October 24, 2013

Board: Bonny Eagle superintendent probed, cleared

Frank Sherburne’s communications with a troubled student were just misconstrued, the board chair says.

By Leslie Bridgers lbridgers@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

The School Administrative District 6 Board of Directors hired the Portland law firm Pierce Atwood to investigate the superintendent of the Buxton-based district last spring, soon after the board received a letter from the teachers union claiming he had improper communications with a student.

Frank Sherburne, superintendent of MSAD 6 recently released an email to parents with details of his working schedule to combat rumors that he had been put on administrative leave.

Photo from MSAD 6 website

The school board determined that the claims about Superintendent Frank Sherburne were misconstrued, said board Chair Charlotte Dufresne.

“The investigation was done, the findings came back, and there was no whatever, so we’re moving on,” she said.

The union’s allegations, obtained Wednesday by the Portland Press Herald, shed light on the source of persistent rumors in the Bonny Eagle school district that Sherburne had been put on administrative leave for text-messaging students. Sherburne even began posting his daily appointments schedule online last month to put an end to those rumors.

The letter from the Saco Valley Teachers’ Association, dated May 9, said Sherburne communicated directly with a troubled student and interfered with the staff’s ability to “respond to the student’s significant mental health needs.”

Specifically, the letter claimed that Sherburne made himself “available via phone, text and email” to the student, that he said the student “was engaging in suicidal behavior ‘for attention,’ ” and that he told the student that if he “went to Spring Harbor (Hospital) they ‘will strip you down and put a catheter in your penis.’ ”

The letter claimed that Sherburne’s involvement caused a delay in providing the unidentified student with mental health care, which included hospitalization.

In responding Wednesday to the allegations in general, Sherburne deferred to Dufresne’s comment clearing him of misconduct. In reference to the quote about Spring Harbor Hospital, he said, “I don’t believe that is the statement that was made.”

Sherburne has also said that he did not text students.

It isn’t clear what the investigation revealed about the union’s claims or what led the school board to determine that they were misconstrued.

On Tuesday, the Press Herald requested a copy of any report generated by Pierce Atwood’s investigation, citing the Maine Freedom of Access Act. Sherburne responded in writing Wednesday by denying the request because “the report relates to the ‘personal history, general character or conduct’ of a district employee.”

The Press Herald also requested the legal bills associated with the report, but had not received them by Wednesday evening. Sherburne said they would be provided.

Earlier this week, Sherburne told the Press Herald that he alerted the board to rumors that he was texting students, and that he asked for an investigation. He said Wednesday that he believes he told the board about the rumors before it received the letter from the teachers union.

He also said he asked the board to treat him like any employee and conduct an investigation.

Dufresne said Wednesday that, as she remembers, Sherburne convened the board after the union letter was sent. But, regardless of the order of events, she said, the combination of receiving the letter and talking with Sherburne about the allegations led the school board to pursue an investigation.

“He had nothing to hide, so why wouldn’t he say to the board, ‘This should be investigated?’ ” she said.

Eric Curtis, president of the Saco Valley Teachers’ Association, said he doesn’t know whether Sherburne talked to the board before the letter was sent.

He said some teachers brought their concerns to the union, which then decided to send the letter. He said the school board wrote back, saying it had looked into the matter, and “that was about it.”

Curtis would not say whether he felt the board’s response was satisfactory.

He said he and Sherburne “talk frequently and are trying to establish better lines of communication.” The union and the district are scheduled to start contract negotiations soon.

Curtis said his relationship with Sherburne is better than the one he had with Superintendent Suzanne Lukas, whom Sherburne replaced in 2011.

Sherburne had been superintendent of Waterboro-based Regional School Unit 57 since 2008. He said he left because he had worked in that district for nine years and “was ready for a change.”

Based on last year’s figures from the Maine Department of Education, the two districts are among the state’s largest – Bonny Eagle third, with about 3,900 students, and Massabesic eighth, with about 3,300 students.

Sherburne, 50, who lives in Kezar Falls, earned $106,500 in 2010-11, his last year in RSU 57. He was hired in SAD 6 at an annual salary of $120,000, which is his salary again this year.

Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at:

lbridgers@pressherald.com

Twitter: @lesliebridgers

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