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Local school board considers letting district administrators do more of the hiring

Hadley Barndollar | Portsmouth Herald
Hadley Barndollar | Portsmouth Herald
Kittery School Committee members, from left, Rhonda Pomerleau and Anne Gilbert join Superintendent Eric Waddell and Chairwoman Julie Dow at a May meeting in this Seacoast Online file photo.

KITTERY, Maine — It’s not unusual to see a list of 20 names awaiting position approval on a School Committee agenda. But under state law, Maine school boards and committees are only responsible for the hiring of superintendents, principals and teachers. On Tuesday night, the School Committee discussed the possibility of streamlining their duties by leaving the hiring of other positions to school leadership.

The topic came out of a recent committee workshop with law firm Drummond Woodson, where members discussed the committee’s responsibility, or lack thereof, for hiring coaches, education techs, custodians and others. For years, the School Committee agendas have called for the appointment of all such positions when a new hire or position change is proposed. But state law doesn’t require the committee to do that.

School Committee Vice Chairwoman Kim Bedard felt ending the committee’s approval duties would remove an aspect of public input ahead of bringing new staff members on board.

The names would still be presented to the committee, Anne Gilbert argued, but Superintendent Eric Waddell would present them as an overview, already approved by their specific school leadership.

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“I think (it would streamline) our meetings, making things easier so coaches can get on the field, ed techs can get into the classroom working with kids,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert said during the recent workshop, it “clicked” for her when she realized the School Committee only approves resignations for the superintendent, principals and teachers. “Maybe we’re going through motions that we don’t need to,” she said.

“This is our opportunity to have voice in who is in the classroom, who is coaching our students, who is helping in the lunchroom, who is in at the custodian level, who is in at all levels of the staff,” Bedard said.

Bedard said she is “all for transparency,” and placing new staff members on the agenda “puts it out in the public domain.”

“It allows people, if they know something about a staff member or potential candidate, they can call the superintendent,” she said. “That’s their chance to publicly say before any action is taken or anything. It is the only time when the public has any input on people.”

Bedard said the committee has been approving all district positions “for at least 17 years.” She emphasized she was specifically advocating for the committee’s approval of new district hires, not staff changing positions within the district, such as a teacher becoming a soccer coach.

Committee member Nicholas Chalupa expressed concern with allowing the public to chime in on each step of the district’s hiring, even its most minor positions.

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“I think we also have to have some trust in our school leadership to hire the right people, and have some trust in the background check process,” he said. “I’m fearful there’s some privacy concerns with allowing anyone in the public to comment on every hire we make, no matter what level that may be. I really don’t think it’s necessary to have the public involved in every minor hire our school leaders make.”

Committee member Danielle Hoffman felt they wouldn’t be “taking away opportunities” for the public, but rather “removing an obstacle” for the hiring itself.

“I think we all are very appreciative of our community and input, and I don’t think this is not being transparent,” said Chairwoman Julie Dow. “The only difference is we would not approve these hires at this meeting. The names would still be public, the names would still be listed on the website. It would just streamline our process and may even move it along a little faster.”

Waddell emphasized the vetting process would remain the same. The hiring of a basketball coach, he said for example, already includes input from players, parents, other coaches and an activities director.

Dow acknowledged there are times when questionable things arise about a potential employee, but to have people call and make comments about each hire is “treading on a pretty scary line.”

“We’ve had scary in Kittery,” Bedard answered. “So I just (put) it out there.”

The committee continued the conversation to its next meeting, Sept. 18, to allow for additional input.

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