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Following email, board director announces resignation

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Student representative Griffin Mayhew, left, and Directors Iris Silverstein of Farmington (out of picture), Irving Faunce of Wilton, center, and Robert Patterson of Industry, right, listen as Director Jennifer Pooler reads her letter of resignation at Thursday’s board meeting.

[Update: We’ve updated this story with excerpts from another email, sent on June 6 to four directors by Nancy Porter]

FARMINGTON – A school board director announced she was leaving the board Thursday, approximately a week after receiving an email demanding her resignation.

Director Jennifer Pooler of New Sharon announced her resignation at the start of Thursday’s special board meeting, reading from a letter she had previously submitted to the New Sharon board of selectmen. In it, she cited an increased difficulty in serving on the board, due to being “verbally attacked at board meetings, received offensive, slanderous and threatening emails, and most recently an email requesting my resignation.”

“We would not allow the students in our district to behave in such a disrespectful manner without acknowledgement and consequence, and I don’t believe the adults should either,” Pooler said.

One of the emails in question was sent on June 6 by Nancy Porter, a former director, former selectman and Farmington resident, who has advocated publicly against the board’s school budget recommendations over the past few years, to four directors’ district email accounts. Under the subject line of “No signs,” Porter informed the directors, including Pooler, that “the NO side” had lost 40 signs last year “thanks to your henchmen.”

She went on to accuse the district of holding an illegal budget meeting on May 31, warned that there “WILL BE A RIOT” at a board meeting if directors hired a principal at the same pay level as an outgoing administrator and accused the four directors the email targeted, all of whom were women, as being “[Superintendent] Tom’s [Ward] ‘girls’.”

“You vote anyway he tells you to,” Porter said. “And the one thing you need to remember….. YOU ALL REPRESENT THE PEOPLE WHO VOTED FOR YOU. NONE of you do that.”

She went on to single out Pooler: “Jennifer Pooler has voted FOR the Budget repeatedly, when the Town of New Sharon has voted strongly AGAINST the Budget. I’m surprised she dares to walk around town. Just shows who she truly represents.”

The first email concluded with a warning that the directors should “spread the word that your henchmen” better leave “our signs” alone.

A second email was sent on June 14 to several, but not all, school board directors by Porter. Under the subject line of “Support YOUR town!” Porter criticized a number of directors for their votes, telling them that they should be “representing YOUR tax payers, NOT the school.”

“Jennifer Pooler, when called out on her vote last year, said she voted her conscience,” Porter wrote in the email. “Well, that’s a very good reason to resign, Jennifer. If any of you can’t support your town, GET OFF THE BOARD! You are NOT doing anyone any favors by sitting there doing exactly what the tax payers DON’T want you to do.”

Porter went on to demand that directors not “come back with some pitiful $200,000 reduction” and cut at least $80,000 out of Article 1: Regular Instruction due to retirements.

Directors would later cut $344,524 out of the budget on June 29. Thursday evening, having received an additional $730,000 in state subsidy following the passage of the new state budget, the board added $186,358 to fund three positions: two social workers and separating a Student Services Coordinator/guidance counselor position. The board also approved using $165,431 to fund capital projects, rather than using previously-approved bond funding, as well as $378,165 to reduce the budget’s impact on the local property tax assessments to zero percent.

Pooler said in her letter of resignation that she had asked Superintendent Tom Ward and Board Chair Jennifer Zweig-Hebert for a formal response to be issued by the board or district. That request was denied, Pooler said.

Ward said that Porter’s email had been forwarded to the district’s legal counsel and that the district had been advised against pursuing any action. Director Iris Silverstein said that it disturbed her that a board member had not received more support and said that she would have preferred more board input prior to a decision being reached regarding the district’s response. Director Tami Labul noted that Pooler was not the only director that had received harassing or abusive emails.

Zweig-Hebert, who was one of the four directors who received both of Porter’s emails, thanked Pooler for her service. “It has not been an easy time,” she said.

Pooler originally joined the board in 2014, replacing a retiring director, and was reelected in 2016 to a three-year term. While Pooler did, on May 2, vote in favor of the $33.9 million budget recommended by the board, she has historically voted against a number of budgets, including both board-recommended budgets in 2015 and the budget initially presented in 2016. She, along with three other directors, opposed the board’s reduced budget passed on June 29.

Beginning in 2015, Pooler, along with Selectman Travis Pond and Ward, spearheaded a successful effort to bring New Sharon’s Thomas F. Dyer Trust back into compliance, providing correctly-balanced income for the trust’s programs and scholarships.

Pooler said that she would continue to serve so New Sharon would have representation until the selectmen appointed a new board director. That appointed director would likely serve until next March, when the town meeting would elect a director to the remaining year on Pooler’s term. A time line for that appointment has not been set.

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