Teachers, staff vote 'no confidence' in RSU 13 superintendent
Rockland — Seacoast Education Association, the union representing Regional School Unit 13 teachers and staff, has taken a vote of "no confidence" in the leadership of Superintendent Lew Collins.
Collins, who was hired in July 2012, is set to have his evaluation completed by the RSU 13 board Thursday, Dec. 5. The closed-door session begins at 5:30 p.m. and the open school board meeting begins at 6 p.m. Both meetings are at the McLain School.
The vote of no confidence was taken Nov. 19, less than a week after Collins put Business Manager Scott Vaitones on paid administrative leave. It was signed by more than 150 teachers and staff members out of a total of 450.
"We, the undersigned employees of RSU 13, are submitting this letter to express our complete lack of confidence in the ability of the superintendent to lead us forward in a positive manner that is beneficial to the students of RSU 13. We believe that he has, through his decisions, actions and leadership style, created a hostile work environment which has, and will continue to have, a negative impact on the learning process," the Seacoast Education Association letter states. (The full text of the letter can be found at the end of this story).
Vaitones said Nov. 15 he informed the board about $500,000 the superintendent had authorized for special education positions in the district that had not been planned for in the original school budget. Collins served as special education director until this summer when a replacement was hired.
RSU 13 administrators also issued a letter to the editor Nov. 25 supporting Vaitones and his job performance.
Auditor Ron Smith of RHR Smith & Company told the school board Nov. 7 the budget was not overspent in special education, but as of June 30, 2012, there was a deficit of $150,000 in the school lunch program. That deficit grew to $350,000 in 2013. Smith said that could rise to $500,000 in 2014. A week prior to the public meeting with the auditor Collins issued a spending freeze across the district.
The board voted Nov. 7 to uphold the superintendent's grievance decision. Collins would not comment on the nature of the grievance. Personnel issues are not considered public information under Maine's Freedom of Access law.
In an October news release Collins said the school board is in the middle of negotiating contracts with both the teachers and support staff associations and would soon start negotiations with the administrators' association.
He said teachers are upset because staff are now required to provide a doctor's note if they are going to be out sick for three or more days.
"This decision paints all employees with the same brush stroke when he has not presented any evidence of employees abusing the current sick leave policy. In fact, teachers utilized less than 50 percent of the available sick days during the 2012-2013 school year," the teachers union letter states.
The superintendent recently rescinded the requirement after action by the Seacoast Education Association and upon advice of district lawyers, the letter states.
"We have many excellent teachers, support staff and administrators in RSU 13 working hard each day to bring success to our students. I understand that some of the staff have issues and concerns with the decisions and direction that the board and I have agreed to over this past year. I read that staff were upset about the district’s directive requiring a written doctor’s note when absent for three or more days. That is a very typical standard for schools and businesses alike and we did not feel that is was an unreasonable request. This memorandum was shared with their association president and vice-president several days before it was issued and they did not object to the memo until after it was distributed," Collins said in a response by email.
Collins also pointed out in the news release several issues he has addressed since joining RSU 13, such as revamping special education programs to comply with state laws, requiring teacher evaluations to be completed and provided to teachers and working with school administrators to assure equity throughout the district for individual planning time and lunch periods.
The union letter states Collins recommended and executed the elimination of teaching positions, which increased class sizes, while at the same time creating and filling new consulting and administrative positions at a greater cost to the district. The letter also states the superintendent implemented a policy of equal planning time of 200 minutes per week for all schools and teachers without regard for different planning requirements for different grade levels, which they said reduces many teachers' time to plan effective lessons based on their students' needs.
"I did do that with the full consensus agreement of their principals and we thought it was only fair to even things out, including staff lunch periods to 25 minutes daily," Collins said.
The superintendent also said that it was incorrectly noted in the letter that he increased the length of the school day. He said he did change the start times for the schools in an attempt to help teenage students who asked if they could start a little later. He said the change resulted in an extra 10 minutes for transportation needs at some of the schools and does mean that some teachers may need to stay that extra 10 minutes.
The letter states Collins sent an email to employees telling them not to engage in disagreements with the administration via the media, but he said his email read: “We have a great school district with many very talented staff and I do not want to continue dialogues in the press that are simply not helpful to anyone."
"I have certainly challenged the status quo here in RSU 13 and have done what my employer, the school board, has asked me to do," Collins said. "Their mission, as is mine, includes assuring successful outcomes for our students, the children entrusted to our care by their parents in the six towns."
