FAIRFIELD — The superintendent of the local school district will be evaluated by the school board at its next meeting following pleas for his resignation and that of the board chair and vice chair during a contentious meeting Thursday night.

Ultimately, both the board’s chairwoman and vice chairman were ousted from their leadership positions but remain on the board.

The outcries from the public at the meeting of the board of School Administrative District 49 follow the departure of Lawrence High School Principal Mark Campbell, who resigned last week.

Campbell’s resignation came shortly after board action to approve financial settlements with three administrators whose jobs were either eliminated or changed under a controversial restructuring plan introduced by new Superintendent Reza Namin.

During the five-hour meeting Thursday night, the special education secretary spoke about her decision to resign because of the chaos that has ensued in the district, the student board member was nearly brought to tears after she spoke about being censored at board meetings and other members of the community gave emotional and heated testimony describing a lack of transparency and disorganization.

In a statement read before the start of the public feedback, Namin said he has been met with struggles since immigrating to the U.S. from Iran years ago.

“I have also experienced many misrepresentations and prejudgements,” Namin said. “All I have done was meeting directly to people about rumors that are not true.”

“After what happened the last few days, my son came to me and said he will not walk across the stage and shake your hand,” said Jesse Matarese, whose son is a senior at Lawrence High School, in speaking to Namin. “I told him that’s his decision, but that would break my heart because I won’t get to see my last kid cross the stage to get his high school diploma.”

“We want you to walk away,” Matarese said.

In two and a half hours of public testimony, only one person said they support the changes in the district.

“Change is painful,” said Jim Parsons, who identified himself as a business owner in the area. “Do you think they like going from (former Gov. John Baldacci) to Gov. LePage and Gov. LePage to Gov. Mills? People need to step up and accept change. We hire people through these people up here to do a job.”

The board then voted on whether to express no confidence in Chair Shelley Rudnicki and Vice Chair Tim Martin and ask them to resign.

“Change is inevitable, but for change to be successful there needs to be a well-communicated plan,” said board member Danielle Boutin. “Otherwise it leads to mistrust and the situation we’re in now.”

Both Martin and Rudnicki defended their positions, and Rudnicki initially said she would not resign even if the board voted to ask her to.

“At this point I do not feel like I have done anything to have to resign,” she said.

Rudnicki also said she has been “accused of many things” and it’s not always the chair’s responsibility to make a decision on their own.

“There have been things that happened that had to be taken in executive session, like the executive session last Friday night,” she said. “We cannot discuss those things. However there have been a few board members who feel that is OK to do. I don’t feel that’s OK.”

SAD 49 teacher Diana Nutting addresses from left, SAD 49 school board member Tim Martin, chairwoman Shelley Rudnicki and Superintendent Reza Namin during a well attended meeting with students, faculty and parents in Fairfield on Thursday. Morning Sentinel photo by David Leaming

Martin also said that in September no one wanted to be the board chairman and he and Rudnicki were being blamed for individual things “when it’s an entire board that votes.”

“A majority of you don’t know that our role is not to micromanage the entire school system,” Martin said. “We make decisions to the best of our knowledge. Nobody on this board currently right now wanted to be the board chair in September. Ms. Rudnicki’s term was up but we amended our policy to vote for her to allow her to be the chair.”

The votes to change leadership Thursday night required approval by a two-thirds majority, or nine members of the 13-person board. Under those rules, the motions initially failed, but board member Jenny Boyden later in the meeting brought up that the votes should have been counted using a weighted system that distributes votes based on the population of the four towns in the district.

SAD 49 includes Albion, Benton, Clinton and Fairfield.

Using the weighted voting, a second vote to remove Rudnicki as chairwoman but keep her on the board as a regular member passed 8-4-1. Voting to remove Rudnicki were Danielle Boutin, Jenny Boyden, Janice Chesley, Katrina Dumont, Katie Flood-Gerow, Shawn Knox, Kara Kugelmeyer and Jeff Neubauer.

Voting against the motion were Neal Caverly, Tim Martin, Shelley Rudnicki and Caroline Toto-Lawrence.

Roy White abstained from the vote.

A second vote was not taken on Martin’s position, as he moved to voluntarily resign before the second vote on Rudnicki. Elected as new chairman in a secret ballot vote was Shawn Knox. The new vice chairwoman is Jenny Boyden.

Also Thursday night, the board voted to discuss the superintendent’s job performance at their next meeting May 16 and to use the law firm Drummond Woodsum as legal counsel at that meeting.

The choice of district legal counsel has been controversial in recent weeks since Namin started contracting with the firm Jensen Baird Gardner & Henry without running the decision past the full board.

SAD 49 student Sierra Cress addresses school board members and Superintendent Reza Namin during a well attended meeting with students, faculty and parents in Fairfield on Thursday. Morning Sentinel photo by David Leaming

That motion, made by board member Kara Kugelmeyer, was approved 8-4-1.

Voting in support of the evaluation of Namin were: Danielle Boutin, Jenny Boyden, Janice Chesley, Katrina Dumont, Katie Flood-Gerow, Shawn Knox, Kara Kugelmeyer and Roy White.

