Dearth of trustees lets board languish

BAR HARBOR — Too few people are willing to serve on the Mount Desert Island High School Board of Trustees, and not enough of those who do join the board show up for meetings, according to Howard Colter, superintendent of the MDI Regional School System.

The trustees are responsible for matters related to the high school’s buildings and grounds, such as construction and renovation projects.

Last week, Colter told the high school board – which is separate from the trustees board – that all too often, the trustees are unable to conduct business because there are not enough members present to form a quorum.

“So, we sit there and chat, and it doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. This is not the way to do business,” he said.

The trustees were not able to take any official action at their meeting Monday afternoon because only four were present. Seven are needed for a quorum. Four seats are currently vacant.

The trustees board was created by the 1963 “private and special act” of the Legislature that authorized the four MDI towns to build and operate a consolidated high school. The 12 trustees, three from each town, were to be responsible for the acquisition of land for the school, construction of the school building and athletic facilities and “additions thereto and improvements thereof.”

The high school opened in 1968. The original construction bond was paid off in the late 1980s.

There was no provision in the 1963 law for the trustees board to sunset once its initial work was done. But Colter suggested last week that perhaps there should have been.

“Some of us believe that … its purpose was probably completed at least by the time the bond was paid off. By then, you would have built the building and paid for it and would have had enough years to ensure that it was functioning correctly,” he said.

Eliminating the trustees board and transferring its responsibilities to the regular school board would require a vote by residents of the four MDI towns and approval of the legislature.

Sandy McFarland, chairman of the high school trustees, said the idea of doing that was first brought up more than 20 years ago.

“Then there were some projects that came up that had some large price tags attached to them, and the trustees decided to stay separate,” he said.

The high school is constantly in the process of planning or paying for significant capital improvements. The trustees borrowed $7.6 million for a major expansion and renovation project in 2000. That bond will be paid off in 2020. The final payment on a $650,000 roof replacement bond will be in 2019.

The trustees’ budget for next fiscal year is $604,360.

Asked if he thinks the trustees should be disbanded, McFarland said he is willing to discuss it. But he said, “I think the more people who get involved in the educational process, the better it is.”

All three of Tremont’s seats on the high school trustees board are currently vacant. No one ran for any of the seats in last week’s election. One of Mount Desert’s seats is vacant.

When no one runs for an open seat or agrees to serve after receiving write-in votes, it is up to each town’s board of selectmen or town council to appoint someone.

Election to the trustees board was not the first choice of two of Southwest Harbor’s current representatives. Erica Dow failed to win election to the town’s school committee in 2014, but received nine write-in votes for the trustees board and agreed to serve. The same was true for Michael Sawyer, who received 13 write-in votes in 2015.

This year in Mount Desert, no one filed to run for the trustees board in the May 2 election. But when Mia Thompson went to vote, she noticed there were no names on the ballot for the trustees, so she wrote in her own name. She then went back to her office and asked several of her colleagues to go and do the same. She was elected with five write-in votes. And she was one of the four trustees who attended Monday’s meeting.

Mickey Shattow of Mount Desert, who resigned from the trustees board earlier this year, was elected in 2013 with one write-in vote – his own.

Eliminating the trustees board would take quite a bit of time and effort, even if there was general agreement that it should be done. In the meantime, Colter has urged members of the high school board to try to find people who are willing to serve as trustees and to attend meetings.

Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]

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