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Late buses, fiscal mismanagement, and administrative legal woes as BPS reopens

As students and teachers return to the classroom this week, Boston Public Schools faces the fallout from an audit showing financial mismanagement at nearly every school, as well as a lawsuit for gender discrimination against former high-ranking administrators.

Oh, and buses have already failed to pick up and drop off students on time. Welcome back, kids.

The litany of woes comes as BPS deals with the aftermath of Superintendent Tommy Chang’s resignation at the start of the summer, three years into his five-year term. Chang, who formerly oversaw the Los Angeles Unified School District, had dealt with numerous blunders during his tenure, including an IRS audit that prompted the most recent review of finances and a disastrous rollout of new start times that outraged parents successfully forced back.

Laura Perille, the former head of educational nonprofit EdVestors, is the interim leader. On that front, with the mishaps piling up at the start of yet another superintendent search, one BPS advocate said the district’s problems shouldn’t scare off potential applicants.

“I think it will actually be a very easy task to find qualified individuals,” said at-large City Councilor Annissa Essaibi-George, a former teacher who chairs the council’s education subcommittee. “The biggest problem is to find who is best suited to lead the district. We have a lot of homebred talent, we need to stop looking elsewhere.”

Whoever gets the top job, there are plenty of problems for a new superintendent to address. Following an IRS audit that found problems in the way student activity accounts were used at a dozen schools, a new audit commissioned by the city found comparable poor record-keeping at nearly every school. The district is now moving those accounts into a master bank account.

Meanwhile, a former BPS employee is suing the department for $105,000, saying Chang’s new hires after he took over BPS discriminated against her for being female and pregnant, subsequently preventing her from getting other jobs.

A spokesman said BPS would not comment on pending litigation. Asked about the matter, Essaibi-George said she had not seen the lawsuit and would not comment on specifics, but said she was concerned about the allegations.

“We have to stay vigilant, we need to make sure that there is no individual that feels marginalized,” the councilor said. “If there is any indication or indicators suggesting discrimination … we support their right to file a complaint. It’s discouraging and upsetting and saddening to hear that a former city of Boston employee who wants to work with BPS appears to have evidence that they’ve been discriminated against.”

The employee, Thelma DaSilva, had been working in the communications department at BPS since 2011, according to the lawsuit. When Chang took over in 2015, Richard Weir became DaSilva’s supervisor, while Makeeba McCreary became Chang’s chief of staff. Weir left BPS last week, and a department spokesman would not say if his departure was related to the lawsuit, saying BPS does not comment on personnel matters. Calls to the attorneys for McCreary and Weir went unanswered.

The lawsuit charges Weir, McCreary, and Chang with discriminating on the basis of gender and pregnancy and retaliation, as well as interfering with DaSilva’s job offers, and charges McCreary and Chang with aiding and abetting discrimination and retaliation. According to the complaint, Weir questioned whether DaSilva was qualified for her job and said she had a few months to prove herself to him before she left for maternity leave in August. Although DaSilva had received favorable reviews from her previous supervisor, after supervising her for two months, Weir gave DaSilva a performance evaluation saying she needed improvement in two areas. The review prevented DaSilva from getting a raise.

DaSilva filed a complaint with BPS’ office of equity saying she had been discriminated against because of her race, sex, and status as a pregnant woman. According to the lawsuit, Weir delayed approving DaSilva’s maternity leave after learning of the complaint.

After returning from maternity leave, DaSilva met with Weir and McCreary and discussed getting a raise and a new job title, according to the lawsuit. But in April 2016, two days after the office of equity determined BPS had indeed violated district policies about discrimination and retaliation, McCreary told DaSilva she would not be getting a raise, according to the lawsuit. Two months later, DaSilva received a positive evaluation from a new supervisor but was soon after told that her position was being eliminated, and she was offered a job at a lower tier in the BPS salary system.

DaSilva then filed complaints with the office of equity and with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination about her termination. A third party hired by BPS to investigate the complaint filed with the office of equity found no evidence school policies had been violated, but the MCAD complaint was referred to the federal Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, which eventually determined in 2017 that there was “reasonable cause” to believe BPS had discriminated against DaSilva, according to the lawsuit. The EEOC issued a right to sue letter after conciliation failed, though a commission spokesman said the agency is prohibited from commenting any further on complaints.

While issuing her grievances, DaSilva applied for another position in BPS and was offered the job in August. According to the lawsuit, Chang’s office learned of the offer and said she would not be approved, leading the manager to rescind the offer. The lawsuit also alleges DaSilva was placed on a “do not hire” list after she filed her second complaint to the office of equity and the complaint to MCAD.

This article was produced by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and published in DigBoston.

Dan is a reporter who has covered Massachusetts for the Boston Herald and Gatehouse Media.

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