December 19, 2013

Winthrop school superintendent gets contract extension

Gary Rosenthal now has a contract that lasts until 2016.

By Susan McMillan smcmillan@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

WINTHROP — Finance staff are turning over, but Winthrop Public Schools and Alternative Organizational Structure 97 will have continuity of leadership thanks to an extension of Superintendent Gary Rosenthal’s contract.

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AOS 97 Superintendent Gary Rosenthal

Staff file photo by Andy Molloy

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The board of AOS 97, which includes Winthrop public schools and the Fayette School Department, added a year to Rosenthal’s contract following his annual evaluation in an executive session Wednesday night. Rosenthal has been superintendent of the AOS since 2011, and his contract now lasts until 2016.

Also on Wednesday, the school boards of Winthrop and the AOS accepted the resignation of Cherie Merrill, who had been financial control officer for the AOS and the budget coordinator and school nutrition director for Winthrop since 2011, and the retirement of bookkeeper and accounts payable clerk Elaine Morse.

The school boards approved Rosenthal’s recommendation to fill two of Merrill’s three roles by hiring Cathy Massey of Winthrop as budget coordinator and AOS payroll specialist. Rosenthal said Massey has been doing interim work for the schools in Merrill’s absence.

Merrill was placed on administrative leave in September because of a personnel issue that Rosenthal would not identify, and she went on medical leave a few days later. She has since moved to Texas, where her husband has found a job, Rosenthal said.

Massey will work one day a week and be paid $6,500 as Winthrop’s budget coordinator, which Rosenthal described as a data-entry position. That’s about 40 percent less than Merrill was being paid.

As AOS payroll specialist, Massey will work three days a week and earn $17.44 per hour, about $1 per hour less than Merrill’s pay.

Rosenthal said he will discuss with other Winthrop school leaders what to do to fill the last of the roles Merrill is vacating, school nutrition director. In the meantime, he’s overseeing the nutrition program.

Winthrop Public Schools has come under scrutiny this year for its financial management. A special audit report identified several poor accounting practices and areas of concern, including the presence of taxpayer money in school activity accounts, several accounts with Winthrop’s tax identification number that were outside school district or town control, and deficits in the school nutrition program.

Rosenthal has said that the school district has fixed problems that were easily within reach and created plans for others that will take more time. In addition, the school budget for this year, pending before Town Council, will put the nutrition program in the black.

AOS 97 also faces potential litigation after the Maine Human Rights Commission this week found grounds to believe that a former employee was subjected to discrimination and retaliation. Jennifer Ma Sims, whose contract was not renewed in 2012, claims that she was a victim of discrimination because of her race, ancestry and national origin, and a victim of whistleblower retaliation after she told a school board member that the school nutrition director was being paid from the wrong fund.

Also on Wednesday, the AOS school board scheduled a meeting for 6:30 p.m. on Jan. 22 in Fayette to vote on Fayette’s withdrawal from the AOS.

In November, Fayette voters instructed the town’s school committee to prepare a withdrawal plan. It must be approved by the AOS board, the education commissioner and then Fayette voters.

Four of the six members of the AOS school board are from Winthrop, so at least two of them would have to vote for the withdrawal plan for it to reach the required two-thirds threshold.

“I would like to think that we from Winthrop would support what the Fayette members come to us with for their recommendation,” said Ike Dyer, the board’s co-chairman from Winthrop. “But we have the vote whether it proceeds.”

Supporters of Fayette’s withdrawal say they want more local control and their own part-time superintendent instead of sharing leadership with the much bigger district in Winthrop.

Susan McMillan — 621-5645smcmillan@centralmaine.comTwitter: @s_e_mcmillan@s_e_mcmillan

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