Former Cumberland councilor challenges SAD 51 incumbent
CUMBERLAND — Karen Campbell faces a challenge from former Town Councilor Jeff Porter in her campaign for a second term on the School Administrative District 51 Board of Directors.
Campbell, 50, of Stonewall Drive, has lived in Cumberland for nine years. She is an a married, at-home parent and has three children; two are in the SAD 51 system.
She is the School Board vice chairwoman and is also involved with its finance, negotiations, and strategic thinking and planning committees. Campbell also led the board's communications committee for two years, has been the policy committee chairwoman and has served as liaison between the School Board and parent-teacher organization.
"I'm passionate about the value of a quality education," Campbell said, also noting that serving on the School Board requires significant time and energy, and that she has shown that she is capable and willing to make such a commitment.
Campbell also said her first term on the board has made her knowledgeable of the issues that face the panel, and that she is best-positioned to aid SAD 51 in moving forward.
She said she works to include every viewpoint and build consensus. As the only woman among Cumberland's five board members, she said she feels having diversity of perspective and voice is important.
Campbell's service to the school community includes work with Foundation 51, SAD 51's Arts Alliance and the Project Graduation Committee. She also works with the ALS Society of Northern New England and is an active volunteer with her church.
Porter, 46, of Crossing Brook Road, stepped down from the Town Council last year after 12 years. His wife has worked in SAD 51, but is now teaching in Pownal, which allows him to seek a School Board seat. They have five children; four are still in district schools.
A lifelong Cumberland resident, Porter is a Cumberland-North Yarmouth Lions Club member and spent nine years on the People's Regional Opportunity Program board, including two as chairman. His job with the U.S. Commercial Service, as director of the U.S. Export Assistance Center in Portland, has taken him to about 30 countries since 1995.
"I believe deeply in education," Porter said. "I am deeply committed to public service in my community. ... I've got the ability to take difficult information and make decisions, and not allow personal friendships or other biases to slip into the decision-making process.
His service has included time with the Greely Middle School Building Committee, the Cumberland Housing Authority, the Val Halla Golf & Recreation Center board and Twin Brooks and Rines Forest committees, Cumberland's finance, recreation, energy advisory, Doane and town center committees, and a local regionalization committee.
Porter also served on a regionalization committee under former Gov. John Baldacci, and helped put together playgrounds at the North Yarmouth Memorial and Mabel I. Wilson schools. He also serves on the board of the Maine International Trade Center and is an officer of the Maine District Export Council.
Earlier this month Campbell was among the School Board members who voted to approve next year's budget, 6-2. Th $30.4 million spending plan is 5.3 percent greater than this year's.
If approved by voters, the budget could increase taxes in Cumberland 50 cents per $1,000 of property valuation, a climb of 3.1 percent. North Yarmouth could see a tax rate increase of between 94 and 98 cents, or about about 7.1 percent, pending final valuations.
"I support the budget because it provides savings where possible," Campbell said. "For example, by refinancing our debt, reducing staff where appropriate due to (declining) enrollments and reallocating resources."
She added that at the same time, the budget "allows us to meet our contractual obligations, and support the district's educational initiatives."
Porter said he participated in all public School Board meetings since late last year, and in all the school budget meetings, and "to be honest, I don't know if I have received enough information to make a decision (of) whether to support or be opposed to the budget."
He said he was used to a different public budget process, "where you're going down through the different cost centers, not just in the aggregate, but in the individual (areas), so you have a broad and a micro understanding of the budget, how it's put together, and I don't have that understanding (with the school budget)."
Porter said he sees the School Board having three key responsibilities: the budget, setting policy and supervising the superintendent. "Those are the three general areas that I think that I would focus on," he said.
Campbell said she has not decided whether she would support 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.
"I want to carefully consider the opinions of all stakeholders, and weigh the potential impact to the fourth- and fifth-grade students against the potential savings, before I make a final decision," Campbell said.
She said she also looks forward to seeing the results of a survey that has sought community input on whether the school should be closed, as well as hearing concerns from parents of the school's students, and getting feedback from the North Yarmouth Economic Development Committee regarding potential uses for the school.
Porter said he would probably support closing the school, "reluctantly, and regrettably," for a number of reasons identified by the task force.
"It is in poor shape, and unfortunately, given the funding scenarios in Augusta right now, we're not going to get state participation for a new school in the foreseeable future," he said.
Porter said he needs to better understand the full recommendation concerning why two grades should be added to the middle school. He suggested that students being moved from the North Yarmouth school could have been moved to the now-closed Drowne Road School until the district's school population grew again, and the funding was available to build a new school in North Yarmouth.
"I believe strongly that there needs to continue to be a strong tie to North Yarmouth," Porter said. "... I think it's important that we have a school there. Given the financial situation we're in, and the circumstances, I don't believe that's possible at this time, but I would strongly support planning for the future, that a school does get rebuilt at some point in North Yarmouth."
Withdrawal from SAD 51
Neither Porter nor Campbell expressed support for an ongoing petition drive to have North Yarmouth withdraw from the district.
North Yarmouth resident Mark Verrill, who is leading the effort, 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.
"I haven't seen any data yet that would support the idea that it would be less expensive for North Yarmouth residents to fund their own school system, or to tuition their students out to other districts," Campbell said.
She added that she thinks the Cumberland and North Yarmouth communities have "partnered successfully for years and developed a high-quality school system, and I believe there are more advantages for students and savings to be gained by remaining part of the SAD."
Porter said he disagrees with Verrill, and that he thinks the residents of both towns "have benefited greatly" through their relationship in SAD 51, and have saved millions of dollars by working together.
"It doesn't mean that we don't have problems on occasion that need to be worked out, but that's normal," he said. "We have a great community."
Election Day is June 12.