Wallace, Weaver, and Lazdowski Selected for Interim School Committee Seats


Photo: Amherst Media

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.

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10 thoughts on “Wallace, Weaver, and Lazdowski Selected for Interim School Committee Seats

  1. Thanks to Dorothy Pam, Pat DeAngelis, Jennifer Shiao, and Jennifer Taub for pushing back against Andy Steinberg’s effort to challenge the votes for School Committee members and have Andy Churchill appointed instead of Katie Lazdowski, even though Lazdowski received more votes.
    Dorothy Pam was spot on when she said “any attempt to redo is really not playing fair.” Lynn Griesemer’s extra long pregnant pause after all the votes were cast, followed by her asking “is there anybody who would like to challenge that?” seemed to be inviting such a challenge. I was glad to see that some of the other members of the Council and School Committee didn’t allow any shenanigans and the top vote getters were nominated to the vacant positions.

  2. In response to Toni’s comment, I just listened to this exchange. Others who want to listen can find it here starting at ~ 3:10: https://youtu.be/_7TxfSSWtHQ?feature=shared.

    The excel sheet was posted with the results, Athena read the results out loud and Lynn confirmed them and then asked if anyone wanted to challenge them. She paused for less than 5 seconds, before starting the motion process to elect the three members with the most votes. Seconded by de Angelis. Michelle raised a question. It was answered. Then Andy started to raise a question about the close vote and wondered if they should discuss the motion. Pat interrupted and disagreed, then Dorothy stated that they had already voted which Lynn corrected was not the case – people selected the top three and then they had to pass a motion to vote. Jennifer S also made a statement in support of the top 3. Andy was then given the chance to continue his point wondering if it was worth a discussion about experience, not asking specifically to redo. Jennifer T and Irv (not mentioned above) disagreed with Andy. Andy confirmed that the top 3 were well qualified. There was no more discussion and they voted unanimously for the top 3.

    Is less than 5 seconds an extra long pause when people need to unmute to speak up ? No. Is giving people a chance to confirm the tallies were right on the the excel sheet appropriate before making a motion ? Yes. Did anyone mention Andy Churchill when other people also had experience ? No. Did Andy ask for a redo ? No, Dorothy said that before he even had a chance to finish his statement. He asked if people wanted to discuss it – they didn’t, they moved on. Very normal procedure. Therefore this comment is not accurate.

  3. Lynne’s question inviting a challenge to the vote immedidately after the vote is unprecedented and its inappropriateness is indicated by the fierce objections from other members of the Council and the School Committee. There certainly appeared to be an expectation that Churchill would be elected as every councilor who routinely votes the Amherst Forward agenda with the exception of DeAngilis voted for Churchill. Following Lynne’s inquiry about a challenge to the vote,Steinberg raised a concern that they had not chosen anyone with previous SC experience (something that Churchill, the next highest vote getter had) and said that he would like to discuss it. To my ears, and apparently to the ears of those Councilors and School Committee members who protested Lynne’s invitation for a challenge, Toni’s observations and interpretations are spot on.

  4. It was not a vote. It was a tally. Is there any precedent to doing a tally? Also no one spoke at all about Lynn’s question before the motion. That is why she moved to the motion. Might be worth rewatching

  5. If I wrote the sky is blue, Laura Draucker would probably argue that no, it is a shade of turquoise.

    By all means, watch the tape and see for yourself if you doubt the accuracy of my personal take of what transpired. Here’s a link that should take you right to 3hr10m into the meeting, at the end of the casting of votes for each person’s preferred three candidates (calling it a tally is parsing words):

    It isn’t until about 90 seconds later — which came across very much like an extra long pregnant pause to my ears — when Griesemer says, “So, we have three candidates, there’s actually four that are seven although three of them have a majority. That is eight for Lazdowski, nine for Weaver, and eleven for Wallace, okay. Is there anybody who would like to challenge that?”

    It seemed weird to me for her to say “there’s actually four that are seven.” (Churchill got seven votes, one fewer than Lazdowski’s 8.)

    As for why it is safe to draw the conclusion that Steinberg was talking about Churchill — He cast his three votes for Churchill, Wallace, and Weaver. Wallace and Weaver were the top two vote getters so were assured seats. And Steinberg said, “given the fact that it’s close on two of them at the end, I think it’d be worth having a little bit of discussion on the motion that’s on the floor.” He was referring to Lazdowski (8 votes) and Churchill (7 votes). Churchill and Spitzer, to my knowledge, were the only two candidates who had previously served on the School Committee. It is not a stretch to take from the exchange that Steinberg wanted Churchill appointed instead of Lazdowski.

  6. We posted the exact same link so let’s let people decide for themselves then. Good night and nice seeing you this morning at the bike to school.

  7. I find it highly irregular that the Town Council President would call for the Council and School Committee to vote for their top three choices, then ask if there were any challenges to the results, and then require a second vote to endorse the already selected slate of new School Committee members. Donald Trump would have loved it if the 2020 U.S. presidential election were handled that way.

  8. “ When people show you who they are, believe them”.

    Thank you Toni. I watched and (in a town where transparency from some of our leaders can not always be depended on) was nevertheless aghast by the blatant display (or should I state antics) of some who clearly desired a different outcome than the “democratic” one.

  9. This was a shameful move to replace the only openly queer candidate, who, by the way, attended and spoke at many if not all of the recent meetings. And let me say, that as a 69 year old life time lesbian, Ms. Lazdowski spoke for me. Representation matters.

  10. @Nancy Sardeson, thank you for your sentiments, though queer is not an identity I can claim. While I was at the mid-summer event at the Middle School, and support the LGBTQIA community, I was not present at school committee meetings last spring for public comment due to my own work travel schedule.

    I identify as a heterosexual white woman. I am pleased to say that among the five current members serving on the Amherst School Committee, I am the only white person. In terms of race and ethnicity, we are moving in the right direction in terms of the committee’s composition more accurately reflecting the community it represents, but as you point out, Nancy, we need LGBTQIA representation on the ASC. I am encouraged that there are candidates running for School Committee and Town Council who identify as LGBTQIA.

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