AUGUSTA — An amendment to the city charter that would allow the schools superintendent to live outside of the city advanced a step on Wednesday when the Board of Education requested removal of the requirement.
The Augusta city charter requires the superintendent to live in Augusta within six months of being hired and to remain in the city throughout his or her term of employment. School board members say it has prevented them from hiring a qualified person for the job.
“It’s limiting our pool of candidates,” school board Chairwoman Susan Campbell said after Wednesday’s board meeting.
The school board unanimously approved a resolution asking the City Council to put the amendment to a public referendum, which would probably take place in November.
There was no public comment on the proposal at Wednesday’s meeting, nor on any other item on the school board’s agenda.
At-large board member Larry Ringrose said he believes a referendum is the right way to pursue the change, rather than a legislative fix that some school groups supported last year.
Citing concern about the state overruling the will of local voters, last year Gov. Paul LePage vetoed a bill that would have allowed school boards to remove residency requirements from municipal charters.
When former Augusta Superintendent Cornelia Brown left to lead the Maine School Management Association a year ago, the school board received only a handful of applications. Campbell said they heard that others were interested in the job but did not want to move to Augusta.
With two-income households, children established in schools and the short tenures of most superintendents, it doesn’t make sense to require them to move, Campbell said.
When Brown resigned, the school board hired James Anastasio as interim superintendent, and they later gave him a contract that lasts until July 2015. Anastasio, previously Cony High School’s principal, lives in Gardiner and says he would be interested in becoming superintendent long-term if the residency requirement is removed.
Campbell said Anastasio is doing a great job, but the board would not necessarily hire him for the job long-term. She said the board members — now including a newcomer, Ward 1 representative Jennifer Day, who was inaugurated last week — have not discussed how to proceed if the residency requirement is removed.
The school board first considered requesting the charter amendment last year, but they decided it would be best to hold the referendum in November 2014, when elections for governor and Congress will attract voters. Per state law, turnout has to be 30 percent of what it was in the last gubernatorial election for a charter referendum to be valid.
Also at the school board meeting Wednesday, Cony staff presented information about the the expansion of student services this year, including partnerships with Kennebec Behavioral Health and Spurwink Services.
They presented data about student health and behavior drawn from the 2013 Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey, results of which were publicly released Wednesday. In most areas, Cony students reported using drugs, being sexually active and feeling sad or hopeless at rates slightly higher than state averages.
Principal Kim Silsby said school officials will use the data to inform decisions about student health services, along with results from a survey of students, staff and parents about stressors on students and demand for services at the school’s health center.
Cony staff will bring a proposal to the school board this spring to add reproductive health services. Among survey respondents, 64 percent of students, 76 percent of parents and 81 percent of staff members supported offering such services at the school.
Less than half of students were interested in adding substance abuse or mental health services, but parent and staff support were extremely high, surpassing 80 percent in the survey.