June 21, 2018
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Rockland school board accepts superintendent’s $100,000 severance

By Stephen Betts, BDN Staff

ROCKLAND, Maine — The turmoil that has wracked Regional School Unit 13 for the better part of two years boiled over again Thursday night as board members argued over the superintendent’s severance package and then verbally attacked each other and administrators.

The board voted 9-2 to accept a severance package with Superintendent Lew Collins which calls for him to be paid through Dec. 31. His contract was set to expire June 30 but he will resign effective Feb. 15.

Board Chairwoman Esther “Tess” Kilgour of Rockland argued that the package was not a golden parachute for the superintendent. She said some board members wanted him to resign immediately but he was willing to work through June 30.

“He has done nothing wrong,” she said.

Board member Steve Roberts of Rockland said the board was deeply divided. He praised Collins for his performance and ability.

Board Vice Chairman Loren Andrews of Cushing said the agreement was a compromise.

One source had said that the superintendent originally sought more than twice what was settled upon by the board.

Opposing the severance agreement were board members Carol Bachofner of Rockland and George Emery of St. George.

After the vote, board member Sally Carleton of Owls Head pleaded with the board to be more civil to each other.

“We have to be kinder to each other. I am totally appalled by how we are treating each other. We’re human beings and we need to treat each other fairly,” Carleton said.

But immediately after that, the board continued to take aim at each other.

Donald Robishaw Jr. of Rockland asked Andrews if he would resign as vice chairman as Robishaw said Andrews promised if Kilgour would step down as chairwoman and Collins was to leave. Kilgour announced last month that she would step down as chairwoman, but remain on the board, in March.

Roberts also asked Andrews to keep his word and step down from his leadership role.

Andrews said he never tied the resignation of the superintendent and Kilgour as chairwoman with his resignation. He said he would be a candidate for chairman at next month’s meeting.

The severance agreement was dated Dec. 30 and is signed by Collins and Board Chairwoman Esther “Tess” Kilgour. The deal provides Collins with full health, dental and disability insurances through the end of this year.

The board will provide Collins a letter of reference and will not contest his filing for unemployment compensation if he is unemployed after Dec. 31.

The board and Collins admit no liability under the agreement.

Collins announced his resignation on Dec. 31 after a stormy three months in which both the teachers association and administrators criticized his management. He said he resigned because the board was fractured and he did not have its full support.

In November, the teachers association said it had no confidence in the superintendent and a change was needed. The superintendent has countered that the criticism results from his efforts to hold teachers and administrators accountable.

In addition, the superintendent placed Business Manager Scott Vaitones on paid leave on Nov. 14. Vaitones has said that the action was in retaliation for him pointing out to the board that the superintendent had hired special education staff that was not budgeted. The district’s auditor told the board in November that there were no overruns in special education but that the school lunch program was running a significant deficit.

A disciplinary hearing before the school board — to act on the superintendent’s recommendation that Vaitones be fired — is scheduled for Jan. 21 and 22. Vaitones said he will fight the attempt to fire him.

Collins was hired unanimously by the board in July 2012.

After accepting the severance package, the board discussed the process of hiring an interim superintendent.

Andrews said the board cannot afford to pay for two superintendents at the same time and said the district should turn to its administrative staff. He said Director of School Improvement Neal Guyer and Business Manager Scott Vaitones had run the district efficiently before Collins was hired.

Roberts said he strenuously objected, pointing out that Vaitones was on administrative leave and had a pending disciplinary hearing. He asked Andrews to recuse himself from that hearing before the board.

Robishaw said if not illegal it would be immoral to consider Guyer as interim superintendent, saying he was the spearhead of the movement to push Collins out of the district. Robishaw said he and the others have planned the ouster for a long time.

Bachofner said the district cannot afford to pay two superintendents and said the board should meet with administrators.

Sherman Hoyt of St. George said an interim superintendent is needed to heal the district and shouldn’t be another stranger.

Kilgour said she contacted the Maine School Management Association and has been provided the name of a person who is willing to serve as interim superintendent. She said she would not provide the name to the board at this time because it was a “leaky” board and that the person’s current job could be jeopardized if his or her name became public.

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