Union 76’s future uncertain following superintendent’s resignation

SEDGWICK — School Union 76 finds itself searching for solutions after Interim Superintendent Bob Webster announced his resignation, effective May 6.

His resignation came in the wake of a difference of opinion about a student expulsion.

Webster had been contracted to serve as interim superintendent until June 30.

The longtime educator decided to resign after an executive session held during the Deer Isle-Stonington School Board meeting April 5.

“I presented the evidence for and recommended the expulsion of a student to preserve the peace and usefulness of the school,” Webster said in an email. “I was unable to convince a majority of the board to support my recommendation. That was the only reason for my decision to resign.”

Webster had replaced former Superintendent Mark Jenkins, who resigned in December, six months ahead of schedule after myriad issues within his office and the Deer Isle-Stonington community.

Jenkins had been the focus of ire. Residents were upset when the state school subsidy was threatened because of a late filing of paperwork with the Maine Department of Education.

Problems continued. During the late spring and summer, Deer Isle-Stonington parents and community members were angry about a proposed $7-million school budget. The budget, which was first presented in June 2015, was not passed until September.

Stephen York, chairman of the Deer Isle-Stonington School Board, said he is appreciative of Webster’s work.

“Bob Webster has served this district very well, first as superintendent for 19 years and then coming back for a transition period for a few months to get us through a very difficult series of challenges,” York said. “We are all grateful for the work that he’s done to get us on track. I regret that he finds it necessary to leave before the end of June, but I deeply appreciate everything he’s done.

“My understanding is the budget is just about ready to be finalized in preparation for the voters,” York said. “Bob has done a lot of great things in the short time he’s been here and we’re very grateful.”

The Union 76 Board of Directors, which is composed of the school boards from Deer Isle-Stonington as well as the towns of Sedgwick and Brooklin, has begun conducting interviews for a new superintendent.

Meanwhile, Union 76 Board Chairman (and Brooklin School Board member) Mike Sealander has been gathering options from the Maine School Management Association about what to do in the interim two months before the union hopes to have a permanent superintendent hired.

“A school district’s ability to pay its bills, conduct business, file reports, those are all predicated on having someone acting as superintendent,” Sealander said. “Can you go a week without paying your bills or having a meeting? Certainly. Can you go two months? Probably not.”

In related business, Webster’s impending departure has brought discussion about the future of Union 76 to the forefront for the towns of Brooklin and Sedgwick.

For several months, both towns have been talking about life without Union 76.

Brooklin School Board Chairman Paige Morse announced at a Union 76 Board meeting in December that Brooklin was exploring other options.

The Brooklin and Sedgwick school boards held a joint board meeting Monday at Sedgwick Elementary School.

The meeting, which was held to learn about the process of withdrawing from Union 76, had been scheduled before Webster announced his resignation.

A handful of Brooklin and Sedgwick residents were in the audience, as were Sedgwick Selectman Neal Davis, Brooklin Selectman Deborah Brewster and Blue Hill School Board member Ben Wootten.

Blue Hill is a member of Union 93, which might be an option for either Brooklin or Sedgwick or both.

Webster summarized steps — about 50 of them — needed to withdraw from a school union. He explained various types of organizational structures such as an AOS, or alternative organizational structure, which Mount Desert Island employs, or an RSU — a regional school unit.

Brooklin School Board member Emily Stribling asked about the time frame involved.

Webster said becoming an independent school would take about a year while joining an existing school unit would take two years.

Brooklin School Board member Frank Bianco asked who would do the 50 steps and what it might cost.

“In my experience, someone working as a consultant for the school system,” Webster replied. The interim superintendent estimated $15,000 to $20,000.

Selectman Davis asked about “fundamental reasons” for withdrawing.

Sedgwick School Board Chairman Susan Ford replied, “I think the reason we’re pulling out — we’ve had many problems with the Deer Isle-Stonington board. They’ve cost us money. They’ve forced us to do things we wouldn’t want to do because they are a larger voice than we are.”

Because Deer Isle-Stonington’s population is greater than that of Brooklin and Sedgwick, the Deer Isle-Stonington Board member votes are weighted more heavily in Union 76 Board votes.

Morse said, “I think the Brooklin School Board is looking for what’s going to be the best for Brooklin kids. I don’t think we’re well-serviced the way we are right now. It ultimately trickles down to a better education for our children.”

“We haven’t had a voice in so many years,” Stribling added.

Sedgwick School Board member Marti Brill said the meeting is not an indication the two boards are joining forces.

“We just happen to have a similar set of problems,” Brill said.

Stribling said, “There’s a strong feeling on the Brooklin board that creating an individual school is the best way.”

Sealander remarked, “I think that’s a huge discussion.”

“Being an independent, municipal school is one of the options,” Webster said. The towns of Hancock and Lamoine have independent schools and share a superintendent, Webster said. However, Hancock Grammar School and Lamoine Consolidated School have more than twice as many elementary students as Sedgwick (84) and Brooklin (60).

Webster asked Wootten about how the process went in Union 93 when the town of Surry joined. Was it simple or “tortured”?

“Surry was easy,” Wootten replied.

It would require an act of the Maine Legislature to allow Union 93 to accept new members.

Sealander said one of his concerns about being independent was professional development for staff.

Bianco said he had hoped to see someone at the union level handling curriculum and professional development as well as technology.

Deer Isle-Stonington would like to keep Union 76 intact, according to York.

An island education revitalization committee surveyed island residents about their attitudes on a number of issues, including whether to stay in Union 76 or withdraw.

“The overwhelming response to the survey was that it’s in the island’s best interest to work as a union, to keep it going,” York said. “The last three years have been extraordinarily challenging for all three towns. I would hope that with the possibility of a new superintendent, which all three school districts are participating in that selection process that we’ll be able to pull together and forge ahead. That’s the attitude I’m hearing overwhelmingly on the island. It was a tough time.”

“Everyone is at the table in terms of a search committee representation vetting [superintendent] candidates,” York said. “There have been a lot of frustrations for all three school districts. I think we’re moving forward. That’s my hope that we will be able to pull together.”

The Brooklin School Board plans to hold a public session to get input from townspeople regarding the future of the school system.

See related: “The Various and Sundry Ways Brooklin, Sedgwick, Deer Isle and Stonington Might Organize Central Office Services Under Current Maine Law”

Jennifer Osborn

Jennifer Osborn

Reporter and columnist at The Ellsworth American
News Reporter Jennifer Osborn covers news and features on the Blue Hill Peninsula and Deer Isle-Stonington. She welcomes tips and story ideas. She also writes the Gone Shopping column. Email Jennifer with your suggestions at [email protected] or call 667-2576.
Jennifer Osborn

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