South Portland School Board OKs hirings, shifts funds

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SOUTH PORTLAND — School Board member Jeffrey Selser and Chairman Tappan Fitzgerald said they were surprised at the turnout for Monday’s special board meeting.

“We don’t usually have this much company,” Fitzgerald said to about 20 people gathered in the library at Memorial Middle School on Aug. 20.

It was not a group that went away happy, though as the board approved the hiring of baseball coach Thomas “Mike” Owens as a health and physical education teacher at the high school, passing over football coach and educational technician Steve Stinson.

The hiring was one of 10 that received unanimous board approval, but not before Stinson’s supporters asked the board to reconsider its decision.

Stinson has coached football for eight years and has been an ed tech for three, and current and former parents and players said he deserved the teaching position.

“He went out of his way to help my son,” Morse Street resident Kathleen Cleary said. She credited Stinson with helping her son pass the chemistry class needed to graduate, although her son is not a football player.

Matthew Welch of Ledgefield Circle, now a student and football player at Bates College in Lewiston, said Stinson “is the most enthusiastic person I know.”

Residents emphasized they had no criticism of Owens, but said they felt the board overlooked the level of local support for Stinson.

North Meredith Street resident John Ely, who is treasurer of the football boosters, wondered if the board selection committee had considered all the letters supporting Stinson.

School Superintendent Suzanne Godin said the hiring process required candidates to put three recommendation letters in their application packet and other letters were available for committee view “if they see fit.”

Selser said he was glad not to have been part of the committee, because the choices for the position were tough.

“I won’t put myself in the shoes of the selection committee. We had two very strong applicants with significantly strong ties to the community,” he said.

Any question of reconsideration of the hiring was put to rest when board member Rick Matthews supported the committee recommendation of Owens.

“Nobody is showing me anything saying an injustice was done,” he said.

The board also approved adding staff positions, with a third kindergarten teacher at Dora L. Small School near Willard Square and an additional teacher or ed tech working district-wide as the department determines the impact of open enrollments on class sizes at the city’s five elementary schools.

After announcing a surplus of about $600,000 from the last fiscal year, Godin asked the board to shift $300,000 to a technology upgrade account set aside for new purchases in fiscal year 2014.

The department is waiting for a decision from the Maine Department of Education on what will be supplied to replace laptop computers in the next few years. Computers for middle-schoolers are state-supplied, and the department provides laptop computers to high-schoolers through a program developed by the state several years ago.

Godin said any replacement program is expected to cost about $1 million and include grades seven through 12.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.