Less-feisty Rockland-area school board regroups with new chairman, interim superintendent

Posted March 07, 2014, at 11:59 a.m.

ROCKLAND, Maine — The Thursday night meeting of the Regional School Unit 13 board lacked the acrimony of the past year as the board members dealt with matters such as searching for a new superintendent and whether to merge the district’s two middle schools.

The meeting was the first with Steve Roberts of Rockland serving as chairman and Michael Wilhelm as interim superintendent.

The board voted unanimously to create a five-member committee, consisting of board members, to begin the process of finding a superintendent. That five-member panel will review applications when they come in and then a larger panel — not yet established but which would include staff and community members — will whittle down the field and make recommendations to the full board.

Roberts will serve on the committee as will board members Carol Bachofner of Rockland, Sally Carleton of Owls Head, Marla McGeady of Thomaston and either George Emery of St. George or Donald Robishaw Jr. of Rockland.

No timetable has been set for when applications will be sought and when they will be due.

The position became vacant when Lew Collins resigned as of Feb. 16, saying he did not have the support of the full board.

The board also voted to hold a series of forums in the district over the next month to gather suggestions from the public on a proposal to merge Rockland District Middle School and Thomaston Grammar School at the Rockland building.

The board also agreed to meet a second time each month. The second monthly meeting would be run more informally and allow for give-and-take discussions with the public. Chairman Roberts proposed the format, which was met with support from the board that has been criticized for not being responsive to citizens who attend meetings and ask questions.

The only topic that generated disagreement was over the effort by St. George to withdraw from the district and the school district’s response to that town.

St. George Board of Selectmen Chairman William Reinhardt, who also chairs the town’s withdrawal committee, welcomed the new chairman and superintendent. He encouraged them to follow through on promises of candor and transparency.

“This is especially important to us — the St. George Withdrawal Committee — because it is an apparent lack of openness, candor, and transparency that has gotten our negotiations with you off on the wrong foot,” Reinhardt said. “To put it plainly, we do not know with whom we are negotiating or what your objectives are in this negotiation.”

RSU 13 board members said they had not been made aware of the positions put forth to the town in the name of the board.

The board voted 9-3 (McGeady, Emery and Bachofner opposed) to ratify the appointments made two months ago by former Board Chairwoman Esther “Tess” Kilgour to a committee to work with the superintendent and district’s attorney on negotiations with St. George. The members she appointed were herself, Robishaw, and Christine Curtis of South Thomaston.

McGeady asked that the full board be notified when the committee meets so that all members can be kept aware of negotiations. Emery said the committee needs to communicate with the board before it speaks on behalf of it.

The two sides are apart on the issues of whether RSU 13 will accept St. George students after the first year of separation, and the distribution of debt payments.

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