Opposed were Neal Caverly, Tim Martin, Shelley Rudnicki and Jeff Neubauer. Caroline Toto-Lawrence abstained from the vote.

Finally, the board also voted on a series of motions pertaining to Namin’s restructuring plan. The plan, approved by the board in January, calls for three administrative jobs to be eliminated, five others restructured and advertised for, and two new jobs to be added.

Five additional employees would be given new job descriptions and titles by July 1.

But the board voted Thursday to hold off on taking further action on hiring a grades 7-12 principal, as proposed by Namin, “until it has been substantively reviewed by the board, stakeholders and community members to determine if the board will proceed with this aspect of restructuring.”

Katie Flood-Gerow, who made the motion, said when she voted for the restructuring in January she was promised changes wouldn’t be made until the end of the school year.

“This is April,” she said. “It’s not good. I cannot in good conscience go ahead with what we’re doing to our children.”

The district has not disclosed the amounts of the financial settlements with the three administrators the board authorized. Namin said Friday he would do so at a later date because the agreements aren’t finalized.

But some residents said Friday they had heard numbers such as $400,000 and $500,000 for the total settlements.

“If we can pay $400,000 in buy-outs, how come we can’t get ed tech support at the high school?” asked teacher Benjamin Kent.

The board also approved Thursday night putting on hold moving forward with further action on other changes proposed in the restructuring plan including the hiring of a Director of Student Support Services and Special Education; and the elimination of assistant principal jobs to be replaced by “deans of students.”

Kugelmeyer said the intention of the motions is to “allow us to have time to reconsider what was attempting to be done in restructuring and as a board make the right move forward.”

“We just spent a butt load of money and now we need some time to understand all the implications and proceed with transparency,” she said.

A final motion approved by the board Thursday stated that the superintendent “cannot take any further actions on restructuring until the restructuring can be substantively reviewed by the board and stakeholders to see if the board will proceed with the restructuring.”

“This was a big piece of why people came out tonight for this,” said Flood-Gerow. “I think we cannot overstate the feeling of the community that we halt restructuring until we have proper community involvement, teacher involvement and board involvement.”

Earlier in the meeting, several teachers, students and community members spoke for more than two hours expressing their frustration.

“The recent changes that have transpired starting with the resignation of Lawrence High School Principal Mark Campbell as well as the restructuring highlight an egregious lack of communication,” said Sam Cord, a student. “The student body is not informed and the public received zero information on the plans to reconstruct.”

SAD 49 students cheer as student Rianne Gibson returns to her seat after she addressed the school board and Superintendent Reza Namin during a well attended meeting with students, faculty and parents in Fairfield on Thursday. Morning Sentinel photo by David Leaming

Diana Nutting, an elementary school teacher in SAD 49, criticized a lack of transparency and expressed concern over the longevity of the Reading Recovery program.

“Transparency has been a thing we’re concerned about,” Nutting said. “You don’t know what’s going to happen until it happens.”

Lillian Lambert, a freshman at Lawrence, started crying as she spoke before the board and talked about Namin’s meeting on Tuesday with students.

“Every question that was asked was avoided and not answered by the superintendent,” said Lambert, as a friend comforted her at the podium.  “We got very little answers and what we did get didn’t help us at all. I want you to understand we are trying to get through this.”

Michelle Wood, who recently resigned as special education secretary, a job she held for the last 14 years, said she approached Namin with concerns after learning the special education director’s job was going to be eliminated and restructured.

Lawrence High School teacher Isaac Badenya Thomas passes out ballots to some of the 40- SAD 49 faculty who voted on whether or not to support Superintendent Reza Namin and some members of the school board in Fairfield on Thursday. Some faculty and hundreds of students are upset over a restructuring that resulted in the departure of Principal Mark Campbell. Morning Sentinel photo by David Leaming

“The response I got was, ‘I want to know what your responsibility and roles are and make sure you’re clear on that,'” Wood said. “That’s when I knew it was time for me to go. Now my question is, what support is there for special education staff?”

The board meeting followed an earlier meeting Thursday afternoon where several faculty, staff, custodians, bus drivers and other SAD 49 employees gathered to vote on resolutions supporting students in their protest against the restructuring and to state they have no confidence in Namin, Rudnicki or Martin.

The resolutions, later presented to the board that evening, also included clauses saying the three should resign immediately. They were approved 107-4 on the question of supporting students; 93- 15 with one abstention in favor of Namin’s resignation; and 99-9 with one abstention in favor of Rudnicki and Martin’s resignations.

The number of employees in the district was not available Thursday night.

Eric Brown, a science teacher at Lawrence High School who has worked in the district for 25 years, said he and other staff felt they needed to take action after returning to the school Monday to find they no longer had a principal.

“That was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Brown said. “We got an email Saturday from Dr. Namin saying there was a settlement and we would not have a principal and I just find that to be reckless. How do you say we’re not going to have a principal and not have any other plan?”

Brown said he responded to Namin’s email and asked what the plan was and he was told, “I’ll get back to you.”

It wasn’t until Tuesday afternoon that high school teachers received any further communication about the situation from Namin, he said.

“I love working here,” Brown said. “I consider myself a bulldog. I bleed blue and gray and because of that this issue became important enough for me to take a stand.”

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