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By PAUL J. SPETRINI
NORTH KINGSTOWNâTuesday night, the North Kingstown School Committee held a special business meeting in which it elected member Kim Page as chairperson and Richard Welch as vice chairperson of the committee but the most newsworthy item of the night for the school district wasnât what was happening in NK, it was what was happening 35 miles away.
By a 6-1 margin, the Cumberland School Committee voted to select NK Superintendent Dr. Phillip Thornton for its vacant Superintendent position.
After a long search that initially yielded nearly 30 candidates, Thornton was selected over Nathan Bishop Middle School principal Michael Lazzareschi and, according to Cumberland chairman Jeffrey J. Mutter, will be offered an aggressive and competitive salary that reflects his âtalent level and his credentialsâ.
As first reported in the Valley Breeze newspaper, Cumberlandâs offer to Thornton will likely be $150,000, or $3,000 more than his income in NK. That amount is an increase of roughly $23,000 from what outgoing Cumberland Superintendent Donna Morelle was making.
âWe have a lot of discussion going on in Cumberland about education,â Mutter said. âAnd weâre dead serious about it and looking to make some improvements so itâs a jump for us in salary. I think itâs a few thousand more than he may be getting there but weâre dead serious about making gains and we felt thatâs what we needed to do.â
When asked for comment following Tuesday eveningâs NK School Committee meeting, Thornton said 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 choice.
âI think itâs nice to hear,â Thornton said. âI went through a process and people thought highly of me. Itâs nice to hear that I was thought of in that way.â
When asked what the most important factor in his decision will be, Thornton said itâs not so much about the money as it is his ability to work with a school committee that has common goals and objectives regarding education.
âI think Iâm looking for a place where I can work with the committee and really get some cohesion.â
Thornton was selected over Lazzareschi largely because of his background.
âDr. Thornton was a really straight-forward, honest guy who brought all the credentials necessary and the experience and wrestled with some of the issues that weâre wrestling with here,â Mutter said. âWe just felt that he was ready from Day One and I think we felt that he was the guy who would take us to where weâre looking to go.â
Page said the decision by the Cumberland School Committee wasnât a surprising one but that NK will be ready to move forward one way or another after Thornton decides.
âIâm not surprised,â she said. âI think Dr. Thornton was a very good candidate. Heâs certainly a good Superintendent here so Iâll be disappointed if he takes the job but weâll have to move on. Weâll have to have a special meeting to set up a search committee and all the things that go on there. Iâd much rather have him stay but Iâm not surprised that they want him too.â
Mutter, meanwhile, said that while he knows it will take time for the committee to negotiate the final details with Thornton, and for Thornton to finish up his obligations with NK, he hopes the Superintendent will be in place as soon as possible.
âMy gut sense is Dr. Thornton is an authentic, honest, straight-forward guy,â he said. âI would expect him to honor whatever needs to be honored in North Kingstown. Weâd be honored to have Dr. Thornton so if that means 30 days or 60 days, thatâs OK.â
In other NK school news Tuesday, the committee listened to a presentation from Trish Cawley, Food Services Director, on how the districtâs food prices compared to other lunch options such as DâAngelos and Wendyâs. According to Cawley, prices in NK are severely undervalued and should be increased in an effort to close a nearly $150,000 deficit in the food services account.
Following Cawleyâs presentation, the committee elected Page as chair, 5-0, and Welch as vice chair, 3-2 with members Bill Mudge and Joe Thompson dissenting.
Members Mel Benson and Richard Welch were absent from the meeting.
In addition, Thornton informed the committee that the Rhode Island Department of Education is moving forward with plans to create a uniform evaluation for teachers in the state and the committee approved changes to both the coaching policy and the grading policy in the district.
The next meeting of the NK School Committee is scheduled for August 9.