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January 30. 2013 10:19PM

Former Central High principal John Rist tapped to fill spot at Manchester West High in wake of McGorry resignation

MANCHESTER - Following the turmoil at Manchester High School West, a familiar face may temporarily take the helm of the school: John Rist, the former longtime principal at Central High.

The school board voted to authorize Superintendent Thomas Brennan to move forward with hiring a principal at West on a part-time basis at its meeting Monday night, following the same closed-door session in which Brennan recommended that the board approve the terms of the resignation of former West High principal MaryEllen McGorry.

McGorry was suspended at the beginning of the school year for reasons district officials have not disclosed to the board or the public. Under the terms approved by the board, she will be paid through April and will receive health benefits until June 30.

Brennan told the board during the non-public session that he intended to hire Rist for the remainder of the school year, according to several sources.

However, filling the position has been held up due to a motion at Monday's meeting from board member Art Beaudry requiring that it be in accord with New Hampshire Retirement System law that prohibits those receiving a pension from working more than 32 hours a week. Beaudry questioned how realistic it was to expect a principal to perform the job on a part-time basis.

The board ended up approving a motion allowing Brennan to hire a "part-time, short-term principal," along with Beaudry's amendment requiring him to verify its compliance with state pension law.

"We are circumventing the law when we put per-diem people in there that are collecting a pension from the NH Retirement System," Beaudry said ahead of the vote. "That is the double-dipping that they keep talking about up in Concord."

The vote on the amended motion was unanimous, except for one abstention and a no vote from Mayor Gatsas.

Gatsas said in an interview that he believed Rist could perform the job within the 32-hour-a-week limit. "I think he'll do a great job," Gatsas said. "I think somebody who has the experience of John Rist has the ability to do that."

Superintendent Brennan said on Wednesday that "no selection or assignment" has been made regarding the interim principal post at West. "John is one person is we're looking at," he said, adding that he has to get an answer from the Retirement System. He said expects to get one by the end of the week.

Several board members also objected to the rate of pay being considered for Rist, said to be around $90 an hour, which is higher than the usual rate.

Rist had led Central High and the Manchester School of Technology for 23 years before he retired in 2011. He is now a member of the State Board of Education, although his current term is set to expire today.

It's not clear what Rist's intentions are regarding any pension he receives from the state system. He did not return a call for comment on Wednesday.

School board member Beaudry has long been critical of re-hiring retired school administrators on a per-diem basis.

Last year, the school board approved the hiring of Elinor Murphy to serve as the interim principal at Parker-Varney Elementary School. She had been the longtime principal at Beech Street School until she retired in June 2012.

"There's no way anybody can run on a high school on a part-time basis," Beaudry said, referring to the prospect of hiring Rist. "We're deceiving the public, we're deceiving ourselves, and we're deceiving the Retirement System," he said, adding, "It's demeaning to the rest of the principals, who put in hundreds of hours of work a week."

tsiefer@unionleader.com

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