The three outgoing Whitefield representatives on the RSU 12 Board of Directors have weathered several of the district’s trials. As board members Joan Morin, Malinda Caron, and Chair Hilary Holm depart, the three spoke of their experience on the board.
Each expressed pride in and admiration for a board and a district that had a difficult beginning, but transformed into a cohesive school unit delivering high-quality education.
The contributions Morin, Caron, and Holm made to RSU 12 were celebrated by fellow board members and administrators at a reception preceding the RSU 12 Board of Directors’ Thursday, June 16 meeting.
“You’ve made my job easy,” Superintendent Howard Tuttle said.
RSU 12, which includes Alna, Chelsea, Palermo, Somerville, Westport Island, Whitefield, and Windsor, would not be where it is now without the work of Morin, Caron, and Holm, said state Sen. Chris Johnson, who represents Somerville on the board.
“It’s heartwarming to see how the schools and the board are now working together,” Johnson said.
Holm’s involvement with RSU 12 dates back to the process that resulted in the formation of the district. As chair, Holm helped a once divisive board that struggled with the competing interests of the district’s municipalities become a cooperative body.
Morin has served on the board of directors since the formation of RSU 12. She is credited with instituting an interest-based bargaining approach to negotiating union contracts. The approach, which stresses collaboration to develop a win-win solution to disputes, has transformed the relationship between staff, faculty, the board, and administrators, according to board members.
Once contentious union negotiations are now a shared problem-solving exercise that brings everyone together at the table, finance committee Chair Jerry Nault said – the result has strengthened RSU 12 as a district.
Caron served as the RSU 12 representative to the communities considering withdrawal, which included Palermo, Windsor, and Wiscasset, and helped negotiate Wiscasset’s withdrawal contract. Caron also served on the committee that negotiated staff and teacher union negotiations.
“RSU 12 had a rough start,” Holm said. “There were a lot of forced marriage pains in the first years.”
The district formed as the result of former Gov. John Baldacci’s school consolidation initiative, which brought together communities as diverse and geographically distant as Palermo and Westport Island.
“A lot of municipalities didn’t want to be here,” Holm said. In the early days, RSU 12 Board of Directors meetings were divisive, as the communities in the district competed for resources.
In addition, RSU 12 took on the liability of summer payroll for the municipalities in the district, which landed the district $2 million in debt before it even launched, Holm said. Almost 10 years later, RSU 12 is still grappling with a negative fund balance as a result, although it has slowly chipped away at the debt, she said.
Despite its difficult beginning, RSU 12 began to coalesce as a district and a board, Holm said. “We began to understand that we were one board serving multiple schools. That’s the hat we needed to wear rather than advocate for our individual municipality.”
When Caron joined the board, she volunteered to be the RSU 12 representative for the communities seeking withdrawal. The withdrawal efforts in Palermo and Windsor failed at the polls; however, Wiscasset moved forward to establish an independent school district.
The withdrawal processes were hard and involved late-night meetings nearly every night of the week, said Caron, who is also a full-time educator. Working to negotiate the withdrawal agreement with Wiscasset was akin to going through a divorce, Caron said.
Despite the difficulties, “I got to work with a lot of passionate people who really cared about kids and education,” Caron said.
Morin joined the RSU 12 board in 2009, which was a bone of contention for some, due to her professional work as a UniServe Director with the Maine Education Association. Morin ran for the board out of a desire to help overcome some of the divisions that existed in public education – both between the community and the public education system and between administrators, the board, and staff.
Morin accomplished exactly what she joined the board to do. Trained in interest-based bargaining, she helped institute that approach in RSU 12’s union negotiations. “It changed the relationships and those relationships matter,” she said. “That’s what provides a quality education.”
For Holm, one of the accomplishments she is the most proud of was leading the hiring process that brought Tuttle on board as superintendent. “We just threw him into the anthill,” Holm said. “I’m so pleased with how it turned out.”
With a unified board and a strong leader, Holm felt comfortable leaving her post on the board and is confident RSU 12 will continue to move in a positive direction.
In listing off the many accomplishments of Holm, Caron, and Morin, Tuttle thanked them personally for bringing him on board as superintendent and thanked them on behalf of the district. “You will be greatly missed by me and everyone else,” Tuttle said.
While Morin, Caron, and Holm are leaving due to time constraints, each said they may one day seek another term on the board. “It’s been an honor and a privilege and you haven’t seen the last of me,” Holm said.