MOUNT DESERT — Todd Graham is the second member of the Mount Desert Island Regional School System board to resign this fall because of the increasingly acrimonious dispute between the board and the teachers union over negotiations for a new three-year teachers contract.
The first to go was board chair and lead negotiator Kristi Losquadro, who resigned in mid-September.
Graham had served on the Mount Desert School Committee for five and a half years and as chair for the past three years. He said in his Oct. 22 resignation letter that he joined the school board to help “maintain and further elevate our schools’ resources, student achievement, pay scales and work culture for the teachers and staff.”
“In recent months, the mischaracterization and the mistrust of the school board [by the teachers union] have left me frustrated and feeling unwelcomed in the schools that I work to support,” Graham said. “It saddens me that the process to a better CBA (collective bargaining agreement) and higher wages has created this type of climate. For those reasons, I see the best approach for me to continue serving our schools is to do so as a non-elected official.
“Working with teachers and administrators is rewarding; we have one of the best school systems in the state,” Graham’s letter continued. “Our teachers, support staff, administrators and, most importantly, our students deserve the resources to match. I will continue to support and work for that goal.”
(When school committee members are elected by voters in their respective towns, they also become members of the high school board and the school system board. So, when they resign from one, they leave all three.)
When Losquadro resigned from the Bar Harbor School Committee, she cited what she called “malicious” accusations against her and fellow board members by representatives of the teachers union.
“I can no longer participate in the gamesmanship the Teachers Association and their union representatives are playing,” she said.
Gail Marshall, who served on the Mount Desert School Committee from 2003-2012, was appointed to the committee in early October following the resignation of Susan MacCready. Then, when Graham resigned Oct. 22, Marshall was elected chair.
She met with the town’s Select Board Monday night to discuss the process for replacing Graham.
There has been some uncertainty over whether the school committee or the Select Board has the authority to make that appointment. Michael Tadenev, an attorney with Eaton Peabody, told the Select Board that state law says municipalities can establish their own procedures for filling vacancies in elective offices, and that Mount Desert’s charter says the Select Board may fill such vacancies.
“The charter says ‘may.’ (The Select Board) is not required to make an appointment, but it does hold the authority do so,” Tadenev said.
He said that if the Select Board makes the appointment, it is his opinion that the board may consider any recommendation from the school committee because state law and the town charter are both silent on that question.
Select Board members said they would welcome the school committee’s input on whom to appoint. And Marshall said the committee would plan to forward a recommendation to the Select Board prior to its Nov. 15 meeting.
“We have been talking with a couple of different people…and we would like to take the next two weeks to see if there is anyone else interested,” she said.
“As you may know, we’re in interesting times in the school, so finding someone who works well and has competency so they can come up to speed quickly on some of the issues that we’re confronting would be of great benefit to a small [five-member] board like ours.”
Both Marshall and whoever is appointed to succeed Graham will serve until town meeting next May. At that time, they may choose to run for election to the school committee.