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School Board Set to Oust Claremont Superintendent

  • Middleton McGoodwin, superintendent of SAU 6, March 24, 2014. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)



Valley News Correspondent
Friday, May 25, 2018

Claremont — The SAU 6 School Board has voted to terminate the contract of Superintendent Middleton McGoodwin effective June 30, if McGoodwin does not resign before the middle of next month, according to a copy of a letter from the board obtained by the Valley News.

In an interview on Thursday, McGoodwin said he was informed of the board’s decision on Tuesday when Frank Sprague, chairman of the Claremont School Board, SAU 6 Board Chairwoman Sara Lowe, of Unity, and SAU 6 Vice Chairman Mike Petrin, of Claremont, came to his office to deliver the letter.

“I didn’t expect it,” McGoodwin said, adding that the board members did not elaborate on the decision. “We had a difficult time with the (Claremont) budget, but I thought we were ready to recalibrate.”

According to the letter signed by Lowe and Petrin, SAU board members after a “lengthy discussion voted to pursue other leadership of SAU 6 effective at the end of the current school year.” Classes end on June 13 for the Claremont district.

The letter cites a provision in McGoodwin’s contract allowing the board to “terminate” the agreement, but the letter gave McGoodwin the option of resigning first. It was not clear on Thursday how many years remain on his current contract.

Whether he resigns or is terminated, according to the letter, the SAU would pay McGoodwin six-months salary as severance and provide 12 months of health insurance.

McGoodwin said on Thursday he has not resigned and expects to remain in his job until the end of June.

The letter to McGoodwin does not say when or how the 12-member SAU 6 board (seven from Claremont and five from Unity) voted, nor has the board released wording of a motion concerning McGoodwin’s employment.

Attempts to contact several board members for comment on Thursday evening were unsuccessful.

Claremont board member Steve Horsky declined to comment, as did Jason Benware and Sprague. A message left for Petrin and an email to Claremont Vice Chairwoman Rebecca Zullo were not immediately answered. Lowe could not be reached either.

Horsky did confirm that the SAU board held a nonpublic session at a meeting earlier this month but refused to elaborate.

On Thursday, McGoodwin said that during the public portion of that May 10 meeting — he was not present for the nonpublic session — there was a discussion on a draft document to evaluate his job performance.

“I thought we were going to review the criteria at the June 14 meeting,” McGoodwin said.

Former board member Brian Rapp characterized the board’s decision as troubling, and said it was his understanding members from Unity had been opposed to firing McGoodwin.

“I am surprised at the lack of input allowed from Unity,” said Rapp, who lost a re-election bid in March.

Rapp had harsh words for School Board members from Claremont, accusing them of not focusing on student achievement nor educational priorities.

“Middleton was brought in to turn the district around and he’s been doing that,” said Rapp, who was in the minority among the board in support of the proposed budget from McGoodwin earlier this year. “They have their minds set on tax cuts and some pet projects. People should be very afraid. Whatever gains we made will be gone.”

A bruising budget season in Claremont beginning last fall could have played a part in the board’s decision.

McGoodwin’s initial spending proposal was slashed by the board on a 4-3 vote. Two of the opponents of the cuts, Rapp and Alex Herzog, are no longer on the board. Petrin also opposed cuts to McGoodwin’s budget.

“I pushed back and asked them to reconsider,” McGoodwin said on Thursday. “Some board members didn’t like that.”

Another former board member, Chris Irish, who did not seek re-election this spring, was among those who supported cuts to the budget.

“I think there was probably some leftover hard feelings,” Irish said. “The acrimony between the board and the administration apparently came to a head.”

After receiving the letter, McGoodwin said he informed Lowe and Petrin in a response that he would extend a “professional courtesy” to some colleagues “to explain the situation I have been placed in as a result of this SAU 6 School Board action.”

“I needed to let people know,” McGoodwin said. “I am not a disingenuous guy.”

Another former School Board member, Dave Putnam, who was on the board when McGoodwin was hired, said he can’t offer insight on the board’s rationale but he pointed to the budget process as a likely factor in the decision.

“I think there was misunderstanding and an outcome that upset both sides,” Putnam said. “I am disappointed because I think Middleton takes the job very, very seriously and works very hard. He worked to keep the increases at a minimum level and every year he had to make cuts to make that happen.”

Putnam, like Rapp, said he is concerned about the School Board’s direction and how its decisions would impact economic development efforts in the city.

“I don’t think the board understands that role,” he said.

As for the next step, Putnam said the hiring process for a superintendent takes several months and usually is started early enough to have someone in place for the start of the next year.

McGoodwin, 71, came to Claremont in the summer of 2011, succeeding longtime Superintendent Jacqui Guillette, who was in Claremont for nine years.

For six years before arriving in Claremont, McGoodwin had been the superintendent of schools in Marshfield, Mass., south of Boston, where he oversaw a district with 4,800 students and a $40 million budget. He announced his planned resignation from that job a year before he left, citing a “serious disconnect” between himself and elected  officials and “major philosophical differences on how the district should be managed.”

He previously had worked as a middle school principal and earth science and math teacher.

The letter to McGoodwin states that if he elects to resign, the board would execute a settlement agreement under the provisions of his contract and vote on it on June 14. It asks that he inform the board of his decision before then.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.