Recall of Easthampton schools chair advances after ‘ladies’ controversy

Easthampton residents frustrated by a superintendent search gone awry are seeking a recall election for the chair of the city’s School Committee. On Monday, organizers submitted a petition with 400 signatures after a weeks-long effort. The next step will require more than three times as many signatures.

On Monday afternoon, residents involved with the recall effort submitted the petition that circulated around Easthampton for the past few weeks. The recall effort came in the aftermath of the rescinded job offer for Dr. Vito Perrone by the School Committee at the end of March.

By Perrone’s account, school officials revoked their offer after he used the word “ladies” in an email with contract requests addressed to two women. School officials in the following weeks argued that it was his overall approach, including the requested number of days off and other “unprofessional” comments, that resulted in a breakdown in negotiations before they actually started.

“It started with the fact that Dr. Perrone’s offer was rescinded for what seemed like a rather absurd reason,” said Cathy Wauczinski, an Easthampton resident. “The response from the School Committee, particularly the chair, was not sufficient to address the concerns of the people. Additionally, she was non-responsive to many people that reached out to her.”

The petition needed 400 signatures to set off the first phase of what could turn into a recall election of School Committee Chairperson Cynthia Kwiecinski. After the city clerk verifies the signatures of the petition, the next step will involve getting 2,517 signatures, according to Easthampton City Clerk Barbara LaBombard.

The number is based on the city charter, which requires 20% of the number of voters in the city’s most recent election. There were 12,587 voters in the more recent election, according to City Clerk Barbara LaBombard.

Wauczinski and Jean Pao Wilson, both Easthampton residents, were involved with the organizing efforts to get enough signatures on the petition to set off the next phase. The first step required at least 400 signatures and at least 60 of those signatures from registered voters from each precinct. The two Easthampton residents spent time in recent weeks picketing in front of City Hall and gathering signatures from other residents that disapproved of how the School Committee handled Perrone’s candidacy.

The next step would require petitioners to get to 2,517 signatures, a process they have to start from scratch. After that, the matter would get turned over to the City Council, which would be responsible for giving written notice to Kwiecinski about the recall effort. In this scenario, if Kwiecinski did not resign from the position within five days, the City Council would have the power to order a special election to be held on a date no less than 90 days from when she is notified.

Voters would be posed with a “yes” or “no” question about whether to recall the chair.

Kwiecinski’s seat is already on the ballot in November, along with all of the other of the School Committee seats, except for the one held by Mayor Nicole LaChapelle, whose term lasts until 2025.

On the second drive to collect signatures, Wauczinski said, “the plan is to embed volunteers right into the precincts this time, not just in the center of town at some of the parks and signatures events there.”

Recall efforts will include a registration drive since petition signatures must come from registered voters, according to Wauczinski.

Six members of the School Committee ran unopposed last election in 2021. The seventh seat is held by LaChapelle.

“It was, in large part, because of COVID,” Wauczinski said about the unopposed races. She said she hopes there are more engaged citizens in the fall election and said beyond the petition effort, she and other organizers want to bring more attention to school district issues.

“Part of the move forward is helping people to understand a variety of things happening in town,” Wauczinski said.

The fallout from the superintendent search led to the resignation of two School Committee members. Members Shannon Dunham and Laurie García both recently resigned with criticisms for how the committee handled the revoked job offer for finalist Perrone.

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