School Committee Looks to Recalibrate After Town’s Unilateral Reorganization

by | Jul 24, 2017

July 5, 2017 – The School Committee will meet Wednesday morning, July 5, in an unusual session to discuss the Town Council’s “‘One Town’ consolidation plan and amended School Committee fiscal year 2018 budget,” according to the agenda posted July 2.

“We can’t talk to each other without posting the meeting,” said Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Mark. “The School Committee needs to have an opportunity to discuss what has or hasn’t happened since we last met and to figure out what our options are for next steps.”

The School Committee last met on June 20, where the panel finalized its budget after the town determined to level fund the schools but take on non-education-related costs. While some school jobs were decreased or eliminated, the French program was saved and the committee pledged to hire a curriculum director in January.

Since then, the Town Council came to an agreement with then Town Manager Tom Coyle which had him leaving that position and they appointed Gayle Corrigan, one of the two principals of a consulting firm the council had hired in March to review school and town finances, to serve as acting town manager. Ten days later – last Friday, June 30 – Corrigan fired the town’s finance director, human resources head and the assistant to the town manager and named colleague Linda Dykeman to the position of finance director for both town and schools, Rose Emilio to serve as director of human resources for the town and schools, and Michaela Antunes to serve as chief of staff.

Dykeman had been serving as interim finance director of the school department and a search had begun for a permanent replacement. Emilio had been doing HR for the school department. Antunes had been press secretary for the City of Providence and before that was member services coordinator for the Hope Club. According to a memo Corrigan sent out to town employees June 30, Antunes “will be overseeing the day-to-day activities of each department” as Corrigan works on “strategic issues.”

Mark said the appointment of Dykeman to a permanent, consolidated position shouldn’t have happened without School Committee input.

“I was told there would be shared decision-making for shared staff positions,” she said. “The town made that decision unilaterally and I don’t know the legal implication yet since [Dykeman] was under contract as an interim with the schools.”

Councilman Mark Schwager said the council voted to approve the June 30th personnel changes during executive session June 26, though he voted against it.

“The process is appalling. We’ve really lost our credibility in the way it’s gone down,” he said. “It’s just overreach. I don’t understand why. I think we could have accomplished many of the laudable goals [initially outlined in April] if we had used a more reasoned and slower process.”

As for the mood of town employees, “I’m not sure how you could be in Town Hall right now and be your most productive,” Schwager said. “There certainly is merit to consolidation but you can’t even look at that unless the process is credible.”

Town Council President Sue Cienki and Councilors Sean Todd and Andy Deutsch did not respond to interview requests.

The School Committee will meet in the library at Cole Middle School at 8 a.m., Wednesday, July 5.

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