CAPE ELIZABETH — Five candidates are competing for three School Board seats in the Nov. 6 election.
Three incumbents hope to retain their seats for another three years, while two new candidates attempt to oust them.
Incumbents John Christie, David Hillman and Kate Williams-Hewitt – all elected in 2009 – hope their experience resonates with voters; Bill Gross and Michael Goulding hope to bring new perspectives to the board.
Christie has lived in Cape Elizabeth for five years and has two children who attend schools in the district. Professionally, he works as the chief financial officer at Sinu, a New York-based technology company he helped create in 2004.
He initially sought election to the School Board to preserve a strong public education system in the community, he said.
“I got involved in School Board activities shortly after the (stock) market collapsed, when there was significant pressure on the school budget from certain people in the community looking to lower standards in order to lower costs,” Christie said. “I was interested in getting involved to help advocate for excellence in public education.”
His background in finance helped him make sense of budget issues in his first term on the board and plan for the future during uncertain economic times, he said.
Christie said one of the most significant accomplishments he has contributed to on the board was the hiring of the new superintendent, Meredith Nadaeu.
“We didn’t find a candidate in first round that was right for the job,” he said. “I think we made a bold move reopening the search up to the market and it has paid off in spades, with a very bright and energetic superintendent.”
Christie said he is looking forward to working with the administration in implementing its new vision and mission statement.
School teacher-turned-chiropractor Goulding has lived in Cape Elizabeth for 4 1/2 years and has two daughters in the school system. Goulding taught special education for four years before going to chiropractic school. He now works as a chiropractor in Portland and volunteers as a teacher at St. Bartholomew Parish.
Goulding said he has no particular agenda for joining the board, but he thinks his past experience as a teacher would be beneficial.
“Things haven’t changed a lot in the 30 years since I’ve been out of school,” he said, noting struggles over funding continue today. “I think I have pretty good understanding between the dynamics of teachers, the administration and taxpayers and students.”
With his experience, Goulding said he hopes to bring a pragmatic approach to the School Department’s budget.
“I’d want to have a fair balance between educators and kids and taxpayers, with an understanding that kids are the future of America, and as such, their education is the name of the game,” he said. “At this stage in my life, it would be a real blessing to be able to sit on the School Board.”
Gross, who is in his first campaign for elected office, has been a resident of Cape Elizabeth for more than 3o years and has had two children go through the town’s school system. Now retired, he previously worked as an engineer in the telecommunications industry. Gross also volunteers at Cape Elizabeth High School in honors physics classes, providing extra help to students.
He said his experience as a volunteer has helped him see opportunities to create better coordination between the science and math curriculum.
“We could better integrate them and introduce them earlier,” Gross said. “I saw running for the School Board as a way to influence this.”
In addition, he said he wants to promote teaching methods and curriculum used by the Kahn Academy, a free library of online videos teaching a wide range of subjects, which allows students to work at their own pace with teacher support.
“I think this is going to be a huge revolution in the education system,” Gross said. “Teachers can assign videos to students and what used to be classwork, would be homework. Teachers would be able to spend more time teaching, not lecturing.”
Hillman is now a semi-retired lawyer at Verrill Dana in Portland, where he worked as a corporate bankruptcy lawyer and in health law. He also volunteers at Cape Elizabeth High School, where he coaches the mock trial team. He currently has one child, a high school senior, in the school system.
His experience as a bankruptcy lawyer has taught him how to handle budgets under duress, Hillman said.
“Revenue is going to continue to be a problem. We’re going to have to find ways to make up for that,” he said. “I have a lot expertise going into an area, assessing people and looking at how programs work.”
Hillman said his law background played a significant role in the board’s budget discussions and in the negotiation of a new teachers’ contract.
Specifically on the contract, he said he worked to bring health-care costs down by working with the Legislature to force teachers to disclose the their health-care data, allowing the board to compare insurance policies, Hillman said.
“We have good teachers and have been able to negotiate very fair contracts,” he said. “Contracts that pay what the market is paying, but also pay enough to compete with best schools and keep the best teachers.”
Hillman said his experience gives him special insight into the world of education, noting that he spends 30-40 hours a week reading materials and attending meetings.
“I’ve used these three years to learn how the school system really works,” he said. “Being a School Board member gives me a leg up. It’s experience you can only get by doing it and it’s amazingly valuable.”
Williams-Hewitt is a teacher who is specialized in learning disabilities; she currently works in early childhood education at the Children’s Nursery School in Portland.
She is also on the board of Reading Matters to Maine, which advocates for students with learning disabilities. She has lived in Cape Elizabeth since 1993 and has four children — two in their first year of college and two still in the school system.
Williams-Hewitt said she has enjoyed working on the board for the past three years and finds the work “fascinating.”
“I love working on the School Board. It’s interesting working with federal and state mandates and how they dictate what we can do in the public school system,” she said. “My job is to keep asking questions about the curriculum and find out why we’re spending money on programs.”
Her perspective as a teacher is important, she said, and allows her to ask insightful questions.
“Because I’m current in the world education, I can stand out and can ask those questions of the superintendent about education,” Williams-Hewitt said. “I’m always coming from the (perspective of), are we providing the kids the ability to do their best in the classroom?”
With regard to the school budget, Williams-Hewitt said she tries to keep in mind the whole community and not only families with kids attending the schools.
“The school budget has to reflect what residents can honestly afford,” she said. “I’m not looking to put money in the budget unnecessarily; it has to reflect what the community wants.”