2018-04-13 / Front Page

Town clerk certifies recall petition

By Grant McPherson Staff Writer

The Road to Renewal group is one step closer to their goal of securing Superintendent Julie Kukenberger’s resignation, but there are still many steps for the community to take before she could leave office and not everyone is convinced her resignation is the solution.

Town Clerk Tody Justice sent an email Friday, April 6 confirming that Road to Renewal has obtained more than the 2,622 signatures necessary to trigger a recall election. Town Council was expected to accept the certified petitions at the Wednesday, April 11 meeting and the first of three public hearings is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 25.

Paul Johnson, a Scarborough resident and spokesperson for Road to Renewal, said the group has begun a fundraising campaign to hold a community dialogue session sometime in early May. He said the group plans to hire a neutral moderator to help facilitate the meeting. While Road to Renewal has not endorsed any candidates yet, Johnson said should Beeley, Shea and Lyford be recalled, Road to Renewal will likely endorse candidates for election and help purchase yard signs and advertisements.

Johnson said the purpose of the meeting was to create a space for residents to talk outside of town meetings and begin the process of healing the community.

“I think some of the frustration is because everybody always feels it would be nice to have a little bit more than three minutes,” Johnson said. “There’s no opportunity to have a face-to-face dialogue with board members that isn’t limited by a structure. We have institutions in place limiting people talking to each other. The other option is social media and people just talk in circles there.

“If it works, great. If it doesn’t, we learn from it. A lot of this is a symptom of the inability to get in one room and hash things out from the beginning. We don’t want to be at school board meetings acting like delinquents and I’m sure the board of education members don’t want to act like they can’t talk to people.”

While there are rules governing how many town councilors can attend an event at once, Johnson said he hopes to have a representative from both the council and board at the May meeting.

Town Councilor Chris Caiazzo said despite whatever discussion town council may have regarding the recall process, he personally doesn’t believe it’s being used for the right purpose.

“In my interpretation you recall officials for crimes of misdemeanor or dereliction of duty,” Caiazzo said. “I think recalling a group of elected officials just because you don’t like the process or disagree is a dangerous precedent to be setting. I understand it’s frustrating but there are ways to address that short of taking steps like this. I don’t see any positive outcome and I’m scratching my head who wins in this scenario. History will judge more than I will.”

Caiazzo, also a former school board member, said communication could have improved the situation, but that there is a misconception between how town council and the school board operate.

“Council is elected to do the people’s business, people have input and council has an obligation to receive input,” Caiazzo said. “School board members are wardens of the state. They ensure the laws of the state of Maine are fulfilled and the education system is running according with the laws and policies. They are not obligated to serve the will of the people. Town council conducts public business in public and the school board conducts school business in public. It’s not a public meeting.

“That doesn’t alleviate or explain the frustration or feeling that people aren’t being heard. There are certainly other ways the school board can engage people and take feedback.”

Jackie Perry, who has served on the school board on and off for more than 30 years and also serves on the Maine School Board Association Executive Committee, said it takes the school board about a year to find a new superintendent. She said even if all three board members were recalled and given the board members facing the end of their term this year, including herself and Mary Starr, it could result in a very inexperienced board searching for a new superintendent. Perry said she also doubted the recall effort would happen in time to reinstate Principal Creech and the long term damage to the town could be greater.

“Personally, I think this effort will make it very difficult to get a good superintendent, one who is willing to make hard decisions and willing to be a leader,” Perry said. “If you come into a community where there are groups of citizens who have been doing nothing but maligning the school board and superintendent for a matter of months, I don’t think that there would be many very good candidates who would want to put themselves and family into the situation.”

As part of Road to Renewal’s efforts to explain its goals, Johnson posted a video to the group’s page explaining concerns with how Kukenberger addressed the high school teachers after they spoke out against start time changes. Johnson said the amount of residents who signed petitions and teachers who voted no confidence in the superintendent gets downplayed, but that it should be a sign that change is necessary.

“It’s frustrating to know what some of the teachers are going through and not be able to articulate it to the public all the time,” Johnson said. “The overarching issue of leadership pulled me into this. I do think if somebody just reads the paper or Facebook and sees people with signs on the side of the street they’re missing the big picture. None of this happened on accident. We didn’t all know Creech as personal friends. That’s not actually what this is about in aggregate. It’s more than just three easy narratives.”

Johnson said if the recall effort is unsuccessful, Road to Renewal will continue its work in the town and maintain its position against Kukenberger.

“She has a year left on her contract after this school year,” he said. “I think we would maintain the position that her contract not be renewed. I don’t think we are going away. I don’t think we are going to change. No matter what, we need to pay more attention to the teachers in this town and provide them a good working environment. If the teachers divest themselves from the town then we’re in trouble.”

Staff Writer Grant McPherson can be reached at news@scarboroughleader.com.

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