An official with the Winthrop School Department has acknowledged for the first time that the district is investigating complaints against Superintendent Gary Rosenthal, who announced Friday he would resign at the end of the school year.

Virginia Geyer, chairwoman of the School Board, didn’t respond to a request for comment on Friday, when Rosenthal announced that he would resign. Later in the day, staff of the Winthrop schools held an overwhelming vote of no confidence in him.

But Geyer has now sent a letter to the Kennebec Journal confirming that the School Board has been reviewing the findings from a recent investigation into Rosenthal, for which more than 20 people have been interviewed.

Geyer didn’t describe those findings or say whether the School Board will be taking any action in response to them, but she said the group takes such allegations seriously.

The School Board is planning to discuss Rosenthal’s resignation at a public meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. on Wednesday.

Geyer also attacked a memo that was circulated among school staff last week that detailed some of those accusations, describing it as a violation of Rosenthal’s due process rights.

In that memo, Joan Morin, a regional director for the Maine Education Association, said she’s received more than 40 complaints about Rosenthal and described a sampling of them. According to the memo, Rosenthal allegedly made inappropriate comments about the ethnicity and sexual orientation of staff, and the burden pregnant employees place on the School Department.

In the memo, Morin also outlined steps she’s taken to communicate those concerns to the School Board.

Geyer, in her letter, said that the School Board “is extremely disappointed in Ms. Morin’s decision to take this matter public in such a manner.” The memo, she continued, “was unprofessional, inflammatory and extremely disrespectful of the due process rights accorded to Mr. Rosenthal. In this case, Ms. Morin was well aware that the School Committee was in receipt of her allegations and had initiated an investigation into them.”

On Friday, an attorney for Rosenthal, Maria Fox, similarly argued that it was inappropriate for the Maine Education Association to release the memo when confidentiality laws prevented the superintendent from publicly responding to its allegations. She also questioned the veracity of some statements in Morin’s memo, but declined to elaborate.

In an interview this week, Morin said that she sent the memo to the district’s employees after they requested that she do so. The Kennebec Journal published a copy of the memo on its website on Friday after obtaining it from another source.

The memo also raises the question: “At what point and what does it take for the School Board to see what is really happening in Winthrop(?)”

Principals and other administrators in the district are in the middle of forming a union, but until they do, Morin said, they don’t feel comfortable speaking publicly about the complaints and hope that the School Board will take their concerns seriously.

“Whether the board wants to admit it or not, the administrators decided to form a union because nobody was listening,” Morin said. “… The employees requested (the memo) because we hadn’t told them what all the various complaints were. When people feel alone, that’s a problem.”

When school administrators have been reached for comment about Rosenthal, they have referred all questions to Morin.

On Monday, Morin also pointed to the results of the vote last week as a measure of the frustration with Rosenthal. In that vote, 125 staff members indicated they have lost confidence in him, while just five indicated they have confidence and five abstained.

That demonstration came one year after the Winthrop Town Council — which has clashed with Rosenthal ever since a massive, $1.5 million deficit was discovered in the School Budget more than a year ago — also voted that it had no confidence in Rosenthal

On Friday, Rosenthal, who has been superintendent since 2011, announced that he’ll resign on June 30.

In a letter to staff, Rosenthal cited “irreconcilable differences with members of the administration” as the reason for his decision. In an interview, he said that he’d been “looking at this for a while.”

But some school employees hope the School Board will end Rosenthal’s employment sooner, and they may attend Wednesday night’s meeting, according to Morin. Last week, the chairwoman of the Town Council, Sarah Fuller, also said she hopes that Rosenthal’s tenure ends sooner than June 30.

“Just look at the vote,” Morin said. “People are so upset. It’s like, why do you want to keep this going one more day?”

The School Board has remained supportive of Rosenthal over the last year-and-a-half, frequently mentioning his contributions and extending his contract even as he and the Town Council have sharply disagreed.

In her letter, Geyer, the School Board chairwoman, declined to say what might happen at the meeting on Wednesday night and noted that all the group’s decisions must be made in public session.

Geyer also said that an investigator has met with Morin to discuss the complaints against Rosenthal, and that the School Board has spent “significant time reviewing the investigation findings and determining the best course of action for the district.”

Geyer’s letter didn’t indicate whom the School Board had hired to run its investigation, and she didn’t respond to a request Monday for more information about the process.

In recent weeks, an attorney for the School Department, Campbell Badger, has declined to confirm whether there was an investigation of Rosenthal, citing a law that allows employment matters to be discussed in private. On March 5, the School Board did meet for more than three hours behind closed doors to discuss a personnel matter, and Rosenthal sat in on the first part of it.

“While I am not at liberty to discuss the detailed allegations and findings, I can assure the Winthrop school community that the School Committee takes these types of allegations very seriously, will investigate such allegations thoroughly, and, if substantiated, would take swift and effective remedial action to ensure that we have a safe and respectful work environment for every employee,” Geyer wrote in her letter.

She also highlighted steps the Winthrop School Department takes to prevent discrimination, including annual trainings in affirmative action policy.

The purpose of that policy, Geyer wrote, “is to provide employees who believe they have been subject to discrimination access to immediate relief, without fear of retribution, through an investigation” by an officer appointed by the district.

“The School Committee has never wavered from these principles, regardless of the status of those involved,” she said.

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @ceichacker

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