Head of Katahdin region schools to retire

Posted Dec. 04, 2009, at 9:37 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 12:08 p.m.

Sara Alberts will retire effective June 30 as superintendent of the Katahdin region’s public schools, ending five years of what Millinocket School Committee Chairman Thomas Malcolm called “an impossible job.”

Alberts announced her retirement to a combined Union 113-Millinocket School Committee meeting Monday night. In a letter to the school boards dated Nov. 30, Alberts wrote that she and her husband have accepted “a prolific job opportunity that utilizes our collective management experiences.”

“I think she has done a good job,” Malcolm said Friday. “She was hired to do an impossible job. I think she has done it to the best of her ability. It’s a loss to us and to the education field.”

Alberts is the second superintendent in the Katahdin and Lincoln Lakes region to be leaving at the end of the school or budget year. She joins Superintendent Michael Marcinkus of RSU 67, which serves Chester, Lincoln and Mattawamkeag.

Alberts was a special education director at SAD 4, which serves Abbot, Cambridge, Guilford, Parkman, Sangerville and Wellington, when she was hired to run the East Millinocket, Medway, Millinocket and Woodville schools in July 2004 for $80,000 annually.

Having one person run Katahdin schools had never been tried. It was an experiment that supporters hoped would save money.

“It was, to say the least, a Herculean task that no one person no matter how dedicated could possibly achieve,” Millinocket Town Councilor Michael Madore said Friday.

Besides contending with administrative sprawl, the job required answering to the Union 113 school board, which oversees East Millinocket, Medway and Woodville schools; the towns’ individual school committees; and a combined Union 113-Millinocket board.

“She was trying to appease these different areas. It would be difficult for anyone,” East Millinocket committee member Dan Byron said.

Seen as knowledgeable and articulate, Alberts contended with the towns’ multigeneration school, economic and political rivalries, schools that suffered from decreasing state funding, shrinking municipal tax bases and a dramatic school population downturn. They also had lucrative personnel contracts that dated back to better days.

Alberts had some successes. Several arts and sports programs and administrative positions were combined, producing improved programs and, school board members said, considerable savings — $230,000 annually, she estimated.

New computers and programming were introduced to the schools. Grades improved in some areas. A reaccreditation effort at Stearns High School of Millinocket revealed that the school is exceptionally well-maintained and responsive to pupil needs. East Millinocket and Medway school budgets also shrank or showed little growth over the last year or so.

“She works hard, she is a bright woman, but it’s a busy job,” Byron said. “There’s a lot of responsibility there and a lot of hats she is wearing. I don’t think she had too many evenings to herself.”

Alberts found herself targeted in no-confidence votes by the East Millinocket and Millinocket school unions in 2008; suffered from a continual turnover in bookkeepers — four left positions in two years by mid-2008 — and endured sharp questions about her handling of school finances and budgeting.

Teachers complained that a rushed, uncommunicative, top-down management style had left them increasingly burdened with demands that were beyond their job descriptions and cut into their teaching and classroom management time. Several complained about payroll checks not being issued on time.

Millinocket leaders responded by expressing confidence in Alberts, blaming the payroll problems on bookkeeper turnover, but some Millinocket Town Council members suggested replacing Alberts with another superintendent who would answer only for Millinocket schools.

Millinocket schools’ having an anticipated budget surplus of $512,000 in October, after school leaders insisted a half-year earlier that a budget increase was necessary, again raised questions about the school systems’ financial management.

More recently, East Millinocket and Medway school leaders also have expressed desires for a superintendent who would be more responsive to their needs.

“I recognize that over time, boards change, philosophies change and sadly, there is no longer unification around the purpose for which I was originally hired,” Alberts wrote.

A joint board meeting will be held next week to discuss replacing Alberts, Malcolm said. Byron said he wouldn’t want another Katahdin region superintendent.

“We have things we have to get done here in East Millinocket, and it makes it difficult to do that when you have a superintendent that is also [running] the other towns’ schools,” he said.

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