The Everett School Committee voted by a 7-3 margin Monday to place Superintendent of Schools Priya Tahiliani on paid administrative leave pending an investigation into complaints filed against the school administration with the city’s Human Resources Department.
Mayor Carlo DeMaria, Chair Michael Mangan, Vice Chair Michael McLaughlin, and members Joseph LaMonica, Jason Marcus, Millie Cardello, and Cynthia Sarnie voted in favor of placing Tahiliani on paid administrative leave. Members Samantha Lambert, Jeanne Cristiano, and Marcony Almeida-Barros voted against the motion.
Mangan said at the conclusion of the meeting that Deputy Supt. Kim Tsai will oversee the Everett school district until the School Committee selects an acting superintendent.
Attorney Robert Galvin, counsel to the School Committee, said in his opening remarks that he had received a memo from Terri Ronco, Everett director of human resources, “that included a number of allegations regarding the administration at the School Department, including 10 redacted complaints from various employees.”
Galvin said the complaints identify “various allegations of retaliatory and hostile work environment, derogatory comments, unprofessional work environment, favoritism, ageism, an allegation that HR was not investigating issues, ethical violations, bullying, and intimidation.”
“The conclusion that I received from the HR person was these allegations ought to be investigated by an outside investigator, so I brought this matter to the Committee’s attention through the Chair,” said Galvin.
Cristiano questioned the timing of the controversial issue. “And now all of a sudden, a week before the election, we’re having this dog and pony show,” said Cristiano.
Cristiano also asked why the matter wasn’t first discussed in executive session. “Mr. Galvin, did you suggest that maybe, rather than have the unstructured, informal meeting over there looking over these redacted complaints – wouldn’t the best process to be to have that [meeting] in executive session where it’s formalized, there are minutes taken, and giving us an opportunity to thoroughly review these allegations?”
“The person that runs this system has not been notified of these allegations,” continued Cristiano. “I served my country in the military. Do you know why? Because I believe in democracy. I believe in it to the core. Executive session would have been something that we could have at least hung our hats on. I think we’re opening ourselves up to incredible litigation by denying this administrator their basic God-given human rights.”
Tahiliani delivered a prepared statement, saying that “this entire process is highly questionable and that she was told “about a report detailing complaints of 10-plus employees, and yet I still don’t know what these complaints are about.” Tahiliani also read a statement from Deputy Supt. Kim Tsai, who wrote that she objected to the process, and “I am not in attendance because of its pre-ordained conclusion.”
More than a dozen Everett High students attended the meeting, holding signs that read, “Keep Our Superintendent” and “Our Superintendent is Super,” along with other messages of strong support for Tahiliani.
Thalia Patino, an EHS senior, said she has been active in four different community organizations, “and I see the improvements of our city with having Supt. Priya Tahiliani in place.”
“Supt. Tahiliani has proved why she needs to stay,” lauded Patino. “I’m proud of the audience today [for supporting the superintendent], but I’m disappointed in our School Committee members, most of them.”
Statement from Superintendent Priya Tahiliani
I must say this entire process is highly questionable. I am told about a report detailing complaints of 10-plus employees, and yet I still don’t know what these complaints are about. I have been told that this report was crafted by Everett City Hall. This clearly demonstrates the clear conflict of interest that has always existed with the School Committee Chair being an employee of City Hall.
But let me say firmly that any investigation into these claims will reveal that I have been doing my job and holding EPS staff accountable to our students, families, residents, and taxpayers for bad behaviors that should not be tolerated such as time theft, disappearing from work during the school day, bullying and threatening colleagues and students, reduced schedules or responsibilities, and even destruction of school property.
In terms of the investigation itself, I only ask that is fair and impartial. I say that because the independent investigator employed by EPS recently conducted a flawed and incomplete investigation and worked in concert with the school committee attorney who not only had a direct conflict in our previous investigation, but himself engaged in behavior that was inappropriate and violated EdReform. So I ask for two things – that two independent investigations be employed to look into this matter – one of the School Committee’s choosing and one of mine – and that both investigators be granted equal access to interviewing witnesses on both sides of the issue, not just those who filed complaints with the City Hall HR Department.
Additionally, I believe these investigators should look into allegations I have made time and time again regarding the hostile work environment I have been subjected to over the past three-and-a-half years. I have written a litany of official requests to my employers and to the School Committee attorney asking for guidance and support only to have my own complaints about School Committee members brushed under the rug.
There is a profound irony at play here. This is a city and a school committee that did nothing to publicly discuss, let alone sanction, the myriad allegations against the former superintendent. This is a city and a school committee that failed to act amid budgetary chaos, draconian rulemaking, indiscriminate personnel maneuvering, illegal use of school employees, and sexual misconduct. And now that I serve in the role and do not support the cronyism and nepotism that have ruled here for decades, will not turn a blind eye to bad behavior and will not engage in bad behavior myself, this city and this school committee are accusing me of being hostile.
The entire process is as unjust as it is unfounded.
Statement from Deputy Supt. Kim Tsai
I want to be clear that my absence from this meeting should not be taken in any way as a slight to our students, staff, families, and greater school community who support the Superintendent. I am availing myself to Chairman Mangan’s option to be excused from the meeting as I cannot lend any credibility to the process as I question the integrity and impartiality of accusations authorized by Everett Human Resources subject to control of the mayor. I was not provided any notice of the complaints and I am confident that the investigation would yield no adverse actions against me. I am willing able to comply with this investigation, but I want to note my objection to this process and am not in attendance because of its pre-ordained conclusion.