Winthrop school board members and Superintendent Gary Rosenthal listen March 21 to people speaking during a board meeting about Rosenthal’s tenure. School officials are proposing Rosenthal be given a $25,000 payout less than two months before he’s scheduled to resign amid accusations that he’s created a hostile work environment at Winthrop schools. (Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal file photo)

WINTHROP — School officials are asking the town to add an extra $50,000 in the 2018-19 budget to cover a one-time payout to the district’s outgoing Superintendent Gary Rosenthal.

Rosenthal is resigning in less than two months amid accusations that he’s created a hostile work environment.

The money would also cover a potentially higher salary for his replacement.

The school board announced the funding requests Monday night during a presentation to the Town Council.

While explaining the section of the proposed budget that pays the superintendent’s salary, school board member Meg Cook said Rosenthal will receive $25,000 through an agreement he negotiated with the board.

Cook did not provide additional information about that agreement or what the payment was for.

Rosenthal did not attend the Town Council meeting.

In an email Tuesday, he would say only that the $25,000 is a “one-time payment,” but neither he nor school board Chairwoman Virginia Geyer responded to requests for more explanation or a copy of the agreement.

The relationship between employees of the School Department and school board members has deteriorated in recent months, after staff made a series of complaints about Rosenthal’s conduct. They allege he made inappropriate remarks and created a hostile work environment. In March, they held an overwhelming vote of no confidence in him.

But the board has continued to support Rosenthal, who announced that he would resign at the end of the school year “due to irreconcilable differences with members of the administration.”

Before the school board accepted Rosenthal’s June 30 resignation, Geyer said the complaints against him “don’t warrant a real lot of action on our part.” She also criticized the publication of those complaints in a memo.

Rosenthal hasn’t responded directly to the complaints, saying employee confidentiality laws prevent him from doing so. But he also has condemned the release of a memo that laid out the allegations against him, saying they robbed him of his due process.

To help mend its relationship with employees, school board members hope to hire an interim superintendent for a year, Cook said Monday night. Based on the recommendation of the Maine School Management Association, they would like to offer a salary of up to $125,000.

Rosenthal’s salary is $99,584, according to his contract.

“That’s not saying that’s necessarily what we’re going to spend, but we have to attract someone to this district to help us solve the problems that we have,” said Cook, a retired foreign-language teacher who previously has been president of the Winthrop teachers union.

“The job of interim superintendent would be to come in, look at the way things are managed in the office and things like that, and to get us back on track. We have a leadership-management relationship problem that must be fixed by an experienced, full-time person.”

With that interim $125,000 figure in place, the school board would have many months to collect public input and search for a more permanent superintendent “who can come and be here for years and grow with Winthrop and help Winthrop grow,” Cook said.

In remarks at the beginning of the meeting, Shumway said the board has drafted a spending plan that contains no increases from this year’s $10.9 million, except for unavoidable cost increases such as negotiated salaries and insurance. But she also said those funding levels are not high enough to support a school district and that educators have identified $250,000 in additional costs that they hope can be funded next year.

Shumway also acknowledged the financial constraints that have burdened the town ever since a large shortfall was discovered in the school side of the town’s finances more than a year ago. Town and school officials have disagreed about the origins of that error, a disagreement that has contributed to the recent acrimony about Rosenthal.

Council member Andy Wess asked why the board would want to hire an interim superintendent who “would never know whether that job will continue” after one year.

“You’re going to ask someone to move from Saco, or it could be next door, but more likely out of state?” Wess said. “None of this makes sense to me.”

Cook said the Maine School Management Association is helping to recruit the interim superintendent from a group of a candidates who have expressed interest in a temporary position.

Linda Caprara, council vice chairwoman, asked why principals in the school district weren’t being considered for the interim job.

“We felt that the best thing in Winthrop is to have another superintendent come in,” Cook said. “I think our principals are very effective where they are.”

Caprara also expressed surprise at the recommended salary increase for the interim superintendent.

Besides that possible pay hike, the school board also has proposed restoring the full-time status of an administrative assistant in the superintendent’s office next year, after the position was reduced to part-time this year.

That cut was made last year, Cook said, when the council forced the board to remove $75,000 from that section of the budget.

Scott Eldridge, a councilor who also works as the business manager in Regional School Unit 4 based in Wales, seemed to express shock that the assistant has been working part time.

“How can you run a district five days a week with somebody here part time as the secretary?” he asked.

“That’s what we found out is, you can’t do it well,” Cook said. Restoring the position, she said, “will help the new superintendent transition in and doesn’t take away from other central office staff (who have to answer calls when she is out). That’s been a real problem this year. You can tell the difference in the office on the days the administrative assistant isn’t there.”

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