A group of Kennebunk residents has started the process to recall two school board members in Regional School Unit 21, blaming them for the loss of several teachers, increases in human resources spending and the absence of a school board curriculum committee.

Affidavits for the recall of RSU 21 school board Chair Art LeBlanc and board member Tim Stentiford were submitted to the Kennebunk town office Monday. Twenty-nine signatures on each affidavit have been verified as valid, exceeding the required 25 signatures from qualified voters, said Town Clerk Merton Brown. That means the town will proceed with the next, much more rigorous step in the recall process, which requires a far greater number of signatures.

The school board pushed back on the recall effort before the affidavits were filed, but LeBlanc said Tuesday a statement on the filings would not be available until the board’s Dec. 6 meeting.

“Members of the Board are aware that there is a well-organized group that meet regularly and seem focused on discrediting the work of the Board and the administration for political gain,” LeBlanc said in a letter signed by all 10 board members last week. “Despite the efforts of this group to cast doubt on the Board’s commitment to our motives, the Board will remain steadfast in its commitment to support our students and employees.”

The affidavit seeking LeBlanc’s recall says his “role in negotiating the most recent teachers contract and its impact on staff attrition, the failure to seat a curriculum committee and a failure in executive leadership by allowing teachers, parents and community members to be bullied and admonished in public meetings, has caused a loss of confidence in his ability to perform the duties and responsibilities of the office.”

The affidavit seeking Stentiford’s recall says his “role in negotiating the most recent teachers contract and his personal contribution to the board’s escalated administrative spending has caused a loss of confidence.”

Superintendent Terri Cooper, who took office in 2020, said Tuesday she was uncertain what is driving the recalls but she remains focused on the best interests of students and employees.

“They care about our students,” Cooper said of LeBlanc and Stentiford. “They care about our employees. They’re committed to ensuring our district continues to progress, and I support the work they do.”

Cooper said the district disbanded its curriculum committee in 2017, prior to her arrival as superintendent, but has continued to review subject matter in ad hoc committees. But she acknowledged concern that the committees’ work hasn’t been adequately conveyed to the community and said she agreed with the need for a standing curriculum committee.

The district will soon be reviewing a policy on a standing curriculum committee and hopes to have one back in place by January, Cooper said. “I find the curriculum committee to be important and that’s what we need to focus on, what we’re doing to support our students,” she said.

Cooper also responded to claims in one of the affidavits that administrative and human resources spending have increased unnecessarily, saying the human resources department was initially budgeted prior to her arrival. She said the district currently has three full-time human resources employees, including a generalist who started this week.

“Appropriate HR engagement with all employees can save significant funds for the district,” Cooper said.

Under her leadership, she said, the district’s legal spending has fallen from a two-year average of $325,453 to $181,140 in fiscal year 2021, and some of the new investments in human resources have been covered by pandemic relief funds.

The filing of an affidavit stating the reasons for a recall is just the first step in the town charter’s process for recalling an elected official. Once enough signatures are verified, the clerk issues a petition that may be circulated requesting a recall. Within 30 days, each petition must have signatures equal to at least 10 percent of the registered voters who cast ballots in the last gubernatorial election, which would mean that each current petition would require a minimum of 669 signatures.

If a petition is certified and there are no legal challenges to the recall, the clerk will notify the Board of Selectmen, who can call for a recall election if the elected official in question does not resign within five days of receiving the board’s notice of the certified petition.

Some residents have questioned the motives of recall supporters, saying they believe opposition to diversity work and dissatisfaction with the district’s COVID-19 response may also be driving the recall effort.

“There’s an undercurrent of  ‘we didn’t get our way and we want our way,’ ” said Merideth Norris, a Kennebunk resident with two children in the district. “The school board is elected through a democratic process, and it’s concerning any time a group of citizens is mad and it’s like, ‘We don’t like this and we want a recall.’ We have a process, and this isn’t it. It smacks of bullying and hidden agendas.”

Dan Sayre, who serves on Kennebunk’s budget board and as its liaison to RSU 21, said the recall supporters’ arguments about increased district spending are unfounded, and the recent investments in human resources have been positive.

“The reasons being given for why these two individuals are being targeted don’t add up,” Sayre said. “You have to wonder. It doesn’t make sense to me, if you want to change the direction of the board and how they manage the superintendent and spend money, that you would just pick two people.”

Norm Archer, a former board chair and leader of the recall effort, said recall supporters focused on LeBlanc and Stentiford because they believe those two board members have had the greatest influence on board actions, including setting the tone and tenor of meetings and driving the human resources agenda.

Asked whether there are other reasons beyond those stated for the recalls, such as an opposition to the district’s work on diversity, equity and inclusion, Archer said such work is necessary and he supports it.

“This particular recall is for the reasons stated in the affidavits,” he said. “It’s teacher attrition and the spending that is unchecked and will impact our tax liability when the relief funds from the federal government go away.”


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