James Hodgkin, the superintendent of the school district made up of Litchfield, Wales and Sabattus, will resign at the end of the school year, citing his frustration with a continuing lack of funding from the state.
Hodgkin, who has worked for Regional School Unit 4 since its formation eight years ago, announced his resignation last week at a meeting of the district’s board of education.
Hodgkin also works part time as the superintendent of Fayette schools, a position he will continue to hold; but he does not currently have another full-time job lined up, he said this week.
Hodgkin said the main reason for his departure is the challenges that have stemmed from a decreasing amount of state funding to RSU 4, which has pushed $2.5 million in education costs onto area residents over the last eight years, even as the school district’s costs have grown by less than 2.5 percent in that time.
“The state keeps contributing less and they keep expecting the towns to pay more to get less money,” Hodgkin said. “That’s the single biggest frustration. … It has made the budget process really difficult and hard, professionally and personally. I don’t expect that it will be getting any better any time soon. After doing eight budgets, I decided I’ve had enough.”
Hodgkin also said that the residents of one of the district’s towns — which he declined to identify — have been particularly unwilling to embrace to district’s proposed budgets.
“I really enjoyed my relationships with the three towns,” Hodgkin said. But some of the taxpayers in that one town, he said, “are basically saying, ‘I’m never supporting the RSU 4 budget.’ When I look at that perspective — it’s already difficult making a budget — it makes it difficult to thinking about wanting to continue.”
Several Litchfield residents have made comments to that effect in the last year, but Hodgkin would not say if that’s the town he was referring to.
Some Litchfield residents have expressed frustration about increasing school funding costs and the fact that they must pay the greatest share of the budget in RSU 4, when Sabattus has more students than Litchfield. The current year’s $18.8 million budget was not approved by taxpayers until September, after Litchfield taxpayers voted it down twice.
“I fully believe that if we don’t put some other options out there, I don’t see Litchfield ever supporting another budget,” said Scott Weeks, a Litchfield resident who sits on the RSU 4 board of education, at a meeting in December.
But despite those challenges, Hodgkin also said he has enjoyed much of his work in RSU 4 and that there have been “more pros than cons” in his tenure. He praised the work of the school board, staff and administrators. Hodgkin said he announced his resignation last week to give the school district ample time to find a replacement.
“I really do appreciate the opportunity RSU 4 gave me,” he said. “I was its first and so far only superintendent, and I loved working here.”
Josh Bisson, a Sabattus resident who is chairman of the RSU board of education, said the board accepted Hodgkin’s resignation and praised the outgoing superintendent’s work.
“RSU 4 has a lot going for it, and I think Jim has done an exceptional job moving the district forward with proficiency-based education, with the administration team,” Bisson said. “The staff could be put up against anybody in the state.”
The district now will start a search process for a new superintendent, which will include a review of any internal candidates who might be interested in the job, Bisson said.
As he looks to his last spring in RSU 4, Hodgkin said he has several projects he is looking to complete. The district recently gained approval from the state Department of Education to receive up to a $1 million, interest-free loan that would help fund the construction of a new roof on Oak Hill High School — a project that will be subject to the approval of all three towns.
Charles Eichacker — 621-5642