Tensions are high in Regional School Unit 21 as the school board fights an effort to recall one of its members and community members argue over what is driving the recall effort.

A judge in York County last week rejected an emergency request from Regional School Unit 21 to stop the recall effort against school board member Tim Stentiford in the town of Kennebunk from moving forward. That decision came a week after town officials moved the recall process forward by accepting certified petitions and indicated that a town vote could come as soon as March 29.

RSU 21 oversees schools in Kennebunk, Kennebunkport and Arundel.

In requesting the emergency injunction to stop Kennebunk from holding a town vote to recall Stentiford the RSU 21 board argued that an individual town’s recall provisions could not be applied to a regional school board and that the affidavits used to secure petition signatures to recall Stentiford were provably false. The town denied those claims.

Superior Court Justice Wayne Douglas ruled Thursday that the school district failed to demonstrate irreparable injury, a prerequisite for injunctive relief. In his decision, he wrote that the impact of the recall process on RSU 21 is “purely speculative.”

“The plaintiff in this case is RSU 21 itself – not the individual board director who is the subject of the recall,” he wrote.


A hearing will be held on March 2 to consider RSU 21’s request that the court declare the board is not legally subject to the Kennebunk recall procedure and prohibit Kennebunk from proceeding with the current recall or any future recall of school board members.

The recall process began last fall when a group of residents sought to recall RSU 21 school board Chair Art LeBlanc and Stentiford, blaming them for the loss of several teachers, increases in human resources spending and the absence of a school board curriculum committee. The recall proponents, led by former school board chair Norm Archer, failed to gather enough valid signatures to force a recall election against LeBlanc but did collect enough to move forward against Stentiford.

Even before official paperwork was filed with the town clerk to start the recall process, members of the RSU 21 school board pushed back with a six-page letter in which they defended the work of LeBlanc and Stentiford and spoke of the challenges the district has faced as it has navigated the pandemic. The letter stated that a “recall based on the claim of a lack of support for teachers is unfounded.”

Archer, who served as a school member from 2007 to 2012, said teacher attrition and concern about increases in human resources spending are the main reasons he and others are seeking a recall, but he said others may have their own reasons. The initial recall effort focused on LeBlanc as the board chair and on Stentiford because he has been “instrumental” in teacher and human resources issues, Archer  said at the beginning of the recall process.

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.”

Recall proponents submitted petitions with signatures to Town Clerk Merton Brown on Dec. 31 after receiving a one-day extension. Brown  received more than 2,000 challenges to the signatures after they were submitted. After reviewing the challenges, Brown found 32 of the 697 signatures collected were invalid.


The petition with 655 certified signatures was presented to the select board on Jan. 27, starting a five-day window during which Stentiford could resign or request a public hearing.

Stentiford did not resign and has not responded to requests to speak with reporters about the recall. RSU 21 board policy is that all communication from the board to the media go through the chairperson. Stentiford’s term ends in June.

At the Jan. 27 select board meeting, board members repeatedly said that the board had no choice but to move through the recall process outlined in the town charter, despite concerns from the RSU 21 board and opponents of the recall about the validity of the complaints behind it.

The majority of residents who spoke at the meeting asked the town to find a way to stop the recall, defended Stentiford’s tenure as an elected official and questioned the true motives behind the recall effort. Some alleged signatures were gathered improperly because not all signers were shown the affidavit.

Steven Webb told the select board that he was asked to sign the petition to support equal pay for teachers. He said he felt “bamboozled” when he later discovered the real reasons for the recall push. He said he asked the town clerk to invalidate his signature but was not sure if that had happened.

LeBlanc, the school board chair, told the select board that the step to request an injunction was not taken lightly but that something needed to be done to stop the process. He called the town’s recall process divisive and unfair because it allows unfounded charges to be made against a person with no ability for the person to respond.


“It does not protect a community member from personal dislike by another community member, or from racism, sexual orientation or gender discrimination,” he said.

Claudia Sayre, who is opposed to the recall, said at the meeting that she believes the attempt to remove Stentiford is tied to the school board’s focus on diversity, equity and inclusion since former Kennebunk High School teacher Rosa Slack spoke out about retaliation for raising concerns about racist incidents.

“They’ve taken aim at three members of the School Board most closely identified in their minds with the success of this DEI initiative,” Sayre said. “Their ultimate publicly stated goal is to remove Dr. Terri Cooper, the only Black superintendent in Maine, only a year and a half into her leadership tenure, because they have prejudged her as ‘unfit to lead.'”

Sayre was referencing a widely circulated letter Archer wrote last year soliciting support for the recall.

“The list of reasons is long, and likely somewhat personal for each of us. But the bottom line is this: after a year of Dr. Cooper it is clear that she is unfit for the position and not being held into account by the Board. It is is time to take the only step we the voters have: remove the de facto board leaders from office and replace them with people who will do the one job they were elected to do: manage – and possibly replace – the superintendent,” the letter said.

Resident Erin Rice told the select board that race is not a factor in the recall. Recall proponents recently received “disturbing” letters at their homes and there is a “significant fear of retaliation in town,” she said.


Archer said in an interview last week that he feels “the allegations that the recall is motivated by racism or homophobia are repugnant and lazy.”

Many of the 30 petitioners who started the recall process are unhappy with school board leadership and the superintendent and have tried over the past couple of years to meet with officials to influence change, he said.

“We’re simply a group of people who got together because we’re not happy with the school board leadership or the superintendent. We felt the best step is to recall a failing board. It has nothing to do with the fact that the superintendent is Black or that one of the directors we’re recalling is gay,” Archer said.

Archer said recall petitioners feel bullied by attacks on their motives and some felt threatened by letters they received in the mail or hand-delivered to their homes. Archer received one of the letters, which he described as a “bizarre” sexually graphic story about a woman and Santa Claus. They did not report the letters to police and are instead focusing on preparing to recall and replace Stentiford, he said.

Cooper said Friday that it is not appropriate for her to comment on the recall and individual board members. She said she values all current school board members and is focused on the needs of students and staff.

While Kennebunk moved through the recall process outlined in its charter, the school board filed its request in York County Superior Court for preliminary injunction and declaratory relief against the town. The complaint for declaratory relief says the recall affidavits did not contain a verifiable basis for recall and that the town charter does not apply to school board directors.

Natalie Burns, Kennebunk’s town attorney, argued in court last week that the claim that school board members serve the district contradicts the school unit reorganization plan that states board members represent the towns that elect them.

Kennebunkport and Arundel are named as parties-of-interest in the case. An attorney for Arundel requested the complaint against the town be dismissed because the town’s charter recall provisions do not apply to school board members. Kennebunkport’s attorney asked the court to deny the injunctive relief sought by RSU 21 and declare that a sitting member of the regional school board may be recalled from office.

The Kennebunk Select Board has indicated the recall vote likely will be held March 29. Nomination papers for people seeking to fill Stentiford’s seat if he is recalled must be returned to the town clerk by Feb. 11.

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