FAIRFIELD — Members of the local school board forwent an executive session intended to discuss concerns about a district employee Thursday night because the employee was not at the meeting and could not be a part of the discussion.

The decision came after another executive session with the attorney for School Administrative District 49 that lasted for more than an hour during a special meeting at Lawrence Junior High School.

Reza Namin, superintendent of School Admnistrative District 49, was not present at a school board meeting Thursday where the school board was expected to go into executive session to discuss concerns about a district employee. The board’s attorney advised them not to go into executive session until “all necessary parties are here.” Morning Sentinel file photo by Michael G. Seamans

After the session with the attorney, the board was scheduled to go into another session to discuss “the employment, appointment, assignment, duties, promotion, demotion, compensation, evaluation, disciplining, resignation or dismissal of an individual or group of public officials, appointees or employees of the body or agency or the investigation or hearing of charges or complaints against a person or persons.”

The meeting came as the board is in the midst of reviewing the performance of the superintendent and some in the district have called for his resignation. SAD 49 includes Albion, Clinton, Benton and Fairfield.

Superintendent Reza Namin was not at Thursday’s meeting. School board Chairman Shawn Knox said he could not say which employee the board was scheduled to discuss but said Namin had an emergency that prevented him from being at the meeting.

About 50 people, including SAD 49 teachers and administrators, attended the meeting and waited in the halls of the school during the meeting with the attorney.

“The purpose was to hear some concerns about district employees, which is permitted in executive session; but by statute, the employee must be present,” said Peter Felmly, of Drummond Woodsum, the board’s attorney. “They are not, so it would not be appropriate to go into executive session, because not all necessary parties are here.”

After the meeting with Felmly, three board members left the meeting and did not return. They were Shelley Rudnicki, Caroline Toto-Lawrence and Neal Caverly.

Jeff Neubauer and Tim Martin were absent.

Shawn Knox, School Administrative District 49 board chairman, sits alone Thursday at the table as Reza Namin, SAD 49 superintendent, and former vice chairman Tim Martin were absent during a board meeting at Lawrence Junior High School in Fairfield. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

Thursday’s meeting originally was called to discuss an administrative restructuring plan that has led to backlash in the district after the buy-out of three administrators whose jobs were being eliminated or changed and the resignation of the Lawrence High School Principal.

During that discussion, the board voted 8-0 Thursday to restore the position of special education director to the job description that had existed before the restructuring plan and authorized the district to move forward with hiring a special ed director. The job is one of the three contracts that were bought out last month at a total cost of $417,665.

“I think we need to address immediately the fact we don’t have a special education director,” said board Vice Chairwoman Jenny Boyden. “I don’t think that’s acceptable for our district, and think we need to move sooner rather than later.”

The board also discussed an aspect of the restructuring plan that calls for the elimination of high school and middle school principals and assistant principals in favor of one grade 7-12 principal supported by two deans of students.

“I looked over (the job description for the 7-12 principal) and said, ‘Jesus, when is that person going to sleep, let alone transform a culture?” board member Kara Kugelmeyer said. “I’m not in favor of those positions for that reason. I am interested in a discourse about types of change, but that needs to be very transparent.”

Kugelmeyer said the 7-12 principal would put about 70 teachers under the purview of one principal, a number she felt was too high.

She also said the reasoning for the restructuring has not been laid out by Namin or discussed enough with the public. Namin did not respond immediately to requests for comment Friday.

“Typically when you have a metric you want to change, there’s an identification of the metric you want to change, discussion in the public so people understand, discussion on how the new structure is going to help that metric and then how you’re going to evaluate and report back on the process,” Kugelmeyer said. “I asked for that information and didn’t receive it. I asked for it again to understand the whole process, the pros and cons, what metrics, what the impact would be, and I have yet to receive anything.”

School board member Kara Kugelmeyer waits for the meeting to be called to order Thursday after a lengthy executive session during a School Administrative District 49 board meeting at Lawrence Junior High School in Fairfield. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

The board also opened up discussion on the 7-12 principal to the public, during which a handful of people expressed concerns and no one spoke in favor of the move.

“From a student perspective, I understand it as having one person responsible for looking over two schools,” said Lawrence High School junior Haley Hersey, who is the student representative to the board. “I feel that would be an overwhelming amount of responsibility for one person. It would cause a lack of relationships to be formed with your principal, relationships that we previously had, and wouldn’t be beneficial to us.”

Stewart Kinley, former School Administrative District 49 board chairman, speaks Thursday during the public comments portion of a special SAD 49 board meeting at Lawrence Junior High School in Fairfield. Kinley accused the superintendent of falsifying meeting minutes. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

Stewart Kinley, a former board chairman in the district, noted they had one 7-12 principal in the early 1990s and “it didn’t last long.”

“A lot of the feedback we’ve gotten is it could be lacking with one position at that level,” Knox said.

Board member Katie Flood-Gerow also expressed concern about a single 7-12 principal having the time and resources to complete teacher evaluations for both the middle school and the high school and said the board should move quickly to hire a high school principal since it is the end of the school year.

“I think we’re going to struggle to find a principal with the current situation we’re in, but by putting off a vote we’re only going to put ourselves further and further in the hole,” she said.

However, the board did not take action on the job or other positions affected by the restructuring after Felmly, the attorney, suggested they wait for the feedback of the superintendent on the principal job.

Eric Brown, a science teacher at Lawrence High School, said during a school board meeting Thursday at Lawrence Junior High School in Fairfield that the district’s reputation has been tarnished because of the chaos brought on by restructuring and that might encourage some teachers to leave the district. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

The restructuring plan, which calls for changes to or the elimination of 13 administrative jobs and the creation of a new human resources specialist, was proposed by Namin and approved by the board Jan. 3.

Namin estimated the changes would generate a savings of about $113,000, but last month the district was forced to buy out the contracts of three affected administrators at a cost of $417,665.

Of that, $61,000 will be covered by insurance. Namin also has said some of the cost will be offset by the new human resources position, which is replacing a director of operations, a position that has been eliminated.

All the changes in the plan were scheduled to be in place by July 1, but after public push-back following the buy-outs, the board moved April 25 to put the plans on hold.

Earlier in Thursday’s meeting, Lawrence High School teacher Eric Brown thanked the board for putting the restructuring on hold and taking the time to listen to the community.

However, he also said the district’s reputation has been tarnished because of the chaos brought on by restructuring.

“The actions of the superintendent and the board might encourage some teachers to leave our district,” he said. “I have heard many are searching for letters of recommendation. That’s doubly concerning because without a high school principal, how will we hire for any jobs that come open?”

Kinley, the former board chairman, also urged the board to go back and watch the video of the Dec. 20 board meeting, in which he said they erred by failing to make a motion to continue the superintendent’s contract.

However, the motion was included in meeting minutes and Kinley alleged the superintendent had falsified the minutes.

In the video, the board unanimously voted to continue the contract after an explanation from the board chairman at the time, Rudnicki. However, Tim Martin, who made the motion, did not state what his motion was before the vote.

“If you can’t trust your superintendent to accurately report what happened in the meeting, then you’re in pretty rough shape,” Kinley said.

The board is in the midst of conducting a review of the district administration prompted by calls for Namin’s resignation.

Felmly said Thursday they are reviewing sample evaluations from the Maine School Management Association, but no timeline is set up for the review.

An estimated cost also has not been determined, according to Knox.

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