Fall is here, and students are back in their classrooms, but Somersworth’s Assistant School Superintendent Dana Hilliard is still not in the building.
Hilliard, who is also the city’s long-time Democratic mayor, was scheduled to return to his school job Monday after months of leave over alleged unethical conduct. That was until last week, when 94 percent of the local teachers union, the Somersworth Association of Educators, voted against him coming back.
There are currently no calls for Hilliard to leave his elected position as mayor despite allegations of conflicts of interest. In Somersworth, the mayor and city council have the final vote on approving the school budget, meaning Hilliard essentially votes to pay tax dollars to himself.
“If he were a Republican, people would be after his hide,” said Ken Hilton, a Republican who made an unsuccessful bid to unseat Hilliard.
The union’s no-confidence vote does not have any force of law on Hilliard’s job. But the resolution makes clear the tension in the community over Hilliard.
“I do not have confidence in Dana Hilliard’s ability to be an effective leader in the Somersworth School District,” the union’s resolution reads. “I do not want Dana Hilliard to return to work in the Somersworth School District because his history of behavior shows that he makes it more difficult for educators to achieve the District’s mission, which is ‘to inspire all students to excel, to develop a thirst for knowledge, and to teach the essential skills necessary to be caring, contributing, and responsible individuals in an ever-changing world.’”
Hilliard went on paid leave this spring after district employees filed a complaint over his treatment of staff. Superintendent Lori Lane, also named in the staff complaints, also went on leave. Lane resigned this summer.
Interim Superintendent Lou Goscinski declined to discuss details of Hilliard’s job status when contacted by NHJournal on Tuesday.
“He remains out on leave, but I cannot discuss the type of leave,” Goscinski said.
Goscinski confirmed Hilliard is on paid leave, meaning he is still collecting his taxpayer-funded school salary, which clocks in at more than $100,000 a year.
Hilliard declined to respond to requests for comment.
Hilton said Hilliard and his family are well-known and liked in the community, and the situation surrounding the mayor is sad. Hilton claimed that Partisan politics of power override what’s best for the city residents.
“Democrats never resign in disgrace; they just keep going,” Hilton said. “If you’ve no standards, who’s to say that’s wrong?”
An independent report found Hilliard and Lane yelled at and belittled staff members in private meetings after those staffers voiced opposition to proposed budget cuts at public school board meetings. One teacher told the investigator she was afraid of Hilliard. Other staff members said Hilliard was known to yell and throw things at people when he was angry.
Teachers also told the investigator Hilliard was mired in an obvious conflict of interest in his job and his position as the mayor. According to the report, Hilliard kept his elected city position in mind when he made budget decisions for the school. Hilliard would cut staff and programs at the school rather than make those cuts in the city or raise taxes, the report states.
Hilliard, director of operations for the district, reports to the school superintendent, not the school board. That means the board is unable to fire him. Lane could have fired Hilliard, and now Goscinski can fire him.
Hilton said there is still time for Hilliard to do the right for the people of Somersworth. It might be time for someone else to step into the city leadership role.
“I have been praying Dana would repent and choose to do what is right and good,” Hilton said. “You want to see good leaders in there.”