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School Board race is North Yarmouth's only election contest

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School Board race is North Yarmouth's only election contest

NORTH YARMOUTH — A two-person race for a seat on the School Administrative District 51 Board of Directors is North Yarmouth’s only contest in the June 8 election.

Martha Leggat of Mountfort Road is challenging Lufkin Road resident Virginia Dwyer for the seat, which Dwyer has held for one, three-year term.

Two seats are available on the North Yarmouth Board of Selectmen. Robert Wood of Milliken Road is running for another term, while Anne Graham – a candidate in Maine House District 109 – has declined to run again. Steven Palmer of Mountfort Road is running for her seat.

Richard Baston of Walnut Hill Road is running unopposed for his seat on the Cemetery Commission, and incumbent Clark Whittier of Walnut Hill Road was the only person to return papers for a seat on the Budget Committee, which has two other seats open and will require write-in votes.

Virginia Dwyer

Dwyer, 47, is a paralegal transcriptionist who has lived in North Yarmouth for 20 years. She is married with two children in SAD 51 schools.

“I feel I still have more to do,” Dwyer said on Monday about seeking re-election. She has been a member of SAD 51’s Sustainability Task Force, which called for an architectural and engineering study to be commissioned for North Yarmouth Memorial School, which houses grades four and five.

Dwyer said she would like to see continuity in that group, since Susan Campbell, who also serves on the SAD 51 board, is not running again in Cumberland. Regardless of whether she is re-elected, Dwyer said she still wants to serve on the task force.

Dwyer, who served on the board of directors of the Collie Rescue League of New England for four years, has also done work in the nutrition field through a survey of 300 children at North Yarmouth Memorial School, and she volunteers in the school.

Among issues that concern her, Dwyer said, is the impact of higher taxes on residents of the district, particularly older people. While SAD 51’s proposed $28 million fiscal 2011 budget will remain flat for the third year in a row if voters approve it June 3 and June 8, it is projected to add 70 cents to Cumberland’s tax rate and 64 cents to the mil rate in North Yarmouth.

The budget also calls for nearly 20 jobs to be eliminated.

“I’m supporting the budget,” Dwyer said. However, she added, “I wish there was more (in the budget); we all do.”

She said she is concerned about teacher cuts, including the loss of educational technicians who she has seen in action.

“I may be the quiet member on the board, but I’m always listening,” Dwyer said. “And I’m available for anyone to talk to me. ... I have a good rapport with the citizens of North Yarmouth, and I’ve been here a long time. And I’m concerned about the same issues everyone else is: the taxes, the education.”

Martha Leggat

Leggat, 42, was once a teacher and is now a stay-at-home mom. She is married with two children in SAD 51 schools; a third will soon be entering the system. She has lived in North Yarmouth for 10 years.

“I feel that it’s a really pivotal time both for our district and education in the state as a whole,” Leggat said last week. “The next few years are going to be really critical in terms of figuring out this balance between budget cutbacks and how we’re going to solve some of the big questions and problems. It feels like an exciting time to be part of the process.”

Having watched the budget process this spring, and witnessed the challenges the district has faced in decreased funding from the state, cuts in programs and tax increases, Leggat said, “it does feel over time that it’s sort of a non-sustainable model if we continue as we have been.”

Leggat, who serves on the Seacoast Swim Club board and has been involved in other volunteer activities, said longer-term solutions are now necessary for SAD 51 in areas such as revenue sources. She said she would not want to cut special education services or diminish their quality, but she favors looking into consolidation opportunities with other districts to curb increasing costs.

“We need to look at the bigger picture to solve what feels like a chronic tension between supporters of schools who are alarmed at the programmatic cuts they see," she said, "and taxpayers who continue to see their taxes increasing.”

Communication between the teachers, board, administration and community are an issue, Leggat said. “It feels sometimes like there’s not enough transparency to develop trust between these different parties," she said. "... To really address the issue of communication I think could help put everybody on the same page to a greater extent.”

She said her experience as a teacher gives her insight into how a school operates, and she considers herself a strong communicator who can hear both sides of an issue and bridge divides.

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net.