Rockport leaders overstepping with school board

Nov 12, 2020

It was painful to watch Rockport Select Board Chair Debra Hall grilling local school board members recently in a public meeting about why the board gave Superintendent Maria Libby a raise and bonus this year.

Rockport leaders might try to argue something more innocent like they wanted to increase communication between the school board and town officials.

However, the questions were very pointed, and they largely questioned the compensation for one employee, the superintendent. Hall also went so far as to suggest that school board members are not as rigorous in their consideration of spending the taxpayers’ dollars as the Rockport Select Board is.

We question whether this is appropriate.

For one thing, the town is suing the school district, so this line of communication is questionable.

On Aug. 28, the town filed a lawsuit against SAD 28 and the town of Camden seeking damages, interest and attorneys’ fees claiming the community made multiple-year overpayments to the school district. The cause of this was an error made by the school district in assessing the tax payments, according to statements made by the town.

Rockport leaders issued a lengthy statement in September criticizing Libby and other school leaders over this.

It has been suggested by some that the town should try to enter into more amicable negotiations with the school district and neighboring community. Perhaps the more formal process is better as they need to sort this out in a way that is transparent to taxpayers and best for all involved.

However, pulling the school board members into a meeting and questioning the superintendent’s pay in the middle of this muddies the waters. To be fair to the select board, they did make a statement at the beginning saying they could not talk about the litigation. However, talking about Libby’s pay and the budget process while in litigation for the town’s overpayment toward that same budget and while laying the blame at Libby’s feet does seem uncomfortably related.

Second, school board members are elected by the people. They do not answer to local select boards.

Much of the point the Rockport select board wanted to drive home is that property taxes are mostly going toward schools. They also do pay for the town budget and the Knox County budgets. This is not a new discussion. We’ve seen the same point made forcefully in Rockland.

The school board does have a budget process that is open to the public. They have hearings and discussions, just as the towns and cities and county officials do for their own budgets.

School board members are basically community volunteers and subjecting them to this treatment may make it harder to attract and keep good candidates for the board.

Finally, while it is true that Libby is a public official, one could ask the question: How would it feel to have your paycheck discussed this way in a public meeting? She already had to go through this as part of her evaluation from the school board.

This week Hall took it a step further discussing with the select board whether there was a way to encourage some in town to form a citizen group to attend school board meetings. Her argument was that otherwise, it is just parents and those supportive of schools going to these meetings. This seems like an overstep.

There was an answer to the question of why she received a raise and a bonus. She did well in her employee evaluation process with the school board, and those elected to judge her found that she was putting in extra hours working on the middle school construction project, which voters approved.

In addition, the Camden school district has a strong reputation for good results, and that has been a boon to attracting young families to the area, increasing our local economic vitality.

Obviously the school board, the superintendent and the school district are all public entities that can and should be questioned and subject to constructive criticism. This can come from the public or the press or even select board members.

However, we would argue Rockport leadership has made its point and has been critical enough for a while.

Let’s sort out the payment issue and get back to working together with a sense of community.

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Comments (2)
Posted by: Marsha Steinglass | Nov 17, 2020 14:33

Yes, it is very hard to watch Maria Libby, the Superintendent of our schools, being grilled by some members of the Rockport Select Board.  It is actually just as hard to watch various members of our community being grilled by those same elected officials at Select Board meetings.  The Rockport I’ve know for close to a half century is becoming a place of “grilling” and lawsuits.  So many lawsuits.  Perhaps the preponderance of trained litigators amongst our elected officials is expensive and unnecessary for our townspeople.  I think so.

Respectfully submitted by Marsha Steinglass, Rockport

Posted by: Jeff Sukeforth | Nov 12, 2020 13:16

I find that anyone who cannot place their name to a letter such as this should not be criticizing anyone. Bravo to the Rockport Selectboard for questioning this act. I said sometime ago that this was not the proper time to present bonuses to anyone especially when there will be even more tax dollars requested for this new school and now renovations to the old school. If the school board has money left over, how about putting it back into the school payment system?

As for talking about salaries, pretty sure this information for a public official is public knowledge and can be had through a Freedom of Information request.

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