High school principal tapped as new superintendent in Fort Kent

Posted April 18, 2011, at 6:19 p.m.
Last modified April 18, 2011, at 7:45 p.m.

FORT KENT, Maine — A veteran educator with 21 years of experience as a teacher and administrator soon will become superintendent in AOS 95.

Tim Doak, who has been principal of Fort Kent Community High School since 2004, was hired last week as the district’s new superintendent. He will take over for current Superintendent Patrick O’Neill, who announced in March his plans to retire at the end of the school year.

The 62-year-old O’Neill said he was retiring only because he was concerned about proposed cuts to the state retirement system being considered by the Maine Legislature.

O’Neill wanted to avoid any negative effects on his own retirement benefits and still hoped to be rehired as the AOS 95 superintendent. He was one of three candidates considered by the school board members, with nine out of 10 present on Friday voting for Doak.

AOS 95 is the alternative organizational structure formed when SADs 27 and 10 combined. The member towns are Fort Kent, St. Francis, St. John Plantation, New Canada, Wallagrass, Eagle Lake, Winterville and Allagash. The system educates approximately 1,100 students.

The decision to hire Doak came after two special school board meetings held Wednesday and Friday, according to school board members. Doak was hired during the meeting on Friday, which was attended by teachers, school staff and members of the public, according to Debra Labbe, the board secretary.

Doak, 42, had been superintendent of the Madawaska school department for two years before being hired in Fort Kent. He had been in the Madawaska school system for 14 years.

While in Madawaska, he also taught high school social studies, served as assistant principal and principal at Madawaska Middle-High School, and coached high school basketball.

Doak, a native of Fort Fairfield, obtained a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maine at Presque Isle and a master’s degree in secondary education from the University of Maine and took advanced courses and educational leadership courses at the University of Southern Maine.

O’Neill has been superintendent since 2007. He has been involved in the education field for 39 years, 26 of which were at the administrative level. He served as principal of Lewiston High School before becoming assistant principal at Fort Kent Elementary School.

Danny Nicholas, vice chairman of the AOS 95 board, said Monday that three candidates, including O’Neill, were interviewed for the position.

Attempts to reach  Doak were unsuccessful Monday.

When O’Neill announced in March that he would retire effective June 30, he explained that he had been following action at the State House and believed that it was to his advantage to retire. He stated his intentions to reapply for the position and said if he wasn’t rehired, he would look for full-time work elsewhere.

Gov. Paul LePage recommended in his state budget proposal to the Legislature that the retirement age for most state employees increase from 62 to 65. He also proposed continuing the freeze on cost-of-living adjustments for current retirees and capping future increases at 2 percent, down from the current maximum of 4 percent. Additionally, state employees would be required to contribute another 2 percent from their paychecks toward the pension system to help pay down an estimated $4.4 billion unfunded liability. State workers now chip in 7.65 percent of their salary to the pension system.

Administration officials estimate the pension reform proposals will save more than $400 million in the coming two-year budget cycle and reduce the current $4.3 billion unfunded pension liability by more than $2 billion over the long term.

Any changes the Legislature approves to the retirement system will not affect O’Neill’s pension since his retirement will take effect before they do.

According to state statistics, more than 1,000 educators in Maine have retired and then returned to work in the state’s school systems. The educators all get paid twice — once for the work they continue to do and once from the Maine Public Employees Retirement System, which administers their retirement benefits.

Nicholas said Monday that, in the board’s opinion, Doak was the best candidate for the job. He said that Doak accepted the position but Nicholas was not sure whether he had signed a contract.

Kelly O’Leary, another school board member, agreed with Nicholas on Monday evening. He said that finances did not play into the board’s decision to hire Doak.

O’Neill said on Monday evening that he was not upset with the board’s decision. He said that the board was looking for someone to serve in the position in the long term.

“I think Tim will do a great job,” said O’Neill.

Of the four board members contacted Monday, none could recall exactly how much Doak will be paid when he takes the helm as superintendent on July 1. The school’s administrative office was closed on Monday for the Patriot’s Day holiday.

O’Neill earned $94,396 in 2009, according to maineopengov.org.

Board member James O’Malley said he believes that 10 of the 12 board members were present at Friday’s meeting and that Labbe was the only one to vote against Doak’s hiring.

Labbe confirmed that she voted in opposition Monday, but said it was not because she was against his hiring. She said her vote had to do with questions she had about the proposal for Doak’s health insurance coverage.

Labbe said she had heard no complaints from the public about the decision being made in special meetings held so close together. She confirmed that Wednesday’s special meeting was held in the rectory of St. Louis Catholic Church because of space concerns. She said that two other conference spaces were pursued by the school board but were already booked. Friday’s meeting was held at the high school.

Labbe said she was not sure whether the special meeting notices were posted in the St. John Valley Times weekly newspaper. She said she wasn’t sure whether the meetings were posted on the AOS website or where, but she knew they were announced and members of the public were present at Friday’s meeting when Doak was hired.

A spokesman for the weekly newspaper said on Monday evening that staff members were not notified about the special meetings and they were not announced in the paper.

O’Neill said that the board had announced at its regular school board meeting that it likely would hold special meetings to hire a new superintendent.

“Special meetings are different from regular meetings, which we always post notice of plenty of time in advance,” he said. “We don’t have time to do it with special meetings.”

“I have not heard any complaints that we didn’t announce the meetings properly,” Labbe said. “And ordinarily if there were complaints I would have received a number of phone calls by now.”

Labbe said O’Neill told the board that he would have no problem stepping down if the board opted not to rehire him. Both Labbe and O’Malley said the board had talked briefly about asking O’Neill to stay on to assist the district for a short time in some other capacity, but no decision had yet been made.

O’Neill said he would consider working as a consultant for the district.

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