Elizabeth Bickford, left, a member of the Waterville Board of Education, attends Monday night’s meeting with Chairperson Joan Phillips-Sandy, on monitor, and member Greg Bazakas. Amy Calder/Morning Sentinel

WATERVILLE — The Waterville Board of Education took a first vote Monday night to approve a policy for recruiting and hiring administrative staff and directors in the wake of a controversy that arose last month when Superintendent of Schools Eric Haley made administrative transfers after George J. Mitchell School Principal Allan Martin announced his intention to retire this year.

Meanwhile, in a surprise announcement at the start of the meeting, Carole Gilley, the principal at Waterville Junior High School, told the board she will also retire this year.

“I thank the Waterville Public School system for a wonderful ride,” Gilley said.

Gilley was one of several school administrators Haley decided to transfer last month for the 2021-22 school year, prompting school board member Greg Bazakas to say he thought making the transfers violated hiring policy.

Haley and board Chairperson Joan Phillips-Sandy apologized at the last board meeting, saying they should have notified the Board of Education of the transfers before faculty members were told. However, Haley and Phillips-Sandy said superintendents have made transfers without board approval for many years, and the policy did not apply to transfers.

Asked after the meeting if her decision to retire had anything to do with the recent controversy about the administrative transfers, Gilley said: “No. Life is short, and I want to enjoy life while I can.”

Gilley started her career in Waterville schools 31 years ago, in September 1990. She was a music teacher for many years and then was assistant principal at the junior high for about 18 months before becoming assistant principal at the high school for four years. This is her ninth year as junior high principal.

She retired from that position last June, but decided to come back. Gilley said she has enjoyed her career in Waterville schools and is proud of what she has accomplished.

“I’m leaving a little piece of my heart behind,” she said. “It’s just the end of a chapter and the beginning of a new chapter for me. It’s just sad for me, leaving.”

The current administrative hiring policy, adopted April 8, 1996, and reaffirmed by the board Dec. 14, 2020, stipulates that when an administrative opening occurs in the public school system, it shall be posted digitally for a minimum of 10 days.

The policy also stipulates applications shall remain open until a suitable candidate is found, and the superintendent may nominate, with board approval, an acting administrator until a position is filled permanently.

Haley made four transfers after Martin announced this would be his last year as principal. Martin also had retired and returned to his position.

Haley moved Kim Taylor, assistant principal at Waterville Senior High School, into Martin’s spot; transferred Gilley to Taylor’s high school assistant principal position; and named Douglas Frame, assistant principal at the junior high, as the school system’s facilities, or maintenance, director.

With Mary Boyle, Waterville schools’ curriculum director, retiring this year, Haley moved Jen Allen into that spot. Allen is a literacy specialist at the George Mitchell and Albert S. Hall schools.

Facilities Director Shelley Phillips resigned her position in Waterville to work full time for Winslow and Vassalboro schools, where she had been contracted out by Waterville to also direct Winslow and Vassalboro maintenance. Because of all the changes in facilities due to the coronavirus pandemic, the workload was too much for one person and Phillips had the option of remaining in Waterville or moving to the Winslow-Vassalboro position. She opted for the latter, which is where she began her career.

Asked at Monday’s meeting about the status of Haley’s transfers, Phillips-Sandy responded, “Those matters are still pending.”

At Monday’s meeting, members considered adopting a policy based on one developed by Maine School Management Association. Bazakas recommended changes to that policy, and the board voted on his recommendations and then took a first vote to approve the amended policy. The board must take another vote on the policy to finalize it. Board member Pamela Trinward, a member of the school policy committee, said the current policy is inadequate.

“We all know our administrative hiring policy was not very good, not very clear or up front or straightforward,” she said.

The board engaged in a lengthy discussion Monday after Bazakas recommended a number of changes to the new policy. He recommended deleting the “K” section that says the school unit may forgo one or more steps and appoint a person currently employed by the schools to fill an administrative position only if the superintendent, after consulting the school board, determines the person is exceptionally qualified for the job and the decision to forgo all or part of the process will not detract from the goals of the policy.

Board member Spencer Krigbaum made a motion to delete the “K” section, but the board voted 4-3 to reject his motion. Krigbaum, Bazakas and Maryanne Bernier voted in favor. Phillips-Sandy, Trinward, Patricia Helm and Elizabeth Bickford voted in opposition.

Phillips-Sandy said the Maine School Management Association has recommended the “K” section, and other school districts use the policy.

“The bottom line is that one of the things you hire a superintendent to do is to make personnel recommendations,” she said.

Phillips-Sandy and other board members said it is important to give current, qualified employees who have worked hard and done a good job a chance to be rewarded with promotions.

Bazakas asked the board to amend the “K” section to say if the schools are going to hire an internal candidate, it must be by unanimous approval by the board. Trinward said she would vote against his motion.

“I can’t support it,” Trinward said, “because I don’t think you should ever have one person hold up what’s happening at the board level.”

Bazakas’ amendment failed 4-3, with he, Bernier and Krigbaum voting to approve.

Helm recommended the policy say if the superintendent plans to recommend a current employee for a position, that opening must be posted internally for 10 days. Helm said a current employee might be qualified for the position. The board voted 7-0 to approve her recommendation.

Bazakas recommended:

• An open position be advertised a minimum of 10 days.

• A parent or guardian, faculty member and two board members, when appropriate, be added to a screening committee.

• A search committee recommend a finalist to the superintendent, who would then send that name back to the committee if he or she does not approve.

• When the superintendent presents a candidate’s name to the board, the board wait until its next meeting to vote on the candidate.

The board voted 7-0 to approve Bazakas’ amendments, but then voted 4-3 to approve the policy changes as amended. Bazakas, Bernier and Krigbaum voted against the motion, proposed by Trinward.

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