BRUNSWICK — A few new details have emerged about last week’s abrupt resignation of high school Principal Art Abelmann, including Abelmann’s handwritten resignation letter and when his two-year contract will officially end.
Meanwhile, a former School Board member who participated in Abelmann’s interview process last May said the principal was forthright at that time about his resignation from a previous job, although she now questions the School Department’s oversight of Abelmann.
According to correspondence between Abelmann and Superintendent of Schools Paul Perzanoski that was obtained through a Freedom of Access Act request, Abelmann resigned effective June 30, but was placed on paid administrative leave May 22.
The School Board met in executive session for about 12 minutes on May 22 before unanimously accepting his resignation, according to the meeting’s official minutes.
“I respectfully submit my letter of resignation to be effective June 30, 2013,” Abelmann wrote in the resignation letter, dated May 21. “I understand I will be placed on paid administrative leave effective (May 22, 2013).”
The handwritten letter did not include his reason for leaving the job a year before his contract would expire.
Perzanoski was out of the office for two days after the School Board accepted Abelmann’s resignation, but said in a letter to parents, students and staff that the principal resigned for personal reasons.
Assistant Superintendent of Schools Greg Bartlett, who fielded questions in Perzanoski’s absence last week, said Abelmann will be paid the remaining salary of his first contract year, but will receive no additional payout after June 30.
Abelmann’s annual salary was $98,278, according a compensation document.
Perzanoski declined to answer any additional questions about Abelmann’s resignation when he returned to his office Tuesday, on grounds that personnel issues are shielded from Maine’s right-to-know statute.
“This type of situation is not unusual as has been portrayed in South Portland, Scarborough, Bonny Eagle and Biddeford,” Perzanoski said, referring to other high schools where principals have recently resigned. “These things happen.”
In Abelmann’s absence, high school Assistant Principal Donna Borowick will serve as interim principal until the end of the school year. She also served as interim principal for the 2011-2012 school year after former Principal Bruce Cook retired.
Perzanoski said Borowick plans to retire after the school year is over, but may come back as interim principal for next year. Regardless, he said next year’s interim principal will be in place by July 1.
“We have already posted for the assistant principal job,” Perzanoski said. “We’re going to have an interim principal no matter what we do.”
Perzanoski said the School Department hired Abelmann last May after conducting two year-long searches for a new principal between 2010 and 2012. He said candidates from the first search backed out for various reasons.
“It’s a very hard job and with the scrutiny of social media and the media, it scares people away,” Perzanoski said. “There are fewer people going into public school admin. … If you talk to many superintendents and high principals in the state, you’ll hear the same thing. It’s certainly indicative of what environment principals have to work in.”
Perzanoski did not respond directly when asked if the School Department knew of Abelmann’s abrupt resignation from his previous job at Aspen High School in Colorado.
“We had information from his references that would check thoroughly,” he said. “That’s about all I could tell you.”
Abelmann acknowledged his sudden departure from the Colorado high school, where he resigned without warning after 16 months of a two-year contract, in an interview with The Forecaster last May.
“It was certainly a mismatch,” Abelmann said at the time. “They hired me as an agent of change. … It became clear that we just weren’t on the same page. … The faculty was not interested in change, and that was how it had been billed to me.”
Becky Shepherd, a former School Board member and co-owner of Wild Oats Bakery & Cafe, said she and other parents had the chance to interview Abelmann in order to provide feedback to the School Board’s hiring committee.
“I thought that he interviewed very well and I thought he was going to be a great candidate,” Shepherd said. “… He said that he and the (Aspen) superintendent had a real clash and that it wasn’t the place for him. I know he was told to make sure we knew this up front. We had been told he was fully vetted by our district.”
Since the interview, Shepherd said her thoughts on Abelmann have changed. Based on several interactions with parents and students over the past year, she said she doesn’t think Abelmann was the right fit for the high school.
Shepherd, who has a child in sixth grade and three other children who have graduated high school, said Abelmann’s abrupt departure raises questions about administrative oversight by the School Department.
“It funnels down to the kids and I can definitely see it as a parent,” Shepherd said. “My thing is that it all comes down to leadership and I feel like our School Department is not in the schools watching what’s happening.”