June 18, 2018
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Lincoln group urges fourth voter rejection of school budget

By Nick Sambides Jr., BDN Staff

LINCOLN, Maine – Some residents are urging voters to reject for the fourth time a proposed RSU 67 budget, saying Monday that such an action would be an expression of dissatisfaction with Superintendent Denise Hamlin and the proposed revitalization of Dr. Carl Troutt School.

In response, the retiring chairwoman of the RSU 67 board of directors, which serves Chester, Lincoln and Mattawamkeag, accused the group of holding the budget and school system “hostage to a difference of opinion about the superintendent’s and board’s vision for the district.”

Phyllis Aiken, Mary Mallett Bies, Tonya McLaughlin and Dolly Phillips said rejecting the proposed $12.19 million budget on Nov. 6 would be a vote of no-confidence in Hamlin. The group has placed about a dozen “Vote No” signs around the school district.

Hamlin “is a very intelligent person, but she has no experience [as a superintendent], and she is costing our district dearly in quality people,” Aiken, a retired physical education teacher for RSU 67, said Monday.

“She is leading us down the wrong path,” said Phillips, who is a candidate for a board seat in this election.

Now in her third year as RSU 67’s top educator, Hamlin is implementing a vision for the school system with board members’ support, retiring Chairwoman Jackie Thurlow said.

“It is a shame to hold the budget — I guess I will use the word hostage — to a difference of opinion about the superintendent’s and board’s vision for the district. I do believe the budget needs to be passed so that the schools can go about doing their daily operations,” Thurlow said. “I also believe that we need to do all that we can to promote our school system and the economy in this region. Expanding the Carl Troutt building would add to the economy of the region.”

Thurlow conceded that the three previous votes rejecting the budget were at least partly expressions of anti-Hamlin feelings.

Hamlin, who did not return messages seeking comment, has proposed buying the Mattawamkeag school for $1 to house the Carleton Project, a dropout-prevention program, and turning the school into a regional learning center that could bring hundreds of thousands of dollars in state education aid.

The group of residents supports the decision of former Superintendent Michael Marcinkus and the board of directors to close the building in spring 2009. Reopening the school for Carleton would cost about $60,000. Totally modernizing it would cost as much as $800,000, officials have said.

Phillips said she disagrees with spending RSU 67 tax dollars on outside students.

“The building is a money pit,” Bies said.

Officials do not have to do all $800,000 of the work on Troutt, Thurlow said. Hamlin has said the money won’t come directly from taxpayers, but from unused accounts and the system’s undesignated fund balance.

Not counting ed techs laid off as part of a cost-cutting measure a few years ago, 57 staff members – including seven of eight administrators or department heads – have left RSU 67 in the last two years, Phillips said. Many left because they disliked Hamlin’s methods, she said.

Thurlow said many of the 57 retired to take a retirement health benefits package or left for innocuous reasons.

“That is something that happens [with staff] when you get a new administrator. If you don’t believe in the direction your school is going, then that [leaving] is your choice,” Thurlow said.

The group said an arbitrator’s recent decision overturning Hamlin’s three-day suspension of a second-grade teacher at Ella P. Burr School for touching a student’s hand, and Hamlin’s defiant criticism of the decision, illustrate their concerns.

Though she found reason to believe some contact occurred, the arbitrator suggested the incident was based on a witness’ misperception. Hamlin should have accepted the decision, McLaughlin said.

The board, Thurlow said, charged Hamlin with evaluating RSU 67 operations, and her diligence in doing so has unintentionally created enemies. “So much of this,” Thurlow said, “is based on personalities.”

Aiken said Hamlin tries to intimidate staff.

“I’ve taught for 37 years, and when a principal calls a teacher in [to a meeting], you go, but last year was the first time I saw people bring a friend or a union representative in with them to act as a witness,” Aiken said.

The group doesn’t like advising voters to reject the budget, but efforts to communicate concerns to board members are usually dismissed, Bies said. Board members don’t discuss issues frankly, she said. Thurlow believes personnel regulations, which require confidentiality, hobble the discussion.

Opposing the budget “is the only way for us to express” our position, McLaughlin said, “and if the budget is voted down on Nov. 6 and new people get elected, we will have enough votes on the board for a vote of no-confidence in the superintendent.”

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