HOLDEN, Maine — Portland attorney James Bowie served as mediator on Saturday during settlement talks between the SAD 63 school board and the fired superintendent, Louise Regan, who is suing the school district and five current and former board members.
Bowie, who specializes in mediation and dispute resolution, shuttled between one room at Holbrook Middle School where the school board and former members sat, to another where Regan and her attorneys were gathered, occasionally stopping in the library to talk to a representative from the school department’s insurance company.
The mediation session lasted 10 hours, SAD 63 Chairman Don Varnum said Sunday. “We broke up late and I can’t tell anything more than that,” he said. “I wish I could tell you more.”
The sticking points in the mediation have not been made public. In prior court documents, Regan has said she would be asking for the statutory maximum of $400,000 in damages.
The trouble started for SAD 63 in 2007 when a school board member asked to listen to audiotapes from a previous meeting and later took the tapes from the central office. Board member Dion Seymour returned the tapes later that day, but during the board’s Oct. 22, 2007, meeting, read to the board a letter of concern, a move a majority of the board approved.
The letter said Regan had told lies to three other board members concerning the tapes which “maligned” him and his integrity.
Seymour rescinded his letter later in the evening, and the board issued an apology for allowing the letter to be read and its actions during the meeting.
The board members who voted to allow Seymour to read his letter — Seymour, Karen Clark, Therese Anderson, Linda Goodrich and Robert Kiah — are the ones named in Regan’s lawsuit, which was filed later in Penobscot County Superior Court.
Regan claims defamation and violation of her rights related to actions taken at the meeting and the subsequent investigation into her conduct and her firing.
Three of the five being sued are no longer board members. Goodrich resigned from the board citing stress from the lawsuit, Seymour lost his seat during the June 2008 local election, and Kiah decided not to run when his term expired in June 2009.
Regan, who was placed on administrative leave in April 2008, was fired in July 2008 after an investigation into her conduct was released.
In March 2008, SAD 63 requested state Commissioner of Education Susan Gendron to assist in reaching a resolution. Gendron opted to wait for the results of the suit in court.
The lawsuit was moved in June 2008 to U.S. District Court. U.S. Magistrate Judge Margaret Kravchuk in May 2009 recommended a summary judgment in favor of the SAD 63 board on one federal claim in the lawsuit filed by Regan and referred the other counts back to Penobscot County Superior Court.
Regan’s other six claims include two that the board violated the state’s Freedom of Access Act; one stating she wasn’t allowed to view her personnel file; two alleging breach of contract; and one for defamation. An amended complaint added in early March adds two others under the Maine Human Rights Act.
Kravchuk, in her recommendation, stated “the ultimate decision maker is the Commissioner of Education, who did not preside over the underlying investigation and discharge proceeding” and can “consider factual and disciplinary matters afresh.”
After Kravchuk’s decision, SAD 63’s attorneys again asked Gendron to hold a hearing about Regan’s termination, Varnum wrote in his monthly report to the school board last month.
“We have appealed her original decision to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court,” he states.
The arguments were made to the Law Court in Portland on Nov. 9, but judicial court decisions can take up to a month, a board official said during a break Saturday.
The SAD 63 board had to hold a special meeting on Saturday to meet with the mediator and lawyers from both sides. The school board gathered at 9 a.m. and went immediately into executive session. In addition to current members, the three former members who are being sued by Regan also were at the table.
Lawyers fees for the school district and Regan tallied more than half a million dollars last spring, according to SAD 63 business manager Yvonne Mitchell and Thad Zmistowski, Regan’s attorney.