The School Committee recently voted to approve one of three recommended changes to the employment contract with Superintendent of Schools Priya Tahiliani.
The first change, which the committee accepted in a 6-2 vote, will remove the following language from the contract: “Should the Superintendent choose to terminate the contract without good cause and leave the employment of the Everett Public Schools to work as a Superintendent in another Massachusetts school district prior to its expiration date, she shall compensate the Committee an amount equal to 10% of her annual salary.”
The proposed amendment regarding grounds for termination was to change “good cause by a majority vote of the School Committee” to “just cause by vote of two thirds of the entire membership of the School Committee.” During the December 6 meeting, Ward 4 Member Dana Murray said changing the language from “good cause” to “just cause” would benefit the committee in the event of a lawsuit. However, the amendment was voted down in a 5-3 decision.
The committee also voted 6-2 to postpone the option of extending Tahiliani’s contract from February 28, 2024, to June 30, 2025. The committee is expected to vote on that change during its final meeting of the year on December 20.
However, three incoming committee members were staunchly opposed to action being taken by the current committee.
Ward 3 Member-Elect Jeanne Cristiano said it was “bad business” for the committee to take this kind of action so late in the year. “It’s my opinion that it’s a violation of Massachusetts General Law,” she said. “The chairman allowing this on the agenda is an obvious power play. You should not allow a lame duck chairman and most of the School Committee to negotiate the superintendent’s contract this year.”
Chapter 39, Section 6A of the Massachusetts General Laws states: “No increase or reduction in such salaries shall take effect during the year in which such increase or reduction is voted, and no change in such ordinance shall be made between the election of a new council or other legislative body and the qualification of the new council or other legislative body.”
“It is an unethical attempt to circumvent the wishes of the voters of Everett,” said Cristiano. “You’re undermining the voters of Everett who spoke loud and clear on November 2.”
Ward 2 Member-Elect Jason Marcus was also opposed to any action by the committee. “I was taken by surprise – it looks like you’re hiding something,” he said. “I’m totally against this.”
Ward 6 Member-Elect Michael McLaughlin said if favorable action was taken, the new committee would not have a say in Tahiliani’s contract going forward. “I urge this body to reject these items,” he said.
In response, Murray, who is also chairwoman of the Ad Hoc Superintendent Subcommittee, said she understood the frustration expressed by the incoming members. “The new superintendent was not chosen by the sitting committee,” she said. “It’s my understanding that these things roll out on their own timeline.”
In addition, Murray said Tahiliani received an “overall proficient” rating when the committee evaluated her job performance. She also said it would be very challenging to find a new superintendent. “Right now, the field of superintendents is very sparse,” said Murray. “Many superintendents are quitting and they’re quitting in droves. The job is very difficult.”
School Committee Chairman Frank Parker said the Ad Hoc Superintendent Subcommittee had been meeting for more than a year to discuss Tahiliani’s evaluation which then led to the proposed contract changes. “This is part of an ongoing process,” he said.
Tahiliani’s contract took effect on March 1, 2020. At the time, it included an annual base salary of $205,000 as well as $1,500 for a computer to use at home, $75 per month for a cell phone and $3,000 per year for travel expenses. The contract also included an annual annuity payment of $3,000 from the committee as well as 15 sick days per year, 20 vacation days and four personal days.