WATERVILLE — Some Waterville Board of Education members harshly criticized school Superintendent Eric Haley’s actions to transfer administrators to different positions.

Board member Greg Bazakas, D-Ward 2, said he believed making such transfers was against a policy that requires openings to be advertised a minimum of 10 days, while Haley and Board Chairperson Joan Phillips-Sandy said they read the policy differently.

Waterville Superintendent Eric Haley Morning Sentinel file photo by Michael Seamans

The four administrative transfers were made after George J. Mitchell School Principal Allan Martin notified Haley that this would be his last school year on the job. Haley transferred another administrator into Martin’s position and other transfers followed.

“I wouldn’t call it an opening until it’s advertised,” Haley told Bazakas.

Haley announced to school faculty March 15 that he made four administrative transfers that were prompted by Martin’s decision to retire. Martin had officially retired five years ago but had returned to work as principal on a yearly basis and with board approval each year. Haley transferred Kim Taylor, the assistant principal at Waterville Senior High School and a former elementary school principal in Auburn, to Martin’s position.

Waterville Junior High School Principal Carole Gilley asked to be returned to the assistant principal’s position at the high school, a spot she held from 2006 to 2011 before going to the junior high.

Meanwhile, schools maintenance director Shelley Phillips, who was also maintenance director for Winslow and Vassalboro schools, was given the option of remaining in Waterville or moving to the Winslow and Vassalboro maintenance director’s position, which she chose, according to Haley. He said she has been an excellent maintenance director, but with all the changes and extra work caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the workload was too much for one person.

Phillips’ exit left her position in Waterville open, and Doug Frame, assistant principal at the junior high, said he would love to take the position, Haley said, so he transferred Frame to that spot. The junior high administrative positions have not yet been filled, according to Haley.

“I didn’t hire any new administrators — I transferred them, and the superintendent has authority to transfer people,” Haley said earlier Monday in a phone interview.

He said such transfers have been done the same way for many years in the school district, including before he was superintendent.

“This is the first time an administrative transfer has caused an objection,” he told the board Monday night.

But Bazakas said the board is bound to uphold policies, and he maintained the hiring policy was not followed this time.

“If the precedent is going to be that the superintendent can behave according to what has happened in the past and not our policy, that opens up a big can of worms,” he said.

Phillips-Sandy said she understood what Bazakas was saying, but an argument could be made that the policy doesn’t apply to transfers and because transfers have been handled the same way for many years, that is a precedent.

Bazakas, however, said he wanted to introduce a motion that the board retract the administrators’ appointments and advertise the positions. Haley said he had issued contracts to the administrators, and he would want to check with the schools’ lawyers to see if that would be legal.

Phillips-Sandy, a lawyer, recommended Bazakas postpone making a motion until a legal opinion is obtained.

“Does that make sense to you?” she asked Bazakas.

“No, it doesn’t,” he replied.

Phillips-Sandy said she was concerned about putting the board in legal jeopardy.

“I would like to know what our legal liability is if we do it, that’s all,” she said.

Bazakas was ultimately convinced to wait until the board gets a legal opinion before making a motion to retract the contracts.

Meanwhile, Alicia Wilcox, the parent of two students at the junior high, asked what the philosophy is behind hiring retired people to return as administrators instead of advertising positions for 10 days. She asked if it is done as a cost savings.

Haley said it does save time and money, though not a lot of money, and a search committee must be set up. But one also wants to reward employees for the good work they have done by offering them promotions, and to get the best possible people into positions, he said. If someone retires, however, and wants to return to work in the schools, the request comes back to the school board. He had acknowledged earlier that since Gilley had retired and returned to become the junior high principal, the board would have to consider her appointment as the assistant principal at the high school. If Haley were to return, he also would go before the board for approval as he too previously retired and returned.

Retired employees who return to work are hired on a yearly basis with board approval and receive only 75% of their original salary.

Jennifer Yoder asked if there is an opportunity for people to give feedback on the transfers. Phillips-Sandy said some transfers appear to be within the superintendent’s authority, but people may provide feedback on the high school assistant principal’s position and the board would review that feedback and the personnel matter in executive session.

Joan Phillips-Sandy, chairman of the Waterville school board. Morning Sentinel file photo

Haley said earlier Monday that he notified Phillips-Sandy of his plan to make the transfers before he announced them to faculty a week ago. What Haley said he regrets is that he did not inform members of the board before making the transfers, so faculty at the schools affected by those transfers learned about them before board members did.

He apologized to the board Monday night at the beginning of the discussion about the transfers.

“Publicly, I want to apologize to you for that,” he said. “It was the wrong method for making the announcement. However, I 100% stand behind my transfers.”

He said the transfers put the best possible people into the positions, and the school system is in a transition phase where the staff is aging and turning over and he is trying to leave in place a program and structure that outlives the current system. That includes making sure there are the right people in the right places who know the system, he said.

Haley said that in retrospect, he should have called for an executive session at the board’s March 8 meeting and informed members that he intended to make the personnel changes.

Phillips-Sandy also apologized, saying she was partially responsible because she did not put the matter on the board agenda.

“I don’t know quite why I missed that,” she said.

Meanwhile, board members Pam Trinward, Maryanne Bernier and Spencer Krigbaum agreed that administrative positions should come before the board. Member Patricia Helm said she is a relatively new member, was not aware of the policy and had assumed Phillips-Sandy had approved the transfers on behalf of the board. Board member Elizabeth Bickford was absent from the meeting. Krigbaum said he supports either rewording the policy or advertising the positions.

Bazakas insisted that when an opening occurs, a cooperative process should be followed that includes many steps and candidates are given an opportunity to apply for the position. He said his concerns were not a statement on Haley’s judgment.

“It’s a statement on our policy,” he said.

Phillips-Sandy said she and Haley had discussed the policy and their understanding of it is that the superintendent has the authority to make such transfers. She said she understood that Bazakas read the policy differently.

“I can tell you that we were not operating unaware of the policy,” she said. “We were operating with the understanding it did not apply to transfers.”

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