Just-released letter sheds more light on super’s departure

A letter written by then-Superintendent John Buckey to the School Committee and dated July 19 has revealed new details about his controversial departure.

The letter was released Friday, Sept. 14, at 5 p.m., after a follow-up public records request by the Current seeking attachments to previously released email.

Buckey wrote the letter before the School Committee scheduled two executive sessions to discuss his status but ultimately never sent it. Buckey agreed to a $175,000 separation agreement with the School Committee on Aug. 2.

In the letter, Buckey outlines events beginning early July.

“On Sunday, July 2, 2023 at 3:59 PM I received an email from Sarah Fox, Chair of the Marblehead School Committee with the agenda that she sent to the Town Clerk to post a meeting for Thursday, July 6, 2023,” Buckey wrote. “This was the first time that an agenda was posted without any input from the Superintendent’s Office.”

The School Committee at a Sept. 7 meeting CURRENT PHOTO / LEIGH BLANDER

The July 6 meeting agenda included a “public records request discussion.” At the meeting, the School Committee requested an executive session (private meeting) to determine if a bullying investigation triggered by an anonymous complaint against the now-former Marblehead High School girls soccer coach had been handled appropriately.

“As no one had shared any additional specifics regarding the executive session with me, I was left to assume that since there was a bullying investigation as part of one of the public records requests, they were attempting to make the case that I knew about bullying and did not act. That is categorically false,” Buckey wrote.

Buckey also described two alleged conversations between Fox and now-Acting Superintendent Michelle Cresta. 

“[Fox] told the Assistant Superintendent for Finance and Operation, Michelle Cresta, that John and [then]-High School Principal, Dan Bauer, ‘are really going to look bad’ or words to that effect, after this upcoming Executive Session,” Buckey wrote. “This made Michelle uncomfortable and she came to my office immediately after to inform me of the Chair’s comments.”

Buckey continued, “After the Town Election on June 20, Chair Fox had a telephone conversation with Michelle on the evening of June 22 around 7:00 PM where she discussed new Committee member Jenn Schaeffner ‘getting her way (about Freshman sports being reinstated) and that John should find a way to do it because it’s his job that is on the line,’ or words to that effect. This also made Michelle uncomfortable.”

Reached for comment, Fox told the Current, “I recall no such conversations.” 

Cresta responded by saying, “At no time have I ever been uncomfortable with any conversations I have had with School Committee members or Dr. Buckey.”

She added, “I don’t recall exact conversations from June, nor can I comment on what Dr. Buckey stated to members in a letter or email. I just know that the discussions back in June on budget cuts included a lot of back-and-forth negotiations with Dr. Buckey and the School Committee and my recommendations to both on how to potentially fund the reinstatement of some of these cuts.”

Coach investigation

Minutes from two executive sessions on July 21 and 31 revealed that the School Committee had discussed the bullying investigation of the former MHS coach leading up to those meetings. 

Fox and the School Committee have declined to offer any specifics as to how Buckey’s handling of the case might have contributed, if at all, to efforts to oust him. 

Buckey’s attorney Mike Long has said the former superintendent handled the coach situation appropriately, and Buckey laid out his case in the letter.

“So, as to what I knew and when I knew it, I became aware of a bullying complaint at the end of October, 2022,” he wrote. “As our policies dictate, the investigation was initiated by the Student Services Director, Paula Donnelly. For reasons of ensuring the integrity of the investigation I did not contact the investigator, nor was I instructed to do so. In fact, it would have been inappropriate for me to do so, as our policies, the law and good sense do not permit me to thumb the scales one way or another.”

Sharing the letter

Buckey shared the letter in draft form with School Committee member Meagan Taylor and asked her to review it. 

“This document was going to be provided to the full School Committee,” Taylor told the Current Friday evening. “I have reviewed other documents from other district personnel before.” 

Taylor also pointed out that she reviewed the document before the executive sessions. 

Nina Pickering Cook, a municipal attorney, told the Current there is nothing inappropriate about a School Committee member reviewing materials from a superintendent to the full committee.

“There is nothing at all illegal, improper or even ill-advised about sharing a draft letter with one of your supervisors to get feedback before sending it out,” said Pickering Cook. “I’m quite certain it happens in workplaces everywhere, everyday. Nor was it inappropriate for Ms. Taylor to act as such a sounding board. I would be shocked if any member of the School Committee believes that speaking directly with the superintendent about matters involving the district is improper.”  

Buckey’s attorney declined to comment on the letter.

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Leigh Blander is an experienced TV, radio and print journalist who has written hundreds of stories for local newspapers, including the Marblehead Reporter. She also works as a PR specialist.

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