The chaos surrounding the Mt. Ararat Schools (MSAD 75) continues this week following the revelation that School Board Chair Frank Wright penned a letter to the rest of the school board informing him that he planned to resign on March 9.
“In my efforts to bring us together as a working team, I have seemingly divided, I will be stepping down as chair, as of our next regular meeting,” he wrote in Feb. 21 email obtained via Freedom of Access Act request.
However, local radio host Jim Bleikamp, during his Wednesday morning WCME show, said Wright was having second thoughts about resigning.
Bleikamp confirmed as much in a phone interview
“I talked with him and he said that he is reconsidering that email,” said Bleikamp. “This morning, when I got the email, I called him, last night actually, he called me back this morning, and told me he’s reconsidering.”
Confusion over Wright’s intention to resign follows on the heels of the Feb. 9 resignation of MSAD 75 Superintendent Steven B. Connolly.
Bleikamp said he called Connolly after becoming aware of the email from Wright. Bleikamp requested the email as a public record and received it. But Connolly wasn’t interested in answering further questions about either resignation.
“Steve Connolly wanted to know the source by which I received the email, and I refused to tell him,” he said.
Broadly, the tumult in the school district is a microcosm into the growing turmoil in schools across the state, as competing visions for the future of Maine’s schools clash at acrimonious school board meetings.
Wright and Connolly both did not respond to a requests for an interview with the Maine Wire.
MSAD 75 includes the towns of Bowdoin, Bowdoinham, Topsham, and Harpswell.
Connolly, who only took the job last July, becomes the sixth superintendent to leave the district in as many years.
In his resignation letter, Connolly said political and ideological divisions within the community prevented him from doing his job effectively.
“I find I have not been effective at managing the implicit divisions that exist based on political, personal, and ideological beliefs which, in my view, are stagnating the opportunity for systemic educational progress,” Connolly wrote.
Following that statement from Connolly, Wright told WGME that the superintendent’s resignation letter was a dig at Parents Rights in Education (PRIE), a conservative non-profit that advocates for transparency in school curricula.
Other media outlets continued with some variation of the narrative that right-wing activists had alienated the superintendent and were to blame for all the political divisions.
Wright’s statements to the media at the time were criticized by fellow board member Eric Lusk, who told the Maine Wire, “The board chair needs to distinguish between personal sentiments as opposed to speaking on behalf of the full board… To try to pin [the resignation] on Parental Rights in Education is the tail wagging the dog.”
Now, Wright appears to have admitted to fellow board members that he himself is responsible for political division within the school board and administration. Although that was enough cause for him to say he would resign a week ago, something has happened in the intervening days that led him to reconsider.
Allen Sarvinas, the head of Maine’s PRIE chapter, said Wright’s resignation email allows the public a more accurate understanding of the nature of the divisions within the school community.
“As an organization, we hope this gives a little credibility to the work we’ve been doing for three years,” said Sarvinas.
He said Wright and left-wing activists tried to pin the blame for Connolly’s resignation on PRIE, but that Wright received major backlash “behind the scenes” for his role in doing so.
Sarvarinas said the work PRIE has done in MSAD 75 will continue and that PRIE will be expanding into other school districts.
Wright, whose career included 27 years as a school teacher, has served on the MSAD 75 school board since 2019. He became the chairman last year, assuming a leadership role in a school district that, like many others, had been roiled by intense disputes over masking and other COVID-19 accommodations.
“The decision-making process can be fraught with disagreements, but my goal is really to create a sense of unity on the board and continue the peace process in order to be able to function as a cohesive unit,” Wright told the Harpswell Anchor last year.
“My way in which I would do that is by a consultative approach, which means that everybody’s voice is heard and everybody’s voice matters,” he said.
Although Sarvinas did not appreciate Wright attempting to pin blame for Connolly’s exit on his organization, PRIE doesn’t see Connolly as the source of the district’s strife.
Through public records requests, PRIE has uncovered emails which show what it believes to be inappropriate influence from the Merrymeeting Teachers Association on school board elections.
Although the teachers union has endorsed and campaigned for multiple current school board members, the school district’s attorney has said those members do not necessarily need to recuse themselves from votes relating to teachers, including collective bargaining agreements.
The end result is union-endorsed school board members voting on teacher pay packages endorsed by the union.
“In 2018, we watched our school district become targeted with official union and political party endorsements,” Sarvinas said.
After Connolly’s resignation, Sarvinas’ wife, Annalyse Sarvinas, threw her hat in the ring to be nominated by the Topsham select board to an open seat on the MSAD 75 school board.
Sarvinas, thanks to her and her husband’s role with PRIE, became the target of a sustained campaign by left-leaning community members to scuttle her nomination. The nomination instead went to Kimberly Pacelli, a former Drummond Woodsum consultant who now works for TNG Consulting.
Along with the increased union and left-wing political influence over the school board itself, Sarvinas has criticized some administrative employees at MSAD 75 for pushing a radical, far-left agenda.
“It’s up the people to pressure those in positions of leadership to corral this out-of-control self-serving bureaucracy,” he said.
The Maine Wire has contacted Connolly and Wright for comment on these developments and will update the story when/if they respond.
Wright responded Wednesday evening:
“As I told Jim this morning I was not resigning my position as board chair as of yet, but that I had indicated I was in an earlier email to board members only. In the interim I have had a change of heart. As to you second question my response to the Portland station was taken out of context. I did not say that PRIE was responsible for Mr. Connolly’s resignation, I said that one need only read their national website to understand their position or where they were coming from. I in no way said that they were responsible.”