AMESBURY — School Committee members spent approximately $14,000 in their search for a new superintendent, including trips to visit and observe finalists in Las Vegas and Charlotte, N.C., according to records the school board released this week.
Most of the cost went to Salisbury resident Michael Gilbert, who coordinated the search to replace outgoing Superintendent David Jack. School Committee members spent close to $4,000 for five site visits, with the bulk of that expense paid for trips to Las Vegas and Charlotte, N.C.
The School Committee ultimately chose Michele Robinson, who is superintendent at Odyssey Charter Schools in Las Vegas, to replace Jack beginning July 1.
The School Department didn't break down the cost, but gave totals spent by each committee member, making it unclear how much was spent on the Las Vegas trip.
Mayor Thatcher Kezer and Debra LaValley went to Las Vegas, with Kezer submitting bills for $2,482 for the Las Vegas trip, and LaValley submitting $497 for a variety of expenses, including the Las Vegas trip, taking the finalists out to lunch in Amesbury, and travel costs to visit finalists in Billerica and Danvers.
Ann Connolly King and Gale Hanshaw traveled to Charlotte, at a cost of $995.
Kezer said he and LaValley flew into Las Vegas late, went to the hotel and spent the following day observing Robinson and conducting eight to nine hours of interviews with the candidate, her staff, students and the charter schools' trustees.
They flew home later that day. There were no trips to the Las Vegas strip in their visit.
"You learn a lot about a person by looking at their environment," the mayor said. "It gives you the opportunity to talk to people beyond the people provided by the candidates."
In addition to visiting Robinson in Las Vegas, the committee also went to Charlotte, N.C., to observe Joel Ritchie, who is superintendent of the school district there. Both visits were two-day, one-night stays.
Locally, committee members traveled to Danvers for a site visit of Assistant Superintendent and high school Principal Susan Ambrozavitch; Salah Khelfaoui in Billerica; and Jon Bernard, high school principal in nearby Reading, who later dropped out of the running.
Khelfaoui is an assistant superintendent in Arlington, Va., but had worked in Billerica for more than three years up until a year ago.
"It is part and parcel of every superintendent search that school committees do their due diligence on candidates and that includes site visits to where people are working, whenever possible," said Gilbert, who is field director with the Massachusetts Association of School Committees.
Gilbert said his cost to the department was $8,500 plus expenses, which is no more than an additional $2,000.
Other school districts have done site visits, including Gloucester, where members also went to Charlotte to observe Ritchie.
Committee members were also reimbursed for mileage to Billerica, North Reading and Danvers.
Kezer said it made sense that the people doing the hiring get to see the candidate for an "in-depth assessment."
"We're hiring the CEO of an educational system who will be responsible for $100 million (over four years). We want to be absolutely sure we have the right candidate," Kezer said.
Mayor Thatcher Kezer, traveled to Las Vegas
$2,482 for airfare (includes ticket for Debra LaValley), a rental car, hotel, and mileage
Debra LaValley, traveled to Las Vegas, Danvers, Billerica
$497 for mileage, hotel fees, lunches with candidates in Amesbury with the mayor and Bonnie Schultz.
Ann Connolly King, traveled to Charlotte, N.C.
$995 for airfare, hotel, mileage, taxi, and meals (reimbursements were for King and Gale Hanshaw)
Bonnie Schultz, traveled to Danvers and North Reading
$30 for mileage