June 23, 2018
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Committee: If Rockland-area school board members ‘can’t control themselves, we need to control them’

By Stephen Betts, BDN Staff

ROCKLAND, Maine — The Rockland area school board may consider policies that would limit its members’ rights to comment outside of meetings about actions taken by the board.

That was one of many suggestions offered Monday evening by the policy committee of the Regional School Unit 13 Board.

The policy committee also discussed requiring newly elected members to read a statewide handbook and possibly take a test before they could serve on the board.

The discussions were prompted by more than a year and a half of turmoil on the board, largely over personnel matters. Superintendent Lew Collins is resigning effective Feb. 15, business manager Scott Vaitones has been on paid leave since Nov. 17 and the board itself is sharply divided over those management and personnel issues.

Board member Sherm Hoyt, chairman of the policy committee, said Monday evening there should be some policy to limit what board members can say about board actions outside of meetings and on social media sites.

The superintendent, who participated in Monday’s meeting, said he felt it was wrong when there were board members who announced after the board approved a budget last year that they were going to drum up support against the spending package. He said board members need to accept the majority vote of the board.

“I’ve served with maybe 35 to 50 boards over my career, and until I came to RSU 13 I never ran into a board that did not respect majority rule,” Collins said.

Board member Sally Carleton agreed saying panel members needed to suck it up if they were on the losing side of an issue.

The committee also discussed potential disciplinary actions against board members who violate board policies. Hoyt suggested adding the ability to censure members for behavior that violates policies.

“If people can’t control themselves, we need to control them,” Hoyt said.

Committee members said that the board should have a more thorough orientation of members when they are elected or appointed to the school board. Board member Steven Roberts said new members should be required to read the entire Maine School Management Association handbook on being a board member before they can begin serving.

School Board Chairwoman Esther “Tess” Kilgour, who also sits on the policy panel, suggested a test be given to see if members understand their roles and responsibilities as board members.

The board also discussed the role of its chair. Hoyt said there is a concentration of power in the chair, pointing out that the person works closely with the superintendent. He said this can be problematic.

Kilgour said that each board member needs to forge a relationship with the superintendent.

Collins said that in retrospect, he wished he had spent more time working on relationships with board members but said he was a hands-on superintendent who worked on things such as overhauling the district’s special education program and creating the program to serve autistic students.

Carleton suggested the board have co-chairs but said details on how that would work would need to be decided by the full board.

KIlgour will step down as chair of the board on March 5 but remain as a board member.

In the end, however, the policy committee came up with no specific wording for policy changes. Any proposals from the committee would need to be approved by the full board for them to take effect.


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