PORTLAND — The Portland school board is winning praise for selecting a promising young administrator with big-city experience to serve as the new superintendent of schools. But Emmanuel “Manny” Caulk, 40, a top official in the Philadelphia school system, has no ties to Maine, raising questions about how long he will stay here.

Stability is a critical issue in Portland, which has had two superintendents since Mary Jo O’Connor resigned in 2007 amid a budget crisis. James Morse, Caulk’s predecessor, was superintendent for three years and brought stability to the school district.

Members of the search committee made it clear to Caulk that they need a commitment, said Ken Farber, who served on the committee as a parent representative.

“It’s clear he’s a superstar. He has excellent credentials,” Farber said. “With those credentials, how likely will he be here for that period of time? He voiced a commitment that (Portland) is where he would like to be. Hopefully, he will honor that commitment.”

The Portland Board of Public Education on Monday will formally ratify Caulk’s contract. Although it is a three-year contract, Caulk can leave at any time if he gives the school board six months’ notice.

In Philadelphia, the nation’s eighth-largest school district, Caulk had been deputy chief for instruction and leadership support before he was promoted in 2009 to be interim regional assistant superintendent.

Caulk was later named to the job permanently, overseeing a district that serves 16,500 students, more than twice Portland’s enrollment. Philadelphia’s total student enrollment is 156,000.

Before moving to Philadelphia, Caulk was assistant superintendent for instructional services at East Baton Rouge Parish schools in Louisiana. Earlier this year he applied to be superintendent of parish schools there, but withdrew.

He is taking a pay cut to move to Portland, where he will be paid a salary of $137,500. In Philadelphia, he made $155,000 last year. He is divorced and has one adult child.

When asked why he would want to come to Portland, Caulk said Portland is a “wonderful community” with a student population similar to that of his district in Philadelphia.

Unlike Philadelphia, where the school system is divided into several districts, Portland operates as a single system. That, Caulk said, allows school officials and stakeholders to better focus their efforts on school improvement without so many layers of bureaucracy to negotiate.

He said it will take time to achieve some of the school board’s goals, such as raising academic standards for students at all levels, and he is committed to staying here to meet those goals.

“This is not work that is done in two years or three years,” he said. “It is going to take some time.”

It takes five years for a superintendent to have a significant impact, according to the Broad Center for Management of School Systems, a Los Angeles-based training center for school superintendents. The average tenure for the superintendent of an urban school in 2010, however, was 3.6 years, according to a 2010 study by the Council of the Great City Schools, a group of urban school systems.

Melissa Bourque, a parent of twins who will be attending King Middle School, said it makes sense to hire a superintendent who has experience in an urban district.

“The fact is that Portland is the most urban school district in Maine, and becoming more so,” she said. “We need someone who understands that dynamic and how to make that work.”

Caulk is an excellent choice, she said, but only time will tell if he stays.

“Frankly, you have to pick who the best person is,” she said. “You can’t worry if they are going to leave tomorrow.”

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:

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