Something beautiful happened this week – something that should scare every elected official who thinks their opinions supersede those of the people they represent.
Scarborough residents on Tuesday voted overwhelmingly to oust Board of Education Chairwoman Donna Beeley, along with board members Cari Lyford and Jodi Shea over their handling of a dispute between Superintendent Julie Kukenberger and Scarborough High School principal David Creech.
Beeley was removed by a vote of 3,086 to 1,496 (67 percent); Lyford 3,047 to 1,535 (66 percent); and Shea 3,040 to 1,550 (66 percent).
In February, Creech announced his resignation with minimal explanation, however members of community were aware of Creech’s disagreements with the school board and Kukenberger over new district policies, including school start times and the implementation of proficiency-based education in Scarborough schools.
Creech later rescinded his resignation after his attorney, William Michaud, informed the public that Creech was being forced out of his post due to the policy disputes. Kukenberger reportedly told Creech he wasn’t a “good fit” for the district.
“He was threatened that if he did not resign, (Kukenberger) was not going to renew his contract the following year,” Michaud told the Portland Press Herald.
Hundreds of parents and students then gathered to protest Creech’s resignation, calling on the school board to keep Creech on as principal of Scarborough High School.
Unfortunately for Creech and his many supporters in the community, the school board denied Creech’s request to rescind his resignation and also denied Creech’s attorney the opportunity to discuss his future employment with the district.
As a result, a handful of Scarborough residents started the Road to Renewal political action committee as a vehicle to push for the ouster of Chairwoman Beeley, who was up for reelection in November, and Lyford and Shea, who were not up for reelection until November 2019.
Remarkably, the grassroots organized Road to Renewal group collected enough signatures to move their recall petition onto the local ballot, and then secured enough support from the local community to bounce the three sitting school board members on Tuesday.
According to Road to Renewal supporters, Beeley, Lyford and Shea were targeted as long-serving members of the Board for “their inability to provide critically important oversight over the superintendent.”
In March, Scarborough High School teachers expressed no confidence in Kukenberger after an 83-1 vote. Later, a districtwide vote by the Scarborough teachers’ union found that 67 percent of members (185-91) have no confidence in Kukenberger.
The four members who still serve on the school board – Hillory Durgin, Leanne Kazilionis, Jacquelyn Perry and Mary Starr – could call on the Town Council to hold a special election this summer to fill the three new empty seats, or wait until the November election.
With three of the board’s seven members removed, the remaining four members have enough votes to constitute a quorum, however passing any measure now requires the unanimous support of the board.
This spells trouble for Kukenberger, whose three-year contract with the district expires in 2019. While many in the community have called for her resignation, Kukenberger has not stepped down in response to the successful recall effort, and it appears she has every intention staying on for the duration of her contract.
The board will have a different composition when it comes time to renew Kukenberger’s contract, however her opposition to principal Creech served as the impetus for the recall efforts. A board that decides to renew Kukenberger’s contract next year will likely face the same fate Beely, Lyford and Shea faced on Tuesday.
And that’s the beauty of local control and the democratic process; people want control over their local schools, in both policy and the people who represent their interests. When you misrepresent the people and impose policies they disagree with, you can expect to be ousted – because at the end of the day, residents have the final say.
Tuesday’s vote is a testament to the efforts of Scarborough residents who pushed the community to take back control of their local schools.