MDI superintendent hits budget snag at Mass. job interview

By Stephanie Bergman, Gloucester Daily Times
Posted March 28, 2012, at 6:09 a.m.

ROCKPORT, Mass. — Rockporters got the chance to meet the finalists for the schools’ superintendent job Monday night, when the two men were interviewed by the School Committee in the Rockport Middle and High School library.

The School Committee members asked Robert Liebow, superintendent of the Mount Desert Island Regional School System in Maine, and Jon Bernard, principal of North Reading High School, 10 questions each about their experience in school administration, how they would deal with budget issues, and why they wanted to be considered for the position.

Liebow, who was interviewed first, had driven down from Maine in the morning to visit the town’s schools.

“It seems to have a lot of warmth and caring here,” Liebow said.

Liebow said that while he has spent his entire 35-year career in Maine, 21 of those years in the Mount Desert Island schools, he wants to move to Northeast Massachusetts now to be close to his son and granddaughter, who live in Hamilton.

“I’m near the end of my career, but I’m not at the end of my career. If it was a good match, I could stay 10 years more, maybe 12,” Liebow said.

Liebow spoke about his desire to create a school that teaches students to care and give back to the community, and emphasized the importance of relationships with the community.

“If times are tough, I’m going to go with the people. A computer is a great tool, but it’s not a replacement for a teacher,” Liebow said.

A hiccup came during the interview, however, when Liebow explained that he has never worked with the kinds of budget constraints that Rockport operates under.

“I’ve never had that situation,” said Liebow, when asked how he reconciles competing budget priorities. In Maine, Liebow said, he is able to simply ask the towns in his district for the budget he needs, without having to worry if they fall under the 2-1/2 percent limit on tax increases limit that is state law in Massachusetts.

Liebow said that by being a good salesman and by keeping in mind that times are tough, he has been able to ask for and get reasonable budgets each year.

The other issue is school choice, which is the law of the land in Massachusetts, but is still under debate in Maine.

Bernard, who has spent 25 years in public education in Massachusetts, was interviewed second.

“Superintendent now is the next step for me in my professional growth. What I do have is a skill set that grows over time,” Bernard said.

Bernard noted that the Rockport job is the only one he is seeking at this time, a dig at Liebow, who was short-listed for a superintendent position in Ashland just days before being announced as a finalist in Rockport.

Bernard was listed as a finalist for superintendent in Amesbury last year, but withdrew after the interview. Bernard said he stayed on in North Reading to shepherd a $108 million building project, which was just approved Saturday. The project would build a new middle and high school, designed by the same person who designed the $197 million Newton North High School, which was the most expensive school built in Massachusetts as of 2010.

Bernard said he knows how to operate under budget restrictions and suggested leasing new equipment rather than buying it in order to save money while staying on top of the latest technology.

“I was brought in as an agent of change. Change is difficult because people get comfortable with being where they are and doing what they do,” said Bernard.

Bernard had questions of his own for the School Committee at the end of the interview, asking about challenges and what makes the Rockport school system special.

“What’s special about the school is what’s special about the town,” School Committee Chairman Michael Kelley answered.

© 2012 the Gloucester Daily Times (Gloucester, Mass.)

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http://bangordailynews.com/2012/03/28/news/mdi-superintendent-hits-budget-snag-at-mass-job-interview/ printed on July 23, 2014