A petition drive intended to unseat three Scarborough school board members gathered enough valid voter signatures to force recall elections in the coming weeks.

The petition drive, organized by a local political action committee, is one of several issues swirling in the Scarborough school district, including alleged “slanderous attacks” on Superintendent Julie Kukenberger that the board revealed in a public statement Friday afternoon.

Town Clerk Tody Justice announced Friday morning that she certified 74 petitions each to recall Board of Education Chairwoman Donna Beeley and members Cari Lyford and Jodi Shea.

“We established that the sponsors had obtained more than the required 2,622 valid signatures of registered votes for each petition,” Justice said in a written statement.

The Town Council has 30 days to hold public hearings on the petitions. The hearings will be held at 7 p.m. April 25.

A recall election would follow within 30 days, likely in May, just a few weeks before the June 12 school budget validation and primary election. A special election costs as much as $5,000, Justice said.

Town voters will be asked to cast individual ballots on the three board members, so it’s possible that all or none of them could be removed from office. A follow-up election would be held to replace any unseated members.

The targeted board members are three of the longest-serving on the seven-member board. Beeley’s term ends in November, and Lyford’s and Shea’s terms end in November 2019.

The school board’s statement

‘SAD DAY FOR SCARBOROUGH’

In a written statement, Beeley said she has no intention of running a traditional campaign to keep her seat and will take the recall process one step at a time.

“This is a sad day for the town of Scarborough,” Beeley said. “I am concerned that this effort will only lead to a lack of citizens running for elected positions. I see this as an unfortunate process because of its implications not only for all elected officials but also for the negative impact on our town as a whole.”

Lyford said she hopes to keep her seat and worries about the future of the school district if the board loses three of its more experienced members.

“It’s especially risky for people to remove us without knowing which candidates are going to replace us,” Lyford said. “I think stability and experience are important and I know I don’t have some driving agenda except to do what’s best for the schools.”

Lyford questioned the intended goal and potential outcome of the recall effort since the petition drive united people with widely divergent concerns.

Shea also issued a written statement, calling the recall effort “short-sighted and not well thought out.”

“It does not help us move forward. It does not help us progress our school system,” she said. “In my opinion, the three school board members targeted are being used as pawns in a dangerous game of chess. The ramifications to the rest of the community will be felt for years to come.”

TARGETED FOR INCOMPETENCE

The Road to Renewal petition group gathered more than 3,000 signatures for each of the three board members. The petitions targeted them simply for “incompetence,” a reason Shea called “outrageous and more a term of convenience to be used on the petitions.”

However, the group, which has a public Facebook page, has said that its main objective is to force the resignation of Kukenberger and the reinstatement of Scarborough High School Principal David Creech.

Creech resigned in February, effective June 30, without publicly saying why, although his wife and his lawyer say it was forced by the superintendent. He then tried to withdraw his resignation letter following an outpouring of public support, but Kukenberger and the school board have refused to accept his rescission.

In addition to the recall petition, the school board and Kukenberger were the subject of a recent no-confidence vote by the district’s teachers’ union. The vote was 185-91; about one-third of eligible staff members didn’t cast ballots.

Kukenberger drew additional criticism from community members and free-speech advocates when she recently tried to halt a voter registration drive at Scarborough High that was organized by students who supported the recall petition drive.

DISTURBING, ANONYMOUS LETTER

In a statement released Friday afternoon, the school board announced that Kukenberger has been the subject of slanderous attacks for several weeks. An anonymous letter, accusing her of lewd behavior, was sent to five school board members, Town Manager Tom Hall and Kukenberger’s husband.

“The overall tone of the letter was threatening, demeaning, misogynistic and defamatory,” the board said. “Based on our review of the merits of these allegations (against Kukenberger), the board considers the accusations to be demonstrably false. It is disturbing that a community member or members would take the time to concoct this false and abusive letter and send it out, hiding behind the mask of anonymity.”

A Scarborough resident also emailed Boston College, where Kukenberger recently completed her doctoral studies, and “cast aspersions” on both the superintendent and the college, according to the board’s statement. And the board believes someone contacted Kukenberger’s past school district looking for “more ways to defame her character.”

Before becoming superintendent in Scarborough less than two years ago, Kukenberger was assistant superintendent of schools in Haverhill, Massachusetts.

The board said it has contacted the police department, sought advice from an attorney and decided to inform the community because it believes the actions against Kukenberger “demonstrate a willingness to threaten, harass and engage in potentially illegal activity.”

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: KelleyBouchard

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