ORONO, Maine -– The RSU 26 board elected Orono representative Lisa Buck to serve as board chairwoman on Wednesday night, just hours after Chairwoman Alison Mitchell resigned from her post.
Mitchell, of Orono, stepped down from the board earlier in the day, saying in her resignation letter that she has been “attacked and undermined from many directions” during contentious budget discussions.
In an effort to close an estimated $2 million budget shortfall, the board began budget talks last fall and attempted to decide what cuts to make to close the gap. Now the board has more money available than originally thought and contentious decisions about what to cut have been replaced by heated discussion about what to save.
One of the most contentious issues was resolved Wednesday when the board voted to reinstate the principal positions at Orono Middle School and Asa C. Adams School. The decision was met with applause from an audience made up mostly of Orono parents and teachers.
The board had voted in late March to eliminate the positions, with plans to replace them with one K-8 principal.
The board then approved Glenburn’s recommendations of what to restore to the budget, which include a portion of the librarian’s position, an educational technician and math textbooks, among others. The total amount Glenburn will put back into the budget is $132,355.
Veazie’s budget restoration requests also were accepted.
These votes came after hours of arguments and debates among members of the board who decried inequities in proposed cuts. On several occasions, disputes had to be interrupted by other members of the board.
During public comments, Deborah White, a technology teacher in Asa C. Adams School, criticized the board for lack of tact in email conversations.
John Lucy, an attorney and brother of Orono Middle School Principal Robert Lucy, said he believed eliminating the two Orono administrators would have resulted in a breach of contract and possibly litigation if the board didn’t restore the positions.
The board went into executive session early in the meeting to consult with an attorney.
In a letter obtained by the Bangor Daily News on Wednesday afternoon, Alison Mitchell said attacks against her by members of the public and the school board during the past year prompted her decision to resign.
Printouts of an email distributed by a member of the public during the meeting reveal some of the tension that has boiled over among members of the board this year.
On Tuesday — the day after Orono board representatives held a meeting that was “fraught with emotion,” according to Buck — emails were exchanged among several members of the board.
In one email, Buck wrote, Mitchell “really is obliged to honor our consensus. If she doesn’t, I will be ready to pounce.”
Fellow Orono representative Leo Kenney took offense to that comment, arguing it could be “considered an attempt to threaten, harass and bully fellow board members.”
Buck quickly responded with an apology.
Mitchell said in her resignation letter that she was “a passionate supporter of the formation of this RSU and believed firmly that great things could come of the union” and has been saddened to see things “disintegrate” during the past six months.
Mitchell said she has “come to the reluctant conclusion that the dissolution of the RSU is in the best interest of all three towns involved.” The school district is made up of Orono, Veazie and Glenburn schools.
Mitchell did not return messages seeking comment Wednesday afternoon.
“Serving the Orono community has been a great privilege. I am sorry to see it end this way,” she said.
The Orono Town Council appointed Wayne Scott to fill Mitchell’s vacant seat. Scott was elected last month to take Mitchell’s spot when her term was set to expire later this year. Scott attended Wednesday’s school board meeting.