Buxton police stood between fired-up parents and School Administrative District 6 directors late Tuesday night after the board announced its nepotism policy had been violated but that there was no disciplinary action against the superintendent, whose son worked in the district.
The school board’s lack of punishment for Superintendent Frank Sherburne riled several from the public, who were vociferous at meeting’s end, and Buxton police officers stepped in.
“It’s not going away,” Richard Bourgeois-Lang of Buxton, flanked by an officer, shouted to the board.
It was the second day of turmoil in the district. On Monday, a parent was escorted by police from a school board meeting, and on Tuesday, vandalism canceled classes at Bonny Eagle High School.
The nepotism matter stems from the February hiring of Zachariah Sherburne, 23, son of Frank Sherburne. Zachariah Sherburne, who worked as an educational technician at Buxton Center Elementary School, was arrested on sex charges on March 15 involving a 16-year old girl in another school district where he had previously worked.
Zachariah Sherburne worked as an educational technician at SAD 55 in Hiram from November last year until Feb. 12. He was hired at SAD 6 and worked there from Feb. 8 to March 11, four days before being arrested on March 15 by Oxford County Sheriff’s Office on a warrant charging gross sexual assault. He was also charged with sexual abuse of a minor. According to a court document, an Oxford County Sheriff’s Office detective charged that Zachariah Sherburne committed gross sexual assault on Feb. 12 at the Kezar Falls Fire Department.
Frank Sherburne’s five-year contract with SAD 6 began July 1, 2014, and runs through June 30, 2019. Sherburne’s salary for the 2015-16 year is $122,000 but his salary for the school year beginning July 1 has not been set yet by the board, according to an email Tuesday from Hedy Smith, executive secretary. The school board passed its $48.1 million budget Monday.
When asked by the American Journal following Monday’s school budget meeting if he had a comment about the nepotism issue, Frank Sherburne said, “No.”
The school district nepotism policy states that family members of the school board and superintendent are prohibited from working for the district, but the board could approve exceptions. A three-member panel appointed by the school board investigated the nepotism allegations.
After meeting Tuesday behind closed doors with two lawyers and Sherburne, the school board issued a statement, read by Bradley Garand, a school board member from Buxton.
“After consideration of the results of the investigation into the circumstances surrounding the employment by the district of the superintendent’s son, the MSAD 6 Board of Directors has determined that the chair and the vice chair agreed that the superintendent’s son should be permitted to initiate an application process with the district,” Garand read.
“The district’s nepotism policy was violated when the superintendent failed to bring that candidacy for employment to the full board for approval after the interview process was completed. This decision displayed a lapse in judgment by the superintendent, and he has accepted responsibility for it, but the board is convinced that the extraordinary circumstances outlined in the nepotism policy existed, and that the decisions made by the superintendent, the chair and vice-chair were made in good faith and with the best interest of the district in mind. The board is taking steps to address the personnel matter.”
The SAD 6 chairwoman is Rebecca Bowley of Hollis and vice chairman is Jacob Stoddard of Buxton.
Upset parents, who waited four hours while the school board met behind closed doors in the personnel matter, targeted the board with a barrage of heated words, some profanity-laced. As board members scurried from the room, one member of the public yelled out, “You should all be ashamed of yourselves.”
Some parents want Frank Sherburne ousted. Outside the SAD 6 central office headquarters in Buxton before the meeting, parent Amanda Cooper of Buxton, mother of a second-grader and wife of an SAD 6 employee, said, “I don’t understand why he is here.”
Jennifer Connors of Standish, a mother of two Bonny Eagle High School students, said, “I question what’s going on behind closed doors.”
The board first met with its lawyers, Elek Miller and Melissa Hewey of the Drummond Woodsum law firm, in executive session Tuesday. The board then voted to go into a second executive session about a personnel matter.
The school board did not allow any public comment.
“They won’t let the public have a voice. How fair is that,” Bourgeois-Lang said.
