CAPE ELIZABETH — The Town Council voted this week to formally request a meeting with the School Board to discuss concerns raised by a resident about school department management.

But School Board Chairwoman Susana Measelle Hubbs said any further discussion is “unwarranted.”

On April 9, resident Janet Villiotte presented the council with a memo asking how the school department manages taxpayer dollars, pointing to high turnover in administration, frequent executive sessions, amounts paid to principals who no longer work for the district, and a “significant deficiency” noted in a recent audit.

Villiotte said she took her concerns to the council rather than the school board because Measelle Hubbs was “patronizing and dismissive” when Villiotte approached her three years ago about access to School Department documents. “I was not inclined to go back to her,” Villiotte said.

Villiotte’s memo also included a request for the council to meet with the school board.

Town Council Chairwoman Jessica Sullivan asked for a meeting with the board last month to discuss Villiotte’s concerns. Sullivan said in an email last week that she was disappointed the meeting hasn’t happened.

“I would think that the School Board would want to demonstrate to the public and to the Town Council its commitment to transparency and accountability as soon as possible, thus quickly addressing any concerns about credibility, ” Sullivan said.

Measelle Hubbs responded to the initial request by saying the board could not meet in the near future because of scheduling conflicts. She said last week the board had not refused to have a joint meeting.

“Although the School Board does not feel obligated to meet with the Town Council, there has been no ‘rejection’ to meet by the School Board,” Measelle Hubbs said in a May 8 email. She added that the council has very limited oversight of the School Board and many of Villiotte’s concerns are not under the council’s purview.

The School Board publicly responded to Villiotte’s inquiries at a meeting May 8, citing a response previously sent to Villiotte.

One of Villiotte’s concerns was that Pond Cove Elementary School Principal Kelly Hasson received almost $115,000 plus benefits, and Cape Elizabeth Middle School Principal Michael Tracy received between $87,000 and $116,000 plus benefits during fiscal year 2018 – even though both resigned and neither has worked for the schools since last July.

Measelle Hubbs told Villiotte in her response that the board could not discuss personnel matters.

Regarding a 2017 municipal audit that noted a $4 million “significant deficiency” due to School Department bookkeeping issues, Measelle Hubbs said the School Board and interim Superintendent Howard Colter have taken the deficiency seriously and “have taken all necessary steps to not only understand how they occurred, but how to avoid similar reports in the future.”

Villiotte said last week she was disappointed the meeting hadn’t taken place.

“In the spirit of transparency and addressing things promptly, I don’t think waiting a month is the way to do it,” Villiotte said. “It gives the appearance of (the board) not wanting people to know things.”

On Monday, the council voted 5-2 to formally request a meeting with the School Board before June 12 to again present their responses to Villiotte and discuss how the town and schools can collaborate more effectively in future budget seasons. Councilors Sara Lennon and Jamie Garvin opposed the motion.

“I don’t see what we would discuss in this workshop. … I don’t think we should get involved,” Lennon said, calling Villiotte’s memo “highly accusatory, strident and highly politicized.”

Town Manager Matt Sturgis said the request for a meeting was formally made May 15, but nothing has been scheduled.

Measelle Hubbs said the School Board, meanwhile, is seeking legal counsel on the matter. It has a workshop scheduled for May 22, where attorney Bruce Smith will clarify the “separation of responsibility between School Board and Town Council.”

Read the story at The Forecaster.

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