LEWISTON — School Committee Chairman Francis Gagnon stepped down from that position Monday night at the request of some committee members. 

He was replaced by Mark Cayer, a former three-term city councilor and a police officer-turned-private investigator.

Gagnon said Monday afternoon that he was asked by other members during a Nov. 5 executive session to resign “over a lot of little things.” He said members are “frustrated, embarrassed and ashamed of my leadership,” adding he doesn’t agree with their decision and he has broken no rules or regulations.

They want him to continue to represent Ward 3 on the committee, he said. He will also continue to chair the Visual and Performing Arts Committee, which is working on proposing an arts center wing at Lewiston High School, he said. 

Given that Gagnon’s chairmanship would have ended in January, he said he recommended they wait two months, that it wouldn’t look good for the school department, especially with the ongoing search to hire a new superintendent to replace Bill Webster, who is retiring in June. A majority of members didn’t want to wait until January, he said.

“I can assure the public that there is no red herring here,” Cayer wrote in an emailed statement. “We have chosen a new chair to serve the School Committee moving forward, and we will continue to do the work expected of us as public servants for our schools, students, staff and the voters of Lewiston.”

Gagnon stressed that overall the board has done a tremendous amount of work in the past year, tackling everything from changing field trip policies after the drowning of a student to controversial grading policies to involving the community in a new superintendent search. Those accomplishments “this board should be proud of. We are truly fortunate to work together.”  

Reached Monday afternoon, Cayer declined to say why members wanted Gagnon out as chairman, that the discussion was held in a Nov. 5 executive session and he was not at liberty to discuss what was said.

“It would be inappropriate,” Cayer said. 

Gagnon said he’s made some mistakes, but disagrees they rise to the level he step down from leadership.

During the Nov. 5 executive session he said he was asked to leave the room for 20 minutes. When he returned, other members asked him to resign as chairman. Complaints were that he included a letter of support for a proposed performing arts center from Karen McClure-Richard in a School Committee package, which made it public.

Gagnon said he thought it was a good letter and thought he had permission from McClure-Richard, but it turns out he did not. Several committee members implied “that I lied,” Gagnon said. “It was a miscommunication.”

Another complaint was that he cut off Joyce Gibson, president of the University of Southern Maine’s Lewiston-Auburn College, from speaking during a public segment of the meeting after she asked some questions. Committee members were also unhappy that he described someone who is an immigrant as a Lewiston “citizen” when he should have said “resident.”

Members complained he talked too much and ran the meetings too long, but if he shortened the agenda they asked why something was left off the agenda, Gagnon said. “It’s a no-win situation.” 

Members asking him to resign from leadership “is not the option I was hoping for,” he said. “This is what they wanted, so this is the way it is.” Changing leadership is distracting from the committee’s work, he said. 

In his resignation letter, Gagnon thanked committee for the “opportunity and pleasure to be chair.”

Gagnon was elected chairman in January. He began serving on the committee in 2016 when most members were new.

In 2017, five of the eight members did not run for re-election, including Chairwoman Linda Scott, Benjamin Martin, Matthew Roy, Thomas Shannon and Paul St. Pierre.

Three who were re-elected for second terms were Megan Parks, Gagnon and Luke Jensen. Members serving their first terms are Renee Courtemanche, Monique Roy, Tanya Estabrook and Tina Hutchinson. City Councilor Alicia Rea is also on the committee representing the City Council.

Lewiston School Committee Chairman Francis Gagnon reads his letter of resignation from that position at Monday evening’s meeting. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

Lewiston School Committee members vote to accept the nomination of Mark Cayer at chairman on Monday evening. Clockwise from right are: Tanya Whitlow, Megan Parks, Alicia Rea, Tina Hutchinson, Cayer and Luke Jensen. Cayer replaces Francis Gagnon. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

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