School committee

Wiscasset awaits hearing over WMHS principal’s job; SREP talks continue

Sat, 11/18/2023 - 1:15pm

December sometime, Wiscasset School Committee Chair Jason Putnam told a heavy turnout at Wiscasset Middle High School and online Nov. 14: The date for the committee’s dismissal hearing on WMHS principal-on leave Gina Stevens was still to be set with the lawyers and others, Putnam said.

“We have to work (with) everybody’s schedule ... We are all following a legal process. Nobody here wanted to be in this position. Everybody here has volunteered,” he said of fellow committee members. “And everybody’s doing the best they can, in the parameters of the law ... Nobody sitting at these tables did anything but have to react to something somebody else did.

“Actions have consequences, and words have consequences,” he continued. “And it’s affecting a lot of people. This entire community is being affected ...” He did not say whose actions he was referring to and he disputed one call-out as to who he meant. The exchange came in the monthly committee meeting’s regular public comment period. This one was filled with student and community support for Stevens’ performance as principal; criticism over the committee’s Nov. 13 decision to conduct the dismissal hearing; a call for resignations of the committee and superintendent of schools; another call for everyone to support, not tear down, one another, and to rebuild a school system to be proud of; and a question about legal costs.

Putnam’s comments followed an audience question of when the community would know a decision on the principal. “I was trying to answer his question,” Putnam continued. “I’m afraid I’m getting into the weeds here. This is going to get out of control.” Then he returned to inviting anyone else to speak.

No new action on the matter came the night after the committee’s 4-0 vote on the hearing.

The Nov. 14 meeting also touched on the deal reached a decade ago with Regional School Unit 12 for Wiscasset to leave that district. 

Wiscasset is fortunate to be in the center of a bunch of towns with school choice and no high school, Superintendent of Schools Kim Andersson said. “My personal feeling is we should try and recruit more RSU 12 and also other neighboring towns’ students,” she said.

Andersson made the point as she reviewed Wiscasset’s 2013 deal to leave RSU 12 in 2014. Explaining she was responding to Chet Grover’s query last month about the deal, Andersson said under it, Wiscasset is a school of record for any RSU 12 student who chooses it. But based on conduct, a student from RSU 12 or anywhere can still be suspended or considered for expulsion, she said.

“The school committee could decide if they wanted to look into making an addendum (to the deal) to give us the ability to accept or reject students.” But it might not work in all instances, she said. 

If Wiscasset declined a student from RSU 12 or another school department without a high school, the state education commissioner would decide which high school would get the student, Andersson said. “So you might get out of it, but when push comes to shove, every student needs to have a school of record. And if a high school won’t take them, then the commissioner will say, ‘Well, yes, this high school over here will take them.”

Grover again expressed concern over optics, and he hoped for the high school to be more its pre-RSU self. “We’re not necessarily getting the cream of the crop ...,” Grover said. “I’ve heard it on the streets, I know you people have, too ... I think it goes a long ways, to invite, disinvite, to start to rebuild what this school once was ... I think we all believe that we’re still under the grips of the RSU. Thank you for looking into that.”

Putnam thanked Grover and Andersson. The committee took no vote, nor did it on another matter involving RSU 12, or Sheepscot Valley Regional School Unit: Whether or not Wiscasset will keep hosting the Sheepscot Regional Education Program it is in with SVRSU and Regional School Unit 1. Members each pay $20,000, and the program costs far less than educating the same students elsewhere, Andersson said. She said two of SREP’s five current students are Wiscasset students. For years, Wiscasset has not charged rent to host it, she said. If the committee says to, she will take to SREP’s board a proposal for Wiscasset to receive $22,256 a year, based on space and costs including utilities and administration.