Saturday, May 24, 2014

Second or Third Best Practices

Ken O’Brien

Bent Abrahamson
At the last meeting of the Southbridge School Committee on May 13, Southbridge School Committee candidate Brent Abrahamson praised the current administration.

He waxed poetic about the wonders of the Principal Search Committee. The extent to which the public’s input was sought and heeded was, one had to be convinced, a marvel of inclusiveness and populist democracy.

And the constant critics and naysayers, he was quick to remind all, were nowhere to be seen.

In light of this it will be interesting to see if he is just as quick to level criticism when there is a total lack of such openness and inclusion when it comes to the most critical hiring function of the school department. In fact, it is the one hiring action with which the School Committee is directly charged. However, given his history of changing convictions at the whims of convenience, I doubt we will see that happen.

Specifically, I am referring to the hiring of a Superintendent to succeed Basan “Buzz” Nembirkow.

It has been a longstanding practice to appoint a search committee when the need arises to fill a vacancy in this position.

Indeed, it was major players among the current denizens of the committee who spoke out about the need to establish greater openness in the hiring of school principals. How then do these committee members explain item XII. B. on the agenda for next Wednesday’s meeting?

Vote to appoint Patricia Gardner Superintendent of Southbridge Public Schools, effective July 1, 2014 through June 30, 2015.

This is not an interim appointment like Mr. Nembirkow initially had. It is an appointment to the position of Superintendent. There has been no search committee. There is no agenda item calling for one.

A little less than two years ago Mrs. Donovan spoke at length about “best practices”. She invoked the phrase to justify the insertion of the School Committee into the principal hiring process. However, it would now appear that such “practices” were only invoked as “best”. Given what they’ve accustomed us to, the same people now seem to assume that Southbridge will gladly accept second or third best, or less.

We’ve seen an “interim” Superintendent elevated to full Superintendent stature with no competitive search (even though a search committee existed at the time). And, now, we have seen another individual who didn’t even hold that “interim” position elevated without the benefit of any competitive vetting. 

As to Mr. Abrahamson’s criticism, my response is that some of us were smart enough to realize that the exercise was little more than window dressing. Now our suspicions have been vindicated.  So, get bent, Brent.


  1. Donovan and McLoughlin hear the train coming and are trying to insulate themselves (it's never about the students). Election in 5 weeks! Their reign of bad decisions is going to be fully exposed, and ended! They have made bad decision after bad decision. And these bad decisions are followed by total arrogance that "THEY KNOW BEST!"

    They loved Ely, gave him a two year contract extension with less than 72 hours on the job. The allegations of inappropriate conduct towards female employees surfaced A costly investigation, extended paid administrative leave, and resignation TEXT followed. They sat around for a year and a half with the Buzz. How did that work out? Law suits, $350,000.00 this year in unemployment fees, legal fees that are hidden to the taxpayers (but run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars). The girls have no fiscal ability (I pity their husbands).

    Former Director of Operations Roland Gaboury arrested for a DUI. It wasn't until the Telegram finally reported on the situation that Lauren and Kara forced Buzz to terminate him. Did they not know? Did Buzz not know? Hard to believe since district personnel were chaufering around the district all day!

    How many principals are we searching for? How many have been placed at the new school since we spent 75 million dollars to build it?

    Bad decision after bad decision! Now they want to anoint a superintendent? No job posting, no selection criteria, no search committee, to accountability! They couldn't pick the winner in a one horse race!

    As for Brent - he's a perfect fit for the girls. So if you want more of what we have now vote for him. The students and staff will continue to suffer and diminish, the costs will continue to escalate at ridiculous amounts, and the girls will continue to tell us "THEY KNOW BEST!" These two girls are frauds and Brent is also a fraud. Girls + Brent = TOTAL FRAUDS.

  2. naught sew simpleMay 24, 2014 at 1:01 PM

    Who will be te scapegoat when Donovan and McLoughlin are gone? As bad as matters are, is it not true that our school system was a mess long before they were elected?
    Brent lost my vote when I heard that he was claiming that if Scott Lazo is elected, Billy Bishop will be our next Superintendent. I dislike when political hopefuls try to get my vote by telling me what the OTHER candidates will do instead of explaining what they will do. Ever since the power consolidators closed down the original precinct polling places and put the voting operation on top of Southbridge's Chestnut Hill, many of our formerly active voters have been excluded/disenfranchised because they are elderly and can not drive and very few can walk up the hill. In local elections, if you stay all day and observe who votes, well over 50% are town employees and their families, which ensures job security and strengthens the epistemic closure in local government that plagues our community.I am convinced that if the finest College Proffesors within 30 miles offered to each come here for two hours a day to replace our teaching staff at half the wagewe pay our current staff, the proposal would be roundly defeated. Sadly our High School if primarily a jobs program for teachers, and the education of the students is secondary. EVERY student and recent graduate that I have discussed thus subject with blames the teachers. Could it be the actual consumers of the education product that they suffer through for hours a day knows what the real problem is?

    1. Hit the Nail on the HeadMay 24, 2014 at 10:44 PM

      I couldn't agree more!! Every administration has taken the blame for the cesspool are schools have become. The poor suffering teachers are always the victims! That's total CR@P! The schools are a jobs program filled with people trying to pad there pensions. There may be a few good teachers but most of them need to go.

