June 20, 2013

Member quits SAD 51 board over security spending

Jeff Porter says the board was told too late about a $226,000 cost overrun for a school security system.

By Matt Byrne mbyrne@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

A co-chairman of the Cumberland-North Yarmouth school board is resigning after only a year in his post, citing problems with how the district superintendent and some board members handled huge cost overruns in the purchase of school security equipment.

click image to enlarge

Jeff Porter, of Cumberland, is stepping down from his position on the district's School Board because of conflicts with the superintendent.

John Ewing / Staff Photographer

Jeff Porter said he no longer trusts SAD 51 Superintendent Robert Hasson after the cost of a school security system rose from $50,000 to $276,000, and the school board was not notified until the system had already been installed.

During a board meeting in May, Hasson took responsibility for not notifying members of the cost overruns sooner.

"The project grew as we added more of the enhancements," he said. "I'm responsible for everything."

Porter also said Wednesday he believes the incident shows that some fellow board members do not understand their roles as fiscal watchdogs and as the final authority over the superintendent and his performance.

"I've been involved in public service for 26 years at the federal, state and local (levels) and at a number of nonprofit boards," Porter said. "I have never encountered a more dysfunctional, upside-down board. A huge mistake occurs with the security system and the majority of the board doesn't even want to look into it."

But school board member Jim Bailinson said he believes Porter's accusations are baseless, and that Porter's use of freedom of access laws to obtain information about the installation and purchasing process for the security system runs counter to maintaining a cohesive school board.

Bailinson said Porter could have called a meeting in executive session had he believed Hasson and other administrators were withholding information about the security system. He said the issue has distracted the board from its core responsibility of setting educational policy and curriculum.

"It goes back to how a board member should operate when they are part of an organization," Bailinson said. "They are not a force unto themselves. And that's where I think Jeff's conduct has to be reviewed."

Hasson and four board members -- Virginia Dwyer, Martha Leggat, co-chairman Bill Richards and Bill Vail -- did not respond to calls and emails for comment Wednesday. The phone number listed on the school system's website for board member Bill Dunnett did not appear to be correct.

Porter said Wednesday that his resignation, one year into a three-year term, will take effect July 1. The Cumberland Town Council will select an interim replacement until the next municipal election.

The security system was pitched by Hasson in January as a $50,000 upgrade to install specialized door locks operated with electronic swipe cards, following the school shootings in Newtown, Conn., in December.

But after the system installation was completed, the total cost had risen to $276,000 and the work had expanded to include new computer systems, cameras, intercoms and other equipment not mentioned in the original plan. Porter criticized Hasson for failing to obtain public bids for the project and for not bringing the extra expense to the board for a vote.

School board policy at the time called for expenses greater than $25,000 to be put to bid and then come before the board for a vote. Since then, the threshold triggering board review and bidding has been raised to $35,000.

The policy allows the superintendent to bypass the bid-and-proposal process only when the "quality, expertise, time factors, or other important considerations outweigh the possible benefits of bidding or requesting proposals," which was cited to explain the security system spending.

To pay for the system, some reserve funding was spent up front for labor costs, while the balance of the equipment cost – about $217,000 – will be covered in annual payments of $31,000 over seven years.

School board member Jim Moulton said he was glad that Porter took the initiative to call for a closer examination of the spending. Moulton agreed with Porter's assessment of the board, and said he is "thoroughly and positively disgusted" with how the money was spent.

"I believe it rose to the level that I would have no problem asking for Bob Hasson's resignation," said Moulton. "You cannot ... have a man as smart as (Hasson) say he didn't know what was going on."

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:

mbyrne@pressherald.com

Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors




Further Discussion

Here at PressHerald.com we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)