SEPAC logo, 2011

Two School Committee members and the head of the group representing parents of special-education students have expressed clear discouragement in the decision to restart the process to find a new director of special education.

School Committee logo

"We are disappointed that the superintendent did not feel any of the three finalists could be appropriate for Arlington," wrote Trish Orlovsky, chair of SEPAC, on Friday, April 13.

One day earlier, before leaving on a trip to China, Superintendent Kathleen Bodie wrote in an email that "we were unable to choose a director of special education following our search this year." She cited no reasons in connection with three finalists who had visited Arlington earlier. She wrote that Kathleen Lockyer, the interim director, had agreed to serve for another year.

Orlovsky continued: "Parents and several school committee members attended the public interview with each candidate, and there was a consensus that one would be a very good fit due to her background, personal style, open communication and energy."

At the April 12 School Committee meeting, members William Hayner and Judson Pierce registered their concerns.

Hayner recommended restarting the search immediately, citing the importance of having a permanent director in place. He said he had met two of the candidates and had been impressed.

Pierce said he was disappointed. "We need someone to take this job and build a tower." The comment referring to an earlier demonstration of team-building introduced by Kirsi Allison-Ampe, the newly elected chair, drew laughs.

He remained serious, noting "a lot of emotion" about the issue from parents of special-education students. He said he would "love to get some answers" from the superintendent "before we move forward."

Member Cindy Starks asked for a review of the process and how it didn't work. She asked: "If we didn't get qualified candidates this time, how will we the next time?"

She added that she would "like to see [the process] happen sooner than later," noting pressures involved at the end of the school year.

Starks and Hayner plan to raise questions with Bodie at a future committee meeting, following the superintendent's return from China.

Orlovsky made a similar plea the next day: "I would like very much to hear the impression of the final candidates from members of the Screening Committee, who put long effort into screening and interviewing candidates. To my best knowledge, they were pleased to present the three finalists for consideration.

"Unknown by us is the methodical steps of final screening/vetting by the Superintendent following all the screenings, interviews, tours, and meetings with staff and parents. Given the months of effort involving so many stakeholders, it would be instructive for us and helpful in building a sound and successful hiring process for the Superintendent to explain the methods and steps taken in her end of the screening and decision-making.

"We have requested that there be a full discussion of this with the school committee and parents of her process following the public interviews and tours, so we can understand what prompted the halt to what seemed good momentum in selecting a Special Ed Director."

In her email April 12, Bodie concluded:

"We will conduct another search next year, but we are fortunate that our current interim director, Kathleen Lockyer, has agreed to serve another year," pending approval by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

"As always, we will continue to focus on our ongoing Special Education initiatives and improvements."

As a search for a permanent director of special education got underway last year, pay was an issue.

"We have been on the low side," Bodie told the School Committee on Thursday, Nov. 17. She said she will be looking in the range of $110,000 to $120,000.

Mark Ryder, who directed the department for three years and announced he was leaving in March for a nonprofit in Maine, was paid $110,000 a year.

The job description the committee approved last week does not state the salary.

The committee received a list of annual salaries paid to top administrators of special education in some Massachusetts school districts. Here is the list (at the end are explanations of what the varying asterisks mean):

Arlington: $110,000 *

Belmont: $120,923 *

Lexington: $135,194 *

Acton: $119,734 ***

Bedford: $92,745 ***

Boxborough: $96,663 ***

Brookline: $101,663-$136,000 ***

Carlisle: $122,400 ***

Concord: $133,900 ***

Dedham: $103,000 (260 days) **

Dover/Sherborn: $100-$105,000 (3 administrators of special education, 220 days) **

Framingham: $116,032 (12 months) **

Holliston: $113,300 (260 days) **

Hopkinton: $114,477 (225 days) **

Lincoln: 132,487 ***

Medfield: $116,500 (220 days) **

Medford: $103,000 *

Millis: $106,406 (260 days) **

Natick: $114.000-$130,000 (220.5 days) **

Needham: $123,814 (260 days) **

Newton: $130,000 ***

Norwood: $113,497 (260 days) **

Walpole: $88,000 (261 days) **

Watertown: $117,260 ***

Wayland: $122,148 (261 days) **

Wellesley: $131,078 (260 days) **

Weston: $125,065 (260 days) **

Westwood: $120,983 (225 days) **

*Winchester: $114,000 *

TEC: $110,000 (260 days) **

* Arlington, Belmont, Lexington, Medford, Winchester data given by HR/payroll, Nov. 12, 2011

** Data with number of days is from TEC

*** Data without number of days is from EDCO 

This story was first published at Monday, April 16, 2012.