Superintendent search subcommittee co-Chairman Peter Gazzillo, left, Vice Chairman Shawn Armacost, Chairman Michael Case, Superintendent William Cameron and Assistant Superintendent Robert Putnam at Thursday's meeting.
DALTON, Mass. — An internal candidate for a new Central Berkshire Regional School District superintendent may emerge to shorten the School Committee's hiring process considerably.
The School Committee decided in a near-unanimous vote on Thursday to task its superintendent search subcommittee with interviewing a widely known, internal candidate and decide whether he should be recommended for hire.
Assistant Superintendent Robert Putnam will be interviewed prior to all other candidates for the the soon-to-be vacant position, following the committee's decision made during its meeting at Craneville Elementary. On Jan. 9, the search subcommittee will report to the School Committee with its decision to either recommend Putnam for hire or continue its search.
The candidate in question was not explicitly named during the public meeting, though Putnam said afterward that he is applying, and it was discussed publicly that the internal candidate was one of three finalists in the last search for superintendent three years ago. The third finalist in 2011 was from outside the area.
The search subcommittee has been delegated with the task of conducting the hiring process for a new superintendent since William Cameron Jr., a former longtime Pittsfield school administrator, announced his retirement following the conclusion of the current school year in June. Cameron's retirement coincides with the expiration of his three-year contract.
Peter Gazzillo — member of the search committee to hire Cameron and who is co-chairman of the 10-member search subcommittee — reported that the current group felt it important for the entire School Committee to define its desired hiring process, largely because of the implications of having a well-known internal candidate openly applying for the post.
"It may, in fact, hurt the application pool," Gazillo said, based on guidance received by the search subcommittee from a state agency. "If people know that you have a strong candidate internally, the likelihood of them applying shrinks dramatically."
One School Committee member, in fact, made a motion to appoint Putnam to position following an update given by Gazzillo on the subcommittee's progress.
Committee member Gary Sturgis asked Putnam, "If the School Committee decided to appoint you, would you accept the position?"
To which Putnam replied, "Yes."
"I therefore make a motion," Sturgis said.
Chairman Michael Case immediately shot down the motion, saying it needed to be on the agenda to comply with Open Meeting Law.
When asked about Sturgis' motion afterward, Putnam said it kind of surprised him.
"To be honest, I've been around for a while, but I haven't seen that one," Putnam said.
If the School Committee decided to appoint you, would you accept the position?" — Gary Sturgis
"Yes." — Robert Putnam
Over other protocol options, all but one School Committee member agreed to place the immediate fate of Putnam's candidacy in the purview of its search subcommittee. Committee member John Conner was opposed because he is concerned with perceived subversion in past hiring practices and showing favoritism in the committee's search.
"The process over the years has been to create the search in a particular manner by going out and see[ing] what is out there for applicants who will be as well-suited or maybe more well-suited than an internal candidate," Conner said. "I think it's very unreasonable in making a recommendation like that right now. This is a public meeting. This could be the first step in turning applications off right now."
Committee member John Les took a different approach to the efficacy of the subcommittee's prescribed evaluation process, saying a superintendent search may not warrant as many quality applicants if it is well-known that there is a strong candidate internally.
"We really need to evaluate the internal candidate option, before we put it out to the public, to make sure that we get that point taken care of," Les said.
The 10-member superintendent search subcommittee was created in October by Vice Chairman Shawn Armacost. Gazzillo and Deborah White, principal at Kittredge Elementary School in Dalton, are the co-chairmen and the group is rounded out with parents, teachers, School Committee members and union members.
On Nov. 22, the search subcommittee met with Glenn Koocher, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, who provided guidance to the process of fielding superintendent candidates. Along with insight into the interviewing process and expectations as to what districts Central Berkshires will compete with and whom they can expect as likely external candidates, Koocher provided knowledge on the potential of hiring internal candidates.
Internal superintendent candidates have a number of advantages, including regional experience, credibility, established trust and a familiarity that is reciprocal between the school district and candidate, according to Koocher.
Gazzillo said Koocher was very open about questioning the subcommittee's decision to seek applicants externally when there is a qualified candidate internally, who was a finalist in the previous search.
It is common for the school district to save money in the search process and on negotiating salary by hiring internally, though one committee member took exception to the logic in the latter point.
"I find it interesting that one of the selling points for an internal candidate is that they wouldn't require as much salary," Michael Hopper said. "I find that ridiculous. Obviously if they are a good internal candidate, they will fulfill all of the needs of whatever we're going to hire someone outside."
In lieu of hiring of an internal candidate, the search subcommittee will begin advertising and collecting applications for the superintendent position throughout January. It will also notify district staff of the state of the hiring process during that time. Eventually, it will forward the names of three final applicants to the School Committee for recommendation no later than March 27, according to Gazzillo.
The School Committee appropriated a budget of up to $10,000 to conduct its superintendent search.
The MASC helps to design and distribute brochures and aids in advertising, as part of the services the school district subscribes to annually.