A group of Scarborough residents began circulating official petitions Tuesday to remove three school board members amid controversy over the recent resignation of the high school principal.
The group, which has a Facebook page titled “Road to Renewal,” says its main objective is to force the resignation of Superintendent Julie Kukenberger and the reinstatement of Scarborough High School Principal David Creech.
Creech resigned last month, effective June 30, without publicly saying why, though his wife and his lawyer say it was forced by the superintendent. He then tried to withdraw his resignation letter following an outpouring of public support, but Kukenberger and the school board have refused to accept his rescission.
The petition group is targeting school board Chairwoman Donna Beeley and members Cari Lyford and Jodi Shea for “incompetence,” according to petition documents. They are three of the longest-serving members on the seven-member board. Beeley’s term ends in November, and Lyford and Shea’s terms end in November 2019.
The petition group, led by Thor Nilsen, must gather at least 2,622 signatures of registered town voters (25 percent of the local turnout at the last gubernatorial election) for each board member, said Town Clerk Tody Justice.
The group took out the petitions on Monday and must return them within 20 days, on March 26, Justice said. If the petitions are successful, a recall election to remove the board members from office would take place in May.
CONCERNED ABOUT ‘CHAOS’
Nilsen, Beeley, Shea and Kukenberger didn’t respond to calls for comment Tuesday. School officials have said they can’t discuss Creech’s resignation because it’s a private personnel matter.
Lyford said she doesn’t know why the petitioners have targeted only three board members. She said she’s most concerned that the “chaos” currently pervading Scarborough schools will negatively affect the entire town. On her Facebook page, Lyford posted a public comment referring to the “Road to Removal” Facebook group.
“I have done nothing wrong. I have nothing to hide. I have shown up, I have worked weekends, I have studied issues from every point of view,” Lyford wrote. “I’m going to ask you not to sign these petitions. It isn’t the right way to solve our issues.”
The petition group posted the following statement Tuesday on its Facebook page:
“The word ‘incompetence’ has been used in our petition. This is not a reflection of the individuals; rather, it is a reflection of their inability to provide critically important oversight over the superintendent.”
If the petition group collects enough signatures, the Town Council must hold a public hearing and vote on whether to hold a recall election, Justice said. If the council opposed the recall effort, the decision would fall to the town clerk, who said a recall election would likely be held if the petitioners got the required signatures.
NEW START TIMES
A recall election would take place 30 days after the public hearing, Justice said. Townspeople would vote on the board members individually. A basic majority would win each vote, but at least 3,147 town voters (30 percent of the local turnout in the last gubernatorial election) would have to cast ballots for the decisions to hold.
A second special election would be held to replace each board member removed from office for the remainder of her term. Each special election costs as much as $5,000, Justice said.
As the petition group launched its recall effort, the superintendent sent an email to the Scarborough school community on Monday that included an implementation plan for new school start times, which were approved last April and take effect in August.
Some parents and community groups are connecting the turmoil over Creech’s resignation to controversy about later start times for high school students that will result in earlier start times for younger students.
Kukenberger also noted that a March 12 brainstorming session on implementing the new start times has been postponed and the school board has put the topic of new start times on its April 5 meeting agenda.
“We hope that the transparency of (the implementation plan) will provide clarity to questions you may have,” Kukenberger wrote. “Additionally, given the current climate and division in our community, a decision has been made to take a pause and postpone the (brainstorming session).”
Scarborough High School principal David Creech, who resigned suddenly amid controversy, receives high-fives from students as they enter the building on Monday morning. Students, faculty and parents turned out by the hundreds to rally in support of the embattled principal. (Ben McCanna/Portland Press Herald)