Report On The Special Meeting of the Amherst Town Council and Remaining School Committee Members, September 26, 2023
The meeting was held in hybrid format and recorded. That recording can be viewed here.
Eleven candidates participated in the interviews for the three-month interim Amherst School Committee (SC) seats vacated by the August resignations of Ben Herrington, Allison McDonald, and Peter Demling. At the conclusion of the interviews, each remaining school committee member and town councilor offered their top three candidates in an unranked order. Former Fort River teacher Roger Wallace, UMass Chemistry professor Gabriela Cornejo Weaver, and educator Katie Lazdowski each received a majority of the votes from the 13 councilors and two SC members present. Wallace received 11 votes, Weaver 9, and Lazdowski 8.
The 11 candidates were: Laura Jane Hunter, Richard Roznoy, Bridget Hynes, Vince O’Connor, Kerry Spitzer, Andy Churchill, Amy Cronin DiCaprio, Hugh Friel, Lazdowski, Wallace, and Weaver. Their submitted statements of interest can be read at https://www.amherstma.gov/DocumentCenter/Index/5837 . Hunter and Hynes are running for three-year terms in the November 7 election. Sarah Marshall and Gaylord Saulsberry withdrew prior to the interviews.
Each candidate gave two-minute opening and closing statements and had one minute to answer each of eight questions. The order of the statements and responses to questions was determined randomly. Council President Lynn Griesemer (District 2) held firm to the time limits so the meeting proceeded efficiently. Several candidates cited the need for healing and transparency in future SC meetings.
Griesemer said she was heartened that so many qualified candidates stepped up to fill the vacancies that prevented the Amherst SC from meeting for lack of a quorum. According to SC member Irv Rhodes, the Regional SC will meet six times before the end of the year, and the Amherst SC will meet three times, so the three interim appointees will participate in nine meetings. These will involve the beginning of the superintendent search and the budget discussion.
In the deliberation after the interviews, SC member Jennifer Shiao said that she was confident all of the candidates could perform the duties needed to serve on the SC, but she wanted those who would focus on the students and their needs, showed enthusiasm, and named white supremacy and racism as primary issues. Rhodes was also impressed by the field. Councilor Dorothy Pam (District 3) suggested eliminating those candidates who are running for election, although she was impressed with them, because the field was sufficient without considering them, and it might be seen as influencing the election if one or more of them was chosen.
The Way They Voted
Rhodes: Churchill, Spitzer, Wallace
Shiao: Hunter, Lazdowski, DiCaprio
Ana Devlin Gauthier (District 5): Spitzer, Churchill, Lazdowski
Shalini Bahl-Milne (District 5): Wallace, Weaver, Churchill
Michele Miller (District 1): Wallace, Weaver, Spitzer
Ellisha Walker (at large): Wallace, Lazdowski, DiCaprio
Andy Steinberg (at large): Churchill, Wallace, Weaver
Cathy Schoen (District 1): Lazdowski, Weaver, Spitzer
Dorothy Pam (District 3): DiCaprio, Wallace, Lazdowski
Pam Rooney (District 4): Lazdowski, DiCaprio, Weaver
Pat DeAngelis (District 2): Wallace, Lazdowski, Weaver
Mandi Jo Hanneke (at large): Churchill, Wallace, Weaver
Lynn Griesemer (District 2): Churchill, Wallace, Spitzer
Jennifer Taub (District 3): Lazdowski, Wallace, Weaver
Anika Lopes (District 4): Wallace, Weaver, Churchill
After the vote, Steinberg said he was concerned that none of the appointed candidates had any prior SC experience. Pam and DeAngelis pointed out that any reconsideration of the vote would not be fair, and Rhodes emphasized the stellar backgrounds of the three selected and noted that the SC would need to provide an onboarding process for the new members.
Public Comment Scant
At the September 25 council meeting, it was decided that public comment would be allowed prior to the interviews and that written public comments would be posted to the town website one hour prior to the meeting. The most recent comments on the town website were from the week of September 11-18 and only Renata Shepard spoke at the meeting.
The meeting adjourned at 9:25 p.m. The Town Council will meet next on October 2. The Amherst School Committee will meet on October 3, prior to the Regional School Committee meeting.