At a school board meeting Monday, his wife, Melissa Bourgeois-Lang, broke down in tears. They held up signs from their seats in Monday’s meeting. Her sign read, “School board – who are you protecting – yourselves or our children.”
Then, following an outburst, she was escorted out by Buxton Police Officer Jim Bradbury. Police said she walked toward the school board members.
On Tuesday, Daniel J. Kasprzyk, a school board member from Standish, attempted to add an agenda item to allow a policy and procedure discussion that would have allowed public comment. But the board defeated his motion.
“They’re bullies,” Melissa Bourgeois-Lang said.
Bonita Usher of Buxton, grandmother of an SAD 6 student, said Wednesday that parents have a right to voice their opinions. She said there needs to be open dialogue.
“They (school board members) are there to serve parents of the children,” Usher said. “What are they afraid of?”
Usher was one of more than 100 people who signed a petition spurred by the nepotism issue. Cooper, who also signed it, said another petition has 144 signatures.
Meanwhile, Anne Gabbianelli, director of communications at the Maine Department of Education, said ed techs must apply for “authorization and approval” (criminal records history check). The department has no credentials on file for Zachariah Sherburne, Gabbianelli said.
According to an executive summary of the SAD 6 investigation, made available Tuesday, the certification office at the Department of Education received Zachariah Sherburne’s application on Feb. 2. In mid-February, the Department of Education sent Zachariah Sherburne a letter notifying that his application for authorization was incomplete because unofficial (rather then official) copies of transcripts were submitted, according to the investigation summary.
The summary reports that Zachariah Sherburne applied on Jan. 27 for educational technician positions at Buxton Center Elementary and Bonny Eagle Middle School and interviewed at both schools on Feb. 1. He was offered a position on Feb. 3-4 at Buxton Center, contingent on Department of Education approval and central office paperwork.
The SAD 6 investigation summary reports that the superintendent and others in SAD 6 learned of allegations against Zachariah Sherburne on March 11 from the Department of Health and Human Services. The SAD 6 report also states that Zachariah Sherburne resigned from SAD 6 on March 11-12. The summary also says that on March 15, Frank Sherburne informed the school board chairwoman about the allegations.
Gabbianelli also said Wednesday her department has received two complaints relative to SAD 6. She did not reveal who filed the complaints.
“The Maine Department of Education is unable to comment on investigations, or lack thereof, regarding school employees. That information is confidential per statute unless there is a finding or credentialing action that has been taken,” she wrote in a response to an American Journal inquiry about complaints from SAD 6 residents.
Buxton Police Chief Troy Cline said Tuesday that the presence of police at the two school board meetings this week was a proactive measure to ensure safety of everyone there.
“We’re not there to stop freedom of speech,” Cline said.
Melissa and Richard Bourgeois-Lang of Buxton meet with TV reporters outside SAD 6 central office Monday. Melissa Bourgeois-Lang was later escorted out by Buxton police after her outburst in the SAD 6 board meeting.
Buxton Police Officer Frank Pulsoni keeps upset parents at bay at the end of the Maine School Administrative District 6 special meeting Tuesday in Buxton.
SAD 6 Tuesday 2
Buxton Police Officer Michael Nourse stands by as a Buxton parent, Richard Bourgeois-Lang, shouts his opinion about the SAD 6 school board’s handling of a nepotism issue Tuesday.
Melissa Bourgeois-Lang of Buxton is pictured before being escorted by police from Monday’s SAD 6 meeting.
SAD 6 Superintendent Frank Sherburne, white shirt in background, in Monday’s school board meeting is flanked by Rebecca Bowley of Hollis, chairwoman of the district’s board of director, right of Sherburne, and Jacob Stoddard of Buxton, school board vice chairman.
SAD 6 Superintendent Frank Sherburne is pictured on a TV monitor during Monday’s school board meeting in the district’s central office in Buxton.
Monday’s SAD 6 crowd