Sitting Easthampton School Committee members prevail, will be joined by 2 newcomers

Jason Miranda talks about the Easthampton elections on Tuesday morning at Easthampton High School.

Jason Miranda talks about the Easthampton elections on Tuesday morning at Easthampton High School. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS—

Christine Biegner talks about the Easthampton elections on Tuesday morning at Easthampton High School.

Christine Biegner talks about the Easthampton elections on Tuesday morning at Easthampton High School. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS—

Carol Ann Sawtell talks about the Easthampton elections on Tuesday morning at Easthampton High School.

Carol Ann Sawtell talks about the Easthampton elections on Tuesday morning at Easthampton High School. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS—

Jishava Patel talks about the Easthampton elections on Tuesday morning at Easthampton High School.

Jishava Patel talks about the Easthampton elections on Tuesday morning at Easthampton High School. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS—

Easthampton elections on Tuesday morning at Easthampton High School.

Easthampton elections on Tuesday morning at Easthampton High School. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS—

Carol Ann Sawtell talks about the Easthampton elections on Tuesday morning at Easthampton High School.

Carol Ann Sawtell talks about the Easthampton elections on Tuesday morning at Easthampton High School. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS—

Jishava Patel talks about the Easthampton elections on Tuesday morning at Easthampton High School.

Jishava Patel talks about the Easthampton elections on Tuesday morning at Easthampton High School. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS—

Christine Biegner talks about the Easthampton elections on Tuesday morning at Easthampton High School.

Christine Biegner talks about the Easthampton elections on Tuesday morning at Easthampton High School. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS—

By MADDIE FABIAN

Staff Writer

Published: 11-08-2023 1:52 PM

EASTHAMPTON — January brings a new era for the School Committee, whose six members elected Tuesday will seek to turn the page after a controversial spring in which two members quit over the handling of a failed superintendent hire.

Voters on Election Day choose to keep the four sitting School Committee members, along with two newcomers. The committee members, along with the mayor, will soon launch a new search for a superintendent, a task that many of them identified as a priority on the campaign trail.

Tuesday’s election drew about 22% of the city’s registered voters, who reelected incumbents Megan Harvey, 1,668 votes; and Ben Hersey, 1,749 votes; as well as Sam Hunter, 1,703 votes; and Laura Scott, 1,750 votes. The latter two were appointed by the City Council to replace the two members quit amid the spring controversy.

The two newcomers joining the School Committee are Linda Markee, 1,506 votes; and Eric Guyette, 1,500 votes. Markee and Guyette narrowly edged out candidate Timothy St. John, who had 1,492 votes.

“I know that the four people who have been serving the school board having nothing but the best interest for all,” Markee said Wednesday morning.

“I think the Easthampton voters were ready to vote for what they felt was going to be the best interest of the children in our community,” she said. A former teacher and manager of two small businesses, Markee said she wants to foster a “positive, caring, compassionate community.”

Newcomer Guyette comes to the committee with a 16-year background teaching fourth, fifth and sixth graders, and at candidate forums he has pointed to the budget, social emotional learning, and valuing teachers as some top priorities.

The polls

Against a backdrop of candidates waving campaign signs, the polls at Easthampton High School bustled with voters on Tuesday morning.

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Ten candidates ran for the six open School Committee seats; Mayor Nicole LaChapelle holds the seventh seat on the committee.

Interest in the position follows several tumultuous months last spring, when the committee faced backlash after rescinding their job offer to Vito Perrone and a citizen effort to recall both the committee chairperson and the mayor failed.

“Local elections are probably the last vestiges of democracy in our country,” said voter Jishava Patel at the EHS polls. “Even just a few people in a small community can make a big impact on what’s going on.”

Another voter, Carol Ann Sawtell, said, “To be honest, I never really thought local elections were that important until I saw what was happening in our town. … I’m just not pleased with what’s going on.”

When the new group of members are sworn into office, they will be tasked with a number of responsibilities including budget discussions and, at the top of many voters’ minds, a renewed superintendent search.

“I hope they can put what happened last year with the super search behind them,” said Jason Miranda, a voter with two kids in Easthampton schools. “They’re immediately going to have to turn their attention to finding a new super, so that’s very important for our community.”

Miranda added that candidates’ views on censorship and book banning made clear where he stood as a voter.

At a candidates gathering at New City Brewery on Tuesday night, committee member Harvey said, “I’m really thankful to the community’s show of support, but also now it’s time to get your head down and do stuff.”

Foremost, she said, “We’ve got to deal with the superintendent business.” Harvey added that when the committee is sworn in in January, it will be important to weigh input from the community as well as teachers.

Committee member Hunter, who is transgender, said, “It’s really hard to be trans right now in politics, especially the School Committee, but it was something I felt really passionately about. … I did not expect to be so supported; I just love where I live.”

In addition to St. John, other candidates not elected include Raymond Sliz, 959 votes; Lynda Broadhurst, 876 votes; and Patricia Covalli, 797 votes.

Maddie Fabian can be reached at mfabian@gazettenet.com