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School Committee chair responds to superintendent candidate’s claim that his offer was rescinded for using the word ‘ladies’ in an e-mail

Following Vito Perrone’s claim that his offer to become the next Easthampton superintendent was rescinded for addressing his future colleagues as “ladies” in a negotiation e-mail, School Committee Chair Cynthia Kwiecinski has spoken out, saying there were other factors in the decision.

Kwiecinski told the Daily Hampshire Gazette in an e-mailed statement on Thursday there were “too many concerns” before the committee had begun negotiating the rest of Perrone’s contract for the position and “alarm bells were going off.”

Perrone, who is the interim superintendent of West Springfield Public Schools, was offered the role as Easthampton’s next superintendent last month and has said he planned to accept the position.

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Last week, he e-mailed Kwiecinski and Suzanne Colby, the committee’s executive assistant, to request a few changes to the contract, including salary changes, and some additional vacation and sick days, according to a copy of the e-mail obtained by the Globe. It was in that e-mail that he referred to Kwiecinski and Colby as “ladies.”

Perrone told the Globe on Friday he did not receive a response to the e-mail and said that 45 minutes into a Zoom meeting with the School Committee on March 30, Kwiecinski told him they voted to rescind his offer during executive session because he “sent an email with ladies as the address, and that’s a microaggression.”

Perrone apologized, he said, and told committee members it was not his intent to offend anyone, adding that he grew up in the 1960s and ‘70s when “ladies and gentleman were terms of respect.” He said Kwiecinski replied that he’s an educator and should know better.

Kwiecinski did not respond to the Globe’s requests for comment. However, in her e-mail to the Gazette on Thursday, she said it is true she was insulted by the way Perrone addressed her and Colby in the correspondence, and that while she speaks informally most of the time, she uses formal titles when addressing a public official.

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She also told the Gazette that after sharing Perrone’s counterproposal with the School Committee, “most members” thought addressing the chair “with a familiarity that he had not earned” was “extremely unprofessional” and “inappropriate.”

“The salutation ‘Ladies’ raised concerns among most that the candidate might make administrators and teachers feel uncomfortable if used in the future instead of calling them by their names or titles,” Kwiecinski told the Gazette.

Colby, who is not a voting member on the School Committee, wrote in a public Facebook post Wednesday that she wanted people to refrain from “further defaming” her name and character for something she did not say, or have a say in. She said she wanted to make clear that she appreciates being called a lady and treated as such, adding that “the word represents respect.”

Kwiecinski also said the School Committee had concerns with Perrone’s requests for paid time off and that his salary demands were “unreasonable,” according to the Gazette. Perrone’s request included making the annual salary for fiscal years 2025 and 2026 negotiable, 30 vacation days instead of 26, and 40 sick days his first year then 18 days each contract year thereafter.

Perrone said the School Committee told him they would communicate with the community that “negotiations were unsuccessful,” but he did not want people to think they could not come to an agreement because he wanted more money.

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“We could have come together and had some conversation that was respectful, positive and move forward. Instead it was ‘no, we’re rescinding the offer and you used a microaggression,’” he said. “That was it. There was no negotiation.”

Easthampton School Committee members initially were split on their decision, voting 4-3 to appoint Perrone as the district’s next leader. Perrone said he was informed the committee had chosen him after the members sent a police officer to his Westhampton home for a well-being check shortly after midnight on the day of his interview.

“The interview was pretty intense and exhausting so I went home and had dinner, waited for a call, and never received it,” Perrone said. At “10:30 [p.m.] I fell asleep and thought my phone was on, it was not… but I didn’t think after that time it was reasonable to expect a call, and certainly at 12:15 [a.m.], when the police came to my house, that’s not reasonable.”

In her statement to the Gazette, Kwiecinski said the School Committee tried “every means to reach the applicant” and eventually requested the wellness check after an hour because there was genuine concern about his well-being. She told the Gazette that a superintendent should be “available as needed 24/7, with reasonable allowances for personal matters and other obligations,” and that members were “troubled by his lack of response and by his explanation.”

Hundreds hoped to get into Tuesday’s School Committee meeting to weigh in on the issue, but after the Zoom reached its capacity, the committee was forced to push off the virtual-only meeting until next week.

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The agenda for next Monday’s meeting includes a discussion and potential vote on whether to continue negotiations with “the candidate,” which appears to reference Perrone, or possibly voting for “a candidate,” and making an offer, which could refer to a different candidate.

“I’ve heard through people in the community that there are threats being made against the School Committee and the mayor, and that’s nothing I support,” Perrone said. “That’s not the way things need to be. We need to have civil discourse, we need to be reasonable.”


Adria Watson can be reached at adria.watson@globe.com. Follow her @adriarwatson.