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BRUNSWICK — While two sitting School Board members are expecting easy victories in uncontested re-election bids this November, that’s not the case in the race for an at-large seat.
Incumbent Jack Jones is challenged by first-time candidate William Thompson.
With varied backgrounds, the two candidates would each bring something different to the board.
Jones, 75, is a retired teacher. He spent eight years teaching in public schools and 32 years at the private Eaglebrook School in Massachusetts before retiring to Brunswick. He was first elected to the School board in November 2008.
Jones said he brings a unique perspective to the board and understands the need to balance property tax increases with maintaining quality education.
“I know what people are dealing with out there because I am, too,” he said. “I just think there has to be a fine line between necessarily raising and holding the line (on property taxes).”
Although the past couple of school budgets have cut deeper than he said he would like, “given our situation, I think we did fairly well,” Jones said.
“We cut across the board, so no area got hit particularly hard,” an approach he said he would take again if faced with another round of budget cuts.
Jones said he would advocate sparing extracurricular activities from the chopping block because “they can be unifying community efforts.”
If he could reverse some of the cuts from last spring, he said he’d bring back resource assistants and classroom support positions.
In the meantime, he said he’s hoping to rally Brunswick’s senior citizens to fill the gap by serving as volunteers in schools. Increasing volunteerism will be his first priority if re-elected to the school board, he said.
Jones also believes public school boards should not advocate for the creation of charter schools, which has been an option in Maine since June.
“I don’t have any problems with parents having a choice … but if somebody is elected to a public school board, that’s their first commitment,” he said. Rather than advocate for charter schools, he said he’d rather find out why parents are unhappy enough with the school district to withdraw their kids, and address those problems.
He said he supports the creation of magnet schools, which would allow specialization, but keep funding and oversight within the School Department.
Jones said Brunswick must renovate Jordan Acres Elementary School, which was “moth-balled” for the 2011-2012 school year, sooner rather than later to create space for district enrollment to increase.
Although he initially thought that inviting Harpswell’s students into the district could help fill the hole in the budget left by the departure of Durham students, he said he has reconsidered that idea since the closing of Jordan Acres.
“We don’t want to squeeze Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary at the expense of our kids,” he said.
Thompson, 31, aims to be one of the youngest members of the School Board. He attended Brunswick public schools before graduating from Colby College. Before moving back to Maine, he worked for U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, in Washington, D.C. Currently he is a special assistant for policy to Maine House Speaker Robert Nutting, R-Oakland.
Thompson worked as a substitute teacher in Brunswick schools as recently as 2009, and said he has a good sense of the school system.
He said one of his immediate priorities would be to deal with Jordan Acres and resolve what he called over-crowding at Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary School.
He said he believes Jordan Acres is past the point of renovation, and thinks the School Department should reopen Hawthorne Elementary School to ease the pressure on Stowe. But that’s only a temporary fix, he acknowledged.
“There needs to be a discussion about long term, where do we want to go with our schools,” Thompson said. “… In terms of (building) a new school, we need to watch our bottom line on property taxes so they don’t spiral out of control, but at the same time we need to have a plan.”
Having not been involved with last year’s budget, he was hesitant to comment on the process. If faced with additional cuts next year, he said he would try to direct them at administrators, not teachers.
“The purpose of the school is to educate the children and you can only do that with the teachers, and we need to make sure those people are protected as we address tight budgets,” Thompson said.
He said accepting junior high and high school students from Harpswell could be a way to address some of the town’s budget problems.
“Having an additional town tuitioning back into Brunswick I think would be wonderful and from a practical point of view, you have to go through Brunswick to get to Topsham,” where Harpswell students now attend middle and high school.
Thompson said he also thinks it’s important to try to change how the state Department of Education allocates school subsidies. He said education funding needs to be a larger priority of Brunswick’s legislative delegation, but also said School Board members “need to be our own advocates.”
He does not support public pre-school, and although he isn’t staunchly opposed to charter schools, he said he is a firm supporter of public education.
In the uncontested races, Michele Joyce is seeking her second term representing District 7. The other incumbent, Jim Grant, who previously served from 1992 to 2000, is completing his first three-year term representing District 5 since returning to the board in 2008.
Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 8.
This story was corrected on Oct. 6 and Oct. 7, 2011.