The cost of an independent investigation into complaints of racism in the Kennebunk school district has totaled $78,078 so far, with more costs possible as the district prepares to release the findings of the investigation in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, school officials said Friday they’ve also taken other recent steps to address questions that arose out of a former teacher’s complaint about racism in Regional School Unit 21, and cited more than $15,000 worth of investments to create a more welcoming and safe school environment.

Both the independent investigation and the other efforts follow a yearslong conflict between the district and Rosa Slack, who alleged RSU 21 retaliated against her for saying the district failed to appropriately respond to racist incidents at Kennebunk High School.

Rosa Slack left her teaching job at Kennebunk High School in 2018 after experiencing racist incidents and a muted response to them by the school district. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

In March, the district launched an independent investigation into the incidents that caused Slack in 2018 to file a complaint of race-based retaliation with the Maine Human Rights Commission. It also settled the Human Rights Commission complaint last month for $50,000.

“We have appreciated the energetic, collaborative and sometimes challenging discussions, and we are pleased with our efforts to include the greater community,” RSU 21 Acting Superintendent Phil Potenziano said in an email Friday.

“However, we also recognize there are those stakeholder voices we haven’t heard from yet, but rest assured we will strive to reach those individuals and groups as well, using creativity and an open hand.”

The $78,078 cost for the independent investigation includes fees for the two law firms involved from March 15 through June 30, according to a summary of invoices that will be presented Monday to the RSU 21 board of directors. The district includes Arundel, Kennebunk and Kennebunkport.

The costs include $30,590 for the firm Brann & Isaacson, which guided the district through the process of hiring and selecting an independent investigator, and $47,488 for Sanghavi Law Office of Boston, which was selected to conduct the actual investigation.

An additional request has been made to both firms for an estimate of fees and expenses from July 1 through the present, to be shared with the board if received before its meeting Monday.

Board of directors Chairwoman MaryBeth Luce said Friday her hope is that a report of the findings will be ready in August, but no firm timeline has been set.

“Sanghavi has been conducting this investigation completely independently of the board and we’ll be discussing the finances and impact on the budget Monday,” she said.

The $78,078 in expenses through June 30 will come out of the fiscal year 2019 school budget. Potenziano said the district will be over its budgeted legal expenses for the year, but he did not have an exact figure for how much.

There is also no estimate for the total cost of the independent investigation.

On Monday, the board will also discuss a communications strategy related to the investigation that includes acknowledgement that the district is in crisis and the consideration of an apology to people affected by hate speech and racist incidents.

It also calls for a “readiness plan” for how the board will release the report generated by the investigation and respond to it.

In her January 2018 complaint to the Maine Human Rights Commission, Slack, who was then one of two black teachers at Kennebunk High School, alleged that she was retaliated against during her annual review process after she reported two race-based threats by students during the 2015-16 school year.

She said that fall, a student in one of her classes told an education technician he felt like burning Slack’s house down, and the district took no action other than removing the student from her class.

Then, in March 2016, Slack said a friend of that student walked into her history class with a Confederate flag draped over his back, the word “Redneck” written down the center of it, as another student filmed her reaction. The two boys were suspended, but the event cascaded into a multiyear conflict between Slack and district administrators.

TRAINING SESSIONS

Luce and Potenziano both said while the district awaits the findings of the report, it has also been engaged in other work to improve relations in areas such as race, gender, national origin, religion, sexual orientation and disability.

Another expense report to be presented to the board Monday details $15,894 spent on three recent efforts around that work.

In May and June, Potenziano said, the U.S. Department of Justice Community Relations Planning Service, at the invitation of the district, held two separate training sessions: one with RSU 21 teachers, school officials and community members, and a second all-day session for the RSU community in conjunction with the larger community and town officials.

The sessions, which were attended by about 100 people, focused on identifying the strengths and weaknesses that surround not just the school district, but the entire community.

The Department of Justice will now come up with a plan to help make the school district and communities more welcoming and report back, Potenziano said.

“I feel this is the first step in what I hope will be a solid foundation for a cultural shift towards inclusivity and acceptance throughout our school district and the three towns,” he said.

As part of the $15,894, the district spent $13,727 with Maine Intercultural Communication Consultants on work related to raising cultural awareness among staff.

Through the group, administrators, department heads, team leaders and content leaders participated in an Intercultural Development Inventory that will measure individual and group abilities to effectively bridge cultural differences and create an inclusive environment.

Potenziano said the inventory will help the district understand where its employees stand in terms of intercultural awareness and address any gaps.

Finally, he said the district has had the Mid-Atlantic Equity Consortium review RSU 21 policies related to discrimination, harassment, bullying, administrative investigations and adjudication procedures.

He said the board will review and incorporate the policy recommendations over the summer.

The consortium has also started parent, student, staff and administrative focus groups whose work will continue in the fall.

The school district’s work with both Maine Intercultural Communication Consultants and the Mid-Atlantic Equity Consortium were terms of the settlement finalized with Slack last month. She said through her attorney at the time that she was encouraged by those provisions and that she would continue to cooperate with the independent investigation.

 


Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: