A Super Contract?
The mayor of North Providence has waged a public - and at times personal - campaign this fall criticizing the employment contract for the town’s school superintendent. But the chairman of the School Committee shot back this week, saying that provisions written into the agreement were put there specifically to protect the superintendent from periodic political salvos from Town Hall. Jim Hummel hears from both sides.
North Providence Town Hall is just a block away from the town’s School Department. But during his decade plus tenure as mayor, Charles Lombardi at times has been miles apart on issues that have come up with his counterparts at the school administration building.
The latest: the school superintendent’s contract.
Lombardi: “(I) received a call from a gentlemen and he said hey you seen the superintendent’s contract? I said no. Well you must have signed it. I said I don’t sign that, that’s the school department’s duty and business. Well you need to take a look at it. I said where you going with this? He said, no, no - you take a look at it and call me back.”
The superintendent is Joseph Goho, the longtime principal of North Providence High School, who took over as superintendent in early 2019 after the previous superintendent pleaded guilty to embezzlement charges.
Goho asked for two specific things that Lombardi takes issue with: the School Committee must give him a two-year advance notice if it wants want to go in a different direction and replace him without cause.
He is also guaranteed an administrator’s job at the high school until he reaches retirement age, at the salary when he left the principal’s job, and any increases since then. Goho is 52.
Lombardi calls it a ‘lifetime’ agreement that is unfair to the taxpayers and should never have been signed without consulting the town.
Lombardi: “Here, even if we made a change we now have to create another building administrator’s position, paying the salary that that person was making in the 2018-2019 budget. And why would you saddle the taxpayers with that?”
But the chairman of the School Committee, Frank Pallotta shot back this week, saying that provisions written into the agreement were put there specifically to protect Goho from periodic political salvos from Town Hall like that the School Department has faced since Lombardi became mayor in 2007.
In a telephone interview, Pallotta said of the mayor: “It doesn’t take much to set him off. I told him we’re an autonomous body by law and that we don’t live in a dictatorship.”
Lombardi: “They spend the money like they don’t like it. I know one thing, Jim, they don’t treat it like it’s their money. Because if you were in business - and as you know I come from business - you don’t do this. You don’t do this. I think it was the superintendent that made the statement, well you know we don’t have the availability to raise money. Oh, I said I got the answer for that. Maybe it’s time you send out your own tax bills.”
A Hummel Report review of superintendent contracts from neighboring communities shows that none has a two-year provision; rather they range from 120 days to a year.
The lawyer who drafted the contract tells The Hummel Report that Goho’s salary - $155,000 when he became superintendent last year - is in the middle of the pack for superintendents in Rhode Island. It wasn’t pay Goho was concerned about, he said, as much as job security and the ability to go back to his old job if he wanted to.
Goho has stayed out of the public fray, and declined to speak with The Hummel Report.
Lombardi turned up the heat over the summer, after he contacted each of the seven members of the School Committee, asking for an explanation of why they voted for Goho’s contract. He only got an answer from Pallotta.
Lombardi: “And he thought that he could answer for all the school committee members. I said, that’s not going to happen. Everyone is elected. By different people and they need to answer for their actions. What really bothered me is that I sent each and every school committee member a note, asking them to explain to me individually why they supported this contract? Didn’t get an answer.”
Two weeks later the mayor sent them another email asking for explanation and also copied the Town Council. When Lombardi did not get an answer he personally paid for a full-page ad in a local weekly newspaper the Valley Breeze, at a cost of $800. He titled it: An Open Letter from Mayor Charles Lombardi.
In bold headlines he wrote, School Committee is playing ‘Let’s Make a Deal.’ He said the School Committee should have run the contract by the mayor’s office and Town Council “since it will be the citizens of North Providence who will be paying for this deal for years to come.”
He then encouraged readers of the ad to contact individual committee members and listed their personal phone numbers.
Pallotta took exception to that:
“I thought taking out that ad was very low to do,” Pallotta said. “I certainly didn’t appreciate that and Joe (Goho) didn’t appreciate that.
Pallotta said the committee’s focus is keeping someone who has proven himself to the district. The Rhode Island Interscholastic League named Goho the 2018 Administrator of the Year
Lombardi: “To me, anyone that signed that contract, I think that’s an insult to the taxpayers and I think the taxpayers need to know about it. I can guarantee you this: no way that I would have signed that.”
But it looks like the mayor’s complaints are falling on deaf ears.
The School Committee, at its September meeting, voted unanimously to extend Goho’s contract - retroactive to July and through June, 2023. The committee did not consult Lombardi before approving it. In North Providence, Jim Hummel, for The Hummel Report.