Split vote goes Carpenter’s way after turbulent year in RSU 20

Belfast area school board renews superintendent’s contract

Thu, 12/19/2013 - 2:45am

    BELFAST - The Regional School Unit 20 board of directors voted Wednesday to renew Superintendent Brian Carpenter’s contract for an additional year.

    Twelve of the board’s 17 members attended the meeting, which had been rescheduled due to Tuesday night’s snow storm. The group deliberated behind closed doors for close to two hours before inviting Carpenter in for additional discussion.

    In the public vote that followed, eight members of the board favored renewing Carpenter’s contract, four opposed it. The motion was approved under the district’s weighted voting system by a margin of 7,617 to 4,494.

    Searsport representatives Anthony Bagley, James Cunningham and Percy King all voted to renew Carpenter’s contract, as did Denise Dakin of Stockton Springs, Stephen Hopkins of Belmont, Valerie Mank of Searsmont, Debra Riley of Northport and Alan Wood of Belfast.

    Opposition came from Caitlin Hills and Christopher Hyk of Belfast, Alexa Schweikert of Swanville and Tony Swebilius of Morrill.

    Absent were Charles Grey and Jason Perkins of Belfast, David Ferguson of Northport and Sharon Catus of Stockton Springs. Stephanie Wade of Belfast attended part of the meeting but left before the vote.

    Following the board’s decision, Riley said she voted to renew Carpenter’s contract because she approved of his performance over the past year.

    “There have been some issues, but he’s done well,” she said, adding that the district is in the midst of “a crisis.”

    “We have to keep reminding ourselves that we have to give him direction and not the other way around,” she said. “When we’ve given him direction, he’s followed through.”

    Dakin of Stockton Springs kept her remarks brief. “I think he’s doing a good job,” she said. “That’s it.”

    Among those who dissented, Belfast board member Caitlin Hills said she voted against renewing Carpenter’s contract out of concern that he is not “an appropriate role model for our students, our teachers, nor our community as a whole.”

    “The plagiarism incident,” she said, referring to Carpenter’s use of parts of a document from another school, “as well as his behavior towards the public with whom he disagrees, is deeply troubling.”

    Hills, however, said she accepts the outcome of Wednesday night’s meeting.

    “Now that the Board has renewed his contract, I will do everything in my power to support him in the mission to provide the best education to all the children in the RSU,” she said.

    Carpenter was hired by RSU 20 in June 2012 and had his first contract review in December 2012.

    In one of the high points of the last year, RSU 20 administrators finalized negotiations with teachers and support staff, approving the first contracts with those groups since the formation of the consolidated district in 2009.

    The new contract was an administrative victory, but the adjusted salaries added to a budget that had already lost a significant amount of state revenue due to declining enrollment and the withdrawal of Frankfort from the district.

    In an effort to save money, Carpenter pitched several plans that led to the partial closure of Stockton Springs Elementary School. District officials and are now considering plans for a district-wide consolidation that would close more schools.

    The financial troubles facing the district figured prominently in the 2013-14 budget. Two drafts of the budget were rejected by voters before a third version was approved in September, almost three months into the school year. The final budget included fewer staff cuts than Carpenter initially proposed and a larger tax increase — roughly 10-percent added to the school’s portion of local property taxes.

    At the same time, Carpenter and district administrators have had to contend with a pair of with withdrawal movements. The first bid by Belfast and five neighboring towns, predated Carpenter’s arrival and ended unsuccessfully in June. Five municipalities have since restarted the process. Among them, Belfast, where a city-appointed ‘think tank’ recently considered other versions of consolidation and withdrawal, and a handful of none-of-the-above ideas.

    In short, the last year was a busy one for Carpenter and RSU 20, and the coming year is likely to bring more of the same.

    Asked to comment about his contract renewal, Carpenter initially demurred. 

    “We’ll move ahead,” he said. “There are a lot of moving parts. It should be an interesting year.”

    Ethan Andrews can be reached at news@penbaypilot.com