Moderator Mike Chase, left, of Farmington and Regional School Unit 9 Director Craig Stickney of Chesterville listen to questions Wednesday night at a Chesterville forum hosted by Stickney. (Franklin Journal photo by Dee Menear)

CHESTERVILLE — The Board of Selectmen voted 4-1 Thursday evening not to put an article on the March 11 town meeting warrant asking voters if they want to withdraw from Regional School Unit 9.

Board Chairman Matt Welch, members Maitland Lord, Edward Hastings IV and Allan Mackey were against adding the warrant article, while Tiffany Estabrook favored it, Lord said.

Lord and Hastings said the majority of members agreed a petition could be submitted to selectmen to get the article on the warrant.

The vote was in response to a request by RSU 9 Director Craig Stickney. He hosted a town forum Wednesday evening to share concerns he has with the district and to give Chesterville residents an opportunity to ask questions.

Over the past several months, Stickney’s relationship with RSU 9 directors has become increasingly contentious due, in part, to continued allegations of a lack of transparency and a failure to follow board policy.

The district includes the towns of Farmington, Wilton, Starks, Industry, Chesterville, New Sharon, Weld, Temple, Vienna and New Vineyard.

Superintendent Tina Meserve, school board Chairwoman Cherianne Harrison of Wilton and Directors Irv Faunce of Wilton, Ryan Morgan of Farmington and Jeffery Harris of New Sharon attended Wednesday night’s forum but were not permitted to speak.

“This meeting was intended for residents to hear Mr. Stickney’s concerns about RSU 9,” said Mike Chase of Farmington, who facilitated the meeting. “If you are an RSU 9 board member, you will not be allowed to ask questions or respond. Therefore, you can sit and listen, or have the option to leave. You are not considered community members.”

He said Chesterville residents were permitted to ask questions and only Stickney or keynote speaker Miss Teen Maine International 2018 Valerianne Hinkley of Wilton would answer questions.

Hinkley recounted her experiences as a victim of bullying and her dedication to raising awareness of the issue in her school and community. Hinkley is a junior at Mt. Blue High School in Farmington.

“There will be absolutely no discussion on any topic,” Chase reminded the audience following Hinkley’s presentation.

Stickney began by alleging the district was not compliant with Maine Department of Education Bullying Reporting laws. “There were only 13 incidences of bullying reported in the entire district in 2017,” he said. “I’m told incidences make the school look bad.”

The concern was brought before the board in November. At the time, Meserve said the district was compliant.

Rachel Paling, director of communications for the Maine Department of Education, said in an email Friday that RSU 9 has a policy.

She said the department does not determine whether or not a school district is in compliance with Maine’s anti-bullying law. The law says “a school board shall ensure that its policies and procedures are consistent with the model policy developed or revised by the commissioner.”

Paling continued, “We encourage community members to work with their school leaders, including the superintendent and the school board on policies and procedures such as this … That said, the department has been working with RSU 9, as we do with many districts, and we know that the superintendent has reviewed RSU 9’s data and that they do have a policy in place. It is available on their website.”

Another issue raised by Stickney was money.

“Between July 1 and Oct. 15 we have spent over $8,000 for the school board and we have no idea why,” he said.

This was also addressed in November and the expenditures were attributed to legal consultation, which could include contract negotiations, bidding issues, board training consultations and student or staff issues.

Chesterville Selectman Tiffany Estabrook charged the district with overspending $230,000, which Stickney said was addressed behind closed doors.

Unexpected expenditures of $230,000 were addressed by the board in September. The expenditures included the salary of an elementary school teacher necessary for higher-than-expected enrollment and a substitute salary increase to meet minimum wage.

“Nothing was done behind closed doors,” Meserve said in a phone interview Thursday.

“We were not allowed to respond during the meeting so, unfortunately, it propagated a lot of misinformation,” she said.

 

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