, Newburyport, MA

December 10, 2012

Top school brass on leave

'Personnel matters' remove Page School principal, special education director from posts

By Jennifer Solis

---- — WEST NEWBURY — Two top Pentucket Regional School District administrators — including the popular principal of the Dr. John C. Page Elementary School — have been on paid leave for a week and it’s unclear when — or if — they will return.

Superintendent Jeff Mulqueen confirmed on Friday that Page Principal Jack O’Mara and Jack Tiano, the district’s director of special education services, have not been at work since Dec. 3.

Mulqueen said he can’t speak in too much detail about the situations because they involve personnel matters.

“All matters related to personnel issues are confidential and cannot be confirmed,” Mulqueen said.

But according to the superintendent, the reason for Tiano’s departure is being handled separately from O’Mara’s situation.

“Each personnel issue is treated as separate and distinct. I have to address each person’s specific needs and situation. Even in situations with a related issue, I have to address it individually,” Mulqueen said.

Mulqueen did confirm, however, that the matters do not involve any alleged criminal behavior and that no laws — educational, special educational or otherwise — were broken.

“These are private issues that are personnel related and we are working through them,” he said.

Both men are still receiving their pay while out on leave.

In the interim, Assistant Superintendent Bill Hart has taken over the helm at Page and Mulqueen is overseeing the special education department.

Mulqueen stressed that in his capacity as superintendent, he is taking every action to support Page School and the district, communicate with parents and teachers to the degree that it is possible and promote a climate of respect for all students and staff. He issued a brief memo about O’Mara’s departure to parents and staff last week and met with Page School staff on Thursday.

When reached for comment on Friday, West Newbury Selectman Glenn Kemper responded, “After talking to (Mulqueen), I am confident the personnel matters are being handled by him in the best interest of the district and the kids. He assured me this would not impact the Page building project. “

The superintendent, who began his tenure this summer, said he was surprised by the “wild assumptions” some in the community have been making about the news of O’Mara’s sudden departure. He said it is not true that O’Mara and Tiano’s computers were confiscated by the administration after they left last Monday. No computers were confiscated anywhere in the district, he said firmly.

Mulqueen also said that rumors that he is unhappy with how the district has handled special education services in the past are not accurate. And he denied that the current personnel situations were in any way related to any lawsuit lodged against the district.

The superintendent said he is actually working with several employees on personnel issues district-wide, but thinks O’Mara’s case may be getting the bulk of public scrutiny because of his position as principal of West Newbury’s only elementary school. According to Mulqueen, no other Page School teachers are currently on leave.

When asked whether he thought O’Mara or Tiano will be returning to Pentucket, Mulqueen said that the question implied something negative and it wasn’t really one he could answer at this time.

“I continue to work with these private matters; consequently, neither has come to conclusion,” he said.

He added, “It’s a difficult situation. I like to be open and honest. I don’t want to mislead people.”

But because he is dealing with personnel issues, Mulqueen said he feels it would be “inappropriate” for him to provide more information than he has already.

Page School parent Sandra Capo, who has worked closely with O’Mara on various school-related projects since he came on board in February 2010, described the principal as “well liked and respected by parents and the kids at the Page School.”

“We hope this gets resolved immediately and that he returns soon,” Capo said.