State asked Holyoke receiver-superintendent Alberto Vázquez Matos to leave

  • Former Holyoke schools receiver-superintendent Alberto Vázquez Matos, pictured here in July 2020. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 6/10/2021 1:31:09 PM

HOLYOKE — The state education commissioner asked the receiver-superintendent of Holyoke Public Schools to resign earlier this year and paid him $102,500 in severance.

The details are included in a separation agreement, obtained by the news outlet Holyoke Media, that sheds new light on the departure of Alberto Vázquez Matos less than a year after he took over as Holyoke’s receiver-superintendent. Holyoke schools are in state receivership and are led by a state-appointed receiver-superintendent who has the powers that are normally split between a superintendent and an elected school committee.

In March, the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, or DESE, said that Vázquez Matos had resigned — a month after he went on paid administrative leave for undisclosed reasons. The separation agreement the state signed with Vázquez Matos, however, suggests that DESE asked him to leave. In doing so, the state gave him a one-time payout of $102,500.

“The Employer agrees that in response to any request for information about Dr. Vasquez Matos from unemployment authorities, the Employer will not dispute that separation was requested by the Employer and will not contest Dr. Vasquez Matos’s eligibility for unemployment benefits,” the separation document reads.

A DESE spokesperson declined to answer questions on Wednesday, saying only that it was a personnel matter. Efforts to reach Vázquez Matos were unsuccessful.

Vázquez Matos was hired in April 2020, signing a three-year contract to replace then receiver-superintendent Stephen Zrike, who had been named superintendent of Salem Public Schools. Vázquez Matos began work in Holyoke that July, earning a yearly salary of $205,000, according to his contract.

In February of this year, Vázquez Matos went on paid leave, though neither the state nor DESE provided any reason why. Shortly before, he had told the city’s School Committee he contracted COVID-19, though it was not clear that had anything to do with his leave.

The separation agreement does not shed any further light on the reason for Vázquez Matos’ departure. The document does state that DESE will not provide any potential future employer, recruiter or employment agency with information about his performance, skills, history or reason for departure.

“If the inquirer’s inquiry is received by human resources personnel, the inquirer shall be informed that staff are authorized only to communicate dates of employment, positions held, and salary,” it states. 

The $102,500 paid out to Vázquez Matos represents exactly half of the first-year salary he was guaranteed in his contract. The contract also stipulates that the state’s education commissioner could terminate Vázquez Matos “for any reason upon six (6) months written notice.”

Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley has not spoken publicly about the departure of Vázquez Matos, saying in a statement at the time that he thanked him “for his efforts in the district.”

Natalia Muñoz, the news director at Holyoke Media, said the media outlet obtained the separation agreement through a public records request. She said that for months Riley has not answered Holyoke Media’s questions.

“Show respect to the community of Holyoke and explain what happened,” Muñoz said. “He has not spoken to anybody in western Mass publicly ... We’re journalists, and like any journalist, we’re trying to get some questions answered and we’re going to keep trying to do that.”

Prior to working in Holyoke, Vázquez Matos was the deputy superintendent of public schools in Hartford, Connecticut. Before that, he served as chief of staff to the superintendent of Hillsborough County Public Schools in Tampa, Florida — the eighth largest school district in the country. He had previously served in various roles in Catholic schools in New York and Florida, including as superintendent of schools for the Diocese of St. Petersburg in Florida from 2010 to 2015.

The state took over Holyoke Public Schools in 2015 amid declining scores on standardized tests, a four-year graduation rate that ranked lowest in the state and a suspension rate that was five times higher than the state average.

Following Vázquez Matos’ resignation, the state appointed Anthony Soto, Holyoke Public Schools’ chief finance and operations officer, as the district’s acting receiver-superintendent. A 1999 graduate of Holyoke Public Schools, Soto has worked in the district since 2016 and previously worked for a decade as a financial analyst and budget director in Springfield Public Schools.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.


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