July 7, 2017 – Not so fast, the School Committee told members of the Town Council and Acting Town Manager Gayle Corrigan Wednesday morning (7/5), during a two-hour session held in response to Corrigan’s June 30 firing of town personnel and her decision to move school employees into new joint school-town positions.
“It was my understanding that a proposal was going to be put forward at the Town Council meeting June 26 as to … what was being recommended for town consolidation and I went to the meeting … expecting that to be discussed,” said School Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Mark on Wednesday. “I heard that agenda item had been shifted to July 10. When the memo came out [Friday], it was very surprising.”
Mark said Town Council President Sue Cienki called her after the vote to say that the Town Council had met in executive session and made the personnel decisions.
“I thought the school side would have the same opportunity … and that we would jointly vet the proposal, jointly make decisions about consolidated positions, and that we would jointly follow the process which in my experience is the appropriate process,” she said. “I was very much of the opinion that decisions about shared staff would be made collectively.”
Council President Cienki, who attended the first part of the meeting Wednesday, defended Corrigan’s actions Thursday.
“I had met with Carolyn and School Supt. Victor [Mercurio] and the meeting went very well about the consolidation plans,” Cienki said. “I took the plan back to the Town Council to vet and I’m surprised that Carolyn didn’t talk to the School Committee about the plan.”
Cienki cited the start of the new fiscal year, July 1, and the need to “begin the year on track” as the reason for the June 30 actions.
“The Town Council was not usurping any authority or responsibility from the School Committee,” she said.
Carolyn Mark wasn’t the only school official to see things differently.
“If there’s consolidation of a position that would alter a school department position, we need to take action on that,” School Committee member Matt Plain said in an interview Thursday (7/6).
That’s because the school department is required by state law to have an organizational chart that’s approved by the School Committee – changing the chart means getting School Committee approval.
“Regardless of the desire of the Town Council and or jointly of the School Committee and the Town Council to consolidate certain services, there needs to be a discussion as to how that’s facilitated because there are a lot of legal ramifications,” schools lawyer Matt Oliverio said during the meeting.
At issue is one position in particular – that of administrative assistant to the school finance director – because the person holding that job, Rose Emilio, was named human resources director for the town and schools on June 30. Emilio has been doing human resources work for the school district as one part of her job. While school officials recognized that Emilio’s job would be one of those potentially affected by consolidation as laid out by the town June 26, they said they expected to be part of the decision-making process in how that unfolded.
Not only were school officials apparently caught off guard by the June 30 announcement. Emilio, one of the employees directly affected by the decisions, was also surprised, according to Oliverio.
“She said she’d had a conversation with Ms. Corrigan asking if she would be interested in additional responsibilities from the town which would come with additional pay,” Oliverio said of Emilio. “I don’t think she committed one way or another. She did tell me there was no discussion about her becoming human resources director. So she was just as shocked as all of you were shocked that she was named human resources director.”
By the end of Wednesday’s meeting, Committee member Plain said he was feeling a re-set button had been pressed and that school employees were still holding the same job descriptions they had before June 30.
Town Solicitor David D’Agostino agreed.
“As I understand it, Rose Emilio continues to do her school work with no added municipal responsibilities,” he said Thursday, “pending School Committee agreement or buy-in to the One Town model.”
For the other school department employee affected by Corrigan’s June 30 announcement – Providence Analytics colleague Linda Dykeman, who Corrigan named finance director of the town and schools – she will continue to work 10 hours for the school department but dedicate the rest of her time to the town, D’Agostino said. Dykeman had been appointed by the School Committee in June to serve part-time as overseeing finance director for the EGSD.
One other area to be consolidated is IT, but no actions have yet been taken to combine the town and school IT departments.
Cienki outlined the process for that work.
“The IT consolidation piece involves having School Committee and Town Council representation, with the town manager and superintendent and an independent fifth person to develop an organizational chart for IT,” with implementation set for the fall, she said.
As for the School Committee, member Jeff Dronzek was happy that they met Wednesday and had a conversation.
“I’m glad we had it so we could get out in the open what was going on,” he said Thursday. “I think it’s important to show the town as a whole that we are willing to have our discussions out in the open.”
The Town Council meets next on Monday, July 10, at 7 p.m. at Town Hall. D’Agostino said consolidation would be on the agenda and that School Committee members were welcome to attend, but that it would not be a joint meeting.
The School Committee meets next on Tuesday, July 11, in the library at Cole Middle School, at 7 p.m.
– Elizabeth F. McNamara