Minority members seek Tahiliani’s rehiring despite no contract renewal
By Neil Zolot
Approval of a consulting firm to help in a search for a new school superintendent was tabled after a series of parliamentary questions, partly based on the lack of a dollar figure, that necessitated a visit from City Clerk Sergio Cornelio at the School Committee meeting Monday, October 2. “It tends to be one of our roles,” he said.
The question was to “ratify the selection of the Alma Advisory Group, based in Chicago, chosen as the consultant as part of the Requests for Proposals process to assist both the Superintendent Screening Committee, as well as the School Committee in the process of searching and screening candidates for Superintendent.” It did not formally include the $85,600 Ward 4 member and Committee Chairman Michael Mangan said it would cost. After approval by a 5-3 margin with Marcony Almeida-Barros (Ward 5), Jeanne Cristiano (Ward 3) and Member at-Large Samantha Lambert dissenting, Lambert asked if the question required a two-thirds majority to pass and asked for a legal opinion on the matter.
Amid some rancor between Mangan and Lambert, Cristiano added that appropriations require a two-thirds majority to pass. “Where is the transparency in this?” she asked. This prompted Mangan to request an opinion from the city clerk.
Cornelio told the members an appropriation of new funds raised from tax dollars requires two-thirds approval by present members, but a transfer of funds within a budget requires only a simple majority. “City Counsel KP Law indicated we thought we needed two-thirds more than we did,” he reported.
Calling $85,600 “a significant sum,” he said the figure should be included in any question “because the public has a right to know the dollar amount.”
He also pointed out the matter required reconsideration because a vote had already been taken. “That would be the cleanest way,” he advised.
Almeida-Barros pointed out that a call for reconsideration had failed just a few minutes before, with himself, Cristiano and Lambert in the minority, as they were in the initial vote to appoint Alma, but Mangan asked the members to “reconsider in order to do it properly,” which passed 8-0.
This turn of events was set in motion by an agenda item sponsored by Lambert asking for an update on the Superintendent Screening Committee, the process used to pick its members and the final hiring process. She feels the Screening Committee and consultant were selected without sufficient involvement by the Committee as a whole, but by Mangan, more or less on his own. “We didn’t have the language of an RFP and never chose a designee to select a consultant,” she said. “A call was put out, but there was a feeling you had to be connected to an individual to be selected. This community is too diverse and broad to not be inclusive.”
She also accused Mangan of continuing “to take all this on yourself and acting as if you are the body.” He answered it was difficult to choose one applicant over others when they all might be qualified, but he achieved what he wanted in having more women than men on the Screening Committee and it includes current and former educators.
He added that he feels that he has a good working understanding of the school system, but admitted, “In hindsight I wish I could have handled it differently.”
Lambert chided back, “Of course you’d have more applicants than seats.”
She also said that even though there was only one applicant, they should have been vetted according to a scoring rubric. “Just because we only had one applicant, it’s not automatic,” she feels.
“The consultant will be paid from a budget line item we didn’t vote on,” Almeida-Barros added. “It was your sole decision. You’re asking us to ratify something, but the group has already been hired.”
Mangan answered that he appointed four people to evaluate Alma, and “based on what they saw, they thought it was a good fit. They work with many urban districts, especially urban districts. I believe Alma gets us and the challenges of an urban district. That was what was appealing to me.”
In Public Comment at the outset of the meeting, Robin Babcock asked why a firm outside the state was chosen and said Alma favors privatization of education. Lambert echoed these comments, saying, “Alma is affiliated with groups interested in privatization and private money determining what is happening in public schools.”
“Consulting firms from Massachusetts didn’t want to be part of this,” Almeida-Barros added. “If no consulting firm from Massachusetts applied, is there a reason for that?”
Mangan answered that being from Massachusetts or another state was and should not be a qualifying or disqualifying factor. He suggested members research Alma on their own.
Outlining the search and screening process, he said the Search/Screening Committee will meet every two weeks, with their next meeting scheduled for Wednesday, October 11. Meetings will be held in executive session to protect the privacy of applicants. Alma will be winnowing down the usually large first-round pool of applicants before the screening aspect takes over. In the meantime, a list of stakeholders and interested parties in the city will be determined and there will be a schedule of forums at various schools to hear concerns.
The Screening Committee will submit a list of finalists to the School Committee, who will interview them in public sessions to determine who will be the next superintendent in late November or December. The election in November will determine new School Committee members who will take office in 2024. Mangan said any members-elect will be able to participate in various steps, but the final decision will be made by the current School Committee.
Cristiano called this an overly aggressive and ambitious timeline. “To think of having a new Superintendent by December – I’m not comfortable with that,” she said.
She doesn’t feel this process should be happening at all. “I can’t say enough wonderful things about her,” she said of Supt. Priya Tahiliani, whose contract was not renewed by the board.
This echoed earlier Public Comments by teachers and administrators. Director of Instruction Anne Auger said Tahiliani empowers teachers, including having them on hiring and review committees, and the School Committee is disregarding how hiring a new Superintendent will affect teachers.
Teacher Shane McNally was quite blunt in his vitriol. “End this fiasco and let the new School Committee decide on the Superintendent’s contract,” he said. “You are implicated in an unethical racist campaign to remove the Superintendent. None of your history absolves you of that. The next generation of leaders are everything you’re not. Your actions reek of white privilege.”
Once again, the supporters of Tahiliani ran the race card, mirroring her empty lawsuits she filed based on false claims against the mayor; and again, when her contract was not renewed. According to sources, Tahiliani’s lawyers have yet to move forward in either of her lawsuits – possibly relating to the August announcement by the state U.S. Attorney’s Office of its officially dropping its year-long inquiry – absolving the city of any racism, sexism, discrimination or sexual harassment.
Tahiliani, who left the Boston School District for her current position after filing a lawsuit against the City of Boston, was picked for the job thanks to the efforts of former school board member and search committee chairman Thomas Abruzzese, who picked Tahiliani to lead the school district despite instead of more qualified candidates. The highest degree she attained was a Master of Liberal Arts in Creative Writing and Literature. According to the resume she filed for the position, she was still earning her Master’s in Education degree with Pheonix University online.
(Editor’s Note: James Mitchell contributed to this story.)