WATERVILLE — A committee of the Waterville Board of Education will meet Thursday to review the school’s administrative hiring policy after members of the board criticized Superintendent Eric Haley’s decision to transfer administrators to other positions without board approval.
The hiring policy, adopted April 8, 1996, and reaffirmed by the School Board Dec. 14, 2020, says that any time an administrative opening occurs in the public school system, it shall be posted digitally for a minimum of 10 days.
“The applications shall remain open until such time that a suitable candidate is found,” it says. “If need be, the Superintendent of Schools may nominate, with Board approval, an acting administrator until such time as the position is filled permanently.”
Haley made four transfers after George J. Mitchell School Principal Allan Martin announced that this would be his last year as principal.
Haley moved Kim Taylor, assistant principal at Waterville Senior High School, into Martin’s spot; Carole Gilley, principal of Waterville Junior High School, into Taylor’s high school assistant principal position; and Doug Frame, assistant principal of the junior high, into the school system’s facilities, or maintenance, director’s slot. With Mary Boyle, Waterville schools’ curriculum director, retiring this year, Haley moved Jen Allen into Boyle’s spot. Allen is a literacy specialist at both the Mitchell and Albert S. Hall schools.
Facilities Director Shelley Phillips resigned her position in Waterville to work full time for Winslow and Vassalboro schools, where she had been contracted out by Waterville to also direct Winslow and Vassalboro maintenance. Because of all the changes in facilities due to the coronavirus pandemic, the workload was too much for one person and Phillips had a choice whether to remain in Waterville or move to the Winslow-Vassalboro position and chose the latter, which was where she started her career.
At the March 22 Waterville Board of Education meeting, Haley apologized to board members for notifying faculty who work at the schools where transfers would take place before notifying board members, saying that he and former Waterville superintendents had regularly made such transfers.
Board member Greg Bazakas said the schools’ administrative policy clearly states that open administrative positions should come to the board for approval, but both Haley and Board Chairperson Joan Phillips-Sandy said they read the policy differently.
“I never interpreted it to mean I couldn’t transfer somebody,” Haley said Monday.
He said he believes the transfers represent what is best for the Waterville School system.
“I wish we weren’t embroiled in this, but we’ll work our way out of it,” he said, adding that the school board is a good group.
Also at the March 22 meeting, Bazakas asked to make a motion to rescind the transfers and bring the positions to the board for consideration, but Phillips-Sandy recommended getting a legal opinion before doing so. Asked Monday if Haley had received a legal opinion, he said he had.
“The board needs to hear it first in executive session April 12,” he said.
The board at that meeting will hear what the committee will have discussed Thursday and consider possible changes to the administrative hiring policy.
“We think the policy is poorly written and should be more direct so that it specifies,” Haley said.
He said that, during the 21 years he has been superintendent, he made transfers all the time, as did previous superintendents. Haley said that he, himself, is a product of transfers. He was transferred from Waterville’s assistant high school principal to principal years ago, and then later he was transferred to superintendent.
He said Martin’s retirement created a set of openings that, if the policy is to be interpreted as requiring board approval, would mean advertising each for 10 days, interviewing, negotiating and hiring, which could take all summer. For three or four people, the process could go into June or early July when the chances of hiring good candidates decreases, according to Haley.
Policy committee members are Jane Lee, who represents teachers; Phillips-Sandy and school board member Pam Trinward, representing the school board; high school Principal Brian Laramee, who represents school administrators; and Haley. That committee meets once a month and can make recommendations, but does not have authority to make decisions or changes, according to Haley. The committee last looked at the administrative hiring policy last year, and the policy received unanimous reaffirmation by the board in December, he said.
Haley said no contracts have been signed for the people he transferred into other positions, so they are not cast in stone. He said the Waterville School Board may consider the transfers April 26.
Meanwhile, Bazakas said Monday in a phone interview that the administrative hiring policy does not allow for transfers.
“It appears, from face value, that appointments Eric made are in violation of the policy, so it’s not clear that he’s allowed to make those appointments,” he said.
Bazakas said he has served on several hiring committees, both as a parent and teacher — he is a former teacher — and there’s a clear description about what the process is supposed to include, such as listing, posting and interviewing. A list of questions are formulated, committee members take notes, candidates are rated, and all that information is placed in a candidate’s hiring file.
“If someone has a problem with the hiring process, there’s a lot of information to fall back on,” Bazakas said. “So when you have a superintendent just doing the hiring on his own, that’s based on who the superintendent knows and how the superintendent feels about that person.”
Bazakas said allowing that to happen opens the school system up to unfair hiring practices, if someone else in the district wants the job, for instance. There is also a lot of potential for abuse, Bazakas, said, though he emphasized he was not saying Haley abused the system or is not a good superintendent.
He said he has heard from constituents who oppose Haley’s administrative transfers and expressed a range of reasons and rationales for why they oppose them.