Emails show tension over RSU 13 budget concernsPetition opposes Collins as interim superintendent
Rockland — Emails between Regional School Unit 13 Superintendent Lew Collins and Business Manager Scott Vaitones show tension between the two beginning in late October.
Vaitones was put on paid administrative leave Nov. 14 and is in the midst of a termination hearing before the school board, which resumes Wednesday, Feb. 12 and is expected to be completed Feb. 13. Collins submitted his resignation to the district Dec. 31. His last day is Feb. 15.
Vaitones has said he was put on leave in retaliation for telling the school board Collins overspent the budget in special education. Collins and the district's auditor have contended that budget overruns are in the food service budget, not special education.
Through a Freedom of Information request, The Courier-Gazette requested emails between Collins and Vaitones concerning the annual audit.
An Oct. 29 email from Collins to Vaitones states that on Oct. 15 the business manager left several items on Collins' desk, including "full budget runs from each of the 10 schools, special education, alternative ed, athletics, transportation, systems admin, student and staff support, technology, health and maintenance."
Auditor Ron Smith of RHR Smith & Company in Buxton, attorneys Campbell Badger and Daniel Rose of Drummond Woodsum in Portland and Board Chairman Esther "Tess" Kilgour were also included in the email.
"These documents that you provided were given in support of your allegations that our FY14 budget had $536,503 'over the voter-approved budget,'" Collins wrote. "I analyzed that information and came to an entirely different conclusion than you did, and our auditing firm supported my conclusion that there was no budget 'overrun' and that indeed, we should not expect Article 1, 2, or 5 to be overspent as you had alleged.
"Am I correct in assuming that these budget runs covering all the Warrant Articles have not changed since you provided them to me two weeks ago? Am I also correct in assuming that your exhibits and supporting spreadsheets contain the same financial information you provided to me in support of your initial allegation?
"Your allegations centered on budget amounts, not actual expenditures or year-to-date experience. Have you performed an analysis of actual experience year-to-date compared to what you had budgeted? If so is that provided in your exhibits anywhere?" Collins continued.
An Oct. 30 response from Vaitones said that at the end of an executive session Thursday, Oct. 24, Badger, the board's attorney, told both the auditor and Vaitones they needed to write up a summary of their presentations and any supported information.
Vaitones said he notified school board members and Collins that he had completed the summary and mailed it, express mail, to each board member's home address.
"Further, I have not used the word allegations in any statement written or spoken," Vaitones wrote in the email to Collins.
On Oct. 15, Vaitones set the budget documents, or exhibits, on Collins' desk. On Oct. 22, he asked the superintendent whether an upcoming closed-door meeting was to discuss Vaitones' performance, or budget issues.
"I need some clarifications about the executive session concerning my performance as reflected by the auditor," Vaitones said in the email. "Is this to talk about issues that happened in FY13 or to discuss my concerns about the state of the current FY14 budget?"
Petition against Collins as interim superintendent
At the Tuesday, Feb. 11 school board meeting, the group is expected to discuss hiring former Rockland board member Brian Messing to help compile the 2014-2015 budget. Collins has previously said the contract will call for paying Messing $100 per day.
The board will also discuss the hiring of an interim superintendent. They voted Jan. 20 to explore all options for the possible hiring of an interim superintendent, including looking within the district to fill the need or hiring an outside candidate. An idea tossed around at the meeting was possibly hiring Collins to work until a suitable interim candidate is found. Collins previously said by email that he would not leave the district "high and dry" and is willing to do what needs to be done to keep the district moving forward.
A petition is being circulated online at change.org to urge the RSU 13 board not to rehire outgoing Superintendent Lew Collins for the interim role until a replacement can be found.
As of 4 p.m. Feb. 4, the petition had 112 supporters.
“I think most of us have felt outrage at the resignation and $100,000 severance package of Lew Collins, superintendent of RSU 13. Currently, the district is careening towards total destruction,” the petition states.
“Somehow, about half the board feels that Lew Collins is leaving because the other half of the board and administrators have 'forced' him out. Make no mistake: Lew Collins has quit his job. There is no way to make him leave before his contract is up in June. I think it is more likely that Mr. Collins realized that the board was not going to renew his contract, so he resigned because that looks better for him on his resume. The money was given on the advice of our attorney,” the petition continued.
Kilgour also has said a candidate has been recommended by Maine School Management Association, but has not announced the name since the person is still employed elsewhere.
The board also is expected to vote for a new chairman. Kilgour announced in December that she is stepping down from the post in March but will remain on the board. Vice-chairman Loren Andrews has said he intends to be a candidate for chairman. Some board members have asked he step down as vice chairman so the board can start anew.
A discussion and possible vote on whether to consolidate Rockland District Middle School and Thomaston Grammar School and a discussion about how or if there is interest in exploring withdrawal from the RSU will also take place.
The meeting begins at 5:30 p.m. at McLain School.
Courier Publications Copy Editor Kim Lincoln can be reached at 594-4401 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.