Scarborough High School Principal Patricia Conant has been asked to leave when her contract expires on June 30.

Conant, who is in her fourth year as head of the school of nearly 1,100 students, said School Superintendent David Doyle told her last week that her contract won’t be renewed.

“I was told by Superintendent Doyle on Friday that the gist was that there weren’t enough votes on the (school) board for me to continue forward,” said Conant, an experienced educator who formerly was principal of Falmouth High School for six years.

Why Conant’s contract is not being renewed remained a mystery this week. Doyle and Brian Dell’Olio, chairman of the Board of Education, declined to discuss the matter, citing privacy concerns. They said a search for a new principal is expected to begin soon.

Conant said she had been given no indication that anyone was dissatisfied with her performance.

“I was quite surprised,” she said. “I had been asked to rewrite my goals, but that happens a lot.”

However, the school board appears to be considering a restructuring of the high school’s administration as it struggles to address a cut in state education aid in the upcoming school budget that could exceed $2 million.

At a meeting of the board’s Finance Committee on Feb. 12, committee Chairman Robert Mitchell suggested that one of the two assistant principal positions at the high school be cut. That would leave the high school with a principal, assistant principal and athletic director, said Mitchell, who serves on the Finance Committee with fellow school board members Colleen Staszko and Christopher Brownsey.

“I’m looking at three administrators at the high school versus four,” Mitchell said.

Staszko responded, “I can live with that.”

Mitchell did not mention any names of administrators, stressing that he was talking about eliminating positions, not specific employees.

The Finance Committee is in the process of coming up with budget recommendations to present to the full school board Feb. 25 at a public hearing and first reading of the new 2010-2011 school budget.

Conant said her contract was a one-year agreement that was renewed annually, and she knew there was always a possibility renewal might not happen. Such a position, she said, has “a big target on it.”

“You work at the whim of the superintendent and you work at the whim of the school board,” she said. “If the wrong people don’t like something … this is something that can happen.”

Conant had been the guidance director at the high school for several years before the school board in the summer of 2006 voted unanimously to appoint her to the post of principal.

It appears that the school board held a closed-door session to discuss her employment without her being there, Conant said.

“I believe there was an executive session,” she said. “I wasn’t invited to it.”

On Feb. 4, the school board held a closed-door session at the end of its regular meeting. The board’s agenda stated the executive session was to discuss the “duties of an employee” and the “employment of an employee.”

Conant said she had attended the board’s meeting that night but left with the rest of the public when it was time for the executive session, not guessing it might concern her.

“That was a little disconcerting,” she said.

Doyle last week said he could say little about the situation because it is a personnel matter.

“She’s not returning. I can’t say anything beyond that,” Doyle said. “She’s principal through the end of June.”

He said he expects a search will be conducted for a replacement, probably beginning in a few weeks.

When asked if the executive session concerned Conant and why she wasn’t invited to it, Dell’Olio said he couldn’t say more than what was written on the agenda about a personnel matter.

In general, he said, it is common practice in Scarborough for administrators to have one-year contracts.

When it comes to finding a replacement for Conant, Dell’Olio said, “the board is going to have a workshop regarding the high school principal position and decide what we want to do and what the process is going to look like.”

He said he expects the workshop to take place sometime before the end of the month.

Conant speculated last week that perhaps the school board wants someone in the job with “curriculum initiatives and new ideas.”

Her approach, Conant said, has been to take what she considers a very good curriculum at the high school and foster it.

“I personally see this is a school that does a whole lot really right,” she said.

When Conant became head of the high school, she replaced Andrew Dolloff, who left the position of principal that year to become Scarborough’s assistant superintendent of schools.

Dolloff vacated that position last June to become superintendent of Regional School Unit 21, which serves Kennebunk, Kennebunkport and Arundel. Jo Anne Sizemore, a longtime Scarborough Middle School principal, in August was appointed to take Dolloff’s place as assistant superintendent.

Conant had more than 30 years of experience as a teacher and administrator and had actually retired for a short time before coming to Scarborough High School.

She started her career as a teacher at Dirigo High

School in Dixfield, and later was a principal there. She also had a stint as assistant principal and athletic director at Livermore Falls High School.

She later spent six years as principal at Falmouth High School, and was president of the Maine Principals’ Association in 1999.

Conant, who said she informed staff and student leaders last week that she will be leaving at the end of the school year, said she believes one of her major accomplishments in Scarborough has been building “a climate of acceptance for all kids” at the high school.

Adam Saltz, a Scarborough High School senior and president of the Student Council, praised the principal last week for her strong relationship with students.

“I have had the opportunity to work with her for the past four years,” he said. “When she first started, my class were freshmen and in a way, we’ve come full circle. Not just me, but a lot of members of my class have developed a close bond with her.”

Saltz said Conant worked well with the Student Council. “She would always help us and encourage new ideas and get the ball rolling,” he said. “She was always there and always giving positive input.”

Conant said she is not sure what she will do after her job ends.

“I don’t know if I’ll necessarily pursue other high school positions,” she said.

In the meantime, she said, she will concentrate on her job as principal and helping with the difficult task of getting a new school budget passed.

Scarborough High School Principal Patricia Conant’s contract was not renewed by the school board. Her contract expires on June 30. (File photo)

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