After months of delays, the Boston School Committee is expected to resume its search for a superintendent in the coming weeks — but a new leader may not be in place by the start of the next school year.
The School Committee, working in conjunction with Mayor-elect Martin J. Walsh, is planning to appoint a search panel this month or in January, said Michael O’Neill, the committee chairman. Some community meetings may also be held during that time frame.
O’Neill said he is looking forward to moving ahead with the superintendent search and believes Boston is well positioned to find a top-notch candidate. But as for having someone on the job when schools open in the fall, he said, “I’m not going to put a timeline on that.” He emphasized that he is “not nervous about us not having a strong pool of qualified candidates.”
The School Committee is seeking a permanent replacement for Carol R. Johnson, who retired in August, four months after announcing her intention to do so. John McDonough, the School Department’s longtime chief financial officer, is temporarily filling the post.
The committee initially sought to begin the search for a superintendent in May, but had to put it on hold because the city would be electing its first new mayor in two decades.
In Boston, the mayor carries considerable clout in choosing a school superintendent, although the mayor-appointed School Committee oversees the search and has final say. Because of the mayor’s role, many school-leadership experts doubted that the best-qualified candidates would give the city serious consideration until a new mayor was elected.
Kate Norton, press secretary for Walsh, said the mayor-elect is looking forward to working with the School Committee on finding a new superintendent.
“Mayor-elect Walsh made education a priority during the campaign and has said repeatedly that the position of school superintendent will be his most important appointment after he is sworn in,” Norton said in an e-mail.
But the delay is raising questions about whether Boston will have enough time to get a superintendent in place by next September.
Searches can be cumbersome and quite competitive, typically lasting six to nine months. Then the successful candidate may not be able to start right away if he or she has contractual obligations with a current employer.
Some local education observers are optimistic that Boston might be able to complete its search more quickly, noting that Boston is widely perceived as a plum assignment. The school system is one of the higher-achieving large districts in the nation and has enormous resources, such as partnerships with a host of universities and charitable organizations devoted to educational causes.
Samuel Tyler, president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, a watchdog funded by nonprofit groups and businesses, pointed out that a search for a superintendent in the mid-1990s lasted just a few months, resulting in the hiring of Thomas Payzant, who served for more than a decade and won national praise.
“We should be able to get it done,” said Tyler, who also serves on Walsh’s transition team.
But he added that during the course of the mayoral campaign the School Committee could have pursued some aspects of the superintendent’s search, such as soliciting public opinion on setting top priorities for the district and gauging qualities they would like in a new superintendent.
The School Committee had planned to hold community meetings in the summer and then pushed them into the fall before delaying them until after the November election.
O’Neill said the committee was concerned the community meetings would have competed for attention with the numerous mayoral forums, including many focused on education.
The committee, however, has been working for the past several months on developing a “long-term strategic plan” for the district, which a new superintendent would execute. The committee may unveil the first proposed elements of that plan in December, and would then seek public input.
Kim Janey, senior project director for Massachusetts Advocates for Children, a Boston nonprofit organization, said she supported the decision to delay the search until a new mayor was elected.
“What I worried about [was] if you rushed things through you might be left with a process that the new mayor didn’t have confidence in,” Janey said. “I think it’s very important to have the new mayor’s input in the process.”