WESTBROOK – Westbrook school officials have recommended longtime transportation employee Joan Harmon for the job of transportation coordinator.

Pending School Committee approval Wednesday, after the American Journal’s deadline, Harmon, who is the department’s administrative assistant, will take over as coordinator. She replaces Cindy Button, whose resignation, only seven months after her hiring, was effective Dec. 31.

Superintendent of Schools Marc Gousse said Tuesday that the transportation position has been in flux during the past few years and that he hopes Harmon can bring a sense of unity to the job.

“We’ve gone through a series of changes, and I think it’s been difficult for the staff to know what direction we’re going in,” he said. “I think now they will have a clearer picture.”

Gousse said following the nomination, he met with the entire transportation staff, and informed them of the decision.

“I think it’s fair to say that they were thrilled with that nomination,” he said.

Harmon has been employed with the Westbrook School Department in various positions since 1992, and also vied for the coordinator job in June, along with former co-administrative assistant, Peggy Bowden.

Harmon is the president of the Westbrook Education Association, a union, but according to Gousse, would be required to resign that position and would forfeit her role as a union official if hired as transportation coordinator, as central office positions are not unionized.

Harmon said Tuesday that her experience from working in several positions within the department, including 15 years as a bus monitor, played into her decision to apply for the job, first in June, and now.

“I’ve worked with a majority of the drivers for a while, and know them pretty well,” she said. “I’ve also lived in the district and raised all my children here.”

In June, Button was hired amid public objections from Westbrook bus drivers, who supported keeping Harmon and Bowden, who ran the department’s daily tasks.

Harmon admitted Tuesday that she was disappointed in June, but that she stayed on through the transition, and when the position opened, decided to give it “one more shot.”

All support staff positions, such as bus drivers and janitorial staff, are hired directly by Gousse. However, recommendations for administrative jobs go to the School Committee, which makes the ultimate decision.

According to Gousse, a selection committee, made up of parents, teachers, transportation staff and more, unanimously recommended Harmon for the position.

According to Director of Operations Dean Flanagin, who oversees the transportation, maintenance and technology departments, the position was advertised within the department, on ServingSchools.com, an education workforce website, and the Westbrook School Department website, which produced five applicants.

Flanagin said that Harmon’s experience and familiarity with Westbrook were her strong suits while competing for the job. He added that because Harmon has previously served as administrative assistant without the presence of a coordinator, she has a good “cross-training of all the duties within the department, in terms of dispatches, scheduling, and being familiar with not just a few, but all of the bus routes.”

Flanagin added that as part of the interview process, he asked candidates for an entry plan, as well as how they would handle certain scenarios within the department.

“She had some great ideas in terms of professional development that can move the department forward,” he said. “She talked about driver training, in the areas of both safety and student management.”

Button told the American Journal last month that a bus mishap in November, which resulted in a young student becoming trapped in the doors of a bus, was a key factor in her decision to resign.

Harmon said Tuesday that although safety concerns were raised from the incident, she has the upmost support for the department’s drivers and that student safety is their biggest concern.

“Our drivers care about their kids,” she said. “Everyone has concerns, but if you look into it and can make it better, that’s the responsibility you have.”

Flanagin also said that Harmon displayed great ideas about working with neighboring districts to heighten professional development projects, such as CPR and first-aid training.

“When you put in as much time as I have in a district, you’d like to end up there,” Harmon said. “I’m glad I’m being offered the position.”

According to the meeting’s agenda details, Harmon will be paid the pro-rated coordinator salary of $45,000.

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