CUMBERLAND — The School Committee voted Tuesday night to select North Kingstown School Superintendent Phillip Thornton for its vacant superintendent position.
Thornton will be offered a salary of $150,000, nearly $3,000 more than his current salary.
When asked for comment following Tuesday evening's North Kingstown School Committee meeting, Thornton told the North Kingstown Standard Times he needed more time to process the news and talk it over with his family before he could comment, one way or another, on when he might be ready to make a decision.
Still, he was pleased to find out he was the selection.
“I think it’s nice to hear,” Thornton said. “I went through a process and people thought highly of me. It’s nice to hear that I was thought of in that way.”
When asked what the most important factor in his decision will be, Thornton said it's not so much about the money as it is his ability to work with a school committee.
“I think I’m looking for a place I can work where I can work with the committee and really get some cohesion.”
School Superintendent Donna A. Morelle announced last year that she would not seek renewal of her contract when it expires on Thursday.
Morelle has been under fire since the beginning of the current school year, when busing problems on the first few days of class left some students stranded and others stuck on buses for hours. Committee members had voted to keep bus routes and schedules the same as last year, but say Morelle failed to notify Durham School Services and convey the committee’s Aug. 12, 2010 decision that the bus company return to previous bus routes and stops. Morelle has said that she believes she conveyed the directive to Durham.
At a meeting of the school board shortly after school opened in September, dozens of angry residents testified about late buses, children left at school, and children dropped off at the wrong stops.
The busing fiasco prompted the school board to hold a 90-minute closed door meeting with Morelle to discuss her job performance and handling of the opening of school, specifically the problems with the bus routes. At that meeting the committee agreed to place her contract renewal on the committee's meeting agenda two weeks later, but an eleventh-hour legal maneuver by Morelle forced the committee to table the vote.
Hours before the school board convened its much-anticipated meeting in the high school auditorium — which drew a crowd of about 200 people — Superior Court Judge Bennett Gallo had granted Morelle's attorney, Anthony DeSisto, a restraining order, which bars the School Committee form taking any action on Morelle's contract.
In his complaint to the court, DeSisto argued that the membership of the School Committee would be changing after the general election in November and, therefore, it is the new committee — which could include three or four new members — that should make a decision on Morelle's contract.
Had the committee voted on Morelle's contract last year, it was all but certain that the committee would have agreed not to renew the contract.
The Cumberland Public Schools serve approximately 5,000 students. The budget for the school district presently is approximately $53,000,000. The district is comprised of five elementary schools, two middle schools and a high school. The district has an alternative education program at the high school as well as a pre-school located in one of the elementary schools.
The district employs approximately 550 employees, including 384 certified staff, 135 non-certified staff and 30 administrative personnel.
— With reports from Joseph Fitzgerald