LOWELL -- The School Committee entered murky legal territory Wednesday as it voted, by a narrow margin, to instruct Superintendent Salah Khelfaoui to form a search committee and begin interviewing candidates to become the permanent head of Lowell High School.

Khelfaoui had said he was waiting for the results of teacher and administrator polls about the interim head of school Marianne Busteed's performance and that if she received a resounding endorsement he would strongly consider hiring her long term. If she did not, he would begin a formal search process.

Under state law, superintendents have the sole authority over principal hiring, but Khelfaoui's proposed strategy did not satisfy a majority of the School Committee.

Before voting to instruct Khelfaoui to begin a hiring search regardless of Busteed's performance, committee members Steve Gendron, Jackie Doherty, Connie Martin, and Robert Gignac decided not to request a legal opinion on whether they could issue such an order.

Gendron said the vote adhered with the district's existing policies, but some of his colleagues, including Gignac, who eventually voted for the motion, questioned whether that was the case.

Robert Hoey, Andre Descoteaux, and Mayor Edward Kennedy voted against the motion.

"I think it's pretty foolish for us to spend the time and the money to go searching for somebody when we already have somebody that everybody is happy with," the superintendent said.


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"It's not ethical for us to carry out a search if our mind is already set on keeping a person."

Following the meeting, he said that he would adhere to the committee's wishes by beginning a search but that if he decided Busteed was the best person for the job he would simply ask her to apply along with any other candidates and then hire her.

"At the end of the day, it's my decision anyway," he said, adding that reviewing resumes and checking references was no comparison for observing somebody actually do the job.

Khelfaoui hired Busteed as the interim after a search process for a permanent head of school earlier this year produced an unsatisfactory pool of candidates.

Several committee members said Wednesday that they have received nothing but positive comments about her performance from school staff.

The committee members who voted to instruct Khelfaoui to form a new search committee said they were not expressing a lack of faith in Busteed, rather they were urging the superintendent to follow the same hiring process that his predecessor had.

"We are simply requesting that you put forward a process that is transparent, that includes public input," Martin said.

Follow Todd Feathers on Twitter @ToddFeathers.