, Salem, MA

April 4, 2014

A year after Marblehead school board controversy, Lederman running again

By Alan Burke
Staff Writer

---- — MARBLEHEAD — He’s back. Former school board member Jonathan Lederman is running again to fill the one-year, unexpired term of colleague EuRim Chun.

In 2013, Lederman chose not to run for re-election after 12 years on the board. This came in the wake of the March 2013 resignation of Superintendent Greg Maas, who blamed interference from three board members, including Lederman, for his abrupt and shocking decision to leave. Consequently, calling the committee dysfunctional, Chun — who was not one of the three named — urged that all her colleagues resign. Dick Nohelty, who was one of those singled out by Maas, also resigned.

The situation has changed since, said Lederman, with morale at Marblehead High, despite a wonderful staff, plummeting and school finances in chaos. He blames the policies set by Maas for deteriorating standards, and he describes the former superintendent as someone whose skill at making friends belied an inability to run the schools.

More recently, Lederman laments a plan to cut back the time allotted for science labs, a move he believes puts students academically behind those in comparable districts. He recalled visiting the new School Committee with that complaint, “and I was rebuffed.”

Even his letter signaling his decision not to run last year referenced his controversial reputation. “I was often something of a thorn in the side of my fellow School Committee members,” Lederman said. But he believes it is precisely his willingness to ask tough questions that serves the board best. Further, he says even former critics have appealed to him to take up that role again.

“I’ve had teachers come to me,” he said.

The Maas resignation created a stormy, chaotic situation. “There was strife between ourselves,” Lederman conceded. “In the heat of the moment I wasn’t at my best. I lost my cool. This is something I’ve learned from. A more thoughtful and reasonable approach needs to be the order of the day.”

A lifelong Marbleheader and the father of seven children, six of them in the public schools, Lederman says his love of the town and concern for his children moved him to run again.

The election is scheduled for Tuesday, May 13, with Lederman facing sitting member William Ackerman, who was appointed to the board last summer to fill Chun’s vacant seat until this spring’s election. Ackerman was away this week and unavailable for comment.

Schools Superintendent MaryAnn Perry reacted sharply to Lederman’s characterizations.

“Our finances are solid,” she said, adding that she expects the town to provide additional teachers at the high school along with capital improvements.

She also dismissed Lederman’s criticism of the science program, explaining that it is a work in progress that will involve teacher input as decisions are made in the coming months. While she denies the existence of a morale problem at Marblehead High School, Perry concedes the school is undergoing a transition with a principal hired less than a year ago.

School Committee chairwoman Kathy Leonardson backs up Perry, saying that the system finances are strong. “The budget is online. People can look at it,” she said. She pointed to favorable dealings with the town’s finance committee. “We’re doing well by working with others.”

Selectman Harry Christensen opposes Lederman’s return to the board, citing the ugly scenes following the Maas resignation. “The majority of that school committee, in my opinion, caused a great deal of turmoil,” he said, “and our children suffered as a result.”

He noted that Lederman later applied to fill one of the vacant positions on the board but failed to gain any support from the selectmen.

Thus far the five sitting selectmen will be on the ballot with no opposition.

In addition to the one-year School Committee seat that Lederman and Ackerman are seeking, there are two three-year School Committee terms on the ballot. Three candidates have returned to papers to run: incumbents Tom Connolly and Michael Murphy and challenger Susanna Pratt.