The embattled superintendent of the Winthrop School Department announced Friday that he will resign at the end of the school year, but one town official accused Gary Rosenthal of making his announcement to avert a vote of no-confidence that school employees were planning to hold later in the day.

In an interview, Rosenthal denied that he knew the vote of no-confidence was coming on Friday and said he’s “been looking at this for a while.”

In his letter to staff, Rosenthal said he is stepping down on June 30 “due to irreconcilable differences with members of the administration.” He has been superintendent since 2011.

Over the last year-and-a-half, Rosenthal has come under fire from town officials who have disagreed with him about school funding and the origin of a financial error that led to a large deficit in the school budget. Last year, the Town Council held a vote of no-confidence in him.

But in recent months, employees of the department that Rosenthal oversees also have started to sound the alarm. Their latest effort came Friday afternoon, when they too held an overwhelming vote of no-confidence in him.

Of the 135 employees who participated in the vote, 125 responded that they had no-confidence in Rosenthal, according to Joan Morin, a regional director for the Maine Education Association, which is the state’s largest teacher’s union. Just five said they have confidence in the superintendent, while the remaining five abstained from casting ballots.

Principals and other staff of the Winthrop School Department have declined to speak with the Kennebec Journal about their specific concerns, instead referring questions to Morin.

Morin, meanwhile, says that those employees don’t want to speak publicly because they fear retaliation from the School Department. She has been collecting individual complaints about the superintendent — more than 45 have come in, she says — and pressuring the School Board to take action on behalf of the rank-and-file employees.

Just a day before the school employees held their vote of no-confidence, Morin sent a memo to the employees that mentions some of the complaints she’s received.

That memo — a copy of which was obtained by the Kennebec Journal — includes allegations that Rosenthal has made inappropriate comments about the ethnicity and sexual orientation of staff, and the burden pregnant employees place on the School Department.

It also references a March 2017 test of the water in Winthrop Middle School that came back showing elevated lead levels in two faucets, and accuses Rosenthal of misleading the School Board when he told them the water had passed its tests.

Both Morin and Sarah Fuller, chairwoman of the Winthrop Town Council, said on Friday that they’re still concerned Rosenthal will remain in his position until the end of year, given the number and nature of complaints that have been made about him.

They also questioned why he made his announcement before the vote of no-confidence on Friday. And they criticized the School Board, which has continued to support Rosenthal and recently extended his contract. Fuller also questioned why past allegations against Rosenthal didn’t raise concern when he was applying for his job.

In the early 2000s, Rosenthal worked as a principal for the Dorchester County Public School System in Maryland. But in 2003, the department didn’t renew his contract after an administrator raised several areas of concern, according to records from the Maryland State Board of Education.

The document includes allegations that Rosenthal “emailed a joke that had racist overtones” and “charged inappropriate mileage and Internet expenses.”

Fuller sees echoes of those comments in the recent memo from Morin.

“With the vote (of no-confidence) and the documentation of the complaints, it’s unconscionable to keep someone who’s creating such a hostile work environment until June 30,” Fuller said. “This has obviously been going on a long time and the Board of Education has been a bit tone deaf to it, which is a bit disturbing. But with evidence, I would hope they take immediate action to protect teachers and staff, who they are ultimately responsible to. … Our teachers and students and our families deserve better.”

Members of the Winthrop School Board and an attorney for the School Department didn’t respond to requests for comment on Friday or an emailed list of questions.

But the School Board has remained supportive of the superintendent, suggesting that he helped the district finish many budget years with a surplus and see improvements in its academics. The district’s test scores have been among the best in the region.

Interviewed late on Friday afternoon, Rosenthal declined to speak about the allegations that have been made about him and told a reporter that he couldn’t speak for very long because of a family matter. He did suggest that some of the employees who indicated on Friday that they have no-confidence in him may have been pressured to do so — an assertion that Morin denied.

“This is not something that we just did overnight,” Rosenthal said of his decision to resign. “I’ve been thinking about it for a while. With a lot of the things going on, it’s time for a change. And it’s been a really good run. This was my decision.”

Rosenthal referred many questions to his attorney, Maria Fox, who cautioned that confidentiality laws prevent the superintendent from responding to many of the allegations against him.

“It’s really disappointing to see the (Maine Education Association) take that approach with this,” Fox said of Morin’s memo. “Allegations are allegations, and the Association knows that. They know that neither the superintendent nor the board can comment on the details of a (confidential, personnel matter). Throwing that out there (has tied Rosenthal’s hands). We can’t respond without violating employee confidentiality.”

Fox did respond to the allegation that Rosenthal misled the School Board about the lead levels at Winthrop Middle School, saying that he “may have misspoken” and that those sinks are not used and are located science lab.

She said the district is working with the state to fix those lead levels and that no other water sources in the district has been shown to have high levels.

Fox also said that Rosenthal is “steadfast” in his decision to work the rest of the school year and help the district transition to new leadership, and she reiterated some of the academic achievements the school district has made under his leadership.

“He’s accomplished a lot for this district,” Fox said. “I don’t want the community to lose sight of the positive things that have been able to happen.”

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @ceichacker

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