TOWNSEND — With a capacity crowd of parents, faculty and school administrators looking on, the North Middlesex Regional School Committee failed to reach agreement on naming a new superintendent.
The presumed front-runner for the position, Dr. Maureen Marshall, withdrew her name from consideration days before, according to School Committee Chairman Joseph Sciacca. The departure of Marshall, who is superintendent of the Quabbin school district, left two candidates vying to replace retiring NMRSD Superintendent James McCormick.
However, both of the remaining candidates — Dr. Nadine Binkley, superintendent of schools in Peabody, and Dr. Mark Masterson, superintendent in Maynard — were unable to garner enough votes from the committee to move ahead to the negotiations phase.
School Committee member Frederick Wheeler lll nominated Binkley early in the meeting, and had the support of colleagues Anne Buchholz and Theresa Morse.
”In my mind, she will develop well-rounded students,” Wheeler said of Binkley. “There is no doubt she is a leader. She will expect students to be held to high expectations, and she has a lot to offer our district.”
Morse agreed, adding, “I was also impressed with Dr. Binkley. She was up-front in the interview and she impressed me as a team player.”
School Committee member Susan Fitzgerald, however, expressed reservations about Binkley and accused her of harboring a desire to “micromanage.”
Committee member Arnold Silva said he was not comfortable voting for either candidate at the present time.
”I would like to see more horses in the stable,” Silva said. “I don’t think we’ve spent enough time with either of the candidates. I don’t think we’ve done enough.” Silva’s comment drew applause from the audience.
Silva’s noncommittal stance was echoed by committee member Sharon Santy.
Committee member Lisamarie Proctor likewise said she would not vote for either candidate.
A vote on the nomination was taken, with Binkley receiving only four votes out of nine, which resulted in another round of applause from the audience.
Sciacca suggested bringing both Binkley and Masterson back for another round of interviews, which drew fire from Wheeler.
”Why did the district go with such a long search process, which had a lot of input from the community but not the school committee until last week, if most of the board members don’t want to make a decision?” Wheeler asked. “ This doesn’t sound like any way to run a district to me.”
Wheeler said the school committee’s job is to prepare the budget, negotiate contracts, and hire the superintendent.
”Those are the big three, and we are doing all of them right now,” Wheeler said. “What will the ramifications be if we reopen the search? What message will we be sending?”
Wheeler quickly moved to adjourn the meeting, which was seconded by Buchholz.
”Sure, let’s just walk away again with nothing done,” member Dennis Moore said.
Wheeler withdrew his motion, then apologized. “I’m just frustrated,” he explained.
Fitzgerald made a motion to appoint Dr. Masterson, but her motion failed for lack of a second.
Dr. Louis Amadeo, representing the Merrimack Education Center which conducted the search, informed the committee that failure to select a superintendent at the meeting would delay the appointment of a replacement for several weeks.
”We can go back and do another search, or you could appoint an interim superintendent,” Amadeo told the committee. “I will have to contact both candidates and see if they would be interested in coming back. We’d be talking three to four weeks just with these two candidates, and longer if you want to expand the search.”
Dennis Moore again expressed frustration at the committee’s unwillingness to vote.
”How many interviews are enough?” asked Moore. “How much time is enough? We’re all afraid to make a decision. We are elected to make hard decisions, and now is the time.”
Buchholz asked members to reconsider, and to support a move to appoint Binkley, but no members would budge from their original decisions.
”I’m afraid we’re going to lose her if we don’t act,” Buchholz said. “We’re digging ourselves into a hole.”
Sciacca asked Amadeo to contact both candidates, and if either would not return for further interviews, to prepare a list of three more names from the list of semifinalists. But that request drew the ire of committee member Dennis Moore.
”This room already has the stink of burning bridges,” Moore said, “and I don’t think we should bring it any further. Am I the only one at this table that is embarrassed over this? I don’t think this committee knows what it’s doing.”
A vote to adjourn the two-hour meeting was also split, but passed on a narrow vote of five to four.
Teachers’ union president NancyJo Daly said after the meeting that union members would be interested in hearing more interviews.
”We did not like what we heard about Dr. Binkley from the Peabody district,” Daly said, “but we would be open to listen to her again, with better questions this time.”
Prior to the 7:30 p.m. meeting, an estimated 100 teachers picketed in front of the high school, protesting the status of their contract negotiations.