At special TM, South Hadley voters OK second assistant principal at high school

Voters at a special Town Meeting on Wednesday approved spending $61,000 to help fund a second assistant principal position at South Hadley High School.

Voters at a special Town Meeting on Wednesday approved spending $61,000 to help fund a second assistant principal position at South Hadley High School. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO


Staff Writer

Published: 11-16-2023 3:35 PM

SOUTH HADLEY — Voters approved funding for a second assistant principal at South Hadley High School during the Special Town Meeting on Wednesday night — a position the school district lobbied for in recent weeks in the wake of several altercations at the school this fall.

The School Committee requested to amend the current year’s operating budget and transfer $61,000 from excess state aid for the salary of the new position. The town will absorb the cost of benefits, if the new assistant principal opts into them, with money from the operating budget.

Interim Superintendent Mark McLaughlin said that an additional administrator — the high school currently has a principal and an assistant principal — would have “the broadest reach over the most number of students” while using the least amount of town funds.

The second vice principal will help with disciplinary action, but also free up administrators’ time to ensure educational programs and teacher development continues during times of crisis.

“So while all hands are on deck to attend to a particular event or challenge, the rest of the building needs to continue to run,” McLaughlin said. “And oftentimes, both of those (current) administrators are attending to those issues, and therefore teacher observations can’t happen. Curriculum development, professional development within the school can’t happen or is postponed.”

Residents Ray Brando and Mitchell Malinowski questioned whether having an additional assistant principal could have helped prevent the three physical altercations that motivated the School Committee’s request. Brando asserted that the lack of details revealed by the schools about the incidents — such as the nature of the injuries to students and staff — made it difficult for residents to assess whether having an extra administrator would have helped.

However, resident and educator Lily Newman expressed the positive impact another vice principal would bring to the school district.

“I want to see (South Hadley High School Principal) Elizabeth Wood in classrooms giving teachers feedback,” Newman said. “I want to see the quality of instruction at the high school improve and the rigor of the academics and the vision there improved. And she can’t do that, and Pat Lemieux (assistant principal) can’t do that, if they’re constantly putting out fires.”

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The position is funded starting Dec. 1.

Town officials assured residents that the town has the money for the position. Town Administrator Chuck Romboletti said last year’s budget was set before the actual state aid was known. “When the state aid came in, it was $110,000 higher than anticipated, so there is money available in that source,” he said.

Other articles pass

The 83 voters in attendance also OK’d the remaining 11 articles, including adoption of a local room occupancy tax and local option community impact fees on short-term rentals such as hotels, bed and breakfasts and Airbnbs.

Under the changes, the local room occupancy tax would be set at 6%, which was increased from 4% on the recommendation of the Appropriations Committee.

“The state estimates that each 1% tax will generate approximately $7,800 per year. So that’s an extra $15,600 that the town would realize,” Appropriations Committee Chair Thomas Terry said. “We don’t believe that this additional 2% will have any impact on local renters.”

Short-term rentals will also pay the 3% local option community impact fee per transaction. The town can use that money for public infrastructure and affordable housing projects.

Meeting members authorized the creation of a senior tax workoff program to exempt up to $2,000 a year off participants’ property taxes. The article also allows seniors with a physical disability to elect a representative who may work on their behalf.

Despite passing the article, citizens expressed frustration that details of the program, such as minimum age, number of positions, income limits and the process of picking participants, were not presented at the meeting.

“We can’t work out the details of the program until the program’s allowed to be created. So that’s why we don’t have the answers for you, because we haven’t spent hours on something that might not pass,” Select Board Chair Andrea Miles said.

Miles said the Select Board will deliberate these details extensively now that the article has passed.

Due to a $4.5 million surplus in free cash, the town opted to move $550,000 into the Mosier Stabilization fund. This account pays for a feasibility study for a planned new Mosier Elementary School if the Massachusetts School Building Association picks South Hadley for its grant program.

Voters conveyed concern about additional school positions, capital purchases and the Mosier Elementary project endangering the financial health of the town. Brando said a list of issues with the current school have not been published, nor has a report on current capital debt.

“We have not heard about the financial condition of the town with respect to projects that are currently funded that we are paying long-term debt. We need to note the debt status of our community in order to make a business-like decision,” Brando said.

Town Meeting also approved capital purchases of a new street sweeper, which caught on fire last spring, a new scoreboard at the high school, elevator safety switches and a pump station channel driver.

Emilee Klein can be reached at