LEXINGTON — The Minuteman School Committee voted Tuesday to renew Superintendent Edward Bouquillon’s contract for another year, despite simmering anger in the school community over the recent revelation that he violated state procurement rules and may have attempted to circumvent the law by splitting bids on certain contracts.
Eight committee members voted to renew the contract for a one-year term; four voted against, and one abstained. The vote followed nearly an hour of public comments, many of which were sharply critical of the superintendent, including a letter calling for Bouquillon’s departure signed by 55 members of the school community.
“I think that Dr. Bouquillon has accomplished a great deal under difficult circumstances, and has essentially performed the duties we hired him to do,” said Laura Morrissette, the regional committee’s member from Arlington, who voted to renew the contract.
Bouquillon was hired to lead the 650-student regional vocational school in 2007. Under his three-year contract that is expiring on June 30 , he has been receiving an annual salary of $152,770, an $6,000 annuity, and a housing benefit valued at $20,400.
His new contract runs for one year, and increases his annual salary by $26,930 to $179,700, but does not include an annuity nor any reimbursement for housing expenses. Bouquillon had earlier asked the School Committee to boost his base salary, incorporating the housing benefit and annuity, so that his entire compensation package could be counted toward his pension.
“If you notice, the contract is a shorter contract than we had previously,” said Boxborough’s representative, Cheryl Mahoney, who voted to renew. “I had the opinion that he has done an awful lot of good for the district. He is a driving force for change in the district. However, there were some occurrences over the past year.”
In April, the School Committee released a forensic audit conducted last year by the Abrahams Group that revealed problems with how the district awarded work to a marketing company, and attempted to get an appraisal for the school property on Marrett Road in Lexington. Auditors found legal and procedural violations, but no misappropriation of funds.
Bouquillon accepted responsibility for the problems in a statement read at a School Committee meeting in April; the board did not release details of the discipline he received.
In a phone interview Wednesday, he said he was happy that the committee renewed his contract, and he is looking forward to moving ahead on achieving the district’s goals. He said he did not agree that there was widespread concern in the school community, and said during his tenure he has strengthened the relationships between the Minuteman administration and its member communities.
The vocational and technical high school draws students from 16 members — Acton, Arlington, Belmont, Bolton, Boxborough, Carlisle, Concord, Dover, Lancaster, Lexington, Lincoln, Needham, Stow, Sudbury, Wayland, and Weston — as well as other area districts, including Boston. The district’s School Committee has representatives from each of the member communities.
The audit, Bouquillon said, showed systemic issues he was unaware of at the time of the violations, but that as superintendent he has taken responsibility. The district has since trained employees, including Bouquillon, on purchasing procedures, and instituted additional oversight to ensure that the mistakes do not recur, he said.
But for many, the audit remained a major point of contention.
“As documented in the Abrahams report, I think the behavior was just a really bad example for the students,” said Carlisle representative Donald Rober, who voted against renewing. “What does this say to the students? You can do things, you can get written up, no problem, you get another contract. I think that’s the wrong message.”
Rober said that many people, particularly in Carlisle, have lost faith in Bouquillon doing the right thing.
“It’s one of those classic loss-of-confidence kinds of things,” he said. “And I just think that’s not the way to move forward — to have a bunch of people thinking that you are not a good leader.”
On Tuesday night, a succession of audience members, including parents, teachers and students in the Minuteman community, got up to ask the committee not to renew the contract, citing low morale, high staff turnover, and concern over the results of the audit. A handful of others spoke passionately in Bouquillon’s defense.
“It is time for new leadership at Minuteman,” said Sean Caples, a Lexington resident who pointed out that the audit showed not an appearance of impropriety, but actual impropriety. “Dr. Bouquillon’s credibility, integrity, and ability to lead this institution in the future have all been compromised.
“I implore you to roll up your sleeves and do the hard work necessary to appoint an interim superintendent, and begin the search for a new leader of this beloved school,” he said.
Several residents took turns reading a critical letter signed by 55 members of the school community.
The letter said keeping Bouquillon as superintendent was “not in the best interests of the students or the Minuteman community.”
The letter also acknowledged that finding an interim would be difficult, but said “the fear of not finding someone should not be the basis for keeping a superintendent in place whose reputation and effectiveness is compromised as a result of admitted violations of state procurement rules.”
Others, however, called Bouquillon a committed leader who stands behind teachers 100 percent, and who keeps the best interests of students at heart.
Minuteman athletic director John Donato called the complaints against Bouquillon, to whom he referred as “Dr. B,” a witch hunt.
“I feel it is a personal vendetta against our superintendent,” Donato said. “Let’s look at the big picture, the reason we are all here — the students. Dr. B. is here for the students. . . . You must, School Committee members, please renew his contract. He must finish the job he was hired for.”
Bouquillon said he has never met many of the people who urged the committee not to renew his contract, but he appreciated hearing their concerns.
“It’s unfortunate they didn’t avail themselves to picking up the phone and giving me a call and talking about it,” he said.
Committee members on both sides of the issue said it was time for the district to get past the problems of the past year.
“The fact that it’s a one-year contract is significant, and the fact that there’s no increase in compensation is significant,” said Concord representative Carrie Flood, who voted to renew the contract. “The vote that I took, I took based on what’s best for the school and not what’s best for Dr. Bouquillon. . . . We need to move forward.”
Belmont representative Jack Weis, who voted against renewing the contract, said the new school year will begin with a clean slate.
“Just as there were strong sentiments one way and the other during the public comment, I think the School Committee people wrestled with this issue and different people voted on different sides,” he said.
“But that vote’s behind us now, and it’s really important for the school community, the Minuteman administration, and the Minuteman faculty to all come together now and work for the betterment of the school.”