Warren Town Council members are incensed about the Bristol Warren Regional School Committee’s decision Monday night to appoint a new school superintendent from within, without conducting a search for the $140,000 per year position.
School committee members voted to promote Mario Andrade to superintendent, effective July 1, with a three-year contract. He will replace his former boss, Melinda Thies, who announced her retirement two weeks ago. The vote was 7 to 1, with school committee member Susan Rancourt of Warren opposed.
“I’m voting no on this, not because of the person that’s being recommended, but because of the process,” she said.
When asked by audience member Linda Rimoshytus why the committee did not conduct a full, public search, committee chair Paul Silva said:
“The only comment I can make … is that the school committee as a whole had a discussion … It was the consensus of this group that he (Mr. Andrade) was more than qualified. Rather than take any more time, expense or anything else to see if anybody else was out there, we believed we already had the best person available.”
Added committee member Marge McBride, “I’d vote nine times” for Mr. Andrade.
One town over, news of the appointment has angered members of the Warren Town Council, several of whom noted that two Bristol council members, Ed Stuart and Nathan Calouro, were at the meeting and according to committee chairman Paul Silva were there only to witness their colleague’s promotion.
“It really looks like it was a done deal,” said Warren Town Council president Chris Stanley.
“It speaks to the constant what we believe is collusion between the Bristol council and the district. At the end of the day it’s sinful.”
Councilor Cathie Tattrie, who sits on the Joint Finance Committee along with Mr. Stanley and councilor Scott Lial, said the only positive from the meeting was that one of Warren’s representatives, Ms. Rancourt, voted against the appointment. Apart from that, the process was a sham.
“I think they should have put it out there to see what else was available,” Ms. Tattrie said. “That doesn’t even seem like a process to me.”
The fact that two Bristol councilors — one the chairman of the JFC and the other a member — were in the audience wasn’t lost on her either, she added.
“The problem I have with it is that there’s been a closeness between the Bristol council and the school committee that Warren doesn’t have access to,” she said. “It’s unfortunate, and it’s not the only time that they have been a cohesive unit without us knowing about it.”
Neither Mr. Calouro nor Mr. Stuart could be reached Thursday morning. But school committee member John Saviano of Warren said he doesn’t buy the collusion theory. Simply put, he said, Bristol councilors show up more at meetings because they are more involved.
“Listen, I feel badly about what I’m going to say right now,” he said. “I love Warren, I’m a true local. But Bristol members come (to school committee meetings) far more often than Warren members.”
“This appointment was posted on the agenda (which is distributed to Warren and Bristol council members). Don’t you think someone from Warren would have said, ‘I should be at that meeting to see who the superintendent is going to be’? The only ones who came were (Mr. Calouro and Mr. Stuart).”
“Shame on the Warren council members for not being there. How the hell could they not know?”
Though he anticipated some backlash from the vote, Mr. Saviano said he believes the committee made the right decision. The committee’s only hiring powers are to appoint a superintendent and legal counsel, and the board is not required to have an open search process, he said. In this case, members had heard for some time that Ms. Thies was considering leaving. When she gave her resignation two weeks ago and stated her intention to attend law school at Roger Williams University, committee members met in closed session to discuss the next step.
“There’s two ways to do a search,” he said. “One way is to advertise in all the association newspapers and magazines, and look for whoever is the best and most qualified. The board, in its infinite wisdom, we had a meeting and the board felt that Mario had done a very good job. I think the board felt, ‘Why go out to look when we have someone very good from within?’”
Bristol Town Council chairwoman Mary Parella agreed.
“The schools are high performing, the district is really doing well,” she said. “They’re really making progress on the academic side. Different times and different circumstances warrant different responses. If you have someone doing the job and things have been going really well, then if the right deputy or assistant has been a big part of that, then I don’t really see the issue.”
For Warren councilors, the issue remains, and members suggested that there is a difference between what is allowable and what is right. Since it is the school board’s prerogative to fill a position however it sees fit and does not have to answer to either council, Ms. Tattrie and Mr. Stanley said the town does not have much recourse other than outrage:
“It lacks transparency,” Mr. Stanley said. “We’re shocked, but it’s symptomatic of what’s been going on all along. There’s nothing we can do as a body except scream really loud, other than maybe penning off a letter to the (school committee) chairman for such an unspeakable act.”