At Everett's school committee meeting on Tuesday, Michael McLaughlin insisted that when he filed a motion to strip the city's first school superintendent of color from her role as secretary of the school committee, it wasn’t a bid to curtail the superintendent’s power.
McLaughlin, a former city councilor and newly elected school committee member, said he was only trying to help.
“There’s no question that her role, responsibility and duties have changed drastically throughout this past few years as the pandemic has rolled on,” he said. “If we can look at this as a possibility to help relieve some of that stress and pressure.”
School Superintendent Priya Tahiliani said she is handling the pressure of two school committee meetings per month.
“I believe that’s part of my duties in serving this district and it’s really important for me to be part of these meetings,” she said. “I think providing you all with information, updates, answers to your questions — I do not believe that at all to be taking away from, but rather part of, and enhancing my jobs as the superintendent of schools.”
Tahiliani’s tone was cordial, but one day earlier she had filed a 31-page complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination accusing McLaughlin of being “a crony” to Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria in an effort to push her out of her job.
Trying to oust her from the school committee, Tahiliani said in the complaint, was illegal and part of a pattern of discriminatory behavior against her since she took the job in December 2019. She said that behavior includes the mayor withholding school funding, ignoring Tahiliani and instead inviting white male subordinates to share information at school committee meetings, and accusing her of hating white people when she hired people of color into high level positions.
According to the complaint, McLaughlin filed a Freedom of Information Act to request access to notes that led to the hiring of a newly created chief of equity role, among other positions.
In a district where more than 80% of the students are non-white, Tahiliani accuses the mayor of having a "racist agenda."
“During his reelection campaign, Mayor DeMaria told School Committee members and EPS employees that they needed to 'get me out.' He has publicly threatened staff to 'remember what team [they] are on,'" Tahiliani alleges in the MCAD complaint.
She points out that DeMaria has been Everett’s mayor since 2007 and always had a seat on the school committee, but it wasn’t until she became superintendent that he filed a home rule petition that would allow him to cast a vote on the committee. Her predecessor, Frederick Foresteire, is a white man who held the superintendent job for 30 years until he was forced to resign abruptly after several women accused him of sexual assault.
This is not the first time a high-profile woman of color has clashed with Everett’s mayor. Gerly Adrien, Everett’s first Black city councilor, last year accused DeMaria of verbally attacking her during a remote meeting.
Adrien joined the public comment period at the beginning of the school committee meeting Tuesday night to offer support for Tahiliani.
“I truly support her and I don’t like what I’m seeing so far, especially when we have somebody who decided to come here to work and put our students first,” said Adrien. ”To see the actions that the school committee wants to bring forth tonight, it’s sad and it’s frustrating. And it’s disappointing.”
DeMaria was not at the Tuesday night meeting when McLaughlin walked back several proposals that other school committee members questioned as potentially illegal or beyond the scope of the committee, including requesting a hiring plan from the superintendent. His proposal to remove the superintendent from the job of school committee secretary was sent to committee.
Citing a pending legal matter, DeMaria's office declined comment.