Marc Gousse, superintendent of the Mount Desert Island Regional School System. ISLANDER FILE PHOTO

Gousse contrite over tickets gift: School board expresses confidence



BAR HARBOR — Marc Gousse, superintendent of the Mount Desert Island Regional School System, has publicly apologized for what he called his “error in judgment” in accepting tickets to a New England Patriots football game from Cross Insurance.

He expressed regret Sunday night in separate emails to the school board and to the school system’s teachers and staff. He read both emails aloud at the school board meeting Monday night.

“My decision to attend this event was untimely and poor at best,” Gousse said in his email to the school board. “And, sadly, it shifted the focus away from the good work being accomplished in our schools by our students and our teachers.”

He said the controversy has caused distraction. “And for that, I’m deeply disappointed and I’m very sorry.”

The school board discussed the matter in an executive session at the end of their regular agenda Monday night. Following the executive session, they voted 14-1 “to give a full vote of confidence in the integrity of the superintendent and accept his sincere apology.”

Caroline Pryor cast the only “no” vote.

Gousse and MDI High School Athletic Director Bunky Dow attended the Patriots’ Sept. 24 game at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass., with tickets that Cross Insurance gave Gousse. They also attended a pregame lunch reception that Cross hosted at the stadium.

Two weeks earlier, two Cross representatives had come to the high school at Gousse’s invitation to explain a health insurance option to several dozen teachers and other school employees. Gousse said the “gap” insurance plan, which is offered by a number of companies including Cross, could lower costs for the schools and their employees without compromising the level of coverage. He said he hoped teachers would consider it.

After it became known that Gousse had accepted the Patriots tickets from Cross Insurance, some school personnel and others questioned whether that constituted a conflict of interest and whether he could be unbiased in recommending a health insurance product.

On Sept. 29, Gousse asked Cross to bill him for the tickets, which Cross said cost $125 each. Gousse insisted he had done nothing improper but wanted to pay for the tickets to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.

He said in his email to the school board that he now understands that his acceptance of the football tickets had caused “our staff and communities to give pause and question my judgment.”

“Despite the fact that my intent was honorable, the impact is what matters.”

The email Gousse sent to the school system’s teachers and staff was similar. In it he said, “I want to apologize for the distraction this has caused from our daily work, and I regret that my decision to attend this event has caused any question regarding my neutrality, motivations or integrity with regard to doing what’s best for our district.”

He said that if he could do it over, he would not attend the football game.

“While I will always strive to be the best example of what our district represents, I’m human; I make mistakes,” he said. “I made an error in judgment here. And given the perception that my attendance at this event has raised … I apologize.”

Gousse noted that he has spent 34 years in education as a teacher and administrator.

“And I still look forward to going to school each day. Working for what we do in the classroom is a privilege, an opportunity and my life’s passion.”

As for those who questioned whether it was proper for him to accept the football tickets, Gousse said, “They had a right to ask.”

He thanked members of the board and school personnel for their “patience, understanding and support.”

“Moving forward, I’m confident I will grow from this experience and I will continue to work hard to listen, to understand and improve,” he said.

After reading the emails he had sent, Gousse told the school board Monday night, “My initial attempt at responding to the questions [about Cross Insurance and the football tickets] wasn’t the right way to do it. You deserve better than that, and I’m going to give you my best. I’m very sorry.”

In initially defending his acceptance of the tickets, Gousse said two weeks ago, “This is something that in my previous district was not at all out of the norm.”

“Yes, that is out of the norm,” said Veronica Bates this week. Bates is a member of the school committee in Westbrook, where Gousse was superintendent before coming to MDI last year. “That is not appropriate.”

Bates was first elected to the Westbrook School Committee in 2010, a few months before Gousse was hired as superintendent.

Bates said Monday that Westbrook school personnel may accept “token” gifts such as pens and other promotional items of nominal value.

“But, to me, not tickets to an event of any kind; I don’t care what the value is,” she said.

Asked if Gousse adhered to school system policies when he was superintendent in Westbrook, Bates said, “Yes, as far as I’m aware, he did.”

 

 

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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