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SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — The South Kingstown Town Council plans to move swiftly two fill two vacancies in the School Committee after the abrupt resignation of two of its members.

New School Committee Chairwoman Paula Whitford and Vice-chairwoman Michelle Brousseau, the longest-serving member at nine years, appeared before the council Monday to discuss how the replacement process will proceed.

The council plans to have all applications received by July 23 in order to formulate interview questions at its July 26 regular meeting. The interviews, however, would take place at a special joint meeting of the council and committee on Aug. 2, and appointments on Aug. 5.  

That schedule would ensure the school committee’s new members are seated by its Aug. 10 meeting. The seven-member committee needs at least four members to make a meeting quorum, leaving room for only one absence during the reduced membership period.

“We have two positions open, those appointments will go until the next election in 2022,” Brousseau said. “The people appointed would then make their own decision about whether they want to jump into the fire and run for election in 2022.”

Just weeks ago, former Chairwoman Emily Cummiskey resigned her leadership role and then left the committee entirely as it was embroiled in multiple controversies, including fallout over a political mailer that led to the departure of the district superintendent, and a local woman’s request for public records on how the schools teach race and gender issues that briefly sparked national media attention.

Member Sarah Markey resigned last month as well to focus on her health, she said.

A key goal for both new leaders in filling the vacancies is to “move the school department forward. We don’t want to look in the rear-view mirror,” Brousseau said. “We need people that are willing to get in, roll up their sleeves and get to work.”

In discussions with Whitford, Brousseau said both preferred members who are willing to learn proper committee roles and procedures and also who don’t come with a lot of “baggage,” such as from recent divisive town issues including whether to close Wakefield Elementary School and the fight over a proposed $85 million school facilities bond.   

Whitford also called for a search for members who would make a diverse committee.

“We talk about diversity all the time. I’m well aware the committee has been made up of Democrats for some time,” she said. “I’d really like to not politicize this, because that’s not what we’re supposed to be about, but it has been that. I think it would be good for us as a school committee to be a little more diverse and be able to try to work together as a school committee to move us forward.”

The committee also plans to have an all-day retreat on July 26 where it will hold a session for new and sitting members, called “School Committee 101.” The last one was in 2019.

“Our committee is made up of relatively new members and two members appointed by the council will be brand new,” Brousseau said.

Any interested candidate is invited to attend the session, which is also public, she said. In past election years, committee candidates have been invited, she added.

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