Figdor wins Portland School Board seat, voters approve school service center

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PORTLAND — Emily Figdor won the only contested election for the School Board Tuesday.

She will represent District 2, which covers the West End and Parkside neighborhoods.

Figdor led opponent Jeanne Swanton in the early counting, and when the full election results came in Wednesday morning, she was the clear winner, 3,763 to 2,129, according to the city clerk’s office.

Longtime School Board member Sarah Thompson faced no competition for re-election to her at-large seat, and first-time candidate Abusana Bondo, also unopposed, was elected in District 1. She will replace Jenna Vendil, who chose not to run again.

Voters also overwhelmingly supported a referendum question to join the Greater Sebago Education Alliance, a regional service center designed to help participating school districts save on costs and administrative duties.

Portland voters supported the School Department joining the service center 17,862 to 9,487.

Polls in Portland were busy most of the day with heavy voter turnout that reflected a higher-than-normal participation rate in elections across the state.

In addition, one Portland polling station was ordered to remain open until 9:30 p.m. Tuesday after an accident knocked out power and caused a road closure near the Italian Heritage Center, where residents of District 3-2 vote.

Figdor said “the polls were packed” at her West End polling station, at Reiche Elementary School.

“I’m deeply appreciative of the support of voters (who showed) they want Portland to prioritize education,” Figdor said.

She said she looks forward to working with other members of the School Board and representing the district.

Figdor also complimented Swanton and said she hopes Swanton will remain involved in the important education issues facing the city. She also pledged to work with Swanton’s supporters going forward.

The two women were among the co-founders of the citizen group Protect Our Neighborhood Schools, which played a key role in rallying support for a $64 million capital improvement bond in November 2017 to substantially renovate four of the city’s elementary schools.

Figdor remained a member of the group throughout the campaign, but said she would resign if elected to the School Board.

Figdor and Swanton agreed on several issues, including the need for a universal pre-kindergarten program. Both also supported the School Department’s new strategic plan, the Portland Promise.

Where they differed, somewhat, was on budgeting.

Last spring, Figdor was a supporter of Superintendent of Schools Xavier Botana’s recommended fiscal 2019 school budget of $113.4 million.

After a contentious process and negotiation between the City Council’s Finance Committee and the School Board, residents on June 12 approved a $110.6 million school budget.

During the election campaign, Figdor said she “really felt like the City Council and its Finance Committee were operating in a vacuum (during budget season). All of the cuts they suggested impacted on the ability to move the Portland Promise forward.”

“I’m running because our schools are at a crossroads, especially with shifts in state funding, and we need a real champion for kids,” Figdor said at the time. “I can strengthen our school system in key ways.”

Creation of school district regional service centers across the state is an initiative of the Maine Department of Education. They are specifically designed to foster improved partnerships and sharing common functions among school districts.

By joining the education alliance, Portland becomes eligible for at least $100,000 in system administration funding from the state, along with the possibility of accessing additional resources.

Along with Portland, the new regional service center would also include South Portland, Scarborough, Cape Elizabeth, Westbrook, Gorham, Brunswick and School Administrative District 6 based in Standish, Regional School Unit 14 based in Windham, and SAD 15 based in Gray.

In addition to working together on food purchasing and providing joint professional development opportunities, members of the education alliance have also discussed joint substitute teacher recruiting, diversity training, English Language Learner intake, and sharing grants.

The Greater Sebago Education Alliance will be governed by a board of directors that includes the superintendents of each of the districts involved, or an approved designee. A part-time director will also be hired to help the school districts effectively cooperate with each other.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

Candidates for the District 2 School Board seat in Portland greet voters during Tuesday’s election. From left are Emily Figdor, with her daughter Isabella, and Jeanne Swanton. Figdor won the seat in the only contested School Board race.