School Board Leadership Collapses as Interim Superintendent Situation Unfolds

Everett Beals, Staff Writer

On September 26, 2019 – just 17 days after her hiring on the 9th of the same month – the RSU 21 School Board of Directors moved to accept the resignation of interim superintendent Dr. Maryann Perry, a decision which they have described as a “mutual agreement.”


Perry, hired by unanimous vote last month, was involved in a large controversy in the district where she had previously served in the capacity of superintendent in Marblehead, Massachusetts. The situation, which led to months of public outcry at the beginning of 2019, involved the mishandling of some $600,000 in district special education funding from FY 2018, paid off with FY 2019’s budget. These actions constituted a violation of Massachusetts state law, and contributed to her resignation in February. Read our article on this here.


Following the announcement of her hiring, multiple press organizations – The Herd among them – as well as the school community at large became familiar with the circumstances surrounding her earlier work. The information was clearly troubling to many, including board members, as evidenced by a proposal in an emergency school board session just three days after Perry’s hiring to launch an investigation into the selection process. Forums such as “3 Towns, 1 Community and “KBK Moms” on Facebook were frequently host to critical posts and cries for answers, sources familiar with the platforms indicated to The Herd. 


From the developments arose a variety of questions, including some regarding a job she had accepted in late June of 2019. Multiple press sources, including the Salem News and the Bangor Daily News briefly remarked on an “incident” or “situation” regarding the position of principal that she had taken at St. Mary’s School, a private institution in Winchester, Massachusetts. The Herd reached out to the school seeking comment on why she ultimately moved on from the position to work at RSU 21, and was deferred to the Archdiocese of Boston’s Public Relations team. Further investigation suggested she decided against working at St. Mary’s after advancing in the RSU 21 hiring process. The Herd questions the slanted use of language by other publications in reporting on this, since a July St. Mary’s Facebook post stated that she had simply decided to take a job she was already in line for. 


Two days before the submission and acceptance of Perry’s resignation, board chairwoman MaryBeth Luce announced her own resignation, joined by vice-chair Mike Mosher, who indicated that he would also step down from his leadership position but remain a member of the school board. A district press release quotes Luce as saying, “Last week, I apologized on behalf of the board for not meeting community expectations during the hiring process of the interim superintendent. Today, I am stepping aside to allow for new leadership to move us forward.” Mosher reciprocated her sentiments and stressed the need for district leadership to not lose sight of matters more directly related to students, such as school start times and diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. 


The press release summarizes Luce’s statements from a September 25 meeting, where she explained, in part, the rationale behind the hiring process. While claiming to have followed all proper procedures for the hiring process itself, Luce conceded that board members neglected to conduct investigations, personal or otherwise, into publicly available information regarding the leading candidate. Luce noted that their actions were in line with standards set by the Maine Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination in the hiring process towards a variety of protected classes. Making an internet search relating to a confidential hiring, she said, runs the risk of “bringing bias against any protected class status into the decision-making process.” Luce went on to note that the Maine School Management Association, the leading advisory organization in the state for school boards, suggests that a third-party, non-voting individual be brought in to investigate and report on the candidate to avoid bias and comply with the mandates of the legislation. “Unfortunately,” she said, “[this] advice was not incorporated into the committee’s recommended hiring process, and that’s where we let the community down.” 


This move marked the end of Luce’s six years of volunteer service for the district. In her letter of resignation, she remarked on the importance of being able to step back and allow space for new ideas as a virtue for good leadership. Ultimately, Luce defended the board’s initial decision, stating that a majority of board members stood by their initial judgement of Perry’s merits. 


Dr. Perry, despite being just four days short of the official beginning of her term, will be compensated in $8,878 for her work, with a severance pay of $13,000. 


On September 26th, the school board voted in a unanimous, 8-0 decision to appoint Dr. Philip Potenziano as interim superintendent for the rest of this school year. Potenziano, formerly the assistant superintendent, had in may ways already been acting in this capacity since the resignation of Dr. Kathryn Hawes. He will take on the new position full-time, with the board now having appointed Meg Parkhurst to serve as interim assistant superintendent. Before this, she had been assistant principal at MSK.  


The Herd recently conducted an interview with Dr. Potenziano, which will published soon.