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‘Hostile’ Somersworth Mayor Leaves School Job

He won’t be getting a gold watch, but Democrat Dana Hilliard is walking away with close to $50,000 in taxpayer money.

Hilliard, the long-time second in command in the Somersworth School District, announced this week he is retiring from the job he hasn’t done for months. Hilliard has been on leave since last spring due to accusations of unprofessional conduct and creating a hostile work environment. 

Hilliard, who is also the elected mayor in Somersworth and a top Democrat in Seacoast politics, was set to restart his job at the opening of the school year. But he stayed away when the local teacher’s union announced its members protested and held a “no confidence” vote. It saw 94 percent of members voting against Hilliard’s return.

The union’s no-confidence statement reads:

“I do not have confidence in Dana Hilliard’s ability to be an effective leader in the Somersworth School District. 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.’”

Interim Superintendent Lou Goscinski released a statement Tuesday announcing Hilliard’s decision to retire.

“Dana Hilliard has announced his retirement from the district effective October 6, 2023. Dana’s decision allows him to pursue other professional and personal opportunities. Dana wishes to express his gratitude for the 23 years of service he spent working in the district,” the statement reads.

According to Foster’s Daily Democrat, Hilliard will remain on the district payroll through Oct. 6, receiving his regular salary the entire time. Hilliard is paid more than $125,000 per year. On top of the pay, Hilliard is taking home $19,422.80 for 40 unused vacation days, $10,455 for 123 unused sick days, $12,624.70 in retirement benefits, and another $5,000 for opting out of the district’s health insurance.

Hilliard went on paid leave after district employees filed a complaint about the way he treated staff. Superintendent Lori Lane, also named in the staff complaints, went on leave, too.

School Board Chair Maggie Larson reprimanded Hilliard and Lane earlier this year for the way they treated staff. Lane negotiated an exit with the school board in July after an independent report detailed her and Hilliard’s toxic behavior.

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, and 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 city 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.

Sudden School Closures Leave NH Parents Reeling

School districts across the Granite State are putting families’ lives in a state of flux, and increasing parents’ frustrations as they face last-minute school closings.

Nashua parents were informed late Friday there will be no school this coming Monday or Tuesday after close to 200 teachers called out from work.

“The Nashua School District continues to fail its students,” said Alicia Houston, a mother and activist who has butted heads with the district since the start of COVID lockdowns.

Nashua’s Interim Superintendent Garth McKinney sent a letter on Friday stating school is canceled on Jan. 11 and 12 as there will not be enough teachers in the buildings.

“We are alarmed with the high number of staff absences across our schools these last few days,” McKinney wrote.

The Nashua district employs more than 1,000 teachers who are members of the Nashua Teachers Union. Union Vice President Gary Hoffman isn’t sure why approximately 20 percent of the district’s union teaching staff is calling out, but he suspects COVID.

“I am not sure. We’re trying to find out. I assume it’s Covid related mostly,” Hoffman said in an email.

Houston said this is par for the course for the Nashua District, which has not shown enough concern about what shutdowns do to working parents and children. 

“Since March of 2020, the focus has not been on the education of the children and their academic success,” Houston said. “The reasoning behind the mass call out remains unclear. However, very bad timing is creating a very poor optic for some Nashua parents. When will the focus be brought back to the best interest of the students and their learning?”

Nashua School Board member Ray Guarino blamed Gov. Chris Sununu for the shutdowns in a Facebook post.

“Governor Sununu ordered all districts back to school and we had no backup plan as delta and omicron began to surge. We should have done better by our students, teachers, and their families. I would hope that we at least make plans for a remote option,” Guarino wrote.

Parents, on the other hand, have expressed frustration with school systems and teachers unions pushing to keep classrooms closed. Data show remote learning has been an academic disaster, particularly for low-income families and students of color.

Nashua parents are not alone dealing with uncertainty about their schools’ policies. Dover’s School District warned parents this week to be prepared for shutdowns, as the closures may be announced at the last minute.

Dover Superintendent William Harbron wrote to parents that staff shortages due to COVID might shut down individual schools within the district. With no options available for remote learning, parents were told to be ready with a backup plan in case of a closure.

“I fully understand this is not the news you would like to hear,” Harbron wrote in the email.

Contacted Friday. Harbron expressed sympathy for parents who are struggling with the possibility of sudden school closures.

It’s not just closure parents need to watch for. In some municipalities, mask mandates for public spaces are coming fast. While cities like Keene and Nashua voted on new mask mandates in recent weeks, Portsmouth’s City Manager Karen Conard issued a unilateral directive on Friday ordering masks be worn indoors by everyone over the age of five.

“Given the current metrics relative to percent positivity and hospitalization utilization due to COVID, the health officer has determined that in order to protect the public health, proper face coverings must be used in all publicly accessible indoor areas and places of employment,” Conard said in a statement released Friday.

Conard based her decision on a recommendation from the city’s Health Department. While the city directive does not apply to schools, Portsmouth public school students have already been wearing masks indoors at school this year, according to district policy.