Portland School Board District 4 election draws 1st-time candidates
PORTLAND — Two newcomers are squaring off for the School Board seat in District 4, and an incumbent seeking a third term is unopposed in District 5.
The District 4 seat, which covers the area from Back Cove to Stevens and Allen avenues, was previously held by Justin Costa. He is now running for City Council.
Stephanie Hatzenbuehler, 36, of Pleasant Avenue, is a social worker for Maine Medical Partners. She said she's running in District 4 because she has strong feelings about the school system.
She said she initially considered running for City Council, but decided the School Board is a better fit. This is her first candidacy for public office, but she has participated in others campaigns.
"The most important issue for me is poverty," Hatzenbuehler said. In her role as a social worker, she said she sees the most "socially and medically vulnerable people in the Maine Medical Partners' clinics," and she evaluates patients and clinics to understand how best to serve community needs.
"I think that the school needs to be forward thinking in how the population is going to change," Hatzenbuehler said. "And I think that I'm the person to participate in that vision."
Hatzenbuehler said infrastructure is another key issue for her. She said she can't stress enough how important environments are on students' learning, so issues of overcrowding and technological advancements need to be examined and and made priorities.
Hatzenbuehler said she has been meeting with local leaders and doing a lot of door-to-door campaigning, which she calls "the fun stuff."
"I'm realizing that not everyone thinks that that's super fun, but I really like it," she said. "Collecting signatures, talking to folks. I mean they're my neighbors and this is where my family lives and where we're going to be. So what people think and what people want is super important."
Hatzenbuehler is originally from Idaho, but came to Maine 10 years ago to pursue an education at the University of New England, and decided to stay.
"I think I have substance, I am a parent so I understand the needs of my own children and the needs of other children I know," she said. "But I also understand for people who aren't parents why it should be important for them that the children in their communities be educated, because it's an economic issue."
Hatzenbuehler said she would welcome the added hours the School Board would demand of her. She said she's a "geek in that way," wanting to spend her free time learning about education and talking to others.
"It's better for me to be on that side of things than the other," Hatzenbuehler said. "I'm happier when I'm feeling more efficacious and I'm feeling like I'm involved in the community."
Rebecca Wartell, 27, of Front Street, is a community organizer and activist who recently returned to Maine after working as an educator in New York City for the past three years.
This is her first swing at electoral politics, and she said she wanted to run for the School Board in District 4 because "schools are the place to start."
"I really want to see a population that's healthy and well educated and involved," Wartell said. "Starting in the schools is the place, starting to get students well educated and connected into their communities and passionate about changing the world when thy're young. That's how you get it to follow through into adulthood."
Wartell said she is interested in seeing electoral politics done "ethically."
"I've always thought electoral politics, while not the end all, be all of democracy, are still an important tool in the toolbox," Wartell said. "It seemed like a good thing to try out and see what kind of change I can do within that system."
Wartell, who grew up in the Portland schools, said she is impressed with how the school system is moving towards expeditionary learning to accomodate all types of learning. She said she is looking forward to hearing what the voters' concerns are, what they see working in the schools and what needs a change.
"Especially if they're not directly connected to the school system, what they have to offer and how I can get them plugged in," Wartell said.
Wartell said one of her major goals is to bring together the schools and their surrounding communities.
"Helping communicate to the public what is going on in the school system and increasing transparency on where their money is going," she said. "Really taking some time to analyze how we're spending money and making sure it's spent well."
She said 88 percent of the surrounding community doesn't have a student in the school system, so the issue is how to make them feel connected.
Wartell also said she's very interested in food justice, and wants to look at the work being done on getting local foods into the school system. One idea she's interested in is making school gardens into community gardens to get the local community working with students.
Wartell said what sets her apart is her dedication "to do what needs to be done."
"I'm not afraid to question if I see something that I think is an issue," she said.
"Either way (the election) ends up, I hope that whoever's best for the school system wins," Wartell said. "Ultimately what I want is what's best for the school system."
She said even if she doesn't win, she plans to stay involved in the schools, by becoming a substitute teacher or getting her teacher's degree.
Incumbent Marnie Morrione is running unopposed for the School Board seat in District 5, which extends north and west of District 4, to the Westbrook border. Morrione has been on the School board since 2008. She was also unopposed in 2011.
Election Day is Nov. 4.