STANDISH — Carl Hinshaw still can’t quite believe that the School Administrative District 6 board didn’t act immediately last week when it learned Superintendent Frank Sherburne violated the district’s nepotism policy by hiring his son.

Zachariah Sherburne, 23, also didn’t have the required state approval to work with students, and he was later arrested on charges of sexually assaulting a teenage student from another district where he worked.

“How could that happen?” said Hinshaw, a sales clerk at Standish Hardware who called the board’s decision “a disappointment.”

“People should be held accountable. That’s my big thing,” said Hinshaw, who has a 4-year-old daughter. “It’s an integrity issue.”

Hinshaw isn’t the only one frustrated and angry in the five small towns that make up the sprawling, 182-square-mile SAD 6: Standish, Limington, Frye Island, Hollis and Buxton.

The high-profile story, with its one-two-three punch of nepotism on top of sexual assault charges on top of a lack of credentials, makes it hard to avoid SAD 6 talk around town, said retiree Stephen Nash of Standish.

“It’s like, ‘What the hell is going on over there?’ ” Nash said as he lingered outside the Standish post office. “The general consensus I’ve gotten from everyone is (Sherburne’s) got to go.”

Frank Sherburne

Frank Sherburne

Last week the board announced it would not immediately discipline Sherburne, despite an investigation that found he violated the district’s nepotism policy. At the meeting, the room erupted at the news, with people all talking at once and one man pounding his fists on a table as he shouted at the board’s leadership.

At this point, parents aren’t just mad, they’re organizing.

“It is not over,” said SAD 6 parent Amanda Cooper, who is part of a new group of “concerned parents” who plan to keep up the pressure on the board, write letters and be a regular presence at board meetings. “I would like to see him resign. Or the board terminate him.”

The next board meeting is Monday, with at least two executive sessions scheduled to discuss personnel matters and one executive session to discuss pending litigation. In addition, the board will discuss the upcoming May 23 special board meeting, a closed-door session to do the annual evaluation of the superintendent. The board will also discuss having the board’s negotiations committee oversee Sherburne’s evaluation process, a possible nod to the concern that the board’s chairwoman and vice chairman participated in, and gave approval for, the hiring of Sherburne’s son.

Chairwoman Rebecca Bowley has not responded to questions about whether she planned to recuse herself from future board discussions regarding Sherburne in light of her participation. Sherburne has repeatedly declined to speak with reporters about the controversy.

Cooper, who filed a complaint with the Maine Department of Education last week asking it to investigate Sherburne, said it didn’t have to come to this.

“Honestly, I would not have taken the action I did if I felt the board did what they were supposed to, or if Frank had taken responsibility for his actions and resigned,” said Cooper, who is a teacher in another district and the spouse of a SAD 6 employee.

“It’s because of his own hubris that we’re here.”

Her description was echoed by several residents, who say the superintendent and the board seem to be tone-deaf to what’s happening around them. Meetings have been interrupted as people tried to speak, and a lone board member who tried to open a public comment discussion was voted down by the 14-member board. That led to open talk at several meetings last week that people would perhaps use upcoming meetings about the board’s budget to talk about the situation – or vote against the school budget in protest. Others noted that half of the 14 board members’ terms are up for election this year, providing another opportunity to vote their conscience.

“I hope someday they’ll learn that it’s the parents that drive the bus,” parent Lillian Goulet said at a meeting last week. “We drive the bus. Not them.”

The board will hold a district budget referendum meeting at Bonny Eagle Middle School on May 26. The referendum is on June 14.

Zachariah Sherburne

Zachariah Sherburne

While many residents and SAD 6 families have expressed outrage online and at meetings in recent weeks, there is a steady stream of people who say they aren’t happy about what’s going on but don’t want to step forward because they are afraid it will somehow result in harm to their children. Several recounted individual clashes with Sherburne over school issues, and describe him and the board as “arrogant” and indifferent to their concerns and issues.

“The trust has been lost. The trust has been violated,” Cooper said. She said the Department of Education confirmed that her complaint has initiated a preliminary inquiry into the district and Sherburne. Under state law, employing someone without proper state approvals is grounds for disciplinary action, including the possibility of suspension or revocation of the superintendent’s certificate. It can also lead to loss of state funding to the district equal to the state’s share of salary and benefits paid to unauthorized employees.

Several locals said they wanted an independent investigation, not done by the board or the board’s current legal counsel at Drummond Woodsum. Legal experts have said school boards in general should hire independent investigators to avoid potential conflicts of interest.

“Once you start to shove things under the rug, it’s not good,” said Hinshaw, shaking his head. “Someone else needs to take a look at it. Someone independent.”

That would help clear the air – something both critics and supporters want to see happen.

“I hope the school board will carefully consider what they are doing,” said Laurie Dunlap, who worked as a librarian in SAD 6 for 24 years before retiring. “I just hope people do the right thing.”

Dunlap, like many others in these small rural towns, is clearly uncomfortable with all the outside attention – and all the negative press – that has come with the revelations. There are plenty of good things happening in the schools, they remind people, and they support and respect the teachers.

Which makes it even more frustrating that their elected school board hasn’t acted more decisively, some say.

If they had just come clean about what happened, and acted on it, a lot of this wouldn’t be happening, Hinshaw said. But the process is raising his doubts.

“It makes you think, what else are they hiding? Does it end there? Probably not,” he said. “What a tragedy.”

Dunlap urged patience: “There’s so much we don’t know. I’m not going to judge anything.”

 

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