2018-07-05 / Election News

School Committee Challenges Superintendent

Some Call for Resignation
By Andy Long

Newport School Superintendent Colleen Jermain came under scrutiny by several members of the Newport School Committee, at its meeting on June 28. Three of the seven committee members expressed support for her: Jo Eva Gaines, Sandra Flowers and Kathleen Silvia, while Vice Chair Raymond Gomes and Rebecca Bolan were uncommitted, and Chair David Hanos, along with David Carlin said it is time for a change.

After the committee appointed Laurie Sullivan as principal of Thompson Middle School, it evaluated Jermain’s job performance. Jermain requested that the discussion be held in open session, rather than executive.

“I don’t have any faith or trust in the superintendent,” Hanos said. “Her job performance, I’m not satisfied with it at all.”

Hanos questioned the recent revelation of the estimated $154,000 deficit that the district faces as the fiscal year ends. “I can’t get a straight answer out of anyone,” he said.

He expressed doubt as to whether district officials knew of the deficit only two weeks ago and criticized Jermain’s management style and demeanor. Referencing a meeting held earlier, he said, “When I’m asking for the finance director to speak, I no longer want to listen to the superintendent. I need you [Jermain] to speak when you’re spoken to.”

Hanos also criticized scheduling at Thompson Middle School and the use of three more buses than expected. “I believe that Superintendent Jermain,” he said, “for this particular district, does not have the skillsets for the whole package.”

Carlin was also critical of Jermain. “The finances of the Newport School Committee are a mess and we have to hold someone accountable for it,” he said.

Bolan said the morale in the school district is at “an all-time low.” She also talked about the budget deficit. “I’m sure many of you have heard from people within the city who feel that we have a real problem on our hands. I feel that the deficit is a big, big problem,” she said.

Gaines spoke to the criticisms of Jermain’s detractors by acknowledging that there were problems with the management of the district but went on to say that they pre-date the superintendent’s arrival. “I came on the school committee in 2001. Since that time, trying to keep track, I’ve come up with seven different people in that business office,” she said.

“The school department was borrowing money from the upcoming year to pay for the current year,” she added, then described one-time practices of the school committee. “We were getting business reports on paper with pen, scribbled out. We were not getting the professional reports we’re getting now.”

“The bottom line is that this is a train wreck that was bound to happen,” Gaines said, while praising the cooperation now in place between the district and the city. “Since it has happened now, we have the resources of the city to solve it. Before there was no cooperation with the city.”

Kathleen Silvia said, “I think the school committee is not without blame either. Did any of us ask where the money is coming from?”

She cited, as an example of how the committee also runs up expenses, the attendance of their lawyer at their meetings. “Legal fees. There have been legal expenses, which is not a bad thing, but we decided we wanted Mr. Galvin [outside counsel] to attend all our meetings. There are costs there.”

Flowers responded to Carlin’s suggestion that some of the information he received was misleading. “Whenever you get an answer, that is the answer; you’re not going to ask the same question over and over again and expect a different answer,” adding that many of the concerns about the lack of information were being addressed by Carlos Colley, the business manager and Director of Administrative Services, in his recent review of the district’s finances.

Jermain said, “I believe how we treat each other and speak to each other is important… I’ve had enough of the yelling and the threatening. As far as morale, I disagree. I believe that morale has improved.”

She said she inherited a $600,000 deficit when she took over in 2016, which made matters difficult, and that the relationship with the city has improved. She said that she informed Hanos of the impending deficit as soon as she learned of it.

“Every single decision I make is for the best of the students, the teachers and the community,” she said.

Jermain said after the meeting that she has no plans to resign. “Absolutely not,” she said. “I love the city, the schools, the administrators, the teachers. I want to build the best public schools for Newport. I’m very appreciative of the city manager, the city finance director, the mayor, the city council for supporting us as they have and the committee members who support me.”

“I believe we need a new superintendent for the Newport Public Schools,” Hanos said, after the meeting.

Bolan offered feedback in a call with NTW. “I think we need to address this in executive session. I think that is [where] this discussion needs to take place.”

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