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RSU 67 board pledges to end ‘polarization and disunity’

Nick Sambides Jr. | BDN
Nick Sambides Jr. | BDN
Newly-elected RSU 67 Board of Directors Chairwoman Rebecca Hanscom gets a hug from a resident following a meeting at Mattanawcook Academy on Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012.
By Nick Sambides Jr., BDN Staff

LINCOLN, Maine — RSU 67 school board members elected new leaders Wednesday who promised to help the regional school unit move past what one member described as “polarization and disunity.”

Former board Chairwoman Rebecca Hanscom of Mattawamkeag, veteran David Shannon of Lincoln and newly elected member Dolly Phillips were named chairwoman, vice chairman and secretary. All were elected by majority votes by the board, which serves Chester, Lincoln and Mattawamkeag.

Hanscom, who returned to the board late last month after a three-year hiatus, said she looked forward to listening to residents’ concerns. She replaces board Chairwoman Jackie Thurlow, who retired from the board on Nov. 6, and interim Chairman Regginal Adams of Mattawamkeag.

“I look forward to listening to [people’s] concerns. I look forward to this board being like the boards in the past that I remember,” Hanscom said. “We have a very important, special district to be proud of. I have always been proud of that.

“Let’s get back to business,” she added.

Adams and four speakers who addressed the board said the school system suffered from serious problems among administrators, teachers and residents. “Polarization and disunity” is how Adams characterized inter-board relations.

Board members and administrators agreed to develop a communications plan to restore public faith in their leadership.

“This [communications plan] needs to be board-driven and generated because that is where we have internally some issues of trust and we have some issues of trust with our public,” Adams said. “Our superintendent can’t do that for us and neither can our legal counsel.”

Some teachers have complained that the board and Superintendent Denise Hamlin had a top-down management style that alienated teachers, stifled fair criticism and targeted critics within the system. Hamlin has disagreed, saying she was following board guidelines and is constrained by confidentiality requirements from discussing personnel issues.

Thurlow and Hamlin have said that misinformation about the budget and the efforts of a small group of residents against the budget have clouded the previous referendums. Several residents who spoke at Wednesday’s meeting said the more than 1,800 people who voted down the budget on Nov. 6 were no small group.

The proposed $12.19 million budget was rejected by a combined vote of 1,886 to 997 in unofficial vote totals on Nov. 6. Lincoln and Chester rejected the budget. Mattawamkeag passed it, 181-180.

With a districtwide public budget meeting set for Tuesday, Dec. 11, and a districtwide validation referendum set for Jan. 10, the board must rebuild its bridges with the community, Adams said. He called for “a serious, serious effort at rebuilding so we do move forward.”

Mattanawcook Junior High School teacher Elizabeth Bickford asked board members to “open communication with teachers and administrators and the board so we can work together.”

“The change that has happened, however it has come about, has affected the education of the children but it is not too late to save” the situation, Bickford said.

“We have a lot of smart, smart people working in this district. The teachers here are an incredible group of people,” she added. “There are some really strong minds in the administration, and when we pull all that together … then we will see the communication come back together.”

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