School Committee meets with attorney to discuss superintendent’s contract

****This story was updated on July 23 with a new comment from School Committee member Brian Ota on whether he would continue to recuse himself on issues related to Superintendnet John Buckey. See below.

The Marblehead School Committee met in executive session (closed to the public and reporters) on Friday afternoon to discuss Superintendent John Buckey’s contract, which does not end until 2025.

“I have been advised by counsel to make no comment,” School Committee Chair Sarah Fox told the Current when asked what was discussed at the meeting and what next steps might be. The district’s attorney, Colby Brunt, attended the executive session. Buckey was not there.

“I’d say it is unusual to discuss a contract with two years left on it,” said Bill McAlduff, who served as Marblehead’s interim superintendent before Buckey arrived in 2020.

The newly elected School Committee met for the first time last month. The committee met virtually Friday, July 21 with an attorney in a closed session to discuss the superintendent’s contract. CURRENT PHOTO / LEIGH BLANDER

Ota recuses himself

New School Committee member Brian Ota, who filed a complaint against Buckey with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination related to his contract not being renewed as Glover School principal in 2022, recused himself from the executive session.

“I contacted the Massachusetts Ethics Commission to ensure I understand any potential conflict of interest if I participated in the executive session,” Ota said at the meeting before it moved into its private phase. “Based on my discussion with the Ethics Commission, I will recuse myself from the executive session.” 

When asked if he would continue to recuse himself from discussions and votes related to Buckey, Ota responded, “Your question …. is too broad a question to answer. I will review what the topic is and then make my decision.”

At the final meeting of the previous School Committee, before Ota and Jenn Schaeffner were elected, members voted unanimously to give Buckey a “proficient” grade on his annual review.

Revolving door

Buckey came to Marblehead in 2020 with a three-year contract, which was subsequently extended to five years. According to the contract, the School Committee can release Buckey without cause with 100 days notice and a $94,350 payment. It can also remove the superintendent for cause, though not before offering him the opportunity to have a hearing with legal counsel present.

Over the last two decades, Marblehead has had a revolving door of superintendents, who include Ellen Minihan, long-term interim Phil Devaux, G. Paul Dulac, interim Brian Salzer, Gregory Maass and Maryann Perry, who retired in 2019 amid a financial controversy. Interim McAlduff served between Perry and Buckey.

‘Churning and burning superintendents’

“I would say that the Marblehead public schools district seems to have been in disarray for years, and there is a history of School Committees churning and burning superintendents,” said former School Committee member Tom Mathers, who served an interim term on the committee and declined to run for the seat in June.

Mathers continued, “It would be disappointing if this newly seated committee would take action on Dr. Buckey, especially given strides in the last year that I have observed. Also, the appearance of conflict of interest to the public is high, given one member of the [School Committee] has an open complaint with MCAD against the district and Dr. Buckey, and another member of the [School Committee] is a founder of an online publication, which has utilized its platform to advance an anti-Buckey narrative.”

Mathers concluded, “Let’s hope it hasn’t come to [buying out the superintendent’s contract], as this will be a budgeted increase to the MPS and not contemplated in the budget that was approved for FY 24 by the town.”

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Editor Leigh Blander is an experienced TV, radio and print journalist who has written hundreds of stories for local newspapers, including the Marblehead Reporter.

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