LYNN — The School Committee opted not to elect its new secretary after a second round of interviewing candidates, tabling the vote due to a potential conflict of interest between the committee members and applicants.
On Wednesday night, the three finalists — City Election Coordinator Mary Jules, Lynn Public Schools storekeeper Joseph Martin, and Frances Martinez, president and founder of the North Shore Latino Business Association — were interviewed by the School Committee.
The candidates are vying to replace Thomas Iarrobino, who retired earlier this month after 21 years in the role. Iarrobino brought private sector management experience to the secretary’s job, when he was brought on to serve as a liaison between members and school administration.
During the interviews, it was clear that the candidates and committee members were familiar with each other through their different roles in the community, as all three finalists work and live in the city. Therefore, the decision was made to table the vote to seek legal advice from the city on how to proceed.
“Out of an abundance of caution, due to shared affiliations between members and applicants, we are going to seek the opinion of the city solicitor on appropriate next steps,” said Mayor Thomas M. McGee, chairman of the School Committee.
A special School Committee meeting, where a vote on the next secretary is expected, is tentatively scheduled for next Tuesday at 7 p.m.
Despite not voting on their next secretary, the School Committee did vote on a salary range for the position, unanimously approving a starting range of $75,000 to $80,000, citing more demanding and time-consuming aspects to the job than other clerical positions in the school district, which have a starting salary of $44,000.
With the high starting salary range, committee members said they also weighed how Iarrobino’s starting salary for the position 20 years ago was at $65,000. Given cost of living increases over that time period, committee members said the salary should be higher. Iarrobino’s salary at the time of his retirement was $102,765.
The finalists fielded questions on Wednesday about what they envisioned would be most important about their interaction with Superintendent Dr. Patrick Tutwiler, what they see as the role of a well-functioning School Committee, and what they think would encompass a typical day as secretary of the committee.
Jules, a former legislative aide who has held her city elections job since 2015, said she would make sure she’s well-informed on a particular issue before reporting to the superintendent and on behalf of the School Committee, would be working with the superintendent to make sure everything runs smoothly.
She said the School Committee’s main priority should be taking care of the district’s children and making them feel safe going to school every day.
Jules characterized herself as a team player who works hard and gives “110 percent” at her job, with committee members pressing her to clarify her latter general statement. She said she works late if needed and starts working as soon as she gets into the office.
Martin, who has worked for the Lynn Public Schools for 26 years, first as a custodian, said it was important to have a good personal relationship with the superintendent. He said Tutwiler would be the expert on educational issues as the superintendent has a doctorate degree and he has a high school diploma.
But Martin said he could bring other aspects to the relationship, saying as a veteran, he looks at things differently than other people do, and as a Lynn resident, he would be able to help the superintendent wade through the political dynamics of the city.
The statement led School Committee member Michael Satterwhite to clarify that as secretary, Martin would be responsible for conveying where the committee would be coming from, not himself.
“I would keep (my) personal beliefs out of it,” Martin said. “I would work for the School Committee — my own personal beliefs, that has nothing to do with it.”
If elected secretary, Martin said he would be passionate and work hard on the committee’s behalf, adding that he would be honest and straightforward and treat people how he would want to be, with dignity and respect.
Martinez, who has worked as a Lynn schools special education parent liaison since 2011, was the only unanimous finalist selection from the seven committee members after the first round of interviews last week.
Martinez said she wasn’t sure what her interaction would be with the superintendent, but assumed, if elected secretary, she would listen and follow up with how the School Committee would be directing her.
Similarly, she said it would take her time to understand what the committee is expecting for the secretary role when posed a question about how she views the committee’s role in the city of Lynn.
With Martinez, School Committee members seemed most concerned about how she would balance her time commitment to the position — which School Committee member Brian Castellanos said is “not a 9 to 5 job” — with her other community commitments, such as volunteer work and a leadership role with the North Shore Latino Business Association.
Martinez said her organization and multi-tasking skills would allow her to juggle her various roles, none of which she plans to step down from. She characterized herself as a visionary whose commitment to the community makes her the right person for the job.