PORTLAND — A former school board chairman who once worked at the White House is poised to become chief operations officer for the city’s public schools.

Superintendent Jim Morse will seek the board’s approval Tuesday for his appointment of Peter Eglinton to fill the relatively new position, which has been vacant since July.

Since leaving the board a year ago, Eglinton has been chairman of a task force that developed a strategic plan for Maine’s largest school district.

As operations chief, Eglinton would be expected to implement the strategic plan and help fix administrative, educational and communications problems that have plagued the district for years.

“I’m approaching this with my eyes wide open,” Eglinton said Friday. “I’m very familiar with the district and the challenges it faces, and I have some ideas on how to address them.”

Eglinton would take the job as the district begins a search to replace Morse, who will retire in June after three years as superintendent. Morse was hired after a financial and administrative crisis in 2007 led a previous superintendent and business manager to resign.

The position of chief operations officer was created in July 2010 as part of an administrative overhaul that was directed by the school board. Mark Terison of Falmouth was appointed operations chief in September 2010 and left at the end of the last school year.

The district received about a dozen applications for the vacancy and interviewed three candidates, Morse said. Eglinton was the unanimous choice of the interview panel, largely because of his job experience and his knowledge of the city, its schools and the strategic plan.

“He’s a very smart guy who knows how to get things done,” Morse said.

Eglinton, 48, was elected to the school board in 2007, just as the budget crisis broke. He served as finance committee chairman and then board chairman for two years, leading the effort to get the district’s finances in order.

To take the job as operations chief, Eglinton would leave his 14-year job as a principal of Abt Associates, a public-policy research and consulting firm with offices in Cambridge, Mass., and Bethesda, Md.

Before that, Eglinton was a policy analyst for two years with the federal Office of Management and Budget under presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. He has a wide variety of training and experience in communications, organizational planning and leadership development.

Eglinton said he has always been interested in education, working as a tutor in East Harlem when he was in high school in Scarsdale, N.Y., and student teaching while he attended Middlebury College in Vermont.

“He has really remarkable credentials,” said Kate Snyder, the school board’s chairwoman. “He’s smart, careful and very qualified. We’re lucky Peter was interested in the position.”

According to a beefed-up job description, the operations chief is responsible for the “integrated management” of all support services and departments in the district, which has about 1,200 employees and 7,000 students. The chief oversees all long-range planning, facilities management and maintenance, custodial operations, transportation, food services, employee and labor relations, athletics and co-curricular activities, and information systems.

Snyder and other board members said they expect Eglinton to help the district address a variety of problems, especially poor communication among the staff and with the public.

Staff reports to the board have been inadequate or inaccurate, often hindering decision-making, board members said, especially related to the district’s $91.6 million annual budget and its fledgling multiyear budgeting process.

Lack of public involvement has compounded complaints about the district’s slow action on many hot-button issues, including curriculum development, booster groups and program coordination among the city’s 10 elementary schools, three middle schools and three high schools.

Eglinton lives in Portland with his wife, Stephanie, and their two children, who attend public schools.

He is set to start as operations chief on Jan. 9 with an annual salary of $115,000, the same as Chief Academic Officer David Galin.

Eglinton said he wants to help staff members better understand their duties, and gather and present information so the school board can take action and be more effective. He also wants to harness the interests and abilities of staff members and community volunteers that may have gone unnoticed.

“I know there will be frustrations,” Eglinton said, “but I think I’ve got some valuable insights and a passion for educational issues that will help bring clarity to what needs to be done.”

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

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