School cloak and dagger

The search for a superintendent to administer the school district that serves the Rockland area has taken twists and turns and has some similarities to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on President Obama’s health care legislation.

Both the superintendent search and the Supreme Court’s deliberations have been done in the utmost secrecy. Both have attracted a lot of attention. Both will have a significant impact on the country in terms of the health care ruling and the local community when it comes to the selection of the superintendent.

The high court waited for its final day of the session to announce that the individual mandate in the federal legislation was constitutional. This was met by surprise by the many cable television pundits who had expected Chief Justice John Roberts, a summer resident of an island off St. George, to side with those who ruled that the mandate violated the U.S. Constitution.

And RSU 13 is waiting to the final moments to name a new superintendent. The district’s former superintendent Judy Lucarelli announced in November she was leaving the district that next month. Now, nearly seven months later, the community still is uncertain who will be its next education leader. The neighboring Five-Town School Community School District in the Camden area learned in mid-April that its superintendent was retiring. Two months later it had named his successor – - an in-house candidate.

And apparently many people within RSU 13 thought that the Rockland area school board would follow suit. Interim RSU 13 Superintendent Neal Guyer was one of two finalists for the top RSU 13 post until he was informed June 21 that he was no longer being considered for the job. He sent an e-mail to  administrators on the same day that the school board met and reached a consensus to enter talks with another candidate.

Following that action, 11 administrators in the district issued a public letter in which it heaped considerable praise on Guyer. The administrators cited a list of accomplishments and praised his open and collaborative leadership.

The administrators thanking one of their own is not a surprise, but the public approach is interesting. Since the administrators understand that the board could announce a new superintendent by next week, the new superintendent would come into a district where his administrative team have made clear it would have preferred someone else. That puts the new superintendent in a difficult position.

Local pundits believe the board was sharply split between Guyer and another candidate.

The board has not released the name of that final candidate. The board is scheduled to meet Tuesday night to interview the yet unnamed finalist and then to vote Thursday night to appoint the person.

The board cites state confidentiality law in refusing to name the finalist but that has not prevented other districts such as Portland to bring in their finalists for public scrutiny. All the board would have to do is get permission from the candidate to release his name.

I say “his” name because while the board has not named the finalist, word has leaked out that Eric Ely, the current superintendent of the Southbridge School District in Massachusetts, is in the running for the job.  David DiGregorio, who had served on that district’s board but whose term expired this month, acknowledged Friday that he had received a telephone call from a RSU 13 board member named Brian who was doing research on Ely. Brian Messing happens to be the chairman of the RSU 13 personnel committee.

According to news reports from Southbridge, Ely has applied for several other superintendent jobs after only two years with that Massachusetts district.

Attempts to reach Ely have been unsuccessful although a message was left on his cell phone.

The long time it has taken to select a new superintendent and the apparent sharp division within the board has similarities to the Supreme Court deliberations. The Supreme Court is divided, often on 5-4 votes. The school board will be electing a new chairman next week and local pundits say there may be a split on who should take over for Greg Hamlin who stepped down last week.

The big question will be who will be the Chief Roberts on the RSU 13 Board and will that sway the decision and present a surprise to the pundits and public.

And an update:

Ely had yet to return a telephone call Monday afternoon but one source said that he has withdrawn from consideration. Where that leaves the board is the $64,000 question. The board will be meet with its attorney on a legal matter Tuesday evening and then will meeting, still behind closed doors, on a personnel matter.