Lawyers for former Everett Public Schools Superintendent Priya Tahiliani say an independent investigator found no evidence to support claims that she bullied and intimidated school employees.

The allegations against her were publicly discussed in a school committee meeting in late October and were widely reported. But the school committee has refused to release results of the investigation, even months after investigators finished the report.

Supporters say Tahiliani — the first woman and person of color to lead Everett’s schools — is paying a price for trying to go against Everett’s six-term Mayor Carlo DeMaria by pushing for change in a city with a deeply entrenched political culture.

“The final report includes a lengthy analysis of the 12 accusations and concludes that every single one of the complaints were unfounded and many bordered on frivolous,” Tahiliani’s lawyers from the law firm Harrington Heep said in a statement. The lawyers were allowed to read the report but not copy it.

Robert Galvin, attorney for the Everett School Committee, said he rejected the “characterizations” of the investigation results by Tahiliani and her lawyers, but declined to provide further comment citing “personnel matters” and Tahiliani’s pending discrimination suit against the school committee.

In late April, Tahiliani pleaded with school committee members to allow her to see the report and help bring the matter to a close.

“For me, there is no moving forward. For my family, there is no coming back from this. The harm that has been done is irreparable, and every day that you have allowed to pass without some resolution has been a day that I have struggled,” she wrote in an email to the school committee, shared with GBH News.

Tahiliani’s lawyers said two months passed before they were allowed to view the report. Given the allegations aired in a public meeting in November, they said, the results of the report — even in summary with names redacted — should be discussed in a public meeting. Tahiliani may need to take legal steps to “clear her name,” they added.

“It has now been made clear by their counsel that the School Committee and Mayor intend to do nothing and to allow the pall of these investigations to be held over Dr. Tahiliani’s head even after her innocence has been proven,” the attorneys said.

Everett school committee member Samantha Lambert said while she could not speak on behalf of the school committee, she personally felt the investigation results should be public.

”Speaking as an individual, I am disappointed and angered that Dr. Tahiliani, the committee, and the community are being prevented from any closure regarding this taxpayer-funded investigation.” Lambert said. “I fear the failure to act with transparency and accountability signals a return to a culture we thought we were overcoming.”

Hiring an outsider

Tahiliani was the city’s first superintendent who did not come up through the ranks of the Everett school district. She was appointed unanimously by the Everett School Committee in December 2019, replacing Frederick Foresteire, who held the post for nearly three decades, despite multiple ethics violations. He was placed on leave amid a sexual harassment investigation and later resigned. Last year he pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting two women and was convicted of a third sexual assault.

Glenn Koocher, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, was part of Everett’s superintendent search effort after Foresteire’s resignation and said there was a determination to hire an outsider.

“Everybody I was talking to said ‘we need to clean house,’” said Koocher.

Tahiliani said she was told her job “was to change the culture and to help the school community heal,” she wrote in her April email to the school committee.

But according to Tahiliani and several members of the school committee, the mayor fought her over hiring decisions, budget cuts and her call to renovate an old school building to relieve overcrowding.

Paying the price for 'crossing swords’

In March of last year, despite broadly positive performance reviews, Everett’s school committee voted not to renew her contract. It was a move the mayor had called for months earlier.

A couple weeks later, Tahiliani filed a discrimination suit laying out multiple allegations that Mayor DeMaria wanted to get rid of her. That suit is now in initial hearings in federal court in Massachusetts.

Erin Deveney, a spokesperson for DeMaria, has denied the allegations in the discrimination suit.

Tom Scott, co-executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, which gave Tahiliani a statewide award in 2022 for her work in Everett, said she was paying a price for “crossing swords” with the mayor.

“The kids were at the center of almost every decision she was going to make. And sometimes that ruffled some feathers. And she didn’t play by the politics that I think was going on at the time,” Scott said.

In October, as Tahiliani was completing her contract, the complaints against her were filed and she was placed on paid administrative leave in a public meeting.

Days later, the school committee appointed an interim superintendent, William Hart, a former professor and administrator at Bunker Hill Community College and a chairman of Everett’s Board of Assessors for more than 17 years. He had received an emergency superintendent’s license from the state less than two weeks before the school committee voted to put Tahiliani on leave.

“I know we all know Bill, and we all love Bill, OK? And we need somebody to fill a void for a short period of time, and he can definitely do that,” DeMaria told his fellow school committee members at the time of Hart’s appointment.

A man in a blue suit jacket and a pink and red tie sits in front of a mic looking to the left
Mayor Carlo DeMaria in a meeting of Everett's School Committee on January 17, 2023
Everett School Committee via Everett Community Television Everett Community Television

Employees filed complaints against Tahiliani directly to city hall’s human resources department rather than to the schools’ human resources department or the teachers’ union.

“You had ten employees who feared coming to the HR department in the school,” DeMaria told school committee members at the time. “Let’s get this investigation going.”

According to Tahiliani’s attorneys, the investigator for Compliance Plus, a human resources consultancy hired by Everett, “... interviewed witnesses, reviewed 150 documents, and stated in the summary report and each of the individual reports that there was either ‘no evidence’ or ‘insufficient evidence to support any of the claims raised against Superintendent Tahiliani.’”

Now, in light of the investigation’s conclusions, Tahiliani’s lawyers said it was “baffling” that she had been put on leave during the investigation.

The situation doesn’t surprise Scott, who said superintendencies across the country have become politicized.

“Unfortunately, politics today is, you know, its a blood sport. And it bleeds into the superintendency more than we would like,” Scott said.

But despite the “unknowns” created by the withholding of the report, Scott predicted Tahiliani would succeed.

“I think she’s high-quality superintendent material, especially given what I can see in terms of working with 275 superintendents over a 20 year period,” Scott said.“Eventually I think she will clearly land and she’ll do a very high quality job in whatever position she takes.”

'The politics of old Everett’

Tahiliani was the first superintendent of color in a school district where more than 80% of the student body is non-white but where more than 85% of teachers are white.

The schools’ student bodies reflect the dramatic demographic change the city has undergone in the past decade, but its political leadership is largely white. DeMaria, the city’s mayor and a voting member of the school committee, is now in his sixth term.

School committee members who had voted to deny Tahiliani a new contract in March of last year were mostly voted out in the local election 8 months later.

Her supporters speculated that the incoming school committee might rehire Tahiliani. But in late December, the outgoing school committee quickly hired Hart as a permanent superintendent just before the new school committee took their seats.

In her letter to the school committee Tahiliani called it a “cruel irony” that she had been “publicly branded” by the committee and was now suffering “an even greater injustice” at the hands of the committee withholding a report that could clear her name.

“I don’t think she did anything. I think that the powers that be wanted a change that was more aligned to the politics of old Everett,” said Koocher of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees.

Corrected: June 13, 2024
A prior version of this story misspelled the name of the law firm representing Priya Tahiliani.