FARMINGTON — The Mt. Blue Education Association released voting results Friday that showed 91.3% of participating Regional School Unit 9 staff members have no confidence in Superintendent Tina Meserve’s leadership.

The association, which is a local union chapter of the Maine Education Association, sent ballots to 400 RSU 9 employees, including nonunion members. It received 368, which included feedback on Meserve’s performance.

The results and feedback were sent in an email by MEA’s Director of Communications Giovanna Bechard and included a statement of objectives by Mt. Blue Education Association President Doug Hodum.

“We are asking the school board to carefully consider this vote and begin conversations about Superintendent Meserve’s performance over the past 2+ years, including her treatment of staff, her lack of collaborative problem-solving and her skill set,” Hodum said in the MEA email.

RSU 9 Superintendent Tina Meserve Dee Menear/Franklin Journal file photo

Superintendent Meserve said she prefers to meet with the board before releasing a statement on the no-confidence vote.

“At the very least, I would say that I’m disappointed and that there are some issues that we’ve been working on with negotiations and personnel matters, but I wasn’t expecting it to go to this level,” Meserve said Friday in a phone interview. 

School Board Chairwoman Angela LeClair of Wilton said she was surprised to have received the results because she was not aware that a vote of confidence was taking place.

“We had a meeting with union leaders last night and came away with a good feeling,” LeClair said in an email Friday. “We discussed issues and ways to move forward. I was not told by the union that there would be a vote and in fact, received it from the press, not the unions.”

RSU 9 teachers are in contract negotiations, which began in January, were disrupted during the start of the pandemic, and resumed over the late spring and summer. Teachers have been working without a contract since Aug. 31. 

LeClair said the board plans to meet next week to discuss the no-confidence vote and next steps.

“On behalf of the board, I would like to say how much we care about our staff and our school community,” LeClair said. “We of course want a district that works really well together.”

Some of the issues raised by RSU 9 employees in regards to Meserve included lack of responsiveness to staff health and safety concerns while the district reopened during COVID-19. Hodum said that last week the association presented Meserve and the board with a petition signed by over 300 staff members demanding improvements within the district. 

Hodum, who also teaches science at Mt. Blue High School, said staff members were not provided the opportunity to give substantial input when developing the district’s COVID-19 reopening plan.

 “It was more of a, ‘here’s the plan, please respond to it,’ as opposed to, ‘let’s sit down and problem solve,'” Hodum said, in a phone interview Friday. “One of our beliefs that we stated in the majority petition was, ‘we serve our students and community better when there is open communication and collaboration.'”  

Over the summer, RSU 9 had designated committees comprised of administration staff and volunteer teachers to develop a reopening plan for the district’s schools.

Other issues raised by those who voted included the tone of communication, the lack of willingness to truly collaborate with a range of stakeholders, micromanaging tasks, unilaterally changing long-standing leave practices, and creating a division between the RSU 9 board of directors and the staff.

As an example of micromanaging, Hodum referred to a policy last spring during emergency remote learning. The district required teachers and some support staff to log their hours while working from home. Hodum said it was a difficult requirement because many students were not engaged and teaching expectations were vague.

So there’s an example where administration decided this was going to be a requirement of all employees, and so it was a task and we did it because we were supposed to, but it did not feel as though we were being respected as professionals and treated as professionals,” Hodum said. “So that also ties into another point, just about the lack of respect that seems to be held by Ms. Meserve.” 

In regards to creating a division between the board and RSU 9 staff, Hodum said Meserve has created a bottleneck of information by consistently saying she is the in-between point of contact.

“That’s one of the things that we as employees would like, we would like there to be open dialogue and conversations about what issues there are that don’t have to funnel through one person, and that is something we have had in the past,” Hodum said.

While many issues have arisen due to COVID-19, Hodum stressed that the results from the vote of confidence reflect ongoing frustrations that were present prior to the pandemic.

“I just want to reiterate that this was deliberated,” Hodum said in regards to the vote. “It was not done whimsically, it is not connected solely to the COVID-19 response, and this is where we are. This is a big step for us and not one that we take lightly.” 

The vote of no confidence is an echo of Meserve’s past when she served as RSU 16’s superintendent from 2013 to 2018. In June 2017, RSU 16 community members told the school board they had no confidence in Meserve and presented a petition asking for an independent committee to assess her performance.

Issues raised by RSU 16 community members included poor staff morale, unaddressed bullying complaints, program cuts and low teacher salaries. To investigate Meserve’s handling of these issues, the board hired consultant Ann Chapman from the Portland law firm Drummond Woodsum which also represented the RSU 16 school board.

Less than two months later, the report concluded that Meserve had not broken any laws or breached any district policies or Bbard directives and it included praise for the superintendent’s job performance.

The RSU 9 school board approved Meserve less than a year later in April 2018 as the district’s new superintendent to start after Tom Ward’s retirement.

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