The Everett School Committee voted Monday night not to renew the contract of the district’s superintendent, the latest turn in a tumultuous few years for the district and the city’s government.
Superintendent Priya Tahiliani received a strong show of support from city residents, but the School Committee voted 6 to 4 against renewing her contract, after years of tension between her and the mayor.
Tahiliani, who has led the school system since March 2020, filed a complaint with the state last year accusing Mayor Carlo DeMaria of subjecting her to “blatant and overt acts of discrimination and retaliation.”
Her existing contract extends until March 2024.
“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.
DeMaria, who has a seat on the School Committee, voted in November against even opening negotiations on a new contract. Three of the committee’s nine other members joined him.
Several members who voted against the contract 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 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 did not speak on the vote.
Supporters of Tahiliani acknowledged that some teachers and parents were disgruntled, but cited extensive positive feedback from students and families, including an influx of emails from parents of students with disabilities.
Most of the more than 20 public commenters at the meeting were also on Tahiliani’s side. Speakers praised her efforts to engage the majority-minority students and families of the mostly Latino district.
Tahiliani is the first person of color to lead the Everett school district, where 85 percent of the enrollment are students of color. Prior to her arrival, the central office administrative team was 100 percent white, but after taking the job, she began appointing a more diverse staff.
“The decision that we face here with renewing the superintendent’s contract to me is remarkably easy,” said Damian Allen, a parent of two Everett students. “When you have a superstar doing the good work for your community, for your children, you reward them.”
Public commenters called on the committee to look past politics and vote in the students’ interest.
“Children deserve continuity, stability, and a consistent school system,” said Maria Bussell. “The system has been in enough turmoil.”
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 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 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.
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.