WINTHROP — Administrators of the Winthrop School Department have taken the unusual step of trying to form a union after losing confidence in Superintendent Gary Rosenthal, according to a top official with the Maine Education Association.

Winthrop administrators think Rosenthal has kept them from communicating with the school board “as a united group” and also have “no confidence that they have support from the superintendent within their current positions,” according to Joan Morin, a regional director for the education association who is advocating for the employees.

In an interview Thursday, Rosenthal expressed strong concern “about the credibility of that information” before refusing to comment further. Instead, Rosenthal said to contact the Winthrop School Department’s attorney, Campbell Badger.

“I think you need to get all the facts,” Rosenthal said. “There’s a lot more to this.”

In response to an emailed list of questions, Badger declined to comment on the complaints mentioned by Morin, describing them as a “personnel matter” that “by law, is (confidential) and cannot be discussed in public.”

However, he added, “there are procedures in place that allow employees to bring concerns of this nature to the School Board and, to the extent that employees may have concerns about the school district, the school board invites employees to utilize these appropriate procedures to ensure that their concerns are heard. The Winthrop School Board takes complaints from employees, parents and/or the general public extremely seriously.”

Virginia “Ginny” Geyer, chairwoman of the board, didn’t respond to a voice mail message left on Thursday afternoon.

But the board recently affirmed its support for Rosenthal when its members unanimously voted to extend his contract for another year, according to minutes of a Dec. 20 meeting.

About nine administrators in Winthrop are participating in the effort to form a collective bargaining unit, according to Morin. They include principals, assistant principals, the district’s nurse and the directors of special education and nutrition, she said.

The union to which other Winthrop school employees belong has about 70 teachers and 45 support staff members among its members, a total of about 115 people.

Morin declined to describe any of the complaints in detail. She has filed a notice of the unionization effort with the school board, she said, and will file papers with the Maine Labor Relations Board. Eventually, the organizers hope to hold a vote on the union effort for all eligible administrators.

It’s “highly unusual” that school administrators would make a union push, Morin said, adding that just three other groups of school administrators in Maine are represented by unions.

“Administrators (are) usually working in collaboration with the superintendent and school board,” Morin said. “They normally don’t need those kinds of protections.”

Administrators who were contacted by the Kennebec Journal, including two principals and the district’s nurse, declined to speak and referred all questions to Morin.

The attorney for the Winthrop School District, Badger, said he didn’t know the reasons for the administrators’ union effort, but he said they have a legal right to organize into collective bargaining units and negotiate their wages, hours and working conditions.

The collective bargaining effort comes amid a larger, ongoing debate about the administration of the Winthrop schools, which have about 900 students.

In the last year, town councilors have clashed with school officials over budget negotiations and a large financial shortfall that was discovered in the school side of the town’s finances, from which the town is still recovering. Last year, councilors marked their frustration with Rosenthal by holding a 5-1 vote of no-confidence in him.

But school board members have supported Rosenthal adamantly, saying that the district has improved both financially and academically since he took over leadership.

In an interview last year, Geyer, the board chairwoman, pushed back against the criticism of Rosenthal.

“I would love much more to emphasize the great things Gary has done,” she said in February, in response to the council’s vote of no-confidence. “He’s always underspent his budgets. The schools have consistently brought in test scores that are pretty much above average for the state but below the state average for the price. We do have a good reputation.”

At the time, Rosenthal also spoke of his achievements.

“I’ve had great support from teachers and administrators, and that’s where my strength comes from,” he said in an interview. “When I came to this district, we had a lot of academic, a lot of financial and a lot of personnel issues; and the board said to me, ‘Take care of business,’ and a lot of those things were long-standing issues that had been around for many, many years. That’s what I was charged with, and we’ve been successful.”

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @ceichacker

 

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