School Committee Meets Again Today Re: Superintendent
The Marblehead School Committee is scheduled to meet this morning, Monday, July 31, 2023, at 9:30 in executive session for the purpose of conducting “strategy sessions in preparation for negotiations with nonunion personnel (Superintendent).” Massachusetts General Law Chapter 30A allows for School Committees to meet privately, without public participation, for certain specifically defined purposes. The meeting will be held via Zoom.
The series of events culminating in today’s meeting began on July 21st, when the School Committee met – also in executive session – with the agenda employing precisely the same language as quoted above. That meeting, we now know, involved opening discussions with Superintendent of Schools John Buckey regarding options by which he would no longer be employed by Marblehead Public Schools. School Committee Chair Sarah Fox told Marblehead Beacon last week that, “our counsel has been in contact with Dr. Buckey’s attorney since Friday [July 21st] and we have been open to amicable resolution throughout that time and continue to be so.” Recently elected School Committee member Brian Ota recused himself from last Friday's meeting as a result of an anti-discrimination complaint he filed against Buckey when his contract as principal of Glover School was not renewed last year. He is expected to recuse himself again today.
On Monday, July 24th, the School Committee posted another meeting – this time open to the public – scheduled for Wednesday, July 26th, with an agenda that included a discussion of and vote on “Superintendent Contract – Early Termination Clause.” While there had previously been speculation in the community about the possibility of tensions between the School Committee and Superintendent Buckey, the agenda for Wednesday’s meeting appeared to serve as confirmation.
The level of discussion and disagreement accelerated rapidly from that point forward, with significant participation in related community Facebook groups and many citizens planning to log on to the public meeting scheduled via Zoom at 7:30 last Wednesday evening. Well over 200 participants were present when Fox called the meeting to order and read a short statement, saying “we are no longer going forward with the meeting tonight due to last minute communication between counsel. I have been advised to adjourn the meeting.” She did so, and the Zoom conference came to an abrupt end at 7:31 pm, leaving the community confused and concerned about next steps.
The story became even more complex with the announcement that School Committee member Alison Taylor’s young son had discovered what appeared to be a threatening message on the family’s back steps earlier that day. A balloon with a clown face, apparently covered in blood or red paint, was left tied to the back railing. Taylor told Marblehead Beacon that she had immediately contacted police upon discovering the balloon, and that the Marblehead Police Department had informed her they would be patrolling her house and those of other School Committee members.
Tensions increased when, several hours later, another local news outlet reported that Marblehead Police Chief Dennis King gave a quote indicating that there had been no report of the incident, calling Taylor's story and Marblehead Beacon's reporting into question.
Multiple sources – including detailed time stamps provided by Taylor, the Marblehead police scanner, and the published police log – confirmed that police had in fact been contacted. Chief King later released a statement about the matter being under investigation. Taylor expressed her appreciation for the officers who had answered her calls to the police department and come to her home to investigate. “I am incredibly grateful for the support and responsiveness of the Marblehead police department,” she told Marblehead Beacon.
Today's meeting could not be scheduled earlier due to Massachusetts state law, which specifies that all meetings must be posted at least 48 hours in advance. Fox told Marblehead Beacon last Wednesday that she had been informed by counsel of the new developments only minutes before the scheduled 7:30 p.m. start time. As a result, it was not possible to post plans for a new meeting – this time in executive session – until the Marblehead Town Clerk’s office opened on Thursday morning. Consequently, the Marblehead community was left to wait and wonder over the weekend.
For those who would like to catch up or refresh their knowledge, Marblehead Beacon has covered the developing story in detail, including the initial announcement of the Wednesday night meeting, a detailed review of the prior events that arguably foreshadowed current tensions, perspectives from Buckey’s lawyer and the head of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, the surprise adjournment, and further details from Taylor on the threat discovered at her home. WCVB Channel 5 Boston also produced a story on the evolving drama.
In addition, Marblehead Beacon has published a number of letters to the editor over the past several days expressing diverse community perspectives. Links are provided below:
Open Letter to the Marblehead School Committee: “I was very distressed to read that you are considering terminating Dr. Buckey’s service as Superintendent of Marblehead Schools….I have been immensely impressed by Dr. Buckey’s leadership of the school system during a very challenging time and his sincere efforts to build trust and strengthen communication with town officials and the community at large.”
I write today in support of our current School Committee members: “They have been slandered, abused, belittled, trolled and threatened over the last thirty days by former members of their own circle and a small but belligerent group of local citizens in support of the superintendent.”
I am proud of the newly elected School Committee: “This is why you were overwhelmingly supported in the Polls. We believe in you. Although it is an unfortunate situation that we have found ourselves in - we elected the SC to make tough decisions.”
It is time to let the School Committee do its job: “I have followed the evolving story of Superintendent Buckey’s contract negotiation with an increasing sense of dismay and disappointment as passions and emotions have clouded judgment and erased any appearance of neutrality and decorum.”
I am writing to urge all of us to take a collective deep breath: “I don’t think anyone can observe the current climate in our community with anything but absolute heartbreak for our children, faculty and staff.”
Marblehead parents and residents support the new School Committee: “After losing back-to-back overrides and watching a completely new school committee get elected from the one that originally chose Dr. Buckey, I assumed it was a fait accompli that the newly formed committee would move on from the current leadership and go in a different direction.”
Marblehead Beacon will continue to report on new developments as they arise.
Editor’s note: School Committee member Jenn Schaeffner is a Marblehead Beacon founder and editor. She is recusing herself from any issues surrounding School Committee coverage.