LINCOLN, Maine — RSU 67 Superintendent Denise Hamlin resigned at a school board meeting Wednesday apparently due to the lack of community support for budgets she has proposed, officials said.
The board voted 7-0-4 to accept Hamlin’s resignation. Members Regginal Adams, Rebecca Fleming, Carolyn Smith and John Trask abstained. About 60 people attended the meeting.
Board members named curriculum coordinator Cathy Menard as interim superintendent.
Board Chairwoman Rebecca Hanscom issued a brief statement regarding the resignation thanking Hamlin for her “dedicated service to RSU 67 and its citizens.”
“Mrs. Hamlin sought to implement a variety of fiscal and policy changes which she strongly believed would serve our school system into the future,” Hanscom said in the statement. “When it became apparent that the community would no longer support a budget put forward by Mrs. Hamlin she appreciated the need for new leadership going forward and she has agreed to resign.
“Given Mrs. Hamlin’s many talents, I am sure she will be an asset to whatever school system she moves on to,” Hanscom added. “I and my fellow board members wish her well.”
Hamlin left the meeting before her resignation was announced and did not immediately return a message left Thursday morning.
Hanscom said she and board members would have no comment on the resignation or Hamlin’s severance package. When asked for details of the severance package, a school official said that the package would be available upon the filing of a Freedom of Access Act request.
Reaction after Wednesday’s meeting was muted. Several present and former RSU 67 educators at the school board meeting declined to comment on the resignation.
One of Hamlin’s most vocal critics, junior high school teacher Tracie Murchison, said Thursday that Hamlin’s resignation will allow the district to “finally focus on moving forward and healing.”
“A weight has been lifted off of this district, and we are grateful to the school board, community, and staff members who have helped make that happen,” Murchison said. “There has been a lot of damage done that needs to be fixed. It will take time, but this was the necessary first step to start that process. Let the healing begin.”
Residents of Chester, Lincoln and Mattawamkeag rejected proposed 2012-13 budgets four times before passing one in January.
Several residents who spoke at public meetings after the fourth referendum on Nov. 6 cited a lack of trust in the board and Hamlin. Budgets typically pass by July 1, the beginning of the new fiscal year.
Some teachers and residents have complained that the board and Hamlin had a top-down management style that alienated teachers, stifled fair criticism and targeted critics within the system. They said several top administrators and teachers left the system due to disagreements with Hamlin.
Hamlin has disagreed, saying she was following board guidelines and is constrained by confidentiality requirements from discussing personnel issues.
The teachers and residents pointed to a settlement of a prohibitive practice claim and an arbiter’s decision in November overturning an Ella P. Burr School teacher’s suspension as examples of misfires on Hamlin’s part.
Hamlin and several board members have said that Hamlin was following board directives and had board approval of her actions. Hamlin was working to streamline school budgets and improve efficiency — a process they described as successful, given that the passed budget is about $100,000 below 2009 spending levels. Hamlin’s critics challenged that assertion.
Until the fourth vote, the board’s leadership blamed a small group of residents and former school employees for much of the controversy.
That vote, held on Election Day, featured the largest turnout of the five. In it, voters rejected the budget by a combined vote of 1,886 to 997 in unofficial totals. Lincoln and Chester voted against the budget. Mattawamkeag passed it by a single tally, 181-180. Chester and Lincoln voters rejected reopening Carl Troutt School in Mattawamkeag, which that town’s voters supported.
Besides the cut in spending, which won general approval, Hamlin had what she called several significant improvements to the system during her tenure. Hamlin was the principal at Helen S. Dunn Elementary School of Greenbush when she was hired at $91,000 annually as Superintendent Michael Marcinkus’ replacement in May 2010.
Her administration has almost finished a Sandy Hook-inspired upgrade to the security systems at RSU 67’s three schools — Mattanawcook Academy, Mattanawcook Junior High School and Ella P. Burr School — that she and town police have said makes the buildings far more secure against intruders than they were.
At Hamlin’s initiative, RSU 67 teamed in 2011 with the Houlton-based Carleton Project, an alternative education program aimed at keeping students in high school, and was rewarded with the academy achieving the state’s most-improved high school graduation rate in the 2011 and 2012 school years.
Hamlin also laid off 20 teaching assistants during the 2010-11 school year — an unpopular but necessary move — as part of her attempt to improve teacher accountability and to save money. RSU 67 had at least as many or more ed techs, Hamlin said, than did Bangor’s much larger school system. Six laid-off techs were called back to replace others who left.
Hamlin installed tighter spending controls on RSU 67 finances, she has said. Hamlin also hired a new director of student services who, in the first year of a six-year audit, discovered many “compliance issues” within the district’s special education programs.
Hamlin outlined her goals in a letter to the public in November 2011 in which she called RSU 67 “overbudgeted and overstaffed.”
Hamlin wrote that the board’s directives were to be “a transformative leader. By definition, that entails reorganization and change. The Board and superintendent established a thoughtful set of goals that include, among others, raising student performance, streamlining operational efficiencies to ensure accountability to our taxpayers, and improving professional staff retention through competitive compensation.”