Mayor Domenic Sarno met with the media to discuss Ad Hoc Committee member and School Committee Vice Chair Joesiah Gonzalez’s objections to the superintendent search process at a recent press conference at City Hall. Expressing his frustration, Sarno said, “I’m sick and tired of this bulls**t” and accused committee members of trying to push their own preferred candidates.
Reminder Publishing photo by Chris Maza

SPRINGFIELD — Following weeks of discussion over potential concerns within the superintendent search process raised by residents, School Committee members and Screening Committee members, some have now raised the possibility of restarting the search process.

At the April 22 Ad Hoc Superintendent Selection Advisory Committee meeting, Ad Hoc Committee member and School Committee Vice Chair Joesiah Gonzalez stated that he had “concerns that this [search] process may have already been breached and that there may be a need to restart this process.”

In his explanation, Gonzalez referenced an April 13 press conference conducted by Mayor Domenic Sarno with Superintendent Daniel Warwick as well as Ad Hoc Committee Chair and School Committee member Chris Collins. During this conference, Sarno accused Gonzalez and other School Committee members Barbara Gresham, Denise Hurst and LaTonia Monroe Naylor of trying to push preferred candidates in the superintendent process. Sarno also suggested that one of the rejected candidates was a relative of Gonzalez.

These members had previously requested that the 11 complete superintendent applications be evaluated by the Screening Committee even though six had been labeled as failing to meet the position’s requirements by the committee-approved legal assistance.

The proposal was first made by Gonzalez in an April 4 email sent to the Ad Hoc Committee after members of the Screening Committee expressed interest in this idea at their April 3 public meeting.

Within this email, Gonzalez also proposed the Ad Hoc Committee consider voting to have one student from the student-elected Springfield Public Schools Student Advisory Council join the Screening Committee, ensuring student representation in the process.

After Gonzalez’s attempts to place these considerations on the Ad Hoc Committee and the full School Committee agendas were denied by Collins and Warwick, respectively, due to needed legal advice, he and the other School Committee members in support of the considerations choose not to attend the April 12 School Committee meeting. In the announcement of this decision, Gonzalez stated in an April 11 release that Sarno and Warwick “have hijacked the agenda of a public body.”

The four members again emphasized this point during the April 25 School Committee meeting when they walked out of the meeting in protest to the considerations not being placed on that night’s agenda. Their exit was met with applause from audience members. In statements prior to their exit, members stated that Sarno owed them a public apology for name-calling that occurred at the April 13 press conference. Gresham later returned to the meeting in order for the field trip approval and teacher recognitions to proceed as scheduled.

An April 16 legal opinion issued by Bulkley, Richardson and Gelinas LLP, the law firm working on this process with Springfield Public Schools, also recommended restarting the search process. In an opinion requested in connection to the agenda concerns, the firm recommended that the search process be restarted “in order to avoid some of the potential legal ramifications … that could be caused by changing the application process in the middle of a superintendent search,” according to the report.

In the opinion, the firm addressed the possibility of the Screening Committee reviewing the six unqualified candidates in addition to the five qualified candidates. The report raised concerns that this could lead to legal action against Springfield Public Schools if other potential candidates would have applied for the superintendent position but did not because of the listed qualifications. Furthermore, it stated that the Screening Committee’s involvement would increase the risk of breaching candidates’ privacy, as more people would be reviewing the applications.

However, the firm also stated that legal action could still be brought against Springfield Public Schools when restarting the search process if currently selected candidates are not selected in the restarted process.

The qualifications included in the superintendent application were formally approved by the full School Committee on Feb. 29. At this meeting, the committee also approved the timeline and process’s hybrid search model.

During the April 22 Ad Hoc Committee meeting, members discussed an adapted version of Gonzalez’s proposal for student representation which included two students from the Student Advisory Council rather than one. This change was made in order to ensure the Screening Committee’s membership total remains an odd number for voting purposes, Collins clarified.

While Collins, Gonzalez and Gresham all expressed support for having students’ voices included in the superintendent process, the body voted to table the discussion. During discussion, Gresham raised concerns that the minimal time remaining before the first candidate interview on May 2 was too short for students to join the Screening Committee.

The question of student representation first occurred at the Ad Hoc Committee’s March 20 meeting after Collins announced that no students had applied to be part of the Screening Committee. In response, an additional parent was selected to fill this vacancy.

Under the approved timeline, the Screening Committee’s selected finalists will be presented to the full School Committee on May 9. These finalists are selected by vote following the Screening Committee’s May 2, 3 and 7 interviews of the candidates. On May 30, the School Committee is scheduled to select one finalist as the new superintendent.

As of press time, the Ad Hoc Committee had not posted a meeting following the tabled student representation discussion.

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