Mohawk, Hawlemont agreement reached in exchange for board reorganization

  • Hawlemont Regional School in Charlemont. Staff File Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 4/15/2022 4:52:21 AM

CHARLEMONT — In exchange for the renewal of its agreement with the Mohawk Trail Regional School District, the five remaining Hawlemont Regional School District School Committee members have all decided to resign or not run for reelection.

The announcements come one month after committee Chair Hussain Hamdan suggested everyone on the panel step down on the day of the next town election and run for office again to give residents a chance to reorganize the embattled committee.

Charles Ricko, James Walsh and Suzanne Crawford will resign effective the day of their respective town elections, while Beth Flaherty and Hamdan will let their terms expire without mounting a reelection campaign. Ricko and Flaherty represent Charlemont, which will hold its election May 24. Walsh, Crawford and Hamdan represent Hawley, which has its election planned for May 2.

The decisions come amid ongoing criticism by staff, faculty and residents angered by the committee’s treatment of school staff members and its handling of the relationship with the Mohawk Trail Regional School District. Mohawk Trail School Committee members had expressed resistance to renewing the two-district agreement, set to expire June 30, without a reorganization of Hawlemont’s School Committee.

In a phone interview Thursday, Hamdan explained a two-district agreement was reached in exchange for Hawlemont members walking away. He said the deal was negotiated in executive session last week before an open discussion was held at parallel school committee meetings Wednesday evening.

Though unhappy with the process, Hamdan said he is pleased an agreement has been reached. Martha Thurber, chair of the Mohawk Trail School Committee, speaking by phone Thursday afternoon, reported she had already signed the agreement and Hamdan said he planned to do the same later in the day, cementing the deal.

“At the end of the day, I’m glad that what happened happened, because this is all in the best interest of the students and staff of Hawlemont and our shared administrators,” Thurber said.

She explained the percentages paid by each district, based on five-year enrollment, changed slightly and the two committees mutually agreed to remove some language pertaining to transportation costs because those expenses are — and have been for some time — paid for separately by each district under their own agreements with the bus company.

Michael Walsh, brother of fellow member James Walsh, had already announced his resignation on Monday, citing a recommendation from his physician. Cheryl Handsaker was appointed by the Charlemont Selectboard as the town’s interim representative until the May 24 election.

Attempts to reach James Walsh, Crawford and Flaherty for comment were unsuccessful Thursday.

In his resignation letter, Ricko wrote he is resigning “with great reservation, and under duress.” He said in a phone interview that he has not yet decided if he will run for reelection.

“I have enjoyed being able to support such a wonderful school, especially in these recent, difficult times,” Ricko wrote. “However, it has become apparent that certain members of the Mohawk Trail School Committee have the full intention of controlling Hawlemont (Regional) School, including its staff, training, curriculum and budget.”

He described the position as “a thankless job that’s a lot of hard work,” and said Mohawk Trail School Committee members held the two-district agreement for “ransom.”

“I have personally been attacked by those supporting the MTRSC agenda, via threatening letters to my business, libelous remarks posted online, and most recently, my vehicle was vandalized while in my own driveway,” he wrote.

Reach Domenic Poli at dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.


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