By Brian Lee
Telegram & Gazette Staff
Posted May 24, 2015 at 8:24 PM
Updated at 8:25 PM
SOUTHBRIDGE – One month before opening the middle-high school on Torrey Road in 2012, then-high school Principal William K. Bishop was shown the exit, in a controversial, last-minute job elimination.
Mr. Bishop, who had a year left on his contract and had expressed a desire to retire after fulfilling it, is now running for School Committee of the underperforming district in the June 30 election.
At the same time, the 60-year-old has a lawsuit against the district alleging age discrimination was then-superintendent Eric D. Ely's motive when he eliminated Mr. Bishop's job in favor of a dual principal post for the middle-high school. The job was given to a since terminated administrator who was 36 at the time.
If elected, Mr. Bishop said he would recuse himself from matters related to his complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, which has a three-year backlog on cases.
As the filing of his complaint reaches the three-year mark, Mr. Bishop said he and his lawyer are "looking at the probability of filing civil action," to expedite matters, although civil courts tend to want to review MCAD rulings before getting involved.
Meanwhile, Mr. Bishop said he can no longer sit and watch the district's downslide.
He said he has counted six middle-high school principals since the school was built, a "ghastly" rate of turnover.
“I’m surprised a principal can know the staff, let alone the kids,” Mr. Bishop remarked.
The $76 million school was built with 80 percent reimbursement from the state. The town council had agreed to a 25-year bond instead of the standard 20 years, in a spirit of councilors and school officials "pulling together," he recalled.
But now, "we have this pandemic of incivility," he said, pointing to the recent school committee meeting during which town councilors weren't recognized when they wanted to speak during discussion about the delayed superintendent search.
Mr. Bishop said people have told him they believe he is running to retaliate against people in the schools, to which he responded: “The reality of it is, as of June 30th there won’t be one single person on the School Committee that was there when I was principal. There certainly won’t be an administrator anywhere to be found that I worked with. We’ve rolled those over I don’t know how many times.”
Mr. Bishop worked 32 years in the district. The longtime former band director served one year as an assistant principal and five years as high school principal.
He was also a candidate for the superintendent's job, but lost out to Mr. Ely, who was hired in 2010 and resigned in January 2013.
Mr. Bishop has two master’s degrees and is certified to work as a superintendent and principal of Grades 5 through 12.
Mr. Bishop recalled that the high school was at Level 3 status, among the state's lowest performing, when he became principal.
It rose to Level 1, among the state's highest performing, when Mr. Ely eliminated his job with what Mr. Bishop described as a "smugness."
In addition, Mr. Bishop said, student enrollment increased from 363 to 445 during his principalship.
He said the first thing he did as principal was put together a strong team of educators to beef up a freshman academy that had been created by a predecessor.
The team, he said, recognized dropouts usually occurred between ninth and 10th grades.
"We put our resources to get those kids back on grade level as quickly as possible," he said. "For upperclassmen who had deficiencies we had a very solid credit recovery program, which we did with existing staff for short money afterschool, using personnel and computer-based instruction. We identified the kids; we knew the kids."
Mr. Bishop criticized acting Superintendent Sheryl Stanton's proposed restructuring of the middle-high school, which calls for putting a principal and two instructional resource specialists in each building.
Mr. Bishop asserted that the proposal has the "appearance of being done for the wrong reasons," and that seven staff members who have been asked to reapply for jobs were possibly being targeted, in the same manner that he was targeted.
He predicted that district legal and unemployment costs, which during the last three years were more than $400,000 and $700,000, respectively, would continue to soar if the restructuring comes to fruition.
Asked about the candidate's assertions, Ms. Stanton said that her administration does not make decisions with political motives in mind.
In what has been described as a budget-neutral restructuring, she said that the proposal is based on the district not making gains in its 2014 turnaround plan, and it addresses troublesome attendance trends, puts a focus on discipline and increase support for staff and students.
"The idea that we’re trying to eliminate people is erroneous," she said.
In addition to Mr. Bishop, the other candidates for School Committee are Scott Lazo, Brenda Ortiz, John Shaw and Arelys Torres. There are two, three-year seats available. No incumbents are running.