Budget separates School Board candidates in North Yarmouth

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NORTH YARMOUTH — Incumbent Todd Nicholson faces a challenge from former School Board member James Moulton in his re-election bid for the School Administrative District 51 Board of Directors.

Moulton, 63, of Mill Road, served on the board from 2002 to 2005. He has lived in North Yarmouth for 60 years, is married, has two daughters and four grandchildren. Three of those grandchildren will be in the SAD 51 system by next school year.

Moulton runs Jim’s Auto Repair, fixing and selling vehicles.

Along with his time on the School Board, he has served 12 years on the Board of Selectmen, most recently from 2005 to 2008. Moulton has also served six years on the Cumberland County Budget Advisory Committee and several years on the town Zoning Board of Appeals.

He served on the Policy Committee during his time on the SAD 51 board.

Nicholson, 46, of Hawthorne Road, was elected to the board in 2009 and is seeking his second term. He has lived in North Yarmouth for 20 years, is married and has three children in SAD 51 schools.

Nicholson is director of advancement at Maine Audubon and serves on the Freeport Historical Society board. He is chairman of the SAD 51 Finance Committee and serves on the board’s Strategic Thinking and Planning Committee. He has also chaired its Policy Committee and served on its Negotiations Committee.

“I think that it takes a little bit of time to understand the role of the School Board and how it can help the district achieve its mission,” Nicholson said, “and I just feel like after three years, I’m just kind of now getting my arms around it, and I … feel like it would … be a job half-done if I stopped now.”

Fiscal 2013

Moulton said he will not vote to approve the SAD 51 budget for fiscal 2013, while Nicholson said he favors it. If approved in two district-wide votes next month, the budget would increase 5.3 percent, from $28.9 million to $30.4 million.

“We all love our kids, and we all want a good education (for them),” Moulton said. But he said these are tough economic times, and that North Yarmouth’s tax base rests almost entirely on property taxpayers, as opposed to communities with a greater commercial sector to shoulder the load.

He said SAD 51 must make financially smart decisions, just like residents have to in their households. He suggested that consolidating services with other districts could be one means of saving money.

“The tack I tried to take this year with the Finance Committee (has been) to really think about how do we provide the resources for the administration to meet the goals that we’ve set (for) them, and try for a second to take it out of the context of taxes,” Nicholson said. “So that the budget that we’re building is a reflection of the resources necessary to implement the program and the results we say we want.”

He added that “you can’t be asking for one thing and funding another thing. In my opinion, that’s where real problems can arise. You say you want one thing, but you’re not willing to provide the resources.”

School closure

Moulton said he supports a recent task force recommendation to close North Yarmouth Memorial School and move its fourth and fifth grades to an expanded Greely Middle School in Cumberland. The task force has said the net savings of closing the school would be about $550,000 a year.

Moulton said he does not consider the school a hub of the community. “When I went there, in the original (school), it was a K-8, and it was a town school, and it was a community center,” he said.

Given the projected savings from closing the school, Moulton said, “I just don’t think you can look at that, and not say that’s the smart thing to do.”

He said he doesn’t favor North Yarmouth voting to keep the school open because the town would incur the associated operating costs. If the school is closed, North Yarmouth should reuse the building in a way that generates revenue, he said.

Nicholson declined to say how he would vote if the School Board agrees with the task force recommendation.

“We need to have some more talks about what the implications are,” he said, adding that the School Board should hear the results of a survey seeking input from residents on the matter before it makes a decision.

“It’s an important decision, and we want to make sure we do it right,” Nicholson said. “I think (the task force) helped get the context of the conversation at the right level. … We have a set of facts in front of us now; we can really talk about what the next steps are.”

Withdrawal from SAD 51

Neither candidate expressed support for an ongoing petition drive to have North Yarmouth withdraw from the district.

North Yarmouth resident Mark Verrill, who is spearheading the drive, has said leaving the school district would achieve a “significant reduction” in property taxes, improve the quality of education at a lower cost, and preserve North Yarmouth’s rural character by curbing growth.

“Divorces are expensive; all we have to do is look at Chebeague Island,” Moulton said, referring to that town’s secession from Cumberland and SAD 51 in 2007. “… Where are we going to go if we pull out of (SAD 51)? Are we going to go back and tell Cumberland, ‘geez, will you take our students as tuition students?'”

At this time, he said, “I don’t think it makes sense” for North Yarmouth to withdraw.

“The idea that we can save money (by leaving the district) is a risky proposition,” Nicholson said. “Whether or not you’re part of SAD 51 … there’s a certain amount of money that (is required by the state) to be raised locally, so the degree (to which) you can affect tax rates is limited, unless you want to walk away completely from the state subsidy and start violating all kinds of educational laws.”

He added that an understanding of the state funding formula would be required “to make the argument that you can, out of whole cloth, build a whole new school system, and do it cheaper, and do it as well or better.”

Election Day is June 12.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

Sidebar Elements


James Moulton

Todd Nicholson

Most North Yarmouth races uncontested

NORTH YARMOUTH — Other than the School Administrative District 51 Board of Directors, almost all other local elections are uncontested on June 12.

Incumbent Paul Napolitano of Mill Ridge Road is running unopposed for a third, three-year term on the Board of Selectmen. Mark Girard of Timber Lane is unopposed to complete the final two years of Selectman Andrew Walsh’s term.

Incumbent Clark Baston of Sweetser Road is running unopposed for his seat on the Cemetery Commission. He was first elected in 1996.

Jeffrey Shorey of Toddy Brook Lane was the only person to submit nomination papers for one of three, three-year seats on the Budget Committee. He was appointed to the committee in 2011.

The new Charter Commission has six two-year seats available, but only three candidates: Richard Brobst and Clark Whittier, both of Walnut Hill Road, and Audrey Lones of Baston Road.

Elections without enough candidates on the ballot will require votes for write-in candidates. If there still aren’t enough candidates, the Board of Selectmen can appoint members to the Budget Committee and Charter Commission.

The only other contested local election is for the representative to the Yarmouth Water District, where incumbent Stephen Gorden of Heather Loch is seeking a second term. He is challenged by Guy Watson of Sligo Road, who served on the district board from 2006-2009.

— Alex Lear

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.