Scarborough School Board members face May 8 recall

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SCARBOROUGH — Three School Board members will face recall elections next month.

The Town Council on Wednesday scheduled the town-wide votes to recall Chairwoman Donna Beeley, Vice Chairwoman Jodi Shea and member Cari Lyford for May 8 at Town Hall. Polls will be open from 7 a.m.-8 p.m.

There will be separate balloting on each board member, and 3,200 total votes – 30 percent of the population that voted in the last gubernatorial election – will be required in each one for a recall to be deemed valid.

Absentee ballots are now available in the town clerk’s office during regular business hours, and will end May 3, according to the town. The clerk’s office will also be open on Saturday, April 28, for absentee voting from 9-3 p.m.

About 160 people attended Wednesday’s hearing, which ran for 5 1/2 hours. Some people wanted the election to be scheduled June 12, when the annual school budget vote will also take place, but the council decided to hold the vote May 8.

Council Chairman William Donovan later said councilors want the recalls to be decided as soon as possible, and without being conflated with the school budget.

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, a pre-school teacher, run until November 2019.

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.

Several people spoke 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 seen as ineffective.

Beeley and Shea both said they stand by their decisions, which were intended to improve education.

Teacher Lisa Douglas said criticizing board members as incompetent is “pathetic,” and if the community is unhappy with the board’s decisions, it should go through a regular election cycle.

“Do it with voting, don’t tear down the town,” she said.

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

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 the district leadership.

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

The recall effort was not a “temper tantrum,” resident Amy Glidden at the meeting, but rather about accountability, students and teachers.

Board member Jackie Perry said defended Beeley, Shea and Lyford, saying disagreements over decisions are not cause for recall.

Perry said firing the superintendent and getting a new principal could add $200,000 to the budget. “How is that justifiable because you disagree?” she asked.

Perry also pointed out that if the three members are recalled, new members would be voted in without experience on the board, and the remaining two members only have about two years of board experience.

“They are our future,” she said of Beeley, Shea and Lyford, adding they should not be blamed for the strife in the community.

Perry said she believed Creech should have been removed immediately after he resigned, and an interim principal be put in his place — an opinion she previously shared only with the board, Kukenberger and the board’s attorney.

The board has refused to reconsider Creech’s resignation.

Creech resigned in February, but his attorney, Bill Michaud, said it was forced 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 jlaaka@theforecaster.net or 781-3661 ext. 106. Follow her 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.

Scarborough School Board member Jodi Shea, center, speaks with people at the April 25 public hearing where a May 8 recall election was scheduled by the Town Council.

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