CUMBERLAND - Four months after Cumberland School Supt. Donna A. Morelle announced she would not seek renewal of her contract when it expires on June 30, the School Committee is in the early stages of finding her replacement.
The committee has voted to draft a request for proposals (RFP) to hire a consulting firm to help the district in its search for a new school chief. At its meeting Thursday night, the committee approved a draft copy of the RFP, which means the district will advertise the bids next week.
A deadline for bids has been set for the first week of March.
Morelle made the decision to leave the distict in October, when she sent a letter to the School Committee notiyfing the board that she would not seek renewal of her contract and will leave the school district at the end of this school year. Morelle makes $117,244 a year as Cumberland's school chief.
The School Committee voted to accept Morelle's Oct. 14 notification letter, which essentially ended litigation between the two sides (Morelle had filed for a restraining order earlier that month in Superior Court to block the committee from taking action on her contract).
Morelle has been under fire since the beginning of the current school year, when busing problems on the first few days of class left some students stranded and others stuck on buses for hours. Committee members had voted to keep bus routes and schedules the same as last year, but say Morelle failed to notify Durham School Services and convey the committeeâ€™s Aug. 12, 2010 decision that the bus company return to previous bus routes and stops. Morelle has said that she believes she conveyed the directive to Durham.
At a meeting of the school board shortly after school opened in September, dozens of angry residents testified about late buses, children left at school, and children dropped off at the wrong stops.
The busing fiasco prompted the school board to hold a 90-minute closed door meeting with Morelle to discuss her job performance and handling of the opening of school, specifically the problems with the bus routes. At that meeting, the committee agreed to place her contract renewal on the agenda two weeks later, but an eleventh-hour legal maneuver by Morelle forced the committee to table the vote.
Hours before the school board convened its much-anticipated meeting in the high school auditorium - which drew a crowd of about 200 people - Superior Court Judge Bennett Gallo had granted Morelle's attorney, Anthony DeSisto, a restraining order, which bars the School Committee from taking any action on Morelle's contract.
In his complaint to the court, DeSisto argued that the membership of the School Committee would be changing after the general election in November and, therefore, it is the new committee - which could include three or four new members - that should make a decision on Morelle's contract.
Had the committee voted on Morelle's contract last year, it was all but certain that the committee would have agreed not to renew the contract.
The school bus route debacle that angered parents and caused an even wider rift between the School Committee and Morelle spurred quick action by school officials to restore last year's bus routes before Nov. 1.
By going back to last year's bus schedule, more than 100 added neighborhood stops were restored.