The Everett Public Schools voted and approved its annual budget 3-2 on April 27.
Now they get to do it all over again on May 11.
And it’s ignited quite a controversy within the membership and Supt. Priya Tahiliani due to several members not showing up for that April 27 meeting – a meeting that has now been deemed “illegal.”
Because there apparently wasn’t a quorum under the new 10-person Committee, the vote was nullified and the meeting was deemed an illegal meeting – as several members, including Mayor Carlo DeMaria, Millie Cardello, Joe LaMonica and Cynthia Sarnie did not attend. Member Allen Panarese was apparently called into his job at the hospital to cover a shift at the last moment.
That left the body with a group of five, which in previous years amounted to a sufficient quorum, but since the mayor joined as a voting member earlier this year – that no longer was a quorum.
Chair Frank Parker said the City Solicitor approached the School Committee attorney Robert Galvin after the meeting and challenged the quorum. After looking into it, it was realized there are new quorum standards – which are now six instead of five.
“I thought a quorum was for nine people because in Robert’s Rules of Order an ex officio isn’t included in the quorum,” he said. “Our attorney looked into it and determined our membership is 10 people and did require six for a meeting. So we have to do it all over again. Had the School Committee been in on the Home Rule Petition that added the mayor, we would have understood better what a quorum was. If we’d been included instead of finding out like everyone else did, then this could have all probably been avoided.”
At Monday’s meeting, Supt. Tahiliani said she was very frustrated by the fact that only five members showed up for what was the most important vote of the year for the Committee – the Budget vote. She said those that didn’t show up need to do better, and she also said with the tireless scrutiny of finances by some on the Committee, it was shocking to see they didn’t attend the Budget vote.
“I would say I’m surprised we didn’t have enough members to vote on the budget,” she said. “In my 14-month tenure here there has been a tireless enthusiasm for the finances so much so that to me it’s a bit unthinkable that we would only get 50 percent attendance at a meeting of such importance. I would liken it to a die-hard Patriots fan not watching the team play in the Super Bowl…I would simply say our children deserve better, our EPS staff deserve better and I think the entire community deserves better.”
Mayor DeMaria took exception to her comments, and said it was his daughter’s birthday on April 27 and he didn’t find out about the meeting until that day.
“I was not noticed until that morning,” he said. “I know it was an oversight but it was my daughter’s birthday and I had personal plans. If I had known we had a meeting prior to the notification on Tuesday, I would have done something different for my daughter. I also appreciate being timely informed of meetings. I also do have a lot of respect for our children and I also do believe education is very important for our students and I believe the members that weren’t here also appreciate that too. And I don’t appreciate the exaggeration. Continue talking about that.”
Tahiliani responded and noted that many students and families that testified at the hearing somehow found out, and said members – including the mayor – should consider it their job to find out and know when meetings are being held. According to the City’s website, the agenda for the Budget meeting was publicly posted April 22 at 3:36 p.m.
“All I can say is our original date for the public hearing was earlier in April and we did delay it at the behest of one of the members who then did not attend,” she said. “So for me, I understand and sympathize with peoples’ individual circumstances, but not when they collectively become a detriment to our students and in all fairness, the public hearing was posted seven business days ahead of time. Our students and the public that called in seemed to know about it, so I do believe it is our elected officials’ jobs and it is incumbent on you to know when the meetings are, especially when the public knows when they are.
“I understand you didn’t appreciate the comments, but I didn’t appreciate the fact that people were not informed and people were not attending,” she concluded.
Cardello said she was not notified in the usual manner, and didn’t find out about the meeting until the night before.
“It has always been that the Secretary of the School Committee (the superintendent) sends out the notifications,” she said. “I did not personally get notified of the meeting formally until the day of the meeting…I already had an issue set up for Tuesday. I tried to change it and couldn’t. I apologize to the community for not being there, but I would have been there had I been notified properly.”
Parker said there was ample notification. He said he reviewed the tape of the April 20 School Committee meeting, and he clearly told everyone there was a Budget meeting on April 27. Likewise, he said he sends out frequent e-mails with important dates listed, and that one was listed.
“I’ll continue to send these notices out, and I ask that you read them,” he said.
A short time later, DeMaria once again took offense to the comments about those that didn’t attend.
“I’ve been showing up for the kids of Everett 30 years in government,” he said, noting that the City did many capital repairs on the schools over the years and people working for the School Department were afraid to say that.
Parker said he wanted the comments to stop.
“Sometimes as a body of equitable and equal members, we just need to listen to what other people have to say and it doesn’t always require a response,” said Parker.
“I take insult to that,” said the mayor.
“I didn’t recognize you,” said Parker, shutting down the mayor.
Then Member Tom Abruzzese said everyone needed to be recognized as equals on the Board.
“The fact is too many times, Mr. Mayor you are getting up and making speeches at different times,” he said. “The 10 of us are equal members of the School Committee. I believe we should all be treated equally with our time and what we’re doing here.”
That closed the matter until May 11 when the Committee will reconvene to do it all over again – having a public hearing on the School Budget and the annual School Choice hearing as well. Then, they will have a Special Meeting immediately after to take another vote on the Budget.