The hunt for a new superintendent of Boston schools will formally begin early next month, when the School Committee plans to name a “small and focused” search committee to lead the process.
Committee chairwoman Jeri Robinson on Tuesday announced the first steps in the search, beginning with a special meeting March 2 where the School Committee will also release details of its separation agreement with outgoing Superintendent Brenda Cassellius, whose departure was announced last week.
Glenn Koocher, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees shared an overview of the typical search process with committee members, and a rosy assessment of the likely interest among candidates.
“Boston is a marquee city known as a center for education, and there’s no reason to expect less than the best potential superintendents in the country to want to come,” said Koocher.
But Brandon Cardet-Hernandez, the committee’s newest member, alluded to a decade of high turnover in the position, and resulting concerns about stability. “I want us to be mindful of ways we can make this a sustainable job, so we can retain talent for a long time,” he said.
Described publicly as a “mutual decision” made by Mayor Michelle Wu, Cassellius, and Robinson, the superintendent’s resignation is set to take effect in June. Wu has said she wants to fast-track the search for a replacement, to have a permanent successor on board by the end of the school year — an aggressive timeline that suggests the mayor may have local candidates in mind. The city’s last, national search for a superintendent lasted a year.
Committee vice chair Michael O’Neill noted that roughly one-quarter of superintendent jobs in large cities nationwide are currently in transition, and acknowledged that while some candidates may be drawn to the energy of a new mayor, others will have questions about the prospect of a potential change in the city from an appointed to an elected School Committee.
The School Committee will request proposals from professional search firms to assist in the process, Robinson said. She said the severance agreement with Cassellius was drafted by counsel for the city in accordance with her contract and past practice.
The committee voted eight months ago to extend Cassellius’ contract for two more years, until 2024, despite protests from some mayoral candidates who said the next mayor should weigh in.
Cassellius earns a little more than $300,000 in annual salary and other compensation, according to city data.
The last time a superintendent left the job before the end of their contract, in 2018, the School Committee approved a payout of about $300,000. The expenditure was not voted on in a public session, an apparent violation of the state’s open meetings law, which requires votes on such matters to be taken in public while allowing private negotiations.
The School Committee defended its process at the time, saying it was not required to vote in public because it was not approving a policy or budget. That case, too, involved a superintendent, Tommy Chang, leaving three years into a five-year contract in what was described as a “mutual decision” made by Chang and then-Mayor Martin J. Walsh.
The School Committee had planned to vote Tuesday on an agreement with the Boston Teachers Union allowing unvaccinated educators to keep their jobs, but postponed its decision after an appeals court judge granted an injunction late Tuesday halting Wu’s vaccine mandate for city workers. The committee vote was put on hold to allow legal review of the injunction, Robinson said.
It was unclear when the committee will revisit the agreement negotiated with the BTU, under which unvaccinated educators could keep working as long as case rates are low and they submit negative test results. In a statement Tuesday night, BTU president Jessica Tang said the union understood and supported the postponement of the vote to review the legal ruling.
About a dozen teachers and parents spoke against the memorandum at Tuesday’s meeting, saying they objected to language that could force unvaccinated union members to take unpaid leave from work when COVID-19 case rates are high.
“Teachers are the unsung heroes . . . and now they’re being thrown out,” Dorchester parent Maggie Mancuso said. “It’s unmoral and unethical.”
Just 367 BTU educators remain unvaccinated, the union said last week.
It’s unclear how a lawsuit filed against the union by two BPS teachers on Monday may affect the fate of the agreement. The teachers allege the union broke its own rules when it held a vote to ratify the agreement because it failed to give its members proper notice.
The lawsuit is the latest legal action taken by city employees in the wake of Wu’s vaccination mandate, which aims to achieve a fully vaccinated city workforce but has not yet taken effect due to a court ordered stay.
In other pandemic-related developments, the district will update its COVID-19 policies next month, Cassellius told the committee, discontinuing the school-based test-and-stay program and supplying students with home test kits instead, as outlined in the latest state guidance.
The district plans to maintain its masking requirement and its pool testing program, she said, and will also provide new, higher-quality masks in schools. The changes, to take effect March 7, will be detailed in a letter to families on Wednesday.