Embattled Scarborough school chief won’t seek new contract

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SCARBOROUGH — Superintendent of Schools Julie Kukenberger, who in two years on the job became a lightning rod for critics of school policies and administration, will step down when her contract expires next June.

Kukenberger announced her decision at the Nov. 15 School Board meeting.

In a news release the next day, School Board members said they “appreciate all of (Kukenberger’s) hard work and her many accomplishments.”

“Our entire board is committed to working collaboratively with Dr. Kukenberger over the next seven months to oversee the district and create a seamless transition plan,” the release read.

Kukenberger was hired in April 2016 after serving as an assistant superintendent in Haverhill, Massachusetts.

She initially came under fire during School Department budget discussions, and for her support of revised school start times and proficiency-based education.

The criticism heightened after the resignation of popular Scarborough High School Principal David Creech last February. Creech, who opposed the start-time changes, later tried to rescind his resignation, was denied, and claimed Kukenberger had forced him to step down for reasons still unknown to the public.

In March, nearly 70 percent of the Scarborough Education Association voted no confidence in the School Board and Kukenberger. Soon after the union vote, a petition drive started by a group called Road to Renewal ended in the recall of three board members: Jodi Shea, Cari Lyford and Donna Beeley.

Members of Road to Renewal said the recall petition was a strategic move to replace School Board members and seat a board that would ultimately remove Kukenberger.

During the recall campaign, police in April investigated threatening letters sent to Kukenberger and her family.

Kukenberger’s contract was an issue in the campaign leading up to the Nov. 6 School Board election, when four of the School Board’s five new members were supported by Road to Renewal.

Several said her contract would be a primary concern for the new board, which under state law would be required to act on her contract in December. If the board had decided not to extend the contract, which pays a salary of just under $148,000 for the current school year, it would have expired.

On Nov. 20, Kristen Nilsen, a founding member of the group who helped lead the recall petition drive, said Road to Renewal’s leadership team wishes Kukenberger well in the future.

“At the end of the day, I believe that everyone, including the board and Dr. Kukenberger, wants to focus on the best interests of students and staff,” Nilsen said. “We look forward to working together for the duration of the school year toward this common goal.”

In her statement to the board Thursday, Kukenberger said, “I would be remiss not to mention the contention that has gone into this School Board election and the recall this past spring. One of the issues that have been repeatedly raised is my contract.

“Missing in the conversation has been if I would be interested in staying past June. Given the challenges this board faces and the need to focus 100 (percent) of their time on doing what is right for our children, I want to take this issue off the table,” she continued. “So to be clear, I will not be seeking a new contract or an extension in any form from this board.”

Kukenberger said she would “continue to work extremely hard to always do what is best for (the) children and help this board in any way (she) can,” between now and when her contract ends in hope the board can find “strong processes and a high level of cohesion.”

Also on Nov. 15, the School Board elected Leanne Kazilionis chairwoman for 2019. Newly elected board member Nicholas Gill was appointed vice chairman during his first meeting on the panel.

Kazilionis is in the second year of a three-year term.

“I’m looking forward to working collaboratively with the entire team and superintendent,” she said. “We have a lot of work ahead of us … (and) I’m grateful for the confidence the team has in me.”

The new chairwoman did not respond to requests for information about how the board intends to search for Kukenberger’s replacement.

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or jvansaun@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.

This report was updated Nov. 20, 2018.

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