SAD 29 debates nepotism policy

15 years ago

By Joseph Cyr
Staff Writer

    HOULTON — Concerns over perceived favoritism with two district employees drew heavy discussion Monday as SAD 29 school board members debated the district’s policy on nepotism.
     According to Merriam-Webster, Nepotism is defined as “favoritism (as in appointment to a job) based on kinship.”
    According to SAD 29 Superintendent Stephen Fitzpatrick, state law precludes the hiring of school board members or spouses by a school district. The board’s policy in regards to nepotism is actually stronger than the state law as it includes immediate family members — spouses, brother, sister, parent, son or daughter — under its umbrella of nepotism, meaning those individuals connected to school board members should not be hired by the school district.
    Two current district employees were found to be immediate family members of school board members, prompting the discussion at Monday night’s meeting. Aimee Guy, an education technician at Houlton Elementary School, and Laurie Boutilier, a secretary in the guidance office, are immediately family members of directors Kim Thompson and Sandra Wilkins respectively. Guy is the daughter of Thompson, while Boutilier is the daughter of Wilkins.
    Fitzpatrick said both Guy and Boutilier went through the screening process and recommended to him by the hiring committee as the most qualified individuals for those positions. The two individuals were hired in the 2008-09 school year.
    Fitzpatrick also said the matter did not come up sooner because he was not aware the school’s policy placed tighter restrictions on the hiring of family members.
    The policy does allow for exceptions to the rule, provided they are not spouses. If the board were to rule that a hiring was in the best interest of the district, an exception could be made.
    “The question before us is these are two employees we have and it’s in contradiction to our policy,” Fitzpatrick said. “I had a long discussion with our board’s counsel, and he suggested I have a conversation with you [the board] and indicate a legitimate search for candidates for both positions was conducted.”
    Neither Thompson nor Wilkins were involved with the screening process that resulted in their daughters being hired.
    Any potential conflicts of interest would be addressed, Fitzpatrick said. Neither Thompson, nor Wilkins would be able to participate in negotiations for the support staff bargaining contract.
    “The whole intent of our policy is to give the appearance that there is a hands distance away with regard to the board and the employees of this district,” Fitzpatrick said. “So the question is, ‘What is your comfort level with the current policy and are you satisfied with the process that we have in place that it is in the best interest for those two individuals to be given an exception?’”
    Fitzpatrick added that since the two individuals were “support” personnel, their direct contact with students was not as prevalent as it would be if they were teachers. He also said it was his recommendation that the two employees be allowed to continue in their current roles.
    “Does it present a slippery slope to set parameters, but then go on a case-by-case basis?” asked board member Elizabeth Anderson.
    Fitzpatrick said the slope already existed by the inclusion of the exception clause in the policy.
    “Any time an immediate family member is employed, there is the potential for concern,” he said. “I understand the why of this policy. I also understand the process that was gone through to determine the most qualified candidates. I can assure you there was no coercion with those two employment decisions.”
    “Not at any time have I ever engaged in any contract [negotiations] for my daughter,” Thompson said. “I would not be involved in those [discussions].”
    Thompson added, should the board feel it necessary to terminate her daughter because of her relationship, she would instead resign from her seat on the board.
    “I think we could be setting ourselves up for a problem if we are not really careful,” said board member Bruce Clark. “But I am not sure how we can fix it either.”
    The board voted unanimously, with Thompson and Wilkins abstaining, to acknowledge the relationship and declared it in the best interest of the district to continue the employment of the two individuals.
    In other action, the board approved the following coaching positions: Michael Fogarty, varsity boys basketball; Paul Cleary, eighth grade girls basketball; Jane Dickison, junior high girls soccer; Matthew Swallow, junior varsity boys soccer; Michael Carlos, varsity boys soccer; and Erica Tweedie, junior varsity girls soccer.
    The board entered into executive session to discuss teacher contract negotiations and to discuss the expulsion of a 17-year-old sophomore. Following the executive session the board approved the expulsion.
    The next school board meeting will be held Monday, Oct. 5 at the Superintendent’s Conference Room.