The Cape Elizabeth Town Council and School Board plan to hold a workshop in the near future to discuss questions raised by a resident about turnover and financial management in the school department.

Janet Villiotte, a Cape Elizabeth resident and parent, says the staff turnover of administrators “destabilizes the school community from the top down.” She presented her concerns and documentation to back them up to the Town Council on Monday night.

Villiotte said her research revealed that within the past six years, the school department has seen 22 administrators, including two school superintendents, two high school assistant principals, four middle school principals, and three Pond Cove principals leave the district. Those figures were not disputed by councilors, who listened to her presentation.

She also learned that the School Board held 31 executive sessions – nearly all to discuss personnel issues – in 2017. She said in comparison the Yarmouth School Board held two executive sessions.

“I am writing to you as a concerned parent, citizen and taxpayer,” Villiotte said in a letter to the council dated April 5. “As those ultimately responsible for decisions around our town’s management and financial health, I wish to share that I am extremely concerned about financial mismanagement, administrative mismanagement and lack of transparency by the Cape Elizabeth School Board.”

Councilors took no action on her request, but Chairwoman Jessica Sullivan asked the town manager to schedule a workshop with the School Board.

Sullivan commended Villiotte for presenting information about the school district, describing it as “painstakingly researched and referenced.”

“Transparency in government process and ease of access to information is critical to the public’s right to know,” Sullivan said during Monday’s council meeting. “And much of what was presented here involves transparency issues. Every citizen has the right to be informed. The council is the ultimate governing body and we are bound to respond.”

Sullivan said that not all of the concerns raised by Villiotte are within the council’s purview, but she said she is certain the School Board will want to respond. Once the joint workshop has been scheduled, it will be posted on the town’s website, Sullivan said.

Villiotte told the council that she discovered that the School Department reached settlements with two former administrators. Her research did not specify the terms of the settlements, only the amounts.

Villiotte said that former Pond Cove Principal Kelly Hasson received $114,726 plus benefits when she left the district in June 2017 and that former Cape Elizabeth Middle School Principal Mike Tracy received between $87,106 and $116,142 plus benefits during fiscal year 2018, which ends June 30. Tracy left the district in June 2017.

“The amount of settlements is of concern to me,” Councilor James Garvin said.

Not all the councilors were receptive to Villiotte’s request for the council to take action.

Councilor Sara Lennon said that school department personnel matters do not fall under the scope of council oversight, and she felt it was inappropriate for the council to let Villiotte present her information.

And Terri Patterson, a Surf Road resident and parent of two school-age children, said that while Villiotte is very thoughtful, smart and committed, her research tells only part of the story.

“I think that the facts are facts,” Patterson said. “But I think that the facts paint a partial picture and don’t tell the entire story.”

Contacted Tuesday evening, Villiotte said she thinks the town operates a good school system, but that it needs to be more transparent. She has served as a school volunteer and her son attends public schools.

“I’m not happy about what I found. It doesn’t feel good to me, but transparency really matters to me,” she said. “I want to be clear, I am not denigrating the teachers. I’m questioning the financial choices that are being made with our tax dollars.”

School Board Chairwoman Susanna Hubbs was attending a School Board meeting Tuesday evening and could not be reached for comment.

The Town Council and School Board are scheduled to hold a joint budget workshop at 7 p.m. Thursday.

 

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