June 18, 2018
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New Orono Middle School principal hired; Veazie, Glenburn withdrawal talks progressing

By Nick McCrea, BDN Staff

ORONO, Maine — The RSU 26 Board of Directors selected Jeff Paul to lead Orono Middle School during Wednesday’s regular board meeting.

Paul has served as assistant principal at Glenburn’s K-8 school for the past four years.

“I’m just very excited and thank you very much for this vote of confidence,” Paul said after the board voted to hire him. “I just want to get to work.”

Prior to working in Glenburn, Paul spent two years as an assistant principal in Pittsfield and before that was principal for K-5 students at North Orrington School before that school merged with Center Drive School.

In March, the school district board voted to eliminate the Glenburn assistant principal and Orono Middle School principal positions in an attempt to close a significant budget gap. The board eventually reinstated the Orono position and district residents voted to add $265,000 back into the budget at a school district meeting in late May, asking that the board reinstate the Glenburn assistant principal and other positions that had been cut.

Orono Middle School’s former principal, Robert Lucy, announced in May that he was leaving for a post in the Bangor school system.

Superintendent Douglas Smith said 12 people applied for the Orono Middle School position and that of the five people interviewed for the job, three were from within the district and two were external applicants.

“It’s kind of like coming home,” said Paul, who went to junior high school in and high school in Orono. He said he plans to start his time at the middle school by getting to know the staff and students. Orono Middle School has a solid framework already, he said, citing a 2011 National Blue Ribbon School designation.

Smith recommended a two-year contract and the board agreed, but board members Lisa Buck and Susan O’Roak hesitated before raising their hands to vote in favor of a two-year appointment, explaining that they had concerns about making a commitment with an uncertain year ahead for the school district.

Veazie and Glenburn are attempting to withdraw from the school district, which they share with Orono. Withdrawal committees from Glenburn and Veazie have reached agreements with the RSU board on most of the requirements outlined in state statute.

If both Glenburn and Veazie successfully withdraw, Orono will be left as the sole town in the school district.

Glenburn is close to preparing a final document to present to the school board, which will have to approve and sign the full agreement before sending it to the Department of Education for approval.

Under the agreement, Smith would leave RSU 26 and work for the new Glenburn School Administrative Unit since his office already is based in the Glenburn school. The school district’s business office also is held in the Glenburn facility, so Glenburn would retain that office, its services and employees. Whichever towns remain in RSU 26 after withdrawal would then contract with the Glenburn business office since that staff already has knowledge of the budgeting process in each school community.

During Wednesday’s school board meeting, the Veazie withdrawal hit a stumbling block in its negotiations with the board over how Veazie would handle its high school students.

The withdrawal committee sought a contract agreement between Veazie, a school of choice community, and Orono in which Orono would accept any high school students that don’t attend other area schools, including special needs students.

“We understand there has been a long-term relationship between Veazie and Orono, and we think that can continue,” said Janine Raquet, chairwoman of the Veazie withdrawal group. “Our goal, really, is to make things the way they were before, but in a way that’s legally acceptable to the [Department of Education].”

Board members were hesitant to enter into such a contract, arguing that it would place a burden on Orono and might contribute few benefits.

The next scheduled RSU 26 board meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. July 17, in the Orono Town Council Chambers.

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