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Springfield School Committee members absent from meeting in response to superintendent search

Springfield School Committee votes 6-1 on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024, to hire an outside legal firm and use the services of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees to conduct the search for a new superintendent of schools.
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Springfield School Committee votes 6-1 on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024, to hire an outside legal firm and use the services of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees to conduct the search for a new superintendent of schools.

Several Springfield School Committee members did not attend last night’s meeting in response to concerns about the superintendent search not being addressed.

Vice Chairman Joesiah Gonzalez and members Barbara Gresham, Denise Hurst and LaTonia Monroe Naylor all decided not to attend the meeting since Gonzalez’s requests to put concerns about the search onto the meeting agenda have been allegedly blocked.

Current Superintendent Daniel Warwick announced in January that he would be retiring from his position at the end of the school year - leaving the committee tasked with finding a replacement by the end of May.

Applications are first being reviewed by external legal counsel Bulkley Richardson, applicants will then be interviewed by a screening committee made of community members and a search subcommittee which will help finalize the search before the full committee votes on the candidates.

Some community members have been expressing concerns that there's no student on the screening committee. Originally there was meant to be a seat for a student on the screening committee, however no student applied. Gonzalez explained that a lack of marketing towards students for the position may be a contributing factor.

“I want a superintendent to be a good listener and operate in transparency whereas if he was leaving this position and he saw all the smoke mirrors and screens that are going up right now that he would say ‘stop,'" said community member Teresa Bryant, who spoke at Tuesday’s superintendent search public input meeting. “There's a whole bunch of conflict because they didn't even take the time to get an authentic parent that is not associated with the district... so because you undervalue and marginalize our parents, you undervalue and marginalize our students.”

Bryant claimed that they failed to get a parent for the screening committee that is not related to the school district office.

The community also believes there's a lack of transparency in the pre-screening of applications being done by external counsel. As the screening is apparently only done by one attorney, and applications are not being shared with any of the other committees.

Gonzalez has been trying to get the community's concerns to the full school committee - but claims his attempts to put them on the meeting agenda have been blocked by other members, including Mayor Domenic Sarno.

“It is clear that the agenda that was created for the school committee last night was not the agenda of the people,” said Gonzalez. “I think that’s dangerous, and I think it sets dangerous precedents for local democracy.”

Gonzalez said Warwick, the current superintendent and a non-elected official, has blocked him from adding the agenda items. Gonzalez stated that the block “violates our policies as a public body in the creation of an agenda and also the state open meeting laws as it pertains to open governance.”

School committee member Chris Collins chairs the search subcommittee. He said during the community input meeting Tuesdas that his opposition is due to legal counsel advising against putting the items on the agenda.

"I called the two experts we have the Outside Agency… and asked them should we put this on an agenda and his response was ‘no you need to have it reviewed to see if there are serious legal implications to the entire process. Have the attorney review it before you put it on any agenda’ that's what happened,” said Collins.

However, Gonzalez believes that the items should be fully discussed at a committee meeting to respect the community and the democratic process. Gonzalez also believes that political motivation is playing into why his agenda items are being blocked.

“I think [the mayor] perhaps assumes that both items will probably be won out on the debate floor,” said Gonzalez, “which is not reason enough not to follow the democratic process.”

In response to Gonzalez' claims Sarno, Collins and Warwick held an impromptu press conference at city hall on Friday.

According to The Republican Sarno referred to the other members as “petulant and childish” for boycotting the meeting and accused them of trying to push their preferred candidates for the position, including one applicant who Sarno said was a member of Gonzalez's family.

Gonzalez told The Republican the mayor is violating the confidentiality of the application process, if he knows the names of applicants to make that accusation.

Under state law, the names of applicants are considered confidential until they become finalists and are interviewed by the full School Committee.

Thursday’s meeting had to end early since the majority of committee members were absent. The next scheduled full meeting is for April 25th, and the next superintendent input meeting is on April 23rd.

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