LENOX — Amid uncertainty over the continuing impact of the coronavirus crisis, the School Committee has voted unanimously not to hire either of the two remaining finalists for superintendent. Instead, the search will reopen next fall, and interim Superintendent William Cameron has been invited to extend his stay well beyond his current end date of June 30.
The committee also dangled the possibility of inviting the Richmond School District to share leadership with the Lenox Public Schools. The Richmond Consolidated School, serving pre-K through grade 8 students, has been notified by the Berkshire Hills Regional School District that it will no longer share Superintendent Peter Dillon with Richmond unless the town agrees to negotiate a merger with Berkshire Hills.
"My personal opinion has changed somewhat dramatically in light of the COVID-19 school shutdown and the uncertainty as to when we might reopen and be fully functional again," said School Committee Chairman Robert Vaughan at Monday night's public meeting held remotely via teleconference.
He recommended continuing with an interim superintendent through the next school year while re-advertising the position "and possibly exploring connections with Richmond," including sharing a superintendent. Vaughan said he had contacted Richmond School Committee Chairman Dewey Wyatt, who responded that he and the committee would be interested in hearing more about the overture from Lenox.
"That's a really terrific approach," said Lenox School Committee member Robert Munch. "It would great to start a dialogue with the Richmond School Committee and see if we can work out an arrangement that makes everybody happy."
Ideally, Vaughan acknowledged, Cameron could be convinced to stay on since "certainly, he's a class act and we'd be honored to have him stay."
Cameron is a former assistant superintendent for the Pittsfield Public Schools, and his lengthy resume includes superintendency of the Central Berkshire Regional School District in Dalton and the Salem Public Schools. A member of the Pittsfield School Committee, he also is chairman of the Berkshire Education Task Force, which advocates for district consolidation.
"Right now, we need consistency more than ever," School Committee member Christine Mauro said, "considering the highly unprecedented circumstances that we're facing, that everyone's facing. That really argues in favor of asking Dr. Cameron if he would consider staying on. It would be very beneficial for us not to have a change in leadership amid everything else that's changing around us that's, at this point, out of our control."
Committee member Molly Elliot pointed out that since December and January are considered the ideal time for a superintendent search, an interim superintendent should be asked to continue through the spring of 2021.
Other members, including Munch, Francie Sorrentino and David Rimmler agreed with that approach. Munch said he would be "thrilled" if Cameron agreed to continue in his temporary role.
"Consistency is needed during this time," Rimmler stated. "I would hope to have a steady hand at the helm here. We do need to recognize that we are going into uncharted waters, and they are shark-infested." He depicted the current, now-concluded superintendent search as "a series of very unfortunate circumstances."
As Vaughan pointed out, "It's difficult for us to think about us going forward with hiring a new superintendent, given the uncertainty of when we could suggest that person might even start. There are just so many unknowns."
The committee voted 6-0 to suspend the current search, reopen it next fall and continue with an interim superintendent, preferably Cameron, pending a decision on hiring a new one.
The finalists released from consideration are Gina Flanagan, principal of East Longmeadow High, and Tara Brandt, director of mathematics at the Holyoke Public Schools. A previous finalist, Judy Rush, withdrew earlier this month. She is the Pittsfield Public Schools director of curriculum, instruction, assessment and grants.
The Lenox opening was created when Superintendent Kimberly Merrick resigned in October for personal reasons. Cameron is working three days a week on a per diem contract.
Sorrentino urged Vaughan to contact Cameron as soon as possible.
Also at Monday's meeting, the School Committee formally approved the district's budget for 2020-21 after the legally required public hearing. The $12.5 million operating budget, not including benefits paid through the town's municipal budget, represents a $507,000 increase over the current year, or 4.2 percent. With revenue of $1,671,000 from school choice, tuition and other sources factored in, the net operating budget works out to nearly $10.6 million, an increase of 2.26 percent over the current year.
Clarence Fanto can be reached at email@example.com, on Twitter @BE_cfanto or at 413-637-2551.