WATERVILLE — The city’s Board of Education voted 4-3 on Monday to hire an assistant superintendent, after a lengthy debate in which supporters said the superintendent’s job is beyond what one person can do, and opponents argued that a vote should be postponed until more discussion is had and a job description is at hand.

“In my view, it’s too much for one person to do if we’re going to go beyond what’s essential to keep the ship afloat,” board chair Joan Phillips-Sandy said.

The board also took the first of 2 votes needed to approve a proposed school budget of $28.6 million for 2022-23, which represents a 7.99% increase over the current budget. The vote was 7-0. The increases are reflected in the salaries of education technicians, planned increases in teacher salaries, increases in medical insurance and snow removal.

Phillips-Sandy cited a long list of tasks Superintendent Eric Haley can’t do because he’s so busy with other work. Haley had planned to retire this year, but a search committee found no candidate officials thought fit for Waterville. Haley has agreed to stay on for another year, and a new job search process is expected to begin in the fall.

Phillips-Sandy and board members Pam Trinward, Patricia Helm and Elizabeth Bickford voted to hire the assistant, and board members Greg Bazakas, Maryanne Bernier and Spencer Krigbaum voted against.

Haley and Phillips-Sandy earlier this year had broached the idea of ​​hiring an assistant superintendent, but several parents objected to the idea and the discussion ended.

Phillips-Sandy said Monday that most school districts the size of Waterville have an assistant. She said she was worried that if Haley had to be away for an emergency, there would be no one to replace him. Haley was supposed to have hip replacement surgery earlier this year, but didn’t because of it.

Haley doesn’t have time to liaise with homeless students, of whom there are 60 in the district, according to Phillips-Sandy. It used to be the job of the assistant superintendent. Haley recently arrived less than two days after missing a grant application deadline to get $36,000 from the state to help homeless students. The district received the funds, but had an assistant superintendent been in place, the application would have been handled sooner by that person, Phillips-Sandy said.

There is also no one to deal with complaints from parents and guardians, which is an important but time-consuming part of the job, and an assistant would do that, according to Phillips-Sandy. An assistant could learn about district finances, budgets, and building construction issues, which would enable the hiring of a new superintendent who may not have those skills but is strong in other areas, she said. Haley would also have time to work and network with area colleges and could spend more time at district schools, she said.

When Haley had an assistant, he was able to network with business leaders like he did when he was a member of the Waterville Rotary Club, according to Phillips-Sandy. Haley has a lot of community ties and when he retires next year, those ties will be gone, she said.

Superintendent of Winslow Schools Peter Thiboutot Morning Sentinel file photo by Michael G. Seamans

Waterville employed an assistant superintendent for many years, the last of whom was Peter Thiboutot who is now superintendent of schools in Winslow. Thiboutot was assistant superintendent for the alternative organizational structure 92, which included Waterville, Winslow and Vassalboro. This structure, whose superintendent was Haley, dissolved in 2018 after nine years, and Winslow hired Thiboutot as superintendent. Waterville reverted to Waterville Public Schools with Haley as superintendent, with no assistants.

Haley said the assistant position would be funded by federal CARES Act money for at least two years and that he had verified that it was an appropriate expenditure of those funds.

Council member Greg Bazakis and others suggested COVID-19 funds should be used to help students with learning loss in areas such as math and reading due to the pandemic, and for teachers alternates. Haley said he couldn’t reach the 60 families of homeless students who needed help. An assistant superintendent would be responsible for alternates and lead a program committee, which is one of several Haley said he now heads. He said he received more than 150 emails a day and had to prioritize which ones he needed to respond to within two days.

“I just think you’re going to be in the same situation, with no options, a year from now if you don’t do anything to protect yourself,” Haley said.

Trinward said the district would never find a superintendent like Haley, who works evenings and weekends.

“I can’t tell you when he took a week off,” she said.

An assistant could apply for grants and there’s a lot of untapped money out there, according to Trinward.

Bazakas argued that it would be difficult to find an assistant superintendent who would quit now, but Trinward said managers would because they would see it as a promotion. Bazakas asked what happens when the COVID-19 money runs out.

“Is this a terminal position? How does it work?” he said.

Haley said a two- or three-year contract could be offered to a candidate. The new assistant would be free to apply for the post of superintendent “but it will be a competitive thing”, he said.

Several people in the audience stood up to support or oppose the hiring of an assistant. Mayor Jay Coelho said he’s back and forth on the issue, but he thinks the district needs to hire one.

“We can do better,” he said. “We can run the region. I think Eric needs help.

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