By Josh Resnek
Following several hours of passionate public comments, the School Committee voted 6-4 against renewing Superintendent Priya Tahiliani’s contract Monday night.
Tahiliani has led the school system since March 2020.
She received strong support from more than 20 students, residents and teachers, and from a member of the NAACP during the public speaking portion of the meeting.
However, after years of tension between Tahiliani and the mayor, the school committee caved to political pressure.
Tahiliani filed a complaint last year accusing the mayor of “blatant and overt acts of discrimination and retaliation,” as reported in Tuesday morning’s Boston Globe.
She is under contract until March 2024.
She told the Leader Herald she will not be leaving until the end of her contractual tenure.
“I felt fortunate to be a part of this community and I thank you all for this opportunity and for allowing me to serve as your superintendent,” Tahiliani said after the vote.
Several members who voted against the the contract extension Monday night disputed rumors alleging they would get benefits, such as city jobs, for voting along with the mayor.
Instead, they cited complaints from teachers and concerns about cleanliness, among other reasons, the Globe reported.
“The rumors are false,” member Cynthia Sarnie said. “I’ll be basing my evaluation based on the safety of the school and also the cleaning and cleanliness of the school.” The mayor, Michael McLaughlin, and Joseph LaMonica did not speak on the vote but voted against the measure. Jason Marcus’ only comment was that no one tells him how to vote before voting against the contract extension.
Tahiliani is the first woman of color to lead the Everett public schools.
The EPS is about 85% students of color. The city is a majority minority melting pot.
The vote taken Monday night denying the extension of Tahiliani’s contract comes about two months after she received positive assessments of her performance from the same members of the school committee who voted against her Monday night.
The Globe reported the situation drew unusual public advocacy from Tom Scott, the executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents.
“It would be a travesty not to have her continue as school superintendent,” said Scott, whose organization typically doesn’t weigh in on hirings or firings of district leaders. “I felt compelled, given what I see in the qualities that she provides and the needs that exist.”
Tahiliani was unanimously appointed superintendent in 2019. She has received consistently positive performance evaluations from the School
Committee, but in a complaint filed last year with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, she alleged that DeMaria and the School Committee intentionally undermined her and interfered with her ability to manage the schools, the Globe reported.
“The institutional racism championed by Everett’s Mayor, Carlo DeMaria, and his cronies on the now reformed School Committee is palpable,” Tahiliani wrote in the complaint.
Tahiliani’s lawyer, Benjamin Flam, said in November that her complaint had been withdrawn so it could be filed in Superior Court. Another administrator, Deputy Superintendent Kim Tsai, filed a similar MCAD complaint in November, the Globe reported.
The city also came under federal scrutiny last year, with US Attorney Rachael Rollins opening an investigation of possible civil rights violations in city government, following a series of racist and racially charged incidents, the Globe reported.
That investigation is reported to be ongoing with the city so far paying out $500,000 in legal fees to an international law firm representing the city.Monday’s contract vote came less than a week after Tahiliani’s predecessor, Frederick F. Foresteire, was released from jail pending an appeal of his conviction for indecent assault and battery on a woman who worked for him while he was superintendent. Foresteire, who served 29 years in the role, pleaded guilty to two other sexual assault allegations, facts also detailed exactly in the Globe report.