Edgartown principal says he'll go, but stays
The start of this week it appeared that Edgartown School principal Paul Dulac's journey through the Martha's Vineyard school system, begun with a six-month stint as interim superintendent, was about to come to an unexpectedly early end.
On Monday, approximately four months after he began work as the principal of the Edgartown School, where he had served as interim principal after his interim superintendency ended, Mr. Dulac announced to a surprised school staff that he would resign his job effective at the end of the school year.
Parents learned of the resignation in separate letters sent home with Edgartown students Tuesday, one written by Mr. Dulac and the other by superintendent James Weiss.
Edgartown School principal Paul Dulac announced his resignation earlier this week, then changed his mind when a means of resolving an insurance roadblock was found. Photo by Ralph Stewart
The timing of Monday's announcement was linked to his candidacy for the job of superintendent in a town north of Boston.
In a telephone conversation with The Times Tuesday, Mr. Dulac said he had to leave the job he accepted last February because Edgartown is not part of the Massachusetts Teachers' Retirement System, in which he has invested 17 and a half years. Rather than having to work two and a half more years to qualify for group health benefits when he retires, he would need to work a minimum of 10 years to qualify under the town's system, he explained.
"It is just one of those issues that I can't seem to resolve," he said.
Mr. Dulac's announcement set off a flurry of activity among school and town officials and his supporters. On Wednesday the news had changed. He said he was staying much to the relief of his supporters.
The timing of Monday's announcement was linked to his candidacy for the job of superintendent in a town north of Boston. On Tuesday Mr. Dulac declined to identify the North Shore community because, he said, he expected to be among a list of finalists that would not be made public until Thursday.
Mr. Dulac said he wanted to meet with the staff on Monday so that they would not learn about his search for a new job through the newspaper.
The Edgartown School committee received an inkling of what might be coming last month when Mr. Dulac, at a meeting in executive session, told the school committee that he would have to look at other employment options in order to resolve his insurance predicament.
In the letter he sent home to parents Tuesday, Mr. Dulac said he and his wife Becky, a third grade teacher in the Edgartown School, had expected to live and retire on the Vineyard. He said he only became aware of the issue after he took the job and happened to inquire about retirement benefits not related to health insurance.
"The school committee," Mr. Dulac wrote, "superintendent and I were all aware of this issue last year. We all have worked hard to solve this problem, but with no luck. We now know that our problem cannot be solved, and it will force us to leave Edgartown for a position where health insurance is part of the Massachusetts Teachers' Retirement System and not the present situation."
In an internal email sent to faculty and staff Wednesday morning Mr. Dulac wrote, "Last night new information was made available regarding Becky and my retirement health insurance situation. This information brought out by several town people has proven correct; therefore, I will stay in Edgartown as your Principal. Becky and I are happy to be able to tell you all that all is well. I apologize for any discomfort this whole situation may have caused anyone. Let's move on together. I look forward to that."
Mr. Dulac, a career educator from Windsor, Vermont, is the former superintendent of the International School of Beijing, China, and the former superintendent of Newburyport Public Schools.
His brief career in the Island school system began when he was hired to be the interim superintendent in January 2005, following the sudden departure of superintendent Kriner Cash in the fall of 2004.
In anticipation of principal Ed Jerome's retirement that April of 2005 after 24 years, and after a new superintendent had been hired, the Edgartown School committee hired Mr. Dulac to serve as Edgartown School's interim principal beginning on Aug.15, 2005, and continuing through the 2005/2006 school year. In the meantime, he was hired as a consultant for incoming superintendent James Weiss for the period from July 1 to Aug. 15, 2005 in order to cover the period of transition from his job as interim superintendent to interim principal.
Following a several-month selection process in February the Edgartown School committee offered Mr. Dulac a four-year contract, beginning in July of this year, to be the new Edgartown School principal beginning at an annual salary of $108,000.
Mr. Dulac told The Times that after he found out that the system would not allow him to qualify for health insurance retirement benefits, he told the board that there was a problem. "But I had already accepted the job, and the whole process was over," he said.
"We were all aware of it, but we never thought it was a problem because we thought we could resolve it," he said.
He said his medical history, particularly that part related to his stay in China, prevents him from acquiring health insurance on his own, and therefore it is imperative that he be part of a group.
On Tuesday, then contemplating a departure, Mr. Dulac said the job opportunity arose suddenly by way of a friend who suggested his name to the search group. He said the timing had nothing to do with the recent publication of results from the spring 2006 Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) tests.
Fifth-grade and sixth-grade math proved the weak spots for Edgartown School, with about one-third of the students in both grades failing the test, and third-grade scores were below the state average.
Mr. Dulac said he was excited about addressing the issue. "That is one of my real regrets if I have to leave, because we have been at it really strongly in a way that is just invigorating," he said. "I am just so proud of the staff and what everybody is doing to insure that our MCAS results are strong next year. That is really a regret."
He said the reactions, from disappointed parents and town residents who have talked to him and called, have been heartfelt and difficult for him to take.
"Being a principal is very different from being a superintendent," he said. "You develop these really close relationships, and I am just flabbergasted by the results of this problem."
A last look pays off
This week the determined efforts by the Edgartown school community to resolve Mr. Dulac's dilemma appeared to have paid off. Superintendent Weiss said that he had no regrets about sending the letters out to parents and informing the school staff about Mr. Dulac's departure, because "it forced us to make sure we had all of our ducks in a row."
"Because we sent the letter out, a few people looked at it, and said, hey, this doesn't sound quite right," Mr. Weiss said. "It inspired everyone to take another look and find out there was a solution."
Mr. Dulac said if it hadn't been for the Edgartown Selectmen's office, the Dukes County retirement board, Art Smadbeck, Tom Wallace, Fred Condon, and many other great supporters of Edgartown School, "We wouldn't have found this out. Now we'll take care of it. It's a breath of fresh air."
David Rossi, a member of the Edgartown School Committee and chairman of the All-Island School District, had expressed his disappointment about Mr. Dulac's decision to leave on Tuesday. Yesterday, however, Mr. Rossi said he was delighted by Mr. Dulac's immediate decision to stay on as principal once he found out the insurance issue had been resolved.
"I think Paul's quick decision attests to his integrity," Mr. Rossi said. "He didn't flounder on it, and I'm impressed by the commitment he demonstrated with his decision."
(News editor Nelson Sigelman also contributed to this article.)