School board debates 'due process' in business manager termination hearing
Rockland — After more than two hours in a closed-door meeting, the Regional School Unit 13 board debated whether to proceed Wednesday, Jan. 22 with the termination hearing for Business Manager Scott Vaitones. During a public portion of the meeting, questions were raised whether Vaitones received due process from the superintendent.
Superintendent Lew Collins placed Vaitones on paid administrative leave in November after learning of financial problems in the district during the annual independent audit of the budget. Vaitones has said Collins' decision to create positions in special education led to budget overruns. Collins and the auditor point to problems with the food service budget.
Collins has since announced his resignation. He was present for the hearing Jan. 22, which started at 5 p.m. at the central office at McLain School in Rockland. The board went into a closed meeting with attorneys.
Just before 8 p.m., the board allowed the public in, and Steven Roberts made a motion to deny Vaitones' request that the meeting be continued to another date because his attorney was not present. The board voted 6-5 to deny the continuance with Vice Chairman Loren Andrews, Carol Bachofner, Sally Carleton, George Emery and Marla McGeady opposed to the motion.
Bachofner then made a motion that the hearing be ceased immediately based on an admission from Superintendent Lew Collins that he had denied Vaitones due process by not offering the business manager counseling or an evaluation before moving directly to a termination procedure.
Collins denied making such an admission, and Roberts argued there had been no such admission. Board member Sherman Hoyt said he agreed there should have been counseling and an evaluation, but argued the hearing provides due process.
Hoyt said the superintendent had determined, based on the report from the auditor, that an evaluation of Vaitones was a "moot point."
"If that was such an egregious moment in the superintendent's mind, and no more process was going to happen than to go to a hearing for dismissal, then I don't know why there was a time lapse before Mr. Vaitones was removed from his work station," Bachofner said. "...I think there was a gap and some missing necessary and even just issues of courtesy toward Mr. Vaitones. ...I think there's something rotten in the state of Denmark here. I think Mr. Vaitones was the negative recipient of that."
Her motion failed 6-5.
Vice Chairman Andrews then held up a sheet of paper and asked how the meeting could go forward when Vaitones had just received the written statement of the charges against him that night.
Roberts said Andrews should not hold up materials in public that were discussed in the closed-door meeting.
Board member Sally Carleton argued the hour was growing late and the board was "fried," and should adjourn the meeting. She made that a motion, which failed. The board then went back into closed-door executive session to hear evidence.
Vaitones said he had decided not to keep the meeting in open session because his attorney could not be there. He apologized to those in attendance that the meeting was going behind closed doors and said the next night's meeting would be open to the public.
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Daniel Dunkle is editor of The Courier-Gazette and news director for Courier Publications. He lives in Rockland with his wife, Christine, who also works for Courier Publications, and two children.
Dunkle has previously served as editor of The Republican Journal in Belfast. He has worked as a reporter and photographer in the Midcoast since 1998.