School Committee Chair Tom Abruzzese said he was embarrassed and frustrated by the employment contract that allowed former Supt. Fred Foresteire to accumulate hundreds of unused vacation days over his career, time that is now worth more than $450,000.
“With my background, and even though this isn’t my specialty in law, it’s embarrassing for me and I take full responsibility for this having occurred under my watch,” he said. “This contract is something that should have never happened. It’s in the budget, yes, but it doesn’t make it any better to deal with…This is a contract from 30 years ago. The former Superintendent had a rolling contract. Technically, none of us were there 30 years ago, but clearly some of us here never went through this document with a fine-tooth comb since we’ve been on the Committee…I was completely unaware of this in Mr. Foresteire’s contract.”
The matter in question came up at Monday’s School Committee meeting as the embattled body continued to sort through the lingering matters regarding former Supt. Fred Foresteire – who has been charged with seven counts of indecent assault and battery as well for alleged sexual misconduct over a period of years.
But it was Foresteire’s former contract that was in question on Monday night, and in particular a clause that allowed him to accumulate sick and vacation days year over year. In most workplaces, one cannot carry over such days, but Foresteire’s contract specified that he was allowed to keep those days and cash them in upon retirement.
It was estimated in 2017 that the School Department owed Foresteire – who annually took one week of vacation and saved the rest of his time – some $450,000.
Already, the School Department has paid out around $200,000 to Foresteire for that sick and vacation time, but there is still a large chunk looming in the budget to be paid.
However, School Committeeman Bernie D’Onofrio asked that the matter be sent to the Legal Committee for examination by School Committee attorneys. He said he wanted to pursue it and see if it has to be paid out.
“We all signed the contract; it was very clear,” protested School Committeeman Lester MacLaughlin.
Said D’Onofrio, “It isn’t very clear. That’s why I brought it up. That’s why I’m pursuing it. I’ve seen the contracts and they don’t look like contracts. Whatever Mr. (Spencer) Tobin and Mr. Foresteire did, I don’t know. I’m going to pursue this and find out if there are any stipulations. If it’s right, it’s right, but I’m going to look at it.”
School Committeeman Frank Parker said he signed the contract too, but he said he felt like there wasn’t much that could be done. He said the schools have budgeted for the payout, and should just get it over with this budget year.
“My name was on the top of that contract too,” he said. “I take full responsibility. We have to take care of that one way or another. That not fair to take this liability and go over to next year’s budget…It’s not going to impact staffing or any programming. We knew it was there. We knew it was coming and we budgeted appropriately.”
Abruzzese, who spoke freely and resolutely during that portion of the meeting, said one year ago the School Committee was hit “with a Mike Tyson right cross down the hallway” in executive session. That hit was the night that Foresteire informed them, he said, that he was owed significant amounts of vacation time and he wanted to cash it in.
“At that time, it was the first time we were told that amount was close to $450,000,” he said. “I’ve worked for the Commonwealth for 30 years and we are not allowed to accrue vacation time. I don’t know anywhere where anyone is allowed to accumulate vacation time like that because of what it would do in a situation like this. This is not GM or GE. This is not some type of severance package we are giving our CEO so he can run off into the sunset.”
School Committeewoman Millie Cardello and School Committeeman Marcony Almeida-Barros both clarified that they were not on the Committee at the time that the contract was last approved.
Both said they supported having the Committee’s attorneys look at the matter and get back to them.
Another part of the puzzle they will examine is if Foresteire would get paid in current dollars for time that was accrued as far back as 1990 – when he made far less and, thus, his vacation days were worth far less.
The matter was referred to Committee for examination on a vote of 8-1, with MacLaughlin voting against.