Pieces of a Puzzle: School Layoffs, Reorganization Try to Strike A Balance

The School Department has concluded the first of what they hope will be the final round of reorganization and layoffs at all levels of administration and support services in the schools – moving many of the administrative duties into teaching positions, changing the academy structure at Everett High School (EHS), opening up more positions for teaching and also leveraging large amounts of grant funding from outside the city.

Supt. Priya Tahiliani and her administrative team have entered a reorganization that looks to shed more than 90 jobs at the administrative level, but at the same time they are looking to hire some back into teaching positions that will be critical as the COVID-19 restrictions come down for the fall semester. To preserve teachers and those directly serving students, they chose to begin their 5 percent budget cuts in the administration.

“The 5 percent cut is inescapable, and it’s where we start, but we’re also doing 10 percent and 15 percent scenarios that will require much more community input if need be,” she said. “We chose to start with our non-student facing positions, especially where next year we’ll need social distancing and smaller class sizes. We couldn’t afford to lose teachers. That will probably be our methodology in non-COVID times too…It is all very unfortunate. We were going to be happy and Student Opportunity Act money was coming in. It’s not how I imagined our first budget cycle – making tough decisions impacting our students, employees and community.”

New appointments already announced on Friday in the reorganization are long-time EHS Assistant Principal Chris Barrett as the new principal of the Webster School, and Dennis Lynch as the new principal of the Parlin School. He was formerly the assistant principal of the Parlin.

Meanwhile, Tahiliani said she will bring in Fracesse Canty, Esq. from Boston Public Schools to run the Human Resources Department for the schools.

Her leadership team will remain intact with Kim Tsai, Assistant Supt. Kevin Shaw and Asst. Supt. Charlie Obremski.

“There are not people who are not returning for a contract issue; that is not true,” she clarified in relation to a rumor about Shaw and Obremski.

Beyond that, it will be a hodge podge of reorganization, particularly when it comes to directors and department heads. Tahiliani said they went back to an old structure to where curriculum directors of subject matter became teachers – with positions opening up as department heads in those subject areas. While they are open positions, she said there was a tremendous amount of working on a “puzzle” of pieces to reorganize and keep opportunities open for those being laid off.

“We’re going back to a previous model where we had department chairs,” she said. “Those positions are in the teaching unit and not the administrative unit. It is a model used a really long time and we find it works and in this environment it can work again.”

Instead of a curriculum director that oversees all of the subject matter directors, that task will be taken on by Shaw as the curriculum will be developed by Shaw and the department heads – who are also teachers.

“Everyone this year might find themselves teaching in the classroom, even me,” said Tahiliani.

In the academies model, debuted just this year in its entirety, she said she doesn’t plan to scrap it at all, and in fact once taught in a vocational academy setting. Administratively, they have eliminated the position of Executive Assistant Principal for Business Engagement and Innovation. Though she wouldn’t provide names of anyone laid off, it is the job that was held by Omar Easy – who had come back to the academies in EHS after a few years at City Hall.

Likewise, all of the deans for each of the five pathways have been eliminated in a sense. They will not be in charge of a pathway, but will be teachers within that pathway who are designated as the subject matter leaders. All of them will be overseen by the EHS Principal and assistant principal. She said for those that are laid off, there will be comparable positions they can “bump” into and she hopes they do.

“There are going to be opportunities for all employees laid off,” she said. “It’s a different opportunity that they will be able to apply for and I hope they will.”

She said she estimated that 40 percent of those laid off will be able to find another position they can apply for and move into.

“Some positions are eliminated, but many are similar with enhanced responsibilities that have a different title and are funded differently,” she said. “There are many layoffs and eliminations. However, I would say about 40 percent of them could easily bump into or apply for another opportunity.”

Other things they are doing are leveraging grant funding from the state, federal government and private philanthropies. Some of the positions that are being eliminated will return with a slightly different job description and funded by money coming from outside the district – something the Everett schools did not pursue wholeheartedly in the past.

One example of that is there was a great call when meeting with parents and staff for parent liaisons. Using grant funding, they will create 15 parent liaisons and expect one group of workers laid off to be a perfect fit for those positions.

Asked if some administrators could see moving back into the classroom or into a different position as a demotion, she said they might see it that way, but she wouldn’t.

“We aren’t forcing anyone into these new positions,” she said. “You could say that someone who has had a job and has to apply for a job that was below them before seems like a demotion. That is a potential scenario…We wanted though to make sure every tenured employee had a position…There is also higher position opportunities for others to try something new and actually get a promotion. It goes both ways.”

She said it isn’t a perfect situation, but it is where things have landed in a tough circumstance, and it is by merit and in thinking of the kids first.

“It’s not the way I had planned to get into the district,” she said. “It’s not political in any way. This is just about our students.”

What’s the next play for Coach Theluxon Pierre?

After last week’s reorganization and layoff moves, there were widespread rumors that Football Coach Theluxon Pierre might have resigned and an assistant coach might have taken over his duties as interim.

That could not be confirmed at all, and Pierre did not return phone calls to the Independent about his status as coach.

Supt. Priya Tahiliani said as far as she knows he is still the coach, but she has heard the same rumors. She said Pierre’s position at the high school was cut.

“I’m told that’s true, but I have not been told that’s the case,” she said. “I think what is happening is that person’s position during the day has been eliminated…Basically, we have not eliminated our football coach for the football position. It’s there if he wants it.”

She said there are many coaches that come into the district from other schools or from other jobs to coach – and they receive a stipend for that.

She said that Athletic Director Tammy Turner is still retaining her job and has not be cut or eliminated because it is a direct facing position helping students.

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