School chief asked to toe line
City residency part of contract
A debate is raging in Brockton over where school Superintendent Matt Malone lays his head at night, two years after he signed a five-year, $1 million contract that required him to move to the city within one year.
The seven-member School Committee has wrestled for months over whether Malone has lived up to the letter - or even the spirit - of the deal following a local newspaper report that the superintendent is rarely at his rental home in Brockton.
Insiders say several committee members remain upset that Malone, previously head of the Swampscott Public Schools, won the top job over an internal candidate who lives in the city.
The committee’s chairman, Ward 1 Representative Thomas Minichiello, says Brockton residents just want their department heads to live where they work.
“The parochial feeling in Brockton is if you don’t want to live here, then pack up and get out,’’ Minichiello said.
Malone has been pilloried for his decision to rent a home in Brockton, register to vote there, and even change his address on his driver’s license while the rest of his family remain in their longtime home in Roslindale.
In an interview, he said he had every intention of moving the family to Brockton when his relationship with his wife soured and they decided to split up.
Over time, though, the couple were able to reconcile, with the proviso that she and the children remain where they are, he said.
After the Brockton Enterprise raised questions about his residency, Malone said in an interview that he spends several nights a week in Brockton and the rest of the time with his family.
“I’ve met the legal standard of residency,’’ Malone said. “If folks want to follow me around and wonder where I am at 10 at night, I’m usually in my office, where I am working my butt off for kids.
“No one is going to work harder and longer than I do,’’ Malone said. “I’ve proven my worth and my value, and I love this job, this city, and the children we serve.’’
After a heated public hearing recently at which Malone was grilled on his residency situation, School Committee members asked Minichiello to get a legal opinion on what exactly “must maintain residency within the city of Brockton’’ actually means in the signed contract and whether Malone is in compliance with it. A response is expected in two weeks.
Malone is known for working long hours, and Ward 4 School Committee member Patty Joyce said he is constantly attending public events.
The residency requirement is archaic, she said, and makes no sense in a world where both spouses have roots and jobs and children are already well settled in their own lives and schools.
Joyce said School Committee members gave Malone a very favorable evaluation just a month ago, and the controversy has distracted their attention from more pressing matters like student achievement and ongoing capital projects.
“I have no problem with the situation,’’ Joyce said, praising Malone’s drive and commitment. “We have to stay the course and focus on what’s important and what he has been able to accomplish. Our contract is not with his wife and kids; it’s with him. Anything else is overstepping.’’
According to the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, it is unusual for a community to impose residency requirements, even though Brockton has done it consistently. Tom Scott, the association’s executive director, said only a handful of cities impose what he considers “a relic’’ in a time when talent pools for the high-stress jobs are depleted and state mandates and regulations have never been more arduous.
They include Worcester, Springfield, Boston, and Fall River, officials said.
These days, school employees rarely move up the ranks in their hometowns to superintendent, Scott said. And the job is so fraught with regulations, it takes a lot to keep the bureaucracy together, he said.
Running Malone off over the residency clause would be a big mistake, Scott said: “Matt has more passion than five people I know, and he’s refreshing in a lot of ways. He’s trying to keep his family together and working 16-hour days. Give the guy a break.’’
But residents in Brockton voted years ago in support of residency, and the search wasn’t short on candidates when Malone was chosen, Minichiello said. He said Malone knew the rules and pledged to follow them.
“This is important to people,’’ he said. “It’s a townie mentality. Brockton is a blue-collar city that is tired of people from the outside who know nothing about it.’’
Malone is adamant he’s done nothing wrong. “I intended to work here and live with my wife and children, but that didn’t work out in my favor. They sleep in Roslindale, which is 25 minutes away.’’
Politics is one thing, he said, but what he cares about is what goes on inside the schools, and he is moving on from the subject to focus on his work.
“If people want to stay 10 feet behind me,’’ he said, they can.
Michele Morgan Bolton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.