Rockland-area school administrators say superintendent using business manager as scapegoat

Regional School Unit 13 Superintendent Lew Collins, right, unveiled his proposed 2013-14 budget on April 1, 2013. Business Manager Scott Vaitones, left, offered details on the proposal. Vaitones was put on paid leave Nov. 14 by the superintendent.
Regional School Unit 13 Superintendent Lew Collins, right, unveiled his proposed 2013-14 budget on April 1, 2013. Business Manager Scott Vaitones, left, offered details on the proposal. Vaitones was put on paid leave Nov. 14 by the superintendent. Buy Photo
Posted Nov. 15, 2013, at 1:32 p.m.

ROCKLAND, Maine — Regional School Unit 13 administrators are rallying around the RSU’s business manager, who was put on paid leave Thursday by the superintendent. The same school administrators also expressed little confidence in the superintendent’s ability to run the school system.

Business Manager Scott Vaitones said Friday he will fight the superintendent’s effort to fire him. Vaitones said Superintendent Lew Collins has been working to discredit him since the business manager informed the school board that the superintendent had hired $500,000 in additional staff in the special education department this year that had not been budgeted.

“He is trying to take the attention off what is the real problem,” Vaitones said.

Collins declined Friday to comment on the claims by Vaitones and the other administrators.

“It’s a personnel matter. I want to focus on moving the district forward,” Collins said.

The business manager was backed by a letter signed Nov. 5 by eight school administrators — principals, vice principals and the curriculum coordinator. The only three not signing it were the newest administrators hired by Collins — the special education director and two principals. Vaitones signed the first letter but not the Nov. 5 letter.

It was the second letter in two months written by school administrators and sent to school board members complaining about Collins’ management style and abilities.

“We feel it is deeply regrettable that the superintendent has chosen to make Mr. Vaitones a diversionary scapegoat for the irregular, confused and co-responsible financial stewardship of RSU 13,” the Nov. 5 letter stated.

“The present working relationship between the superintendent and our administrative team is unworkable and dysfunctional. The steps that have been taken since our Oct. 7 letter addressing our concerns have further deepened the divide and have led to a hostile working environment,” the letter stated.

Vaitones said the superintendent informed him Thursday that he was placed on administrative leave because Collins was not pleased with the business manager’s performance. The business manager said Collins told him there would be a termination hearing before the board, but he has not been informed of the date.

The business manager was criticized during a Nov. 7 school board meeting for his handling of finances, particularly in reference to the school lunch program. The district’s auditor Ronald Smith said last week that without changes, the deficit in the school lunch program could hit $500,000. That has led to a spending freeze that has stopped field trips and nonmandatory purchases.

Collins and Board Finance Committee Chairman Donald Robishaw Jr. both said at that meeting they were unaware of the extent of the problem with the lunch program.

Vaitones said Friday, however, that the superintendent and finance committee chairman were aware, since there was a discussion of the financial shortfall in the lunch program during a November 2012 meeting.

The board held a closed-door meeting with Vaitones, the auditor and district’s attorney on Oct. 24 but would not reveal the nature of the discussions.

At last week’s board meeting, the auditor said he saw no problem with the spending in the special education department.

Collins said earlier this month that the extra positions being created — that were not part of the approved 2013-14 budget — will be more than offset by savings in not having to send students to residential treatment centers outside the district.

The board has been sharply divided for more than a year. At last week’s board meeting, the superintendent walked out during an increasingly heated debate among the board members over when it should begin a performance evaluation of Collins.

Collins contract expires June 30.

The superintendent has said he is being criticized by administrators because he is expecting accountability from them.

“In the one year that I’ve been here, several critical issues have been addressed, some that were long neglected and ignored. We developed and adopted job descriptions in cases where there were none. We revamped the special education programs to comply with the state DOE’s finding (from before my tenure) that we were not compliant with the law. I insisted that teacher evaluations be completed and provided to teachers as required by law and policy. In some cases, our principals had not been doing them at all,” Collins said in a letter last month in response to a letter from the administrators and teachers.

The administrators detailed their concerns to the board in the Nov. 5 letter. One example cited by the administrators concerned the superintendent’s decision to start classes a half hour later at the high schools and 15 minutes at the elementary schools. The administrators said they had little, if any, input in that decision but were left to respond to parents’ concerns.

They also said that at a meeting last month, Collins told the administrators that if they could not come up with a unanimous recommendation to consolidate the district’s two middle schools, they would not be able to make any recommendation to the board.

The teachers also have expressed little confidence in the superintendent’s ability to run the RSU. A teacher association survey taken in October revealed that 118 teachers of 135 responding did not have confidence in the superintendent’s ability to move RSU 13 forward. Results also showed 112 teachers said they did not believe they could voice their concerns to the central office administration without fear of reprisal or intimidation.

The superintendent said that teachers are upset because they do not have a new contract, he has not given them step raises this year, and he is requiring that they provide him with a written doctor’s note if they use three or more consecutive sick days.

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