LOWELL -- Three members of the School Committee wouldn't have to wait until the finalists are announced to review applicants for the superintendent position, according to a plan floated at a Personnel Subcommittee meeting Wednesday night.
A discussion about the "blue ribbon" screening committee -- a group that typically narrows applicants to three to five finalists -- raised the possibility of three School Committee members on the 17-member committee. The proposal marks a departure from superintendent screening committees in the recent past, which have not included School Committee members.
The discussion is expected to resume when the whole School Committee meets Monday night at 6:30 p.m. in City Council Chambers for a special session. A tentative proposal for the committee makeup included in this meeting's agenda packet does not include any members of the School Committee on the list.
Both lists recommend the following:
* Two members of the United Teachers of Lowell
* One University of Massachusetts Lowell representative
* One Middlesex Community College representative
* One principal
* Three parents
* One member from the community at large
* One member from the clerk's union
* One member from the Lowell School Administrators Association
* Three from diverse groups, including the Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association, a representative of the Latino community selected by the Coalition for a Better Acre and a representative from the African American community.
Glenn Koocher, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, is assisting the district with the search. He said some searches benefit from the presence of a School Committee member on the screening committee, which can keep a single member of the screening committee from having an oversized influence during the search.
"The presence of the School Committee can make sure the School Committee's interest is always preserved," he said.
However, allowing the entire School Committee to participate in the review of every applicant would require these meetings to be public session under state law, he said. Though two school districts have taken this route in the past, he said the public nature of the process scares off candidates who don't want their employers to know they're applying, narrowing the applicant pool.
If a minority of the seven-person School Committee, or less, is appointed to the committee these meetings do not need to be held in public session, he said.
Koocher said he could ask the state Attorney General's Office if other members of the School Committee could sit in, but not participate during this stage of the process.
School Committee members Gerry Nutter advocated for the involvement of a minority of the committee during the early stages of the process. He said this approach may have been passed over in the past due to the city's political landscape, but believes it should exercised this time as selecting a superintendent is one of the few powers granted to school committees.
Both Nutter and School Committee member Robert Hoey Jr. said the members participating on the committee should be selected randomly from a hat. Koocher said in other district's the chair that appoints subcommittees has also appointed these members. In Lowell, this would be the mayor.
"The way the city has been going for the past 15 years, for me to allow the mayor to pick three, I wouldn't feel comfortable with that," Hoey said.
After a brief pause, School Committee member Connie Martin replied.
"Now I think we see why School Committee members have not been on screening committees," she said.
Hoey said he thinks the district needs a change.
Martin said the process for selecting these members can be discussed at the School Committee meeting on Monday night.
School Committee member Dominik Lay suggested expanding the number of finalists to seven or nine. Representatives from the Massachusetts Association of School Committees said since finalists generally have hourlong interviews and site visits with the School Commitee, this would be a large time commitment. It may also deter candidates by making the process more public.
Hoey said his main priority is to bring new people to the screening committee.
"I think we should have all new people from the last committee," he said.
Paul Georges, president of the United Teachers of Lowell, said in the last search not all applications received by the district were forwarded to the screening committee from the organization facilitating the search. Koocher said this may be because it was asked to present only a certain number of applications to the screening committee. The Massachusetts Association of School Committees has moved away from this practice in recent years and now typically presents all applicants to these committees, he said.
Though the Personnel Subcommittee has three members -- Martin, Hoey and Jackie Doherty -- six members of the School Committee were present and spoke during the meeting. Mayor William Samaras was absent.
Acting Superintendent Jeannine Durkin is expected to step down from the position in the summer, after expressing she does not want to pursue a permanent superintendent position.
The former deputy superintendent was moved to the top position last July when a split School Committee voted to place then-Superintendent Salah Khelfaoui on paid administrative leave. Khelfaoui was later terminated by a still divided committee in November.
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