Spat continues between Cape Elizabeth council, School Board

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CAPE ELIZABETH — The Town Council voted 5-2 Monday to request a meeting with the School Board to discuss concerns about School Department management.

But School Board Chairwoman Susana Measelle Hubbs said any further discussion is “unwarranted.”

On April 9, resident Janet Villiote presented the council with a memo asking how the School Department manages taxpayer dollars, pointing to high turnover in administration, frequent executive sessions, amounts paid to principals who no longer work for the district, and a “significant deficiency” noted in a recent audit.

When asked why she went to the council and not the School Board directly with her concerns, Villiotte said Measelle Hubbs was “patronizing and dismissive” when Villiotte approached her three years ago about access to School Department documents.

“I was not inclined to go back to her,” Villiotte said May 9. “There’s no protocol for who I have to go to (and) that interaction sort of put me off.”

Villiotte’s memo included a request for the council to meet with the School Board. On May 9, she said she was bothered that, a month later, a joint meeting still hadn’t been scheduled.

“In the spirit of transparency and addressing things promptly, I don’t think waiting a month is the way to do it,” Villiotte said. “It gives the appearance of (the board) not wanting people to know things.”

Town Council Chairwoman Jessica Sullivan said her requests to schedule such a meeting had been denied.

“Given the importance of transparency in municipal process, I am at a loss to explain the School Board’s position, Sullivan said in a May 8 email. “I would think that the School Board would want to demonstrate to the public and to the Town Council its commitment to transparency and accountability as soon as possible, thus quickly addressing any concerns about credibility. ”

Measelle Hubbs said it was “virtually impossible to meet in the near future” because of the board’s meeting schedule in April.

Further, after the council’s first request during the week of April 9 to hold a meeting, Measelle Hubbs said “no further efforts were made on their end.”

However, in an April 15 email, Sullivan asked Measelle Hubbs to consider discussing Villiotte’s concerns on April 30 or May 3, to which Measelle Hubbs responded with the School Board’s plans to address the memo on May 8.

“Although the School Board does not feel obligated to meet with the Town Council, there has been no ‘rejection’ to meet by the School Board,” Measelle Hubbs said in a May 8 email. She added that the council has very limited oversight of the School Board and many of Villiotte’s concerns are not under the council’s purview.

Later that day, the School Board publicly responded to Villiotte’s inquiries , citing a response they sent to Villiotte on May 4. Measelle Hubbs said she emailed Villiotte on April 13 to let her know that the board would be addressing her memo during the meeting.

One of Villiotte’s concerns was that Pond Cove Elementary School Principal Kelly Hasson received almost $115,000 plus benefits, and Cape Elizabeth Middle School Principal Michael Tracy received between $87,000 and $116,000 plus benefits during FY 2018 – even though both resigned and neither has worked for the schools since last July.

Measelle Hubbs told Villiotte in her response that the board could not discuss personnel matters.

In regards to a 2017 municipal audit that noted a $4 million “significant deficiency” due to School Department bookkeeping issues, Measelle Hubbs said the School Board and interim Superintendent Howard Colter have taken the deficiency seriously and “have taken all necessary steps to not only understand how they occurred, but how to avoid similar reports in the future.”

During her remarks, Measelle Hubbs directly addressed Villiotte, who was sitting in the audience.

Board member John Voltz also spoke to Villiotte.

“In the letter … cc’ed to us, there are a number of what I consider very serious accusations,” he said. “I vehemently disagree with all of those. … I was frustrated in what you addressed to us seemed to lack some precision. … Precision in these dialogues are important. … We’re happy to engage in dialogue, but that requires dialogue on your part with us and precision.”

Villiotte said she was not given an opportunity to respond to the School Board on May 8 and felt the board’s response became far too personal and was a “direct attack” on her.

“They want the public to ask questions, so I did and I was publicly chastised,” she said. “That’s unconscionable treatment of a citizen … I was stunned that someone would speak to me with that much arrogance and lack of respect … You bet I want other elected officials to acknowledge some of the issues I brought up.”

Measelle Hubbs said none of the board’s responses to Villiotte were disrespectful.

“The board provided answers and feedback that Janet may not have agreed with or appreciated being contradicted in. This however does not make them attacks … simply a reconciling of the facts,” she said. “The board has provided Janet with ample opportunity to communicate prior to the public meeting … as well as two unsolicited emails from me attempting to address her concerns.”

The council voted Monday to hold a meeting with the School Board before June 12 to again present their responses to Villiotte and discuss how the town and schools can collaborate more effectively in future budget seasons. Councilors Sara Lennon and Jamie Garvin opposed the motion.

“I don’t see what we would discuss in this workshop … I don’t think we should get involved,” Lennon said, calling Villiotte’s memo “highly accusatory, strident and highly politicized.”

“I personally do not think Janet’s email should be the impetus for (a joint meeting). … I don’t think the tone or the content … was in any way collaborative or in favor of bringing us together,” she added.

Town Manager Matt Sturgis said the request for a meeting was formally made May 15, but nothing has been scheduled.

Measelle Hubbs said the School Board, meanwhile, is seeking legal counsel on the matter. It has a workshop scheduled for May 22, where attorney Bruce Smith will clarify the “separation of responsibility between School Board and Town Council.”

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

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