LEWISTON — Superintendent Bill Webster’s long vacation will be a way for the Lewiston School Department to buy some time and train local candidates for the day Webster retires, one board member said Monday night.

After getting backlash from teachers and residents about approving Webster’s three-month vacation during the school year, School Committee members defended their vote, saying it will benefit taxpayers and students.

Chairwoman Linda Scott opened the subject for public comment Monday night, announcing there would be no re-voting, and that following public comment board members would respond.

Four people, including two retired teachers, complained that the superintendent sailing to the Bahamas from Oct. 24-Jan. 24 will hurt teacher morale, that paying a $5,000 stipend to the assistant superintendent is a waste of taxpayers’ money.

Webster, 66, has been superintendent for six years and has accrued 85 vacation days he hasn’t used.

One way Webster’s vacation will help is that in his absence, two principals — Shawn Chabot and Jake Langlois — will act as interns, gaining superintendent experience, several board members said.

That way, “we have two great candidates ready to step into his shoes when that day comes,” board member Richard White said.

“To find a fully qualified superintendent is a very difficult thing to do,” he said. “You want to talk about morale? How much of a morale booster is it that somebody who works for Lewiston public schools made it to superintendent? I did support it. I’m not backing down.”

Meanwhile, the school system will be in good hands, and Webster will check in while away, White said.

Committee member Paul St. Pierre said it was not Webster who asked for three months off; it was the board.

“All of you who have taken the position of blaming the superintendent for putting the district in this situation, it wasn’t Mr. Webster who brought this proposal to the board,” St. Pierre said. “It was the board who brought this proposal to the board.” 

Webster brought up giving his resignation because he was ready to take a break, St. Pierre said. The School Committee suggested instead he take time off, and agreed that Chabot and Langlois could gain superintendent experience while also serving as principals.

The other alternative — having Webster retire, take time off then return to Maine working for other districts — “was not in this board’s opinion a good way for us to manage the resource of our most critical employee,” St. Pierre said.

Board member Benjamin Martin said teachers don’t report directly to the superintendent.

“It’s only going to affect teacher morale if you let it,” he said. “Just because the leader is gone, doesn’t means we all have to drag our tails into work.”

“The $5,000 is cheaper, period,” Martin said of paying the stipend to the assistant superintendent rather than Webster retiring and taking his vacation time in cash. “I ask teachers not to let it affect morale. I ask the public to have faith in this board.”

Before board members spoke, four in the audience opposed the superintendent taking three months off while school is in session.

Would Webster ever approve of any school employee taking a three-month vacation in the middle of the school year? resident Jackie Smith asked.

Ray Deschenes, a retired teacher who spent 37 years at McMahon Elementary School, said taking three months off during the school year will cause morale problems.

Teachers and other staff members will be “dragging themselves in when it’s zero degrees outside, thinking of their superintendent of schools boating in a nice, warm climate,” Deschenes said.

It’s like Patriots coach Bill Belichick “after game three going to Josh McDaniels saying, ‘For the next 10 weeks, you take over the team. I’ll give you an extra $5,000. I’ll come back in week 14.’ It doesn’t make sense.”

Retired teacher Crystal Ward said Webster deserves a vacation, but there should be a rule that the superintendent “use it or lose it” when it comes to vacation time.

His work will be passed on to others who are already overworked, she said.

Last month, the head of the Lewiston Education Association, Samantha Garnett Sias, said the union was upset and the vacation is too long and poorly timed.

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