By Jennifer Myers
BILLERICA — Chris Scott is the new executive director of the scandal-scarred Merrimack Special Education Collaborative.
The former Lowell superintendent of schools was chosen unanimously on Wednesday morning by the 10-superintendent MSEC board. Forty-five candidates applied. Scott was the only name brought forward by the screening committee for consideration.
Scott, 46, of Cambridge, will begin March 1.
"Her knowledge, expertise, quality of leadership and relationships in the Merrimack Valley will help us to continuing improving the collaborative moving forward," said Judith Klimkiewicz, chair of the MSEC board and superintendent of Nashoba Valley Technical High School in Westford.
Scott began her career in Halifax, Nova Scotia, as a special-education teacher. In her capacity as a teacher and later as superintendent in Norfolk and Lowell, she worked to set up special-education programs.
She served as the superintendent of schools in Lowell from 2008 to 2011, leaving last June when the School Committee did not offer her a new contract. Since last August she has worked as the superintendent-in-residence and senior associate for National School Reform at the Community Training and Assistance Center of Boston.
The collaborative’s former executive director, John Barranco, came under fire in June for double-dipping and allegedly misusing at least $37 million in public money intended for local special-education students. State investigators said Barranco handed out exorbitant salaries to colleagues appointed to oversight boards, and paid for trips to Florida and the Kentucky Derby, and for dinners with taxpayer funds.
State Auditor Suzanne Bump called the corruption uncovered at the collaborative "dirtier than the Big Dig."
Barranco’s actions are now the subject of investigations being conducted by the state attorney general and the inspector general.
Barranco reaped an annual state pension of nearly $158,000, while raking in a $500,000 salary by funneling the money from the collaborative to a closely related nonprofit, the Merrimack Education Center, state officials allege. The MEC board fired Barranco in September. The Massachusetts Teachers’ Retirement System ruled he broke state pension laws, and is docking Barranco’s pension for six years to recoup the money.
The collaborative provides special-education services to 800 students from 10 member districts: Billerica, Chelmsford, Dracut, Groton-Dunstable, Nashoba Valley Technical High, North Middlesex Regional High, Tewksbury, Tyngsboro, Westford and Whittier Regional Vocational Tech.