Three proposed changes in Superintendent Priya Tahiliani’s current contract brought three newly-elected school committee members to the School Committee meeting on Monday night to object to the changes being made by the current School Committee.
Jeanne Cristiano, the Ward 3 School Committee member-elect, called the vote by the current school committee “bad business.”
School Committeemen-elect Jason Marcus and Michael McLaughlin joined Cristiano during the public comment period of the meeting in calling for the school committee not to change the current contract, but to allow the newly-elected School Committee that will take office in January to vote on changing the contract.
The proposed changes in the contract were as follows:
a. Amend “good cause by a majority vote of the School Committee” to “just cause by vote of two-thirds of the entire membership of the School Committee.”
b. Under “Termination by the Superintendent Prior to Expiration,” delete the following: “Should the Superintendent choose to terminate the contract without good cause and leave the employment of the Everett Public Schools to work as a Superintendent in another Massachusetts school district prior to its expiration date, she shall compensate the Committee an amount equal to 10% of her annual salary.”
c. Replace February 28, 2024 as it appears under “2: Term” and “3: Compensation” to June 30, 2025.
When the motion was discussed, at-large member Samantha Lambert noted that this process with the contract had been in discussion for the last year and half.
Ward 4 School Committee member Dana Murray also defended the right of the present School Committee to change the contract, noting that the superintendent was not chosen by four of the current school committee members. She added that she could understand the “frustration” of newly-elected members, but stated that the current School Committee’s action was not intended to usurp the future School Committee’s power,
Still, the timing of the changes seemed to smack of lame-duck politics to some. However, Murray noted that the contract ends in the mid-point of the school year and in further justification of taking up the matter now, Murray said, “COVID messed things up. We need to give her (Tahiliani) a chance to do the work that she was hired to do, not dealing with COVID.”
This rationale led to Tahiliani’s contract being possibly extended to June 2025.
Chairman Frank Parker spoke on the matter, noting that the superintendent’s contract is evaluated on a yearly basis by the full committee and that a subcommittee has been meeting on a regular basis, evaluating the contract.
“This is being voted on tonight not because it is December,” said Parker. “It is not being done now because it is the end of the year. It just happens to be that the timing is now.”
He further added that he has been involved in this discussion for a ”number of years.”
The issue of changing the wording from “good cause” to “just cause” also was discussed.
Murray summarized her understanding of the wording by saying, “If we use ‘good cause’ in a case when we need to terminate a teacher, then we would probably lose in the courts, while using the wording ‘just cause’ would probably be upheld in court.
“We do not want to lose money for students because of poor wording in the contract,” Murray added.
Mayor Carlo DeMaria asked that each change be considered separately.
The first change in wording was not approved and lost by a vote of 5-3. Reconsideration of the motion also failed.
The second change dealing with a superintendent leaving was approved on a 6-2 vote.
At-Large member Millie Cardiello asked that action on the third change, calling for the contract to be extended from February 28, 2024, to June 30, 2025, be postponed until the Dec. 20 meeting, but not later, since that matter must be taken up before the new year. The postponement was approved.
School Committee members heard that the Everett public school system, similar to many other school districts in the state, is seeing an uptick in COVID-19 cases.
Tahiliani reported that in November, there were a total of 58 confirmed COVID cases among school staff and students and in October, that number was 52 confirmed cases. In December, new cases hit a new, one-day high on December 3 with seven cases, but that was surpassed on December 6 with nine confirmed cases.
Tahiliani further noted that Everett students ages 5-11 are behind the state average for children in that age cohort being vaccinated. She also pointed out that all students who need to be vaccinated or tested are able to use the services of the Cambridge Health Alliance staff in the schools.
A large number of students took advantage of the first College Fair that was held at Everett High School. More than 35 colleges and universities attended the event that was geared to students in grades 9-12. Tahiliani noted that the representatives from the institutions were highly-impressed with the Everett students who attended the event.