June 22, 2021 by Carol Britton Meyer
During Monday night's School Committee meeting, which was both in-person and on Zoom, Hingham resident Eliza Burns raised questions about Supt. Paul Austin's Massachusetts superintendent's license.
Burns stated that the Department of Elementary & Secondary Education "Educator Look Up" website indicates that Austin holds a temporary license that was issued on Nov. 29, 2018.
"According to DESE's website, temporary licenses are valid for one year of active employment, with no extensions available," Burns said.
She noted that an email she received from school officials in response to concerns she voiced to the School Committee and Austin last week indicates that Austin began working as the Hingham Public Schools superintendent on June 19, 2019. "That means his license would have expired on June 19, 2020, but as we all know, COVID hit in March 2020."
As a result of making a number of calls to the DESE licensure hotline, Burns reported that she received mixed messages -- that temporary licenses were not eligible for a COVID extension and on the other hand, that a[n overall] extension was granted, with a July 31, 2021 expiration date.
"Either way, I have serious concerns about the lack of oversight, lack of transparency, and lack of attention to this matter," Burns stated during the meeting. Due to a technical glitch, her comments were cut off, but she later posted them in full on Hingham Hub.
When asked to comment following the meeting, Austin told the Hingham Anchor in an email that his license is valid until July 31. "I have taken the appropriate steps necessary for continued licensure," he stated.
The test is referred to as "MTEL" (Massachusetts Tests for Educator Licensure).
School Committee Chair Kerry Ni made a statement Monday night following Burns' remarks, as follows:
"As you heard during the public comment period, we also received emails from two people who had questions about Dr. Austin’s professional license. We responded to those emails but want to take this opportunity to address those concerns and ensure that the public has accurate information. The bottom line is that Dr. Austin has a valid license. Some of the confusion is coming from the fact that the DESE website is not clear and can be difficult to navigate. Before joining us here in Hingham, Dr. Austin was a fully licensed Superintendent in Maine. The Hingham School Committee hired an educational consulting firm, NESDEC, to guide us through the superintendent search process, and they did the initial screening of candidates. No candidate passed the initial screening unless they were duly licensed and passed the initial background check.
When Dr. Austin applied for the job here in Hingham, he applied for a temporary license, which is the first step any superintendent who comes to Massachusetts from another state is required to take, and that license became effective as of November 29, 2018.
The confusion is that according to the DESE website, temporary licenses are valid for one year, however, the time does not begin to elapse until the educator is actually employed by the district. Dr. Austin began his employment with Hingham Public Schools on June 17, 2019, which means that but for COVID, his license would have expired at the end of June 2020. That did not happen because of the Governor's declaration of a state of emergency and an emergency order giving all educators with licenses that would have expired between March of 2020 and now an extension until July 31, 2021. The reason for the extension is that educators were unable to complete necessary steps for licensure as state offices were closed until recently. Dr. Austin is currently completing the last necessary steps to move to a professional license and which we expect him to receive.
We want the public to know that the committee takes our responsibility and these concerns seriously, so even though we are confident that the Committee and Dr. Austin followed proper procedures, I double checked all of this with the DESE licensure division and the district’s attorney and informed the two community members who raised concerns. I want to reiterate that Dr. Austin does have a valid license and is on track to move to a permanent license. Again, this is the process that any superintendent from out of state would follow and was only delayed because of COVID."
Austin's evaluation by the School Committee is scheduled for Aug. 9 during a public meeting.