May 18, 2006

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Nashua Publisher's Note: Teachable moments
By Jeff Rapsis

Pay attention, class! The uncomfortable predicament of Julia Earl, the superintendent of schools in Nashua who applied for a new job in Oklahoma after less than a year in the Gate City, offers several lessons. This is all about education, so let’s find the teachable moments.

First, remember last year’s big battle over how much to pay a new superintendent? There was talk of salaries in excess of $150,000 a year so that Nashua could be competitive in the “visionary leader” arena. This was well above the highest-paid school employee anywhere else in New Hampshire.

In the end, board members offered Earl $125,000 in pay plus generous benefits (a housing allowance, etc.) — still the biggest public school salary in the Granite State, and enough to raise eyebrows as the city entered a year of budget cuts. But the job Earl applied for in Tulsa pays $200,000 a year, and there’s no way Nashua or any community in New Hampshire can compete with that.

Lesson learned: Unless something changes in the way we fund public schools, New Hampshire districts aren’t a good place for expensive “visionary” leaders from places where school systems are funded differently. For better or worse, we’re not in that league. For us, better to have veterans like Benrard Masse or Joe Giuliano who at least can make a long-term commitment to a job.

Moving on: Most public boards in New Hampshire conduct hiring processes behind closed doors. When it’s time to select a new school superintendent, the public only learns of who it is after the deal is done.

But Earl’s treatment in Tulsa, as described by Telegraph reporter Michael Brindley (who followed her during Earl’s visit last week) was an eye-opener. Earl, one of four finalists, was at the center of a full-fledged press conference!

Lesson learned: Tulsa shows that alternatives exist to closed-door hiring policies. If officials here, say, held public press conferences for superintendent finalists, it might help determine which candidates aren’t likely to cut the mustard.

Being open about a hiring process can only help the best candidate to be selected. It would also discourage administrators from job-hopping and encourage them to make a long-term commitment instead.

Another observation: As a professional, Earl is entitled to seek new opportunities whenever she chooses. However, knowledge that she is willing to give up on Nashua after such a short time helps those of us with a long-term investment in this city understand who we’re really dealing with—an administrator not interested in a serious commitment.

That may not be comfortable for Earl, who is otherwise a capable administrator. But far better for us to know the real score now rather than be surprised when she bolts, which will likely be sooner than later. At least we can plan.

What’s to learn: This shows the value of independent local news media. Not everyone loves the Telegraph for the way it covers the news, but its willingness to pursue stories like this helps the residents of Nashua dwell in a world of reality, not fantasy. The long-term value of this service is incalculable.

OK, tonight’s homework: Find out how they fund their schools in Oklahoma without a property tax and can afford to pay a superintendent $200,000 a year.

Class dismissed!.


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