Portland may hire an interim schools chief for up to a year, the head of the School Board said Sunday after it was announced that Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk is leaving to lead the 40,000-student public school system in Lexington, Kentucky.

School Board Chairwoman Sarah Thompson said the board would meet in executive session Tuesday to discuss selecting a replacement for Caulk.

Appointing an interim superintendent “would be a good way (to proceed), in my opinion, because putting an interim in place for a year allows us to have a methodical search, a time period to find the best candidate. We don’t want to rush,” said Thompson, who favors a national search to find a permanent replacement.

The Fayette County Board of Education voted unanimously Saturday to hire Caulk.

“I’m really excited about the opportunity and deeply humbled. My wife and I are looking forward to making Lexington our new home,” Caulk said in a written statement.

“This is a great day for Fayette County,” Fayette County school board Chairman John Price said in a written statement. “The feedback we received about Manny was overwhelmingly positive and supportive. He has a proven track record of engaging the community, establishing trust and championing change.”

Caulk was hired in July 2012 to be Portland’s superintendent of schools. His contract was renewed in December to run through June 2019.

“It’s disappointing but certainly I understand,” Thompson said of Caulk’s departure, noting that there has been regular turnover in the job for years. “It’s not really what I had in mind for every three years when I joined the school board. This will be my third (superintendent search) in nine years.”

Caulk, 43, joined the Portland school district when it was still recovering financially from a budget crisis that led then-Superintendent Mary Jo O’Connor to resign in 2007. She was succeeded by James Morse, who left after his three-year term.

“I think Manny has done a good job as superintendent the last three years,” Portland Mayor Michael Brennan said Sunday, particularly noting Caulk’s work on tracking student test scores with a new district scorecard and his work on the annual budget.

The district scorecard had to be reissued after a contractor’s error incorrectly indicated that there were significant academic gains in some areas.

Caulk had an annual salary of $137,500 in Portland and a contract through June 30, 2019. In Lexington, he was offered a contract through June 30, 2019, and a starting salary of $240,000, with final terms still being negotiated, officials said. No start date was set, but Caulk will begin work by the time school starts Aug. 12.

Thompson said Caulk had a six-month notice provision in his contract, but she did not think the board would hold him to it. She said Sunday morning that he had not yet spoken to her or the board to discuss the timing of his departure.

The last superintendent in Fayette County, Tom Shelton, left in December to be executive director of the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents.

“We’re looking forward to building on the relationships that we had a chance to begin during the interview process and working together with all stakeholders to build a world-class system of great schools,” Caulk said in a statement released by the Fayette County School District. He and the other finalist were in Kentucky last week to meet with officials and community members.

“I look forward to supporting (district employees’) great work and engaging parents and the broader community to increase student outcomes and ensure that every student has a pathway to success,” Caulk said. “My role is that of a servant leader and a catalyst for change.”

Caulk did not return calls for comment Sunday.

Before coming to Portland, Caulk worked in Philadelphia as an assistant superintendent in charge of a division with 36 schools and 16,500 students, more than twice Portland’s enrollment of roughly 7,000 students.

Thompson said she thought the board should launch a national search again to find a permanent replacement for Caulk.

“People sometimes think it’s easy to find a good candidate right here in Maine, but I’m still of the belief that Portland deserves the best here or in another state,” she said. “I would be thrilled if that person is in the state of Maine, but I don’t think we should limit ourselves (in the search) to the state of Maine.”

The board used a national search firm, ProACT Search, when it hired Caulk, and the same firm initially helped select Caulk as a candidate in Kentucky. The Fayette board later terminated the ProACT contract for reasons unrelated to the search, then hired a Lexington firm to complete the search, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader newspaper.

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