BAR HARBOR — A decision on whether to hire Marc Gousse, currently the superintendent of schools in Westbrook, to the same position in the Mount Desert Island Regional School System (MDIRSS) has been delayed until this evening (Thursday).
The MDIRSS board had been scheduled to vote on his appointment Tuesday evening following a closed-door session. They did meet in executive session on Tuesday, but scheduled today’s special meeting to make the formal decision.
Gousse was one of two candidates for the superintendent’s job in this latest round. He was invited by the search committee to be interviewed by the full school board and to meet with school personnel. The other candidate withdrew from consideration after deciding to remain in his current position.
Gousse spent last Thursday visiting MDIRSS schools and talking with teachers, administrators and support staff. At a public forum at the high school last Thursday attended by about two dozen people, Gousse talked about his experience, educational philosophy and management style.
“If you invite me to come here, you’re going to get a person who is going to be in the schools,” he said. “Yeah, I’m going to do my paperwork and return my calls and emails, but I tend to try to do that at times when the kids aren’t around.
“I want every kid to know my name; I want every teacher to know my name. I want them to feel comfortable; I want parents to feel comfortable.”
Gousse, 56, was born and raised in Lewiston and graduated from Maine Maritime Academy. After 23 years in the U.S. Navy and Naval Reserve, he retired with the rank of commander in 2005.
He has been a classroom teacher, a soccer and track coach and an assistant principal. He was principal at Westbrook High School for 10 years before being named superintendent in 2011.
In that position, Gousse has had to deal with a number of crises, but none more difficult than the one that got him the job in the first place. At almost exactly the same time that Superintendent Reza Namin announced he was leaving to head a school district in another state, the Westbrook School Committee learned they had a $3.7 million budget shortfall. They tapped Gousse to step in as interim superintendent and find a way to close the budget gap.
He said there was the possibility of losing up to 60 positions in the district. In the end, six teachers and seven members of the support staff lost their jobs. He credited the support and cooperation of teachers, parents and the community for getting the district through the crisis. Voters agreed to a significant increase in the budget, which increased local property taxes.
Westbrook School Committee Chairman Jim Violette said the district has been fortunate to have Gousse at the helm.
“He came into a very difficult financial situation and really stepped up to the plate and made some very tough decisions that, in hindsight, were the right decisions, but were very unpopular at the time,” Violette said.
“Then a year or two later, he consolidated our school system and basically closed one of our elementary schools, which is always a tough decision to make.”
Violette described Gousse as “a very committed, loyal individual who works extremely hard.”
Noting Gousse’s military background, Violette said he initially brought a somewhat “tough style” to the superintendent’s job.
“There were a lot of concerns that he was micromanaging, but in my eyes, he needed to do that based on our [financial] situation.”
Violette said Gousse’s management style has softened over the past few years.
“But he does cross every ‘T’ and dot every ‘I’ and makes sure that what needs to get done gets done.”
The only real criticism that Violette, a lifelong Boston Red Sox fan, had of Gousse is that he is a rabid New York Yankees fan.
One particularly difficult situation that Gousse has dealt with as superintendent resulted from the disclosure that Westbrook High School athletes had been drinking at a party in October 2013. Following an investigation by the school’s athletic director, about two dozen students, including a number of football players, were suspended from competition. However, based on additional information that school officials said they became aware of a few days later, the suspensions were lifted.
Because that action was taken the same day the football team took the field for a playoff game, some in the community accused school officials of caving in to players and their parents.
The school department hired Biddeford attorney John Alfano to investigate the handling of the students’ discipline. In his 26-page report, he strongly criticized school committee members and administrators, as well as parents, whom he accused of pressuring school officials.
Referring to the school’s policy on student drinking, Alfano wrote, “There is little support within the school department to enforce the policy because, when it matters, parents, administrators and board members don’t have the fortitude to stand behind their decisions.”
Gousse later acknowledged that he and other school officials could have handled the situation differently.
“I apologize to the entire community that we didn’t get it right,” the Westbrook American Journal quoted Gousse as saying. “I’m committed for the rest of my career to try to get it right.”
Gousse said at the public forum at MDI High School last Thursday that he is happy in his job in Westbrook and believes that the school committee is happy with him.
“It’s important for you to know that I’m not running from anything,” he said. “I love Westbrook. But it’s time for me to look at a change.”
He said he and his wife, Jeanne, have long been drawn to the greater MDI region.
“Regardless of what might transpire [with the superintendent’s job], I am going to be in this area at some point in the near future,” he said.
Whoever the MDIRSS board hires as superintendent will succeed Howard Colter, who plans to retire this summer. Colter’s salary this year is $124,236.
Gousse’s current salary as superintendent in Westbrook is $128,775.
The information that the search committee provided to potential applicants about the MDIRSS superintendent’s position listed the salary range as $110,000 to $130,000 “depending on experience.” But the MDIRSS budget for next fiscal year includes up to $135,000 for the new superintendent.
Colter said at the time the budget was being prepared that he and the school board agreed that the possibility for a higher salary was needed to help attract the most highly qualified candidates.
School board Chairman Charlie Wray said the increase would give the board “wiggle room, depending on whether we get a very senior superintendent as a candidate and need to make an offer above the current salary.”