Easthampton school superintendent job offer abruptly rescinded

By EMILY THURLOW

Staff Writer

Published: 04-05-2023 5:38 PM

EASTHAMPTON — Superintendent finalist Vito Perrone said Friday that the School Committee rescinded its offer to hire him in executive session Thursday night, alleging that the reason was a perceived microaggression contained in an email he sent to the committee chairperson.

Perrone and the committee entered contract negotiations this week after he was offered the position the morning of March 24.

The committee offered Perrone a three-year contract with an annual salary of $151,000 — approximately $14,000 less than what he has making as an interim superintendent of West Springfield Public Schools, Perrone said. Despite the lower salary, he said he was keen on accepting the role.

“This job was not about the money for me. I honestly felt like I was coming home to Easthampton. I coached football here. I was principal here when we built the school. I have such wonderful memories … I was excited to come back,” he said in an interview with the Gazette on Friday.

After reviewing the contract, Perrone made three requests in an email to Chairperson Cynthia Kwiecinski and Suzanne Colby, executive assistant to the committee.

According to the email, obtained by the Gazette, he requested that the annual salary for fiscal years 2025 and 2026 be negotiated and not be less than the cost of living adjustment of 3% for both years, and an additional four vacation days each year. Perrone also requested 40 sick days for his first year of employment as a superintendent and 18 days each contract year after, citing that he had accrued a reasonable amount of sick days during his previous six years working in the district.

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What he claims came under fire is his addressing Kwiecinski and Colby as “ladies” at the beginning of the email. According to Perrone, Kwiecinski said that using “ladies” was a microaggression and “the fact that he didn’t know that as an educator was a problem,” he said.

“I was shocked,” he said. “I grew up in a time when ‘ladies’ and ‘gentlemen’ was a sign of respect. I didn’t intend to insult anyone.”

He also signed his email as simply “Vito,” as he felt he could provide a less formal tone.

Perrone explained that he had attended Thursday’s We The People spaghetti dinner fundraiser at the high school as a way to begin getting to know more of the school community and then headed over to the conference room for the negotiations. The committee asked him to step outside for approximately 45 minutes while they spoke and then delivered the news that they had rescinded his offer after taking a vote during an executive session.

In an emailed response, Kwiecinski said she could not comment on executive sessions.

School Committee member Marin Goldstein echoed Kwiecinski’s comment, adding that such meetings are supposed to be confidential.

Perrone said it was important for him to let people know the circumstances of the matter.

“I don’t want people to think I was not willing to negotiate in good faith. I have chosen not to just leave it as ‘negotiations stalled.’ I would rather share my truth, my sadness and disappointment and try to find a way forward positively,” he said.

Perrone has since reached out to the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents for legal counsel and said he was told that he has no legal recourse as he had no official contract.

The School Committee had voted 4-3 to hire Perrone last week after also interviewing fellow finalists Jonathan Bruno, director of learning and teaching at Berkshire Hills Regional School District in Stockbridge, and Erica Faginski-Stark, director of curriculum and instruction at Ludlow Public Schools.

After concluding an interview with Perrone, the committee took several hours to discuss the candidates, voted in open session and then moved to executive session to offer him the position over the phone.

After making several attempts to call him, Perrone said the committee sent a city police officer to his home in Westhampton to perform a well-being check, rousing both he and his wife at around 12:15 a.m. from a sound sleep.

“The police officer asked if I was OK because the School Committee was trying to get a hold of me,” he said. “My interview ended at 8 o’clock and I ended up falling asleep around 10:15 … I thought my phone was on, but I guess it wasn’t.”

Once awake, he made contact with the committee and accepted their oral offer, pending successful salary negotiations.

“Honestly, I am truly, truly disappointed that I won’t be in Easthampton in that building,” he said. “I’m just sad.”

Kwiecinski said that an agenda for the next School Committee meeting has been posted for Tuesday at 7:30 p.m., stating that there will be a discussion related to the superintendent search or a potential vote on a candidate to be the next superintendent. The post also states that the committee will also go into executive session and return to discuss the candidate’s response to the offer of employment subject to negotiations, but did not indicate which candidate that is.

The meeting will be held remotely via Google Meet.

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