WATERVILLE – The city’s Board of Education on Monday voted 4-3 to hire an assistant superintendent, after a long debate in which proponents said the superintendent’s job is beyond what one person can do, and opponents maintained a vote should be postponed until more discussion is had and a job description is at hand.
“In my opinion, the job is too big for one person if we want to get beyond what is essential to keep the ship afloat,” board chairperson Joan Phillips-Sandy said.
The board also took the first of 2 needed votes to approve a proposed $ 28.6 million school budget for 2022-23 that represents a 7.99% increase over the current budget. The vote was 7-0. Increases are reflected in education technician salaries, projected teacher salary increases, increases in medical insurance and snowplowing.
Phillips-Sandy cited a long list of tasks Superintendent Eric Haley can’t get to because he’s so busy with other work. Haley had planned to retire this year but a search committee turned up no applicants that deemed officials were a good fit for Waterville. Haley agreed to stay on for one more year and a new search process for his job is expected to start in the fall.
Phillips-Sandy and board members Pam Trinward, Patricia Helm and Elizabeth Bickford voted for hiring the assistant, and members Greg Bazakas, Maryanne Bernier and Spencer Krigbaum voted against.
Haley and Phillips-Sandy earlier this year had brought up the idea of hiring an assistant superintendent, but several parents opposed the idea and discussion ended.
Phillips-Sandy said Monday that most school districts the size of Waterville’s have an assistant. She said she worries that if Haley were to be out for an emergency, there would be no one to fill in. Haley was supposed to have a hip replacement earlier this year but did not do so for that reason.
Haley doesn’t have time to be liaison for homeless students, of which there are 60 in the district, according to Phillips-Sandy. That used to be a job of the assistant superintendent. Haley recently came within two days of missing a grant application deadline for getting $ 36,000 from the state to help with homeless students. The district was awarded the funds, but if an assistant superintendent had been in place, the application would have been processed sooner by that person, Phillips-Sandy said.
There is also no one to handle complaints from parents and guardians, which is an important part of the job but time-consuming, and an assistant would do that, according to Phillips-Sandy. An assistant could learn district finances, budgets and building construction issues, which would enable the hiring of a new superintendent who may not have those skills but is strong in other areas, she said. Haley would also have time to work and network with area colleges and be able to spend more time in district schools, she said.
When Haley had an assistant, he was able to network with business leaders as he did when he was a member of the Waterville Rotary Club, according to Phillips-Sandy. Haley has lots of connections with the community and when he retires next year, those connections will be gone, she said
Waterville for many years employed an assistant superintendent, the last of which was Peter Thiboutot who is now superintendent of Winslow schools. Thiboutot was assistant superintendent for Alternative Organizational Structure 92, which included Waterville, Winslow and Vassalboro. That structure, whose superintendent was Haley, dissolved in 2018 after nine years, and Winslow hired Thiboutot as superintendent. Waterville went back to being Waterville Public Schools with Haley continuing as superintendent, with no assistant.
Haley said the assistant’s position would be funded with federal CARES Act money for at least two years and he had checked to ensure that it is a proper expenditure of those funds.
Board member Greg Bazakis and others suggested COVID-19 funds should be used for helping students with learning loss in areas such as math and reading due to the pandemic, and for substitute teachers. Haley said he can’t get to the 60 families of homeless students who need help. An assistant superintendent would be in charge of substitutes and run a curriculum committee, which is one of many Haley said he now runs. He said he receives more than 150 emails a day and he has to prioritize which ones he must answer within two days.
“I just think you’re going to be in the same situation, without an option, a year from now if you don’t do something to protect yourself,” Haley said.
Trinward said the district will never find a superintendent like Haley, who works evenings and weekends.
“I can’t tell you when he’s taken a week off,” she said.
An assistant could apply for grants and there is a lot of untapped money out there, according to Trinward.
Bazakas maintained it would be difficult to find an assistant superintendent who would leave a job now, but Trinward said principals would, as they would see it as a promotion. Bazakas asked what happens when the COVID-19 money runs out.
“Is this a terminal position? How does that work? ” he said.
Haley said a two or three year contract could be offered to an applicant. The new assistant would be free to apply for the superintendent’s position “but it will be a competitive thing,” he said.
Several people in the audience stood to support or oppose hiring an assistant. Mayor Jay Coelho said he went back and forth on the issue, but he thinks the district needs to hire one.
“We can do better,” he said. “We can lead the region. I think Eric needs help. ”
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