A petition drive to remove four Cumberland representatives from the regional school board failed to gather enough signatures to get on the June 8 ballot, Town Clerk Tammy O’Donnell said Monday.

A sign outside the Mabel Wilson School in Cumberland last month calls for five days of in-person classes this spring in SAD 51. Shawn Patrick Ouellette / Portland Press Herald

The unsuccessful initiative is the latest chapter in community turmoil over when School Administrative District 51 should resume full-time classroom instruction and whether Superintendent Jeff Porter is doing a good job leading the district, which includes neighboring North Yarmouth.

The dispute over the board’s decision to not return to five days in the classroom this school year grew rancorous because some parents are unhappy with a hybrid of in-school and remote learning that was adopted during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The recall petitioners had until the end of business Thursday to gather and submit 1,505 signatures of registered voters for each targeted board member. That number is 20 percent of the town’s registered voters.

O’Donnell said the petitioners contacted town officials in advance to let them know they hadn’t gathered enough signatures and wouldn’t be turning in completed petitions.

The school board voted unanimously April 6 to continue the district’s hybrid learning model through June, while providing additional classroom time for students who are struggling with remote learning. The board’s action was supported by 59 percent of parents, 95 percent of staff members and 70 percent of students who responded to a survey on the issue.

Members of Fresh Start 51, a group of Cumberland parents, took out the petitions on April 7 seeking to put four board members on the ballot for recall votes: Peter Bingham, Tyler McGinley, Jennifer Stewart and Mike Williams.

Ron Greco, who took out the recall petitions along with Nick Begin, told the Cumberland Town Council that Fresh Start 51 wanted to “bring this community back together and give the voters the opportunity to vote to keep or reject any of the school board members that are already there. We are not asking for any particular board member to stay or go. That is for the voters to decide and we want to give them that choice.”

After their recall effort failed, Fresh Start 51 leaders posted a message on the group’s website, saying “we’re still proud of the work and care we put in to pursuing this recall petition in the most respectful way possible. We are working parents, not politicians, and we see now that there were some things we could have done differently to get the signatures we needed.”

They said they would continue to provide information about school board candidates running in the June 8 election, promote a return to five full days of classroom learning next fall and work toward a better-informed community overall.

There are five candidates running for two open seats representing Cumberland on the nine-member board: Hannah Barry, Adam Dougherty, incumbent Ann Maksymowicz, Jason Record and Vijayarani Suresh. Board member Margo Harrington isn’t seeking re-election.

Mike Brown, who formerly held one of six Cumberland seats on the board, posted a notice Thursday on a community Facebook group, offering “a sincere and heartfelt ‘thank you’ to all who declined to sign the recall paperwork that was being circulated within our community.”

“The actions of (the petitioners) illuminated just how fragile we are as a community as disagreements morphed into personal attacks and neighbors no longer speaking to each other,” Brown continued. “For those of you who were energized and engaged during these past few weeks and began watching and participating in public meetings – please stay that way. … The stakes are high, and the kids are watching.”

Meanwhile, in North Yarmouth, where there was no recall effort, Vanessa Bryant and Thomas McGuinness are on the June ballot there, running for a seat held by Katherine Perrin, who isn’t seeking re-election, Deputy Town Clerk Stacey Ruby said.

Also, Michael Simmons, who holds one of two other North Yarmouth seats on the SAD 51 board, recently resigned. As a result, the North Yarmouth Town Council will seek nominations and appoint a replacement to fill the remainder to Simmons’ three-year term through June 2023.

When Fresh Start 51 launched the recall effort, its website said it wasn’t affiliated with Back to 5, a private Facebook group that’s pushing for a return to full-time classroom instruction. However, Begin, one of the recall petition sponsors, has been an administrator of the Back to 5 Facebook group and his name was on Back to 5 campaign signs.

And while some parents also have recently expressed dissatisfaction with Porter’s performance, “Fire Porter” signs seen around town were posted by Shawn McBreairty, who has sparred with the board and the superintendent before.

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