WINTHROP — Frustrations with the town’s school board and superintendent came to a boil Wednesday night when more than 70 residents and educators came to a Town Hall meeting, many with grievances to air.

Before those attendees made their impassioned remarks, though, board members pushed back against the accusations that have been lobbied at them and expressed frustration for what they said has been a violation of Superintendent Gary Rosenthal’s due process rights.

At the end of the meeting, the board held a closed-door meeting before voting to accept Rosenthal’s June 30 resignation.

The board also announced that it will start searching for another superintendent for next year and convene a committee to look at other unspecified problems that have been revealed amid the complaints about Rosenthal.

The board meeting came days after Rosenthal announced that he will resign at the end of the school year because of what he said are “irreconcilable differences” with the districts’ administrators.

The meeting also came on the heels of a vote by the employees of the Winthrop School Department, in which 125 indicated that they have no confidence in Rosenthal and just five expressed confidence in the embattled superintendent.

A day before that vote, a regional director for the Maine Education Association also sent a memo to those employees outlining complaints that have been made about Rosenthal and that the school board has investigated.

During a public comment session on Wednesday night, several teachers and school administrators expressed frustration that, they said, the board still has not taken their concerns about Rosenthal seriously. Several speakers said they hope he will resign sooner than June 30.

“We teach that if you make a mistake, you make amends and learn from it,” said Terry Buchanan, the president of the local teachers union, standing at a podium as more than 30 of her coworkers stood in solidarity. “We haven’t seen that from the superintendent. … That’s not leadership, and that’s definitely not professional behavior, and it’s become too much for folks to bear. We don’t want to keep working with someone we can’t believe or can’t trust.”

Several Winthrop parents also spoke at the meeting, along with a group of principals and other administrators who are now trying to form a union with the stated purpose of making their voices heard.

Karen Criss, the principal of Winthrop Middle School, said that she was speaking for the administrators and laid out several changes they’d like to see from the School Board, including the appointment of School Board member to act as a liaison with staff and the recruitment of a consultant to “repair the damaged relationships that have been created over the last several years.”

“As administrators, we participated (in the vote of no confidence) and are in support of the outcome of this vote,” Criss said, reading from a prepared statement.

In the memo sent to employees of the Winthrop School Department last week, a regional director of the Maine Education Association, Joan Morin, wrote that she has received more than 45 complaints about Rosenthal, including allegations that he has made inappropriate comments about the sexual orientation and ethnicity of employees and the burden pregnant employees place on the district.

Gary Rosenthal

Rosenthal did not speak at the meeting Wednesday night, either about his resignation or the allegations against him. Like the school board, his attorney, Maria Fox, has argued that Rosenthal’s hands are tied because laws prevent him from responding to the claims publicly. Fox also has cast doubt on the veracity of some complaints, but she did not identify specific ones.

During lengthy remarks at the beginning of the meeting, Virginia Geyer, board chairwoman, criticized the publication of the complaints about Rosenthal in the memo to employees and in the Kennebec Journal.

She also encouraged employees to voice their concerns before they swell to the type of backlash the superintendent and the board are now facing.

“We’re ruining people’s lives instead of treating them as though they’re innocent until proven guilty,” Geyer said. “We are essentially, if you will, gagged. … I actually feel somewhat entrapped.”

The board does not plan to publicize the findings of its investigation of Rosenthal, according to Geyer.

But, she added, “I can tell you the investigation results don’t warrant a real lot of action on our part. All I can tell you is the investigation may have brought up other systemic problems that, as a school committee, we’ll have to meet and see if we can fix. … This school committee has always been willing to investigate what will keep our school system working well.”

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @ceichacker

 

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