Olsen to head SAD 17 directors

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Diana Olsen from Otisfield reacts to her election at the July 16 meeting as chairman of the Board of Directors.

PARIS — Diana Olsen of Otisfield was elected as chairman of the SAD 17 Board of Directors, replacing veteran chairman Ron Kugell who decided not to seek re-election after 20 years at the helm.

In a 385 to 523 weighted vote, Olsen beat out opponent Natalie Andrews of West Paris. Both candidates had declared their candidacy prior to the election and were given three minutes to make a statement.

Ron Kugell, holding a plaque presented by Superintendent Rick Colpitts, receives a standing ovation from his board for his many years as chairman.

Olsen, who taught in the University of Maine system for many years, said she hopes to move student academic success forward and will focus on curriculum needs, resources, special education and other issues.

Andrews, who works as the assessor for the town of Norway, said she sees a lot of strong personalities on the board, but the cohesiveness of the board is one of its strong suits.

“I think our strength is our diverseness,” she said.

The majority of board members voted to elect the chairman on a written ballot, rather than a hand count. A 51 percent majority was necessary to win.

The secret ballot asked for the board member’s town to be identified so that a weighted vote could be used.

The weighted vote is based on town population, which also determines the number of representatives each town is able to elect to the board. For example, Paris sends four representatives, while Hebron sends two.

In a weighted vote, for example, Hebron representatives Elizabeth Swift and Lew Williams each get 40 votes while Paris directors Sarah Otterson,  Bob Jewell and Henry Raymond each get 56 votes. There is no provision for absentee ballots.

Both candidates entertained questions from fellow board members including one from Norway representative Stephen Cummings who questioned Olsen’s work history.

“If you get elected, I’m done,” Cummings said to Olsen, after expressing his “problem” with having a former educator directing the 22-member board.

Norway Director Stephen Cummings got up and left the July 16 SAD 17 Board of Directors meetings after Diana Olsen of Otisfield won election as chairman. Olsen  glances at him as other directors laugh at some unrelated conversation. Former Chairman Ron Kugell, seated in the foreground, took a seat at the table with his fellow directors after Cummings departure.

After congratulating Olsen on a “good job” as she walked to the front of the table to take her seat as chairman, Cummings got up, left the meeting and did not return before it ended. Superintendent Rick Colpitts confirmed that Cummings called him later to say he was not resigning.

Mixed emotions

Before presenting Kugell with a plaque, Colpitts lauded Kugell for his long-time work as chairman and for his friendship. Kugell, a 30-plus-year veteran of the school board and longtime chairman, has been a part of the district since 1961, teaching math and science and eventually serving as the Oxford Hills High School assistant principal from the mid-1970s until 1983.

In what he called his “swan song,” Kugell said he was retiring as chairman “with mixed emotions.” He will remain on the board at least through the end of his three-year term in 2019.

“I think you’re a great bunch of people. We’ll all part as friends,“ he said, before taking a seat on the side of the board table to participate in and await the results of the contested.

In addition to Olsen, board members re-elected Dr. Donald Ware as vice chairman.

The board also unanimously elected four board members to serve on the Finance Committee, as required by law. The board chairman sits on the Finance Committee, along with four elected members. Bob Jewell, Barry Patrie and Al Lisowski and Lew Williams were re-elected.

Debra Hertell was appointed voter registration clerk for the district meetings. The appointment is also required by law.

In other news, Colpitts told board members that he has decided to table a vote on proficiency based education grading system for at least a year.

“I’m not taking it off the table,” he said. The board has approved proficiency education, but like other school districts, the issue of how to report out – or grade – a student’s skill has been controversial.

A forum in June, attended by about 50 community members and educators, was “a great opportunity for learning” said Colpitts and many questions were asked. Colpitts said he will take this year to find the answers. He also credited the team of teachers and administrators who presented at the forum and have worked for a number of years on proficiency based education.

ldixon@sunmediagroup.net