May 27, 2018
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Rockland-area school board meets behind closed doors with auditor, administrators

By Stephen Betts, BDN Staff

ROCKLAND, Maine — The Regional School Unit 13 Board huddled behind closed doors Thursday night to meet with its auditor and business manager over a “personnel” matter.

The board went into the closed-door session over the objection of this reporter for the Bangor Daily News.

The board’s attorney Campbell Badger said it was legal for the board to meet with the auditor in a closed session, since the discussion was going to be about the performance of senior staff members. He said the auditor was an expert on financial matters and he would be of assistance to the board members in the personnel discussion.

Auditor Ronald Smith of Buxton said before the session that he was not going to be reviewing the audit but declined to discuss further what was to be discussed.

While the board and lawyer did not identify who was to be discussed, the RSU’s business manager, Scott Vaitones, was among those who went into the executive session. Vaitones asked, and the board agreed, that Neal Guyer — the director of school improvement and former interim superintendent for the district — also be allowed to attend the closed session. Superintendent Lew Collins also attended.

The closed personnel meeting occurred two weeks after 10 district administrators, including Vaitones, signed a letter sent to Board Chairwoman Esther “Tess” Kilgour and Vice Chairman Loren Andrews highlighting concerns about several issues such as transparency and accountability in the budget process. The administrators’ concerns also centered on school board micromanagement; staff morale; and the need for better communications, shared decision making, transparency and accountability from the superintendent.

Vaitones and Guyer declined to comment Thursday night about whether they thought that the session was called in retaliation for the letter they signed.

Kilgour would not divulge before the meeting what specifics would be discussed during the Thursday closed session other than to say that the board would follow the advice of its attorney. Kilgour said Friday morning that no action was taken after the board came out of the executive session. She also said the the meeting to discuss a personnel matter was not held in retaliation for Vaitones being among the administrators to sign the letter to the board’s officers.

The Oct. 7 letter from the administrators was sent out at about the same time as a poll commissioned by the teachers association revealed that out of 135 responses, 118 teachers did not have confidence in the superintendent’s ability to move RSU 13 forward. According to the survey, 112 teachers also indicated that they did not believe they could voice their concerns to the central office administration without fear of reprisal or intimidation.

The president of the teachers association also sent a letter on Oct. 17 to the superintendent and board Vice Chairman Loren Andrews saying the teachers concur and support the administrators’ letter.

Superintendent Collins last week attributed the survey and its results to several factors, including his toughened stance on faculty absenteeism. He also pointed out that the teachers are without a new contract and that no step pay increases have been granted this year pending a contract settlement.

In responding to the concerns voiced by administrators, Collins said there were many issues in the school system that were long neglected before he dealt with them in the past year. Among the issues addressed, he pointed out revamping of the special education department, developing job descriptions, and requiring principals to conduct annual teacher evaluations.

The administrators who signed the letter sent to the school board included Vaitones, Guyer, Oceanside High School East Principal Tom Forti, Oceanside East Principal Larry Schooley, Oceanside West Assistant Principal Edward Hastings, Oceanside East Vice Principal Bill Gifford, Mary Alice McLean who is principal of both the St. George School and Gilford Butler School, Susan Stilwell who is principal of the Owls Head Central School, and Rockland District Middle School Principal Kathy Hollicker.

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