Brunswick School Board quietly elects new chairwoman

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BRUNSWICK — The School Board elected a new chairman on Wednesday, two weeks after voting to remove Byron Watson from the leadership position.

Unlike the March 10 decision, which was triggered by an e-mail Watson sent to House Speaker Hannah Pingree, D-North Haven, and his critical comments about the town’s legislative delegation, Wednesday’s vote was preceded by no discussion other than statements by the two nominees for chairman, Jack Jones and Corinne Perreault.

Perreault, nominated by Vice Chairman James Grant, was elected chairwoman with seven votes. Jones, who was nominated by Watson, received two votes.

When asked how the board reached a consensus in the absence of public discussion, Grant said both nominees lobbied individual board members for support. He denied that the topic was discussed in private last week, when at least three board members were seen at the Brunswick House of Pizza.

Grant acknowledged that at least three board members were at the Maine Street restaurant. But, he said, only two members, Grant and James Matthew Corey, sat together. The third, he said, sat at another “corner of the restaurant.”

“Both candidates campaigned on their own,” Grant said. “Tonight’s decision was almost a continuation of the one we made in January.”

Watson was elected unanimously in January. Grant said Perreault and Jones had expressed interest in the leadership position at the time.

The selection of Perreault caps a tumultuous period for the board, which was dragged into a controversy over Watson’s Feb. 5 e-mail to Pingree. Members of the public and the board later called the message inappropriate, sexist and embarrassing to the town. 

Watson, meanwhile, blamed the furor on maneuvering by the town’s all-Democratic legislative delegation. Watson, a Republican, said the legislators were attempting to smear him.

That claim has been refuted by the lawmakers, as well as Jonathan Crimmins, the chairman of Brunswick’s Republican Party and a legislative candidate for District 66. Crimmins called for Watson’s resignation in a Feb. 22 letter to The Forecaster. 

Nonetheless, Watson continued to attack the delegation, a move that appeared to cost him Perreault and Corey’s support in the board’s 6-3 vote to remove him as chairman on March 10.

The board’s vote did not persuade the 30-year-old to stop defending his conduct. He called his ouster the work of a “small group of extremists” and last week distributed a video of former Democratic U.S. Sen. George Mitchell calling Pingree “the best looking and most capable speaker in all of the 50 states.”

Watson said the video proved a “gross double standard” existed and that the legislators were out to assail his character.

Earlier this week, Watson wrote in a newspaper opinion piece that the video persuaded some board members to change their minds about the March 10 vote. However, he said he asked the board not to reconsider him for the leadership position because his “advocacy for the children of Brunswick can be better accomplished away from” the chairmanship.

Steve Mistler can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 123 or smistler@theforecaster.net

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Budget update

BRUNSWICK — Superintendent of Schools Paul Perzanoski on Wednesday updated the School Board on the latest budget scenario, which could add to the school chief’s preliminary $32.4 million proposal for fiscal 2011.

Following discussions with Town Manager Gary Brown, Perzanoski said the board could begin reviewing a spending plan that includes a 1 percent tax increase, adding about $324,000. The increase could prevent some of the 40 layoffs Perzanoski projected on March 10, if approved by the Town Council and ratified by voters in June.  

Perzanoski also announced that the state is restoring about $65,000 in aid to the district.

However, that addition would be nearly nullified by a scheduled 3.25 percent raise for the district’s educational technicians. Perzanoski said the technicians union refused to accept a wage freeze for fiscal 2011, which would have saved the district about $53,000. 

The raise is part of the contract the union negotiated with the district last year. 

Meanwhile, it’s unclear if the district’s teachers union will accept a wage freeze. Perzanoski said he expected to meet with the union within the next two weeks. The teachers are in the last year of their current contract.

— Steve Mistler

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