Brockton appoints new interim superintendent amid turmoil

Brockton appoints new interim superintendent amid turmoil

Brockton Public Schools, a school district struggling with budget deficits, leadership changes and school violence, has appointed former Everett schools superintendent Priya Tahiliani as interim schools superintendent.

“We believe she brings a wealth of experience and competent leadership to the district at a critical moment,” Brockton Mayor Robert Sullivan and School Board member Tony Rodrigues said in a joint statement to GBH News.

Tahiliani will replace interim Superintendent James Cobbs, who filled in for Superintendent Michael Thomas while he was on medical leave last year. Cobbs, a former assistant superintendent for the district, will return to that role.

According to Tony Rodrigues, vice chairman of the school board, Thomas remains on leave pending the results of an investigation into a $18.3 million budget deficit in 2023.

In addition to financial problems, Brockton schools have recently struggled with student disputes and teacher firings. The district laid off 113 teachers last year.

Tahiliani is familiar with the rough world of school administrative politics.

In 2023, Everett schools voted against renewing Tahiliani’s contract, despite her popularity among students and parents and generally positive reviews of her performance. She clashed with Mayor Carlo DeMaria and members of the Everett School Board over budget cuts, hiring, and even her role in school board meetings.

She filed a lawsuit against DeMaria and the school committee, alleging discrimination and harassment and a coordinated attempt to force her out of the job. DeMaria has denied those allegations.

And just like Brockton, Everett became a school district that paid two superintendents.

The Everett School Committee placed Tahiliani on paid administrative leave and hired an interim superintendent while the bullying allegations against her were investigated.

Her lawyers said the investigative report, never released by Everett authorities, contained no evidence to support the allegations against her.

Tahiliani’s assumption of office as Brockton school principal depends on ongoing contract negotiations.

Tom Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, said it is becoming more common for schools to hire interim superintendents, citing the current “combative atmosphere” in school districts and local governments.

“If there is a matter that needs to be investigated, it is not uncommon today for them to be placed on paid administrative leave for the duration of the investigation,” Scott said.

He said Tahiliani will bring stability to a school district that has endured several years of turmoil, calling her a cheerleader for students. His organization gave her a statewide award for her work in Everett, and he expected more of the same in Brockton.

“Every decision she makes is clearly with students at the center,” he said. “I think that will send a message to the community, the kids, parents, teachers and educators about where their priorities are and where the district’s priorities should be.”

Diane Adame contributed to this story.