SCARBOROUGH — Town voters head to the polls Tuesday for a heated recall election that aims to unseat three school board members after months of controversy involving the superintendent and the high school principal.

But what happens next could vary widely, take months to accomplish and offers no guarantee that it will heal a divided community.

A local political action committee mounted a recall campaign after Scarborough High School Principal David Creech resigned suddenly in February, effective June 30, and Superintendent Julie Kukenberger refused to let him rescind his resignation letter, which he says she coerced.

The Road to Renewal group successfully circulated petitions targeting Board of Education Chairwoman Donna Beeley and members Cari Lyford and Jodi Shea for “incompetence,” though the stated reason on its Facebook page was to keep Creech as principal and force Kukenberger to resign.

Another Facebook-based group, Scarborough Sharing Truth on Recall Matters, formed to fight the recall effort and support the superintendent, despite concerns about the handling of divisive changes in school start times and proficiency-based grading.

Town voters will be asked Tuesday to vote “yes” or “no” to recall each member, so it’s possible that all or none of them could be removed from the seven-member board.

However, in order for a recall decision to be valid, each candidate must receive at least 3,147 total votes, which is 30 percent of town residents who voted in the last gubernatorial election.

Town Manager Tom Hall said the town tried to set a high bar when it added recall language to the charter several years ago.

“A recall is a serious matter,” Hall said. “We wanted to ensure there was some validity to the vote.”

Hall said he believes the election will meet the 3,147-vote requirement based on the number of absentee ballots, which have accounted for more than half the votes cast in recent town elections.

Town Clerk Tody Justice said 1,670 of 1,880 absentee ballots issued in this election had been returned by Friday morning. Tuesday’s election takes place at Town Hall from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Ballots will be counted by hand.

If the 3,147-vote total is met, a recall decision would carry with a simple majority, Hall said. The Town Council is expected to certify the election results on May 16, which is when removal from office would take effect.

A follow-up election would be held to replace any unseated member for the remainder of her term. Beeley’s term ends in November, and Lyford’s and Shea’s terms end in November 2019.

Whether that election is held in November or sooner would be decided by the remaining board members.

Under the town charter, the board could ask the Town Council to hold a special election this summer or wait until the next general election on Nov. 6, which would be allowed because it’s less than six months away.

There could be valid reasons to hold an election sooner rather than later, Hall said.

If voters decide to remove all three members, the board would still have four members needed for a quorum to conduct business. However, the town charter also requires at least four affirmative votes to pass any action, so a four-member board would need unanimous votes to get anything done.

“It might be in everyone’s interests to hold a special election to ensure the board is able to function,” Hall said.

The vote on whether to hold a special election could be the first of many challenges if the board loses members.

The proposed $50.3 million school budget for 2018-19 is up for a validation vote on June 12, and Scarborough voters have rejected the first draft several times in recent years. Last year it took two budget rewrites and three votes to pass.

The council is considering an $87.7 million budget for municipal, school and county services that’s up 4.13 percent over current spending. The tax rate would increase from $16.49 to as much as $17.27 per $1,000 of assessed property value, and add about $235 to the $4,947 annual tax bill on a $300,000 home, according to town projections.

“I hope people vote on the merits of the budget,” Hall said. “This community has been divided this spring. It would be great if the budget approval process didn’t extend through the summer like last year.”

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

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