The Regional School Unit 2 board of directors met in-person for the first time since the pandemic Thursday at Richmond High School. Screenshot via Zoom

RICHMOND — The Regional School Unit 2 board of directors has appointed a new superintendent and cleared the way for  Richmond to move forward with its withdrawal from the district.

Matt Gilbert, who was hired in October as the assistant superintendent and chief academic officer, will fill the role starting July 1. He has been serving as the acting superintendent since his predecessor, Tonya Arnold, resigned in February after a month-long leave of absence.

Matt Gilbert, former assistant superintendent and chief academic officer for Regional School Unit 2, has been hired as the superintendent after filling in as the acting superintendent since February. Zoom screenshot

School board members unanimously approved Gilbert’s two-year contract, which runs through the 2023-24 school year, at their meeting Thursday night. Gilbert will receive $125,000 a year — $9,000 less than Arnold’s annual salary, according to the district.

Meanwhile, the town of Richmond took a step forward in its attempt to separate from RSU 2 when the board also unanimously backed its withdrawal agreement Thursday.

Vice Chair Leanne Burnham, Donna Seppy, Kathryn Marseglia, Russ Hughes, Jeffrey Bickford, Jon Lambert, Chris Myers-Asch, Jay Brown and Mark Pearson voted 8-0 on both measures. The board members not in attendance for Thursday’s vote were Board Chair Jon Hamann, Dawn Gallagher and Linda Leet.

“It hasn’t been the model anyone draws up this spring, but I appreciate your confidence in me,” Gilbert said after his contract was approved. “It’s been a good experience, and I never thought of it like this. It’s fantastic, and I appreciate the board’s support, holding me accountable for the person I am since when you hired me back in October.”

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Gilbert shared that the district has started the search for the new assistant superintendent and has already received around 15 applicants. The hiring committee — made up of Seppy as a board representative, an administrator, teachers and a building director to make sure “every role” within the school community is represented — will start interviewing candidates after April vacation. They hope to identify the top candidate ahead of the next school board meeting May 5.

Richmond’s withdrawal agreement provides the guidelines for the town to follow once they are operating on their own. It includes specifics like the first-year draft budget, teacher agreements and a division of assets. For the most part, the town can use the same agreement it drafted last year when it tried to withdraw.

If Richmond successfully withdraws, its first year on its own would be the 2023-24 school year. The town would not have to contribute financially to Arnold’s contract because her contract was set to expire in June 2023.

But with her resignation in February and Gilbert’s newly approved contract now lasting until 2024, the Richmond withdrawal committee had to make some adjustments to the contract before it could be approved by the board because Gilbert’s contract and the withdrawal contract would overlap.

Matt Bower, the district’s lawyer, added language to the agreement to reflect the “new Richmond” school administrative unit will not have to pay Gilbert’s salary after it separates from the district.

“Because the new Richmond (school administrative unit) will not receive significant benefits following the withdrawal, then will need to enter a contract of its own superintendent, effective July 1, 2023, the new Richmond (school administrative unit) will not have any responsibility to contribute to the cost of the superintendent’s contract after the effective date of the agreement, so after July 1, 2023,” Bower explained at the March 29 Richmond withdrawal committee meeting.

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Bower also had to update the withdrawal agreement with new assets and shared teachers, regarding what school they would work in if the withdrawal agreement passes.

With Gilbert’s contract and the Richmond withdrawal contract approved by the board of directors, the withdrawal agreement will now be sent to the Department of Education commissioner for review.

Once it is reviewed, it will be sent back with potential changes. Once changes are taken care of, if there are any, the board and Richmond withdrawal committee can sign off and start the public hearing process.

Both the school district and the town of Richmond will have to host a public hearing before the vote can take place within 60 days of approval from the state’s education department. If the town successfully votes to leave RSU 2, the 2023-24 school year will be the first year Richmond will have its own district.

Farmingdale, Monmouth, Dresden and Hallowell make up RSU 2 in addition to Richmond.

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