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Residents urge school board to do right thing

June 22, 2010
SOUTHBRIDGE — The School Committee got an earful of advice regarding the superintendent search process Tuesday night, as several citizens took the podium to urged them to choose "the most qualified candidate" rather than put personal connections forefront.

"No one can deny the children in our district are the most important stakeholders," said PTA president-elect Kara Donovan, who has two children in Southbridge schools, " but the decision you make will have an enormous ripple effect" on the whole community.

Noting she was on the search committee, she observed the process to date "has taken many strange turns," and quoted School Committee member David DeGregorio's statement from a previous meeting — "'Legally, the School Committee is doing everything right. Ethically, I'm not so sure.'"

She said she was referring to the fact the "internal candidate" — high school Principal Bill Bishop — has a strong "personal relationship" with some committee members, and alleged "the line between the professional and personal has been breached. Has this been vetted by the State Ethics Committee?"

Resident Ron Chernisky noted the decision is "never going to please everybody," but must identify a person who has "fresh new ideas," experience, energy and knowledge, among other traits.

"I'm a big fan of giving the hometown discount if all things are equal," he said. "But if all things aren't equal, giving the hometown discount isn't helping the town, it's hurting the town."

The committee had a decidedly mixed reaction to those comments, both immediately and later in the meeting. Chairman John Jovan Jr., said the panel "take[s] this charge seriously; it's not a popularity contest."

He noted he did not like what happened with the search process while he was out of state, but felt selecting four finalists helped to save the process and gave the committee people to compare.

"If you think for one minute I would make a decision that would make the Southbridge school system go backward, you don't know me and what's been going through my head the last nine days," Jovan said. " I hope we find someone who has one-tenth the talent Dr. Hanley has."

Scott Lazo was far more critical, taking shots at the citizen speakers collectively, previous committee members and this newspaper. He said the observers "got to know the history" and noted the committee members "have to do what's in the bests interests of all the people of Southbridge" before claiming, "If the search committee ran awry, that's their problem."

He was on that committee.

"I will not apologize for my friends. I am proud of my friends," said Tanja Dominko. " But my friendship will never guide my decision for any function, and the only criteria I will ever use is what's best for the town."

See Thursday's Southbridge Evening News for complete coverage of community news.

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