This site aims to inform and mobilize Beverly parents to take an active role in all issues related to the funding and operation of the city's schools. It was launched in the spring of 2008, when the city saw its first-ever override attempt fail, followed by the closure of a nearly-new elementary school. Subsequent years have seen further cuts that have led to larger class sizes across the district. While the opening of an impressive new high school and plans to replace the city's aging middle school give us reason to be optimistic, the school community must be ever vigilant in demanding appropriate school funding by city and state governments, and better community communications from the district and School Committee.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

SPED Director Pick Stirs Controversy

Today's Salem News has details on the controversy that's been brewing over Superintendent Galinski's pick to replace retiring Special Education Director Debra O'Connor.

The position is one of the most senior and important administration positions, overseeing a program that serves nearly 25% of the district's 4,300 students and manages a budget of $11 million.

Galinski initially selected Cove Elementary Principal Stacy Bucyk, who had previously served under O'Connor in the SPED department, as her choice to fill the position, and began a public search for a new Cove School principal.

An interview and vote of approval by the School Committee had been scheduled for last Thursday, but was abruptly cancelled after a group of parents led by members of the Special Education Parent Advisory Council raised objections about the closed nature of the process (many SPED parents didn't even know O'Connor was leaving), and the fact that no search process was undertaken to look at outside candidates.

Then on Friday, Galinski sent a ConnectEd message to the entire school community announcing in very legal terms that a public search would be done for the "Director of Pupil Personnel Services." The message gave little background on the previous developments, and it wasn't even clear to the layman that this was the Special Ed Director position:
To ensure that all constituents have an opportunity to participate in the selection process in compliance with various interpretations of state statute, the Director of Pupil Personnel Services position will be posted, and a search committee formed. ...
... The search for a principal for the Cove School has been suspended until the process for the Director of Pupil Personnel Services has been completed.  
Galinski tells the News that she chose Bucyk in part because of her qualifications in Special Education, but also because the salary that Beverly is offering for this position (which we believe is set by the School Committee) is not competitive with what is being paid by other districts:
Galinski said she selected Bucyk without a search because she is well-qualified and there are few qualified candidates available. She also said the salary that Beverly is offering — between $95,000 and $105,000 — is "at the lower end of the scale." Similar positions in other districts pay up to $127,000, she said. 
"I obviously know what the pool looks like on the outside. I have contact with superintendents," Galinski said. "It's a very difficult position to fill. There aren't a lot of candidates, and we don't pay a competitive salary. 
"It was apparent to me that we had somebody in-house that was qualified. I recommended to the School Committee that we don't do a search. They agreed to do that and then changed their mind."
According to the News, there also seems to be some confusion over who has the authority in hiring for this position:
School Committee President Maria Decker said the interview was canceled due to "varying opinions" on the proper search process....
... Decker acknowledged that pressure from parents played a role in the School Committee's change of mind. She said there was also confusion over whether the School Committee or the superintendent has the authority to hire the special education director. 
State law says the School Committee "shall appoint a person to be its administrator of special education." But the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has recommended the hiring be left to the superintendent.  
Amy Donovan, co-chairwoman of the Special Education Parent Advisory Council, which was the driving force in persuading the School Committee to back off on Bucyk's appointment told the News that she is pleased that the School Committee decided to open up the process:
"The main thing we were hearing from parents is that they really wanted to see a search process," Donovan said. "It wasn't anything specific to the candidate that the superintendent was recommending. It's a major position in our district. It's a very broad population, and it impacts every school in the district."
As was the case with the initially closed method by which the administration and School Committee developed and planned to vote on the 5-8 middle school model last fall, the objections here seem to not necessarily be with the specific candidate that was chosen, but with the lack of public notice and inclusion into the process.