School district faces lawsuit from rejected petitioners

Fri, 06/14/2024 - 4:45pm

    A group of petitioners contesting the $30 million referendum that approved renovations to Boothbay Region Elementary School (BRES) filed a lawsuit against the school district June 12. Attorney Kristin Collins, who represents the petitioners, said they feel their rights were violated when their May 1 petition was rejected by the district and they seek an order compelling the Community School District (CSD) to call another vote.  

    “Despite the many voices calling for the reconsideration using the correct statutory process, they will not be heard,” Collins said in an email to the Register. She later added, “The petitioners are disheartened that the CSD is failing to recognize the will of these voters, or to give its proposal another test in front of a larger body of voters.”  

    Alternative Organizational Structure (AOS) 98 Superintendent Robert Kahler said the lawsuit isn’t presenting new arguments. He said the Board of Trustees has  already been asked to consider and reconsider the renovation project.  

    “It's the same argument. It's just in a different forum,” he said. However, he added, “It's part of the process, and people have the right to explore different avenues to be heard.” 

    The lawsuit requests the court declare the petition valid and its rejection an error. In addition, plaintiffs request the court declare the district must hold a referendum election around the school bond question and petition articles. Plaintiffs Patricia Minerich, James and Virginia Farrin, Daniel Zajdel, Roy Tholl, Elizabeth Grant, Steven Carbone and Pamela Mancusco filed the lawsuit with Lincoln County Superior Court against the CSD and the Board of Trustees, made up of Troy Lewis, Ronnie Campbell, Matt Doucette, Paul Roberts, Darrell Gudroe and Sewall Maddocks.

    The petition was filed with the school district May 1 with 347 verified registered voter signatures, according to town clerks’ counts reported by the CSD. Petitioners favored reconsidering and repealing the April 24 vote that approved a $30 million BRES renovation. In a second article, signers supported the CSD in updating and renovating BRES in a project not to exceed $10,250,300.   

    May 5, the trustees rejected the petition. Advised by their lawyers from Drummond Woodsum, the trustees said the petition does not comply with 20-A M.R.S. § 1504, and claimed the petition requests a referendum on two articles, which is not authorized by law. In addition, board members said they could not change the petition to one article. According to the district, the petition also includes technical concerns and was missing information from several circulators. However, board members said that was not the primary reason for rejecting the petition.  

    In a June 10 letter to Kahler, Collins requested the trustees reconsider their decision. She argued her clients’ rights were violated by the board in denying the petition based on “a misapplication of state petition requirements” and “an unsupported conclusion” that the petition’s second article justified the refusal of the petition. 

    In the letter, Collins said there is no legal requirement in 20-A that reconsideration petitions be in any particular format, follow a particular procedure, or an affidavit be included at all. However, Collins said she has corrected affidavits to confirm the circulator’s information, which she said address the concerns. 

    Kahler said the district will move forward by having their lawyers review the lawsuit and strategize the next steps. In the meantime, he said the suit will not have much effect on the renovation project because it is in a high-level organizational planning phase. And he said the district still has donated funds they can apply, which gives them leeway. 

    “We'll have our lawyers do their due diligence, which we feel we've really kind of already done,” he said. “So, I can't say for certain what the exact next step would be until we really analyze everything that's in the suit.” 

    According to Collins, the lawsuit appeals the Board’s decision and alleges they acted unconstitutionally, depriving petitioners and signers their right to petition and vote – a decision she said could be changed.  

    “The petitioners believe the CSD Board had no legal basis to refuse the petitions, and feel a court will ultimately agree,” Collins said. “But more importantly, they hope the CSD Trustees will reconsider and find taking this issue back before the voters to be more sensible than digging into litigation.”