The chair of the Kennebunk area school board is resigning after admitting that the board made mistakes when hiring an interim superintendent who was the subject of financial mismanagement allegations in her last school district.

MaryBeth Luce resigned Wednesday from the RSU 21 board and Mike Mosher announced he will step down from his vice chairman role but remain on the board, according to a news release from the district.

Mary Beth Luce listens during a RSU 21 school board meeting this year in Kennebunk. Luce announced Wednesday that she is resigning from the school board following the controversial hiring of an interim superintendent. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

“Last week, I apologized on behalf of the board for not meeting community expectations during the hiring process of the interim superintendent,” Luce said in the release. “Today, I am stepping aside to allow for new leadership to move us forward.”

Mosher echoed those words, saying, “It is clear to MaryBeth and me that it is time to let a different team take the helm.”

The changes come one week after Luce said the board mishandled the hiring process for Interim Superintendent Maryann Perry, who reportedly withheld nearly $600,000 in out-of-district special education tuition bills in 2018 and then paid them using money from the 2019 budget, in violation of state law, in the Marblehead, Massachusetts, school district.

Luce, who took over as school board chair July 8, said in her resignation letter to the board that she had hoped her leadership, paired with that of committee chairs, could help the district move forward following a tumultuous year in 2018-2019.

Over the last year the district has grappled with a former teacher’s complaint that it mishandled her reports of racist incidents in her classroom – it ended up paying $50,000 to settle a Maine Human Rights Commission case. An independent investigation into the district’s response is pending.

“To be perfectly clear, due to considerable confusion among us regarding the legal ramifications and/or best practices of conducting internet searches on candidates, we admit we did not discuss the publicly accessible information from Marblehead with Maryann during the interview process,” Luce said at the school board meeting last week.

In Wednesday’s release, Luce said the board doesn’t want individual members to conduct internet searches on candidates during the hiring process in order to safeguard against discrimination and bias.

Instead, the release said, the Maine School Management Association recommends a non-voting person conduct internet searches on candidates.

“That way, protected class information can be redacted, and online search results can be shared safely with the board,” Luce said. “This was the best practice protocol that in hindsight we should have followed.

“The Maine School Management Association had advised our Human Resources committee several weeks before our September 9th vote about this best practice, but unfortunately the advice was not incorporated into the committee’s recommended hiring process, and that’s where we let the community down.”

Perry’s hiring was approved unanimously by the board Sept. 9. After the vote, some community and board members expressed concerns about her hiring, citing allegations of financial mismanagement documented in numerous articles in local news outlets in Massachusetts.

More than 50 people signed a petition calling for the board to revisit a Sept. 12 vote it took after an emergency executive session rejecting a call for an investigation into Perry’s hiring.

Marie Louise St. Onge, who presented the petition to the board, said Wednesday she has not received a response.

Luce, of Arundel, has served on the board for almost six years. The district also includes the towns of Kennebunk and Kennebunkport.

The Arundel Board of Selectmen will appoint a successor to fill her remaining term through June 2020.

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