By Hiroko Sato
GROTON -- In an emergency meeting held Sunday afternoon, the Groton-Dunstable Regional School Committee unanimously voted to offer the superintendent's position to Kristan Rodriguez, currently the assistant superintendent of Chelmsford schools.
Rodriguez has accepted the offer pending a successful contract negotiation, according to committee Chairwoman Alison Manugian.
"She is very, very excited," Manugian said of Rodriguez's reaction to the job offer.
"From the time I began to research the district through to my recent site visit, I have been so impressed with the Groton-Dunstable School District," Rodriguez said in an email on Monday, adding that teachers, staff and students are all engaged and committed to education and learning. "I hope to contribute to this work with a passion for educating the whole student and for bringing all together to work toward the current mission of promoting a spirit of inquiry in the students and instilling a desire for continuous growth."
Rodriguez was vying for the post with Theodore Friend, superintendent of Sutton School District. At the committee meeting on Friday, some committee members had already expressed their support for Rodriguez but decided to gather more information about each candidate.
Then, on Saturday, Manugian called an emergency meeting for Sunday after learning that Rodriguez had another job offer. District Human Resources Manager Jeanne Mitchell spent Saturday following up references, Manugian said. Friend withdrew his candidacy about two hours before the Sunday meeting, according to Manugian.
Manugian said the committee's decision reflected feedback from district teachers and administrators who met both candidates during the selection process and expressed their preference for Rodriguez' leadership style.
"We were concerned that Dr. Friend seems to have a very top-down leadership approach," Manugian said. "We have worked for the past few years to create a team that we are proud of, and we are working very well together," Manugian added.
"I believe in the power of collaboration," Rodriguez said in her email to The Sun. "That is a priority in my leadership. In order to lead a district, I believe you must utilize the expertise and resources of those around you both within the schools and in the greater community."
Hiring the next superintendent comes amid mounting fiscal pressures that stem from major accounting errors. The district has recently discovered it under-funded line items in the current budget by $1.5 million, according to Manugian. She has said the staff's unfamiliarity with the new accounting software was likely to blame. After laying off some teacher's aides and other support staff, transferring money from the rainy day fund and counting extra savings it had made on some line items so far this year, the district still has a $464,488 gap to close before closing the book on fiscal 2014.
Between the under-funded items and the anticipated salary and other spending increases, the fiscal 2015 budget is projected to be $2.5 million above revenue, Manugian said. And the School Committee is looking at a tax override to help fill the gap, though "we don't anticipate an override of that magnitude," Manugian said.
The committee is scheduled to discuss fiscal issues in a joint meeting with the Board of Selectmen and Finance Committees from both Groton and Dunstable on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. at the high school. Rodriguez plans to attend the meeting.
Manugian believes Rodriguez has the necessary financial skills to handle the fiscal problems. As Chelmsford's assistant superintendent, Rodriguez dealt with a multimillion-dollar budget for the curriculum and instruction office, Manugian said.
"With all the things going on right now, we need to have the fiscal 2015 budget figured out and wrapped up before the new superintendent comes," Manugian said.
If the contract negotiation ends successfully, Rodriguez will replace Interim Superintendent Anthony Bent, who has served in the position since July 2012 when former Superintendent Joseph Mastrocola left for a similar position in Peabody.
"I have great confidence in the current leadership and know they have the capacity to address this issue right now," Rodriguez wrote, adding that she wants to contribute to the problem-solving.
A Woburn resident, Rodriguez and her husband, Rafael Rodriguez, have three children ranging in age from 11 to 18. The 1997 Boston University graduate received a doctorate in educational administration from Boston College and has previously worked as the curriculum director for Georgetown public schools and as the principal of North Street School in Tewksbury.