The Portland Board of Public Education voted on Friday, Dec. 16, to accept the resignation of Superintendent Xavier Botana, effective January 31, 2023, or the starting date of an interim superintendent, whichever occurs first.
Botana had announced earlier this fall that he planned to retire in June 2023 after seven years leading Maine’s largest and most diverse school district. Botana cited district payroll issues as the reason he is stepping down now. Staff turnover, a complex payroll system and an internet system outage in November that exacerbated problems are all factors that have caused the district to repeatedly struggle to pay all of its more than 1,500 employees in a complete and timely way this fall.
“As you know, the past six weeks have been extremely difficult for the Portland Public Schools,” Botana said in his resignation letter to the Board. “While I have worked tirelessly to find solutions and we reached an agreement with the [Portland Education] Association regarding next steps to ensure that all staff are paid accurately and on time, I think it is in the district’s best interest that I step aside and allow new leadership to bring closure to these matters.”
In a statement he read at the special Board meeting held Friday, Botana accepted responsibility for the payroll issues. “I recognize, as the chief executive officer, that I am accountable when things go wrong,” he said. “However, I believe my tenure is more than payroll problems.”
He outlined numerous accomplishments since he was hired in July 2016. Those include the development of the Portland Promise strategic plan and work to make the Portland Public Schools more equitable for all, in such ways as securing more funding for services for students experiencing opportunity gaps; increasing staff diversity to ensure PPS employees are more reflective of the diversity in the student body; and giving voice and place to traditionally underrepresented members of the community.
Board Chair Sarah Lentz also praised Botana’s contributions. “As Board Chair, I would like to thank Superintendent Botana for his almost seven years of service to Portland Public Schools,” Lentz said. “I ran for School Board and have my son in the Portland Public Schools because of the incredible work that I have seen Xavier and this district do over the course of his tenure. Under his leadership, Portland has deeply focused on creating equitable policies and redistributing resources so that all of our students can reach their full potential. He has challenged us all to focus on equity and has been a powerful advocate for this work.”
“However,” Lentz continued, “the incredibly vital equity work needs to be built on a solid foundation of systems and operations that support our staff and community. I agree that it is in our best interest to part ways with Superintendent Botana and I am grateful to him for understanding that it is time to step aside and allow someone else to bring in fresh energy and perspective to ensure our foundation is strong.”
Work is ongoing to address the payroll problems. As a direct result of advocacy from the Portland Education Association and Maine Education Association, the district has hired Spinglass Consulting to conduct a forensic analysis of its payroll system and make recommendations for improvements. The district also is collaborating with the city and has brought in a staff person from its MUNIS payroll company to assist and is planning to outsource its payroll in the future.
Lentz said, “The Board has significant work ahead with the current situation, an upcoming FY24 budget process and the recruitment and selection of a new permanent superintendent. With this resignation behind us, we will focus on those tasks and look forward to working with our staff and community to keep the district moving forward.”
The Board already is in the process of searching for a new superintendent to serve on a permanent basis. Botana said he will remain available for consultation to support the transition as requested by the interim superintendent or Chair Lentz through June 30, 2023. “I am committed to assisting the Board as it sees appropriate in the transition,” he said.
“I have dedicated the past six and a half years of my life to Portland Public Schools. I wish nothing but the best for the institution and its people,” Botana said.In his statement, Botana summarized some of his accomplishments during that time, including noting that he is proud of bringing stability to the superintendent role in Portland. Prior to his arrival, the district had to hold three superintendent searches in the space of about six years.
The superintendent’s complete statement can be viewed HERE.
Botana said he is confident in the success of Portland Public Schools. “I believe that the district can and will rise to the challenge of the current moment and will return to stability and effectiveness; and it will be stronger for having overcome this particular challenge,” he said.
He concluded, “Thank you for the opportunity to serve the students, staff and families of the Portland Public Schools.”
The Portland Public Schools is Maine’s largest school district, with approximately 6,500 students, and is also the most diverse. About one-third of the district’s students come from homes where languages other than English are spoken—a total of more than 50 languages. 51 percent of the district’s students are white and 49 percent are students of color. Approximately half of PPS students qualify for free or reduced-price school meals