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March 28, 2012

Budget handling separates school chief candidates

ROCKPORT — 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, 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.

A third candidate, John Alberghini, superintendent of Chittenden East Supervisory Union in Vermont, bowed out of the race Sunday night, and so was not interviewed.

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.

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