Supt. Donoyan fired; gag order bars explanation
Supt. Donoyan fired; gag order bars explanation
WOONSOCKET - Taxpayers will likely never know why Supt. Giovanna Donoyan has been fired from the Woonsocket Education Department.
They will likely not find out who initiated her termination, or even how their top elected official - Mayor Lisa Baldelli Hunt - voted.
This was a decision of the Woonsocket Budget Commission. Members voted against renewing Donoyan's contract during an executive session, and according to commission member and City Council President Albert Brien, minutes from the meeting were sealed, making details of the vote and other discussion of the superintendent's job performance closed to the public.
The session was held prior to the June 4 meeting, and the vote was not mentioned later during the public session, leaving residents largely unaware of the state-appointed board's decision to eliminate their highest school executive until she had been gone for nearly two weeks.
The vote was held in such secrecy that School Board Chairman George Lacouture said he learned of the decision a press release sent out 12 days later on June 16.
Even after the information was out this week, no one was talking. Budget Committee Chairperson Dina Dutremble did not respond to requests for information.
Public government boards are usually barred from such secrecy by the Open Meetings Act, a state law aimed at providing transparency and giving citizens fair access to lawmakers' decision-making process.
But the Woonsocket Budget Commission, a state-appointed board that's been in charge of the city's fiscal matters since May of 2012, is exempt from those rules. (See related story page 5.)
What was clear this week is that although Donoyan technically still works for the city until her contract runs out on Aug. 31, she stopped going to the High Street administration building soon after the vote. Patrick McGee, who has served as the district's curriculum director since 2012, began filling in for the superintendent at meetings.
"The majority of the Budget Commission believes that it is in the best interest of the Woonsocket Education Department to start the transition to new leadership as soon as possible," wrote attorney Edmond Alves in a communication about the change sent out from the state Department of Revenue's office on June 16.
Donoyan, who had previously served as the assistant superintendent for the North Providence school system, was hired in 2011 to replace former Supt. Robert Gerardi when he took a position in Maynard, Mass. In April, the School Board voted to extend the superintendent's $150,000 contract until June 2015, saying it would give members time to further evaluate her performance.
More recently, a petition was circulated by Alice Fromich, an employee in the Woonsocket Education Department's accounts payable office, to gauge the district's confidence in Donoyan's leadership. According to reports, Fromich was unaware that while she was collecting votes, Donoyan was already being released from the department.
The commission's closed session vote to end the superintendent's employment overrides the school board's earlier decision.
"The Budget Commission revisited the School Committee action to extend, and they rescinded and rejected that," said Brien.
In response to numerous calls for comment, The Breeze received a single email this week from Alves.
"The resolution evidencing the non-renewal decision of the Commission has been sealed since it involves a personnel matter," said Alves. "At this point, all I can add... is that the Budget Commission will seek input from the mayor and School Committee as it finalizes job specifications for the new superintendent and appoints a screening and interview committee. The commission will post and advertise for this position as soon as possible."
According to John Marion, executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island, the clause exempting the commission from open meetings law was passed during the final days of legislative session, when rules aimed providing transparency are suspended.
"The bill that created the Budget Commission process was partially the result of the rush that occurs this time of year," said Marion.
Such legislation, Marion said, is exactly why advocates of open government are opposed to the General Assembly's end of year routine.
"The problem is not necessarily with the commission, it's with the law," said Marion.
Still, he pointed out, the exemption doesn't prevent the commission from sharing information.
"If they wanted to go beyond what's required by law they could reveal some details," he said. "It's not like anyone is preventing them from letting people know how the decision was made."
McGee has been appointed interim superintendent and is scheduled to be confirmed at the commission's June 18 meeting.
Also on the agenda is "approval of an implementation coordinator for full-day kindergarten."
"The mayor is intent on implementing it as of the fall term and that will be done," Brien said.
According to a communication from commission, Donoyan will be paid through the remainder of her contract period "in part by use of accrued leave."