  3. Telling BA to get bent is superfluous. He has already contorted himself into numerous distorted shapes to ingratiate himself to whatever group he thought was popular. He should be in the Guinness Book of Records. He has to be the ranking champion when it comes to playing Twister.

  4. The appointment of a superintendant without any search committee has got to be the most blatant display of hypocrisy yet. Any candidate for school committee who fails to appear at the meeting and speak out against this travisty should get zero votes. I can’t even come up with words to express how angry I am at the arrogance of this.

  5. Here’s a list of those running for School Committee: Brent Abrahamson, Scott Lazo, Christopher Olivo, Raymond Page, LeAnn Pate. I urge all voters to keep score next Wednesday night to see who speaks out against this appointment and refuse to vote for anybody who fails to.

    1. Outraged is absolutely right. If anybody running for SC is not courageous enough to stand up and speak out against this effort to exclude public input into the selection of a superintendent then they don't deserve to be on the committee.

  6. Seriously ConfusedMay 24, 2014 at 8:49 PM

    After making such a big deal about their principal search what is the damn rush to do this? It just doesn’t make any sense to me. Do any of you political geniuses have a way of explaining why they would do anything so obviously stupid?

    1. Maybe they thought that nobody would pay attention over a long holiday weekend.

    2. Practical PoliticsMay 25, 2014 at 1:55 AM

      It does not require genius to figure this one out. When you have polutical power and you expect that it is about to be lost in the upcoming election, you do whatever you can to grasp every opportunity that you can. I do not know this new appointee, but I am willing to give 3:1 odds that this appointee would never be appointed by whomever the current leadership expects to get elected. Actually it is clever because they are making a major play that would have naturally been the greatest decision of the next School Committee.They know they have already lost much of their support, so the additional political damage is worth it because one known Superintendent in the present is better than allowing others that you know you will disagree with to select someone else in a few months.

      We can recall a public official unless they were elected within the past six months, or unless there term is up within the next six months. I do not know if someone appointed within the last six months is exempt. We can throw out as many as we want at the same time.

    3. No matter what happens in the election, the four bobbleheads will still be in office. Therefore they will still have a majority. The only reason to make this move now is that one of the four is viewed with suspicion by the other three. On this assumption, the three feel that they have to move now while they have a firm majority of the current five.
      That raises the question of what they view as an election outcome that would undermine their position. Clearly the two most unfavorable to their interests that may be elected are Lazo and Page. That leaves the question of who would be the next worst for them. My guess is that it would be Olivo. He has already spoken out about the treatment of the Guidance Dept. personnel at their presentation. Further, his active engagement during the presentation about the high school athletic program indicates that there may be an affinity to side with Lazo, at least on some issues.
      If the election of those three is their worst case scenario, it still raises two more questions.
      First, who of the four would be the most likely to switch allegiances. My guess is that it would be Congdon. She has been the least outspoken publicly in support of the group of four and the current administration. Privately she has made no secret of her ambitions. I can see her forming an alliance that would garner her the vice-chairmanship with Lazo as chair.
      The second, and more difficult question, is why give Gardner only a one year contract? If there is a realistic prospect of such a “coup”, why not make it for three years? In part this may relate to Buzz’s repeated assertion that there would be an increase in MCAS scores. If they believe that will happen, then such a turnaround would seemingly justify their actions to date and strengthen their position after the scores are released. In such an event, they would be able to continue to exercise micro-managing with a superintendent whose tenure could be held hostage to their continued support. If this is the case it begs the question of where this confidence that scores will increase actually comes from. Even if scores don’t improve, they may still have more leverage with a one year contract than with a longer one, even if they are in the minority. That would be because, having appointed her, they would be expected to support her. If they turn on Gardner that would virtually guarantee non-renewal of her contract next year.

  7. Is it possible under our charter to have a recall for more than one official on the same petition?

  8. Do The Right ThingMay 25, 2014 at 8:41 AM

    Let's remember, there are FIVE remaining school committee members. Olivio, Congdon and Quinney can do the right thing. They can vote against this ridiculous appointment.
    I urge everyone to call the three of them and stress how wrong this is for the community.

  9. “Don't worry about comments. You don't need to display them, or you can display the ones you want. In fact, my blogs are the only ones in town that do not require prior approval before you can post. Now that's free speech!” - Brent Abrahamson

    1. Is it any surprise that this pious hypocrite Brent restricted access to his blog when he decided to run? He didn't want people to be able to quote his prior flip flops back at him. If he does put his site back up you can bet that he will have sanitized it of any problem comments. That's just the kind of "transparency" he'll bring to the school committee.

    2. Hey Brent, here’s a full moon for you.

  10. Lazy crap, political crap...when will Southbridge say enough is enough?. Can the school committee really just vote someone into the Superintendent job? There has got to be a rule somewhere that says this is not possible right? What if they want to vote the mailman, milkman, dog catcher, or Red Robin waitress in, is that ok too? No offense to anyone in those rolls but Pat Gardner has only been in the district since August, does not have the appropriate experience, has been turned down for the Superintendent roll in other districts, and has been a contributor to the current state of employee relation issues/lawsuits, etc. Does the public really think its a good idea to just vote her in? Why not vote for her to be an acting or interim until the fall? Set up a search committee, see how she holds up vs. other applicants. If she really is the best person for the job, this would give her more time to prove it. What's the rush? If she is so good, she will shine against the other applicants.


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