Calls for Scarborough schools chief to resign follow recall of 3 board members

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SCARBOROUGH — After clear and convincing results from Tuesday’s recall of three School Board members, there are now calls for Superintendent of Schools Julie Kukenberger to resign.

Paul Johnson, one of the most outspoken critics of how the board and Kukenberger have handled recent issues, said Wednesday that the right thing now would be for Kukenberger to leave office.

“It’s no secret that this vote was a referendum on town leadership,” said Johnson, a leader of Road to Renewal, the group that backed the recall movement. “For a long time our concerns were chalked up as being those of a small, but vocal minority. I think Tuesday’s results show that Kukenberger needs to resign.”

“If we want to move forward and heal, it’s time for her to put the town and schools ahead of herself and resign,” Johnson added.

He said if Kukenberger doesn’t leave of her own accord, Road to Renewal already has at least three candidates ready to run for School Board, who are “aligned with our vision for a change in leadership.”

Johnson said he would not run, but Road to Renewal has already vetted at least eight people interested in running and three of those are definites. “I think it’s time for the Town Council and the School Board to do a little less lecturing and a little more listening,” he said.

Kukenberger did not respond directly to a request for comment about whether she should resign, but did say Wednesday, “Scarborough residents have voted. It is my hope that all of this energy and momentum will be used to move the community forward in a more positive and productive direction.”

The three School Board members targeted by the recall, Chairwoman Donna Beeley, Cari Lyford and Jodi Shea, were removed from office in a clear-cut victory for foes of how issues affecting the schools have been handled in recent months.

According to the unofficial results released by the town clerk’s office, more than 4,500 residents turned out to vote.

Beeley was recalled by a vote of 3,086 to 1,496. Lyford was removed from office, 3,047 to 1,535. The vote against Shea was 3,040 to 1,550.

Town Clerk Yolande Justice said Tuesday that the recall would not be official until after the Town Council certifies the election results at its May 16 meeting, which means the three members targeted by the recall could take part in Thursday’s scheduled School Board meeting.

Justice said Tuesday it would be up to the School Board whether to hold a special election or wait until the November general election to fill the vacancies.

Beeley could not immediately be reached for comment, but Lyford and Shea said they were disappointed by the results.

“We had a lot of great support,” Lyford said Wednesday, but “we just didn’t end up with enough votes. Obviously, the results are disappointing, but I hope the schools continue to grow and thrive.”

“My foremost concern (all along) has been the well-being of the schools and students. I just hope the community passes the school budget on June 12.”

Lyford would not say whether she would run for elected office again, but Shea said she definitely would not.

“People keep negating my feelings of this being personal, but it’s very personal when you’re under attack by the community,” Shea said.

She added, however, that she “will continue to remain involved and engaged, that’s just who I am. I feel strongly about what I believe in and I won’t stop advocating.”

Like Lyford, she thanked those who turned out to support the School Board members.

“The incredible number of people reaching out in support has been the (one) silver lining,” Shea said. “This is not the outcome I had hoped for, but I appreciate and thank all of those who supported us. I’m proud of the work I’ve done while on the School Board and proud of my contributions to the community.”

Johnson noted how many people voted, despite concerns in the past two weeks that the Town Council’s decision to schedule a special recall election, rather than conducting the vote on June 12, would suppress voting.

“Getting 4,500 people is a very solid turnout,” he said, adding that the recall has had more than one positive result. “I think we can all agree that people are becoming more engaged and finding their voice, which is a good thing.”

But, he also said “a lot of this could have been avoided. There were so many moments where if there had been give and take and a little bit of humility, this wouldn’t have happened.”

April Sither, a member of Road to Renewal who stood outside the polls all day Tuesday encouraging people to support the recall, acknowledged, “this is a very serious thing we are doing,” but agreed with Johnson that “we did try other methods of being heard” and the recall “was our last resort.”

She became a member of Road to Renewal “when it became apparent that the School Board and superintendent were not making decisions in the best interests of students.”

Sither cited the School Board’s support of moving back school start times and Kukenberger’s “aggressive switch to proficiency-based education,” which were both accomplished in the face of vocal opposition, as reasons for the recall.

She also said the board’s complete silence on what some believe was the forced resignation of high school Principal David Creech as just another example of the School Board and superintendent not listening.

She said Beeley, Lyford and Shea were targeted by the recall specifically because they are senior members of the School Board.

Sither, who has two children at Blue Point Elementary School, said Tuesday it was “my concern for the future of the school district” and the fact that “I found it very difficult to work with the School Board,” that led to her active involvement in the recall.

She had strong hopes all three members targeted would be recalled and said “there was an electricity in the air” all day Tuesday.

“The turnout so far today has been exciting and overwhelming,” Sither said while the polls were open. “The community will definitely be heard one or the other.”

During her time standing out in front of Town Hall along Route 1 Tuesday, Sither said many people “were waving and beeping and giving us the thumbs up.”

“Our hope is that through this process, people have learned they’ve got to be more engaged and that we can’t let it get this bad again. In light of the recall, I hope the remaining board members would be more receptive to public input,” she said.

Standing not too far from Sither a little farther up Route 1 on Tuesday were Neallie Budway and Kate Shaw, who were both holding signs asking voters to vote against the recall.

Neither are formal members of the group Scarborough Sharing Truth on Recall Matters, which formed in opposition to the campaign to remove the three School Board members, but both felt strongly that a recall was not the way to go.

“I really support these women. I feel they’ve been unjustly targeted,” Shaw said. “I can’t imagine a more supportive board for our students. They support the teachers and the kids. If we’re lucky they’ll be able to continue to do good work.”

In a Facebook message posted on Tuesday, the Sharing Truth group said, “(We wanted to) post a message of support and thanks. First, to the board members who have been the target of the recall effort, and the superintendent who has indirectly been the target, we wish to say thank you. Thank you for your consistent dedication to Scarborough schools, and for your fortitude and strength in the face of acrimony most of us have never had to endure.”

The post went on to state “Our community is now more engaged in matters related to school administration and we are hopeful that we’ll see supportive engagement in regular elections, including the upcoming budget vote, and in-person at board meetings, Town Council meetings and other forums.

“We value our friends and neighbors and are optimistic that as we enter a new phase of work for our schools in Scarborough, everyone will remember we share the same goal of having well-funded schools helmed by experienced, passionate educators.”

This story was updated to remove a quote.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

Scarborough voters on Tuesday, May 8, overwhelmingly recalled School Board Chairwoman Donna Beeley, left, and board members Cari Lyford and Jodi Shea.

Kukenberger

Matt and April Sither are both members of Road to Renewal, a group formed to support the recall of three Scarborough School Board members.

The polls were busy in Scarborough Tuesday as more than 4,500 residents turned out to vote in a recall election targeting three members of the School Board. Election Warden Allen Paul said voting was quite strong with about 200 voters an hour going through.

These contrasting signs show the divided nature of the Scarborough community over Tuesday’s recall of three School Board members.

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