Pelham School Committee member resigns after removal from regional board

  • Pelham School Committee member Tom Fanning resigned this week, saying he’s upset that he lost his position as one of the town’s two representatives to the Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee. Submitted photo

Staff Writer
Published: 9/27/2023 11:11:09 AM
Modified: 9/27/2023 11:10:21 AM

PELHAM — A member of the Pelham School Committee elected in May who lost his position as one of the town’s two representatives to the Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee during a reorganization of the Pelham board last month is resigning.

Tom Fanning said Tuesday he submitted his resignation to Town Clerk Melissa Hibbard, citing concerns that his Pelham colleagues violated two policies governing selection to the regional panel, and that he could no longer abide by not complying with policies.

The letter calls out the three members: “I am resigning today because I do not wish to serve on a board with members whose actions violate or ignore our school districts’ governing policies,” Fanning wrote. “Note further that my removal from the Regional Committee means that I will not have the opportunity to work toward accomplishing four goals to oversee and bolster existing policies.”

Fanning said this is an unfortunate outcome, as he had wanted to serve and rebuild trust among students and the school community in the wake of allegations of bullying against LGBTQ students at Amherst Regional Middle School, adding that it was a dereliction of duty by members of the Regional School Committee for not seeing that policies were followed.

“The school committee are supposed to be policy people — their job is to oversee the implementation of policies,” Fanning said. “I think that has not been happening.”

Fanning was named to the regional committee along with Sarahbess Kenney at the June 6 Pelham meeting, a reorganization done after the election, and served throughout the summer. However, the town’s School Committee was required to meet on Aug. 29 following the resignation of Sarah Hall, who had been its chairwoman. That left the committee with four members: Fanning, Kenney, Margaret Stancer and William Sherr. During that meeting, Stancer became the chairwoman, Sherr the vice chairman and Fanning the secretary.

But added to the agenda during the meeting was the selection of regional representatives, which Fanning contends was a violation of a governing policy because he had not surrendered his position.

According to the draft minutes, “Sherr stated that he wanted to ensure that his voice and the voice of other LGBTQ+ community was heard as a member of the board. Fanning stated that he would ensure that policies were being followed and reviewed, and [that] … students were healthy and learning appropriately.” A vote followed, with only Fanning voting for himself in a 3-1 tally to name Sherr to the regional panel.

Due to questions about proper posting of the meeting raised to Marc Terry, the school attorney, the Pelham committee met again earlier this month, deadlocking on the vote and leaving Kenney and Sherr as the regional representatives.

Kenney said the reorganization followed normal protocols.

“In my tenure on the Pelham School Committee, since 2019, Pelham representatives to the Regional School Committee have been voted on during committee reorganization, therefore no policies have been violated,” Kenney said.

“I wish him the best in his future endeavors,” Kenney said.

Stancer, too, said the school attorney reviewed the policies and found that the committee acted appropriately. “In his opinion, the election on Aug. 29 of regional representatives by the Pelham School Committee is valid,” Stancer said.

In his resignation letter, Fanning noted his interest in being on the Regional School Committee, to address the bullying LGBTQ students are reported to have been subject to; to eliminate achievement gaps for students of different racial, cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds; to enhance engagement in learning activities and build technology skills valued in today’s economy; and to build carbon-neutral policies that will direct buildings and grounds operations to gradually transition to equipment, materials and practices that do not pollute the soil and groundwater or add heat-trapping gases to the atmosphere.

“This resignation means that I will not be able to place high priority on the Regional Committee and administration working toward achieving the goals of the ‘Anti-Bullying,’ ‘Closing Achievement Gaps,’ ‘The Rapid Growth of Technology’ and ‘The Balance Between Humanity and the Environment’ policies,” he wrote.

While having no further involvement with the regional schools, as chairman of the town’s Community Preservation Act Committee, Fanning is working on ensuring the school playground is fully accessible, and observed that after he was elected, he raised concerns about trees and vines interfering with the elementary school’s ballfield, and this week the issue was addressed.

Fanning said he is also speaking to Principal Micki Darling about volunteer service he may provide there, such as after-school math tutoring.

Fanning said he would consider running for the School Committee in the future, but that would depend on the composition of the committee.

“I wouldn’t want to sit with these folks again,” Fanning said.

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