SHIRLEY — When the Ayer-Shirley Transitional Regional School Committee held its final meeting at the Shirley Middle School June 10, there were three voting issues on the agenda, including the appointment of an interim superintendent for the regional school district.
That seems like a lot to tackle in one session, but the board had an ambitious to-do list from the outset.
Consisting of three appointed members from each town, two from the regular school committees and one community representative, the six-member transitional committee was formed to bridge the gap between the regionalization vote in March — when Ayer and Shirley officially became educational partners — and the seating of the elected board on July 1.
The transitional committee ceases to exist at midnight on June 30, when the Regional School Committee takes over, but it has made several key decisions to date.
The first move was momentous: a vote taken in concert with the Ayer and Shirley School committees, both of which will remain in place for the transitional year; that is, until the new regional school district becomes operational in the 2011-2012 school year.
In April, the three groups voted together on an identical motion to merge the towns’ middle-school student bodies in Shirley this fall, preceding the startup by a year.
Thursday night, the transitional committee made another big move, on its own this time, voting 5-1 to appoint Ayer Curriculum Director Mary Beth Hamel as interim Superintendent for the Ayer-Shirley Regional School District in its transitional year.
The new position is part-time as well as temporary and calls for a commitment of 20 hours per week for a $20,000 salary. Hamel — who will concurrently perform her full-time duties for the Ayer School District and presumably the transitional region and the merged middle school as well — was one of two applicants for the position. First advertised less than a month ago, the other applicant was Carl Mock, a retiring school superintendent from Springfield with over 35 years experience as an educator who plans to move to Shirley soon.
A subcommittee, consisting of Ayer’s Patrick Kelly and Shirley’s Bob Prescott, met with both applicants June 3 and made its recommendation in a June 10 memo to the board. While agreeing Mock “is an impressive professional” with an “impressive resume,” they chose Hamel for the job, stating it is “the best thing for the district at this time.” They cited her relationship with the leadership team and district faculty as advantages, both in terms of the upcoming middle school merger and the overall transition during the next year.
But two Ayer teachers present at the meeting — Patricia Lynch and Ayer Teachers Association President Denise Smith — were clearly not satisfied with the process.
Smith questioned whether the board should be discussing the matter in public, especially with only one of the candidates there. “Is there any room for executive session?” she asked.
Shirley resident James Quinty, a member of the nascent Regional School Committee, also expressed doubts. In his opinion, it was not appropriate for lame-duck members of the board to vote on this issue. Absent deferral of the vote until the Regional School Committee meets, he suggested that only “standing committee” members who will also serve on that board should vote and those who won’t should abstain.
Community representatives James Stephen, of Ayer and Joseph Barriero, of Shirley, did not run for the Regional School Committee; David Baumritter, Chairman of the Shirley School Committee, lost his bid for a seat on that board.
But transitional committee chairman Patrick Kelly said the vote should be made by all or not at all.
Others agreed that the board should vote as a body and had the right and the duty to do so. “We’ve made several significant decisions that will tie the new regional board, I don’t see this as any different,” said member Dan Gleason, of Ayer.
“I agree,” said Prescott. “This is the sitting board right now.”
When it came to a vote, Stephen was the only member to vote “no.” In his view, hiring an outsider was the way to go. It would be a unique opportunity to “get more than we pay for,” he said. He reasoned that just as the two interim superintendents — Shirley’s Malcolm Reid and Ayer’s George Frost — will have more responsibilities over the coming year, so will Hamel as curriculum coordinator. “If we get a chance to hire someone not currently employed here, it would be to our advantage,” he said, especially if that individual is eyeing the full time superintendent’s job. Although they would not be obligated, that added incentive would benefit the district, he said.
But Baumritter saw a double-edge. “What’s the learning curve?” he asked. It would take time for a new person to get up to speed on the two school systems and the direction they’re headed. “That’s a minus to the value-added” scenario, he said.
Before the vote, Ayer School Committee member Brenda Magno spoke for the teachers, reiterating their stand. “There’s concern that this discussion should not take place in public,” she said.
But Dr. Stephen Hemman, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of Regional Schools, said the issue did not justify the executive session the teachers apparently wanted.
At a previous meeting, the transitional committee considered a letter from Lynch, stating her strong opinion that the board’s first priority should be to hire a permanent superintendent for the new district. That viewpoint was later backed by Smith.
At a meeting on May 19, the transitional committee agreed to move forward to appoint an interim superintendent and to appoint a subcommittee to interview applicants.