This year, 52 of the state’s 275 superintendents will either retire or move to another job, said Tom Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents.
The peripatetic educators don’t always fully retire, though. A growing pool has created a cottage industry of interim superintendents, usually serving for a year in school districts that need experienced administrators who can guide them during the transition to a permanent superintendent. The number of experienced superintendents available for fill-in duty increased after a 2001 state law was passed that allows educators to retire with 80 percent of their pay after working 36 years.
Last summer, Wakefield turned to Garry Murphy to serve as interim superintendent for the 2012-13 school year. Last week, Swampscott’s School Committee voted to hire Murphy for the upcoming academic year to replace Lynne Celli.
“As an interim, you go into a situation and make sure the school district continues to move forward and make progress,” said Murphy, who is earning $70,200 as a part-time interim superintendent in Wakefield while collecting his $109,675 annual pension.
Interim posts can be a financial boon for retired school chiefs who want to keep working. If a community applies and receives a waiver from the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, then an interim superintendent can earn a market-rate salary and continue to collect a state pension.
If a district does not apply for a waiver, an interim can still collect a pension, but can be paid only the difference between the current salary of the position he retired from — superintendents are generally paid in the $150,000 range — and his pension amount, plus an additional $15,000.
Murphy retired in 2005 after 13 years as superintendent for the Triton Regional School District (Newbury, Rowley, and Salisbury). The current Triton superintendent, Christopher Farmer, has a salary of $167,475, according to the school district’s fiscal 2013 budget. Under state guidelines, Murphy is eligible to make up to $72,800 as an interim superintendent in addition to his $109,675 pension.
In Beverly, former Somerville superintendent Albert Argenziano will serve as interim superintendent beginning July 1. He will be paid $10,000 a month at least through December, according to Maria Decker, president of the Beverly School Committee. Argenziano will continue to collect a $99,536 pension.
In Marblehead, where Greg Maass abruptly announced his resignation at a School Committee meeting last month, the School Committee hasn’t yet formed a search committee to look for a new superintendent.
Former superintendents, such as Herb Levine, say that the combination of early retirements, state-mandated testing goals such as MCAS, and intense public scrutiny through social media has created a difficult environment for superintendents to stay on the job for more than a few years.
“It’s almost like being a baseball manager. The day you’re hired is the day you start to be fired,” said Levine, who retired as Salem superintendent in 2005.
He’s part of a growing cadre of retired educators who want to keep working. In 2007, Levine served as interim superintendent in Blackstone-Millville, and last year filled the interim superintendent’s position in Peabody. In between those posts, he worked as an interim assistant principal in Marblehead.
Levine said school committees are looking for interims to seamlessly run the district, creating budgets, continuing strategic plans, and also serving as a reality check for the School Committee.
“The advantage of being an interim is you don’t have to worry about your job or future,” he said. “Being an interim means never having to say you’re sorry. It means never looking over your shoulder. You do what you think is right without any concern for the politics of the situation.”
In Swampscott, where the town has had five permanent or interim superintendents since 2004, School Committee chairman Laurier Beaupre said an interim would provide stability, keep district initiatives on track, and also serve as a mentor to internal candidates.
“The School Committee is really looking for somebody who can come in and get everybody focused on their work and not necessarily on politics,” said Beaupre.
Murphy, who has been offered the Swampscott job, said when he begins an interim post he identifies the most important issues the district faces and also makes sure there’s adequate staffing and no unsigned union contracts. “I try to make sure everything’s in place for the following school year so that the new person who comes in is not swamped with work that should have been done,” he said.
In Beverly, Decker said she expects Argenziano, who has a school named after him in Somerville, to help oversee the search for a permanent superintendent. She expects the search will begin in September, and hopes to name a new school chief by December.