Hanson Town Administrator John Stanbrook has been selected as the new business and finance director for the Whitman-Hanson Regional School District, effective July 1, pending successful contract negotiations.
Stanbrook has been serving as Hanson’s town administrator for the past year.
The School Committee, meeting Wednesday, March 31 met with the candidate for the position. Interim Director John Tuffy has been serving the district in that capacity since the departure of Christine Suckow.
Tuffy has worked with Stanbrook before, when Tuffy was business manager at Silver Lake Regional and Stanbrook served on the School Committee there.
Eight candidates applied for the position, with four brought forward to be interviewed by the search committee — made up of School Committee members Christopher Howard and Fred Small, Superintendent of Schools Jeffrey Szymaniak, Assistant Superintendent George Ferro and Tuffy — Chairman Bob Hayes reminded School Committee members.
“I think the elephant in the room is that you currently work for the town of Hanson, so now you’re applying for a position with the district,” School Committee member Dawn Byers said. “To me, that gives the appearance of a conflict of interest.”
She said she has concerns about that relationship and that people on both sides may have preconceived notions and expectations derived from the relationships that are “naturally created from your current position.”
“I don’t think this starts with a clean slate for our district,” she said.
Small asked who she meant by “some people.”
“I think the real problem is that more people are not asking questions about this interview process right now, to tell you the truth,” she said.
Howard said five people conducted the interview with Stanbrook, but if the committee believes it was a waste of time, they could conduct more interviews over and over again.
“I do think there was a process where there was a request for people that were interested in doing the interviews,” he said, noting he offered to give his spot to someone who wanted to be on the search committee more. He also noted there were no other qualified candidates.
“You charged me with finding the best possible candidate,” Szymaniak said. “Sometimes it will ruffle feathers in other districts, other communities.”
He said that Stanbrook was the best candidate from the available pool.
“The piece that came through from [two Hanson Selectmen Szymaniak asked] was character, character, work ethic, character, and numbers,” he said. “He’s a character man, he’s a numbers man, he’s trustworthy and he will work his tail off to do his job.”
Stanbrook said he consulted the Ethics Commission for an opinion and there is a disclosure on file with the town clerk’s office in Hanson.
Two candidates failed to show up for scheduled interviews.
Stanbrook said he was excited to apply for the position and to answer the committee’s questions. Of the two remaining candidates, Stanbrook received the search committee’s unanimous backing, according to Szymaniak.
“We did interview two candidates who were very qualified for the position,” Szymaniak said. “After discussion, the five of us recommended to you John as a qualified business manager who will help us, in my opinion, lead us with a solid business plan for the future — something that I think is desperately needed for this regional school district, something that we haven’t had in my tenure as a principal and a superintendent.”
He said the district has struggled to put forth a plan acceptable to both towns.
“I think John’s qualities in municipal finance, and his passion for school finance … he truly wanted to be a school business manager and, I’m going to say, he ended up on the wrong side of the tracks in municipal finance,” Szymaniak said.
Szymaniak described Stanbrook as a “numbers guy” who he feels very comfortable working with.
“He will support our office well,” Szymaniak said. “He will support his people in my office well and I think he would support this district very well.”
Small said that Stanbrook is a very well-rounded candidate who combines a lot of strong experience from both the school and town sides. Howard agreed that Stanbrook is also strong with numbers and asked him to share how he came to that background.
Stanbrook noted he was finance director in Mansfield where he had also applied for and was a finalist in the search for a school finance post in that community. Before his final interview the Mansfield town manager was let go and he was asked to step in as interim as well as finance director and — for a brief period — town accountant.
“I was going this way when I was pulled the other way,” he said. “That’s what I like to do. That’s where my head is at. … I can do other things, and I don’t mind doing other things, I have other tasks that I could perform, but this is what I like to do. This is why I get up in the morning.”
After dealing with COVID for a year, Stanbrook said he took the time to address what he really wants to do.
“When the opportunity came up, I felt it was important to go for it,” he said.
Ferro said one of the things that drew the search committee to Stanbrook was his diversity and his ability to wear different hats while maintaining a keen focus on the numbers and the mission and vision of where the district needs to go from a financial standpoint. Tuffy said Stanbrook’s experience with school finance as well as town finance would be valuable to the district.
“He’s also been in our chairs as an elected School Committee member in the town of Halifax,” Small said. “He understands a little bit of what we go through.”
Byers asked about Stanbrook’s licensure for the position.
Szymaniak said Stanbrook’s license is ready for review and he had to take tests with DESE to accomplish that, which were not available because of COVID, once he took them he passed both tests. The no-shows were licensed in Rhode Island and Connecticut, respectively, and a third was not licensed.
Byers also asked about the qualifications of the other candidate interviewed by the search committee, but Szymaniak said he did not feel it was appropriate during Stanbrook’s interview.
She also asked what his current staff would say about his work style.
“I’m not a hard-core disciplinarian, but we get stuff done,” Stanbrook said, feeling his staff would support him. “I’m task-oriented but I feel we can do that with a general joie de vivre, you don’t have to be angry all the time.”
He has some experience with the MUNIS accounting system.