The Minneapolis school district is without a superintendent candidate.
In a dramatic reversal of its own December decision, the school board on Tuesday dumped Sergio Paez as its choice to lead the district.
A move to offer the job to interim superintendent Michael Goar was put on hold after protesters interrupted the meeting.
The board did not determine when it will revisit the superintendent selection process.
In a unanimous vote Tuesday night, the board opted not to continue contract negotiations with Paez, citing widespread public distrust and concern over allegations of abuse at a school in his previous school district.
“I wish you well as you move forward with your career,” board Chairwoman Jenny Arneson told Paez, who was sitting in the second row of the boardroom. Paez rose and left the room.
“I am disappointed that the Minneapolis Board of Education has voted not to resume contract negotiations,” Paez said in a statement. “I believe I would have provided the educational leadership that the district needs to chart a new course for student success. However, I understand and respect the Board’s decision, and I wish the Minneapolis Public Schools the very best moving forward.”
The board then rejected the idea of starting a new search, and debated turning instead to the only other finalist in its lengthy job search: Interim Superintendent Michael Goar.
But as the board was about to take a vote on entering into contract negotiations with Goar, a group of about 20 protesters stood in front of the board, demanding that it restart its search. The protest lasted about 15 minutes before the board put the meeting on hold.
Raeisha Williams, a northside resident and a protester, was critical of the board’s decision not to conduct an evaluation of Goar’s performance before extending a contract.
“We didn’t have public comments on the option to put Goar back on the table,” Williams said.
The chants for change brought board member Tracine Asberry to tears.
“It hurts my heart,” Asberry said. “We are in a situation where it is not clear to the community that what we proclaim is demonstrated by the board.”
Paez was selected to lead the district on Dec. 7 following a 10-month national search. Two days after he began negotiating his contract, a Massachusetts advocacy group released a report alleging that staff at a school in Paez’s former district of Holyoke, Mass., physically abused special education students during his tenure.
The board put Paez’s selection on hold after the abuse allegations in Holyoke surfaced. Since then, a criminal investigation has begun and Paez has been on the defensive, asserting he instructed his staff to investigate every allegation and train staff and teachers.
Board member Rebecca Gagnon, who originally supported Paez, said “public distrust” has to be considered.
Two board members went to Holyoke in December for a site visit. They presented their report to the board Tuesday.
Josh Reimnitz and Asberry said Paez was able to change the “educational climate” in Holyoke but struggled to manage the political aspects of the job.
“[Paez] can be focused on an idea or initiative and struggle with the politics that surround such decisions,” the board members wrote in their report, released Friday.
Asberry noted that when the state of Massachusetts took over the Holyoke school district, many of Paez’s initiatives remained in the schools.
Last week Paez was in Minneapolis for a three-day visit, trying to win support of community members and leaders. He organized several open meetings at coffee shops to talk to parents and anyone who had questions about his leadership. He also met with top administrators at the district and with community leaders.
With hours to go before Tuesday’s vote, some school board members questioned the last-minute revelation of a connection between Goar and the Massachusetts district where Paez worked.
In recent days, board members learned that Goar worked in the Boston school district at the same time as Stephen Zrike, who took control of the Holyoke school district from Paez last year. Zrike was a school principal in Boston while Goar was a top district administrator.
Goar said that he never supervised Zrike in Boston, but some board members and community leaders said the fact that he and Zrike worked in Boston at the same time should have been disclosed during the interview or the board’s site visit to Holyoke.
Gagnon said the information was needed for the sake of transparency.
During 45 minutes of public comment Tuesday, few voiced support for Paez. Many demanded the board restart its search and focus locally.