SACO – The Saco School Board voted 5-1 to renew Superintendent Dominic DePatsy’s contract for two years.

Board member Beth Johnston cast the dissenting vote on Wednesday.

The decision to renew DePatsy’s contract for two years, until June 30, 2022, came after an hour of public comment, both for and against renewal, followed by a lengthy executive session. An online petition against renewal garnered 315 signatures, organizer and parent Sarah Truman told the school board.

During the meeting, before the closed-door session, School Board Chairman Garrett Abrahamson, citing increased work responsibilities and family commitments, tendered his immediate resignation from the board and left the room. He did not reference the debate over DePatsy’s future with the district as he announced his decision to leave.

The Saco School Board voted 5-1 to renew Superintendent Dominic DePatsy’s contract for two years. Courtesy Photo

DePatsy has been under fire for some time, largely in connection with the decision to lease the former Toddle Inn site in a Saco industrial park as a location for an expanded pre-kindergarten program. While the lease commenced May 1, the site was never used because of covenants that prevent ownership and use of non-taxpaying entities in the business park. As well, a city electrical inspector found that the property had not been inspected since 2005, there had never been an electrical inspection or permits issued for the pool and pool house building at the property, and when the former Toddle Inn building was converted from natural gas to propane, no electrical inspection of the heating or cooling equipment took place, and so electricity to the building was cut. There were numerous unsuccessful appeals, but in the end, the school department made other arrangements for its pre-kindergarten program. However, lease payments of $24,000 a month continued. The school department in November notified the Toddle Inn that the lease is void and has demanded the return of payments made.

The residents’ petition noted support for the pre-kindergarten program, but not for the manner in which it was handled. There were references to budget issues.

Some who spoke during the public comment session referenced the music and art room at Gov. John Fairfield School being used for other purposes, meaning art and music supplies were brought to students’ home rooms on carts – in January that will change to library books being brought to children in their classrooms.

School department employee Madison Buckley, said the room referenced at Fairfield School is used in the behavioral program. She said she supports the superintendent.

“The cart(s) are not a big deal,” Buckley said.

Sue Smith, a teacher in the Saco school system for 45 years, said schools have used the cart system to deliver library books or other materials to students at a various times over the years when space became an issue.

“If we didn’t have PATHS (the behavioral program) we wouldn’t be talking about art on a cart, but student and teacher assaults,” she said.

Parents referenced a lack of communication by the school department.

Jennifer Preble, a social worker and mother of a pre-kindergarten student, read a letter on behalf of 51 teachers, whom she said were scared to speak out, fearing retaliation. The letter noted DePatsy had advocated for professional development and noted the pre-kindergarten program was an “amazing addition” to the school. However, the letter said the changes were made with poor planning and a lack of communication.

Thornton Academy Headmaster Rene Menard encouraged the school board to renew DePatsy’s contract.
He said Thornton Academy administers PSAT tests to ninth-grade students and the school has seen increased test scores from students who had attended Saco Middle School in the last three years.

Resident Louis Waterhouse spoke to the pre-kindergarten issue and also to what he described as the division in the community and urged the school board not to renew DePatsy’s contract.

“Look what has happened to our city and the division this has cost,” he said. “Get someone in this position that will get us back together.”

DePatsy began his job with the Saco School Department in July 2015 and came to Saco from RSU 53, which includes the central Maine communities of Burnham, Pittsfield and Detroit.

Communication was an issue raised by school board members as well as parents.

School board member Stanley Mozden said there were concerns that will be addressed.

Board member Art Tardif said when he heard concerns he went directly to DePatsy and asked questions. Tardif said he told DePatsy he’s supporting him for a two-year contract renewal. “I didn’t want to go for three,” Tardif said.

“If we all focus on what is best for the children, everything will fall into place,” school board Vice Chairwoman Lynn Leary said. She said there will be “bumps and mountains,” but that by working together, they can be overcome.


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