PORTSMOUTH — David Croston will step down as chairman of the School Committee on July 22, he announced at Tuesday night’s meeting.
On Wednesday, Mr. Croston said his decision was based on his wish for the new school administration to form its own leadership style and to allow himself more time to focus on the “T3” athletic fields project at the high school and to develop revenue programs for the district.
He insisted his decision had nothing to do with a recent complaint made against him by the school district’s leadership team following a May meeting of a search subcommittee charged with reviewing applicants for the superintendent’s job. (Earlier this month the School Committee appointed to that position Ana C. Riley, who has served as the superintendent of schools in Dartmouth for the past two years. Her contract starts July 1.)
During the executive session portion of the May 13 subcommittee meeting, School Committee member Frederick Faerber charged, an irate Mr. Croston was verbally abusive to Hathaway School Principal Lisa Little, who was a member of the 15-member search panel.
Ms. Little and several other members of the subcommittee subsequently resigned in protest, according to Mr. Faerber, who was among them. The Portsmouth Leadership Team, a group of school administrators including Acting Supt. Barbara McGann, later e-mailed a letter to the School Committee expressing its disappointment with the treatment of one of its members.
Mr. Croston said he understood why some people would connect the earlier controversy to his decision to step down, but that it would be an incorrect assumption.
“I respect the concern of the public,” he said. “To be honest the one reason I considered stepping down is to put the district first and not put any of this innuendo between the district and its achieving its goals. That’s the God’s honest truth. I am not going to try to speak to an accusation because number one, I can’t because it’s all confidential; and two, I’m trying to serve this district further.”
What is “critically important after two difficult years with the district in having to find leadership,” he said, is to “fully turn the keys over to the new administration team and give them the time and the energy to support them and their recommendation for the district moving forward.”
Stepping down will also free up his own time to focus on other important matters, he said. Mr. Croston said he’s “hellbent” on making sure the Portsmouth school system is an elite one.
“I believe Portsmouth has the capacity to be a great district and in the top three of the programs in the state,” he said.
Mr. Croston also said he’ll have more time to oversee the completion of the “T3” project. Although the improvements to the PHS athletic fields are moving along at “phenomenal speed,” he said — the artificial turf on the football field was recently installed — there’s still much more work to be done.
That includes talking to Roger Williams University about the possible sharing of school athletic facilities, and better defining how to dedicate sponsors on the football field.
“There’s an awful lot of work and quite frankly it’s going to require X number of hours and I’m willing to dedicate my efforts to make sure everyone’s absolutely pleased,” he said. “I’m not stepping away from the School Committee by any means, but this allows me to focus on some core issues.”
The School Committee will vote to choose a new chairman or chairwoman at its July 22 meeting, following Mr. Croston’s resignation from the seat, he said.
Mr. Croston, who’s seeking another term on the committee, said he’d like to seek the chairmanship again after the November election.
Faerber opposes re-election
Mr. Faerber, however, said he’ll do everything in his power to derail Mr. Croston’s re-election bid.
“He said he’s quite willing to resume the chairmanship and I hope and pray he doesn’t do that again,” Mr. Faerber said Wednesday. “He’s been destructive to the School Department … and the leadership team. He’s been notoriously intrusive in nearly everything.”
Mr. Faerber claims he has a “vast list” of Mr. Croston’s alleged infractions as well as grievances against the chairman. While he said he doesn’t see the need to publicize them now, he plans on doing so during the campaign. Mr. Faerber, who’s running for School Committee as an independent, said he’s more invested in seeing that Mr. Croston is defeated than in his own campaign.
“I’ll do more to prevent Croston from being re-elected than I will campaign for myself,” he said.
He also dismissed Mr. Croston’s claim that his decision to step down as chairman was unrelated to the complaints about his conduct toward a school administrator.
“People can think what they want to think, but i can’t imagine David Croston would ever had contemplated resigning unless I pressured him,” he said.
Mr. Croston, however, disagrees.
“It’s a heck of a lot too easy to say one is related to the other,” he said.