RSU 13 board accepts superintendent severance deal
Rockland — The Regional School Unit 13 Board approved a severance agreement for Superintendent Lew Collins, who resigned last month, at its Jan. 9 meeting.
Some board members also called for board member Loren Andrews of Cushing to step down from his vice-chairman position.
The board voted 8 to 2 in favor of the agreement, which calls for paying Collins' salary and benefits through Dec. 31. Board members George Emery of St. George and Carol Bachofner of Rockland opposed, while Thomaston Board members Darryl Sanborn and Marla McGeady were absent. The superintendent's last day is Feb. 15.
Andrews said the agreement was a compromise from two sides, but they had to meet in the middle in order to move forward. Board member Steven Roberts of Rockland said the board was split, half wanting Collins to serve until the end of his contract in June and the other half "couldn't wait to push him out the door."
"It was difficult, we did not agree, but we followed policy and procedure and ended with a resignation," said Sherman Hoyt, a board member from St. George, as he outlined the evaluation process since September. Collins resigned before his evaluation was complete.
Emery said he was concerned with the timing of the resignation but Board Chairman Esther "Tess" Kilgour said the district cannot put an interim superintendent in place until the resignation is accepted.
"It is questionable why this was approved," said Don Choquette of St. George during public comment. "It seems he is getting a red carpet exit with a golden parachute payout."
Kilgour said the group met in executive session and noted the severance package is not a golden parachute as some board members wanted Collins gone immediately.
"He has done nothing wrong," she said.
Board member Donald Robishaw Jr. of Rockland said as part of the compromise it was his impression if both the superintendent and chairman resigned, Andrews would also resign as vice-chairman.
"I'm just wondering when that should happen," Robishaw said.
Kilgour announced last month that she would step down as chairman of the board in March.
Andrews said it was an idea that was brought forth and was not part of the agreement. He said after asking around, the feedback he heard was it was not necessary. He said he intends to be a candidate for chairman in March.
"At no time did Loren Andrews package himself with this agreement. He made a suggestion. To even discuss this under this business item [superintendent resignation] is ridiculous," Bachofner said.
Just before the vote, board member Sally Carleton of South Thomaston urged the board to be courteous to one another.
"We've got to be kinder to each other somehow. I do not want to serve with people that are this decisive. When are we going to start the healing?" she questioned.
Moving onto a discussion about interim superintendent, Kilgour said she had spoken to Maine School Management Association and they had suggested a person who is willing and able to step in, but declined to say the name because "we have a leaky board."
She noted not just any individual could step into the role as there is a divided board, a town looking to withdraw and big budget issues to deal with.
"It's not a skill set just anyone can do," Kilgour said.
MSMA has suggested an individual, but they are currently working elsewhere. "It's someone with a strong financial background," she said.
Andrews called for no new taxes and questioned how the district could afford to pay two superintendents. He said Director of School Improvement Neal Guyer and the business manager stepped in to serve in an interim capacity last time and did a fine job. He said the district should fill the job from within until the end of the school year.
Roberts objected to the notion because the business manager [Scott Vaitones] is currently being investigated. He questioned whether Andrews could be fair during a hearing with Vaitones, set to be held Jan. 21-23.
Robishaw said he felt Guyer created a problem when he signed a letter of no confidence in the superintendent, comparing the move to a smear campaign.
"I could never support, given the situation, for Neal to be interim superintendent," he said.
Hoyt supported Andrews and said he also does not support hiring an interim, saying it is not a smart move and it is expensive. Bachofner also said she agrees the district cannot pay two superintendents and the board needs to listen to all ideas.
"Following the resignation of Superintendent Collins, three board members have approached me to ask if I would consider serving in an interim capacity. My response to each query has been the same. If the board requested this of me, I would of course give it consideration — albeit with great reluctance given the board’s current state of affairs," Guyer said in a Jan. 10 email.
"I have not asked in any way to be considered for an interim position, I am not lobbying for the same, and I very much doubt that it would be a constructive transitional fit for the district at this time. Consequently I wish all school board members to know that comments and criticisms offered regarding my ‘non-candidacy’ for an interim position were unnecessary, unfounded, unwelcomed, and inappropriate.
"I have already had the experience of the board’s utilization of me as a proxy in its seemingly continuous internal struggles for power and control. I do not need, nor intend, to have this happen again. I intend to remain focused on my day-to-day work," Guyer said.
Guyer also said the criticism he received from board members for his support of Vaitones are welcome.
"I remain fully supportive of Scott as a valued colleague and trust that his eventual return to the RSU will come in due course. If this disqualifies me in some way for good standing within the district — then so be it," he said.
The board will be meeting weekly in public session to discuss hiring an interim superintendent. Two meetings have been organized: Wednesday, Jan. 15 and Monday, Jan. 20. Both meetings begin at 6:30 p.m. at McLain School.
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