Fri, Apr 25, 2014 ●
BathHarpswellTopshamBrunswickCumberlandNorth YarmouthFalmouthFreeportPortlandCape ElizabethScarboroughSouth PortlandChebeague IslandYarmouth

3 candidates face off for Yarmouth School Committee

News

3 candidates face off for Yarmouth School Committee

YARMOUTH — Three candidates are vying for two open seats on the Yarmouth School Committee.

The June 25 ballot features two other elections, but no other competitive races. Town Councilors Pat Thompson and Steve Woods are both running unopposed for re-election. On the Yarmouth Water District Board of Trustees, William Reinsborough is running unopposed for re-election to the seat he has held for more than two decades.

For the School Committee, two newcomers and one experienced candidate are hoping to replace two outgoing members – Art Bell and Abby Diggins – who are ineligible to run after serving two three-year terms.

Candidates Leah Guay and Bob Watterson are pledging to bring their business experience to the committee, while Craig Wolff hopes to return to the table after losing a re-election bid last year.

All three candidates have been active participants in the school community and have children who are currently enrolled in the system.

Guay, 52, of Boxwood Drive, is married with two children, one of whom is a sixth-grader at Harrison Middle School. Guay has lived in Yarmouth on and off for 40 years and attended Yarmouth Intermediate School, as it was known at the time.

For the past 20 years, Guay has served as a data analyst at MEMIC, an insurance company in Portland. She believes those analytical skills would benefit the committee on budget and policy decisions.

"It's number crunching, reviewing data and business common sense," she said of her role as an analyst.

Guay also brings experience in early childhood education, having served as president of Village Nursery School and board member at Yarmouth Day Care. In 2010, she was named Volunteer of the Year by the Yarmouth Education Association.

Watterson, 56, of Royall Point Road, is married with three children, two of whom are graduates of Yarmouth High School. The third child is a seventh-grader at Frank Harrison Middle School. Watterson grew up in Ohio and lived in Yarmouth during the early 1980s. In 2002, he returned to Yarmouth.

For the past decade, Watterson has been self-employed at Northern Points, a business consulting company. His career began in the early 1980s as a sales manager at Proctor and Gamble's Portland location. Later, Watterson's shifted into real estate financing in New York and Boston.

Like Guay, Watterson says his business experience would benefit the committee. In particular, Watterson hopes to expand the district's revenue, something he did for the Yarmouth Football Association – a group he helped create in 2005.

As president of the association, Watterson implemented a fundraising program that has generated nearly $100,000 over the years, he said.

Recently, Watterson served on a search committee to find and interview candidates to fill the district's open superintendent position. The search was unsuccessful, and will resume in the fall.

Wolff, 43, of Bayview Street, is married with two children in elementary school. For the past 11 years, Wolff has served as Assistant U.S. Attorney in Portland. He filled the same role for seven years in Baltimore, Md. Wolff said his experience as a criminal prosecutor is an asset to the committee, because he's able to ask tough questions.

Wolff is a veteran of the Yarmouth School Committee, having served three years beginning in 2009. In 2012, Wolff lost his position after a four-way race for three seats. Wolff ended the election with 75 fewer votes than his nearest competitor.

Despite the loss, Wolff is undaunted. He thinks a lack of name recognition and an understated campaign were factors in the loss.

"I didn't feel it was a referendum on my tenure at the school committee," he said with a smile.

During his three-year term, Wolff cites his work on the Policy Committee as a personal highlight. The committee strengthened the district's Honor Code, which governs consequences of drug and alcohol use, he said. The Policy Committee also partnered with student government to introduce the use of a Breathalyzer at school dances to reduce alcohol use.

During the past year, Wolff has closely followed the school committee's actions through conversations with current members and by reading the minutes from each meeting, he said.

Wolff also serves as a coach and board member at Yarmouth Little League.

Tackling the budget

All three candidates agree that uncertain future revenues from Wyman Station power plant could impact the school budget. As taxpayers and parents of school-aged children, all three feel prepared to strike a fair balance between services and spending.

Guay was an observer during the last round of budget talks, but stopped short of saying whether she would have sought deeper cuts in the latest school budget, which will go before voters at Town Meeting on Tuesday. As a frequent observer, she wasn't privy to enough information to judge the outcome, she said.

"I was pleased with the hard work (of the committee). I was pleased with the dedication. I was pleased with the commitment. I know they killed themselves trying to make it work," she said.

Guay also hopes to increase communication and transparency so residents have a better understanding of the process, she said.

"I want to roll up my sleeves and I want to dig around," she said. "I want to work with the school committee so they present the town with the best, fiscally responsible budget."

Watterson said his background in finance gives him the ability to manage a budget, but that shouldn't imply a cut-and-slash mentality. Instead, he hopes to find creative ways to build revenue.

"We're definitely facing a tough couple of years," he said. "Can we make the pie bigger?"

Watterson said it's too early to share his ideas for revenue growth, but some possibilities include higher fees for school events or fundraisers similar to his Calendar Cash Raffle, which contributes between $10,000 and $20,000 every year to the football association.

Wolff's previous tenure on the school committee demonstrates his ability to manage the budget, he said. According to district records, the budget increased by 1.85 percent in 2010, stayed flat in 2011 and increased by 1.75 percent in 2012. Nonetheless, the next few years will be challenging for the committee, Wolff said.

"(The budget) is pretty bare bones and that's something the committee will have to contend with for the foreseeable future," he said. "We've got to see that the school maintains its position as one of the top schools in the state."

Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., Tuesday, June 25, at Robert W. Boyd Amvets Post 2, 148 North Road.

Ben McCanna can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or bmccanna@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @BenMcCanna.