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School Committee Sought Amicable Resolution with Superintendent Beginning Last Week

As previously reported, the Marblehead School Committee will meet tonight, Wednesday, July 26, 2023 at 7:30 p.m. on Zoom to discuss and vote on what is presented on the agenda as “Superintendent Contract – Early Termination Clause: (vote).” 


The early termination clause references section 12.2 of Superintendent John Buckey’s contract – signed in July 2021 – which specifies that the School Committee may terminate the employment agreement without cause upon providing 100 days’ notice and paying $94,350. “Without cause” indicates that no reason for the dismissal is required. Buckey’s contract currently extends through June 2025.


In a quote provided to another local news source, the superintendent’s lawyer – Michael Long – expressed his concern that his client “has had no opportunity to defend himself against unstated reasons for this proposed action, despite a clear history of proficient performance evaluations by several School Committees over several years.” Long went on to note that “this action will apparently occur without a public hearing on ‘charges,’ without meaningful and issue-specific input from the community and without the opportunity for Dr. Buckey to defend himself and his professional reputation.” 


Long, an attorney and partner with Long, DiPietro, and Gonzalez, LLP, represents Buckey through his role as the general counsel to the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents (MASS). Marblehead Beacon has reached out to Long several times for a direct comment but had not yet received a reply as of the time of publication.


Tom Scott, the co-executive director of MASS, spoke with Marblehead Beacon earlier today and indicated his grave concerns about the way in which the relationship between Buckey and the Marblehead School Committee has played out. This “could have been done in a more reasonable way,” he explained, rather than what he described as a “nuclear approach” that is professionally challenging for the superintendent and also reflects poorly on Marblehead. “Marblehead has had so much turnover as a community,” he said, referencing the large number of superintendents that have come and gone in recent years, and it is therefore “hard for us to say [to future potential superintendents] that this is a great place for you.”


Scott acknowledged that there are circumstances in which it is appropriate for a superintendent and a community with a newly elected School Committee to part ways. “A new committee comes in and sees things differently,” he said, and they “have a right” to move in a different direction. But, he explained, they “should have given fair notice” and “should not have disrupted the system.”


School Committee Chair Sarah Fox, reached for comment earlier today, disputed Scott’s characterization of what is taking place. Noting that the School Committee has been willing to negotiate with Buckey throughout this process, she told Marblehead Beacon


“The Marblehead School Committee has been and continues to work with their legal counsel. While we can not disclose specifics of the negotiations, there has been ongoing communication between our counsel and Dr. Buckey’s attorney with resignation being a point discussed. It is our understanding that these discussions are ongoing and it is our hope to resolve this matter amicably between the parties.”


Asked about the role of MASS when there are irreconcilable philosophical differences between a superintendent and a School Committee, Scott acknowledged that “we know there are cases where a superintendent is not a fit or not in a good situation.” In these circumstances, Scott explained, the superintendent’s “best interest is to make a move to get out,” and MASS would usually “help them think about an exit strategy.” 


While Scott contended that Buckey was not given the option to resign and issue a joint statement with the School Committee, Fox disagreed. “Our counsel has been in contact with Dr. Buckey’s attorney since Friday and we have been open to amicable resolution throughout that time and continue to be so.” The School Committee met in executive session on Friday afternoon, July 21st. 


According to Scott, it is unusual for a superintendent’s contract to include language allowing for early termination without cause. “Our position would be not to accept that contract,” Scott explained, because it “puts John in a very unfortunate position” and makes it easy for a School Committee “to remove a superintendent without process.” The section of Buckey’s contract allowing for termination without cause was included both in the original version of his contract, signed in June 2020 when he was first hired, and again in the amended version signed in June 2021 when his contract was extended for an additional two years. Superintendents generally seek advice from an attorney and contest unacceptable provisions prior to signing an employment agreement. 


Tonight’s School Committee meeting will be held on Zoom, at 7:30 pm, with the link available here. Fox explained that scheduling difficulties resulted in the meeting being held online rather than in person. “Some members of the committee are traveling while others had work commitments,” she said. “This was the only way to make this work.” The meeting is open to the public and is scheduled to include a period of time for public comment. 


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.