School Committee meeting on superintendent’s contract lasts less than one minute

If you blinked, you missed it. Tonight’s highly-anticipated School Committee meeting to vote on the early termination of Superintendent John Buckey’s contract lasted less than one minute. The next time the School Committee meets, it will be in executive session with no public access.

“We are no longer going forward with this meeting tonight due to last-minute communication between counsel and I have been advised to adjourn the meeting immediately at 7:31,” said School Committee Chair Sarah Fox. More than 235 people had tuned in.

A few minutes later, Fox told the Current, “I received a call from our attorney minutes before the meeting instructing me to make that statement. She had just heard from Dr. Buckey’s counsel. We will be posting an executive session as soon as the clerk’s office opens tomorrow.” By law, the soonest that executive session can happen is Monday.

The Current asked Police Chief Dennis King about a report that one of the committee members found a balloon with a red clown face painted on it outside her home, and King said the incident had not been reported to police.

Buckey’s attorney said the School Committee never responded to a proposal he sent Monday.

“We spoke again this morning with no progress,” Long continued. “I called committee counsel tonight at 7 p.m. to ask if the committee intended to counter to my Monday proposal. She related the committee would not counter. We then discussed potential options to resolve this matter, leading to the cancellation of tonight’s meeting to provide the committee with a chance to consider those options.”

Long did not provide further details.

“It would not be appropriate at this time to disclose the specifics of potential options,” he said.

Hours earlier, Long said Buckey still doesn’t know why he might be fired.

“He has had no opportunity to defend himself against unstated reasons for this proposed action, despite a clear history of proficient performance evaluations by several School Committees over several years. This action will apparently occur without a public hearing on ‘charges,’ without meaningful and issue-specific input from the community and without an opportunity for Dr. Buckey to defend himself and his professional reputation.”

Long went on to say: “We have not been told the basis for this action. It may be that experienced committee members have harbored ill will for COVID-related practice in the district. If this is the case, their rational fails to consider the public health directives imposed by state health and education officials on Marblehead and every other district in Massachusetts. Blaming Dr. Buckey for COVID is convenient, but not fair or rational. 

“Perhaps some members are angry about the failed override, and the program cuts, particularly freshman athletics, which followed. In his position as superintendent, Dr. Buckey’s duty is to make policy and programmatic recommendations to the Committee,” Long added. “The failed override meant identification of policy options for program cuts would inevitably include unpopular choices. Even in Marblehead, limited resources means difficult choices must be made between equally desirable programs. As to newer members, in service on the Committee for only a few weeks, and in the absence of publicly stating their concerns, Dr. Buckey and the community may never know their true motivations.”

Fox has declined to answer questions about what the committee is discussing or why they may want to fire Buckey.

Long also addressed the Current’s report on a bullying investigation involving a MHS coach and any concerns that Buckey did not act promptly in response to a parent’s complaint. Read that story HERE.

Read more reaction from students, teachers and town leaders to the School Committee’s actions HERE. Follow a timeline of events HERE.

This is a developing story. Stay with the Current for late details.

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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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