A group of Kennebunk residents began the process of recalling two school board members from Regional School Unit 21, blaming them for the loss of several teachers, increased human resource spending and the lack of a school program committee.
Affidavits for the recall of RSU 21 school board chair Art LeBlanc and board member Tim Stentiford were submitted to the Kennebunk municipal office on Monday. Twenty-nine signatures on each affidavit were verified to be valid, exceeding the required 25 signatures from qualified voters, City Clerk Merton Brown said. This means the city will take the next much more rigorous step in the recall process., which requires a much larger number of signatures.
The school board pushed back on recall efforts before the affidavits were filed, but LeBlanc said Tuesday that a statement on the documents would not be available until the December 6 board meeting.
“The board members are aware that there is a well organized group that meets regularly and seems focused on discrediting the work of the board and administration for political gain,” LeBlanc said in a letter signed by the 10 members of the board of directors last week. “Despite the efforts of this group to cast doubt on the Council’s commitment to our motives, the Council will remain steadfast in its commitment to supporting our students and employees.”
LeBlanc’s recall affidavit mentions his “role in negotiating the most recent faculty contract and its impact on staff attrition, lack of a curriculum committee seat and failure in executive leadership by allowing teachers, parents and community members to be intimidated and reprimanded in public meetings, caused a loss of confidence in his ability to carry out the duties and responsibilities of the office.
Stentiford’s recall affidavit states that his “role in negotiating the most recent teachers’ contract and his personal contribution to escalating board administrative expenses caused a loss of confidence.”
Superintendent Terri Cooper, who took office in 2020, said on Tuesday she did not know what was driving the recalls, but she remains focused on the best interests of students and employees.
“They care about our students,” Cooper said of LeBlanc and Stentiford. “They care about our employees. They are determined to keep our district moving forward, and I support the work they do.
Cooper said the district dissolved its programs commission in 2017, before her arrival as superintendent, but continued to consider matters in ad hoc commissions. But she acknowledged that she was concerned that committee work was not communicated sufficiently to the community and said she agreed with the need for a standing curriculum committee. .
The district will soon be reviewing a policy on a standing program committee and hopes to put one back in place by January, Cooper said. “I think the program committee is important and that’s what we need to focus on, what we do to support our students,” she said.
Cooper also responded to allegations in one of the affidavits that administrative and human resource expenses had increased unnecessarily, saying the human resources department was initially budgeted prior to his arrival. She said the district currently has three full-time human resources staff, including a generalist who started this week.
“Appropriate HR engagement with all employees can save significant funds for the district,” Cooper said.
Under his leadership, she said, the district’s legal spending fell from a two-year average of $ 325,453 to $ 181,140 in fiscal 2021, and some of the new human resource investments were covered by pandemic relief funds.
Filing an affidavit stating the reasons for a recall is only the first step in the city’s charter process to remove an elected official. Once enough signatures are verified, the clerk issues a petition that can be broadcast to request a reminder. Within 30 days, each petition must have signatures equal to at least 10 percent of the registered voters who voted in the last gubernatorial election, which would mean that each current petition would require a minimum of 669 signatures.
If a petition is certified and there is no legal challenge to the dismissal, the clerk will notify the board of directors, which may call a dismissal election if the elected official does not resign within five days after receipt of the opinion of the certified petition committee.
Some residents questioned the motivations of supporters of the recall, saying they believed opposition to the diversity work and dissatisfaction with the district’s COVID-19 response could also be at the root. recall effort.
“There is an undercurrent of ‘we haven’t got what we want and we want what we want’,” said Merideth Norris, a Kennebunk resident with two children in the district. “The school board is democratically elected, and it’s worrying every time a bunch of citizens are angry and it’s like, ‘We don’t like this and we want a reminder.’ We have a process, and that’s not it. It smacks of intimidation and hidden intentions.
Dan Sayre, who sits on Kennebunk’s budget board and as a liaison with RSU 21, said the arguments from supporters of the recall regarding the district’s increased spending are unfounded and recent investments in human resources were positive.
“The reasons given as to why these two people are being targeted do not match,” Sayre said. “You have to ask yourself. It doesn’t make sense to me, if you want to change the focus of the board and the way they manage the superintendent and spend the money, that you just pick two people.
Norm Archer, former chairman of the board and head of the recall effort, said supporters of the recall focused on LeBlanc and Stentiford because they believe these two board members had the greater influence on the actions of the board of directors, in particular by setting the tone and the content of the meetings and by leading the human resource agenda.
When asked if there were reasons other than those given for the recalls, such as opposition to the district’s work on diversity, equity and inclusion, Archer said such work is necessary and he supports it.
“This particular recall is for the reasons stated in the affidavits,” he said. “It’s teacher attrition and spending that is not being controlled that will affect our tax liability when the federal government aid funds are gone.”
Kennebunk area school board pushes back efforts to recall two members