Slaughter again tapped as interim school chief in Amherst

  • Douglas Slaughter, finance director for the Amherst schools, was selected as interim superintendent for the second time this year. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 9/1/2023 11:09:53 AM
Modified: 9/1/2023 11:09:19 AM

AMHERST — Amherst, Pelham and Amherst-Pelham Regional public schools will be led on a temporary basis by Douglas Slaughter, the school’s finance chief, who for the second time this year has been named the interim superintendent.

With Superintendent Michael Morris resigning after seven years in charge and his last day on Aug. 31, based on an agreement reached in an Aug. 17 executive session with the Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee and Union 26 School Committee, the committees Thursday unanimously made Slaughter the interim. The decision followed a nearly two hour meeting in which all business was conducted in open session.

Even with Amherst down to two representatives, Irv Rhodes and Jennifer Shiao, the committees had a quorum in which six members of the Regional Committee, including both Amherst representatives and two from Pelham, and one each from Shutesbury and Leverett, approved Slaughter’s appointment, along with approval from the four Union 26 members, one from Amherst and three from Pelham.

Following a contract executed in open session, which will pay Slaughter a $170,000 annual salary, or $6,538.46 every other week, and places him on unpaid leave from his finance director role, Slaughter said he will aim to make the school year great for students, teachers and staff

“I’m appreciative of your trusting me with the responsibility of this for the coming year,” said Slaughter, who served in a similar role while Morris was on medical leave from mid-May to mid-July. “I will work diligently to try do the best job I can and keep the focus on kids throughout the year and leverage the incredible staff we have to do best by the kids and support them in their educational pursuits in Amherst schools, Pelham, schools and the regional schools.”

Stability for district

Morris told the committees that he was in an untenable position following alleged mistreatment of LGBTQ students by counselors at the middle school and concerns in the community that he didn’t intervene. Counselors, who denied wrongdoing, were placed on leave, as was Assistant Superintendent Doreen Cunningham, who was responsible for hiring those employees. The agreement the committees reached with Morris states there was no wrongdoing on his part, though a Title IX investigation into reports that one child who was suicidal was not supported by the counselors and was subject to gender-based bullying is still active.

Rhodes, who chairs the Union 26 Committee, said it will not be easy going forward, but that Slaughter, whose service in Amherst also included chairing the Select Board and serving on its Finance Committee, is the right choice. “Thank you, Doug, for taking on this,” Rhodes said.

The choice of Slaughter came after the leaders of the Union 26 and Regional school committees brainstormed in private over the past week and worked to put forward Slaughter as the recommendation, said Union 26 Chairwoman Sarahbess Kenney, a Pelham representative.

“This is a situation none of us wished to have been put in, but it was the hand we were dealt, and we had to operate and to act expeditiously,” Rhodes said.

Shiao, vice chairwoman of the Regional Committee, said the finance director responsibilities will need to be backfilled, perhaps through conversation with the Massachusetts Association of School Business Officials.

“I’m grateful to Doug that he’s willing to serve as the immediate interim and that it’s my understanding he’s also willing to serve for the rest of the school year,” Shiao said. “I think he will be a stabilizing impact on the district.”

Leverett representative Tilman Wolf, too, said he appreciates the stability that Slaughter will provide.

Pelham representative William Scherr wondered if a search for an interim should be done, but Shiao said since Slaughter is willing to do the job for the full year, that is not necessary.

“My opinion is that we want to focus our energies and our efforts to do a search for a permanent,” Shiao said.

Kenney said if a search were to be done, the committees would be looking off cycle, greatly reducing the pool of candidates who are mostly interested in starting July 1, 2024.

Shutesbury representative Anna Heard assured the public that Morris has no influence on selecting the interim.

“He will have nothing to do with the selection of a permanent superintendent when we do a full search,” Heard said.

Prior to the vote, Tom Fanning, who had been serving as a Pelham representative, announced that he had been removed as a representative to the Regional School Committee at a Pelham School Committee earlier in the week, in which reorgnazation led to Scherr and Kenney being named to the committee. Fanning, though, did vote as one of three Pelham representativeson Union 26, along with Scherr and Margaret Stancer.

At the Aug. 17 meeting, Fanning had joined Shiao and Rhodes in voting against the deal with Morris. Fanning didn’t elaborate on what happened, though he is asking that the reorganization be “null and void” and that he be allowed to rejoin the Regional School Committee.

Title IX update

Like previous meetings, there were several public comments related to the Title IX report, who would receive it and be held accountable, and make decisions based on its recommendations.

Megan St. Marie, a parent of seven current and former children in the Amherst schools, said the school district failed “to provide a rich, loving, caring, respectful and welcoming school environment for all of our children” last school year, and suggested that if the contents of the Title IX report aren’t publicized, that threatens to erode faith in the school leaders.

Fellow parent M.J. Schwartz, too, said that public access to the report is necessary.

“It’s not a good look for the district when information that could be shared, with of course appropriate redactions to be made for protection of minors, is withheld,” Schwartz said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.
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