Buoniconti remains chief of Hawlemont

  • Former Mohawk and current Hawlemont School District Superintendent Michael Buoniconti.  STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 1/19/2020 4:43:09 PM

Though Mohawk Trail Regional School District and its now former superintendent have parted ways, that is not the case with the Hawlemont Regional School District, at least for the time being. The two school districts have shared the superintendent.

Vice Chairman of Hawlemont Regional School Committee and Chairman of Hawley Board of Selectmen Hussain A. Hamdan said it is a deeply complicated situation, so there is still a lot for Hawlemont to discuss.

The Mohawk Trail Regional School District School Committee and its superintendent have agreed to part ways, effective immediately.

Last week, after the Mohawk Trail Regional School Committee met in executive session with Superintendent Michael Buoniconti to discuss an email he sent earlier in the week about his affair with a subordinate and his impending divorce, School Committee Chair Martha Thurber sent a districtwide email to all staff saying, “The Mohawk Trail Regional School Committee and Michael Buoniconti have reached a tentative agreement that results in a mutual parting of the ways between Mohawk Trail Regional School District and Mr. Buoniconti. There is final work to be done. However, effective immediately, the district’s very able senior leadership team will manage the day-to-day functioning of the district.”

Thurber said Friday that Mohawk Trail Regional School District Director of Pupil Services Leann Loomis will head up the team as interim superintendent.

On Jan. 13, Buoniconti sent an email to all staff members in the district admitting he was having an affair with a subordinate and that he and his wife are going through a divorce. Shortly after, parents and residents asked the School Committee to take action and demanded Buoniconti’s resignation.

Thurber said as the district moves forward, she will share the School Committee’s plan for ensuring the needs of staff and students are met.

Hamdan said Buoniconti is still Hawlemont’s superintendent, and that no action has been taken at this time.

He said an emergency executive session was called at the end of last week, but was canceled and moved to Wednesday because of posting concerns. He said that meeting will most likely be canceled, as well, because he does not believe the committee will have a quorum.

“The precise scheduling is very much up in the air,” Hamdan said. “Obviously, sooner is better.”

He said until now, Buoniconti was paid based on a two-district shared expense arrangement, hence each district has to vote his contract separately.

It was not clear at press time how much each district has been paying to compensate Buoniconti.

According to figures from Mohawk Trail Regional School District, Buoniconti was making $159,761 (all-inclusive, “no further allowances for travel or other items,” according to Thurber) until June 30, but it is not clear if that is his full salary for both districts, or just for Mohawk. Hamdan didn’t have those figures this weekend.

He said if Hawlemont decides to keep Buoniconti, which is an option, his salary would end up changing, so it appears the figure provided by Mohawk was a combined salary for both districts.

“(Buoniconti’s salary) would obviously end up changing,” he said.

“One argument for keeping Michael, of course, is that there is very little to say he broke any laws or policies,” Hamdan said. “This essentially amounts to a judgment about public relations and morality, about mistakes and forgiveness or the lack thereof.”

He said in Buoniconti’s defense, he has done a tremendous amount for the schools, both administratively and in terms of advocacy — for instance, helping to create and lead the Rural Schools Coalition, which Buoniconti started and heads up.

“Regardless of what anyone says, and notwithstanding recent events, this community does owe him an enormous debt of gratitude,” he said. “Additionally, I seriously question the wisdom of changing superintendents in the middle of budget season and suspect it could end very badly.”

Hamdan said those are his personal opinions, not those of the School Committee.

According to Thurber, Loomis holds a provisional superintendent’s certification, and has agreed to serve in the position until a longer-term interim superintendent can be selected. That will be followed by a broad-based search for a new superintendent, a process that will involve the School Committee, senior administrators, educators, students and community members.

“The School Committee is committed to serving on behalf of our students, staff and district families,” the email reads. “This is a fresh start for our district. There are many wonderful things going on in our schools, and we are optimistic for the future. We will continue to work hard to maintain high educational standards and quality experiences for our students and families. We will need everyone’s help in this effort.”

Though Buoniconti tried to assure everyone in his email that the affair would not affect his job performance, many were upset, and 500 people signed a petition that was delivered to the School Committee Thursday asking for his immediate resignation. The online petition on Change.org said signers were disgusted with his lack of integrity and recent “moral indiscretion.”

It is not yet known what the conditions of Buoniconti’s leaving will be. He started as superintendent of the school district in 2005, and has been a major proponent for changing the state’s rural school aid formula so that those districts receive more financial help from the state.

In 2016, Buoniconti was among three finalists for the superintendent position in North Attleboro Public Schools, but North Attleboro Assistant Superintendent Scott Holcomb was the candidate selected. It was the fifth time Buoniconti had been a superintendent finalist for another school district since he became Mohawk’s superintendent.

The Recorder has not been able to reach Buoniconti since the issues at Mohawk came to light early last week.

Reach Anita Fritz at 413-772-0261, ext. 269, or afritz@recorder.com.

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