Northampton School Committee to consider raising salary offered in search for new superintendent

Laste modified: Saturday, November 16, 2013
NORTHAMPTON — After voting last month to reopen the search for a new school superintendent, the School Committee plans to review the process, including whether to raise the salary being offered for the job.

At its regular meeting at 7:15 p.m. Thursday at JFK Middle School, the school board will take up that issue and others involved in the search for a replacement for Brian Salzer, who was hired in 2011 as Northampton schools chief. Salzer left the district in July for a job overseas.

Salary is among the key issues the board will consider in launching another search beginning in early 2014, said committee Vice Chairman Edward Zuchowski.

“My own personal feeling is we should be offering a competitive salary with other area districts,” he said. “We have a complex district with a lot of needs and that requires a salary that would support work in our district.”

Salzer’s annual salary was $128,500 when he was hired and $131,070 when he left in July. That is below the statewide average of $155,000 per year for school superintendents reported by the Massachusetts Association of School Committees.

It is also below the salaries of some other area school chiefs. Amherst Superintendent Maria Geryk, for example, earns $147,000 annually, while South Hadley Superintendent Nicholas Young was hired at $142,000 in 2012 when he moved there from his position as head of the Hadley schools.

Although no specific salary range was advertised in the superintendent search Northampton conducted in September, the district planned to offer between $120,000 and $140,000, according to committee member Stephanie Pick, who led the 12-member search panel.

The failed search — the city’s third in two years — produced 16 applicants and three finalists: Laurie Bell Farkas, director of student services in Northampton since 2012; Timothy Lee, an elementary school principal in Lenox; and John Johnson, communications director for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

Last month the School Committee voted 9-1 to reject all three and reopen the search for a superintendent in the spring.

Pick, who cast the lone vote against rejecting all three finalists, said she still believes the board “is on the right track” in its approach to finding a new superintendent.

“I think our current profile is excellent,” she said. “I don’t feel we have to have someone who is a sitting superintendent” as a requirement for leading the district.

Pick emphasized that the issue of qualifications should be explored by the entire board. She also recommended that the next search process allow time for School Committee members to do their own research on candidates.

“The last time we made phone calls to their districts,” Pick said, referring to the search in 2011 that resulted in Salzer’s hiring. “I’m not sure why we didn’t do that this time. I think more School Committee vetting needs to be done.”

In addition to salary and qualifications, Zuchowski said the school board must decide whether the New England School Development Council should continue overseeing Northampton’s search for a schools chief. The organization, the same one that recruited Salzer to the district, has offered its services for free because Salzer left the job within two years of being hired.

While a new search round in the spring may draw more candidates, it will also be more competitive, Zuchowski said, since other area districts will be seeking superintendents at that time.

Thursday’s school board meeting will also include discussion of a search for an interim superintendent for Northampton. Earlier this month, Regina Nash — who has served in that post since July — announced she plans to leave as of Jan. 1.

Nash, a retired superintendent of the Frontier Regional and Union 38 districts, has said she would consider staying longer if a replacement is not hired by her planned departure date. The interim superintendent’s job has been posted at a salary of $9,000 to $10,000 per month for six months, from Jan. 2 to June 30, 2014.