Frank Sherburne is no stranger to criticism.

In less than five years as superintendent of School Administrative District 6 in Buxton, he’s been accused of unfairly pushing out a principal, having inappropriate communications with a student and failing to cancel classes during a snowstorm.

But the latest controversy has led to calls for his termination from parents, some of whom presented a petition to the school board this week.

Sherburne is under fire for hiring his son as an ed tech – an apparent violation of the district’s nepotism policy that only surfaced after 23-year-old Zachariah Sherburne was arrested in March on charges of sexually assaulting a teenage student from another district where he worked.

Concerned community members say the situation represents a larger problem – and they hope it finally forces a change in leadership.

“I think this is just the latest example of his lack of judgment,” said Carolyn Biegel, a former member of the SAD 6 board who believes Sherburne should resign.

Jennifer Connors, the mother of two high school students, thinks teachers have complaints about Sherburne but are too scared to voice them for fear of backlash from him.

“There’s a much bigger issue than just this,” she said.

The Saco Valley Teachers’ Association did not respond to a request for comment.

Chris Day, another parent of high schoolers, said he’s worried about how Sherburne’s actions – and, so far, the lack of repercussions – appear to students and the general public.

“I’m extremely disappointed with our superintendent, with all the stuff happening under his watch,” Day said.

SUPPORTERS AS WELL AS CRITICS

Sherburne, however, does have defenders in the community.

Students at a school board meeting Monday backed him, saying he was a good educator and a good man. Daniel Shirnin, the student representative on the board, said the accusations against the superintendent are “completely unlike Mr. Sherburne, given his character, given his experience.”

In the past, the board, too, has stood behind Sherburne, but Biegel questioned whether the board is properly performing its job – the same concern that led her to resign as a member last year.

“Is the board doing what’s best for the district or what’s best for the superintendent?” she said.

Current board members have yet to weigh in on whether Sherburne violated the district’s nepotism policy. Board Chairwoman Rebecca Bowley said a committee was established to review the possible violation and that she expects to receive its findings this week. Bowley did not respond to an email Thursday asking whether that had occurred and, if so, when the information would be released to the public. According to its agenda for a regular meeting Monday, which does not include any items related to the hiring issue, the board has scheduled a special meeting for Tuesday. The agenda for that meeting had not been posted on the district’s website as of Thursday evening.

A petition was handed to the board at Monday’s meeting, calling for the board to take action in response to the perceived violation of the nepotism policy. Even though the petition is a public document, Sherburne told a board member Monday not to show the paperwork to a reporter and said it would only be released in response to a Freedom of Access Act request.

The Portland Press Herald made that request Tuesday and had not received a response or an acknowledgment of the request as of Thursday.

The petition, however, is posted on change.org under the title “Fire Frank,” and calls for the board not to renew his contract, which doesn’t expire until 2019. Keeping him on for another three years, however, clearly isn’t the wish of the petitioners.

“The trust in his leadership is once again being called into question and too much of our tax money, and your time as board members is being spent on matters such as this rather than on the business of providing a quality education for our children. It’s time to find a new leader for our schools,” it reads.

It had 119 signatures as of Thursday evening.

Sherburne did not respond to requests for comment. He has repeatedly refused to answer questions about his son’s employment and said Monday he does not speak to the media.

Sherburne was hired by SAD 6 in 2011 to replace Suzanne Lukas, who resigned to become a superintendent in Ellsworth.

She also was criticized during her tenure at Bonny Eagle, when she refused to give a diploma to a student who bowed and blew a kiss to the audience at the high school’s 2009 graduation ceremony.

Although the school board backed her actions, the incident, which became a national news story, resulted in the formation of a committee to discuss graduation guidelines every year before the ceremony, and she did not hand out diplomas the following year.

CONFLICT WITH PRINCIPAL, UNION

Soon after Sherburne was hired, Biegel said he told the school board that he was a professional who didn’t need oversight and that the board should trust him to do his job.

He had been superintendent of Regional School Unit 57 in Waterboro, also known as Massabesic, since 2007 and had previously served as director of special education there.

Sherburne, 52, who is married with two sons and lives in Kezar Falls, has master’s degrees in educational leadership and the education of the deaf, according to a biography on Bonny Eagle’s website. He was a teacher of the deaf and in a special education resource room before becoming an administrator.

With more than 3,700 students from Buxton, Hollis, Limington and Standish, Bonny Eagle is nearly tied with Bangor as the biggest district in the state after Portland.

A year-and-a-half into his job there, Sherburne recommended that the board not renew the contract for Beth Schultz, who had been principal of Bonny Eagle High School since 2008, saying she lacked leadership abilities.

Teachers showed up in support of Schultz when she waived her right to a confidential hearing to have her contract discussed in public. She told the board that several improvements had been made at the high school under her leadership.

Her lawyer said that, unless she did something wrong, the district was sending a message that no one employed there has job security.

The board voted in favor of Sherburne’s recommendation.

A couple of months later, in May 2013, the Saco Valley Teachers’ Association wrote a letter to the board saying Sherburne communicated directly with a troubled student through phone, text and email, and interfered with the staff’s ability to “respond to the student’s significant mental health needs.”

The school board quietly hired Portland law firm Pierce Atwood to investigate the accusations, which cleared him of wrongdoing, and the board never brought the situation to the attention of the public.

Rumors, however, started swirling that Sherburne had been placed on administrative leave.

FIVE-YEAR CONTRACT, STORM APOLOGY

In September 2013, he sent an email to parents throughout the district announcing that he would start posting his schedule online to put an end to those rumors, which seemed to come up whenever he was out of the district.

Soon after, the investigation from that spring surfaced, prompting another letter posted on the school district’s website and sent to parents, saying the allegations were untrue and were a product of the union’s resistance to change.

The district refused to provide the Press Herald with a report from the investigation at the time.

Although the letter was signed by then-school board Chair Charlotte Dufresne, she said it was written collaboratively by her, Sherburne and the district’s attorney.

The teachers association responded by saying it didn’t know what resistance the board was referring to and that “the letter shows a complete lack of support and respect” for teachers.

After the clash, the union, the board and Sherburne issued another letter pledging to work together.

Sherburne’s contract was renewed in July 2014 for five more years. His salary this school year is $122,000.

Sherburne didn’t make headlines again until the first day of this spring, when a snowstorm led most southern Maine school districts to cancel classes. SAD 6, however, did not, and that day a district bus that was carrying middle and high school students went off the road into a ditch. No one was injured and the students were transferred to another bus. Sherburne issued an apology, saying the storm did not track the way he had been told it would.

But he has yet to say why he would allow the hiring of his son.

HIRING OF SON A FLASH POINT

The district’s nepotism policy says the board prohibits the hiring of “any person who is a member of the family of a board member or the superintendent.”

Zachariah Sherburne worked for the district from Feb. 8 to March 11, when he turned himself into the Oxford County Sheriff’s Office. Four days later, he was charged with gross sexual assault, a felony, and sexual abuse of a minor, a misdemeanor. Police say he had sex in the Kezar Falls Fire Department, where he is a volunteer, with a 16-year-old student from Sacopee Valley High School, where he also worked as an ed tech. The teenager says she is pregnant and he is the father.

“What’s the reason for the in-depth investigation? It’s clear the policy wasn’t followed. Is there more we don’t about?” Biegel wondered.

She was among a group of parents that showed up at the board’s meeting Monday, hoping to voice concerns about Sherburne. The board, however, only takes public comment on agenda items. Still, the group did not appear deterred from its mission.

“I think the public has had enough, and if the board is unwilling to act, then the public will have to,” Biegel said.