Farmington area schools superintendent and board address director’s political comment

FARMINGTON — Regional School Unit 9 is addressing policies around politics on the Board of Directors following comments made at the Tuesday, June 12, meeting.

During the “Good News Stories” segment of the meeting, new Director Charles “Chip” Hinds made a comment about the recent Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade guaranteeing Americans the constitutional right to an abortion.

“I’m thankful for the Supreme Court’s decision on abortion, recently,” Hinds said. “I think that’s a great thing.”

The comment was not addressed during the meeting, but entered the public’s radar after a local RSU 9 parent posted the video to a community Facebook page.

Following the meeting, Board of Directors Chair Carol Coles said in an interview she feels “very responsible for not immediately calling a point of order when he said what he said.”

Coles and RSU 9 Superintendent Chris Elkington told the Franklin Journal that the “Good News Stories” segment, which happens at every board meeting, is to “celebrate” the successes in the district and its schools.

It’s a time solely for good news stories in RSU 9 and nothing else, Elkington said.

While Coles acknowledged every board member is entitled to their personal beliefs, she said being on the board “is an enormous responsibility, and not a place for us to have squabbles about our personal views.”

“This was inappropriate, because it doesn’t belong in that meeting,” Coles added. “It was not school related.”

Tammy Mayhew, the parent who posted the video, said she did so to make other parents in the district aware.

“I was absolutely shocked … that somebody that a town chose to represent them would behave that way,” Mayhew said. “Typically at that portion of the board meeting, good-news stories are shared about children, something positive that’s happening in our schools … That was extremely political and I personally feel it was very much in poor taste.”

“That was not the time to bring up … what you support politically,” she added. “It’s a school board meeting and you’re supposed to be representing everybody, not sort of airing your own political views.”

Coles said she ultimately regrets not addressing the comment at that moment, calling a point of order with her gavel and explaining “why that was out of line.”

“I just was stunned and didn’t respond,” Coles said. “I was taken aback when he said what he said. I didn’t respond and in retrospect I should have.”

She also said that due to some procedural seat changes, she did not have her gavel in front of her as she normally would.

“I looked at the video later and both the superintendent and I are just looking down at our table in the immediate aftermath of this statement,” she said.

However, Coles acknowledged that Hinds may not have known the intent of the Good News Stories segment, nor the policies on the general behavior of the board.

“I think this was just a fact of this person not being aware of how inappropriate the comment was,” Coles said. “He felt it was good news, but it wasn’t relevant to RSU 9 and its students.”

July 12 was Hinds’ first meeting on the board after winning the New Vineyard election over former Director Lisa Laflin in June.

Coles said that whether or not she agreed with his beliefs, she is “upset” with the comment because “it brings something in from outside of our workload to be dealt with when we didn’t need to have to deal with anything more than what we’re already dealing with as a board, which is plenty.”

“Politics isn’t supposed to come in and be involved in [board proceedings],” Elkington said.

Coles said she has appreciated the diversity of beliefs on the board over the years.

“I think we have a very diverse board. And we’ve succeeded in hearing each other and listening to each other,” Coles said. “I want that diversity – I want far left, far right, the middle and I want us to work together because I think that society at large needs democracy.”

The board has “weathered some storms,” especially during the pandemic, but Coles said “we have mutual goals to accomplish.”

“This last year, the board worked very well together and was not political, did not pick political conversation, in reference to a lot of the tough issues we’ve dealt with,” Elkington said. “We were so successful last year because we did not cross politics, we just stuck with … school board policy and stuff about students and staff.

“From the board members that I have spoken with, they would like that to continue. They would not like to see politics become part of an RSU 9 school board meeting.”

Elkington said RSU 9 is a part of the “minority” of school boards around the country where politics have not infiltrated board proceedings or created “raucous and difficult meetings.”

“If politics were to enter board meetings, we would lose the working together that has been part of what the board has tried to do these last few years,” Elkington said. ” I would not want to have to participate in that kind of work because it’ll take us away from doing the good work for kids and staff in our communities.”

Elkington said that ahead of the meeting, the new directors underwent an orientation to learn about the board’s policies. But not everything can be covered in one training session, he said.

“We thought we were quite clear about what you can do as a person in terms of your First Amendment rights, and also what the expectations are of a board member,” Coles said.

But, she added, “you learn to be on the board kind of gradually.”

The RSU 9 Board of Directors will also undergo a “refresher” that happens every couple of years for board members old and new “to remind us of the expectations because its just a huge, huge thing to be responsible for the 2,500 children, 500 staff.”

Coles said she ultimately wants to ensure the focus of these meetings is directed back to how the board can support the district and its students.

“We want success for our children … We want a good working environment for our teachers and staff and administrators,” Coles said. “We want good buildings, we want safe schools. We want adequate budgets. We’ve got plenty to work on.”

Moving forward, Coles and Vice Chair Debbie Smith – who Coles said shares her concerns – plan to have a conversation in the near future with Hinds and explain the policies of the board, as well as the intent of Good News Stories.

Mayhew also said that it’s an important reminder for the public to be engaged in school-district board proceedings and regularly attend the meetings.

Mayhew wants board members to be held to account and know “it doesn’t matter which party you belong to, you are there for the betterment of our school community.”

Hinds did not respond to a request for comment by time of press.

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