By Times Staff
The North Shore Technical Regional School Board's decision to grant a pay hike bringing the annual salary of its superintendent up to $195,000 is drawing fire from officials in a number of district communities, including Gloucester.
Mayor Carolyn Kirk said Friday that the pay hike granted to North Shore Superintendent-Director Daniel O'Connell, who had been making $178,680 a year, to the $195,000 mark is "one of the reasons why I vetoed Gloucester's participation in the (planned) new district."
The pay hike for O'Connell, granted earlier this summer, comes as the North Shore Vocational-Technical School in Middleton is preparing to merge with Essex Agricultural School in a planned $133 million new school pegged for the Essex Aggie grounds in Danvers.
The $195,000 salary for O'Connell tops the separate $164,000 salary paid to Essex Aggie's superintendent-director, Roger Bourgeois.
With state and school officials pressing last year for commitments from all communities served by the North Shore and Essex Aggie districts to stay aboard for the new merged district, the Gloucester City Council endorsed signing onto the expanded district and new regional vo-tech school.
Kirk initially vetoed the idea of committing the city to the new program, while local school officials studied the city's options. But the council overrode the mayor's veto, keeping the city in the expanding district as the merger goes forward.
"There is no accountability, and no cost control at all," Kirk said Friday. "It's a runaway expense, and we basically have no say over it."
North Shore currently houses 450 students, some 55 of them from Gloucester, Kirk said. But the city's cost to participate is an estimated $1 million — or more than $18,000 per student.
The new merged vo-tech school, targeted for a 2013 opening, is being built at a cost of $133 million. Of that, more than $100 million is being covered by state aid and through the state's School Building Authority.
But the member communities will also share in the remaining building costs — in Gloucester's case, some $2.7 million. The regional district, however, required communities to sign on by last December — and Gloucester, Rockport, Manchester and Essex all chose to remain part of the program. Gloucester also continues to offer vocational-technical programs serving some 140 students at Gloucester High School.
The pay hike for North Shore's O'Connell is drawing concern and criticism from officials in other communities as well.
In Danvers, selectmen are concerned that the new salary level could set a precedent for the person brought in to lead the future merged vocational and technical school.
"I was very much taken aback ...," Danvers Selectmen Chairman Dan Bennett said during a meeting in Town Hall earlier this week. Bennett is also a trustee of Essex Aggie.
North Shore Tech, which has about 450 students, serves 16 communities: Gloucester, Essex, Manchester, Rockport, Danvers, Marblehead, Wenham, Beverly, Boxford, Hamilton, Lynnfield, Middleton, Nahant, Salem, Swampscott and Topsfield.
Marcia Sweeney of Marblehead, chairwoman of the North Shore regional school board, said the committee gave O'Connell the raise not just to lead North Shore Tech, but because O'Connell works in a hybrid position; in that vein, he has taken on the heavy lifting of the merger, which will also involve Peabody High School's vocational programs, she said.
But Bennett said his main concern is for North Shore taxpayers, in that O'Connell's salary may set a precedent. And Danvers Selectman Bill Clark said regional vocational schools' administrative and overhead costs, including those at Essex Aggie, are "out of control."
"A superintendent to superintend 450 students should not be making $200,000 a year," Danvers Selectman Keith Lucy said.
Staff writer Ethan Forman contributed to this story; he can be reached at email@example.com.