Some question if Basan Nembirkow devotes enough time to the schools he runs
If you want to buzz Basan "Buzz" Nembirkow on weekends, call South Deerfield.
The Brockton superintendent of schools has a home in South Deerfield in western Massachusetts, and said he is there on weekends if he does not have business in Brockton.
With Nembirkow responsible for the education of 16,000 students in the district, his weekend getaways are not sitting well with some people.
"You need to be visible," said Richard Bath, who is running unopposed for the Ward 2 School Committee seat. "He owns the house (in South Deerfield). My only dig is that he should be at more events (in Brockton) to give more support to faculty and the students."
The 128-mile drive from Brockton to South Deerfield lasts about 2 hours, so Nembirkow's weekend commute in his Toyota Avalon takes about five hours, roundtrip.
Nembirkow, who also owns a condo in Brockton, staunchly defended his dedication to the students and his work performance, saying his second home is no different from someone having a house on Cape Cod to use during time off from work.
"I'm here Monday to Friday, and I have a weekend house," Nembirkow said. "Am I the only person in Brockton that does that?"
Nembirkow said he leaves for South Deerfield on "Fridays, sometimes Saturdays" and usually returns Sunday night.
Ward 4 School Committee member Patricia Joyce said Nembirkow "has satisfied the terms of his contract, and he's always been very accessible to me."
"I've never had a problem contacting him," Joyce said.
But the second home has raised eyebrows around the city, as some say he should be around more on weekends. Nembirkow earns an annual salary of $160,000.
"My question is, is his butt in Brockton Monday through Friday?" said former School Committee member William J. Pribusauskas.
The superintendent said he is on the job constantly during the week.
"The job is all-consuming, long hours every night. It's 24-7, Monday through Friday," Nembirkow said. "I don't know what anybody else wants. Performance is high."
"My answer is look at our performance levels. Look at the things we've done. Look at the grants we have," Nembirkow said.
One parent said Nembirkow should be in Brockton more.
"If you're in charge of thousands of kids and teachers, I feel he should be here all the time," said Susan Russo, 46.
"I just feel that he should be here, in Brockton, and put more input into it. I don't feel he should be away every weekend," she said. "His job is superintendent of schools. What if like a school burned down on weekends?"
Before taking his job as Brockton superintendent in 2004, Nembirkow was superintendent of schools in Chicopee, a half-hour drive from South Deerfield. His wife and son still live there, he said.
Nembirkow has a Blackberry with a 774 area code, paid for by the district. He also bought a unit at the SoCo condominium lofts on Commercial Street in Brockton after he took his Brockton job.
"I am visible," Nembirkow said. "I go to the concerts. I can't be everywhere."
When city residency was required of his position, Nembirkow said he established it.
"I live in Brockton," he said. "I pay taxes in Brockton. I have a house in Brockton."
His contract states that Nembirkow was to resume residency within the city by July 21, 2005.
On Nov. 7, 2005, Nembirkow purchased the two-bedroom condominium at the SoCo lofts; that property is assessed at $220,600, according to the city assessor's office.
Nembirkow owns a home in a newer development in South Deerfield on Crestview Drive that is assessed at $541,700 and was purchased and built in 1999, according to the Deerfield Assessor's office.
"I don't see a problem. I think he's spending plenty of time in the schools," James Daley, vice chairman of the Brockton School Committee, said of Nembirkow.
Mayor James E. Harrington, who serves as chairman of the Brockton School Committee, did not return two calls for comment Wednesday or Thursday.
The two candidates challenging incumbent Harrington in this fall's election talked about the issue.
Mayoral hopeful Jass Stewart said that while he has no reason to doubt Nembirkow's judgment or his commitment to the work, the superintendent "has to be in this community as much as possible."
"I don't have access to (Nembirkow's) calendar or his schedule, so I'm not certain how much time he's spending in the community," Stewart said. "That falls under the jurisdiction of the mayor, who is the chair of the School Committee, to make sure people are accountable."
Candidate Gayle Kelley said she "would like to see Buzz spend more time in the city. I think it's important that he spends more time in the city.
"We're public servants. We work for the people. We need to be here," Kelley said. "Buzz is the mentor for our children. He's the lead guy. The more he's available, the better it is for the city and for our children."
Maria Papadopoulos of The Enterprise (Brockton, Mass.) can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.