Surprise! Abruzzese Lands School Committee Chair at Last Minute

New Chair Tom Abruzzese (R) and Vice Chair David Ela (L) shake hands after being chosen as the chair and vice chair of the School Committee on Monday night, Jan. 7.

Long-time School Committeeman Tom Abruzzese landed the seat of School Committee chair Monday night, Jan. 7, but he was as surprised as anyone else in Everett that the chips fell in his favor.

Reason number one:  he wasn’t even running at the start of the day.

“It was really out of the blue Mr. (Lester) MacLaughlin nominated me,” said Abruzzese, of Ward 6, on Tuesday. “The first I heard of it was one minute prior to the meeting. Mr. MacLaughlin walked up to me and said he wanted to nominate me for chair. I said, ‘Who’s going to second me?’…Frank Parker seconded Mr. MacLaughlin’s motion and the next thing I knew I was the chairman. I wasn’t openly campaigning for it. I didn’t have bumper stickers or fliers or anything, but sometimes that is the best way when you have something sprung on you…It’s an honor and I’m happy and I hope it’s something that can pull everyone together. We have extremely important things to do this year.”

Abruzzese is joined by Member David Ela, the Ward 4 member, who will be the vice chair.

That was somewhat expected, but many last week had expected Member Bernie D’Onofrio to continue as chair for a third term. That was upset this week when Parker was rumored to be making a run. That did not materialize, but Parker said he supported Abruzzese – mostly because the Committee rules said one cannot serve more than three terms as chair.

This would have been D’Onofrio’s third consecutive term as chair.

Prior to the vote, tension unfolded between D’Onofrio and his colleagues on the School Committee when it was suggested by D’Onofrio to suspend the rules and summon a lawyer. 

Committee members MacLaughlin and Parker were opposed to summoning the lawyer, citing that he was only retained for the recent allegations regarding the Superintendent.  

D’Onofrio ultimately expressed his support for Abruzzese, but implied there has been a lot of conflict between the School Committee members throughout the past few weeks.

“Each and every one of us knows what went on. I busted my hump these past three or four weeks,” he said, referencing the executive session that occurred behind closed doors in December when Supt. Fred Foresteire was put on leave. “I can’t go into what you [Lester MacLaughlin] said in executive session, or what Mr. Parker said in executive session. I’ll be right on camera to tell both of you, you two were out of order.”

Ultimately, the lawyer was not summoned and the vote proceeded without further conflict.  

“I’m very, very happy and excited to have Tom and Dave at the helm,” said Parker on Monday. “They are two of the best who will keep the body, students and staff in mind first and foremost.”

Abruzzese said his candidacy emerged because many on the body didn’t want to violate their own rules or make a special exception to allow D’Onofrio to serve a third term.

“In our rules, it says you can only do two consecutive terms,” he said. “There was talk about finding a way to suspend the rules and make it okay for Mr. D’Onofrio to run again. We discussed it and I could not support that. My point was we have the rules and several others felt the same way.”

Following that somewhat-intense discussion is when MacLaughlin nominated Abruzzese.

He was chosen by a vote of 8-0, with him abstaining from that vote.

“It was completely unanticipated and at the same time, as everyone has seen, there has been a lot of strange happenings over there in a month and I’m hoping this will bring in a much more positive time here,” he said. “I’ve been on the Committee off and on since the 1990s and this is the first time we’re going to be looking for a new superintendent. That’s quite an undertaking…This is pretty important stuff facing this city and the schools. I’m looking forward to it.”

Abruzzese grew up in Everett and attended Everett Public Schools through middle school at the Parlin. He graduated from Pope John High School in 1974 and attended Suffolk University. He got his law degree from New England School of Law, and works for the state Department of Corrections.

He said he will work to make sure the Committee functions well for the teachers and students in the district.

“The easiest way to say it is I’m one of nine and that’s really how I look at it,” he said. “The most important people in all this are the teachers. That’s what makes it all happen – the teachers and the students.”

Sidebar –

School Committee agrees to retain independent counsel

The School Committee voted on Monday night, Jan. 7, to retain an outside attorney for an independent counsel to begin the investigation into sexual harassment claims against former Supt. Fred Foresteire.

Following its organizational meeting on Monday, the Committee voted to retain Regina Ryan to conduct the independent investigation commissioned by the School Committee.

Ryan is associated with Louison, Costello, Condon and Pfaff and has been since 1993. She specializes in litigation defense of public and private sector clients for employment law, school law and constitutional law.

In addition, Attorney Ryan has completed numerous courses at the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD). She is certified to conduct workplace investigations into allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination. Employers rely on her expertise to handle highly confidential and sensitive workplace disputes. She is also certified by the MCAD to train employees on how to avoid claims of discrimination in the workplace and has done so across the Commonwealth.

Cutline –

FRONT 6614 –

Photos by Katy Rogers

New Chair Tom Abruzzese (R) and Vice Chair David Ela (L) shake hands after being chosen as the chair and vice chair of the School Committee on Monday night, Jan. 7.

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Former Chair Bernie D’Onofrio made an impassioned pitch for a third term as the chair, but his colleagues did not want to violate Committee rules.

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Interim Supt. Janice Gauthier takes the oath of office as the secretary of the Committee.

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