By PAUL J. SPETRINI
NORTH KINGSTOWN—Tuesday 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 wasn’t 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 “talent level and his credentials”.
As first reported in the Valley Breeze newspaper, Cumberland’s 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.
“We have a lot of discussion going on in Cumberland about education,” Mutter said. “And we’re dead serious about it and looking to make some improvements so it’s a jump for us in salary. I think it’s a few thousand more than he may be getting there but we’re dead serious about making gains and we felt that’s what we needed to do.”
When asked for comment following Tuesday evening’s 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.
“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 that has common goals and objectives regarding education.
“I think I’m looking for a place where I can work with the committee and really get some cohesion.”
Thornton was selected over Lazzareschi largely because of his background.
“Dr. 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 we’re wrestling with here,” Mutter said. “We 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 we’re looking to go.”
Page said the decision by the Cumberland School Committee wasn’t a surprising one but that NK will be ready to move forward one way or another after Thornton decides.
“I’m not surprised,” she said. “I think Dr. Thornton was a very good candidate. He’s certainly a good Superintendent here so I’ll be disappointed if he takes the job but we’ll have to move on. We’ll have to have a special meeting to set up a search committee and all the things that go on there. I’d much rather have him stay but I’m not surprised that they want him too.”
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.
“My gut sense is Dr. Thornton is an authentic, honest, straight-forward guy,” he said. “I would expect him to honor whatever needs to be honored in North Kingstown. We’d be honored to have Dr. Thornton so if that means 30 days or 60 days, that’s OK.”
In other NK school news Tuesday, the committee listened to a presentation from Trish Cawley, Food Services Director, on how the district’s food prices compared to other lunch options such as D’Angelos and Wendy’s. 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 Cawley’s 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.