Mohawk Trail School Committee meets in executive session with superintendent

  • Superintendent Michael Buoniconti attends a special meeting of the Mohawk Trail Regional School District School Committee as an executive session is called Thursday. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • The Mohawk Trail Regional School Committee held a special meeting Thursday night to discuss personnel issues with Superintendent Michael Buoniconti. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • A cardboard box is left outside of the conference room where the Mohawk Trail Regional School District School Committee held a special meeting to discuss Superintendent Michael Buoniconti in executive session. The box reads, “Michael Buoniconti’s Office Contents.” STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Staff Writer
Published: 1/16/2020 10:22:40 PM
Modified: 1/16/2020 10:21:46 PM

BUCKLAND — With the Hawlemont and Mohawk Trail regional school districts’ Superintendent Michael Buoniconti seated at its meeting table, the School Committee entered an executive session Thursday night.

The School Committee posted the meeting shortly after Buoniconti admitted to an affair with one of his subordinates in an email to all of his staff members earlier this week. The committee, in its meeting post, said it was going to go into executive session “to discuss a complaint or charge brought against a public officer, employee, staff member or individual ...”

About a half-hour before the meeting started, a half-dozen people gathered just inside the school to greet committee members. One woman held a cardboard box that read, “Michael Buoniconti’s Office Contents: books, pictures, lies, half-truths, unanswered emails and phone calls, parents,’ teachers’ and students’ concerns never addressed and Martha’s unwavering support.” (“Martha” refers to School Committee Chair Martha Thurber.

Hawley Selectboard Chair Hussain Hamdan was allowed to attend the meeting, while everyone else in the room who was not a School Committee member was asked to leave. Thurber said if Buoniconti was willing to allow Hamdan to stay, he could, and Buoniconti approved.

Buoniconti, who currently receives an annual salary of $159,761 (all-inclusive, “no further allowances for travel or other items,” according to Thurber), sent the email, it appears, last weekend, because by Monday morning it was being discussed on social media and over emails by people throughout the district. An online petition was started demanding the resignation of both Buoniconti and Thurber, and on Thursday night, Julie Dubreuil, a concerned parent of children in the district and a former employee, presented a printed version of the petition with 500 signatures on it.

Thurber wrote in a press statement this week that, “The MTRSD School Committee recently received information regarding the personal conduct of our superintendent in regards to a relationship with another member of the MTRSD staff. This matter is being aggressively investigated and the committee will be considering appropriate action and next steps.”

Buoniconti wrote in his email to colleagues, “I am sad to share that I am going through a divorce after a long marriage.” He told them that he entered the personal relationship in December with a staff member who does not report to him.

“The relationship resulted in no disparate treatment, nor did it impact my work performance,” he continued in his email. “Additionally, this employee resigned their position with the MTRSD.”

Buoniconti said in the email that he is currently seeking an opinion from the Massachusetts Ethics Commission. He also assured colleagues that his personal affairs will have no adverse impact on his work performance or on the workplace, but by Thursday, hundreds of people were talking about it and said that students were asking questions.

According to state Ethics Commission spokesperson Gerry Tuoti, due to requirements, by statute, of confidentiality, the commission cannot confirm or deny whether anyone has sought or received advice from the commission or whether it has reviewed any matter.

According to the state conflict of interest law (MGL 268A, Section 23), public employees must avoid conduct that creates a reasonable impression that any person may improperly influence them or unduly enjoy their official favor, or that they are likely to act (or fail to act) because of kinship, rank, position or undue influence of any party or person. If a superior does something that appears to be a conflict of interest, he or she must openly admit all the facts surrounding the appearance of bias prior to any action, specifically, by disclosing all the facts that would lead to such a conclusion.

Appointed employees like Buoniconti must make such disclosures in writing to their appointing authority — in his case, the School Committee — and the disclosure must be kept available for public inspection. It does not appear that happened until after people learned about his affair. He wrote in his email to staff, “While I had hoped to address this issue proactively, I am no longer in a position to do so,” referring to the fact that the information was already known by many. It continues that “the inherently exploitable nature of the relationship between superior and subordinate requires formal safeguards to protect against even accidental or unintended coercion or undue pressure by the superior.”

Many people have said they are concerned about the message Buoniconti is sending, with his actions to all of the children in the district — that the employee, who is a subordinate, is the one who left the district, for example.

The Change.org petition states that signers are disgusted by Buoniconti’s lack of integrity and recent “moral indiscretion.” It states that his behavior and subsequent attempt to minimize the nature of his wrong-doing are “inexcusable.” It calls for his immediate resignation.

The online petition also sent a message to Thurber: “Your passivity with regards to this matter, as well as the dismissive treatment you’ve shown when other concerns that have been brought to your attention, is unacceptable. We will not allow you to cause further damage to our district.” The petition calls for Thurber’s resignation, as well, and asks that the School Committee take action and remove them if the two do not resign willingly.

In the hallway outside of where the committee met with Buoniconti Thursday, Emmalee Cross, a parent of two students in the district, said she was there to support improving the school.

“We want things to be good, improved,” she said. “We’re concerned about our schools.”

Lynne Kelsey, of Buckland, said she hopes Buoniconti either resigns or is forced out.

Buoniconti 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. He started and heads up the Massachusetts Rural Schools Coalition, rural school superintendents from across the state working together to advocate for changes in Chapter 70 funding.

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.

It was not clear on Thursday night what action, if any, the School Committee will take, or what Buoniconti will choose to do next. Buoniconti has not responded to requests for comment.

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


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