PARIS — Directors of School Administrative District 17 will decide in May whether Heather Manchester will continue as acting superintendent or whether they should hire someone in the interim while searching for someone to fill the position permanently.

Chairwoman Natalie Andrews of West Paris said she is working with the Maine School Management Association to gather perspectives ahead of the May meeting.

Manchester, the district curriculum director for almost eight years, was tapped for the leadership position in January after Monica Henson was placed on paid administrative leave. Several investigations began after allegations of her inappropriately restraining a student while filling in for the principal at Agnes Gray Elementary School in West Paris in September 2021.

Henson was hired by the district in July 2021. She offered her resignation and the board accepted it April 4. The two sides agreed to a $174,500 payout of her three-year contract, plus $5,500 to cover her legal expenses.

“We had two options available,” Andrews said. “We could move towards dismissal or accept her resignation. When she offered to resign, we determined that accepting it was in the best interest of our district. It allows us to move forward.”

To fire an administrator, a school district must have just cause, conduct an investigation, provide a statement of its findings, and have a board vote for dismissal. The procedure allows for the employee to appeal the decision to the Maine Department of Education commissioner. The process takes up to two years during which time the school district cannot take any steps to find a permanent replacement.

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Andrews said the district could have had to pay out the value of Henson’s contract, which would have cost more than $300,000.

She said another priority for the board following the resignation is how to proceed with the public meeting district residents were promised in January after allegations against Henson became public and the Oxford Hills Educators Association presented a 27-point list of complaints and vote of no confidence against her.

“There are important topics that people wish to be heard on,” Andrews said. “I will advocate to move forward on this. It would include an independent moderator leading the meeting. A forum will give people a voice “for their concerns about the school district’s struggles over the last year.”

Andrews said she will introduce a motion to discuss and vote on holding a public forum at a board meeting in the near future.


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