Interim Special Education Director Marisa McCarthy could have a long-term future in the Attleboro school district—if she wants it. The school committee voted 6-0 Wednesday to approve Superintendent Pia Durkin's request go grant McCarthy a three-year contract. However, McCarthy is one of two finalists for the same job in Arlington, and School Committee Chair Mike Tyler said she would not remove her name from consideration there.
The decision to appoint McCarthy was a sudden departure from the previous plan to do a full search and accept applications. A job notice appears online with a Feb. 25 application deadline. Tyler said he re-convened the search committee last week to determine if its members favored giving the job to McCarthy. He said the support from the committee was "overwhelming." Among those on the search committee is School Committee member Bill Larson.
"It was quickly evident through people's comments and the stories that they shared that there was such a high level of professionalism that [McCarthy] brought to the job, and also the passion she has for the job," said Larson at the meeting Wednesday night.
Although support on the search committee for McCarthy may have been "overwhelming" (Tyler declined to give an actual vote tally), it was not unanimous. School Committee member Barbara Craw, who did not attend the meeting Wednesday due to an illness, wrote in an email to Attleboro Patch that she opposed giving the job to McCarthy without doing a more thorough search.
"The process that was told to the public in regards to the special education director was not done," Craw wrote. "Ms. McCarthy could have applied and went through the proper process and then we all could state without any doubt that she was the best candidate for the position. Because a meeting behind closed doors was held and a decision was made only by a few chosen people, who were school committee members, [special education parent advisory council] members, teachers or administrators, it was not a fair and reasonable interview process."
Stressing she had no personal problem with McCarthy, Craw added, "I feel the school committee let down those who could not express their opinions and we should be ashamed for lying to the public and telling them on television and publicly that a fair and thorough interview process would be conducted for this position."
Fellow School Committee member Brenda Furtado, who said she was not in attendance Wednesday due to a family obligation, had a similar opinion, which she shared in an email to Patch.
"We again did not fully advertise this important position," she wrote. "We took the easy way out! We only had six or fewer applicants when we advertised for the interim position. We failed the district, in my opinion. This is not personal to Ms. McCarthy, but her resume did not have the experience that I feel is needed for a district of this size."
Several people who spoke at the meeting Wednesday did not share Furtado's opinion on whether McCarthy is the right person for the job. Thacher Elementary School principal Catherine Zinni and two parents were among those who spoke in favor of McCarthy.
"Marisa has brought a level of expertise that I have been looking for for my son," said Angela Ferreira, who has two children in the district's special education program.
School Committee member David Murphy said he believes a thorough search was done.
"A full search is defined by having a beginning and an end, and it ends when you find the right candidate," he said. "And it's not defined by a specific length of time. I think as evidenced by the support and the unanimous vote [by the school committee], this search ended when the right candidate was found."
Whether the search will need to continue is now up to McCarthy. She did not say at the meeting whether she would accept the Attleboro job. Tyler told Patch she had told him she would continue with the application process in Arlington.