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School Committee votes against Tahiliani return; support for Supt. Hart continues

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Cornelio said her vote was “in the best direction” for Everett Public Schools

By Neil Zolot


The School Committee declined to reinstate Priya Tahiliani as Superintendent at their meeting Thursday, January 18, delayed from January 16 due to weather. Implicitly, the vote retains William Hart as Superintendent, the job for which he was hired on an interim basis in October and permanently in December, although Tahiliani will remain on paid administrative leave. “Even though her contract may supersede his, I believe he (Hart) should have the opportunity to continue,” member At-Large Samantha Hurley said.

She voted against the proposition along with Mayor Carlo DeMaria, Chairperson Jeanne Cristiano (Ward 3), Margaret Cornelio (Ward 1) and Joseph D’Onofrio (Ward 6). Voting in the minority were item sponsors Robin Babcock (Ward 4) and Joanna Garren (Ward 2) along with vice-chairman and At-Large member Samantha Lambert. Ward 5 member Maroney Almeida-Barros was absent. Cornelio felt her vote was “in the best direction” for the schools and had “nothing to do with not liking one or the other” between Hart and Tahiliani.

Layers of complexity may render the vote moot. Tahiliani was placed on paid administrative leave October 30 following allegations of misconduct made by ten people, which were submitted to the city’s Human Resources Department, as opposed to being handled through the School Department and not made public, in part to protect the privacy of everyone involved. “The previous School Committee didn’t know the allegations before putting her on paid administrative leave,” Babcock pointed out.

She also asked, “Why would the Human Resources department at City Hall redirect complaints to the union or School Dept. Human Resources Department?”

The School Committee, which had already decided not to renew her contract which expires February 29 and was conducting a search for a successor, placed her on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation. If she’s exonerated, she could return to work. “If we bring her back, what do we do with Hart”? Cornelio wanted to know.

“Garren feels Tahiliani “has a right to finish out her term.”

Cristiano pointed out “if her paid leave was to be terminated, we’d need to give her and Hart instructions as to how the schools were to be operated.”

Hart was appointed Interim Superintendent and a search for a permanent superintendent, yielded a four-year contract for him. The other finalist, Kimberly Fricker had worked in California and was interviewed in a video-conference from Michigan where her father lives.

An election intervened in early November in which five new members were elected, but their terms didn’t start until this year, leaving the existing, lame duck board to hire a Superintendent, giving Everett two of them to pay. “Tahiliani is receiving all the benefits she would as if she was working,” School Committee attorney Robert Galvin noted.

In the meantime, she was an unsuccessful candidate for open supt. positions in Melrose and Natick.

Thus, Babcock and Garren submitted the item for a “discussion and potential vote on the status of paid administrative leave for Tahiliani.”

In Public Participation, comments were equally divided between those in favor of reinstating Tahiliani and those against it. Everett Teachers Association President Kimberly Auger and teacher Nelda O’Neill spoke in favor of keeping Hart, while Janice Lark and Nelda O’Neill spoke in favor of bringing Tahiliani back. “Bring her back for a few months, for what?” O’Neill asked. “To upset the applecart of what the Superintendent is doing?”

In other action, the members directed Hart to ask union officials and public safety officials if the schools might remain open on Primary Election Day, Tuesday, March 5. He pointed out, given many schools are polling places, it is customary to close schools Election Day to avoid traffic hazards.

Babcock, Hurley and Lambert reported they had been contacted by teachers that closing the High School, which is not used for voting, would eliminate a day for MCAS prep for students. “Can we close K-8 only?” Lambert asked.

“I don’t think we can split that,” Hart answered before the matter was tabled pending his inquiries.

Lambert also asked Hart to report about any loss of funds or grants due to mid-Fiscal Year 2024 cuts in the state budget made by Governor Maura Healey.

“We have not seen anything directed at us,” Hart answered, referring to school aid not being cut. “Unless there are additional cuts, we have not been impacted.”

Lambert also requested “a financial snapshot” be given to the new members through an audit.

Finally, Hurley was elected representative to the Shore Educational Collaborative in Chelsea.

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