Parents of Topsham-based Maine School Administrative District 75 students are concerned for their children’s education after Superintendent Steve Connolly announced his resignation on Thursday, and yet another school board member is leaving before their term ends. Connolly was the district’s fifth superintendent in four years, and parents suspect the high turnover is caused in part by private political agendas among school board members.

Connolly announced his resignation from SAD 75, which serves Topsham, Harpswell, Bowdoin and Bowdoinham, in a letter last week explaining his decision came after considerable “self-reflection and family input.”

“While the long hours each week, the volume of evening meetings and events, and hard decisions were known parts of the role, I find I have not been effective in managing the implicit divisions that exist based on political, personal and ideological beliefs which, in my view are stagnating the opportunity for systemic educational progress,” Connolly wrote.

Connolly declined to answer questions or expand on what he stated in his resignation letter this week.

Bowdoinham school parent Dana Legawiec said Connolly’s letter was a “wake-up call” for her. Admitting she doesn’t regularly attend school board meetings, Legawiec said her children have had a positive experience at SAD 75 and was surprised to learn of the strong political divide in her district.

“Ultimately, the students suffer from the turnover at the leadership level,” she said. “When you think about how schools operate, it costs money every time we lose somebody. If the atmosphere can’t retain the talent that is selected by us, that’s something I hope can be addressed.”


Connolly’s departure coincides with the departure of Topsham school board member Nancy Chandler, who is surrendering her three-year post nine months early. Chandler is far from the first board member to vacate prematurely. In 2019, two members of the board from Harpswell resigned at the same time, saying they “no longer have the trust of the board” but never explaining what they meant by that.

In early 2022, board member Allison Hawkes resigned, citing the “toxic” atmosphere on the board.

Attempts to reach Chandler about her resignation this week were unsuccessful.

The Topsham Select Board will choose Chandler’s replacement, who will serve out the remainder of her term until the November election.

Jennifer Banis, a culinary adjunct professor; Annalyse Sarvinas, a preschool teacher; and Kimberly Pacelli, a strategic management solutions partner at TNG, are vying for the Topsham seat.

It was Connolly’s resignation letter citing issues with division and ideology that inspired Pacelli to run for the open seat, she said.


“My goal is straight forward, which is to provide steady and thoughtful stewardship for the district for the limited time period of the appointment,” Parcelli said. “I work closely with K-12 districts in my work, so I know I will be a quick study.”

Attempts to reach the other two candidates on Tuesday were unsuccessful.

School parent Reeve Wood of Bowdoinham said he hopes the Topsham Select Board will appoint the right person for the school board position. He said he has reservations about candidate Annalyse Sarvinas because she and her husband Alan Sarvinas are members of the conservative nonprofit Parents’ Rights in Education — an organization encouraging parents to design the curriculum and policies enforced in their children’s schools.

The Mid-Coast Region-Parents’ Rights in Education Facebook group previously listed Alan Sarvinas as the group’s social media page operator, but that was removed from the site Tuesday — two days before Topsham’s Select Board makes its final decision.

“There’s a political strain in our country that is hostile to public education, and in the last few years, we’ve seen a big, well-funded effort from one political party and its media allies to energize certain voters by riling them up about perceived issues in local schools,” Wood said. “[…] Teaching history or working to create a welcoming space for all students gets portrayed as ‘anti-whiteness,’ ‘grooming’ or ‘indoctrination.’  There is a relatively small but loud group in our community who seem to see schools through this framework and have probably been overrepresented on the school board over the last few years.”

The Topsham Select Board will interview school board candidates at 6:10 p.m. Thursday, followed by a town meeting at 6:30 p.m. where the new appointee will be selected.

Attempts to reach Select Board Chairperson David Douglass for comment were unsuccessful.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misspelled MSAD 75 school board candidate Kimberly Pacelli’s name. 

Comments are not available on this story.