June 23, 2018
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Milford citizens group still seeking answers

By Dawn Gagnon, BDN Staff

MILFORD, Maine —  Members of a recently formed citizens group showed up at Thursday night’s school committee meeting in full force in search of answers to some of the questions they raised during a committee meeting last month.

Despite some back-and-forth discussion with the superintendent and school committee members, many members of the informal watchdog group said they still are not satisfied.

The group, which includes parents, taxpayers and staff from the Dr. Lewis S. Libby School, began working together shortly after the abrupt dismissal of John Davis, the former part-time superintendent, after an executive session evaluation on Dec. 9.

Davis was a respected educator credited with reinvigorating local education when he introduced the national Re-Inventing Schools Coalition model to Milford. Though his contract wasn’t due to expire until the end of June, school committee members voted 3-2 to terminate it effective Dec. 31.

Davis has been replaced by Gene MacDonald, a seasoned superintendent from Hermon who plans to retire when his state certification expires in June. MacDonald was hired during an emergency meeting the afternoon of Dec. 28, during school vacation week.

That led to questions among members of the citizens group, who pointed out it was unusual that the meeting took place during the afternoon and during the winter break, which meant two school committee members and key school staff weren’t able to attend because of what was characterized as lack of adequate notice.

Those and related issues were raised during a committee meeting on Feb. 9 during which members of the watchdog group asked a series of questions, many of them about  whether the school committee was providing adequate notice of its meetings to the public and to the media.

On Thursday night, the group returned in even larger numbers for answers. Between 25 and 30 of them attended, though only about half a dozen of them addressed the board and the superintendent.

Many of the questions were about the timing of the Dec. 28 committee meeting and how public notice was provided.

When pressed by resident Amanda Day, MacDonald and Chairman Michael Bond said committee members had been in touch with each other about the Dec. 28 meeting as early as Dec. 21, a week before it took place. It was held despite the fact that two members could not attend because the School Department was in a quandary, MacDonald said, noting that the School Department needed to have a superintendent on board by Jan. 1 as a matter of state law.

Vice Chairwoman Toni Meservey said she had followed up on the group’s question about notice and learned that this “was done legally.” The meeting notice was posted at the usual places, namely the town office, post office and  A&R’s Variety.

Residents, however, pointed out that it was not posted on the school’s website, nor was it sent out over the town’s e-mail notification system.

Cory LaBelle, a parent, asked whether the unusual timing of the Dec. 28 meeting was done on purpose “to go behind people’s backs. … It’s smoke and mirrors,” he said. Why, he asked, wasn’t the meeting held later in the day, to accommodate the two members who were not able to attend?

In response to Day’s question about what steps are being taken to find a successor, MacDonald said the committee has received an information package from the Maine School Management Association, which the panel might tap to lead its search if the cost is not prohibitive.

Despite school officials’ attempts to placate the angry residents, several said they weren’t buying it Thursday.

Joseph and Jennifer Brown and several other watchdogs said they plan to continue monitoring the committee’s actions for the foreseeable future.

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