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Ex-Holyoke school chief loses bid for Minn. job

Lingering questions about how the former Holyoke schools superintendent handled allegations of abuse involving special-education students have cost him a new job heading the Minneapolis district.

The Minneapolis School Board voted unanimously Tuesday evening to cancel contract negotiations with Sergio Paez, said Dirk Tedmon, a Minneapolis Public Schools spokesman.

On Wednesday afternoon, Paez declined to comment on the board’s vote and said his future is unsettled.

“I don’t have any plans right now,” he said by phone.

“This is very difficult for me and my family, so I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

The vote left it unclear who will lead Minneapolis schools. The district’s interim superintendent, Michael Goar, is a former Boston Public Schools administrator and had been a finalist to take the seat permanently. But Goar received fewer votes than Paez.

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The chairwoman of the Minneapolis school board, Jenny Arneson, said Wednesday that she could not say how the board would address the leadership void.

“Last night was a difficult night and not one that I was proud to be a part of,” Arneson said in a statement. “There’s plenty of blame to go around. The board needs to come together if we are going to make a good decision for the kids of Minneapolis and this is what I’m going to be working on starting now.”

The Minneapolis board voted to hire Paez early last month, two days before the release of a report by the Disability Law Center that alleged students with behavioral and emotional disabilities were abused at Holyoke’s Peck Full Service Community School while Paez was superintendent.

A week later, Minneapolis suspended contract talks with Paez pending a visit to Holyoke by two school board members and their report back to the panel Tuesday.

Paez lost his job in Holyoke last summer after state officials voted to take over the long-troubled school district and place it under control of a state-appointed receiver.

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Following the abuse allegations, Paez repeatedly defended his actions in Holyoke. He said he had ensured that claims of abuse were thoroughly investigated and that his staff could not verify allegations made at the Peck School.

He could not account for the School Department’s inability to substantiate the claims of abuse made by a former Peck School employee, Liza Hirsch, in a detailed seven-page letter she submitted to Paez upon her resignation in March.

That letter became the basis of investigations by the Disability Law Center and the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education that found abuse at the Peck School.


Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.