Patricia Panciera

Westerly Bd of Ed Patricia Panciera. Harold Hanka, The Westerly Sun

WESTERLY — Patricia Panciera is expected to return to her School Committee duties in January, officials say.

Panciera is recovering from a stroke she suffered on Oct. 3 and is currently staying at her daughter’s home in New Hampshire. Prior to moving to her daughter’s home she spent part of her recovery at a rehabilitation facility, also in New Hampshire, according to School Committee President Diane Chiaradio Bowdy. As of Wednesday, Bowdy said, Panciera is expected to return to attending School Committee meetings “sometime in January.”

The 75-year-old Panciera, a former English and French teacher in the Westerly public school district, was re-elected to a second term on the committee in the Nov. 6 election. She has missed two meetings to date and will miss at least one more, according to Bowdy’s projection for her return. Panciera’s absence comes as the committee prepares to take on significant work. Deliberations on the 2019-20 budget will soon begin and in late January the committee will be asked to approve a Stage 2 application to the state Department of Education for the district’s proposed elementary school redesign project.

When a business item before the seven-member School Committee results in a tie vote the proposed action fails.  “While thorough and effective discussion following a motion and a second helps, there is no guarantee it will prevent a tie,” Bowdy said when asked if any steps could be taken to avoid tie votes when there is an even number of committee members participate.

Kristen F. Sweeney, Panciera’s daughter, described her mother’s condition as “great” but declined to say when she would be back to the School Committee.

“She is working on a path forward to a great recovery,” Sweeney said.

The medical prognosis, made following the stroke, for her mother to make a strong recovery remains the same, Sweeney said.

On Nov. 13 Town Attorney William J. Conley Jr. wrote a memorandum to Cathy Brayman, the town’s deputy town clerk for elections, outlining the process for filling vacancies on the School Committee. The process is described in the Town Charter and state law.

According to the charter, vacancies on the School Committee are to be filled by an affirmative vote of a majority of the Town Council until the next general election at which time the vacancy would be filled for the rest of the unexpired term.  School Committee members serve four year terms that are staggered.

“Therefore, in this instance if the School Committee member were to resign…the majority of the members of the Council would fill the vacancy until the next election for School Committee members (who were not elected during this 2018 election, due to staggered terms) and then her position would be filled for the unexpired term thereof,” Conley wrote.

Bowdy said residents have rallied around Panciera.

“Those of us who are truly concerned for Patti’s well-being above all else are so grateful for the outpouring of support that has been shown; we are fortunate to live in such a wonderful community,” Bowdy said.

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