ITEM FILE PHOTO
Debra Ruggiero answers questions during an interview for the superintendent position.
By ADAM SWIFT
PEABODY — Interim Superintendent Herb Levine will likely serve one more year as the head of the school district.
The search for a new superintendent came to a temporary end Wednesday night, when the Peabody School Committee voted to request a waiver from the state’s Department of Education allowing Levine to stay on for another year because of a critical shortage of qualified superintendent candidates.
The vote means Debra Ruggiero, the principal of Lynn’s Harrington School and the last finalist standing in the committee’s superintendent search, will not be offered the Peabody position.
Committee members praised Ruggiero, but the members were united in saying they were disappointed there were no candidates brought forward with the kind of central office experience they believe Peabody needs. The two other finalists, John Oteri and Arthur Unobskey, were offered the top school jobs in Malden and Wayland, respectively, and withdrew from consideration in Peabody.
“I think the three finalists we had were excellent people, I just think they lacked the district experience,” said School Committee member Tom Rossignoll. “We want somebody with district experience, and that was not offered to us.”
Several committee members also said they believed the search process, which was overseen by the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, started a little too late this year to bring in enough qualified candidates.
“I think one of the problems with starting a little late is that candidates were scooped up quickly,” said School Committee member Brandi Carpenter. “If we’re going to do it again, we need to start earlier and we need to think outside the box.”
Carpenter also said she felt Ruggiero was an excellent candidate, but that she and the other finalists lacked the budget and contract negotiation skills needed in such a large district.
“I too, although it was not the fault of the candidates, was disappointed in the pool,” said committee member Jarrod Hochman. “This is a quasi-urban community with over 6,000 students, over 1,000 employees, and a $72 million budget. We had candidates who did not have experience with collective bargaining, and not one candidate had experience formulating a budget beyond the building or department level.”
Committee members noted that the process next year should wrap up by March, rather than April, in an effort to get a jump on the best candidates.
For Levine, the 2017-18 school year will be his third year in a row as interim superintendent in Peabody. The former Salem school chief was also the interim superintendent in Peabody during the 2011-12 school year.
Levine said he is willing to stay on in the interim position for another year, but that he was drawing a line in the sand.
“I’m not going to work beyond that; I’m going to be 70 years old,” he said. “I’m proud to have the privilege to steer the ship for one more year.”