Merlino ousted as School Board chairman

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BETHEL — It took three rounds of voting Monday for the SAD 44 Board of Directors to elect a chairman.

Marcel Polak of Woodstock defeated incumbent Chairman Larry Merlino of Greenwood in an 8-6 vote. Polak and Merlino were the only members nominated. Merlino had served as chairman for the past year.

Before the first vote, Merlino and Polak were asked to comment on why they sought the chairman position. After two rounds of 7-7 ties, it came back to another discussion.

Changes to the superintendent evaluation process were one of the topics discussed by each candidate.

Merlino brought up the idea of changing the form.

“The form itself has some flaws,” Merlino said. “The first area we should discuss and get involved with is that form.”

Merlino proposed simplifying the form and suggested that each member of the board should have a copy of it during the school year.

“Each individual is an evaluator and they need to evaluate the superintendent during the course of the year, not at the end of the year trying to remember what happened six to eight months ago,” Merlino added.

Polak concurred with Merlino’s thoughts on the form’s ineffectiveness, and suggested looking at other school boards to see how they have simplified the evaluation process.

“We owe it to the superintendent to do this efficiently, that’s important to me,” Polak said.

Personal view 

Each candidate was posed the question of how he views the position of chairman.

Polak wanted to see members educated on each topic they vote on and said this happens with every member being involved.

“It is really important for me to see that this board is engaged,” Polak said. “I think it’s important to encourage people to speak so that there is a really broad discussion.”

Merlino agreed that members need to be engaged and said they should steer some of their focus toward the community itself.

“We need to get out in the community and get active in the community,” Merlino said. “If you’re going to be elected by four towns it’s even more important you get out in the community, because it’s not just the community you come from, it’s the four towns.”

Polak agreed and included his personal experiences of engaging within his own community. Polak was one of the founders of the Mahoosuc Land Trust, and he founded the Androscoggin Watershed Council, where he saw people with with diverse interests work together.

“My whole career is engaging in this community. I deeply believe that it’s really critical,” he said.

Merlino worked as an ambassador at Sunday River for years, he said, where he learned a lot about the importance of community engagement.

The vote went to the third round at the conclusion of the discussion.

Director Amy Forbes DeVivo of Bethel was absent.

The changed vote in favor of Polak was made by Kelly Scott of Newry

Other positions 

Bonnie Largess of Newry was elected vice-chairman unopposed. Polak had filled the role for the past year. Kelly Scott of Newry and Lainey Cross of Bethel were nominated for vice-chairman pro-tempore. Cross defeated Scott 11-3. Largess had served for the past year.

Other news

In the superintendent’s report, Superintendent Dave Murphy touched on resignations and upcoming retirements of teachers in the school system. He also listed newcomers that would be joining the Telstar teaching and coaching staff.

Murphy updated members on the progress of Telstar’s 50th anniversary committee and says the school plans to have banners in place for the first day of school. He also briefly mentioned the status of proficiency-based diplomas.

Approval of a new law this summer now allows school districts in Maine to choose whether to use proficiency-based diplomas or other graduation standards. Murphy said the Department of Education issued information still favoring a proficiency based system, but thinks the decision will be up to individual school districts.

A tentative date of Oct. 3 was discussed for the public hearing on the cost sharing referendum question, which will be on the Nov. 6 ballot. Murphy said holding the meeting a month prior should give people time to be “well informed” of what’s happening.

The board meeting was the first held in more than two months.

The next Board of Directors meeting is on Sep. 10 at 6:30 p.m. at the Telstar Library.

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