By NICK GRABBE
Monday, March 8, 2010
AMHERST - Lawyers for the School Committee and Superintendent Alberto Rodriguez are negotiating the terms of his departure after only eight months on the job, according to two people with direct knowledge of the situation.
When Rodriguez arrived in Amherst last July, he was the fifth person to lead the Amherst schools in slightly over a year. His hiring provoked controversy even before he started, because of his $158,000 salary, plus $10,000 for housing and $5,000 for travel expenses.
His expected departure comes just two weeks before Amherst votes on a tax override with big implications for the schools. He has been negotiating with the teachers union over contract givebacks, and said he hoped to announce an agreement before the March 23 vote.
The Regional School Committee is scheduled to conduct a public evaluation of Rodriguez at its meeting Tuesday. Last Wednesday, committee members received copies of confidential comments about the superintendent's performance made by school employees.
At noon Friday, Rodriguez met with Farshid Hajir, chairman of the Regional School Committee, and Andy Churchill, chairman of the Amherst School Committee. Tracy Farnham of the Pelham School Committee was also present for the meeting in Rodriguez's office.
An emergency meeting of the Regional School Committee was held at 6 p.m. on Friday. Hajir made a motion to go into executive session "to discuss collective bargaining or litigation strategy," one of the allowable reasons under state law for meeting behind closed doors. The committee has another executive session scheduled for tonight at 7 in the Regional Middle School.
Rodriguez was not present for Friday's School Committee meeting. The only person there besides committee members was Kathryn Mazur, the schools' human resources director.
A person with direct knowledge of the situation who asked not to be identified said Sunday that the School Committee and Rodriguez have agreed it would be good to find a way for him not to work in the school district.
Two Amherst blogs were filled with speculation about Rodriguez's departure over the weekend. Contacted by the Gazette on Sunday morning, Rodriguez said, "The rumor of me resigning is untrue" and declined further comment.
Hajir issued a statement Sunday after consulting with the School Committee's attorney.
"The School Committees are not in a position to confirm or deny any speculation on the matter at this time," the statement read in part. "The School Committees are dedicated to providing the public with appropriate information in a timely manner within the legal guidelines under which we are governed."
Hajir's statement also said, "If the superintendent is not in the district for any length of time, there is a well-established protocol in place for Assistant Superintendent Maria Geryk to be in charge."
"I wasn't hired to be a maintenance man but a change agent," Rodriguez said at his first School Committee meeting last July. In an interview, he said that his role models are his father, who left Cuba in 1955, and former President Ronald Reagan.
Rodriguez, 49, had lived in Miami most of his life, working as a history teacher, principal and assistant superintendent. His wife and his two daughters still live there, and Rodriguez has spent much time in Florida over the past eight months.
One of the first things Rodriguez did in Amherst was to commission an evaluation of the schools by the deputy superintendent in Memphis. The blunt report, which Rodriguez read to the School Committee in its entirety, said that Amherst should do more for poor and lower-performing students, overhaul the curriculum and find better ways to measure progress.
The controversial School Committee decision to close Mark's Meadow School took place just before Rodriguez arrived, but he was involved in the subsequent wrangling over the redistribution of elementary students among the three remaining schools. At one point he recommended moving all sixth-graders to the middle school.
The next dustup was the resignation of Glenda Cresto as middle school principal four days after classes started last September, with Rodriguez saying she had told him she was not a "good fit" for the position. High school principal Mark Jackson agreed to take on responsibility for both buildings.
Last November, Rodriguez said he would send an email message to faculty and staff advising them to adhere to state law regarding "group recitation" of the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of each school day. Three days later, after learning that this law is in legal limbo, he said he would consult with an attorney before acting on "this very thorny issue."
Rodriguez arrived in Amherst just as the school district was adjusting to the elimination of the equivalent of 55 full-time positions. For the past three months, he has been talking with School Committee members, principals and staff about a prioritized list of additional cuts for next year, with their severity to be determined by how much state aid Amherst receives and whether or not the override passes.
In mid-February, he became embroiled in another controversy after he gave the School Committee a memo outlining 40 days off between last Aug. 10 and this April 26, including nine days of future sick leave. He did not reveal until later that he had a medical condition that would require surgery in mid-April.
Rodriguez has also been involved in comprehensive reviews of special education programs and the middle school. The special education review is due to be completed in June. Consultant Barry Beers is scheduled to give has assessment of the effectiveness of the middle school Tuesday, at the same School Committee meeting that includes Rodriguez's scheduled evaluation.
This public meeting will start at 6:30 p.m. at Town Hall.
My Goal in Blogging
I started this blog in May of 2008, shortly after my election to the School Committee, because I believed it was very important to both provide the community with an opportunity to share their thoughts with me about our schools and to provide me with an opportunity for me to ask questions and share my thoughts and reasoning. I have found the conversation generated on my blog to be extremely helpful to me in learning community views on many issues. I appreciate the many people who have taken the time to share their views. I believe it is critical to the quality of our public schools to have a public discussion of our community priorities, concerns and aspirations.