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Leadership in limbo

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School Superintendent McMahon cites contract violation while seeking a return to work

  After more than four months of being on paid administrative leave, the lawyer representing School Superintendent Erin McMahon says the School Committee still hasn’t disclosed what the unspecified allegations of misconduct against her involve.

  Failing to brief McMahon on the specific allegations constitutes a violation of her contract, prompting her to pursue arbitration so she can return to work, according to Hingham attorney Michael J. Long. “The contract between the Committee and the Superintendent requires the Committee to provide any complaints or concerns about Superintendent McMahon’s work to her, in writing,” Long wrote in a recent email to The Saugus Advocate.

  “The purpose of the contract language is to allow honest, prompt, direct communication and swift resolution of issues, but the Committee has produced no written complaint, so Superintendent McMahon had to initiate arbitration as permitted by her contract,” Long said.

  “Not only that, the Committee has not investigated her. The Town Manager hired private lawyers to conduct an investigation in which we fully cooperated, and after months and months, we have been presented with no findings,” he said.

  Meanwhile, the School Committee met in Executive Session on Wednesday (May 31) to discuss “potential litigation and arbitration strategy” related to the superintendent, according to an agenda posted on the Town of Saugus website.

  McMahon, who has been on paid leave since Jan. 17, voluntarily stepped back from her duties as superintendent pending the completion of the investigation. McMahon would have been just under a month away from completing the second year of a five-year plan to move the school district from the bottom 10 percent of academic performing schools to the top 10 percent, based on the district’s ranking against the state in performance on Math and Reading scores in the MCAS Exam.

  In June of 2021, the School Committee unanimously approved a five-year contract for McMahon with a starting salary of $196,000. The superintendent stands to earn close to a million dollars over the life of the contract. It marked the first time in the history of Saugus Public Schools that the School Committee had approved a five-year contract for the leader of the town’s public education system. It was also the first time that the School Committee had hired a woman superintendent.

  “Superintendent McMahon remains stalwart in her commitment to Saugus students, parents and educators,” Long told The Saugus Advocate.

  “She looks forward to returning from leave,” he said.

  Section 8.8 of the superintendent’s contract requires the School Committee to provide the superintendent with “prompt notice of complaints or concerns.” “Any criticisms, complaints, and suggestions called to the attention of the Committee shall be promptly and discretely referred to the Superintendent in writing for study, disposition, or recommendation as appropriate to facilitate the orderly administration of the District and to ensure responsiveness to the public and fairness to the Superintendent.

  “Any such matter not promptly raised may not be considered in the summative evaluation as the Superintendent may not be aware of same or may not have sufficient time to take remedial action.”

  For months, School Committee members have referred all comments about the superintendent’s situation to Chair Vincent Serino, who has released no details and said very little about the case. “This is a personal matter, and as such will be handled with appropriate due diligence, confidentiality and professionalism,” Serino said in a brief statement in January.

  “Actions taken today are not to be considered disciplinary. The committee will have no further comment until the results of the investigation are done,” he said.

  In the written statement she provided to The Saugus Advocate back in January, McMahon alluded to potential concerns about the School District’s fiscal management. At the time, there were unconfirmed reports from several town officials that the investigation focused on alleged misappropriation of funds. Some officials questioned the superintendent’s alleged decision to create several School Department positions without proper authority or funding.

  But the School Committee has never specified the nature of the allegations that prompted its investigation.

  “The district’s financial records are audited every year by independent CPAs who have never reported to me that the school department should change or adjust any practices,” McMahon said in her statement at the time she stepped down.

  “While I have not yet been provided with any specific allegations made against me, any allegations of wrongdoing on my part are false. With the assistance of my attorneys, Michael Long and Sheilah McCarthy, I will zealously and transparently defend my unblemished professional reputation,” the superintendent said.

  In February, former Saugus High School Principal Michael Hashem agreed to lead the school district in a temporary capacity, pending the outcome of the investigation into McMahon’s alleged misconduct.

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