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Interim superintendents collect pensions and salary

A number of retired school superintendents have landed jobs as interim leaders of area school districts, allowing them to collect a pension as well as thousands of dollars in salary for their temporary positions.

This year, 52 of the state’s 275 superintendents will either retire or move to another job, said Tom Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents.

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The retiring educators don’t always stop working, though. A growing pool has joined a cottage industry of interim superintendents, usually serving for a year in school districts that need experienced administrators who can guide them during the transition to a permanent replacement. The number of veteran superintendents available for fill-in duty increased after a state law was passed in 2001 that allows educators to retire with 80 percent of their pay after working 36 years.

Last summer, Norton turned to Christopher Martes to serve as interim superintendent for this school year. Martes, who retired from the Foxborough district’s top job at age 57 in 2011, helped oversee Norton’s search for a permanent superintendent. In January, the district hired Holbrook’s superintendent, Joseph Baeta, with July 1 his official starting date in Norton.

“As an interim if you know you’re only going to be there for a year, you can bring proven veteran leadership and stability,” said Martes, who is receiving $135,000 from Norton while also collecting his $139,000 annual pension.

Interim posts can be a financial boon for retired school chiefs who want to keep working.

If a community obtains a waiver from the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, as Harvard and Norton did, its interim superintendent can earn a market-rate salary and still collect his or her pension through the state system.

Even without the waiver, an interim can still collect a pension while being paid by the new school district, but the salary is limited to the difference between the pay of the person’s last position before retirement and the pension amount, plus an additional $15,000.

Among area communities this year, interim superintendents are in charge of the school districts in Belmont, Brockton, Hopkinton, Harvard, Marlborough, and Norton, as well as the Freetown-Lakeville and Groton-Dunstable regional systems. For next school year, interims are slated to be back in Belmont, Freetown-Lakeville, Groton-Dunstable, and Harvard, and taking the reins in the Lincoln-Sudbury Regional and Wrentham districts.

In Harvard, Joseph Connelly is completing his second year as its interim superintendent and has agreed to remain on the job next year. Connelly led the Tri-Town School Union in Topsfield, Boxford, and Middleton for 13 years, and also served as superintendent in Stoneham for nine years before retiring in 2007. Since then, he’s continued to work.

In 2008, he was interim superintendent in Berlin; in 2009 he was an interim K-8 principal in Brookline; in 2010 he served as interim superintendent in Gloucester, and then in 2011 moved on to Harvard, where he is receiving $110,000 for his annual salary as well as his $117,876 pension.

“It’s almost been like a second career to me,” said Connelly. “I’ve had a chance to be part of some wonderful communities. You feel that you can contribute and it’s been very satisfying. The drawback is that you very quickly become attached the community.”

Former superintendents say the availability of early retirement and the intense public scrutiny of the position, particularly through social media, have created a difficult environment for superintendents to stay on the job beyond a few years.

Martes said he believes the pressure of the job has led to fewer educators being interested in becoming a school district superintendent.

“There’s a lot more accountability, there’s a lot more paperwork, and then everyone has an opinion on social media on how you’re doing,” he said. “Any time a decision is made, people are on Facebook discussing it.”

Martes, who had served as superintendent in Medfield and Framingham before taking the Foxborough job in 2007, is part of a growing cadre of retired educators who want to keep working in interim situations.

Martes said school boards are looking for interims who can seamlessly run the district, create budgets, continue strategic plans, and, in some cases, help pick a permanent superintendent.

An interim superintendent gives school officials more time to make a permanent selection.

Wrentham is just starting to step into its version of the superintendent shuffle, after last month’s announcement by Jeffrey Marsden that he would be leaving to take the top educator’s post in Medfield.

Police Chief James Anderson, who is on the committee looking for an interim superintendent for Wrentham’s district, which covers students in prekindergarten through Grade 6, said the timing of Marsden’s decision made it more difficult to find a permanent superintendent in time for the fall.

“We want the best possible candidates, and since we’re so late in the school year, I think an interim will bridge the gap and it’ll give applicants an opportunity to apply for next year,” he said.

Steven A. Rosenberg can be reached at srosenberg@ globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @WriteRosenberg.
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