BAR HARBOR — Former elementary school principal Dianne Waters has come out of retirement to fill in while Kelley Sanborn, director of special services for the Mount Desert Island Regional School System, is on medical leave.
Sanborn’s leave began March 2.
“It is indefinite how long she will be out,” Superintendent Howard Colter said. “Our expectation is that she will be back for next school year.”
Last November, the school board turned down Sanborn’s request to take a one-year sabbatical starting in July and to be paid $58,000 for the time she is off. That amount represented half of her annual salary and health insurance costs and included $2,000 for professional development and $1,000 for travel.
Because the extra expenditure to pay Waters to fill in while Sanborn is out is not part of the school system’s budget for the current fiscal year, it will have to be approved by voters at a special meeting set for April 1 at 7 p.m. in the theater at MDI High School. Registered voters in all eight towns that are part of the school system are eligible to vote.
Officials said this week that Melissa Beckwith, who has been director of the special education component of special services, is filling in for Sanborn. Waters, who retired last year as principal at Trenton Elementary School and previously was principal at Tremont Consolidated School, is overseeing special education. She started the temporary assignment March 4.
“She’s doing a great job, and everyone is happy to have her here,” Colter said of Waters. “She knows the district, knows the teachers and principals.”
He said Waters and Beckwith “are teaming up and it’s working out quite nicely.”
Waters’ compensation for the remainder of the school year, plus a salary adjustment for Beckwith for that period, will cost the school system about $33,000, according to business manager Nancy Thurlow. That money will come from the individual schools in the district.
“Nancy has checked with all the principals, and there is money in their budgets to pay their share,” Colter said.
Sanborn is in her 15th year as director of special services, which include special education, social work, psychological counseling and occupational therapy for students in the district’s nine schools. Had she been granted the sabbatical, she promised to return refreshed, re-energized and to stay in her position at least two more years.
“The relentless nature of what this work entails is the reason I would like to be pro-active and take a break before I need a medical leave,” she told the board when requesting her sabbatical.
Colter said at the time that Sanborn does “a very admirable job” and “deserves and needs a break.” But he said he could not support her request for a paid, yearlong sabbatical, largely because of the cost and the precedent it would set.
School board chairman Skip Strong seemed to speak for most board members last fall when he said, “I get stressed thinking about Kelley’s job, and I understand the need to take a break. But I’m having a hard time figuring out how we’re going to put this [sabbatical] into our budget.”
In addition to covering the added expense, Colter and some board members expressed concern about being able to find someone qualified and willing to fill in for Sanborn for just one year.
In December, the board denied her amended leave request, which would have had her working half time for a year.
Colter told the Islander in an email last week that the school system’s policy on granting an extended medical leave is to require a note from the employee’s doctor about the need for the absence. The nature of Sanborn’s ailment is not public information.
“When an employee plans to return to work after a prolonged medical leave, we ask for a second letter from the doctor confirming that the employee is now ready to return to work, but also to let us know if any accommodations will be necessary,” Colter said.
School system teachers, administrators and support staff earn a certain number of sick days per year. Any sick days that are not used may be carried over to future years. Once an employee runs out of sick days, the balance of the medical leave is without pay.
“The one exception to this is that with school board prior approval, there have been times when other employees have been allowed to donate several days of sick leave out of their personal accrued number of sick days to help a fellow employee,” Colter said.
Under state and federal Family Medical Leave laws, anyone who has worked for the same employer for at least one year is entitled to up to 10 weeks of leave after they have used all of their accrued sick days. Employees are not paid during that time, but they retain their health benefits and their jobs are protected.