School employees can run, but not all can keep jobs if elected

Posted 6/22/22


On Feb. 1 2000, Leah Hazelwood, a teacher's assistant at Pilgrim High School was hired as a substitute teacher with the school district. Since 2002 she has been employed …

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School employees can run, but not all can keep jobs if elected



On Feb. 1 2000, Leah Hazelwood, a teacher's assistant at Pilgrim High School was hired as a substitute teacher with the school district. Since 2002 she has been employed full-time.

Now Hazelwood hopes to become a member of the School Committee running for District 2 race.

But the question is: are active school department employees allowed to keep their job and be on the School Committee at the same time.

Asked on Monday if there is any policy in place against current employees running Human Resources Director Kim Ruggieri said, “There is no Warwick Public School Policy as we do not qualify individuals for eligibility to run for office.”

“ We encourage any employees considering running for office to notify the City Solicitor of the City of Warwick,” said Ruggieri.

On the question of what happens if an employee wins a seat on the School Committee Ruggieri referred to the City Solicitor.

“As I said before, that is a question for the City Solicitor as to the eligibility of candidates to hold run for and hold an elected position,” Ruggieri said in an email. “There is no WPS policy and this is a novel circumstance.”

In an interview Wednesday morning City Solicitor Mike Ursillo said that the issue was researched in May after School Committee attorney Andrew Henneous made an inquiry to the Solicitor’s office.

Ursillo said that based on the City Charter and state law in his view the only municipal employees that are allowed to hold office in the town or city they live and work in are teachers.

Since she is a teacher's assistant Hazelwood would have to choose between the School Committee and her full-time employment, Ursillo said. If she was a teacher she would be allowed to do both under state law.

Asked if she plans on keeping her employment with the school department if elected Hazelwood said,  “Because I would have to recuse myself from many votes, I have no choice but to resign.”

“ I want to be able to give my best, should I be elected,” said Hazelwood.

Hazelwood said she also spoke to the Ethics Commission about her candidacy.

“I received word from Gary Petrarca, Senior Confidential Investigator for the Ethics Commission, that there is no provision in the code of ethics to stop anyone from running for office,” said Hazelwood. “What he did say was that once it is time for me to be sworn in I may want to ask if I have to leave my job or not. So between the City Charter and the Ethics Commission I am free to run for office.”

Asked why she decided to enter the race Hazelwood said “I have seen and experienced many changes.”

“I have first hand experienced changes as an employee and changes that directly affected  students attending Warwick Schools,” said Hazelwood. “Although I know that I am very effective in my role within the classroom, I believe it is time to broaden my reach and bring my experience to the Warwick School Committee with the hope of making changes that will benefit Warwick students and employees alike.”

On the issue of building two new high schools Hazelwood said “that will be left up to the voter.”

“As for me, I will vote in favor,” said Hazelwood. “The schools that many Warwick citizens attended in the past are not the schools that our children are attending today. As such, the environment directly affects learning. New schools are needed.”

Hazelwood cited her experience in special education as a plus.

“As a parent  and foster mother, I have advocated for at least 7 children with IEPs from within my own household; and,  have watched these children cross the stage and graduate,” said Hazelwood.

Hazelwood previously owned and operated a DCYF Licensed Home Day Care for 10 years before working for the School Department. She still remains a DCYF Therapeutic Foster Care Provider for children who have experienced extreme trauma.

Other contenders

Also running in the District 2 race is a newcomer to the political scene Steve DiPalma.

Asked why he decided to make a run, DiPalma said “I just felt unsettled with how everything was transpiring.”

“I believe I can provide a new breath of fresh air to the committee with the intent of helping strengthen the team atmosphere,” said DiPalma. “A reenergized group is needed to refocus the past, where at times there seemed to be a lack of team focus, transparency, and planning.”

A Bishop Hendricken graduate, DiPalma served in the United States Air Force. He is married with two children who are starting kindergarten and first grade next year. He’s lived in Warwick for 18 years.

Asked why he thinks he's the best choice for the job DiPalma said that he thinks its up to the voters saying “the voters of Warwick should truly decide who is the best choice. All I can do is provide my expertise to the other members of the committee.”

“I can bring a different aspect of thinking to the committee. My experience in operations management can for sure help in many ways within the committee,” said DiPalma. “My areas of business management involve strategic planning, finance budgeting, human resources, coordination of technology and equipment, and general operations. Therefore, I feel I can bring a beneficial role to the committee.”

Asked about his thoughts on building two new high schools DiPalma said “Currently, I believe that we need to evaluate the situation with all the schools.”

“ This isn't just about building two new high schools; it should be based on the complete need of the school system, I do believe we need to provide the children of Warwick the best possible place to learn and develop for their lives ahead and if it takes one or two new high schools for this to happen, then yes, I believe we should put together a transparent plan of how to get this done and let the residents decide,” said DiPalma. “The residents need to understand the financial impact of major decisions like this as in the end the residents are going to finance a major portion of the costs.”

Danny Hall has also announced publicly his intentions to run for office but wasn’t available to respond to questions for this week’s edition.

Hazelwood, school committee race


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