Tyler Washburn, right, was appointed chair for rest of the school year by the School Administrative District 75 school board Thursday night after the board removed board veteran Kim Totten from the leadership role. (Darcie Moore / The Times Record)

TOPSHAM — The School Administrative District 75 board of directors voted to boot its chairwoman from her leadership role Thursday during an at-times charged meeting. 

Kim Totten was the lone dissenting vote on the motion to immediately remove her as chairwoman for the remainder of the year.  Board member Julie Booty from Bowdoinham abstained. 

The board then appointed Tyler Washburn, also of Bowdoin, as its new chairman. 

Totten, who has served on the school board for 14 yearsdeclined to comment on the board’s actions Thursday. 

CONTROVERSY OVER INTERIM SUPERINTENDENT 

While school officials remain guarded about just what has spurred discontent among the board, some of the disagreement seems to stem from the board’s choice of interim superintendent to fill the vacancy left by Interim Superintendent Dan ChuhtaChuhta left Feb. 15 to become Maine’s deputy education commissioner.  

Robert Lucy was appointed interim superintendent to replace Chuhta, who had been set to replace former Superintendent Brad Smith after his retirement in June 2018. 

Lucy previously worked as superintendent at Dover-Foxcroft-based RSU 68. Several years prior, in 2013, he resigned from a new position as assistant superintendent at the Bangor School District after news reports detailed a 2011 state investigation that found Lucy had violated student testing rules while he was principal at Orono Middle School. 

The board Thursday also reconstituted membership of the superintendent search committee Totten had served on until recently. 

“This has nothing to do with anybody personally,” said board member Alison Hawkes of Harpswell, who made the motion to reform that committee. “This has to do with doing my job as a school board member.” 

Washburn said he will meet with the interim superintendent Friday about opening up better lines of communication. 

“This last month is one that I don’t think any of us are going to look back fondly on, but we as a board can’t continue to look backward at the past differences and we need to go forward together to accomplish the important work that lies ahead of us,” Washburn said. “Crafting and passing a responsible budget, negotiating the new teacher contract, overseeing the construction of the high school, building stronger relationships in each of our four communities and ensuring that every child in our district has the ability to reach their own unique potential.” 

ONLINE PETITION 

Brandy Robertson of Bowdoin and Bill Keleher of Topsham started an online no-confidence petition concerning Totten and requested the board vote Thursday on Totten’s removal as chairwoman. Keleher called for transparency on the board and argued residents have a right to criticize their elected officials. 

“In order to restore balance in our school board and bridge the gap between community and Board, the most appropriate action is to ask Kim Totten (Chair of the Board) to resign,” the petition states in part on Change.org. “As chair, Ms. Totten is ultimately accountable for the frustration felt across our district with the School Board. It is under her leadership that the lack of trust within the board led to the resignation of long-term Board members Joanne Rogers and David Johnson.” 

The petition wasn’t an attempt to recall Totten, Robertson said, “but just to let them know that the public is losing confidence in the board and I think it’s unfortunate in the way it had to go down, but I think that it sent a strong message to our board that they need to get it together.” 

Robertson told The Times Record Thursday night that she believes there are many factors that led to the petition of no confidence and that many parents are frustrated. A final straw was the choice of interim superintendent, who Robertson feels wasn’t properly vetted, a responsibility that fell to Totten. 

FORMER BOARD MEMBER: TOTTEN ‘SCAPEGOAT’ 

Rogers and Johnson, both Harpswell representatives who resigned Feb. 8, read statements Thursday rejecting any notions that Totten was to blame for their departure from the board. 

Rogers said Totten was also blamed for not letting a resident speak at a finance committee in early February. As chairman of that committee at the time, Rogers took responsibility for her decision to bar public comment. 

“Kim is one of the hardest working, most dedicated and honest individuals I have ever served with on my 34 years on the school board,” Rogers said. “I regret to say that if a majority of this board continues in its present pattern, it will not be possible for that same hard work, dedication and honesty to prevail.” 

Johnson called the push for Totten’s removal as chair a social media witch hunt. 

“We got to this point — we — because it was subtle. It took years to get to this point, a lack of listening to each other and respecting each other and having civil discourse,” Johnson told the school board. 

Johnson grew emotional as he said he gave a third of his life trying to do the best he could for the students of the district, “and all but one of you cut me to the core. You did! You cut me right to the core to where I had to leave this board. Don’t do it to anybody else.” 

Johnson told The Times Record following his remarks that he sees Totten as a “public scapegoat” for the board’s own shortcomings. He maintained he stepped down because the board didn’t trust his judgment, even after his 22 years on the board, “on one thing in particular.” He’d served on the now reformed superintendent search committee. 

Rogers said it was felt amongst the board that Totten hadn’t released information during an executive session, information Rogers said board members did have. She believes there are people who want more control on the board than they have had. 

“Well they’ve got it now, let’s see what they can do with it,” she said. 

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