setting a new salary following the departure of a longtime superintendent. But, she cautioned, not setting a range could “raise expectations for people who may be looking for a salary higher than you’re willing to pay.”
Nicholson said Scannell’s salary of $166,917 — she had not received a raise for several years — was “not really reflective of the salary the superintendent should have been receiving" for running the 17th-largest district in the state with more than 7,000 students.
Vogler said the School Committee’s goal “should not be to nickel and dime issues," but DiNatale countered by saying the district couldn't afford the most experienced candidates for the job.
The committee ultimately voted on a salary range of $170,000 to $195,000, with negotiable benefits and a three-year contract. DiNatale and Jana Zanni Pesce voted against it.
DiNatale also pushed for being open in the contract process, given the city's ongoing issues over steep salary increases for police superior officers borne from a new method of calculating benefits in their contract.
“I think we’re going to be really transparent in this contract,” DiNatale said. “We’re not going to hide a lot of extras in there.”
With the logistics largely settled Monday night, focus groups — for parents and community members, and for school staff and administrators — will be scheduled for later this month, a community survey will be posted online and volunteers will be sought for the screening committee.
Candidates will have until March 1 to apply for the superintendent's job. They will be whittled down to a handful of semi-finalists presented to the screening committee for interviews. Finalists are set to be named in mid-March, followed by more interviews and site visits, and culminating in the potential selection of a new superintendent by mid-April.
Follow Lisa Kashinsky on Twitter @lisakashinsky.