A majority of the Winthrop Town Council has lost confidence in the town’s school board, a position that comes less than a week after the board’s decision to allow departing Superintendent Gary Rosenthal to serve out the rest of the school year despite concern among teachers and the staff that he has created a hostile work environment.

The council voted 5-2 Monday night on a vote of no confidence in the board, a further signal of the deteriorating relationship between school and town officials in Winthrop. Before that vote, Council Chairwoman Sarah Fuller also described steps the town is taking to protect itself from legal problems that could arise from complaints that employees have made about Rosenthal through union representatives.

“There are a multitude of accusations that have been levied against Superintendent Rosenthal that reveal what employees hold to be a hostile work environment and the possibility of numerous violations of Maine Labor and Human Rights Laws,” Fuller said in a prepared statement that she read Monday night. “Any one of which … leave the town in a liable position as long as the Superintendent remains active in that role until June 30.”

The town has consulted with its attorneys and notified its insurance provider “in the event we do have one or more lawsuits to address that develop from this situation,” Fuller said.

Virginia Geyer, the school board chairwoman, didn’t respond Tuesday to an email or voicemail message seeking comment.

At a meeting last week, the board accepted Rosenthal’s resignation, which will be effective June 30.

At that meeting, Geyer described steps the board has taken to investigate the complaints against Rosenthal over the last several months. Because of recent public reports about those complaints, she also criticized what board members see as a lack of due process for Rosenthal and wondered why the criticism bubbled up in recent months.

According to Geyer, Rosenthal received consistently positive evaluations from employees of the Winthrop School Department over the previous six years. At the end of last year, the board even extended Rosenthal’s contract.

Geyer said, “The investigation results don’t warrant a real lot of action on our part.” She also urged employees to come forward with their complaints, telling them, “At some point in time, in all of our lives, we have to put our big girl and big boy pants on, and say what we think is best. We don’t have to be vindictive. We don’t have to be aggressive, nasty.”

Another board member, Jana Diket, also said last week that she was not concerned about Rosenthal’s tenure.

“I’ve gone over the allegations over and over,” Diket said. “The school committee bases renewal of contract on several items: evaluations by staff and administration, completion of goals put forward each year, and handling of budget. There has been nothing concerning on any of those points to make me not want to extend his contract.”

A third board member, Margaret “Meg” Cook, is a recently retired foreign-language teacher who was president of the local teachers’ union for four years. During last week’s meeting, she said that all complaints the union received were resolved during that time.

Like the school board members, Rosenthal and his attorney have declined to respond to the allegations against him, citing confidentiality laws. He also has criticized the distribution of a memo sent to school staff that outlined some of the complaints and was written by a regional director of the Maine Education Association.

“Allegations are allegations, and the (Maine Education Association) knows that,” his attorney, Maria Fox, said last month. “They know that neither the superintendent nor the board can comment on the details of a (confidential, personnel matter). Throwing that out there (has tied Rosenthal’s hands). We can’t respond without violating employee confidentiality.”

In that memo, Joan Morin, the regional director, said she’s received more than 40 complaints about Rosenthal and described a sampling of them. According to the memo, Rosenthal allegedly made inappropriate comments about the ethnicity and sexual orientation of staff, and about the burden pregnant employees place on the School Department. The memo did not go into detail about those claims.

In her remarks Monday night, Fuller responded to the suggestion that complaints about Rosenthal were not made “through proper procedure or in a timely manner” by referring to the many allegations of “workplace harassment and abuse” that have piled up in recent months as part of the #MeToo movement.

It’s “almost only when one or two people begin to speak out, that many other voices are then heard with similar complaints of abuse,” Fuller said. “It is then imperative to act, and act swiftly to protect those that have been victims of abuse of power.”

Fuller referred to several other efforts by school employees — including an overwhelming vote of no confidence in Rosenthal and a unionization effort by school administrators — as cause for “immediate action.”

But in an interview Tuesday, she went further by saying the school board has failed by allowing Rosenthal to keep working until the end of this year, when it could have suspended him with pay, fired him, or put him on leave.

“There are any number of options, rather than keeping a person who’s accused of creating a hostile work environment, in that environment,” she said.

After Fuller read her statement Monday, another councilor, Linda Caprara, proposed a vote of no confidence in the school board. Five councilors — Fuller, Caprara, Barbara Buck, Rita Moran and Andy Wess — voted in favor of the motion.

Two councilors, Priscilla Jenkins and Scott Eldridge, voted against Caprara’s motion. Jenkins didn’t return a phone call on Tuesday.

Eldridge was just elected to the Town Council in the fall and, reached by phone, said that he wanted to abstain from voting because he didn’t realize the vote was coming and didn’t “have enough information.” But councilors in Winthrop are required to vote unless they have a conflict of interest, so he voted against the motion.

On Tuesday, Caprara said she proposed the vote of no confidence because “I’ve been concerned for several years about how the school board has been conducting their business about the budget process and their support of the superintendent.”

The vote had little practical effect, as the board has wide latitude to run the town’s schools. But it did provide a further signal of the deteriorating relationship between school and town officials in Winthrop.

For more than a year, the two sides have clashed — first about the source of a $1.5 million shortfall that was discovered in the school side of the town finances more than a year ago, and last spring during a series of budget negotiations.

The council’s action this week also came more than a year after the Town Council held of vote of no confidence in Rosenthal himself.

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @ceichacker

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