School Superintendent Bella T. Wong resigned her position Thursday, effective at the end of the school year, according to a letter emailed to administrators, faculty and staff.
A similar letter to parents was emailed Thursday afternoon.
The resignation comes after a tumultuous year for the school department, which began last March with news that the school lunch account was in arrears by more than $100,000 and included a professional review showing sloppy accounting practices in the business office and most recently questions arising over hiring practices after with stealing computers and jewelry from the building.
In a year when the town’s financial situation is precarious and passage of an override appears necessary to maintain services, the School Committee may have forced the move now in an effort to restore confidence in the department before asking voters to raise taxes.
“Ongoing public concern over school operational protocol has placed the school department in a defensive posture and has undermined my capacity to advocate effectively for the benefit of the school district at this critical juncture,” Wong wrote in her letter.
School Committee Chairwoman Suzy Littlefield said the committee understands and supports Wong's reasons for resigning and praised her for her committment to education and dedication and service to the schools.
Wong was promoted five years ago after serving as assistant superintendent under Matt King.
Wong’s tenure included many successes, the most obvious overseeing the planning, passage and construction of the new high school set to open in February before schedule and under budget.
But issues in the business office continued to plague the department, and School Committee Chairman Suzy Littlefield has made public her commitment to cleaning the problems there.
Revenues from unpaid lunch accounts have still not been completely collected, a professional review of the office showed a lack of checks and balances and inability to effectively communicate with other departments, and the office’s work transitioning the lunch program from an in-house operation to a private company caused confusion.
And last week school Business Manager Ruth Quinn Berdell was paid the first of two checks for $43,000 she will receive for unused vacation pay she has been allowed to bank.
Other non-union school and town employees work under a general “use it or lose it” vacation policy but Wong defended allowing Berdell to bank her time by saying she was working under a grandfathered policy.
Last week the Massachusetts Association of School Business Officials completed the review of the school business office that the School Committee requested to help make improvements in the department.
"I am looking forward to the recent MASBO review of the business office and implementing the necessary charges," Littlefield said.