Recall vote not likely to resolve Scarborough strife

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SCARBOROUGH — Voters on May 8 will decide whether a trio of School Board members accused of incompetence by critics should be removed from office.

What they are unlikely to resolve is the lack of trust some residents seem to have in town government.

There will be separate balloting Tuesday on each board member. Thirty percent of registered voters – or at least 3,147 ballots – will have to be cast on each question for results to be valid.

Some proponents of the recall wanted the election scheduled for June 12, when the annual school budget vote will also take place. But the Town Council on April 25 decided to hold the vote next Tuesday.

Council Chairman William Donovan said last week that councilors want the recalls to be decided as soon as possible, without being conflated with the school budget referendum also scheduled for June 12.

Critics of that decision and advocates of the recall contend it will dampen turnout. 

The most recent divisions in town stem from school-related issues around management and transparency. But they extend to questions about the actions of the Town Council. 

In his blog called LookOutScarborough, resident Steve Hanly lays out his opinion on school- and town-related matters that have divided the town. 

Hanly suggested that what he describes as a “stealth” recall election was intentionally scheduled quickly to minimize voter turnout, and urged all voters to participate, regardless of whether they have children in the school system.

He said town councilors have been arrogant and vocal in their opposition to the recall effort and want it to fail. A vote for recall, he said, will show officials they need to regain the trust of their constituents. 

Although he said he had seen Hanly’s blog, Council Chairman William Donovan said he has suggested to councilors that they should be circumspect in their remarks because they are public officials.

He also defended the council’s decision-making process, and said the recall date was based on the most appropriate considerations and was not done to hurt or help either side. 

Donovan said the recall is an important issue and urged residents to vote, but to do so with informed understanding, not superficial opinions. 

“People can interpret our actions as they may, but nothing was done in a way that is anything other than appropriate,” he said. 

If Chairwoman Donna Beeley and board members Cari Lyford and Jodi Shea are recalled, their removal will be effective as soon as the Town Council certifies the election results. The Board of Education will then recommend whether to hold a special election within six months, or wait for the November general election to fill vacancies. The Town Council would then schedule the election.

Beeley, a former teacher and principal, has served on the board for more than five years and has said she will not seek re-election in November. The terms of both Shea and Lyford expire in November 2019.

Beeley last week said the vote will “point to the character of the town and who we want to be. Having lived here 39 years, I’ve known this town for a long time, and so I hope people will make a decision based on logic and not emotion,” she said.

Lyford said she has felt dehumanized by the recall process, and described having to explain to her young children why people were collecting signatures to remove her from the board.

“The process has felt personal for me and my family,” she said.

In her 2 1/2 years on the board, she said she has made each decision through a lens she acquired as a teenager.

“When I was 16, I spoke at a School Board meeting, pleading that they not make cuts to our music program. That moment made such a strong impression on me, and the seed was planted that if I ever had the chance to be on a school board, I would run,” Lyford said in a written statement. “If I could have the chance to improve public education in some small way and advance the best interests of students, I would try to do that.”

Several people spoke last week in support of the board members and the work they have done, including restoring seventh-grade sports and supporting a pre-K program. Others railed against their decision-making, accused them of lacking transparency, and criticized them for defending school administrators they see as ineffective.

The board members said they stand by their decisions, which were intended to improve education.

The petition to oust the trio was accepted earlier this month. The signature drive was led by a group called Road to Renewal, which ultimately hopes to remove Superintendent of Schools Julie Kukenberger. Her contract is up in July 2019.

On the Road to Renewal Facebook page, a posting after the public hearings said, “This isn’t about resumes, past accomplishments … . It’s not about a disagreement over a single decision. This is about a pattern of behavior from a board that has shown repeatedly it doesn’t want to listen to or acknowledge any facts from people who don’t agree with it.”

Kukenberger has been criticized for halting a student petition and voter-registration drive, which got attention from the Maine American Civil Liberties Union. She has also been the target of anonymous letters sent to the board and town manager alleging inappropriate conduct by her. The School Board characterized the letter as demeaning and threatening.

The board members and superintendent were also criticized for their handling of the resignation of Scarborough High School Principal David Creech, a change in school start times, and their commitment to proficiency-based education.

Road to Renewal member Paul Johnson noted teachers voted 185-91 to show no confidence in the board and Kukenberger’s leadership. He said there has been a continued lack of reflection from district leadership.

“The adults your kids come into contact with every day do not have confidence in this board,” he said.

The board has refused to reconsider Creech’s resignation.

Creech resigned in February, but his attorney, William Michaud, said he was forced out by the superintendent over professional differences. Creech’s supporters say it was because the principal supported high school staff when they questioned policy changes.

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

A recall election will be held May 8 to remove Scarborough School Board members Donna Beeley, left, Cari Lyford and Jodi Shea.An illustration on LookOutScarborough.com suggests town officials are trying to discourage people from voting in the May 8 recall election of three School Board members.

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