Compromise on Scarborough school start times floated as recall petitions circulate

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SCARBOROUGH — Amid continuing uproar over the resignation of high school Principal David Creech, the School Board and superintendent of schools Monday said they are open to compromise on later school start times scheduled for the fall.

Before Monday night’s special workshop at Wentworth Intermediate School, called in response to escalating public criticism about the school-day change, Scarborough High School teachers showed their support for Creech, who resigned suddenly Feb. 16. He has tried unsuccessfully to rescind the action and claimed he was pressured to leave by Superintendent Julie Kukenberger.

The teachers voted 83-1 to express no confidence in Kukenberger. Middle school teachers were scheduled to vote Thursday, followed by elementary school faculty, according to the teachers’ union.

Some members of the public have speculated Creech’s support of his staff in opposing the start-time changes was the reason for his sudden resignation.

Creech was one of several hundred people at the workshop, but spoke only about how a compromise plan would affect the high school instructional day, as well as students’ afters-chool activities. He did not address his resignation.

Kukenberger has previously said Creech’s resignation is a personnel issue that cannot legally be discussed publicly. Creech’s attorney has said his client was told he just wasn’t a good fit for the district, and described it as a professional disagreement that should be worked out. The School Board has declined to accept Creech’s attempt to rescind the resignation.

Several people during the public comment portion of Monday’s workshop discussed Creech’s resignation, which prompted School Board member Jackie Perry to walk out because the meeting was called to specifically address school start times.

With some in the crowd shouting “goodbye,” Perry said she still believes in the science that backs later start times for adolescents, but said upheaval for students is not productive. 

Three School Board members have also been targeted for recall, with petitions circulating in the community to hold a special election. 

The petitions, taken out March 5, would oust Chairwoman Donna Beeley – who was absent from Monday’s meeting because she was on vacation – and members Jodi Shea and Cari Lyford. Papers must be returned by March 26 and include 2,600 signatures, or 25 percent of voters in the last gubernatorial election, Town Clerk Tody Justice said.

Paul Johnson, one of the petitioners, said the drive is a strategic move to seat a board that will ultimately remove Kukenberger.

In a previous statement, Beeley said the criticism of Kukenberger is frustrating because the public is only able to hear one side of the story.

“Social media and news outlets have promoted a narrative that, due to the confidentiality required, has been one sided. That one-sided coverage paints a distorted picture for all involved,” she said. 

Kukenberger, meanwhile, on Monday said there are three start-time options the board can still pursue: staying the course to change start times in the fall, indefinitely halting the change to allow additional time to implement the plan, or settle on a compromise. 

“Timing and community readiness matters,” Kukenberger said, adding she was hoping for a thought-provoking workshop that could add insight to the planning process. The School Board voted unanimously to implement the start time change last April. 

“Compromise is what we’ve needed for a long time, thank you for starting now,” high school Spanish teacher Christy Zavasnik told the board.

Despite the call for compromise, some community members said the collateral damage done by the start-time change implementation could not be ignored. Others said they appreciated the efforts by the board to implement the change, saying the science and data is irrefutable — high school students should not start school earlier than 8:30 a.m. 

The compromise option seemed to be favored by school leadership and Kukenberger, with many people during public comment saying they could support such an option. 

The compromise includes altering the three-phase bus system to two runs, and creating a later start time for high school and middle school students, at 8 a.m., and having the school day begin at 8:50 a.m. for kindergarten through fifth-grade students. 

The current plan would have high school students starting at 8:50 a.m., middle school students at 9 a.m., and elementary school students at 8 a.m.

Classes at the high school now begin at 7:35 a.m. The middle school starts at 7:45 a.m., students in grades 3-5 start at 8:20 a.m., and kindergarten through second-graders start at 8:50 a.m.

Principals at the primary schools, Kelly Martin and Kelli Crosby, said the compromise option will not greatly impact their school day. 

Creech and middle school principal Diane Nadeau said the compromise would better align with student-athletes’ schedules, as well as schedules for the vocational school. 

Thomas Vachon, a student member of the School Board, said a too-late start time would be detrimental to after-school activities, and said many of his fellow students have expressed this concern to him.

A vote by the board about which option to pursue will be taken at a later, undetermined date, board member Jodi Shea said. 

Juliette Laaka can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or at jlaaka@theforecaster.net. 

Petitions seeking the recall of three Scarborough School Board members were circulated before the March 12 board workshop at Wentworth Intermediate School.

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