New Superintendent Finalizes Contract: Will Start at a High Salary, But School Committee Happy With Contract

Supt. Priya Tahiliani will start much earlier than expected – on March 1 rather than July 1 – and will bring in one of the higher superintendent salaries in the area, according to the finalized employment contract released late last week.

School Committee officials said Supt. Tahiliani’s contract was fair to all sides, and it also eliminated a lot of questionable provisions that had been in the previous superintendent’s contract – such as unlimited vacation rollover days.

The six-page contract was the result of negotiations between Tahiliani, the School Committee and the Committee’s attorney, Richard Galvin.

The most talked about thing, of course, is salary, and Tahiliani will start at $205,000 in her first year of the four-year contract. That will graduate up to $230,000 in the final, fourth year, of the contract.

“This is a competition for the best candidates in some respects,” said Chair Tom Abruzzese. “You have other districts looking and this was a perfect match to me. Is she making a lot of money? Yes. But to get good people, you have to pay a lot. It’s the way it is. The former superintendent wasn’t doing this for charity. The new superintendent in Lowell is at about $225,000 and when you look at the former superintendent’s contract, with all the perks it was about $270,000. Priya was in demand. You saw that we lost one finalist in our process before we made our decision. When you have quality people who are in demand, you have to pay them.”

School Committeeman Frank Parker said Interim Supt. Janice Gauthier is making about $190,000 in here negotiated interim role. That, he said, was likely a starting point for any new candidate.

Looking around the area, Chelsea’s new superintendent, Dr. Almi Abeyta (who came from Somerville and Boston Public Schools) is starting out at $185,000. In Revere, long-time Supt. Dianne Kelly made $200,826 in base salary in 2018 – the most recent year available.

Tahiliani also came in as a candidate who was strong on salary negotiation. As an assistant superintendent in Boston, she had (and still is) suing that district for pay equity – filing with another female administrator and alleging they were paid less than male counterparts.

Abruzzese said that also played a role, as they wanted to equitably compensate her where her previous job may not have done so.

“We wanted Priya and she wanted to be here,” he said. “Priya is a woman that has filed a lawsuit against the City of Boston because she was (allegedly) getting paid less than men were being paid.”

That said, the strongest part of the contract for those on the Committee was having her start earlier than July 1, which is the standard start date for public schools.

“The biggest highlight for me is her staring on March 1,” said Abruzzese. “To start on July 1, nothing is going on in the schools. I think that was great. Priya wanted to start as soon as possible and we also wanted that. I didn’t think it was possible to get her that soon. That’s the best part of that contract – she can start during school and get to know the buildings, the kids, the principals and the administrators…Starting on March 1 was an unexpected benefit on both sides.”

Added Parker, “I was happy that came through. It’s going to allow her a good three months to learn the system and participate in the School Budget process now rather than inheriting it. Mrs. Gauthier’s intentions aren’t yet known, but we hope she’ll have a good 90 days at least with Mrs. Gauthier before the end of school.”

One of the main celebrations for the contract is the “righting” of many of the perceived wrongs in the previous superintendent’s contract. Some of those included no clear dismissal procedures, endless accrual of sick/vacation days, and no clear term for the contract.

The accrual of sick and vacation days resulted in a very expensive buyback for the schools, nearly $500,000 that had to be paid to the superintendent for hundreds of days accrued over his long tenure. That is no longer the case, said Abruzzese.

“Being completely transparent, Mr. Foresteire was not the only one who had this in his contract,” he said. “It was in another administrator’s contract. It was in the Director of Maintenance’s contract. Who knows why? It’s something that is just not right.”

Under the new contract, it’s more of a “use it or lose it” situation, and there is no provision to buy back any sick days.

Tahiliani gets up to 15 days per year for sickness or injury, and can only accumulate a maximum of 50. Those, however, cannot be bought back upon the completion of the contract. They have no value other than to be used for the intended purpose.

For vacations, Tahiliani gets 20 days of vacation per year. Up to 10 days per year can be carried over from one year to the next. The maximum number of days accumulated, though, cannot exceed 35. Those not used above that will be forfeited. Those days, however, can be redeemed for cash at an agreed upon rate at the end of the contract.

“You can’t just keep adding up the days,” he said. “There was a lot at fault with the prior contract in regards to the attorney supposedly representing us, to us as a School Committee and to the former superintendent. It shouldn’t have happened.”

The new contract also has a clear four-year term that has to be re-negotiated in a spelled out process upon its completion. The previous contract wasn’t clear as to how many years it was for, and was seemingly an “evergreen” contract that rolled over automatically. By state law, a superintendent cannot get a contract that is greater than six years.

Tahiliani was not immediately available for comment on her contract, but she did attend the Jan. 21 meeting of the School Committee to sign the document and make it official. At the moment, she said she was very busy wrapping up things at her old job, and preparing for the transition to Everett.

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