MILFORD, Maine — Despite the unusual presence of county deputies, more than 30 parents, educators and others stuck through the roughly two-hour meeting of the Milford School Committee at Dr. Lewis S. Libby School.
Tuesday night’s special meeting was scheduled so that the committee could take up several items that could not wait until its next regular meeting on Feb. 14.
In opening the session, Chairman Gary Drinkwater told the audience how and why committee meetings will change for the foreseeable future.
“I have decided as chairman to suspend public comment until further notice. I think the reasons are pretty obvious as to why. We’re not accomplishing anything [while arguments are taking place]. We could have a good dialog but things have gotten out of control,” he said.
“I’ve asked the [Penobscot County] Sheriff’s Department to be here tonight in case it does get out of control. If somebody, you know, tries to disrupt the meeting, they are going to be asked to leave and we need to do this business for obvious reasons.”
The two measures were put in place after relations between the school committee majority and a parent-teacher group dissatisfied with the way the local School Department is being run recently began heating up for the second time in three years.
The most recent flare-up occurred when Superintendent Nancy Weed, Drinkwater and member Michael Bond, a former chairman, walked out of the Jan. 10 school committee meeting after a committee member made a disparaging remark about the superintendent. Drinkwater and Bond now are the focus of a recall effort.
Todd Saucier, the father of a Louis Libby seventh-grader, said members of the parent-teacher group have been attending committee meetings in force because they are concerned about their children’s educational future.
“The parents have brought up an number of issues over the last several months and keep expecting that there’s going to be a response on the part of the board or the administration and, in the occasions where there has been responses, there’s been no follow through,” he said. “They all get stuck in park but nobody really moves it down the road.”
Although committee members spent most of Tuesday’s special meeting in executive session discussing legal and personnel matters, they did accept the resignation of Principal James Friel, appoint an interim principal and approve an overnight trip to Sugarloaf for the Special Olympics.
Friel, a well-liked principal who had worked in Milford for less than two years, resigned effective Jan. 18, citing health reasons. In recognition of his work, the committee extended his health insurance coverage through the end of June.
James Russell, a veteran educator who served as Hermon Middle School’s principal for the past six years and was previously employed by SAD 64 for 17 years, was named interim principal through the end of June.
Representing the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Department at the meeting were Chief Deputy Troy Morton, Deputy James Ellis and Deputy William Bill Sheehan.
“It’s because I love the be involved in the community,” said Morton, who spent the meeting perched on one of the tiny wooden chairs grouped around several child-sized tables near the library’s entrance. As Hermon has a police coverage agreement with the town of Milford, there will be no bill for the services the department provided Tuesday night, he said.
As it turned out, the deputies didn’t have much to do during the meeting. There was no disorderly conduct on the part of the roughly 40 people in attendance so no one needed to be removed.
People on all sides of the controversy say the community needs to do what’s best for its children.
“It’s time to put kids first and move forward and focus on giving them the education they deserve,” Vice Chairman Ann Goodwin said after the meeting.