MILFORD, Maine — For the second time in three years, things are heating up between members of the Milford School Committee and a group of local parents and educators.
Dissatisfied with the way their local school department is being run, the group on Friday began the process of initiating a recall petition aimed at two members of the school committee.
On Tuesday, Chairman Gary Drinkwater — one of the two members whose recall is being sought — said that relations between the school committee majority and the parent-teacher group have become so contentious that the period set aside for public comment during regular meetings has been suspended for the foreseeable future.
He further said that plans have been made to have a Penobscot County sheriff’s deputy attend meetings to oust any attendees who become disorderly.
Milford Town Manager Dawn Adams said Friday that the town’s recall ordinance states that the process for recalling elected officials in Milford begins when five or more residents sign an affidavit requesting a recall referendum for each official whose removal is sought.
Adams said seven residents — Faye Brown, Joseph Brown, Amanda Day, Gregory Hobson, Tracy LeClair, Karen Martin and Heidi Milton — signed the affidavit that was handed in on Friday.
Most of the signers are parents of Milford students. Additionally, Faye Brown is a grade two teacher, Hobson is a former school committee member and LeClair is married to current committee member Christopher LeClair.
The petitioners now have 30 days to gather signatures from 260 voters, or 20 percent of the total who voted in the last gubernatorial election. If they are successful, the recall referendum or referendums will go before voters, likely in conjunction with the statewide elections in June, Adams said.
The recall effort — aimed at Drinkwater and member Michael Bond — was launched on Friday, the day after Drinkwater, Bond and Superintendent Nancy Weed walked out of a regularly scheduled committee meeting after a member made a disparaging remark about the superintendent.
“We’re working toward creating a really positive learning and working environment,” Weed said Tuesday when asked for her take on what happened. “There’s a lot of work to be done.”
She said, however, “As a superintendent, I can’t allow [school committee] members to be put in a libelous situation in which employees are being evaluated.”
Drinkwater said that he and Bond left because state law requires that superintendents be present at meetings. Bond could not be reached for comment Friday or this week.
Though Weed and Drinkwater declined to get into the specifics of what was said, several people who were at the meeting said the remark had to do with the status of a Rosetta Stone foreign language education computer program that board members agreed to order last month.
Drinkwater said some parents had asked the school to buy the program because Louis S. Libby School currently has no foreign language teacher because of budget and staffing pressures.
On Tuesday, he said that one reason the purchase has not yet been made is the curtailment in state subsidy the town’s school department is facing. Another reason, he said, is that it isn’t clear that the Rosetta Stone program is accredited or otherwise accepted by the state as a language teaching tool.
The Rosetta Stone comment, however, was just the latest salvo in an ongoing feud that has been brewing since late 2010, if not longer.
Joseph Brown and the LeClairs were among a group of about 20 parents and educators who formed a school committee watchdog group in the spring of 2011. Hobson is a former school committee member.
Brown, who was one of the watchdog group’s spokesmen, declined Tuesday to discuss the particulars of what prompted the recall effort, saying more information will be forthcoming.
The watchdog group was born after the abrupt dismissal of former Superintendent John Davis, a respected educator credited by many with reinvigorating local education, as well as a series of committee actions some characterized as questionable.
Davis, who came to Milford from the Baring Strait School District in Alaska, was dismissed from his superintendent’s post effective Dec. 31, 2010, after an executive session evaluation during a school committee meeting a few weeks earlier.
Voting to dismiss Davis were Drinkwater, Bond and then-Vice Chairman Toni Meservey. Voting in favor of Davis were Hobson and Scott Hayden.
Gene MacDonald, a former Hermon superintendent, served in an interim capacity through the end of June 2011. Weed was hired effective July 1 of that year.
During the board’s Nov. 5 meeting, the group at odds with the school department’s leadership presented the school committee a letter signed by the Milford Education Association — the town’s teachers’ union — and Concerned Milford Families.
In the letter, the association and families group said that the school climate had deteriorated to the point where it “has reached a critical point.” Critical of the current leadership, the letter demanded that building administrators take steps toward meeting the items listed on a separate Lewis S. Libby School Needs Statement.
Among other things, the statement called for continued efforts to engage students, parents and the community “as a priority, not a matter of convenience” and for administrators to “respect and embrace professional dialogue with staff members and families, without threats, intimidation or manipulation.”
Drinkwater said the people involved in the feud comprise a special interest group and that as he sees it, the school committee’s duty is to represent all residents, including taxpayers, business owners and senior citizens, to name a few.