Drew Stevens of Scarborough holds up a sign to passing traffic on Route 1 on Tuesday as the town holds special recall votes to determine the fate of three Scarborough school board members. Staff photo by Derek Davis

SCARBOROUGH — The town’s voters decided overwhelmingly Tuesday to remove three school board members from office in the town’s first-ever recall election after months of controversy involving the superintendent and the high school principal.

Turnout was steady and strong throughout the day, and ballots were hand-counted well after midnight, with about two-thirds of voters deciding to unseat Board of Education Chairwoman Donna Beeley and members Cari Lyford and Jodi Shea, three of the longest-serving members on the seven-member board.

The vote to remove Beeley was 3,086 to 1,496 (67 percent); Lyford, 3,047 to 1,535 (66 percent); and Shea, 3,040 to 1,550 (66 percent), according to Election Warden Allen Paul.

The election drew about 27 percent of the town’s 16,761 registered voters – a solid turnout for an election on such a focused topic that has consumed the community for months.

“I don’t think I’ve seen a busier special election,” Town Manager Tom Hall said.

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

The Road to Renewal group successfully circulated petitions targeting Beeley, Lyford and Shea for “incompetence,” though the stated reason on its Facebook page was to keep Creech as principal and oust Kukenberger.

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.

Recall supporters gathered in the Town Council chamber for the vote count were pleased with the outcome.

“This means 4,500 people in town care about what’s happening in our schools,” said Paul Johnson, a founder of the Road to Renewal group.

Johnson said he sees the successful recall as a show of support for Creech and a referendum on Kukenberger’s leadership, suggesting that she should resign.

Johnson also said several members of the Road to Renewal group are interested in running to replace the recalled board members.

Two community members in the chamber who opposed the recall were visibly upset at the outcome and declined to comment.

Town voters were asked Tuesday to vote “yes” or “no” to recall each member, so it was possible that all or none of them could have been removed.

Cindy Ambrogne-O’Toole and her husband, Richard O’Toole, said they had nothing personal against the targeted school board members. Still, they voted “yes” to recall all three and send a message.

“I like people to listen to what residents have to say and that doesn’t really happen,” Ambrogne-O’Toole said. “They weren’t listening to people and they overstepped.”

Alicia Thompson, who has an incoming kindergarten student, said she also voted to unseat all three because the board seemed to ignore community opposition to an initial change in school start times.

“I think we need a change,” Thompson said. “They should go with what parents say they need.”

Chad Shaw voted “no” to oppose the recall of all three board members. Shaw said he had concerns about the policy changes, but he supports the superintendent and school board members and he believes the recall effort is “mean-spirited.”

“In my mind, the superintendent has the right to make personnel decisions,” Shaw said. “I believe the recall effort is intent on gaining control of the board and making things happen the way they want.”

Jordan Peck, who has a child starting kindergarten in August, said he also voted against unseating all three because he believes the incompetence charge is groundless. He wants to end the “chaos” before next month’s school budget validation vote, which usually proves challenging.

“This whole thing seems to be a distraction,” Peck said. “The people who are pro-recall really have another agenda.”

In order for a recall decision to be valid, each candidate had to receive at least 3,147 total votes, which is 30 percent of the town residents who voted in the last gubernatorial election. The town tried to set a high bar when it added recall language to the charter several years ago, Hall said.

With the 3,147-vote total met for each board member, the recall decisions carried with simple majorities.

The Town Council is expected to certify the election results on May 16, which is when removal from office would take effect.

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

A follow-up election will be held to replace the unseated members for the remainders of their terms. 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 will be decided by the remaining four 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.

With three members removed, the board will 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.

The vote on whether to hold a special election could be the first of many challenges facing the board with fewer 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, adding about $235 to the $4,947 annual tax bill on a $300,000 home, according to town projections.

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

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