The Easthampton School Committee voted to hire Erica Faginski-Stark as superintendent Monday night, a week after their first pick, Vito Perrone, said his offer was rescinded for addressing his future colleagues as “ladies” in a negotiation e-mail.
Faginski-Stark accepted the position, pending successful negotiations.
The committee heard extensive public comments, mostly in support of Perrone, at the virtual meeting, before voting 5-2 not to reenter negotiations with him following a contentious discussion. Committee members then voted 5-1, with one abstention, to hire Faginski-Stark, currently the director of curriculum and instruction at Ludlow Public Schools.
Faginski-Stark had been a finalist for the position before Perrone was selected, and multiple members had always favored her.
“This is not what I would consider the second-best candidate,” member Megan Harvey said. “I believe this is the most qualified candidate.”
Member Shannon Dunham voted to reenter negotiations with Perrone and then voted against Faginski-Stark. Member Laurie Garcia voted and spoke vocally in favor of Perrone, then abstained from the vote on Faginski-Stark. Garcia also claimed during the meeting that an administrator had told some district employees not to speak up, an allegation that frustrated other members of the committee, who said Garcia was spreading rumors.
Monday’s meeting was the committee’s second attempt to discuss the issue; last week hundreds hoped to weigh in during a Tuesday night meeting, but after the Zoom room reached its capacity, the committee was forced to postpone.
Dozens spoke up Monday, arguing both for and against reinstating the offer to Perrone, demanding more transparency, and pleading for civility.
A handful of residents spoke in support of the committee’s decision to rescind the offer, saying they had always had reservations about Perrone and that he was to blame for setting off the controversy by going to the press. But most speakers took the other side, complaining about the lack of transparency from the committee and touting public support for Perrone, including a rally held last week.
Some residents addressed the “ladies” misstep at the center of the controversy, saying it was no reason to revoke the offer. But many of the public commenters critiqued the process more broadly, particularly the decisions to revoke the offer in an executive session rather than a public vote and to send police to Perrone’s house for a well-being check shortly after midnight when he did not respond to the offer immediately.
Speakers on both sides lamented the level of vitriol since the situation became public a week ago. Members of the School Committee said they received death threats after the story made national news last week.
“I think I speak for many people in our community that find the level of anger that has risen on this issue disconcerting, both within the community and without,” resident Rochelle Prunty said.
Perrone, who is the interim superintendent of West Springfield Public Schools, was on track to be Easthampton’s next school leader after School Committee members initially voted, 4-3, to appoint him. Perrone told the Daily Hampshire Gazette he was excited to be offered a three-year contract for the position on March 24.
Perrone said he e-mailed School Committee chair Cynthia Kwiecinski and executive assistant Suzanne Colby after reviewing the district’s offer to request a few changes to the contract, including salary changes for fiscal years 2025 and 2026 and some additional vacation and sick days, according to an e-mail obtained by the Globe. It was in that e-mail that he referred to Kwiecinski and Colby as ladies.
Perrone said Kwiecinski later told him that addressing both women as ladies was a “microaggression” and “the fact that he didn’t know that as an educator was a problem.” The School Committee revoked his job offer after meeting in executive session March 30, the Gazette reported.
The decision to revoke the offer in executive session drew pointed questioning at the meeting Monday. Former Easthampton School Committee member Marissa Carrere argued the decision violated state open meeting laws.
“The School Committee took a public vote at the end of a long, carefully regulated hiring process that involves great effort and attention from the community, and then went back behind closed doors and took a very different vote,” Carrere said.
Kwiecinski has since spoken out, saying there were other factors in the decision besides Perrone’s word choice.
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.”
In her e-mail to the Gazette, 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. But 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.
After the committee voted for Faginski-Stark Monday, the virtual meeting remained in session while Kwiecinski reached out to the candidate to make the offer.
“Dr. Faginski-Stark is interested in entering negotiations and has accepted the position pending successful negotiations,” Kwiecinski announced, a few minutes later.