Officials in Regional School Unit 21 are defending the hiring of an interim superintendent who reportedly retired from her last job amid a budget controversy and financial mismanagement allegations.

Maryann Perry. Regional School Unit 21.

The school board voted unanimously Monday to hire Maryann Perry. During an emergency executive session Thursday, the board voted again, 9-3, against launching an investigation into the hiring.

The decision follows a tumultuous year in which the district covering Arundel, Kennebunk and Kennebunkport dealt with fallout after a former teacher complained that she faced retaliation for reporting racist incidents at Kennebunk High School.

“In our hiring process with multiple candidates, a thorough review of materials submitted by each candidate was completed, in-person interviews were conducted, and reference calls were made,” said a statement from the school board.

“While the RSU 21 Board of Directors acknowledges that some concerns have been raised about the hiring of Dr. Perry, she has explained her point of view and the positive steps and procedures taken to learn from her experience. To this end, the board is looking forward to its work with Dr. Perry for the 2019-2020 school year.”

The entire school board was involved throughout the hiring process and Perry was one of three finalists for the job, RSU 21 board of directors Chairwoman MaryBeth Luce said in an interview.

She declined to provide the names of the other finalists, citing a portion of state law that says information and records related to the evaluation of applicants for jobs in public education are confidential.

Perry is scheduled to start full time on Sept. 30 and earn a salary of $130,000.

She most recently served as superintendent of Marblehead Public Schools for six years in Marblehead, Massachusetts.

According to a report in the Salem (Massachusetts) News, Perry announced her retirement from the district last January following allegations the district withheld nearly $600,000 in out-of-district special education tuition dollars, then paid the money using the next year’s budget funds. An audit described the move as intentional and a violation of state finance law.

In an interview with the Marblehead Reporter in May, Perry said the controversy did not factor into her decision to retire. “Anyone who knows me knows that last year I was ready to move on,” she said.

Luce said the board was aware of the issues but they “were not discussed at length” before Monday.

“We looked at her qualifications and feel she is the best qualified person for the issues we’re dealing with in this district,” she said.

Marie Louise St. Onge, a resident and taxpayer in Kennebunk, had a different take.

“Her history raises concerns,” St. Onge said. “I also have concerns this is a school district that has been through a lot in the past year. It’s a school district and citizenry that has been asking for a rebuilding of trust and openness.

“I don’t think the school board’s actions are reflecting openness or securing trust. It’s very troubling to have an incoming interim superintendent with this kind of baggage.”

The search for an interim superintendent was launched after former superintendent Katie Hawes resigned following the controversy over the district’s handling of racist incidents reported by former teacher Rosa Slack. In June, the district paid $50,000 to settle a Maine Human Rights Commission Complaint filed by Slack.

The results of an investigation into how the district handled the complaints is pending and is expected to be ready around the end of the month.

Perry has more than 35 years in public education and started her career as a preschool special needs teacher. She recently earned her doctorate from the University of New England.

“I am student-centered,” she said in the statement. “In my previous superintendent role, I made it a point to visit a different school every morning to stay connected with students and teachers.”

The district cited the adoption of a new math program, raising the school rankings of several schools in her district and close work with principals, teachers, students and the community as being among her accomplishments in Massachusetts.

“Maryann is a collaborative leader, is accessible to stakeholders and has experience listening to and facilitating dialogue with the community,” the statement said. “Dr. Perry knows how to have difficult conversations with care and compassion.”

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