Haverhill Schools Business Manager O’Connell to Leave; Hints at Legal Action

Haverhill Schools Former Business Manager Brian O’Connell. (WHAV News file photograph.)

Haverhill schools Business Manager Brian O’Connell answers questions of the School Committee during a recent meeting. (WHAV News file photograph.)

Haverhill Public Schools Business Manager Brian O’Connell has withdrawn from contract negotiations with the city and will leave by next July 1.

In withdrawing, O’Connell, who had been under pressure to quit as a new school administration took charge this school year, left open the possibility he will pursue legal action. The business manager’s decision became apparent last Thursday when the School Committee abruptly canceled its planned closed-door negotiating session.

“Madam superintendent, do we have a need for executive session?” asked newly elected Vice Chairman Sven A. Amirian. Superintendent Margaret Marotta responded, “No, we do not,” and member Paul A. Magliocchetti explained, “No, the matter has been resolved.”

Haverhill Mayor James J. Fiorentini. (WHAV News file photograph.)

In a Thursday letter to Mayor James J. Fiorentini, O’Connell wrote, “I withdraw the proposals—and counter-proposals—I have made in my negotiations with the Haverhill School Committee…” He added, “I do so without prejudice as to any and all other rights, options or benefits I may have arising out of my employment with Haverhill Public Schools, directly or indirectly.”

Sixty-nine-year-old O’Connell’s three-year, $130,000 contract expired last June. He has continued working under the same terms while negotiating with Magliocchetti and School Committee member Scott W. Wood Jr.

O’Connell told WHAV Sunday that he was baffled when progress toward a new contract ended abruptly. “Suddenly, for reasons never made clear to me, negotiations stopped around late summer. I don’t know if that coordinated with arrival of a new superintendent or whether it relates to (my comments about) living within the mayor’s budget.” He said the July 1 date to leave came at the request of the mayor to give the district time to hire a replacement.

Wood told WHAV last Thursday that he was surprised to learn of the resolution, especially since he is one of two people assigned to negotiate with O’Connell.

“I’m not sure what happened, how that happened.” It should be a meeting of members with quorum present. How do you come up with a resolution when it is not an official meeting?” Wood asked.

As WHAV first reported last month, the first public notice O’Connell’s job was in jeopardy came in October when School Committee member Gail M. Sullivan expressed outrage at not knowing in advance the schools closed last year with a million-dollar surplus. The business manager responded his primary duty is to prevent a deficit as  happened in Lowell, Methuen, Lynn and Burlington.

He said it is “ironic” the middle school STEMscopes program—lauded by School Committee members last week—was paid for from money he saved the district. The program cost more than $300,000.

Wood and others argued O’Connell’s sin is simply that he was considered part of former Superintendent James F. Scully’s administration.