"This district, its staff, Board and I need to move forward and beyond this negative rhetoric. It is not helpful and I am fully committed to working with anyone, at any time to get out of this mire and focused back on student success. Let’s get moving again," he said Dec. 3.
RSU 13 includes schools in Rockland, Thomaston, South Thomaston, Owls Head, St. George and Cushing.
The full text of the letter, signed by more than 150 teachers and staff, is below:
November 19, 2013
From: Seacoast Education Association
To: Tess Kilgour, Chair RSU #13 School Board
Subj: Letter of No Confidence
We, the undersigned employees of RSU 13, are submitting this letter to express our complete lack of confidence in the ability of the Superintendent to lead us forward in a positive manner that is beneficial to students of RSU 13. We believe that he has, through his decisions, actions and leadership style, created a hostile work environment which has, and will continue to have, a negative impact on the learning process. During his tenure he has
- arbitrarily implemented a requirement for employees to provide a doctor's note when absent from work for three or more consecutive days. This decision paints all employees with the same brush stroke when he has not presented any evidence of employees abusing the current sick leave policy. In fact, teachers utilized less than 50 percent of the available sick days during the 2012-2013 school year. Additionally, his implementation of this requirement constitutes a change in working conditions which was not discussed and accepted through the negotiation process. Although he has recently rescinded the requirement, it was only after action taken by the Seacoast Education Association and upon the advice of the lawyers retained by RSU 13 (at an unknown cost to the RSU),
- increased the length of the student day, thereby increasing the length of the teachers' day, without regard to the financial impact of such a decision. The resultant increase in time will cost teachers an average of $1,000 per year per teacher in lost wages. Once again, this change was not effected through the negotiation process,
- recommended and executed the elimination of teaching positions (thus increasing class sizes) while simultaneously creating and filling new consulting and administrative positions at greater cost to RSU 13,
- implemented a policy of equal planning time (200 minutes per week) for all schools/teachers without regard for the different planning requirements for different grade levels, effectively reducing many teachers' time to plan effective lessons based on their students' needs. This change also ignores the fact that many teachers are required to write lesson plans for as many as five separate content areas each day.
His leadership has led to a budget freeze only two months into the current school year, despite the addition of $340,000 in funding from the Maine Department of Education. This has resulted in the inability of teachers to obtain perishable supplies necessary for the implementation of their curricula, the loss of professional development opportunities for staff, and the elimination of field trips for students. Despite the fact that the budget is based on public funds, there has been no transparency in the decision-making process, as required by Maine law, that has led to the necessity for this action. There has been no communication from the Superintendent about how the situation occurred or how funds were expended ( i.e., legal fees, the amount paid to consultants, the salaries of newly-created positions, etc.) despite the fact that this, too, is required under Maine law.
The Superintendent has created a hostile work environment in which many employees are constrained from voicing concerns because of intimidation and fear of reprisal. He made disparaging remarks about employees in the media, and continues to do so, and then sent an email to all employees telling us not to engage in disagreements with the RSU administration via the media. He also spoke to the media about a board decision concerning a grievance matter before informing the Seacoast Education Association despite the fact that it was a personnel matter discussed in executive session by the board and should not have been released to the public.
The Superintendent is also developing new requirements, such as a new report card design, without seeking input from staff who possess the most intimate knowledge of what is appropriate and will be effective in the classroom. There is a definite lack of communication between the Superintendent and employees which led to an unhealthy increase in stress and the impression that staff are not respected for their abilities and ideas. The only emails that the staff continues to receive from the Superintendent are negative and degrading. This is not the leadership style that RSU 13 needs to move the district forward in a positive direction. This leadership style is not effective, respectful, or producing positive results. In short, we feel that our voices are heard but we are not listened to or treated as educated professionals.
At this time we have an absolute lack of confidence in the ability of this Superintendent to work with everyone involved and lead RSU 13 forward to provide a positive educational experience for our students. It is time for a change.
Courier Publications Copy Editor Kim Lincoln can be reached at 594-4401 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Kim Lincoln has worked for Courier Publications since 2003, serving as a reporter, assistant editor and copy editor.
During her time with the company she has worked for each of the three newspapers, The Courier-Gazette, The Camden Herald and The Republican Journal.
When she is not in the newsroom, Kim likes to be outside, whether it be gardening, swimming, hiking or just enjoying the sunshine.