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Cape Elizabeth School Board election pits 1 incumbent, 5 challengers for 3 seats

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Cape Elizabeth School Board election pits 1 incumbent, 5 challengers for 3 seats

CAPE ELIZABETH — Six candidates are on the Nov. 3 ballot for three seats on the School Board.

The three board members whose terms are expiring are Chairwoman Patricia Brigham and board members Karen Burke and Peter Cotter; only Cotter, a resident of Ocean House Road, is seeking re-election.

The other five candidates are John C. Christie III of Albion Road, Richard B. Dunham of Ocean View Road, David C. Hillman of Cranbrook Drive, Frederic K. Sturtevant of Pond View Road and Kate Williams-Hewitt of Ocean House Road.

John Christie

Christie, 43, works at Sinu, a technology company he helped create in 2004. He is married and has two children in the first and third grades.

He has a bachelor's degree in international relations from Brown University, and has never sought elected office before. He has been endorsed by Citizen Advocates for Public Education, a group of residents formed to support school spending when the switch was made to referendum voting.

Christie said he is running because there is a need for quality candidates to step forward and show as much dedication as the previous board members. He said his experience as his company's chief financial officer qualifies him for seat on the board.

"I have budget and in-depth experience with technology," he said. "Both are needed to face what is coming."

Christie said students will face unprecedented competition from around the world and it will be important to use all resources available to creatively determine how to best use the current funding to ensure their success.

"We can't revert to curriculum that focuses on reading, writing, and arithmetic and expect students to evolve," he said. "The greater educational challenge is to prepare students to compete in the world market."

Christie said the budget is the most important issue facing the board, and his ability to think creatively will help the town face its financial challenges.

"I will help the board formulate a long-term technical plan because technology is necessary for access of information, infrastructure, budget issues and curriculum development," he said.

Peter Cotter

Cotter, 61, is the only incumbent running for the School Board. He is married and has two grown children. He is on medical retirement after recovering from a stroke five years ago, and volunteers in town and for the Lincoln County Sheriff's Department.
Previously, Cotter served as the Town Manager in Boothbay Harbor and was a member of the Planning Board in Cape for 10 years.

Cotter has been endorsed by Cape For All, a group that urges fiscal prudence for town budgets and opposed recent school budget increases.

He received his associate's degree in liberal arts from the University of Maine and has lived in town for about 25 years.

Cotter said he is a fiscal moderate and said the $21 million school budget can be used in a much wiser manner.

"We are already counting our pennies and are down to the bare minimum, so we will have to cut positions and raise taxes," he said. "We cannot cut $100,000 by turning down the thermostat or cutting one teacher or one bus route."

He said he "deals with reality" and said an attempt to raise revenue would not be enough to balance the shortfalls facing the schools in the coming months.

"I often take a position that is different than others on the board, and think that is important so all residents can be represented," he said.

Cotter said he supports extra-curricular activities because they keep students engaged and in school.

"I am a public servant," he said. "I can't help it, it's in my genes."

Richard Dunham

Dunham, 47, was recently laid off from his job as a distribution manager. He is married and has a child who attends Pond Cove Elementary School. He received a bachelor's degree in history from the University of Southern Maine. This is his first time running for an elected office, and like Cotter, has been endorsed by Cape For All.

He said now he has the time to run and has a vested interest in maintaining high-performing schools for his daughter.

"The current School Board fights to keep things as they are and has a 'this is as good as we can get unless we get more money' attitude," he said. "To me, they are out of ideas and it is time for new leadership."

He said the schools can be stronger, even with the budget shortfalls they face.

"No more money can be asked of taxpayers," he said. "Let's start from scratch instead of topping off. Let's look at financing from the bottom up."

He said a back-to-basics mentality is needed to trim the budget and eliminate the different layers of complexity within schools. There are too many people between the principal and the teacher, he said, and it could benefit education by cutting back the staff in between.

"I want to represent the people that don't understand why spending for schools has doubled in 15 years," he said. "I want to erase the label of school supporters and non-supporters and have all of our citizens care equally about the schools."

Because he is not a member of any group in town, Dunham said he will bring focus to management effectiveness and support the belief that Cape has great schools that can be improved with the community's help.

David Hillman

Hillman, 57, is an attorney with Verrill Dana, and is semi-retired. He received his bachelor's degree from the University Maine in political science and has a law degree from Yale Law School. He is married has three children. Hillman has been endorsed by CAPE, a group he said he helped form, and he is a contributor to the Cape Elizabeth Education Foundation.

He decided to run this year because of what he called a "perfect storm of financial crisis": the shortfall in funding from the state coupled with the inability of elected leaders to continue to raise taxes to fill in the gaps.

"We need to restructure the schools, sit down and find revenue and identify what projects can be deferred in order to use the finances for schools," he said. "We need to find what private sources have not been tapped yet and what loans can we apply for."

As a bankruptcy lawyer for nearly 25 years, Hillman said he has the experience to reorganize and reconstruct financial entities such as colleges, hospitals and businesses.

"The School Board needs someone who knows what to do in these desperate financial times," he said. "We cannot drum up more business because of our commercial restrictions, which means we need to decide what core things to keep."

He said solutions will require spending and pay freezes, revenue shifts between town and school budgets, and cuts in services, positions and classes.

"I ran because I have skills in this area," Hillman said. "We can get through this if we start planning now. We need five different plans and we need to be proactive, not reactionary."

Fred Sturtevant

Sturtevant, 44, works for Blue Cross Blue Shield as a developer adviser. He has a domestic partner and a child. He ran unsuccessfully for the School Board last year.

He received his bachelor's degree in science from Southern New Hampshire University and is working on his master's degree in business administration from SNHU. He has lived in Cape for 20 years and has no alignment to any groups in town, he said.

Sturtevant said the biggest issue facing the School Board is the budget. With nearly 80 percent reserved for salaries and benefits, 10 percent for debt and 10 percent for purchases, he said there is only so much that can be cut.

"While it is an uncomfortable choice, staffing cuts will have to be made," he said. "The question is, where do we start?"

He suggested combining the middle school and Pond Cove to save a significant amount of money. He also said a way to find savings would be to address teacher salaries during negotiations.

"I think there is more willingness and awareness between School Board members and teachers that compromise and sacrifices are necessary," he said. "These ideas are easy, but it is the execution that will prove to be difficult."

"I bring a non-partisan approach to the board, with no special interests," he said. "I am a fiscal conservative, and believe the School Board shouldn't have to pay for all programs, that some of it should be passed on to those who benefit from the activity."

Sturtevant said he will represent all opinions of residents and work toward eliminating divisiveness in town.

Kate Williams-Hewitt

Williams-Hewitt, 45, is a teacher at the Children's Nursery School in Portland. She is married with four children in first grade through high school in the Cape Elizabeth schools. She has been endorsed by CAPE.

She received a bachelor's degree in science from Wheelock College in Boston in the child life and therapeutic tutoring programs.

She said this is the first time she has run for office, but has been a "tireless volunteer for the schools" for years.

"Now that my youngest is in school, I feel that running for the School Board will allow me to give in other ways, besides contributing to bake sales, helping to paint, knit or start craft fairs."

She said she is interested in supporting education and the students in any way, and will be able to round out the board with her teaching experience.

"Currently there are lawyers, journalists, technology buffs and financial people, and I can lend a voice for the education side," she said.

In addition to her work as a teacher, Williams-Hewitt tutors dyslexic children and those with special language needs. She said she has a focus in early childhood and developmental stages of children.

"I can be an advocate of all learning styles and can keep the board informed of state and national mandates of special needs to the classroom," she said.

Williams-Hewitt said it is important to cut non-essential items from the budget, and actively find new approaches to keeping those that are necessary.

"I don't want a polarized town of those for and those against education funding," she said. "I want the community to put aside the fear of raising taxes and look at the programs we should keep and find the way to fund them."

She suggested creating a program similar to the Portland Arts and Technology High School as a way to keep students in town and save on transportation. She said it is possible to use resources to teach students and come up with alternative programs that cost less than what is being done now.

"If I am elected, I will advocate for more open discussion with the community so we can become more united in our support of the schools," she said. "I invite citizens to join in this process to better our schools."

Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or aanderson@theforecaster.net